1. The International Committee of the Fourth International appeals to the workers and peasants of Iran and Iraq to put an end to the horrific war that has engulfed their two nations since September 1980 and to overthrow the reactionary bourgeois regimes that have prosecuted this war.
The mountain of dead—the casualties on each side number in the hundreds of thousands—and the devastated landscape—entire cities such as Khoramshahr have been laid waste—are bloody testimony to the bankruptcy of both the Iranian and Iraqi national bourgeoisies.
Through their reckless squandering of the human and financial resources of their respective countries the Khomeini and Hussein regimes have set back Iran and Iraq’s economic development by years, if not decades.
And for what? Neither government has clearly spelled out its objectives in this war precisely because they are predatory. Neither side is fighting for its consolidation as a nation (i.e., for its national liberation) or challenging a bulwark of international reaction (such as Iran was prior to the February 1979 revolution, or Israel is today).
When hostilities first erupted, masses of Iranians did respond to their government’s exhortations to support the war effort because they perceived the Iraqi attack, which was launched in the midst of the “hostage crisis,” as an attack on the Iranian revolution. But at the very least since May 1982, when Iran recaptured Khoramshahr, the continuation of this war has had nothing to do with defending the revolution. For the Iranian bourgeoisie, no less than the Iraqi, this is a war for loot and territory, an attempt to compensate for its organic weakness—its incapacity to overcome imperialist domination and develop its country’s economy—through military conquest.
2. Fierce fighting has raged for almost six years. Battles have been mounted on a scale not seen since World War II. But neither bourgeoisie has been able to obtain what it covets, a decisive military victory which would make it the key power in the strategic Persian Gulf region.
Imperialism, however, has gained enormously from this war.
The Hussein and Khomeini regimes are criminally responsible for the Zionist invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982. “Iraq’s military debilitation weakened the eastern front against Israel and had adverse effects on the Arab-Israeli balance of power,” writes Jasim Abdulghani in Iraq and Iran, The Years of Crisis. “This military imbalance redounded to Israel’s military advantage and was one of the factors that led her to embark on a full-scale invasion of Lebanon....”
The Zionist invasion wrought enormous suffering upon the Lebanese people and on the Palestinians who have sought refuge in their country. Most of the PLO’s fighters were forced to withdraw from Lebanon, the only “frontline state” whose bourgeoisie had not succeeded in preventing the PLO from waging armed struggle against Israel from “its” territory.
Iraq has itself been a victim of the increasingly bold policy of military aggression Israel has been able to pursue thanks to the Iran-Iraq war. On June 7, 1981, the Israeli air force bombed and destroyed an Iraqi nuclear research facility at Osirak. The Hussein regime—which had once laid claim to the leadership of the Arab Steadfastness Front and which had constituted, following the capitulation of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, the most important military threat to Israel—could only reply by issuing a worthless diplomatic protest.
The overthrow of the Shah was a mighty blow to imperialism. Just 13 months before it was toppled by a revolutionary tidal wave, the Pahlevi regime had been hailed by US President Jimmy Carter as “an oasis of stability in a sea of trouble.” But the enormous social power unleashed by the Iranian revolution is now being expended in a fratricidal war with Iraq.
The relative economic independence Iran and Iraq wrested from imperialism by increasing oil prices during the 1970s is likewise being squandered. Iraq, for example, had foreign reserves of in excess of $30 billion at the beginning of the war; today it has a foreign debt of at least $20 billion. Desperate to buy more arms, both Iran and Iraq are pumping out ever more oil and thus further depressing the price of the commodity upon which their economies are based.
In fact, the plummet in oil prices is now one of the principal reasons the war rages on. Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hussein Mousavi hailed a recent attack aimed at Iraq’s oilfields in Kirkuk saying it would deal a blow to the “oil conspiracy”—the Iranian bourgeoisie’s name for the Arab gulf states’ attempt to reassert their control over oil prices by flooding the market.
This barbarous war is the starkest proof of the inability of the Iranian and Iraqi bourgeoisies to win real independence from imperialism. Instead they are competing for the title of strongman of the gulf so as to be in the best position to strike a deal with imperialism. In effect, each is trying to get six inches taller by sticking its boot on the throat of the other.
3. Should the United States or any coalition of imperialist powers try to intervene directly in the war to impose a settlement, the ICFI will be the first to come to the defense of the sovereignty of Iran and Iraq. We will immediately seek to rally the working class in North America, Europe and across the globe to oppose and defeat an imperialist intervention.
