Support the growth of a revolutionary trend of the masses

Class forces in Iraq

by Mark, Detroit


Democratization and the Iraqi governing council
Democratization and the Baathist remnants
The Islamic trends excluded by the occupation regime
The right to self-determination for the Kurds
Social demands of the working masses
The role of class organization in the present period

. While the imperialist politicians debate the best way to occupy Iraq, the Iraqi people are simmering with discontent. Anti-occupation protests have continued to break out and armed guerrillas are launching daily attacks on the occupation forces. The struggle against the military occupation must be encouraged. But the strength of this struggle, its vision of what should replace the occupation, and whether or not the struggle raises demands to deal with the social problems of the working masses depends on the extent to which different Iraqi class and political trends have influence. The political parties and religious organizations may claim to speak for the population as a whole, but there are different classes with different agendas in Iraq. This is reflected in the policies of the trends competing for influence among the people. These class interests determine what attitude each trend takes toward the occupation and to the social and political issues which exist within Iraqi society.

. To what extent the working class and poor are able to develop their own independent motion will determine the character of the anti-occupation struggle and to what extent it fulfills the democratic and social aspirations of the downtrodden classes. The class sentiments of the working masses have only begun the process of taking distinct organizational form. The workers and poor have been the backbone of anti-occupation demonstrations but the bourgeois nationalist and clerical trends tend to dominate the leadership. Some of the guerrilla actions against the occupation authority are spontaneous actions of the masses in response to a particular outrage. Particularly encouraging is the fact that some organization and demonstrations reflecting distinct slogans and demands of the workers have begun to emerge. The fate of the working masses in the anti-occupation struggle depends on how far their class trend can put its stamp on the key issues of the day.

Democratization and the Iraqi governing council

. One of the burning issues of the current period is democratization. The Iraqi masses longed to be rid of Hussein's tyranny, but the occupation regime has brought a new kind of repression, not democracy. Yet a section of the anti-Hussein bourgeois trends has already made a truce, albeit an uneasy one in certain cases, with the occupation. The most clear expression of this is the sham Iraqi Governing Council. The occupation is brutalizing the masses. But the bourgeois trends who comprise the Iraqi council are willing to legitimize the occupation in return for the occupation regime recognizing them as the legitimate Iraqi leaders. They are going along with the U.S. /British occupiers as a means to preserve their privileged position and to further their ambitions to rule whenever the U.S. leaves. This grouping includes not just U.S. -bankrolled exiles like Ahmed Chalabi. It also includes secular bourgeois nationalist groups with roots in Iraq, such as the Kurdish parties the KDP and the PUK, the Shia religious fundamentalists of the SCIRI, Sunni clerics, and even the leader of the Communist Party of Iraq, which long ago abandoned any real communist principles of class struggle for hopes in an alliance with this or that section of bourgeois nationalists. The different bourgeois groupings within the interim council have diverse visions about the future of Iraq based on what suits the elite of their particular national, religious or tribal group. While the conflicts between them have been kept within limits for the time being, they are more than willing to stir up strife between the different national, ethnic or religious groups in order to gain economic and political advantages for themselves. What they have in common is they are all willing to sacrifice "their" working people for the sake of getting on with the occupation authorities.

. While the U.S. appointed the interim government, they are greatly worried about the Shia fundamentalists of the SCIRI which is theocratic and has strong loyalties to Iran, a regional rival of the U.S. Such contradictions are another source of conflict in the interim council and may eventually drive out the SCIRI and some others.

Democratization and the Baathist remnants

. The trends in the Iraqi governing council were drawn from the anti-Hussein bourgeoisie, but of course there have also been sections of the Iraqi bourgeoisie that favored the Baathist regime. Part of the Sunni elite still harbors hopes that the old situation will be restored as Hussein's rule meant special privileges for them. In the present situation this section fights for its survival as a political force against the occupation forces. But this obviously is not a trend that cares about democracy or the masses' well-being.

