Israel, Iran, and socialism: Sean Matgamna replies to Moshe Machover

Submitted by cathy n on 11 September, 2008 - 1:48 Author: Sean Matgamna

Comrade Machover: You are someone for whom I have long had a certain regard and even affection. I regret that you have chosen to join in the bizarre heresy-hunt, entirely Stalinist in conception, purpose, and execution, around my discussion article “What If Israel Bombs Iran?”, Solidarity 3/136.

I would have said that your chief trait, and sometimes fault, is an obstreperous pedantry rather than the sloppy-mindedness of those with whom you now run in a pack. I would also have expected from you an instinctive resistance to mob hysteria.

Most — not all — of your contribution is a perfectly legitimate piece of polemic against what I actually wrote. But if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas; and if you frolic with pigs, you get splattered with mud. You too, comrade Machover!

You radically misrepresent me as saying: “While an attack on Iran ‘will most likely lead to great carnage in the Middle East, and beyond’, it would be wrong to object to it if it is undertaken by Israel”.

This is simply a lie! Something that I would not have expected from you, but everyday fare for the Weekly Worker.

Four weeks before your article, the Weekly Worker had a front page picturing the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion and the words: “AWL’s Sean Matgamna: excusing an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran”.

There is no ambiguity there, and therefore no legitimate resort to attempts to “explain” the headline by way of tricky wording inside the paper. The headline was plain invention about me. It was also a piece of extra-malignant demonisation of Israel. (“Threat of Israeli nuclear attack on Iran horribly real” was the next issue’s headline). It is not good that Israel has nuclear weapons; but the idea that Israel would use nuclear bombs in any situation other than a perceived immediate threat of being overwhelmed by Arab or Islamist forces is, I suggest, on the same plane as what the Weekly Worker’s front-page text and picture attributed to me.

Your own cited cases when Israeli leaders supposedly discussed using nuclear weapons, or the threat of nuclear weapons — “it is known to have seriously considered using it against its Arab neighbours in 1967 and 1973” — were situations of such perceived immediate threat (and it is not at all certain that Israel had a nuclear option in 1967).

I don’t know whether you have even read recent issues of the Weekly Worker, though your text suggests that you have. But, coming into such a discussion late, you have, I think, a responsibility to read everything important that is in play in it. Don’t you?

Unless you explicitly dissociate, the implication is that you associate with and endorse the loony-tunes politics of the libelling paper in which you publish, and of the not-quite-reconstructed Stalinist clique who control it.

Where do you stand on the Stalinist hysteria? Do you want to assert that I “excused” an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran? Or be associated by implication with that assertion? If that claim was in your view true to any extent at all, then why does your comprehensive article ignore it?

Your article has the merit that it is an attempt to discuss systematically what I wrote; and you bring a startling new formulation into the discussion: “the USA is the main enemy of mankind”.

What I wrote

But before discussing your article it will be worth while establishing what I did and did not say.

I was discussing something over which the left could have no influence. Talk of the working class in the area reshaping the situation within the time span in which an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear installations is likely — between the US presidential election on 4 November and 20 January 2009, when a new US president takes office — is simply childish, and I notice you do not engage in such talk.

The thing that concerned me was the response of the would-be left. We can be sure that everyone within earshot of us, including the British government, will oppose an Israeli strike. That is not the difficult bit. The difficulties start elsewhere. Most leftists will measure how “left” they are by how much they manage to raise the pitch and tone of the condemnations of Israel that will appear in the Guardian, the Independent, etc.

Because of the dominance on the British left of what someone aptly named “absolute anti-Zionism”, they will go in for wild root and branch condemnation of Israel and everything Israeli. The action will be depicted as a function of the basic nature of “Zionism” or “Zionist imperialism”, or as a matter of Israel acting only as a tool of the USA, as something without any other sense and no possible upfront reason.

The crazy nonsense in which you have enlisted has been licensed by the question, in my article: “in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?”

I also said, and more than once in the short article, that “we do not advocate an Israeli attack... nor will we endorse it or take political responsibility for it... [we] should not want it and cannot support it...”

After a discussion in the Solidarity office of possible misunderstandings to which my article might give rise, I listed in its first paragraph some likely bad consequences and by-products of such an attack — that is, reasons for being against it. That first paragraph did not end with a sentence saying: “For these reasons we oppose an attack...”, but only because neither I nor anyone else in the Solidarity office thought our readers would include a sizeable number of idiots.

The approach of asking — “in the name of what alternative would we condemn...” — is not new.

It is, I suggest, an indispensable question for socialists, enemies of the capitalist powers that dominate the world, to ask in every situation. It is the question that stops you backing, in recoil from “imperialism” into de facto support for reactionary forces that find themselves at odds with advanced capitalism. In the Falklands war (1982) we said that the Falkland Islanders had a right to self-determination and the Argentinian invaders should get out — but we did not support the British expeditionary force or the war.

In 1990, AWL’s predessor said Iraq should get out of Kuwait (Iraq’s invasion was the cause of the conflict), but we did not back the Americans and British in the war.

In 1999 the AWL said the Serbian army, which was engaged in a giant pogrom against the Albanian population there, should get out of Kosova, but we did not back NATO’s war. Specifically we did not give political confidence or trust to those who controlled the NATO forces. (We did not join in the calls to “stop the bombing” because in the circumstances that call implicitly sided with the Serb would-be genocidalists).

In the case at hand, none of the demon-Zionism stuff is necessary to explain Israel’s likely action; there is good reason, from an Israeli point of view, to refuse to stand by and let people who have said that they want to destroy Israel acquire the weapons with which they just might try to do that.

Some of what I wrote was explicitly an account of how Israelis would see nuclear-armed Islamist fanatics in Iran and clearly labelled as that. I used the tone and manner proper to one who thinks that Israel has a right to defend itself, against people on the would-be left whose starting point is that it doesn’t, and, because of its origins, never could. To counter the demon-Zionism “explanations”, I described how most Israelis see the prospect of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

You, and quite a few others, insist that to do that was to justify, to “excuse”, perhaps to advocate an Israeli attack. Never mind that I stated my opposition to an attack, in terms of both principle — my basic viewpoint, which is that not of an Israeli nationalist but of an international socialist — and of the immediate likely consequences in the Middle East.

“Our point of view is not that of Israeli or any other nationalism. We want Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian and other workers to unite and fight for a socialist Middle East...”

My language expressed my determination not to join in with, or peacefully to tolerate, the outright condemnation of Israel that will most likely follow an Israeli attack, condemnation rooted in the “demon-Zionism” prejudice of the kitsch-left and in the view that Israel has no right to defend itself.

I identified the word “condemn” with the language that the kitsch-left would use against Israel. I used “should not want”, “can not support”, etc. to indicate rejecting an Israeli nationalist viewpoint and being against an Israeli strike.

Is there a meaningful difference between “not wanting” an attack, and “condemning” Israel root-and-branch? I think there is.

But the difference is not about being for or against an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. It is about how you assess such a strike in relation to the nature of Israel and of Israel’s relationship with its near and distant Islamic neighbours.

I reject the settled “condemnation” of Israel which, for example, you express in your article. I will not, in response to an Israeli strike at Iranian nuclear installations, adopt the viewpoint that there is something so incomprehensible in such a strike that Israel as such must be condemned outright.

And for myself, I will use whatever words I choose to express and nuance my own ideas. Nobody — least of all participants in an attempt to mob me and shout me down — will tell me what words I must and must not use.

Of course, the choice of words is to some extent personal, and to some extent arbitrary and a matter of non-conscious selection. In general, I wouldn’t choose to quarrel about words. To express the real arguments now about Israel and Iran by proxy, in the form of an argument about what exact words should be used to express being against an Israeli strike — is “not want” too weak, should we have “oppose” or “condemn” instead? — is a waste of life, foolishness.

Denunciation of me for my choice of words is either a piece of scholastic foolishness, or an attempt at Stalinist bullying, or an obscurantist proxy for the real arguments about the broader issues that led me to my choice of words.

Working back from conclusions?

If one tries to spell out the hard realities, and notes such things as “good reason for Israel to make a precipitate strike at Iranian nuclear capacity”, then are you advocating such a strike? Even if you add immediately: “Socialists should not want that and can not support it...”?

To answer yes is to rule out intelligent exploration and discussion of the world. It is to say that in order to avoid “advocating” the military strike I discussed, one would have to deny some key facts. In fact, the only reason for ruling out such an assessment here is to allow maximum condemnation of Israel, to depict what it does as a product of pure evil, pure “Zionism”, pure “imperialism”.

Indeed, it is implied in your own and other comments that we have a revolutionary duty to do that; and to deny uncongenial, jarring facts in general; to work backwards, so to speak, and draw one’s picture of reality from one’s political conclusions.

In this case we would be duty-bound to deny or obscure the large fact that an Islamic-fundamentalist regime, whose leaders openly call for the destruction of Israel, armed with nuclear weapons, would present Israel with a special problem.

