The Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi)’s inaugural conference on 8 December 2007 must have been a fairly subdued affair. It took place just a few days after US intelligence reports revealed that Tehran is not, after all, developing a nuclear weapon. It will surely have come as an unwelcome shock for the delegates to discover that one of Hopi’s key criticisms of the Iranian regime was based on misinformation.
Hopi is the brain child of the Communist Party of Great Britain and prior to Saturday’s conference its paper, the Weekly Worker, carried a propaganda piece by Mehdi Kia (`For a non-sectarian anti-war movement’).
The article extolls the virtues and rationalises the purpose of Hopi in light of the fact there already exists an anti-war movement in the form of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) steeled in the struggle against the invasion of Iraq.
Against New Labour’s imperialist chauvinism, StWC came out with an unequivocal `No’ to the invasion of Iraq. No conditions, no provisos, no ifs, no buts, just a straight, principled `no’. It resisted the media smokescreen about Saddam is this and Saddam is that, about the fictitious WMD, the equally fictitious Al Qaeda training camps and the Blairites’ cant about a democratic crusade. StWC successfully argued that US and British imperialism wasn’t interested in the fate of the people of Iraq but in oil and its own geopolitical position vis its re-emerging imperialist rival Russia and the economically booming People’s Republic of China. 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians, four million Iraqi refugees, a destroyed infrastructure, a privatised oil industry and a disintegrating and thoroughly undemocratic and dismembered country later, StWC has been vindicated albeit in the most grotesquely negative ways and the world is consequently that bit nearer to world war than to world peace.
With the Soviet Union now gone, the CPGB is in search of a purpose in life. No longer able to pursue a slavish devotion to the degenerate foreign policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy, a policy geared to its own narrow self interest as opposed to the world revolution, the right-centrist CPGB thinks it has spotted a gap in the market.
In between the principled anti-imperialism (i.e. unconditional anti-imperialism) of the StWC and the imperialist cheer-leaders of the so-called `pro-war left’, the CPGB is pushing a third position, unprincipled anti-imperialism (i.e. conditional anti-imperialism).
Hopi’s two central slogans, Mehdi tells us in his article, are `no to imperialist aggression’ and `no to the Islamic regime’. The two, we are assured, are completely interdependent. That is, each follows from and implies the other. But this is not dialectical logic, it is not even formal logic, it is in fact faulty logic or sophistry.
If one is against imperialist aggression then, the interdependent slogans naturally imply, one must be against the Islamic regime. Where, we must ask, does that leave the regime itself? And, contrawise, if one is against the regime then one must, it follows, be against imperialist aggression. George Bush will be surprised.
Mehdi imports two external justifications to bolster the faulty internal logic for the interdependence of the two slogans. The first is that ` . . . the reactionary and repressive policies of the Islamic regime in Iran plays into the hands of imperialist propaganda’. There follows a long list of the regime’s crimes for our perusal but this is far from exhaustive, he emphasises, as its crimes are `legion’. The CPGB’s website even carries what can only be described as a snuff movie of a public hanging, introduced by Peter Tatchell, undeniably demonstrating just how criminal this regime is. But this is not the same as imperialist propaganda you understand; no, this is high grade workers’ propaganda. Not the same thing at all.
So much for the `no to the Islamic regime’ part of the interdependent slogan. What about the supposedly equally important `no to imperialist aggression’? A paragraph suffices to expose imperialist aggression: ` . . . the US has designs on the region and these designs are clearly contrary to the interests of the peoples of that region.’ Clearly!
Nevermind, perhaps the second imported justification for the slogans’ supposed interdependence will clarify matters? The regime uses the threat of war to tighten its grip domestically says Mehdi and, he threatens, if the anti-war movement doesn’t give full and equal weight (and we have just seen his idea of equal weight) to a critique of the regime then the anti-war and anti-imperialist forces within Iran will swap sides. Yes, the anti-war forces will block with the imperialist war-mongers! Clearly resistance is not just futile, it is counter-productive. There is no sign here of Lenin’s demonstration that the interests of the working class and the semi-colonial masses are objectively opposed to those of imperialism. Surrender is not an option and neither is accommodation except for a `lucky’ few and any leadership that would block with imperialism must be exposed for what it is not provided with excuses.
