Discussion on web forums: Anarchism and the patriotic resistance

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All sorts of political animals label themselves as anarchists. They can range from leftists who are hardly distinguishable from Trotskyists, except perhaps for their antipathy for the idea of a political party, to real internationalists who are seriously trying to defend the interests of the working class. An example of the latter is the KRAS group in Russia. At several political conferences in Russia, when the subject of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ came up, the comrades of the KRAS had no hesitation about ranging themselves alongside the marxists of the ICC in denouncing the various justifications for this war from Stalinists, Trotskyists, and anarchists, all of whom used the slogan of anti-fascism to justify support for the ‘democratic’ (and Stalinist) camp.

Anarchists and the Great Patriotic War

In recent weeks the ICC has begun a thread on the libcom.org discussion forums (go to Forums/Thought), entitled ‘1939 and all that’. In it we have argued in favour of the activity of the communist left during the second world war, which involved intervening in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances to defend an internationalist position against both imperialist blocs.

The discussion on this thread has been very revealing. While a number of individual comrades have intervened to defend the ICC and the communist left, the reaction from the majority of anarchists has been one of total outrage. For the left communists, the patriotic ‘Resistance’ was the bourgeoisie’s force for mobilising the most combative workers into the imperialist war. It was a direct appendage of the Allied armies. For the outraged anarchists, on the other hand, the Resistance must be defended at all costs and is even hailed as constituting an anti-capitalist threat to the bourgeoisie. The most extreme expression of this position was put forward by a French anarcho-syndicalist (L’agite) who says he  prefers “the fucking Stalinists who were in the Resistance and who killed cops and fascists rather than the pseudo-intellectual wankers of the left communists who never did anything…”. As we said in one of our replies: “So let’s speak plainly: L’agite, the anarchist, “prefers” the Stalinist resistance officers who at the time of the so-called Liberation issued the call “chacun a son Boche” – “everyone kill a German” – and led the chauvinist hysteria against German proletarians in uniform, the shameful witch-hunts against French “collaborators”. He “prefers” the Stalinist hit-men who, during this orgy of nationalism, arrested internationalists like our comrade Marco in Paris – known not for “doing nothing” but for carrying out revolutionary propaganda against the war - and accused them of being agents of fascism and demanded they be shot. He “prefers” the Stalinist partisans in Italy who did shoot members of the Internationalist Communist Party in Italy on exactly the same pretext. ….”

And apart from those who sympathise openly with the ICC, very few of the anarchists’ posts seem even slightly troubled by such open declarations of support for patriotism. The concern of most of these posts has been to make trivial and irrelevant digs at the ICC, or – in some of the more honest cases – to openly admit that they think that it was necessary to fight for the democratic states in this war. 

We will come back to the implications of this debate on another occasion. But as we said on the post quoted above, “these are not speculative questions about the past. The bourgeoisie still uses the ideology of the Second World War as a justification for its wars today. In the Bush/Blair justification for the war in Iraq, for example, Saddam was the new Hitler and not invading Iraq would have been a form of “appeasement”. Or, if like the SWP or Galloway you line up with another set of gangsters, then the Islamic terrorists and nationalists in Iraq are “the Resistance”. Clarity about internationalism in 1939-45 is a starting point for clarity about internationalism today”.

Anarchists and the Iraqi Resistance

Recently we published an article on our website welcoming the statement put out by various anarchists condemning the London bombings. In it we said: “In the midst of all the statements on the bombings in London, most of which are only notable for their varying levels of hypocrisy, we have become aware of two statements, both from the libertarian and anarchist milieu, that attempt to defend a class position. One is from the libcom.org website, the other from the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (ZACF) of South Africa.

The ZACF begin by declaring that theystand foursquare with the working and poor peoplewho were the targets of the bombings, while the libcom.org statement deplores “the horrific attacks on innocent people this morning in London”. They then deal with the question of terrorism: “Terrorist actions are completely at odds with any struggle for a freer, fairer society and never help oppressed people in any part of the globe. Instead violence against civilians is a tool of states and proto-states every bit as brutal as the ones they profess to oppose(libcom.org);…we are unrepentant in our bitter opposition to terrorism in all forms, whether driven by state or sub-state opportunism(ZACF)”.

Our article also cites the libcom.org  statement’s declaration of solidarity “with all people fighting exploitation and oppression in all its forms, from opponents to the occupation of Iraq here to those in Iraq who are opposing both the occupying forces and the ultra-reactionary Islamists that the Occupation helps strengthen”.

However, our article makes a number of criticisms about the libertarians’ difficulty in defining a real class perspective on terrorism and war; and the thread about 1939, and another one dealing with the Iraqi Resistance, pose serious questions about the depth of the libertarians’ opposition to the current imperialist conflict.

We know that the ‘official’ leftists trumpet their support for the Iraqi Resistance. As we wrote in an article published in WR 275 “Last November Tariq Ali speculated whether guerrilla warfare would turn into an Iraqi National Liberation Front. According to his leftist co-thinkers that wish has come true. The Weekly Worker (15/4/4) has announced that “the situation has been transformed. The entry of previously uncommitted forces - Shia Islamist forces with real mass support and roots - into open armed opposition has produced a real confrontation of the masses themselves with the coalition.  The real war of national liberation has begun”. The World Socialist Web Site cheers a “broad and popular movement” and a “heroic and justified nationwide uprising against colonial repression”. And although WW (22/4/4) is concerned about “the influence of clerical and reactionary elements” and WSWS warns of attempts to divide the “resistance”, there is no mistaking their enthusiasm for “a movement of Iraq’s urban poor and most oppressed” (WSWS) dying in the cause of Iraqi nationalism”.