Such an approach to politics would rule out anything but the most blinkeredly narrow, partial, one-sided, blindly partisan view of any reality! It is to advocate the politics of the ideological blind-fold, of viewing the world only through ideological spectacles, of only admitting that part of reality that suits you. It is to advocate a medievalist scholasticism — or Stalinism — in the approach to reality. It is one of the great banes and one of the worst diseases of the kitsch left, one of the legacies of Stalinism. It is “apparatus Marxism”.

The truth is that unless you are very simple minded — or very stupid — or dealing with straightforward things like workers’ strikes for improvements, or resistance to racism, you form your political responses and positions by surveying all the facets of reality and then deciding which aspects are decisive and which not.

The idea that you trim your picture from which you have to form political judgments in advance, selecting it to fit prior conclusions, has as little in common with Marxism as it has with any other rational approach to the world. And it has the drawback that if the closed-eyes self-righteous citizen starts looking at the whole reality, then he or she will go over not to our Third Camp independent working class politics, but to Israeli chauvinism.

Misrepresentation

You, comrade Machover, go through the motions of a reasoned point-by-point discussion of what I wrote; but you start off your reply with a straight lie and a radical distortion, stating that I argue: “while an attack on Iran ‘will most likely lead to great carnage in the Middle East, and beyond’, it would be wrong to object to it if it is undertaken by Israel”. I did and do “object” to it, and said so a number of times in the short article!

There is radical distortion in the usage — it is repeated again and again in your piece — “an attack”, without specification. A military strike would surely be “an attack”, but to substitute here the general term “an attack”, which might mean every and any offensive action up to full-scale land invasion, or even a nuclear assault, for a limited, specific bomb raid on nuclear installations, from the air, which is what I discussed, is to radically misrepresent not only what I wrote but also what the discussion should be about.

I bracketed the possible “strike” I was discussing with the September 2007 Israeli attack on nuclear facilities in Syria, and the June 1981 attack on an Iraqi nuclear installation; there is therefore no reasonable ground for you or anyone else not understanding what sort of attack I was talking about.

You quote me once, in passing, as talking about a bomb-strike on Iranian nuclear installations, but generally you use the portmanteau term “attack”; and you do that after the paper in which you publish your article has accused me, with lunatic abandon, of advocating an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran.

You deliberately get in step with the Stalinist-level liars who run Weekly Worker! What else could explain your usage?

You say that I “refuse to say anything against Israeli aggression. Go ahead, Israel — bomb away; feel free to cause ‘large-scale Iranian civilian “collateral” casualties’! SM will look the other way”. The framing of the direct quotation in radically misleading polemical bumpf is constructive lying. In political terms, it is simply unserious.

A duty to whitewash the mullahs?

Beginning with your fourth paragraph, you come out as someone who thinks that opposition to an Israeli attack on Iran requires of you that you do public-relations work for the Iranian regime. You criticise that regime once, and in passing, but you say that the Iranian rulers do not “openly declare their desire to destroy Israel”.

You repeat the 2006 declaration from Ahmadinejad which I cited.

“Thanks to people’s wishes and God’s will, the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is [going] downwards and this is what God has promised and what all nations want. Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out”.

But you “interpret” that passage to claim that the clerical-fascist regime is not as bad as it seems.

You seem to be governed by the belief that to oppose an attack you must defend those likely to be attacked and refute what is said about them — irrespective of what is true.

Your approach here would have led the left — and during the Stalin-Hitler pact did lead the Communist Parties — to insist that Hitler was not all that bad. It led people like Tony Benn and the then editor of Tribune to do PR work, side by side with George Galloway, for Saddam Hussein in 2003. It led the SWP to apologetics for the Taliban (Socialist Worker 1 October 2001).

Serious socialists tell the truth about both sides.

There is nothing, you say, in Ahmadinejad’s 2006 declaration “about an Iranian ‘desire to destroy Israel’; nor even a wish to see that country destroyed by others”. Your attempts to reassure, on Tehran’s behalf, are obviously heartfelt. God, how they have been misrepresented, these benign Iranian clerical fascists!

Your own assessment of the declaration is wilfully foolish! You write that what Ahmadinejad “expressed here is a wish for the disappearance of the Zionist regime (on another occasion Ahmadinejad spoke about the ‘regime that is occupying the holy city’ of Jerusalem)”. You insist that there is a “difference between destruction of a country and demise of a regime”.

You take Ahmadinejad’s analogy with the demise of the USSR — “just as the Soviet Union was wiped out” — to mean that Ahmadinejad merely wants a change of government in Israel.

You feel obliged, in your opposition to an Israeli “attack”, to go surety for the good intentions of the Iranian mullahs! This, at best, is wishful thinking.

What “regime” — government? state structure? — rooted in the existing Israeli population will, in the foreseeable future, be other than “Zionist” in the broad and basic sense?

For all I can know, you may be using “Zionist” to mean extreme Israeli chauvinism. It is one of the surest things in politics that that is not what the Islamist chauvinists ruling Iran mean by “Zionism”. You get in your own light, comrade Machover!

In fact there is no shortage of quotations making clear Ahmadinejad’s meaning. Take this from August 2006: “this sinister regime is the banner of Satan.... all the people are shouting a single cry... Death to Israel”.

They really meant “Death to the Israeli government!”?

Israel “has no right to exist”?

I suggest you make yourself incapable of understanding what Ahmadinejad might mean because you yourself are against the existence of the Israeli Jewish state.

You say it plainly enough: “I suppose I must belong to what SM so cutely calls the ‘kitsch left’, because I do think that Israel has no right to exist as presently constituted or in anything like its present form”. You specify what you mean: “a colonial, expansionist, ethnocratic-racist settler state, a junior partner of imperialism, to which it is structurally and inseparably allied”.

You add that “those who advocate the so-called ‘right’” of the existing, or anything-like-the-existing Israel, to exist, are “fake leftists”. There can be no question of Israel defending itself, because in fact, always, “Israel would be ‘defending’... its indefensible privileges and interests as a colonial settler state and imperialist sub-contractor”.

I would agree that Israel has no “right” to continue occupying the West Bank and building Jewish-colonist settlements there. By that I mean: I don’t want Israel to go on doing that, and I’m on the side of the Palestinians in the post-1967 Occupied Territories and of those Israelis, Jewish and Arab, who want that to stop and fight to stop it.

What do you mean? That Israel does not have a right to exist at all, so long as it does “anything like” those things? That the Israeli Jewish nation has no right to self-determination unless and until it changes its attitudes and physiognomy beyond recognition?

And? And therefore you back those who want to help Israel “as presently constituted” stop “existing”? It is not clear why you wouldn’t.

Imperialism

Israel, a junior partner of imperialism? Of the USA? To deny the right of a nation to exist because of its international alliances smacks just a little too strongly of the Stalinist policy of assessing nations as good or bad — and, in some instances, worthy of the right to exist or not — according to their “role” in international affairs.

The short answer is that the Israeli nation and its state have a right to exist irrespective of their international alliances. In any case, Israel’s international alignment, like the rest of its history, cannot be understood apart from the attitude to it of its neighbours — five of which greeted its foundation in 1948 with invasion, and some of them (Egypt) under the slogan “Drive the Jews into the sea!”

“Structurally and inseparably allied” to “imperialism”? That Israel has had a heavy economic dependence on the USA since 1967 is fact: that it is inseparable isn’t. How an Israel at peace with its neighbours, including a Palestinian state that had begun to develop economically, would evolve is an open question.

You use the expression “structurally and inseparably allied” illegitimately, to assert that Israel is only an outcrop of US imperialism, and to strengthen, by asserting the impossibility of Israel separating from the USA, the argument that Israel should not be allowed to go on existing. (Elsewhere in the article, you say that in so far as Israel is more than an outcrop of the USA, it is worse: not just “a mere tool, but... a regional colonial power with a malignant agenda of its own”).

Iran’s “right” to nuclear bombs?

I asked: “But if the Israeli airforce attempts to stop Iran developing the capacity to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb, in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?” I meant: in the name of what alternatives available to an Israel facing the prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons?

You comment, mysteriously and in terms of my text impermissibly: “Apparently SM believes that Israel, a non-expansionist and non-aggressive state, is not sufficiently ‘god-crazed’ to forfeit its ‘inalienable right’ to a monopoly of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.”

Nothing I wrote depends on such a view of Israel! Many things I’ve written elsewhere (a very large volume of it by now — the AWL’s pamphlet Two Nations, Two States is readily available) says the opposite: the AWL demands of Israel that it should vacate the 1967-occupied territories and agree to an independent Palestinian state. I do not advocate an Israeli monopoly of nuclear weapons. I am against Israel having nuclear weapons.

And you? Do you want to replace Israel’s monopoly of nuclear weapons in the region with a duopoly of Iran and Israel having nuclear weapons? So long as Israel still has nuclear weapons, should we acquiesce in the spread of nuclear weapons? In the Iranian mullahs acquiring nuclear bombs? I think that is what you say later. I’ll come back to it.