To date however the imperialist powers have been content to arm both sides. They have concluded their interests will best be served if the combatants exhaust themselves on the battlefield. France has been supplying Iraq with arms, while Saudi Arabia and other gulf states which have close ties to US imperialism have been providing Hussein with the cash to buy them. Israel, on the other hand, has been helping arm Iran. And the Israeli air force has routinely overflown Iraqi air bases in the northwest of the country to distract the Iraqi military.
To retain some influence in both Baghdad and Tehran, the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, whether directly or through other Stalinist regimes like North Korea and East Germany, has also been selling arms to both sides. No matter that the weapons are being used to butcher Iranian and Iraqi workers and youth; no matter that the Communist Parties in both countries have been and are ruthlessly persecuted—for the cynical bureaucrats in the Kremlin such matters are of little consequence.
The Iranian and Iraqi regimes dread the social consequences of this war. Handsome benefits have been paid to the families of the soldiers who have fallen fighting on both sides. But the collapse of oil prices now places even this sop to the masses in jeopardy. According to press reports, fear of domestic unrest has led Saddam Hussein to instruct his military commanders to restrict Iraqi fatalities to 5,000 per month.
The belligerents share, however, an even greater fear of peace. With the termination of the war the attention of the masses would once again be focussed on the great social problems for which neither the Iranian or Iraqi bourgeoisie has any solution, problems which in fact have only been intensified by the war.
4. Only the Iranian and Iraqi working classes can advance a solution to this war that does not strengthen the hand of imperialism and does not sow the seeds for yet another bloody conflict by violating the national rights of one of the belligerents (i.e., by imposing annexations or, as Khomeini has advocated, punitive indemnity payments).
To the Iranian and Iraqi workers we say: reject Arab and Persian chauvinism. Stop the war; halt the barbarous and fratricidal bloodletting now. Unite to fight your respective bourgeoisies and imperialism and launch the struggle for a socialist federation of the Middle East.
The Khomeini and Hussein regimes have provided the starkest proof of the inability of the national bourgeoisie to complete the tasks of the democratic revolution. Instead they have led your countries into a blind alley and increased subservience to imperialism.
It is you, the workers of Baghdad and Basra, Tehran and Abadan who must become the true leaders of your respective nations. Place yourselves under the banner of the Fourth International and fight for the perspective of permanent revolution. Rally behind you the peasantry and all sections of the oppressed in the fight for workers’ and peasants’ governments. The agrarian revolution can be completed and real independence won only through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Once in power the working class will however have to go over to socialist measures and in so doing link its fate to that of the world working class and world socialist revolution.
5. The rivalry between the rulers of Iran and Iraq stretches back centuries. Persia and the Ottoman Empire vied for possession of Iraq from the beginning of the sixteenth century until the Ottoman Empire was finally dismembered as a result of World War I.
“Ottoman-Persian relations were characterized by intermittent wars and continuous rivalry over the control of Iraq, which became a virtual battlefield.” (Iraq and Iran: The Years of Crisis) Some historians contend what is today Iraq has remained predominantly Arab only because the armies of the Ottoman Empire prevented it from falling under Persian domination.
In the nineteenth century, the British empire and Czarist Russia, which were competing for supremacy in the area, intervened in the conflict. British Prime Minister Palmerston declared in 1851, “The boundary between Turkey and Persia can never be finally settled except by an arbitrary decision on the part of Great Britain and Russia.” Needless to say, the intervention of the “great powers” not only failed to resolve the conflict, but added a new and explosive dimension to it. Despite several treaties and countless rounds of negotiations, periodic military clashes continued. The Ottoman-Persian boundary had still not been fully demarcated when World War I erupted.
Iraq was founded in 1921, after a nationalist revolt convinced the British, who had seized the territory from the Ottomans during World War I, that it would be more expedient to establish a dependent state than try to maintain direct control over Iraq through military occupation. Persia withheld recognition of the new state for nine years on the grounds that the agreements and treaties relating to the Persian-Iraqi boundary were unfair and had been imposed on it by Britain and Russia. The government in Baghdad for its part insisted on the status quo.
After border clashes in the early 1930s, the dispute was sent to the League of Nations, which Lenin aptly called “the thieves’ kitchen.” League “mediation” failed, but under the impact of fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, the two sides decided to bury their differences and yet another treaty was signed. Iraq later complained it had made concessions to Iran in the 1937 Boundary Treaty only because the country was in turmoil in the aftermath of a military coup. But it was the Shah’s regime that finally abrogated the 1937 treaty in 1969, after years during which the boundary dispute had continued to fester.