. The U.S. has no intention of restoring the Baathist dictatorship, but it has befriended a number of former Baathist military officers and bureaucrats and installed them in power in various cities. This has been a source of bitterness of the Iraqi people against the occupation. They have waged several powerful protests demanding the removal of those tied to the old regime and sometimes forced the U.S. or British forces to replace these dregs. Despite the fact that placing Baathists officials in power in certain local areas has backfired, the idea has been floated in some imperialist circles that maybe Iraq would be easier to control if the U.S. had used more Baathist generals and officials to run things. Really, this is a spin off of an old idea. During Gulf War I Bush Sr. was hoping for a coup by Hussein's generals. That the generals were no democrats was of no concern so long as they would be more accommodating to U.S. imperial interests. Likewise, the hatred of the masses for the Baathists did not stop Bush Jr. from giving them various posts.

. Both the Baathists who seek a restoration of the brutal dictatorship and those that have made a deal with the bloody occupation regime will continue to be targeted by the protests of the Iraqi masses. Without this struggle, democracy will remain a dream.

The Islamic trends excluded by the occupation regime

. Some of the fundamentalist Shia trends persecuted by Hussein are also against the U.S. /British occupation and at this time are being excluded from all plans for Iraqi governing bodies. However these are not democratic trends, either. They want to replace secular tyranny with theocratic oppression. A prominent example of such a trend is led by Muqtada al-Sadr, whose father was a leading Shia cleric until he was murdered in 1999 for opposing the Hussein regime. The Sadr movement is at odds with other top Shia clerics who it considers appeasers of Hussein, the foreign occupation, or both. The Sadr movement thus opposes the senior-most cleric in the Shia shrine city, Najaf, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who wouldn't challenge the Hussein regime, and who in April was praised by Wolfowitz for telling Shiites not to oppose the American intervention. And it has a rivalry with the SCIRI, which has joined the interim Iraqi council, though it protested outside of earlier meetings against U.S. plans for the Iraqi council.

. While some major Shia trends have made deals with the occupation regime, the Sadr movement has continued to be involved in protests. It's possible that it may secretly facilitate armed actions against the occupation troops, though officially they say it's not yet time for this. Though their goals are reactionary, their stand against Hussein, and now the occupation, gives them credibility among sections of the Shia masses. Of particular note is their following among a couple of million Shias who lived in the Saddam City (now called Sadr City) slums of Baghdad, which is part of a mainly Sunni region. Armed militia forces patrolling these neighborhoods are reportedly Sadr supporters.

. It's an unfortunate fact that the fundamentalists may presently appeal to some sections of the oppressed. But their anti-democratic and anti-worker nature is already being amply demonstrated. Fundamentalist gangs have attacked demonstrations of unemployed workers demanding relief from the occupation authorities and have attacked activists and offices of left-wing groups organizing among the workers. In fact, when it comes to cracking down on protests and organizations of the working masses, there is active cooperation between the Islamic fundamentalists and the occupation. Thus, it is reported that while fundamentalist gangs have been attacking demonstrations of the unemployed in Nasiriyah, Italian police working with the occupation regime have raided the local offices of the Workers Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI), a group involved in the unemployed actions, and arrested its members. On August 2, U.S. forces then arrested a leader and 55 members of the Union of the Unemployed People in Iraq (UPPI) who were participating in a sit-down action.

. If the working masses are to have the freedom to have their own independent class voice and to build their own workplace and trade union organizations and political parties they must fight not only against the occupation, but against a variety of Iraqi bourgeois trends, both pro- and anti-occupation. The occupation forces have created a reign of censorship against those opposing them. And it is they who decide when and if the Iraqi masses will get to vote on the key political issues. The Iraqi bourgeois trends are showing their class nature as regards democracy. They want rights for themselves, or at least their section of the elite. But they don't mind restrictions on the working masses. The forces which have made a deal with the occupation are thereby tolerating the repression of the masses. And the anti-occupation clerics are also assisting in repressing the working people.

The right to self-determination for the Kurds

. One of the hallmarks of true democratic change in Iraq is the recognition of the right to self-determination of the Kurds. The Kurds comprise about 20% of the population and are concentrated in a large area of northern Iraq which borders predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The right of self-determination includes the right of the oppressed Kurds in Iraq and these other countries to form their own independent state if they so chose. But neither U.S. imperialism nor the non-Kurdish elites in Iraq will allow this.

. The U.S. not only denies Kurdish self-determination, but the arms it supplies the Turkish government have been used to massacre tens of thousands of Kurds there and in raids across the Iraqi border. For the Bush administration the primary concern is not the aspirations of the Kurds, but their geo-political interests in the region. For example, they want to placate their Turkish allies who are terrified that giving rights to the Kurds will encourage the struggle for freedom of Kurds in Turkey. Thus, the U.S. and the occupation regime are intent on keeping any area of Iraq from splitting off. They will at most only concede to some sort of autonomy for the Kurds in a federated Iraq.