What is your point here? Either what you write is a trivial, misleading, and irresponsible debating point, and in fact you agree with me that an Iranian nuclear arsenal, moreover one in the hands of an Islamic fundamentalist regime, is undesirable. Or you want the Israeli “monopoly of nuclear weapons” to be broken by the Iranian mullahs.

Which is it, comrade Machover?

Again: do you believe, do you want to say, that Israel is so “god-crazed” that it can be equated with Iran?

You then undertake to champion the case that in “the historical record” Iran has been less “ruthlessly aggressive and destructive” than Israel has.

“The image of Iran’s rulers as religious fanatics, who would not think twice about incinerating their own country for the satisfaction of destroying Israel, is a pure invention of western and Israeli warmongering propaganda, here recycled by SM”.

It is “pure invention”? The regime installed by Iran’s “Islamic Revolution” in 1979, and still in power (even if loosened a little over three decades), is not run by religious fanatics?

I’ll resist the temptations of demagogy here, though it would be easy enough to list some of the social atrocities and horrors which the regime has inflicted on the peoples in the Iranian state, and especially the women, for three decades now.

Plainly the Iranian regime is an Islamic-fundamentalist one, a “theocracy” as you call it.

Yes, as you say, the leaders, or some of them, are “clever, cautious, calculating bastards”. The point, I think, is that the “clever, cautious calculation” of these “bastards” includes calculations about God and heaven, and the relationship of this world to the other, imaginary, world. They see this world as a mere antechamber to the other.

It may be that here you get in your own light. Being yourself a rationalist (maybe), you can’t grap that the religious mindset of such people is a major part of them and a regulator of what they do. You want to dismiss their religio-political beliefs as play-acting, stuff that they don’t really believe. A central part of the reality I see is that they do believe in their own religious nonsense.

You are sure that there is no possibility that they — or some of them, or some group emerging within the regime — will never let the attractions of a sudden trip to bordello-paradise overwhelm what you would think of as “clever, cautious calculations” about this world. I’m not.

You’re sure that their “clever” this-world calculations will never lead any of them to calculate that Israel would not survive a nuclear conflict, but the enormously bigger Iran would?

The idea that Israel should be denounced for not trusting and sharing in your confidence about the “clever calculations” of these “bastards” can only be grounded in an unreasoning animosity to Israel, or the sort of reactionary anti-imperialism that sees the Iranian regime (and similar regimes or movements) as automatically “better” than “imperialism” because they are at odds with the USA.

The idea that states always act rationally and according to the economic interests of the ruling class was always childish, barebones, economic-reductionist pseudo-Marxism. Hitler and the Nazis, for example, dragged Germany down to utter destruction. Trotsky in 1938 compared what the bourgeoisie was doing, in entrusting power to the fascists, with “tobogganing with closed eyes toward an economic and military catastrophe”. That can’t happen in Iran?

You accuse me of sleight-of-hand, conjurer-style intellectual trickery, sophism, “rhetorical legerdemain”. You aren’t so bad yourself at such ideological “cloak-work”!

An Arab-Islamic nuclear armoury?

Should we condemn Israel “because Israel has nuclear weapons, and therefore the Arab and Islamic states should have them too?”

You “cleverly” turn it round. To object to Iranian nuclear weapons, you suggest, “implies that Israel has some god-given right to a monopoly of nuclear weapons”. Eh? I don’t want the existing situation made worse by a proliferation of nuclear weapons... so that means I think Israel has a “god-given” right to a monopoly!

Turn that thought round once again, and it is the idea that because Israel has no “god-given right to a monopoly”, therefore we should not oppose other states having nuclear weapons, because that would make us “defend” that monopoly. Is that what you are saying?

But you want it both ways. Having waxed demagogic over my “implied” belief that Israel has a “god-given right to a monopoly of nuclear weapons”, you draw back from your own logical conclusion by accusing me of “malign[ing] the leftist opponents of aggression by attributing to them the absurd idea that Arab and Islamic states ‘should’ possess nuclear weapons because Israel does”.

Actually, no. I listed that view — that “the Arab and Islamic states should have [nuclear weapons] too” — as one of the absurdities I was dismissing, as an absurd implication of the sort of outcry against Israel which I anticipated. “Least of all should we back Ahmadinejad, or argue, implicitly or openly, that homicidal religious lunatics have a right to arm themselves with nuclear weapons...”

I dealt there with what I thought was likely to be implicit in the probable outcry — a sort of reductio ad absurdum. When I wrote that, I didn’t appreciate to what extent that attitude was already widespread. I knew Workers’ Power explicitly supported the “right” of Iran to have nuclear weapons; for the rest, I thought I was warning against possible absurd implications in what they would say.

However, you yourself share the attitude, or something approaching it. You express it like this: “The only basis on which we can justly [!] demand that Iran be forbidden to have [nuclear weapons] is to make the entire region free of nuclear weapons. This is the demand we must raise. Of course, Iran should not have nuclear weapons; but neither should Israel. And certainly we must condemn Israeli aggression designed to preserve its nuclear monopoly”. Ah!

Arguing with you here is like waltzing on ice with an india-rubber man! You seem to say that “just” opposition to Iranian nuclear weapons should depend on Israel not having them, and on the creation in the region of a nuclear-free zone. “This is the demand we must raise”.

Of course socialists should be against Israeli nuclear weapons. But to make opposition to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons depend on Israel surrendering those it has — that is to excuse the mullahs’ drive to acquire nuclear weapons. To insist that the only demand we can raise is: "a regional nuclear-free zone", cannot but soften specific opposition to the Iranian regime acquiring nuclear weapons, which would, at best, mean the emergence of a nuclear balance of terror in the region.

One-sided “pacifism”

I asked whether Israel should be condemned “because we are unconditional pacifists? [Because] we think military action is never justified, and therefore Israel has no right to attack Iran, not even to stop it acquiring the nuclear means to mount the ultimate suicide bomb attack on Israel?”

You say this “is a deliberately silly question”. (No, comrade Machover. Believe me, if it is silly, it is inadvertently so).

“Again we must turn it around... should we condone a pre-emptive bombing attack on Israel’s Dimona nuclear installation?”

This is one of the few serious points in your would-be ferocious but light-weight polemic. In reality the situation is not symmetrical. Would such an Iranian strike surgically “take out” Israel’s nuclear-weapons capacity as Israel apparently “took out” Syria’s in 2007 and Iraq’s in 1981? I doubt it.

An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations could be limited to that objective; an Iranian attack on Israel in order to eliminate Israeli nuclear weapons would in practice have to be part of a general Islamist assault.

You are careful to lead up to your question about Israel’s nuclear centre by asserting once again that “Iran has no nuclear weapons” (true); “and it has never threatened to attack Israel by nuclear or conventional means” (not true; or true only on a “benign” interpretation of all the chants about “Death to Israel”).

“Humanity’s worst enemy”

You respond to my question whether we should condemn Israel “because we would prefer to live in a world where such choices would not be posed, where relations between states and peoples are governed by reason, and strictly peaceful means” with the statement that so long as we live in “today’s world”, “we should make the right choice: oppose imperialist attacks — whether direct or by proxy — even when mounted against a detestable regime. Because today US imperialism is humanity’s worst enemy, and its global hegemony poses the greatest danger to humanity’s future”.

First of all, you work a revealing sleight of mind here. I discussed an Israeli attack. You seem to say — here, anyway — that such a thing is impossible: Israel will only act as a proxy. Elsewhere in your article you say it very plainly: “Israel cannot possibly take such a step without an American green light... [Over Suez in 1956] Israeli attack served as a prearranged pretext for the intervention of its imperialist senior partner(s). If Israel does indeed attack Iran, we will witness a broadly similar scenario”.

An air attack on Iranian nuclear installations now — which is what we are supposed to be discussing — will be the equivalent of 1956, when Israel’s invasion of Sinai on 29 October was a (prearranged) pretext for French and British invasion of Egypt (on 5 November, after bombing from 31 October)? It can only be the start of a full-scale US invasion of Iran? Just like the September 2007 Israeli attack on a Syrian nuclear installation was part of an American invasion of Syria?

What you do here is substitute a different situation for the situation I discussed.

Is it that Israel has no autonomy at all? It can only act as a catspaw of the USA? That is a point of view; but not one you stick to. Elsewhere you say that Israel can indeed act on its own concerns, and when it does so it is worse than US imperialism. This is just wriggling, comrade Machover!

My argument was not based on generalities about Iran’s regime being “detestable”, but on what its development of nuclear weapons would or might mean for Israel.

But what is the formulation about “US imperialism” being “humanity’s worst enemy... the greatest danger to humanity’s future” doing in a supposedly political document? It has the ring to it of religious denunciation!