Let’s give the CPGB the benefit of the doubt however and say that Mehdi demands we take fire at the regime not because he is about to switch sides, which we don’t believe for a minute, but because emotion has replaced logic and he hopes that the timely overthrow of the theocrats from within will save Iran from an imperialist attack. Alas, this approach can only give rise to political illusions in imperialism. Illusions that if Iran became a democracy it would be safe from imperialism and, therefore, that imperialism is sincere in its publicly-stated aim of bringing democracy to the region. Mehdi has already shown that criticising the regime strengthens it internally and so, amazingly, we come to the conclusion, unexpected at first, that by giving equal weight to the two parts of its slogan as against emphasising an implacable and unconditional opposition to imperialist aggression stengthens both imperialism and the regime.
But, let us return to the inner logic of the interdependent slogans. If, as we saw, to be against imperialist aggression automatically means one is against the regime then, of course, the regime is nothing less than imperialism’s agent in Iran and so, prior to any war, the duty of the anti-imperialist is to soften the regime up (militarily if possible) and then, when the actual war comes, to launch an open attack on it. Hence the name Hands Off the People of Iran, the regime is specifically excluded.
Further, if being against imperialist aggression puts you automatically against the regime then, whilst you are fighting the regime why can it not be permissible to take arms, money and other support from . . . the invaders? They are against the regime and therefore logically against imperialism. Are they not, in fact, at least temporary allies in the liberation of the country?
It was by this tortured logic that some Kurdish groups ended up assisting the US invasion of Iraq. Of course those Kurds had somewhat more of an excuse than British Communists for their errors and, in fact, they were proved at least partially right. Imperialism did give the Kurds a measure of autonomy in northern Iraq albeit for the time being and at the more general expense of the Middle Eastern masses.
Undoubtedly there are various feudal and petty bourgeois forces inside Iran itching to block with imperialism in the event of war hoping for some crumbs to come their way. The usual suspects will be queuing up no doubt. That is obviously not the case with Hopi but surely we can conclude that conditional opposition to imperialism is, at best, interdependent with a half-hearted struggle against it.
Hopi expended a great deal of energy organising its conference in good time for any assault on Iran. However, with the war’s apparent temporary postponement, the comrades will have plenty of time to propagandise more comprehensively about the criminality of the Islamic regime. So much so in fact, if they do their job well, by the time the war is actually launched it might have difficulty persuading a majority of its supporters to actually oppose it. That is the danger with an opportunist anti-war movement. Witness the unprincipled clamour for imperialist intervention in Zimbabwe for instance. Behind the logic of the sophist anything is possible.
Giving equal billing to one’s propaganda against the regime of a semi-colonial country that is facing imperialist attack as you do to your opposition to the attack itself is not a principled method for defending the right to self-determination, a basic principle for socialists and not an act of sectarianism as the title of Mehdi’s article would seem to suggest. Neither can it be a principled basis upon which a serious anti-war movement can hope to proceed.
But what of the Iranian regime? Is it opportunist to criticise it? No, of course not. Is it opportunist to give equal weight to one’s criticisms of it and one’s anti-war slogans at this dangerous time? As we have seen, yes of course it is.
How then should communists in Iran proceed at the current time? Naturally, from here it would be difficult not to say arrogant to attempt anything to specific but surely in the most general terms one would imagine workers in Iran concentrating on exposing the regime’s shoddy preparations for the defence of the country, on its lacklustre opposition to imperialism and its attempts at accommodation. Until an independent policy is possible, workers will surely be demanding that the regime arm them for the coming war. That they be allowed to train. That factories, oil wells and refineries have their own regiments. Oppressed minorities will pledge allegiance to the defence of Iran and demand arms and joint training operations under separate command. The successful defence of Iran would make it very difficult for any future regime to deny minority rights to such allies of the working class. Anything less would be taking advantage of the imperialist assault and would be pure chauvinism
And British opponents of imperialist aggression? StWC was not able to stop Britain’s involvement in the war against Iraq despite the mass opposition. However, internal and external opposition to the Iraq invasion made the imperialists much more circumspect. It frustrated their plans to push on into Iran for the time being. It is hoped that StWC may be in a position to call more than just demonstrations in opposition to any war on Iran. It must reach down into the labour movement, the trades unions, and build for industrial action to oppose any attack. Naturally, any genuine rebellion by the working class against the regime must be supported. Imperialist-inspired or wrong-headed provocations must not.
Hopi on the other hand, instead of reaching down into the working class for support, plans to reach up towards the liberal bourgeoisie and it has compromised its slogans accordingly: `Hopi is not a political party or a political organisation. Hopi is a broad campaign. It is not a communist socialist or workers’ organisation. It is not and should never become a front for this or that political organisation. As a campaign it should be able to attract all political organisations and individuals who accept its aims.’ What a criminal squandering of the hard won lessons of the imperialist assault on Iraq. Two steps backward indeed.