At the heart of the longstanding border conflict has been sovereignty over the Shatt al-Arab, the waterway formed by the convergence of the Tigris, Euphrates and Karun rivers as they intersect and flow into the Persian
Gulf. Iraqi governments have always insisted their country must have full sovereignty over the Shatt al-Arab—as opposed to the “thalweg” principle under which the boundary would be fixed at the median point of the waterway—because it is Iraq’s only outlet to the sea.
But the significance of the Shatt al-Arab was dramatically increased with the rise in the price and strategic importance of oil. Some Iraqi and Iranian oil fields are even fed by a common subterranean source. Suddenly what was at stake were not simply legal claims and counterclaims dating back centuries, and control of a vital waterway, but billions of dollars worth of oil.
In 1975, the Shah’s regime won major concessions, including the thalweg principle, after coming to the brink of an all-out war with Iraq.
6. The abrogation of the 1937 treaty, nine months after the Ba’athists had seized power in Iraq, was part of a concerted campaign on the part of the Shah to transform Iran into “the policeman of the gulf.”
In 1968, British imperialism had announced it would be withdrawing its remaining troops from the region, effectively relinquishing the role of paramount political and naval power in the gulf it had exercised for 150 years. The last of the British “protectorates” in the region, Bahrein, Qatar, and the Trucial Kingdoms (today known as the United Arab Emirates), were to federate and become independent.
The Shah was eager to step into the breach created by the exit of the British. “I believe that the Persian Gulf must always be kept open—under Iranian protection—for the protection of not only my country but the other gulf countries and the world,” he declared in 1971. Iran embarked on a massive military buildup, which included the creation of a navy almost overnight.
The Shah worked to undermine the proposed federation of the Arab sheikdoms, so as to perpetuate the fragmentation of the other gulf states, and even revived Iran’s claim to Bahrein.
Just before Britain’s longstanding guarantees to “protect” the Trucial States expired at the end of November 1971, the Iranian army occupied three small islands near the Strait of Hormuz, Abu Musa and the two Tunbs. The Iranian action caused consternation throughout the Arab world. Iraq broke off diplomatic relations with Iran. Libya, for its part, nationalized the assets of British Petroleum because of Britain’s “failure to protect the gulf islands from occupation.”
US imperialism, its resources sapped by the mighty Vietnamese Revolution, looked favorably on the Shah’s ambition to become “policeman of the gulf.” In fact, Iran became the classic example of the “Nixon doctrine,” which advocated that in strategic areas the US arm and finance a local power, or group of powers, which could police imperialist interests. Washington would thus be relieved from having to commit American troops.
When Nixon and Kissinger, on their way back from the Moscow Summit, came to call upon the Shah in May 1972, they were ready to promise that the US would sell Iran any conventional arms or weapons system it desired. A congressional study later described Nixon’s pledge to Iran “as unprecedented for a nonindustrial (i.e., nonimperialist) country.” But it was soon followed by an even more significant decision. The Nixon administration ordered US arms sales to Iran be exempted “from the normal arms sales decision making processes in the State and Defense Departments.”
Between 1972 and 1976, US military sales to Iran totalled a staggering $10.4 billion. In the latter year, Iran’s defense expenditures amounted to $9 billion, more than 15% of the country’s total GNP.
Iran’s military buildup was so grandiose it even caused concern in the CIA. A secret memorandum written at the time by a deputy director of the CIA’s Covert Operations, and published in the Washington Post in 1982, asked, “In 1985 when oil revenues from Iranian production have peaked and his oil rich neighbors are just across the gulf, what does the Shah intend to do with his accumulated weaponry? Will he still claim and demonstrate concern for the stability of the area? Or will he have destabilizing objectives?”
The Shah eagerly took up the new role accorded him by US imperialism. Iranian troops rushed to the defense of the reactionary government of Oman, headed by Sultan Qabus ibn Said, when it was challenged by the left-wing “Dhofari” rebellion. In 1974, Iran and Oman signed an agreement for joint naval control over the Strait of Hormuz. Given Iran’s gigantic naval preponderance over Oman, this agreement handed Iran de facto control over all vessels traversing the strait.
At the same time, the Shah sought to exploit the legitimate national aspirations of the oppressed Kurdish minority in Iraq to further his own expansionist ambitions. Iran, with the assistance of Israel and American imperialism, which had been angered by the nationalization in June 1972 of Iraq’s oil industry, massively increased its arms shipments to the Kurdish Democratic Party of Mustafa Barzani, which was waging a rebellion against Baghdad.
As Iraq pressed forward with a counteroffensive against the Kurdish rebels in late 1974, Iranian armed forces openly joined the conflict. Two Iraqi planes were shot down in Iraqi airspace by Iranian surface-to-air Hawk missiles in December of that year. The next month, Iran placed two regiments of uniformed troops inside the Iraqi border, and Iranian units armed with 130-mm artillery and Hawk missiles began to provide cover for the Kurdish forces, a development which led to direct clashes between Iranian and Iraqi troops.