It is cut from the same cloth as the a-historical condemnation of Israel. I have not seen anything like such a formulation, about a country or regime being the main enemy of humanity, outside of the early 1950s magazine of the US Communist Party, which I looked at a while back — Stalin’s supporters, stranded on the “wrong” side of the world divide, and hysterically whipping themselves up to back the USA’s enemy in a nuclear war.

Politically, what follows, surely, is that any regime, no matter how “detestable”, no matter how especially dangerous with nuclear weapons, is better than, less of a threat to humanity than, US imperialism the “main enemy of humanity” — and its proxy, Israel.

And therefore? What appears to follow is that you will line up with any conceivable opponent of the USA — and with the pixillated kitsch-left idiots who see Islamist clerical-fascism as better than the USA. Which is what you are doing.

The “main enemy of humanity” formula is metaphysics, not politics. It is all too reminiscent of Third Period Stalinism, with its arbitrary schematics and subjective definitions.

It is an example of what I have mind in the name-tag “kitsch-left”: inorganic, subjective, arbitrary orientation on the world. And if it is true that “US imperialism” is “humanity’s worst enemy”, then the prospects for humanity are very bleak indeed. Not least of the faults of this formula is that it dismisses the US working class, as this line of thinking usually also dismisses the Israeli working class.

It is a millenarian view of the world tightly sprung, and of an early, if not imminent, showdown between the forces of good and evil. It is a secularisation of the world-view of political Islam, focused on the “Great Satan” of the USA and its allies and “proxies” overseas. Isn’t it?

“Pabloism”

The post-Trotsky Trotskyist movement was derailed by its Third-Period-Stalinist style belief in a World Revolution that was coming to the final clash, the “lutte finale” of the great song. It was to be a clash between “Imperialism” and the “World Revolution”, which, for now, was embodied in the Stalinist states, the Stalinist movements, and the Stalinist-led revolutions in the Third World.

The would-be Trotskyists were led by their notion of a predetermined World Revolution within a very short time scale, and the identification of Stalinism as its embodiment for now, in the first stage, into a fantastic view of reality, made up of negativism towards capitalism, and of (mistaken) positive identification with the bureaucratically statified economies of the USSR and its allies. (See the introduction to The Fate of the Russian Revolution: www.workersliberty.org/fate).

Today the kitsch left is in the grip of analogous politics, but with none of the seeming justification and seeming rationality of those post-Trotsky Trotskyists, the “Pabloites”.

The kitsch left now sees the world as caught up in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil — between “humanity’s worst enemy” and... the others.

As in 1951, at the Third World Congress of the Fourth International, Stalinism was written into the role of adversary of US imperialism in the “final battle”, so also today the “anti-US” forces are written into the scenario for the climactic battle: the Tehran regime, the Taliban, Al Qaeda. and... whom?...

As in the early 1950s, this leads to out-and-out nonsense — identification of black as white and vice versa by a process of arbitrary, negative selection. And without any of the twisted sense which the idea of progressive Stalinism, on one side, and totally reactionary imperialism, on the other, had.

Comrade Machover, here you are led to the side of reaction by such notions as “humanity’s worst enemy”, defined in terms of power politics. How do you wind up after six decades as a Marxist articulating a thinly secularised version of Muslim eschatology?

Israel worse than the “worst enemy”?

I asked whether Israel should be condemned “because Israel would in attacking Iran be only an American imperialist tool, against a mere regional power; and that cancels out the genuine self-defence element in pre-emptive Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear weapons”.

You comment: “The fact that Israel will not be acting as a mere American imperialist tool makes it even worse, and is all the more reason for condemning and opposing its aggression. Because in addition to acting for its imperialist sponsor, Israel will at the same time be acting to maintain its own regional hegemony, nuclear monopoly and ability to oppress the Palestinian people and colonise their lands.”

Here everything is blended and mixed into a muddy political paste! And the paste is very messy.

Israel is bad when it is the proxy for “humanity’s worst enemy”; and when it is not — you concede it is not, or not entirely, or not always — it is “even worse”! Not only is there a power that is “humanity’s worst enemy”; there is also a power than is an even worse enemy of humanity than “humanity’s worst enemy”. The US is the worst enemy, but Israel is the worst, worst enemy of humanity.

And why? Israel has “regional hegemony” and “acts to maintain it”. It has a “nuclear monopoly” and (therefore?) “ability to oppress the Palestinian people and colonise their lands.”

This jumble is an example of where reasoning around a fixed demonological view of a state and of a people can lead you! In what “region” does Israel have “hegemony”? In the Occupied Territories, to be sure. But that does not depend on Israel’s nuclear weapons. In the wider region of the Middle East, Israel obviously does not have “hegemony”. And nor does its nuclear monopoly hand it status in that region.

Only if Iran or some other power hostile to Israel had nuclear weapons, only then, would Israel’s status or even its ability to stand up to the threat of nuclear annihilation depend on its having nuclear weapons.

Washing around in your subconscious here seems to be a half-formed notion that it would be good if Israel were faced with another power in the Middle East able to brandish nuclear weapons.

Unconditional support for Iran?

Should we condemn Israel “because the Iranian government, Islamic clerical fascist though it is, is an ‘anti-imperialist’ power and must be unconditionally supported against the US, Nato, Israel?”

Here, you don’t reply at all, though you go through the motions. You say I know “very well” that “opposition to US-Israeli aggression against Iran in no way implies ‘unconditional support’ for the Iranian regime”.

I did not discuss “US-Israeli aggression”. That is your definition, not mine. Why did I write “unconditional”? Because there is something of “on their side, no matter what” in supporting (even by implication) Iran’s “right” to nuclear weapons; and that is your substantive position, comrade Machover!

But you don’t know when to leave well alone, do you? You build further on my rejection of the idea that “the Iranian government, Islamic clerical-fascist though it is, is an ‘anti-imperialist’ power and must be unconditionally supported against the US, Nato, Israel”. You comment: “Inadvertently, SM has given us an illustration of the fact that you cannot consistently be soft on the Israeli state without being also soft on its imperialist sponsor and close senior partner.”

You’d be better engaged, comrade Machover, in sifting through and defining, first for yourself, what is really going on in your own mind!

Because I reject the idea that Iran is an “anti-imperialist power” (as distinct from a regional imperialism: isn’t that what you’d say it is?), and reject the argument that for that reason (for supposedly being an “anti-imperialist power”) it should be supported against the US, Nato, and Israel, therefore....?

Therefore... my “rhetorical question”, you say, “provides an argument for not opposing an attack by the US or Nato” (emphasis added).

You can’t oppose a US attack without positively supporting Iran? So you seem to say. In fact, Iran is a small imperialist power. Saying that, and rejecting the idea that we should side with it against the bigger imperialist powers, would not hinder us from opposing an attack — any more than defining Iraq for what it is, a regional imperialist power, hindered us from opposing the US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The idea that we should define the smaller and weaker imperialism as “anti-imperialist”, and positively support it, is political and intellectual gibberish. It isn’t new, however. There were many people in Asia, and many black people in the USA, who saw Japan as a progressive anti-imperialist power, a “coloured” power, an “Asian” power, in World War Two. Japan exploited that, for example, in Burma. The US Trotskyists had to make special educational efforts to try to wean black people in the USA from such ideas (in Labor Action, for instance).

The idea that you side with the weaker imperialism, and accept its “anti-imperialist” postures as good coin, would have led to supporting Japan against the USA in 1941, and the USSR against the USA after 1945!

Fascists?

You add: “Let me also note in passing that SM is doing here what no serious Marxist should do: for the second time in this article he is using ‘fascist’ as a mere invective rather than as a precise political term. He should know better.”

I wrote not of “fascist”, but of “clerical fascist”. And I did not use it as “mere invective”. Here, once again, we have your irrepressible tendency to let arid pedantry override your sense of reality and of history.

I agree that “fascist” should not be used as mere insult. The Trotskyist movement, and, of course, the working class itself, paid a high price for the idiotic Stalinist habit of flinging the word “fascist” about in that way.

But in fact there are quite a few different sorts of fascism in history. The Francoist movement was an amalgam of smallish fascist organisations, the Spanish army, and the Catholic church: it was a Catholic crusade.

There were clerical fascist movements in many European countries, differing more or less seriously one from another. In Ireland in the early mid 1930s, Blueshirt clerical fascism mushroomed into a mass movement for a while: it had among its peculiarities the fact that most of it (unlike any other clerical-fascism I know, anywhere) was less nationalistic and less narrowly chauvinist than its “mainstream” rivals, the De Valera government and its unofficial IRA supporters.

Clerical fascism, in relation to Iran, means mass mobilisations motivated by religious or religio-social ideas and feelings, for Islamist totalitarian-political goals. The feelings it builds on include feelings of alienation from capitalism which, in more favourable circumstances, could lead some of the people involved to revolutionary communist conclusions: but that is a feature of all fascist movements.