. The non-Kurdish secular and religious bourgeois trends in Iraq are also opposed to self-determination. They too only agree to some type of autonomy within a federated Iraq. They argue that this federal arrangement should not be based on ethnic or national lines as this might provide a regional base for separation from Iraq. Presumably this means that any federation either divides up the Kurdish region into various administrative regions or, if an administrative region corresponds to the areas of Kurdish concentration, that they recognize this only as a geographical division, not a recognition of Kurdish national rights. One of the big issues underlying all the jockeying over federation among the bourgeois elites is who will control the immense oil wealth of northern Iraq.

. The biggest Kurdish groups are the bourgeois nationalist KDP and PUK. In the name of Kurdish liberation they have over the years made alliances with U.S. imperialism, the Shah of Iran, and even Hussein. Each time they were betrayed. Today they are still banking on U.S. imperialism. They may still harbor a desire for an independent state in the future, but they are officially against it and resigned to autonomy inside Iraq for the time being. Their alliance with imperialism undercuts the unity of the working masses in Iraq against the occupation. Despite having put independence off the table for now, it's an open question whether the new federal arrangement will be accepted as enough of a step forward by the bourgeois nationalist Kurdish groups, much less the Kurdish masses as a whole where there's long been strong aspirations for independence. The Kurdish people may be temporarily satisfied with a federated Iraq that grants them a certain amount of power. If not, conflict could break out. Whatever the immediate outcome, the Kurds may well see this as a stepping stone to independence. So it is unlikely that conflict can be avoided in the long run without recognizing the right to self-determination. Meanwhile, depending on what the KDP and PUK settle for, there may be growing splits between them and the Kurdish working masses.

. The nascent working class trends in Iraq must stand for self-determination of the Iraqi people. It is elemental democracy that the Kurds should decide for themselves whether they want to remain part of Iraq or separate off. From the standpoint of working class unity, this is also essential. It is only by granting freedom to the oppressed national groups that the divisions among the working people can be overcome. Likewise, for the Kurdish working people the struggle for unity with their class sisters and brothers across Iraq can only take place by opposing their bourgeois nationalist leaders. They must unite in struggle with the Iraqi working masses opposing the imperialist occupation and against the shameful alliance between the KDP and PUK and the U.S. overlords. As well, the Kurdish working people must demand an end to the persecution of non-Kurdish minorities that has been carried out with the connivance of the bourgeois nationalists. The rights of the minority Turkoman and Assyrian populations, who have long lived in the mainly Kurdish areas, as well as Shia who were forcibly relocated to this region by Hussein, must be respected.

Social demands of the working masses

. Like the fight for democratic rights, the fight for improvements in the social conditions of the masses is intertwined with the struggle of classes in Iraq. The neo-liberal program that U.S. imperialism is beginning to impose shows it's out to exploit, not help the Iraqi working people. And this is the root cause of the slovenly efforts to restore essential services.

. If the occupation regime can manage to eventually restore electricity and some other basic infrastructure, that might tone down the anger of the masses for a while. But the economic hardships run much deeper than that. There is no means to make a living for over half the population. That's not only due to Hussein's cruel reign, but to two wars and 12 years of economic sanctions that devastated the economy and social conditions. Since the Bush administration is intent on letting the market forces solve this situation, the Iraqi people can look forward to more suffering. But Bush isn't worried as long as the big U.S. construction and oil companies get lucrative contracts and Mcdonald's can set up shop. So while today the mass demands center around restoration of basic services, tomorrow they will continue against the damage done by unrestrained market capitalism.

. The Iraqi working masses can hardly count on the Iraqi bourgeoisie to champion their social demands. The Iraqi bourgeois nationalists, whether anti- or pro-Hussein, along with the Islamic fundamentalist clerics, all are in favor of class exploitation, albeit in different forms. Indeed, while the clerics often pose as most concerned about charity for the poor, they have shown themselves to be shock troops against the threat of class organization. Moreover, the last few months has shown how the class nature of the Iraqi elites in general makes them susceptible to being pacified by the occupation regime. If the occupation regime can establish some economic order and assure the more privileged and wealthy elements in Iraq that they will get their cut of the profits, then they will be more reconciled to being junior partners to imperialism in lording over the masses.