It was this military aggression, carried out by the Shah’s regime with the backing of US imperialism, that brought the Iraqis to the negotiating table and led to the signing of the Algiers Agreement of March 1975. In exchange for the Iraqi government ceding the thalweg principle on the Shatt al-Arab and providing a verbal commitment not to undermine the status quo in the region (Iraq soon withdrew its support for the Dhofari rebels), the Shah ended his backing for the Kurdish revolt.
Precisely because the Kurds have remained to date under feudal and bourgeois leaderships, their legitimate quest for national liberation has repeatedly been turned into an instrument of “great power” diplomacy. Thus at the turn of the century, the Ottomans sought to incite the Kurds against the Armenians, and in the 1970s they were used as pawns by the Shah and US imperialism against Iraq.
7. When Saddam Hussein announced on September 17, 1980, that he was abrogating the Algiers Agreement, he could thus argue, with some historical justification, that the 1975 treaty had been imposed upon Iraq by imperialism. But in so doing, he was merely echoing the complaint voiced by the Tehran government about every other treaty that “resolved” the Iraqi-Iranian border dispute.
In any case, whatever the legitimacy of Iraq’s claim to sovereignty over the Shatt al-Arab, it was clearly only a smokescreen for an attempt to annex a sizeable and valuable chunk of Iranian territory. Within hours of the eruption of all-out war Iraqi troops had penetrated deep into Iran, far beyond any area traditionally claimed by Iraq.
Documents taken from Iraqi prisoners-of-war ... disclosed a timetable of 10 to 14 days during which, apart from Khoramshahr, Abadan, Ahwaz, Dezful, and Masjed Soleiman, the main centers of oil rich Khuzistan had to be captured. One-third of neighboring Kurdistan (the Iranian part), including the region of Ham and Kirmanshah, was to be under Iraqi control by the end of the third week. (Iran Since the Revolution, Sepehr Zabih)
Although the Hussein regime has never outlined its objectives in this war, the Iraqi attack was clearly launched in the hope Baghdad could supplant Tehran as the seat of power in the gulf region and the Iraqi bourgeoisie could get its hands on at least a substantial piece of Khuzistan. The Ba’athists were also seeking to put an end to the unrest in Iranian Kurdistan which they feared might have an impact on the Kurdish minority inside Iraq.
The timing of the Iraqi invasion is also critical in defining its class character. By attacking Iran in the midst of the “hostage crisis,” the Ba’athist regime was clearly seeking the backing of US imperialism and the reactionary Saudi and gulf regimes, all of which had been thrown into paroxysms of fear by the toppling of the Peacock Throne. Hussein was in essence saying, Iraq’s military might, which had been built up to counter Israeli aggression, was now “a gun for hire.”
The launching of the war was the continuation, in fact the climax, of a steady swing to the right by the Ba’athist regime. The Ba’athists had sought support from the Soviet Union and the Iraqi Communist Party as a counterweight to imperialist pressure when they had nationalized the country’s oil industry in 1972.
But following the Algiers Agreement the Ba’athists moved sharply to the right. Relations with the Shah’s regime and the Saudi royal family improved steadily; trade with the US rose sharply; the Iraqi CP was subjected, beginning in 1978, to severe repression; and in March 1980, the Ba’athists announced they were forming a united front of groups opposed to South Yemen’s pro-Soviet bourgeois nationalist government.
In the wake of the 1978 Camp David Accords, the Iraqi Ba’athists pretentiously asserted that the leadership of the Arab revolution had fallen to their party. But for all their bluster about revolution, when confronted with a real mass and popular uprising in Iran, the Ba’athists feared it and fatally misjudged its power. To the everlasting dismay of Saddam Hussein, who in 1975 had helped orchestrate the pact with the Shah’s “omnipotent” regime, Iran in the aftermath of its antiimperialist revolution was not “ripe for the picking.”
8. The Iraqi invasion provoked furious resistance from the Iranian masses. As in the final days of the Shah’s regime, there was no shortage of youth ready to fight and die for the revolution.
But this legitimate sentiment has been exploited by the Iranian bourgeoisie for the most reactionary ends. With the recapture in May 1982 of Khoramshahr (renamed by the Iranians Khuninshahr or “City of Blood”) the war ceased to be in any sense “defensive.” The Khomeini regime then embarked on a campaign of military conquest the likes of which the Shah had dreamt of, but always felt too unpopular to dare undertake.