You describe Iran as a “theocracy”, but that is a complementary designation, not one that excludes the description “clerical fascism”. There were large elements of theocracy in fascist Spain and Portugal. There were very large elements, perhaps larger than in fascist Spain or Portugal, of theocracy in bourgeois-democratic Ireland for many decades (when the bishops could call in a minister and simply tell him what to do, and be obeyed; and often would not even deign to give reasons for it: see the memoirs of the one-time minister, Dr. Noel Browne, "Against the Tide").

Granted that there is imprecision in it, “clerical fascism” will do to be getting on with as a description of authoritarian-totalitarian Islamist politico-religious movements.

Machover’s “third way”

You continue: “SM’s penultimate pretext is a real beauty: “[Should we condemn an Israeli attack] because Israel refuses to dismantle the Jewish national state peacefully and agree to an Arab Palestinian state in which Jews would have religious but not Israeli national rights, and therefore socialists, ‘anti-racists’ and anti-imperialists must be on the side of those who would conquer and destroy it, even, in this case, with nuclear weapons?”

“The oh so subtle rhetorical legerdemain here is to smuggle past the reader a false alternative: either you accept Israel as ‘the Jewish national state’ or else you must accept an ‘Arab Palestinian state in which Jews would have religious but not Israeli national rights’. SM implies that there is no other choice. And, moreover, he threatens his reader: if you reject the former — ‘the Jewish national state’ — then (‘and therefore …’) you must resign yourself to Israel’s destruction ‘even with nuclear weapons’.”

“The false alternative”? You have a third alternative to offer? An Israel that is not a “Jewish national state” (with rights for minorities), but in which nonetheless Jews would have national rights? Or an Arab Palestinian state in which Jews would have national rights?

“SM implies that there is no other choice”? But you have a revelation to offer? The reader perplexed by the complexities of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict will have felt his or her pulse quicken. A Moshe has come to judgement!

Before your revelation, you spend a lot of words rehashing discussions, to my mind largely pedantic, discussions about Israel’s definition of a citizen and so on. Any national state will be to some degree or another nationalist; socialists work against the nationalism, and to win fully equal rights for minority groups in the state; but we are for the right to self-determination of nations as they are, not just of nations as they are in textbook definitions. These considerations apply to all nations, and they apply to Israel too. Socialists in Israel should fight for entirely equal rights for all minorities there; in the foreseeable future, any Israeli state will have some degree of nationalism and discrimination.

Your revelation, when it comes, is less than convincing. It appears to be a singularly undefined version of a bi-national state. “The alternative supported by true socialists is a settlement based on equal rights: not only equal individual rights for all, but also equal national rights for the two actual national groups of Palestine/Israel.

“Who are these two groups? First, the indigenous people, the Palestinian Arabs, including the refugees ethnically cleansed by Zionist colonisation, who surely must have the right to return to their homeland. Second, the Hebrew-speaking settler nation that has come into existence in that country... This clearly means the rejection of the ‘Jewish national state’ in the present Zionist sense...”

You give no explanation of what sort of Jewish national state could be regarded as an exercise of the legitimate national rights of the “Hebrew-speaking nation”, except of course that it must not be “anything like” Israel. This is what I meant above by defining you as a mere phrasemonger. Your stuff here juggles possibly attractive things that simply have no purchase on reality, and have nothing to offer in the way of telling us what we do to get from the situation in the Middle East now to one in which Jews and Arabs relate to each other in a friendly and cooperative way.

There are three distinct things to be sorted out here. First, there is what we would like — what socialists would prescribe, if we had god-like powers.

Second, there is what can be done politically with what exists, by people (socialists) who lack god-like power. At present, we have the singular lack of power of people with small influence and smaller organised forces, in the Middle East or elsewhere. And it seems to me certain that even if there were a mass revolutionary Marxist movement embracing Jewish and Arab workers, it would still not be able at will to wipe out and reconcile the national antagonisms of generations simply by decreeing the merging of nations. It would still need a democratic national programme, some variant of two states. The Bolsheviks needed such a policy after the workers had taken power in the old Tsarist Empire.

Third, the actual role in politics of the bandying-about of phrases and detached fine sentiments by socialists like you who refuse to seek solutions in the world that exists. You act as a cover for Arab and Islamic reaction!

Few socialists would disagree with the generalities of what you call the policy of “true socialists”: “not only equal individual rights for all, but also equal national rights for the two actual national groups of Palestine/Israel”. But how could it be done?

Jews and Palestinian Arabs should merge into one people? The idea is utterly fantastic that peoples can do that at will, especially peoples with their actual history.

The proposal that over four million Palestinians, the descendants of refugees, should “return” to pre-1967 Israel is a proposal for the abolition of the Jewish nation. So it is seen, and for sixty years has been seen, by both sides. There is no way it can be made acceptable to Israel; and in fact, no way in which its realisation would be compatible with the existence of the Jewish nation.

Talk about “racism” here is ideological blackjacking. Nobody would think that the amalgamation of the Germans and the French in the territory now occupied by one of them could be brought about, even after the old antagonisms have been enormously reduced. There is also a great deal of scapegoating in blaming Israel alone for Arab refugees. Almost as many (600,000) Jewish refugees made their way in the years after 1948 from Arab countries to Israel. The Arab states deliberately refused to try to integrate the Palestinian refugees, ancestors of today’s 4.6 million. They did it in part for political reasons.

Israel: “ethnocratic-racist”?

You say that Israel is an “ethnocratic-racist” settler state. Here you wallow in the political equivalent of fashionable psychobabble! Even if your epithet were justified, it would be irrelevant to what we are talking about. It is not justified.

Israeli nationalism is like any other nationalism, concerned with those it considers its own and downgrading and dismissive of others. Nationalisms loosen up, become less tight in their definings-in, less aggressive to those defined-out, the less pressure they are under, the less opposition they face to their cherished claims.

Israeli nationalism, “Zionism” — as I’m sure you know far better than I do — faced tremendous opposition, and arose in a political world which persecuted Jews and, in that persecution's most intense form, denied the right of Jews even to live, anywhere.

Israel’s right to exist is still not recognised by most of its neighbours sixty years after the state’s foundation!

Of course Jewish nationalism under pressure has been and is edgy, aggressive, inclined to ignore or deny competing “claims” that stand in the way of its own. Of course, since the Holocaust it has been seized by a spirit of ruthless determination.

Jewish nationalism, at the time that it gripped most Jews — which was not until the mid 20th century — was and is now, still, the nationalism of a people which had come close to extermination. In your lifetime and mine, two thirds of the Jews in Europe were exterminated.

Of course Jewish nationalism is often bitter, assertive, self-righteous, ruthless, unscrupulous. That is... nationalism. A major feature of the nationalism of oppressed or once-oppressed peoples is that, when demanding their own claimed rights, they are often indifferent to the rights and claims of minorities within their claimed territory. That is the nature of nationalism.

Take Ireland. We have colonised the globe more, probably, than Jews, Chinese, Indians, or Anglo-Saxons, and faced discrimination, prejudice, and inhospitality. In a vile recent example of Irish chauvinism and racism, a referendum voted overwhelmingly to deny Irish passports to Irish-born children of immigrants!

And therefore? Britain should never have left? Britain should reconquer this “racist” society?

Should socialists apply tests of moral worthiness to nations claiming self-determination, and recognise only those who themselves apply the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do to you — as worthy of our support? I can’t think of any nationalist-minded oppressed or once-oppressed people who would pass such a test.

The truth is that there is everywhere a continuum between nationalism, militant nationalism, chauvinism, and racism. There is no impassable barrier between the stages in that continuum.

Calling racist in the Israelis what in other peoples is nationalist or chauvinist is a dishonest attempt to damn Israeli nationalism — and the Israeli nation — by equating it in its entirety with the vilest form in the continuum. It is a form of political character-assassination and moral blackjacking.

There is also in it a savage injustice. A large part of the well-deserved odium in which “everyone” today holds “racism” derives from the Jews not as racists but as the supreme victims of racism in recorded history. The moral worth of such blackjacking is summed up in the fact that the attitudes of the implacable enemies of Israel, Arab-chauvinist or Islamist, even the clerical fascists among them, are not denounced as “racist” or even chauvinist, but classified as legitimate nationalism and splendid “anti-imperialism”.

Phrasemonger

I don’t classify you, comrade Machover, as “kitsch-left”. Old and well-worn terms exist to describe your politics here, pretty exactly. Lenin’s term “phrasemonger” is, as I've already said, what I have in mind.

You concern yourself with formal classifications (settler state, imperialism, etc.) rather than with the living political questions.

You denounce the existing Israel for not being the opposite of what it actually is — a Jewish state with a Palestinian Arab minority — and you do that in tandem with allies and supporters of Islamist clerical-fascism.

You combine anarchist-utopian severity of judgement on Israel, in the same article, with playing the role of understanding “interpreter” of Ahmadinejad, a couple of phrases about the Iranian rulers being “reactionaries” and “bastards” notwithstanding.