Furthermore, the leftists themselves make the link between Iraq today and the second world war Resistance movements: at WSWS (7/4/4) you can read that “The Iraqi resistance against US occupation is just as legitimate as the struggles waged by the French resistance against German occupation in the 1940s and the liberation struggles that swept the colonial countries in the 1960s and 1970s.”

In the same article in WR, we also noted that there is a pseudo-communist organisation, the Internationalist Communist Group, which justifies the defence of the Iraqi Resistance in the most ‘proletarian’ language. “In their French publication (Communisme no 55) they …begin by stating that “the proletariat in Iraq has given an example to its brothers throughout the whole world in refusing to fight for its oppressors”, that workers have “refused to die for interests that were not their own”. And it’s certainly true that Iraqi workers showed little enthusiasm for dying on behalf of Saddam’s army when the US Coalition first invaded. But it is criminally false to identify this response with the subsequent active mobilisation of Iraqi proletarians behind the ‘resistance’ with its reactionary capitalist agenda. This is exactly what the GCI does. They conflate the desertions and demonstrations of the unemployed that have undoubtedly taken place with the bombings, acts of sabotage and armed expressions of the military conflict, and claim that in all this “you can see the contours of the proletariat which is trying to struggle, organising itself against all fractions” while minimising the influence of the “Islamists or pan-Arab nationalists” on this alleged proletarian movement”.

The GCI, with its fascination for ‘exemplary’ violence, has long had an influence in anarchist circles. Just as some anarchists may be directly influenced by the arguments of the Trotskyists and other leftists, they may also fall for the GCI’s more radical language. Either way, there are reasons to believe that the anarchists will have a hard time standing up to these different siren songs in favour of the ‘heroic people’s war’ in Iraq.

Recently there appeared on the libcom.org forums a statement by a group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Army; posted by one of the forums’ regular contributors, avowedly a “pro-situationist” element. It was submitted without much comment, and neither has it given rise to many replies. This statement is certainly different from the usual al-Qaida rants against Jews and Crusaders and exulting in the slaughter of all “infidels”. It is addressed to the people of the world; it calls for worldwide protests against the war and recognises that many in the west oppose the war. It even ends by saying: “And to the American soldiers we say, you can also choose to fight tyranny with us. Lay down your weapons and seek refuge in our mosques, churches and homes. We will protect you. And we will get you out of Iraq, as we have done with a few others before you.
Go back to your homes, families, and loved ones. This is not your war. Nor are you fighting for a true cause in Iraq. ….”

There is no doubt that many Iraqi workers are not taken in by the hateful, racist ideology of al Qaida etc. But the ‘Islamic Jihad Army’ group, far from expressing the real needs of those workers, is still functioning to recruit them into the imperialist war. As its name implies, its standpoint is either “Islam” or “our country”, not the working class, and its methods are not the methods of the class struggle. Even if this group is not involved in the many acts of indiscriminate terror (or those directly aimed at certain groups, like Shia Muslims or Christians) which kill more Iraqi civilians than occupying troops, still they are not fundamentally distinct from factions like Zaqawi’s Al Quaida in Iraq. This can be seen from the militarist video that accompanies its statement on certain websites; these show the group brandishing their guns and engaging in roadside attacks on US army vehicles “in the name of Allah”.  Of course, the class struggle does, at a certain stage, involve armed actions. But they assume their proletarian nature from the context of the movement in which they take part – for example the self-defence squads organised by strike committees, or the militias organised by the workers’ councils. And contrary to the sophisms of the GCI and others, the chaos and violence ravaging Iraq is not an expression of the class struggle; on the contrary, it is the product of an imperialist war of a new kind. It is a kind of warfare specific to the extreme decomposition of world capitalism, a sort of international civil war which links the ‘intifada’ in Palestine to the Iraqi resistance, conflicts in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Chechnya, and the July 7 London bombers. The fact that many of the actions in this war are carried out by apparently uncontrolled gangs and warlords does not alter its imperialist character; and on a global level, these actions cannot escape the context of the growing conflict between capitalist states: at any time the uncontrolled terrorist groups can become direct agents of this or that imperialist power. We can see this from the statement of the Islamic Jihad Army, which thanks the governments of France and Germany for their stance on the Iraq war and calls on us to boycott the dollar in favour of the Euro. It also echoes the more crude anti-Semitism of al-Qaida by attributing to Zionism an exaggerated position in global affairs. It thus tells us we must “put an end to Zionism before it puts an end to the world.

As we said in response to the GCI, there have been proletarian reactions in Iraq since the invasion – massive desertions from the army, strikes, demonstrations by the unemployed. But the mobilisation of Iraqi workers behind the resistance goes in a completely opposite direction. And any expression of proletarian politics in Iraq, far from lining up with the religious/nationalist partisans, would have to insist on this irreconcilable opposition between the terrain of the class struggle and the imperialist terrain of the resistance. This is precisely the same conflict that emerged at the end of the second world war, between for example the mass strikes of the Italian workers in 1943, who raised the slogan “down with the war”, and the actions of the anti-fascist partisans which sought to drag the most militant workers back into the trap of the war ‘for democracy’. Then as now those who blur the lines of this conflict are acting as recruiting sergeants for imperialist war.

Needless to say the defence of an internationalist position in Iraq today would be extremely dangerous because the balance of forces is not in favour of the class front, but of the imperialist front. Internationalist workers in Iraq they would certainly face not only imprisonment and torture at the hands of the occupying forces but also summary executions by the jihadists who control large parts of the country. All the same, one internationalist statement coming out of Iraq would be worth more to the cause of real liberation than a thousand roadside bombs.

The question remains: where do those who call themselves anarchists stand on this issue?

  Amos, 3/9/05.

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