The continuation of the war was a major shift to the right and a betrayal of the 1979 revolution. It was however consistent with the policy pursued by Khomeini and the Islamic Republican Party since the Shah’s overthrow.
The role of Islam in the Iranian revolution can only be understood if the longstanding connection between Shiism and Persian nationalism is drawn. “At the beginning of the 16th century the first Safavid Shah, Ismail, made Shiism the official religion of Persia,” writes Mohammad Heikal in The Return of the Ayatollah. “In this way church and state were linked against the Sunni Ottoman Empire which constituted the main threat to the country.”
The 1979 revolution was a mighty nationalist upsurge. Among the most impoverished, this nationalism was dressed in the garb of Shiite theology. Nonetheless it had a powerful progressive content.
As Trotsky explained in 1930 in his reply to a document written by the Vietnamese Left Opposition: “Nationalism has not always been a reactionary ideology, not by far, and it is not always one today either....
At the present time the nationalism of the most backward Indochinese peasant, directed against French imperialism, is a revolutionary element... the nationalism of the mass of the people is the elementary form taken by their just and progressive hatred for the most skillful, capable, ruthless of their oppressors, that is, the foreign imperialists. The proletariat does not have the right to turn its back on this kind of nationalism.
In the absence of a revolutionary proletarian leadership, the Khomeini regime has been able to channel the nationalist opposition to imperialism which shook the world in 1979 into the blind alley of Persian chauvinism. But his regime has had to wage a ferocious struggle to ruthlessly suppress every left-wing and working-class political organization in Iran.
It is one of the great crimes of Stalinism, that in Iran, which has one of the oldest workers’ movements in the Middle East and a long secular revolutionary history dating back at least to the Persian Revolution of 1905—a revolution which was precipitated in large measure by the events in St. Petersburg and Moscow—the Islamic fundamentalists were able to capture the leadership of the revolution against the Shah.
Although it did introduce many significant reforms, Iran’s “revolutionary government” is, and has always been, a bourgeois regime. The bourgeois state in Iran was never smashed. On the contrary, Khomeini personally intervened to ensure that while certain generals were purged, the Shah’s army remained intact.
And the new government, determined to resist the demands on the part of the oppressed nationalities within Iran (such as the Kurds and Baluchis) for more rights, increasingly turned to the army for support. That US imperialism was eager to seize on any sign of opposition to the new government is indubitable. But it was not surprising that these groups, which had played an important role in the Shah’s overthrow, would come forward with their demands, just as the oppressed nationalities in Russia had done so in the wake of the 1917 revolution and in Turkey following the revolution of 1908-1909.
Under the Islamic constitution, which was proclaimed in December 1979, non-Shia groups such as the Kurds are placed in double jeopardy because they are not only denied self-government or autonomy they are also excluded from holding leading posts in the republic because they are Sunni Moslems.
The new constitution also stipulates the Iranian government must promote Pan-Islamism, i.e., the utopian conception that all Muslim nations must be politically, economically and culturally integrated. “There is no geographic border for the imam (Khomeini),” explained Iranian President Ali Akbar Khamanai. Iran’s commitment to Pan-Islamism was viewed with considerable apprehension in Iraq, the only other country with a Shiite majority. Baghdad’s fears increased when Iran designated Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakeem, a prominent Iraqi Shiite theologian living in exile in Iran, as head of the “Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq.”
During the first half of 1980, relations between the Khomeini and Hussein regimes became increasingly hostile. Iran refused to return the Arab Islands to the United Arab Emirates or even to cede several strips of territory that were to revert to Iraq under the Algiers Agreement. Statements by Iranian spokesmen, such as Foreign Minister Sadegh Gotbzadeh, that all the gulf states were historically part of Iran and Khomeini’s repeated calls for the overthrow of the “atheist” Ba’athist regime also added fuel to the conflict.
The competing claims for hegemony over the gulf were reflected in an infantile argument between Khomeini and Hussein over whether it should be called the Persian, Arab or Islamic Gulf.
The outbreak of the war initially increased support for the Iranian government, which has used it as a bloody means to divert the revolutionary movement of the Iranian masses. With the conclusion of the hostage crisis in January 1981, the Khomeini regime attacked ever more openly and boldly Iran’s left-wing parties, groups such as the Mojahedin, Fedayeen and finally the Tudeh party. The war’s continuation since May 1982 has been accompanied by a policy of bloody military suppression of the left wing. At the same time the size and stature of the army, the principal pillar of bourgeois rule in Iran, has by necessity been increased enormously.
Although the Iranian army has now been on the offensive for four years, it has had no more success than did the Iraqis in the early stages of the war at winning the support of the local populace. Iraq’s large Shia population has not flocked to Khomeini’s Pan-Islamic banner. If anything, there has been a resurgence of Iraqi nationalism in the face of what is viewed as a foreign aggression.