You can think yourself thereby a revolutionary politician and a highly moral man.

It is a delusion. You think you are a leftist on the Middle East, but that too is a delusion. The politics you purvey here are right, not left, wing.

Some of what you say about Israel has some use as a description. Israel is undoubtedly a settler state. It exists as a result of most of its people — or, now, their parents or grandparents — fleeing persecution and settling there over the last hundred years.

But you mean the description as automatic and outright condemnation, and use it as the basis for a denial of Israel’s right to go on existing and of the right of the Jewish nation in Israel to self-determination. Don’t you?

You use the expression “settler state” to assert that Israel is essentially the same as the old white Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), or apartheid South Africa, and to brush aside what distinguishes Israel from them — that it was not and is not fundamentally built on the exploited or super-exploited labour of Arabs, and that its Jewish citizens are the very big majority (80%) of its population.

You condemn Israel as expansionist. I believe that the dominant political forces in Israel want to keep as much of the post-1967 Palestinian territory as they can; they allow or encourage expanding Jewish settlements on that territory. If that’s what you mean, yes, expansionist.

When you talk ominously of Israel’s “own special agenda of annexation and expansion”, what are you talking about here, beyond Israel’s domination of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories? If that is what you are talking about, then you should not present it as if you are saying a lot more.

I have no idea what grandiose ideas may be in the head of this or that Israeli politician. But in the world as it is, as distinct from fantasies derived from the Bible, there is no possibility of Israeli expansion beyond the West Bank.

Of course, we (AWL, and the writer) oppose the real Israeli expansionism and condemn it. We are for a fully independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel. We back those in Israel, Arabs and Jews, and in the Occupied Territories, who oppose the “expansionism” and counterpose to it “two states”.

And you? What do you propose? The abolition of the Jewish national state! You make putting an end to “Israeli expansionism” conditional on and identical with putting an end to Israel! You propose to replace one injustice to the Palestinians, with another to the Israeli Jews, the forcible abolition of Israel. That is what it comes down to.

You don’t advocate a just solution, but the reversal in the Palestinian-Jewish relationship of the roles of victors and vanquished.

Consequences

The role in actual politics of irresponsible ultra-left phrasemongering like yours — whose good will I do not question — is the opposite of what you think it is.

You invoke socialist and liberal values and aspirations. You criticise Israel, often justly, in the light of those standards. You conclude that only your “maximalist” settlement is tolerable, and, short of fitting in to that, Israel has no right to exist.

You invoke high ideals and “reject” the existing Israel with the disdain of a “historical” snob. In doing so, you are not, though you want to be, a friend of the oppressed Palestinians: you urge them to reject what is possible, a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and to aim for the impossible.

You counterpose to the “two states” policy an ideal rearrangement that will tidy up the history of the last 100 years; but involves self-liquidation of Israel or its conquest by the Arab states. The only conceivable “instrument” able to destroy Israel is the Arab or Islamic states. That is where your anarchoid phrasemongering leads you — now, implicitly at least, to backing or half-backing Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

You function as an ideological confusionist, an outrider or skirmisher, operating not to help the socialist and left-wing ideas, values, and ideal choices win support and be realised, but as an inadvertent helpmate of the right, of people like the clerical fascists in Iran. You act as an outrider, and unashmedly so for those on the would-be left who are more directly outriders of the Iranian and other clerical fascists.

I suggest that the way forward is two states, and Israelis, Jews and Arabs, working within Israel for change.

Siren song!

To conclude. You and I are trapped on the fifth story of a building that is burning beneath us, flames coming out of the windows on three sides. I look around and suggest; “Let’s tie these two ropes together, put some knots in them for handholds, and climb down. The ropes are not long enough, and we will have to jump the last storey. We may get hurt a bit, or break a leg or two, but we will survive”.

You say: “No! We’ll most likely rope-burn our hands on the way down. One sort of burn is as bad as another. There is no difference!

You say: "You have fallen in love with the fire, haven’t you? You want to compromise with fire and smoke and soot by running from it, by accepting its ‘definition’ of you! You are a pyromaniac! A filthy sootist!

“I know what to do. We should grow wings now and fly out of the window, rise and soar above it all, free of the fire and the soot and the filthy contamination with pyromania”.

I reply: “Moshe, I’d love to grow wings, but genetic engineering hasn’t got that far yet. We simply can’t grow wings in time. The only solution to our dilemma is to climb down. We must move carefully, a step at a time”.

You reply: “Don’t be silly! I know a great Yiddish song about wings. Let’s sing that. I know the lessons of Jewish history. We must learn to fly. It’s the only thing”. You start to sing:

“On a wagon bound for market/

Sat a calf with a mournful eye./

High above him flew a swallow/

Winging swiftly through the sky”.

I love that song — my son and I used to sing it when he was small — and I’m tempted to join you. But I resist, and go on preparing the ladder.

Then you sing another song:

“If I had the wings of an angel/

Over these walls I would fly”.

I love that too. My father used to sing it when I was small. But I resist. I join in the singing, but I tie the ropes and knot them. I know that singing the song won’t help you sprout wings. “Come on, comrade Machover. We can sing about wings as we climb down”. You say: “F*** off, soot-monger”. As I go out of the window, you continue to sing fine songs.

As I descend, I hear you, fainter now. “I shall not, I shall not be moved...” Another song I like.

I don’t know when humankind will learn to “fly” — outgrow nationalism and other such things. For sure, “singing” for it — phrasemongering counterposed to real possibilities — won’t speed the process.

The AWL advocates working-class unity across national divisions. For that we have more than preaching and fine songs. For sure, Arab and Jewish workers in Israel, and Israeli and Palestinian workers, will not make peace with each other without the “rope ladder” of a democratic programme — two states.

Comments

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 12/09/2008 - 14:56

Sean writes, 'The approach of asking — “in the name of what alternative would we condemn...” — is not new.
'

Perhaps not but in the original article he did not answer this question. He said he did not advocate such an attack but would not condemn it. A strange position and hard to understand really- even though he claims that anyone who does not understand it is an 'idiot'. Not really I'd have thought- it is the duty of socialists and democrats to oppose imperialist or proxy attacks on Iran and to organise against them. This in no way implies supporting the Iranian dictatorship- in fact; imperialist threats against Iran aid the dictatorship and make the job of opposition harder.

The confusion of Sean's politics perhaps becomes clearer in this passage:
"In 1999 the AWL said the Serbian army, which was engaged in a giant pogrom against the Albanian population there, should get out of Kosova, but we did not back NATO’s war. Specifically we did not give political confidence or trust to those who controlled the NATO forces. (We did not join in the calls to “stop the bombing” because in the circumstances that call implicitly sided with the Serb would-be genocidalists)."

Here is a very confused position. In the 1999 Balkans conflict socialists should not only have been for the Serb army and paramilitary to get out of Kosova but for the rights of Kosovars to defend themselves against Serb pogroms, for their right to arms and for Kosovan self-determination and independence. None of this in any way contradicts being against the bombing- Sean incredibly says 'we do not join in calls to "stop the bombing"'

NATO bombed Kosovan refugees and Serb civilians as well as perhaps occasionally Serb paramilitaries. NATO blocked Kosovan independence and occupied both Kosova and Serbia as well as other parts of the Balkans to impose political hegemony. It made the job of Serbian democrats and Kosovan democrats much harder. We should have said-"Stop the Bombings! NATO Out of the Balkans! Self-determination for Kosova!" The idea that this is implicitly siding with Serb genocide is offensive as well as nonsensical.

However, it perhaps shows why Sean and the AWL can't formulate serious politics on these issues. It is the old fallacy of my enemy's enemy is my friend. It is nonsense.

It leads some such as the SWP to condemn HOPI because they see any criticism of the Iranian government as support for US imperialism (as they sidelined and stayed silent on Kosovan independence during that conflict) whilst the AWL, or at least some of them such as Sean, refuses to condemn Imperialism or Israel because they believe it would involve implicit support for the Iranian dictatorship.

It is false logic and bad politics.

The alternative is to argue for the Iranian working class against all its enemies both at home and abroad. It is not too hard to understand but it does mean breaking form the false logic of my enemy's enemy= my friend.

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 12/09/2008 - 15:33

Jason,

You're wrong about Kosova, but in any case the analogy isn't a good one because, while in that case we did refuse to say "Stop the bombing", in this case we do oppose - not just in a general sense of not taking responsibility for, but immediately, sharply - an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The difference being:

- In the Kosova case, between a) the continued bombing and b) an immediate end to the bombing and victory for Milosevic in annihilating the Kosovars, there was no real lesser evil. While expressing our refusal to support, refusal to take responsibility for, distrust in etc NATO, we did not raise a slogan which could only mean support for one of the evils, "both of which were worse than the other" (Lenin's phrase I think).

