Before the US and Britain started the bombardment and invasion of Iraq the 'peace' movement echoed with cries that this war was immoral, illegal and undemocratic. Clare Short, Glenda Jackson, Mo Mowlem and Charles Kennedy thought that, in the event of war, it was necessary to support the military effort. They were described as turncoats, but their views were shared by many, including such as the leader of the Australian Labor Party, Simon Crean, who supports the war while still describing it as wrong.
In contrast, there were already some Trotskyist groups who insisted on the need to 'defend Iraq' some months ago. When the current offensive started, the Socialist Workers Party, a central component of the Stop The War Coalition, added their voice to the support of Iraqi capitalism. In a Socialist Worker editorial ("What we think" 29/3/3) they insist, "It is right to fight the US empire".
"'I'm not fighting for Saddam, I'm fighting for Iraq.' Those were the words of Nasr Al Hussein, a former Iraqi special forces parachutist, on Monday. He was one of hundreds of Iraqi exiles in Jordan queuing to board coaches to take them back across the border to Iraq so they can fight US and British forces�Millions of Iraqi people, who have no time for Saddam Hussein, see this war for what it is - an invasion by the most powerful state on the planet killing for oil and global power�they do not want long-term US occupation whatever their feelings toward the current regime."
With people volunteering to die for Iraqi capitalism, it is the job of revolutionaries to show that 'fighting for Iraq,' or defending any 'national interest', means enrolling for the armies of the ruling capitalist class. The interests of the exploited and oppressed in Iraq are diametrically opposed to those of the capitalist state, whether it's dominated by Saddam now, by British imperialism in the 1920s, by the monarchy of King Faisal II, by the Qasim regime that preceded the Ba'athists, or by any of the alternatives of US imperialism or Iraqi oppositionists that might follow Saddam. Regimes change but it's only the class interests of the ruling bourgeoisie that are served by the capitalist state. The state serves the needs of capitalism for social control through its apparatus of repression, and is at the heart of capitalism's imperialist war drive.
Talk of "an invasion by the most powerful state on the planet" is very reminiscent of what the British bourgeoisie said in the First World War when they insisted on the need to defend 'brave little Belgium', and, in the Second World War, when they said it was necessary to take on the violators of Poland and Czechoslovakia. The bourgeoisie can always think of a reason why workers should forget their own class interests and sacrifice themselves for imperialism. Trotskyism's long history of military recruitment
It is worth noting that the SWP, like other Trotskyist groups, has not always been so loyal to the Iraqi state. Back in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war, they were against Iraq because it was backed by Britain and the US. This meant supporting the Iranian regime that had replaced the Shah, even though it equally represented the interests of Iranian capitalism. The SWP has changed sides, but their basic principle remains the same: workers must lay down their lives for their exploiters; even if they have no illusions in the current regime, they must retain their illusions in the 'national interest'.
The SWP talks the language of 'peace' and 'anti-imperialism', but that doesn't make them any less nationalistic than the promoters of 'patriot rallies' who explicitly mobilise to support the armed forces. An ideology that demands that workers put aside their class interests can only be used in the service of the bourgeoisie.
Attacking the Labour party is one of the tasks that the SWP prides itself on. In a recent article on "Labour and war. Never on our side" (29/3/03) they say that "at every key moment the party leadership has supported imperialism and war". Going through various events of the last century (the First World War, Vietnam, the Falklands, the 1991 Gulf War etc) they pass remarks on the behaviour of the Labour leadership. What they miss out is that the Labour party is not just a handful of leaders but a whole apparatus and ideology which has long been part of capitalism's political system.
They also miss out the Second World War. In 1939-45 the Labour party was an integral part of the coalition government at all levels, active in the recruitment for war and in the repression on the home front. It might seem strange for the SWP to overlook a conflict in which 60 million died, until you remember the role Trotskyists played for the war effort, in the name of anti-fascism, democracy and the defence of Russia. In Britain, for example, the Trotskyist groups wanted Labour to govern alone, despite there being no essential policy differences between Labour and Churchill's Conservatives (only a less warmongering image).
So, when we denounce Trotskyist support for Iraq, it is not an isolated instance, but one example from 60 years of military mobilisation. The SWP say that the only way to stop the war is to "get the troops out. In Iraq the only way is to resist the 'coalition' troops" (SW 5/4/03). In denying the struggle against the very bourgeoisie that exploits you, there is a clear echo here of Trotskyist support for the Resistance that was an arm of Allied imperialism against the Axis powers. The SWP themselves draw a comparison between now and then: "Crowds in Iraq are hunting for parachuting US pilots, like British crowds hunted for German pilots during the Second World War, because they see them as the main enemy, not Saddam" (SW 29/3/03). Endorsing Iraqi nationalism today, like the support for Allied imperialism in the past, is not altered by the leftists trying to give its current anti-Americanism a 'radical' tint (like supporting the Resistance because they were guerrillas rather than regular troops).
Against this inverted jingoism, communists insist that the old watchword of the workers' movement - workers have no fatherland - is more valid than ever. The capitalist drive towards war can only be stopped when the working class generalises its struggle against all states, in all countries. The Trotskyists ridicule such internationalist views by dubbing them 'abstract' and 'utopian'. But to tell the workers today to subordinate their interests to those of any national state is to work actively against the possibility of the international unification of the class struggle in the future.