Unable to solve the common problems of the masses in their countries, the Iraqi and Iranian bourgeoisies have stumbled into a program of mutual extermination. The working class can have no interest in either an Iranian or Iraqi victory, or in a settlement dictated by imperialism, an outcome that grows more likely every day the war drags on. It must advance its own solution: the road to peace lies through a socialist federation of the Middle East.
9. Our purpose in issuing this statement is first and foremost to define the attitude the international working class must take to the Iran-Iraq war and elucidate the tasks it poses to the world Trotskyist movement. But this statement is, by necessity, also part of the struggle the International Committee of the Fourth International is waging against the anti-Trotskyist renegades—G. Healy, M. Banda and C. Slaughter.
The central leaders of the IC’s oldest section (the Workers Revolutionary Party of Britain), Healy, Banda and Slaughter, capitulated to imperialism and betrayed Marxism. From the mid-1970s on, they used their political authority to impose an increasingly right-wing and Pabloite line on the Fourth International. One of the most damaging positions they foisted on the IC was an utterly unprincipled attitude to the Iran-Iraq war.
In fact, it must be said point blank: Healy, Banda and Slaughter bear direct responsibility for the carnage now taking place in the Persian Gulf. In the crucial period prior to the war when the Ba’athist regime was swinging sharply to the right, the WRP provided it with a much-needed political cover.
On December 16-17, 1985, the ICFI met in London. After hearing the preliminary report of an international control commission it had established to investigate the degeneration of the WRP under Healy, Banda and Slaughter’s leadership, the IC voted to suspend the British section. In only a few weeks of work, the control commission had uncovered a mountain of evidence proving the WRP leadership had carried out a class betrayal. Behind the back of the IC, they had sold Trotskyist principles—above all the theory and perspective of permanent revolution—in return for cash subsidies from the Arab colonial bourgeoisie.
Taken aback by the new political problems it encountered following the return to power of the Labour Party in Britain in 1974, the WRP leadership initiated a “turn to the Middle East.” Although this was presented to the IC as a turn to the “revolution,” it was in fact a pragmatic maneuver. Faced with complex problems arising from the still powerful illusions in reformism in the British working class, Healy, Banda and Slaughter abandoned a proletarian orientation and began looking to other forces to deal with their section’s immediate practical difficulties.
No attempt was made to develop and concretize the perspective of permanent revolution. Not even a single serious analysis was produced of the development of the class struggle in the Middle East, an area which unquestionably is a decisive battleground in the world socialist revolution. Instead the pages of the party’s daily organ, the Netos Line, were used to engage in the crudest adulation of bourgeois nationalist leaders and regimes.
In the summer of 1980, just weeks before the Iraqi army invaded Iran, the Netos Line published a six-part series, subsequently reproduced as a glossy pamphlet, hailing the “Iraqi revolution” and its “leader,” Saddam Hussein. Eighteen months earlier, Healy, Banda and Slaughter had broken with all of the traditions of Trotskyism, including their own writings against the Pabloites, when they supported the Ba’athists’ execution of 21 leaders of the Iraqi Communist Party. The WRP even held joint public meetings with the Ba’athist-controlled Iraqi students’ association in Britain to defend the state repression directed against the Iraqi CP.
Hussein’s attack on the Iraqi Stalinists was justified by the WRP leaders on the grounds that the Iraqi CP had broken the agreement under which it had formed a National Front with the Ba’athist government in 1972. In fact, the real crime of the Iraqi Stalinists was to have entered into this agreement in the first place.
Sealed shortly after the Baghdad government had concluded a “friendship treaty” with the Kremlin bureaucracy, the National Front agreement stipulated that the CP could be nothing more than a fifth wheel of the Ba’athist regime. The conditions included: (1) The Front’s raison d’etre should be the protection of the 1968 Ba’ath revolution and the consolidation of its achievements. (2) The leading role of the Ba’ath party must be recognized within the Front. (3) Any assessment of the Ba’ath party by the other progressive forces must be a scientific one, and the Ba’ath should be perceived as a revolutionary, socialist, Unitarian party.” (Iraq and Iran: The Years of Crisis)
That Hussein decided to discard such a bloc with the Iraqi Stalinists was surely a sign he was moving rapidly toward an accommodation with imperialism. The Ba’athists have a long history of bloody violence against the Iraqi CP. Estimates of the number of CP members they killed during the short time they held power in 1963 run as high as 3,000. But Healy, notwithstanding his much vaunted ability to apprehend changes in the “microworld” through his pseudodialectics, was oblivious to all this. In fact, he was hobnobbing with the Ba’athists in Baghdad only hours before they launched their cowardly attack on the Iranian revolution.