- In the present Israel/Iran case, the status quo, ie no Israeli attack, is clearly preferable to an attack happening. We express our desire and we organise for a third option, ie that workers' and democratic movements in the Middle East can stop Iran developing nuclear weapons; but stopping an attack now is fully compatible with that goal. In the Kosova case, by contrast, the realisation of "stop the bombing" would have destroyed all the possibilities for our preferred option to emerge.

Sacha

Submitted by martin on Fri, 12/09/2008 - 15:39

Jason, read the original article. It does express scorn for various "duff" grounds on which Israel (as such) is likely to be condemned in the wake of an attack, but it does not say that it "would not condemn an attack".

I think the impression of unclarity in the original article is largely a "so much smoke, there must be fire" thing generated from the outcry against it - but in any case the alleged unclarity is certainly resolved in Sean's reply to Moshe Machover (above).

So let's now discuss the real issues. You define any Israeli raid on Iran as "imperialist or proxy attacks". Exactly what do you mean?

Israel is certainly imperialist in the Occupied Territories, but it has no imaginable schemes to conquer or dominate Iran. If the USA wanted to attack Iran - it seems that some people in the Bush administration did want to, but lost the argument there - the last thing it would want is Israeli involvement.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 12/09/2008 - 17:26

The analogy was Sean's not mine. But it is wrong to say that there was a choice between
"an immediate end to the bombing and victory for Milosevic in annihilating the Kosovars". NATO bombing was in no way progressive. Thre only progressive solution was pracitcal solidarity to including arming the Kosovars.
NATO was and is an enemy of Kosovan self-determination.

On Iran, you say you sharply oppose an Israeli attack. Good. The same is clearly not the case for Sean who made th eanlaogy in the first place. He writes.
"there is good reason, from an Israeli point of view, to refuse to stand by and let people who have said that they want to destroy Israel acquire the weapons with which they just might try to do that."

This repeats imperialist lies- actually they normally use innuendo rather than outright lies that are easily disprovable- about Iranian capacity to strike Israel and gives good reason to the putatative actions of the Israeli ruling class. Hardly a sharp opposition.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 12/09/2008 - 17:29

Israel is not an imperialsit country but that does not stop it acting as a proxy for imperialism any more than Ethiopia actiing as a proxy for the US in Somalia. On whether Sean refused to condemn I'll look again but I didn't find any condemnation at all.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 12/09/2008 - 17:41

Sean wrote;
“We do not advocate an Israeli attack on Iran, nor will we endorse it or take political responsibility for it. But if the Israeli airforce attempts to stop Iran developing the capacity to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb, in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?”

This last question as it is not answered seems pretty rhetorical. He lists ten reasons not to oppose an attack and NO reason to condemn it. He then writes-
“The harsh truth is that there is good reason for Israel to make a precipitate strike at Iranian nuclear capacity.
Socialists should not want that and can not support it. Our point of view is not that of Israeli or any other nationalism. We want Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian and other workers to unite and fight for a socialist Middle East.
However, least of all should we back Ahmedinejad, or argue, implicitly or openly, that homicidal religious lunatics have a right to arm themselves with nuclear weapons — and that those they say they want to destroy should be condemned for refusing to stand idly by while they arm themselves to do the job.”

It says we do not want and can not support an attack but it also refuses to condemn. It is in no means a strident opposition to such an attack but entirely equivocal.

Another AWL supporter, Duncan, did write:
"I'm not suggesting the Israeli working class asks their ruling
class to carry out a limited nuclear strike against Iran. Yet again, I
do not support a nuclear strike against Iran by the Israeli government.
I simply will not condemn it."
Though this was corrected to:
Obviously a typo due to haste, what I should have written is "I'm not suggesting the Israeli working class asks their ruling class to carry out a limited nuclear strike against Iran. Yet again, I do not even support a strike against Iran to take out their nuclear capabilities by the Israeli government. I simply will not condemn it."

Submitted by martin on Fri, 12/09/2008 - 20:33

It is just "imperialist lies" that Iran wants to keep the option of developing nuclear weapons, and might use them against Israel? The only way to be anti-imperialist is to devote yourself to assuring the world of how benign or at least harmless the Iranian regime is?

I could refer you to Yassmine Mather, who unfortunately has now got caught up in the concocted outcry against the AWL, but knows something about Iran, and only a couple of years ago could write candidly: "It is quite clear that Iran’s nuclear programme has only one aim: the development of nuclear weapons" (WW 611 Thursday February 9 2006); Iran is "committed to nuclear weapons" (WW 660 Thursday February 15 2007). Was she then an "imperialist liar"?

Or do you think that an Iran with nuclear weapons would be guaranteed not to use them against Israel? When "Death to Israel" has been one of the regime's chief slogans for decades? Why?

These are the actual issues here: whether we think that being "left-wing" obliges us to be defence-lawyers for the Iranian regime, and whether we are therefore going to respond to an Israeli raid by demonising Israel and presenting the raid as a pure emanation of the innate aggressiveness of "Zionism" or a proxy action for the USA.

We should debate that - not the concocted smokescreen thrown up on the issue of whether Sean's choice of words in his original article to express opposition to an Israeli raid was "strong" enough for your taste.

As Sean writes above: "I stated my opposition to an attack, in terms of both principle — my basic viewpoint, which is that not of an Israeli nationalist but of an international socialist — and of the immediate likely consequences in the Middle East."

The "immediate likely consequences" were those spelled out in the first para of the original article: Iranian civilian casualties; further bloodshed as pro-Iranian suicide bombers attack Israeli targets and Israel responds, as usual, with heavy retaliation reckless of Palestinian civilian casualties; throwing Iraq back towards civil war. The "basic viewpoint" thing is this: from an Israeli nationalist point of view you might not mind too much about those broader consequences so long as you thought Israel came out of the whole thing with net gain; from an internationalist point of view, you do mind, very much.

That's unequivocal enough. And so is the point of the original article - that such opposition should distinguish itself from root-and-branch condemnation of Israel as such, based on the notion that any raid on Iranian nuclear installations would just be an expression of the innate "imperialist" and "Zionist" drives of Israel as such.

Submitted by Jason on Sat, 13/09/2008 - 10:13

That's a wilful misleading distortion. The lie I imperialist lie I referred to is the sort of tanbloid bourgeois hysteria that Iran is part of an axis of evil, that we are all about to be nuked etc.

See
The Sun
The Times

This is on a par with Blair's lie that Saddam had WMD that in 45 minutes could produce carnage in European cities. Criticising Blair as a liar does not make us an apologist for Saddam. Nor does criticising Bush on the axis of evil or The Sun on Iran. Iran may be on the brink of nuclear technology. They may well be trying to develop weapons. This is a cause for concern- for the working class movement in the Middle East and beyond. But an attack on Iran makes life more dangerous for everyone.

Martin can lie all he likes about me supporting the Iranian dictatorship. Perhaps people can judge for themselves.
PR articles on Iran
But we will not join in the idea that organising against an attack on Iran is somehow supporting the Iranian regime. Actually the opposite is the case. Every imperialist threat bolsters the regime and makes the job of the workers' movement and democracy movement more difficult.

We OPPOSE Ahmadinejad and Bush. Some on the left seem to find this hard to work out. When we criticise Ahmadinejad, the SWP say, “You support Bush’s war plans”. When we criticise Bush’s war plans the AWL say, “You support Iran’s regime!” It really is a very simplistic logic. You can oppose two things even if they are mutual enemies. My enemy’s enemy is not always my friend.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 15/09/2008 - 15:34

The following are excerpts from a discussion of this article on the 'Shiraz Socialist' blog.
[John Palmer was a prominent leader of the International Socialists (now the SWP) from the 1960s up to the mid-1970s. Following this he was the Foreign Affairs editor at the Guardian. JimD is a longstanding member of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. The identity of 'modernity' is unknown but we assume she/he is not a Marxist.]

John Palmer said,

September 12, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I am sorry “Shiraz Socialist” but are you being serious or is this a satirical piss-take? Moshe Machover utterly demolished Matgamna’s excursion into metaphysics in an effort to defend his “understanding” of a possible Israeli nuclear strike on Iran. Indeed so complete was the demolition of SM that I began to feel sorry for him. Indeed the thought occured to me that the debate may have been staged by some in the AWL as a way of being rid of their guru’s ever more exotic forays into reactionary nonsense.

...

Jim Denham said,

September 12, 2008 at 8:27 pm

John:

Obviously, any assessment of Moshe’s attack on Sean, and Sean’s response, is going to be subjective. You’re entitled to your opinion. My opinion is that Sean utterly demolishes Moshe on every conceivable point, including matters of *fact* (eg Ahmadinejad’s repeated threats against Israel’s existence), *logic* (how can Israel be “worse* than the US: “humanity’s worst enemy”?), *theory* (how can Moshe deny, on any Marxist basis, that the Iranian regime is “clerical fascist”?) , and *honesty* (Moshe accuses Sean of supporting - or, at least excusing in advance - something that Sean explicitly opposes: an Israeli attack on Iran). IMHO, it’s game set and match to Matgamna. And an object lesson in how to demolish your opponent in an honest and reasonably comradely manner, whilst upholding the essential principles of Marxism. But no-one should take my - or John’s - words for it: read the debate for yourselves.