. In any case, the fight for better workplace and social conditions for the workers and poor depends on how well they are able to develop their own independent economic and political organizations. The more the bourgeois sections are co-opted and the more they benefit under new market reforms, the more the anti-occupation struggle will be dependent upon the strength of the class struggle.

The role of class organization in the present period

. What then are the prospects for the Iraqi masses? At present they are in a very difficult situation. They face the terror of the occupation regime. They face bourgeois political trends in Iraq, many of which are collaborating with the occupation to one degree or another. There is great sentiment against the occupation and the local exploiters among the working masses, but they lack organization. This has created the opportunity for more powerful trends such as the Shia fundamentalists, and in some Sunni areas, pro-Baath remnants, to channel anti-occupation sentiments behind their reactionary aims. Class trends are also weak in the Kurdish movement where the pro-occupation bourgeois nationalist forces of the KDP and PUK hold sway.

. The only way there can be a consistent fight against imperialism and the bourgeois nationalist and clerical trends in Iraq is through the development of a revolutionary trend based on the workers. It is the workers who feel most the indignities of the occupation and whose needs are shunted aside by the Iraqi bourgeois nationalists and clerics. Today they must fight for immediate relief measures and tomorrow they will have to defend themselves against the onslaught of free-market reforms. While each of the bourgeois parties pit against each other the masses of each national or religious grouping in order to strengthen their section of the wealthy, the workers' interests require class-wide solidarity. Thus, only the workers can consistently defend the right to self-determination and protect minorities from discrimination. While the Iraqi elites would be happy to see rights for themselves, they fear an organized proletariat. It's the workers whose most want to see the fullest democratic rights, which will create the best conditions for the masses to organize themselves. Given its antagonism to all the exploiters, a revolutionary workers trend could put forward demands not only on its own behalf, but on behalf of other forces suffering class oppression such as the urban poor and the peasant masses.

. If the workers can establish their own revolutionary trend, and if such a trend can rally around itself a strong independent movement of all the working people for their own demands, they can link the anti-occupation struggle with the pressing class demands of this period. Such a revolutionary-democratic movement would not in itself eliminate capitalist exploitation. But it would provide the most favorable outcome to the anti-occupation struggle. In so doing it would put the workers in the best position to accomplish its ultimate mission of rallying the urban and rural poor to overthrow capitalism itself and establish a socialist society.

. None of this can happen unless the class conscious workers themselves are organized. But this process, the process of building a genuine communist party, is just beginning. The Iraqi Communist Party is not such a party. It has served as the left fringe of a variety of bourgeois nationalist trends, even forming a coalition with the Baath Party at one time. It promoted the UN, which sanctions the U.S./British regime, as the alternative to the occupation. Now it is part of the sham Iraqi Governing Council.

. There is also the Workers Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI), a party founded in 1993 that has begun to establish offices in different regions of Iraq. It's "left communist" orientation is problematic as it tries to reconcile Marxism-Leninism with semi-anarchist positions. To its credit, it has had a hand in some of the demonstrations of the unemployed and in attempting to draw women into the class battles. And it stood up to the attacks of Islamic gangs and the occupation forces. We support their right to organize and support the mass protests of the workers and poor, regardless of our political differences. But the WCPI's "left communism", while seeming very revolutionary, has hindered its efforts to find the way forward in a situation where the fanatic religious trends will push for power should the occupation regime withdraw. Thus, the WCPI also creates illusions in a temporary UN administration of Iraq as an alternative to the present situation.

. Class organization is weak today. But with the overthrow of the Baath dictatorship, there's more of an opening for class-oriented activists to spread their influence. At the same time, now the anti-Hussein bourgeoisie can't simply mouth general phrases against Hussein and for democracy, but has to do something, and the more it does, the more it will reveal the bankruptcy of its class policies. This creates a favorable circumstance for the spread of class politics. How fast this process takes place cannot be predicted. The important thing is that progress along this line takes place. Whether a revolutionary workers trend is able to exert much influence during the period of occupation, or whether such a trend comes of age if and when the occupation is replaced by a future Iraqi regime, every step forward it takes is important. Only revolutionary class organization can liberate the Iraqi masses from imperialist domination and the local oppressors. <>

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Last modified: October 15, 2003.