Likewise, the WRP leaders failed to make any class analysis of the development of the Iranian revolution. On February 12, 1979 the IC issued a clear and unequivocal statement on the Iranian revolution:
The truth is that the masses were moved by class questions, not religious ones.
However in the absence of an organized revolutionary leadership, and because of the cowardly class collaborationist policies of Iranian Stalinism in the Tudeh party, Ayatollah Khomeini and other religious leaders of the Shiite sect have been able to establish a virtual monopoly on the opposition forces....
The policies of Khomeini reflect the contradictory and equivocal nature of the bazaar merchants and other elements of the Iranian native capitalist class and petty bourgeoisie....
But they cannot and will not challenge capitalist state power in Iran.... The Stalinists and centrists of all varieties will oppose the strategy of advance to the socialist revolution in Iran.... They will say it is ‘sectarian’ to advocate policies for the working class which are independent of and opposed to the bourgeoisie....
Only the strategy and tactics of permanent revolution, in combat against imperialism, against the native bourgeoisie and against the treachery of the Stalinist bureaucracy of both Peking and Moscow can find the way forward.
But after this correct statement was published, the WRP never again returned to it. On the contrary, the News Line directly contradicted it by assuming an uncritical attitude to the Iranian regime. Khomeini was simply identified with the “masses”—a nonclass category which only served to obscure the real contradictions in Iran. The WRP leaders engaged in the crudest worshipping of the accomplished fact, simply accepting that because of the betrayals of Stalinism, the fundamentalists had gained leadership of the revolution. Thus, for example, the referendum on the establishment of an Islamic republic was hailed as simply another triumph for the masses.
This craven outlook found its crudest expression in a series of articles written by Savas Michael, head of the Greek Workers Internationalist League (since renamed the Workers Revolutionary Party). Savas Michael, who has recently been promoted by Healy to the post of secretary of his bogus “International Committee (1953),” wrote an “eyewitness account” of the Iranian revolution after visiting Tehran in February 1983. His visit coincided with the arrest and frameup trials of Tudeh party leaders.
“The first major trend,” involved in the Iranian revolution, wrote Savas Michael, “aimed at establishing a bourgeois democratic government.... The second trend aimed at establishing a revolutionary ‘Islamic government’ of the deprived, the Mustazafin. It was to the leadership of the Islamic movement that Imam Khomeini was raised. Socially, it was based on the peasants, the workers, the proletarianized poor who came from the countryside and congregated in the shanty towns of the big cities, as well as the popular Islamic clergy.”
This unabashed impressionism was the opposite of the Marxist method of historical materialism, which strives to uncover the material bases of all political developments.
As relations between Iran and Iraq grew increasingly hostile in 1980, Alex Mitchell, employing the techniques he had learnt on Fleet Street, simply edited out of the News Line any mention of the threats and counterthreats issued by Khomeini and Hussein.
With the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, the bankrupt, opportunist policy of the WRP leadership began to become completely unstuck. The war was an intense embarrassment to Healy, Banda and Slaughter. Even worse, it cut across their attempts to raise cash from Middle East governments.
10. When in September 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, the WRP called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and, after some equivocation, correctly placed responsibility for the war on the Ba’athist regime. But as the fighting dragged on and it became clear what was involved was a major military conflict, the WRP fell silent.
It did not repudiate, let alone make a critical examination of, its previous lavish support for Saddam Hussein. Any statements the WRP did issue were directed towards the bourgeois nationalist rulers of Iran and Iraq, reproaching them for breaking the “antiimperialist front,” but never toward the masses, and above all never toward either the Iranian or Iraqi working class.
The Iranian decision to cross into Iraq in the summer of 1982, was condemned by the News Line. It called the attack “a disservice to the besieged Palestinian and Lebanese fighters in Beirut and to the Iranian revolution itself.”
But the Iranian government’s decision to continue the war, which as we have demonstrated above, was both an outcome of the policy pursued by the Islamic fundamentalists since the overthrow of the Shah and part of a sharp turn to the right on their part, did not compel the WRP to investigate further the origins of the conflict. To have done so would have required a critique of the development of the Iranian revolution and an analysis of the class contradictions in both Iran and Iraq. Instead, the WRP continued without a serious policy toward the war. Then, long after it had become clear the Iranian bourgeoisie was intent on prosecuting the war and had transformed what was a defensive struggle into a war for conquest, the WRP shifted its line completely. In September 1983, without any discussion with its comrades in the IC, the WRP came out in full support of the war aims of the regime.
