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Why we support the resistance to occupation
Iraq's right to national self-determination

February 4, 2005 | Page 8

PAUL D'AMATO, who writes Socialist Worker's "Meaning of Marxism" column, explains why socialists support national self-determination and the right to resist.

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WHEN THE U.S. first began asserting itself as a world power at the turn of the last century, President William McKinley told a group of missionaries that he prayed for an answer to what to do with the Philippines now that U.S. armed force had wrested the colony from Spain.

He said that it would be "cowardly" to give the Philippines back to Spain, "bad business" to hand them over to commercial rivals France and Germany, and that handing them over to the Filipino people would simply lead to "anarchy and misrule" because Filipinos were "unfit for self-government."

"There was nothing left to do," McKinley thoughtfully concluded, "but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep and slept soundly."

While McKinley slept soundly, the "uplifting" of the Filipinos proceeded in the form of an all-out war against the Filipino national movement that involved a mass slaughter.

There is a little more than a faint echo of this imperial arrogance, of "white man's burden," in Condoleezza Rice's statement justifying the continued occupation of Iraq on the grounds that Iraqis "lack certain capacities." The arguments made by the U.S. government today--that the Iraqi people must be "uplifted" by the U.S. in order to be capable of self-rule, and that leaving Iraq would lead to "anarchy and misrule"--are indistinguishable from McKinley's justifications for conquest.

Sadly, similar arguments can be found among liberals who claim to oppose the war in Iraq. Alternet Senior Editor Lakshmi Chaudhry argues that it would be immoral "for us to leave" the Iraqi people "to die in the crossfire of a violent civil war, fueled by extremists" who plan to establish a "Taliban-style regime in Iraq." In short, the fox must remain in the hen house for the hens' own good.

According to this twisted, paternalistic logic, the Iraqis must accept, for their own good, an occupying force that has led to the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians; imprisoned, tortured and killed their people; imposed a dictatorial regime; wrecked their infrastructure and economy; and imposed elections that will increase the chances of inter-religious strife.

In this is an implicit acceptance of the idea that the U.S. represents "democracy" and those resisting its armed conquest represent "extremism" and "terrorism." It paints the violence of the oppressor-- the U.S.--in a more favorable light than the violence of the oppressed--the Iraqi people who are resisting by any means possible.

As the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote, "A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in chains, and a slave who through cunning or violence breaks the chains--let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are equals before a court of morality!"

Another Russian revolutionary, Lenin, in arguing for the right of oppressed and military annexed nations to self-determination, consistently attacked any manifestation of what he called "Great-Russian chauvinism"--the ingrained habit instilled by Russia's imperial rulers that considered it an innate right for Russia to control the Ukraine, Latvia, Poland and other nations under the Russian yoke.

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THE U.S. ruling class systematically and insidiously instills American chauvinism--aided by the compliant mass media. As a result, the vast majority of Americans unconsciously accept the right of the U.S. to project its power around the world and to dominate international institutions, and much of the stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims that help justify it.

But American chauvinism is even more insidious than its Russian variant, because it comes with the ideological trappings of bourgeois democracy. America claims to be a great promoter of world democracy, and a "reluctant" world power uniquely possessed with benign respect for human rights and dignity, etc.

Sadly, this chauvinism effects the antiwar movement, too, in its refusal to support the Iraqi resistance.

For example, in a piece presented on the left-wing Portside listserve titled "The U.S. Left and the Iraq Election" on January 22, Mark Solomon argues that "a good part" of the Iraqi resistance "has nothing in common with Vietnam and other liberation struggles." Why? Because it lacks a "publicly declared program." The "small homegrown units," argues Solomon, are "bereft of an agenda except to liberate their country from occupation."

Moreover, says Solomon, part of the resistance wants to establish a "reactionary theocracy" in Iraq if they win, and the "majority" are "former Baathists" who "have now fallen out with their former U.S. partners, but they still remain foes of popular democratic forces" who seek to establish a Baathist dictatorship."

Boston Globe reporter Molly Bingham, who spent almost a year in Iraq researching the resistance until last summer, concluded that "the original impetus for almost all of the individuals I spoke to was a nationalistic one--the desire to defend their country from occupation, not to defend Saddam Hussein or his regime...They view themselves, and are viewed by others, as Iraqis and Muslims, declaring their fight to be for their homes, their nation, their honor, and their faith against the imposition of a political structure by a foreign nation. Their struggle against us is not much more complicated than that, and it seems to me that the violence will remain until we are gone."

Even if it were true that the resistance was dominated by Baathists and hard-line Islamists, this wouldn't be the central issue. Whatever the religious and political affiliations of the different resistance organizations and groupings, the main goal-- the one that unites various forces of the Iraqi resistance--is "to liberate their country from foreign occupation." It is precisely this agenda of the resistance that requires our support.

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DO THE Iraqi people have a right to self-determination or not? If they do, then they have a right to resist U.S. occupation, using whatever means at their disposal. To deny that right--to deny their self-determination and, by extension, to deny support for the resistance (on the grounds that it has the "wrong" politics or leadership)--is tantamount to accepting the right the U.S. to stay in Iraq and impose its will there.

This is precisely the Achilles heel of the American left today. Having lost its knee-jerk opposition to U.S. imperialism, the broad left has failed to grasp the central issue in Iraq, preoccupying itself with secondary questions that cloud, contradict and negate the key issue: U.S. imperialism invaded Iraq in order to advance its imperialist aims.

On this basis alone, resistance to the occupation deserves our support. We must argue that Americans have no right to make decisions about what kind of society the Iraqis will have--that decision should be up to them. "Iraq for the Iraqis"--any other position is a capitulation to chauvinism.

Trotsky argued that the struggle of oppressed nations for national independence was progressive not only because it freed the oppressed nation from the political, military and economic yoke, but it also "deals a blow to imperialism." For Trotsky, when it came to the dominance of a weak nation by an imperialist power, the issue was not the nature of the governments involved or the politics involved, but the objective character of the war.

He wrote: "That, in particular, is the reason why, in the struggle between a civilized, imperialist, democratic republic and a backward, barbaric monarchy in a colonial country, the socialists are completely on the side of the oppressed country notwithstanding its monarchy and against the oppressor country notwith-standing its 'democracy.' Imperialism camouflages its own peculiar aims--seizure of colonies, markets, sources of raw material, spheres of influence--with such ideas as 'safeguarding peace against the aggressors,' 'defense of the fatherland,' 'defense of democracy,' etc. These ideas are false through and through. It is the duty of every socialist not to support them but, on the contrary, to unmask them before the people."

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