The Iraqi government was now denounced “as a tool of imperialism” with no more of an explanation than when the News Line had been hailing it as a bulwark in the struggle against US imperialism.
A subsequent editorial justified the WRP’s shift on the war, by citing the fact that France had shipped Exocet missiles to Iraq. It accused the Mitterrand government of acting “as a proxy for US imperialism.” Later, however, the News Line upheld the right of Iran to obtain arms from Israel, which far more than French imperialism is a “proxy” of Washington. The truth is the concept of a proxy war is completely bogus and un-Marxist. If the WRP leaders resorted to this impressionist approach, it was precisely because they had refused to examine the war from the standpoint of the class nature of the states involved and the internal contradictions arising from their belated capitalist development.
The unprincipled line taken by the WRP on the Iran-Iraq war and toward the Hussein and Khomeini regimes provoked opposition within the IC. These positions—along with a whole series of others, equally anti-Marxist, which Healy, Banda and Slaughter had imposed upon the IC—were attacked by a delegation from the Workers League of the United States at the IC meeting of February 1984. (The Workers League although barred from membership in the IC by the reactionary Voorhis Act is in political sympathy with it.)
The reply of Healy, Banda and Slaughter to the call for a discussion of their political positions was to threaten the Workers League with immediate expulsion from the IC. Significantly, in their factional tirade against the Workers League, Banda and Slaughter denounced it for having published a statement in the February 7, 1984 issue of its twice-weekly organ, the Bulletin, condemning the Iranian government’s repression of the Tudeh party. Healy, for his part, chose to absent himself from the discussion altogether.
The Australian section of the IC, the Socialist Labour League, was attacked in May 1984 for having issued a statement calling for an end to the Iran-Iraq war and criticizing the Khomeini regime for continuing the war. Writing on behalf of the WRP leadership, Professor Geoff Pilling informed the SLL there was no precedent for the Marxist movement changing its evaluation of a war because one side’s army had crossed into the other’s territory. While it is true, Marxists do not evaluate a war on the basis of who fired the first shot, or who has the upper hand at any moment, there are certainly cases in which the character of a war can change, as it has in the case of the Iran-Iraq war.
That is precisely what happened in the Franco-Prussian War, the war to which Lenin always referred as the classic example of a just or defensive war. “The war of 1870-71 was historically progressive on the part of Germany, until Napoleon III was defeated: the latter, together with the czar, had oppressed Germany for years, keeping her in a state of feudal disunity,” explained Lenin in his pamphlet Socialism and War. “But as soon as the war developed into the plundering of France (the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine), Marx and Engels emphatically condemned the Germans.”
The leaders of the WRP, and above all, Healy, Banda and Slaughter, were no longer interested in such principled questions.
On another occasion, when asked why the WRP would not condemn the Khomeini regime for continuing this reactionary war, Banda replied it would be “inexpedient.” He never explained why it would have been “inexpedient” for the IC’s British section to have stood on principle, but it can be inferred from the mercenary relations that the WRP is now known to have established with bourgeois regimes in the Middle East that it was because of considerations of the most reactionary and unprincipled character.
Banda and the WRP leadership placed the perceived needs of their own party above those of the world working class. Having broken with the most elementary precepts of proletarian internationalism, Banda was already well on the road to where he is today—in discussions with the Sri Lankan LSSP, the first party professing to be Trotskyist to enter a bourgeois government.
An individual, a group, a party, or a class that is capable of ‘objectively’ picking its nose while it watches men drunk with blood, and incited from above, massacring defenseless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten,” wrote Trotsky in a scathing indictment of the Russian liberals who covered up for the atrocities committed by the Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek armies in the First Balkan War.
On the other hand, a party, or a class that rises up against every abominable action wherever it has occurred, as vigorously and unhesitatingly as a living organism reacts to protect its eyes when they are threatened with external injury—such a party or class is sound at heart.
The International Committee did react. It has broken with Healy, Banda, Slaughter and their petty bourgeois followers. In defeating this virulent anti-Trotskyist tendency, the IC has opened a new chapter in the history of the Fourth International. Through this struggle the IC can not only defend, but also can and must develop the theory of permanent revolution. A real turn to the revolution in the Middle East can now be initiated and new sections of the ICFI established, including in Iran and Iraq.
Mobilize the Iranian and Iraqi working class to halt the war! Down with the Khomeini and Hussein regimes which have opened the door to direct imperialist intervention in the Persian Gulf region!
Forward to the socialist revolution and the establishment of a socialist federation of the Middle East!
Build Trotskyist parties in Iran and Iraq, sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International!