...

John Palmer said,

September 13, 2008 at 10:03 am

Lets get real and put this “destroy Israel” business into context. The reactionary, authoritarian Ahmedinajad undoubtedly uses inflamatory language about destroying the “state of Israel”. When asked what he means he has repeatedly said that he is opposed to an Israel built upon a racist, jewish exclusiveness (one that denies the right of return to Palestinians). But he has said is in favour of a single state for Jews, Arabs and Druze. Indeed he recently invited anrti-zionist ultra-orthodox Jews to Tehran to exchange views about this. Now the Iranian regime may or may not be sincere about this but the “one state” strategy is a pefectly honourable position and wasw one which has been held for decades by many Jewish - including some Israeli - socialists. Indeed it was a standard position shared by the Trotskyist movement including - in an earlier incantation - by Sean Matgamna. Now there is an argument which says that too much water (more exactly too much blood) has flown beneath the bridge for this to be a realisable goal here and now. I am realist enough to accept that a “two state” solution might be the best achievable solution available. There are some signs that key parties are poised to take advantage of a change of regime in the US (if that happens) to make a serious push for a two state peace settlement next year. A great deal depends on whether the new US administration will continue to unquestioningly underwrite what ever Tel Aviv decides. However there is a growing body of opinion in the US which concludes that the price of such unquestioning fealty is now too great (think of the chain reaction of disdaster which could follow on an Israeli attack on Iran.) If a settlement can be reached events may well push the two states, plus their regional neighbours to ever closer economic integration. Wwater and solar power in the Middle East may play the roal of coal and steel in European integration. As we all know economic integration sooner or later leads to the need for political union. Maybe the “one state” solution (in the form of a regional Middle East integration process) is not as irrelevent as so many assume.

...

modernity said,

September 13, 2008 at 12:35 pm

ye gods, John Palmer wrote:

“Now the Iranian regime may or may not be sincere about this “

is that right? why has excessive gullibility suddenly taken over so many experience political activists?

such as Palmer wrote:

” Indeed he recently invited anrti-zionist ultra-orthodox Jews to Tehran to exchange views about this. “

strange, that Palmer forgot to explain the CONTEXT of those meetings, during the Iranian leadership’s sponsored Holocaust Denial conference?

Hmm, that would put a difference complexion to such “discussions”

around the same time David Duke, many neo-Nazis and a pile of Holocaust revisionists were invited over for a chat

I wonder if the Iranian leadership were discussing “One State” with those neo-nazis too? were their discussions with David Duke sincere too?

John, you remember David Duke? He’s a long standing neo-Nazi, like walking around in Nazi uniform or in front of a burning cross, ex-Grand Wizard of the KKK

if that the type of company that “Anti-Zionists” are keeping nowadays?

...

John Palmer said,

September 13, 2008 at 1:18 pm

modernity - I am afraid I regard with limitless contempt the kind of abuse which seeks to equate those who question Israeli state policy with some kind of political kinship with the neo-nazis. Having lost family in the war against Hitler fascism and having acquired more than a few bruises in confrontations with Mosleyites in later years this kind of lazy abuse from self proclaimed zionists every time the Israeli record is criticised leaves me untouched. It only discredits those who engage in it as a substitute for rational debate. Anti-zionism has a long and proud pedigree among Jewish socialists and radicals. Which explains the extraordinary force and clarity of Moshe Machover’s demolition of Matgamna. The Iranian people will one day settle their accounts with the Tehran regime. But in the meantime the priority for any sane person must be to do everything to oppose those extremist elements who are willing to unleash war against Iran allegedly to halt the possible development of nuclear weapons while themselves maintaining their own nuclear arsenal.

...

John Palmer said,

September 14, 2008 at 9:24 am

Could Modernity help us by clarifying a few issues?
1/ Does he believe that Israel would be justified in unleashing a military/bombing assault on Iranian nuclear sites for fear they might lead eventually to a military nuclear capacity?
2/ Would it be justified to Israel to use its own nuc lear weapons in these circumstances?
3/ If Modernity would be opposed to either or both of these options would be ready to condemn such Israeli action?
4/ Would modernity think Israel wouild be justified (with or without US backing) to use military force to overthrow the Ahmeninajad regime? Or does he think this is essentially the task of the Iranian people?
5/ Answers would be helpful in throwing light on where he stands in the debate between Sean Matgamna and Moshe Machover - a veteran Israeli socialist and anti-zionist?
My only please to Modernity is please, please let us not hear about “self hating Jews.” It is becoming a bore.

...

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Mon, 15/09/2008 - 16:01

Jason writes:

"The alternative is to argue for the Iranian working class against all its enemies both at home and abroad. It is not too hard to understand but it does mean breaking form the false logic of my enemy's enemy= my friend."

Fine.

But this rather misses the point that Jason is a member of an organisation (and beyond that, a particular tradition) that believes that various working-classes - in places like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan - should suspend their struggle against "enemies...at home" in order to form an "anti-imperialist united front" with those enemies.

Jason's organisation, Permament Revolution, believes that as an imperialised "semi-colony", the Iranian ruling-class is an anti-imperialist force with which Iranian workers should ally against American imperialism. In the event of any war against Iran, Jason and his comrades will tell you that the victory of the Iranian ruling-class would be a victory for anti-imperialism and therefore a victory for all workers around the world.

Jason and PR can, of course, believe whatever they like about the "anti-imperialist" character of the Iranian regime. But they should be honest about their politics and not pretend that their views represent any species of third-campist, independent working-class analysis. They don't.

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 16/09/2008 - 15:07

of our position, Daniel. We do not say that the Iranian regime or any other semi-colonial bourgeoise is progressive or worthy of support. That does not mean we do not take sides- for example, if Iran was attacked by the US we would be for the defeat of the US and the victory of Iran- but this emphatically DOES NOT mean suspending class struggle against the bourgeois but fighting for arming the working class, for participation in the army but using the situation to argue for socialist politics and the necessity of the working class controlling society and the war effort.

Submitted by martin on Tue, 16/09/2008 - 16:18

Jason... you wrote "there is good reason, from an Israeli point of view, to refuse to stand by and let people who have said that they want to destroy Israel acquire the weapons with which they just might try to do that."

"This repeats imperialist lies..."

What is the "lie" there? That Iran's leaders have said that they want to destroy Israel? No. That they might acquire nuclear weapons, and if they acquire them "just might try" to destroy Israel? No.

As it happens, neither the Sun article nor the Times article which you cite say that "Iran is part of an axis of evil" or "that we are all about to be nuked". But in any case, what is your argument here? Because right-wing bourgeois papers say that the Iranian regime is bad, therefore we must "talk down" its evils?

Remember where that sort of logic led with the USSR: the right-wing press says it's bad, so leftists must say it's not so bad after all...

I'm sure you do criticise Iran's regime. (As, after the 1960s, even CPers criticised the USSR). But fundamentally you side with it and its alleged right to have nuclear weapons. The way you put it is that you would be for the Iranian working class "controlling the war effort", but you subscribe to the common "war effort". Actually such war would be as much the direct opposite of a chance for the Iranian working class to contend for power as the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-8 was.

***

John Palmer: the only meeting between Ahmadinejad and orthodox Jews I can find reports of is the attendance of (a branch of) the Neturei Karta sect (alongside neo-Nazis, etc.) at Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial conference in December 2006.

Neturei Karta want to see Israel destroyed and most if not all of the Jews living there driven out. They consider it an offence against god that human beings established a Jewish state rather than waiting for god to do it.

They don't deny the Holocaust, but think it was divine will, so protest against it, or attempts to stop it being repeated, are wrong. A Neturei Karta leader told the Tehran conference: "The Zionists, with their secular pompous approach behave in complete opposition to this philosophy and dare to say 'Never Again'.

"They have the audacity to think that they can prevent the Almighty from repeating a Holocaust. This is heresy."

So it makes sense that Neturei Karta should embrace Ahmadinejad.

What doesn't make sense is that John Palmer considers the meeting between this sect and Ahmadinejad as a step towards conciliation between Jews and Arabs in the Palestine and their merging into a common state.

Even in the European Union, even over sixty years after the end of World War 2 and fifty years after the foundation of the EU, we are not near the merging of French people and Germans into a single nationality. Nor even of the merging of British and French, who have not been at war with each other for nearly 200 years, into a single nationality.

The closer and friendlier the relations between future Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab states, the better. The ampler the rights for national minorities in both states, the better. The better that settlement, the greater the openings for working-class unity.

But working-class unity, and the voluntary merger of nationalities into a common state, will not happen without prior recognition of both nations' rights to self-determination.

Submitted by Bruce on Tue, 16/09/2008 - 18:49

Not merely do they think the Holocaust was God's will, they think the rest of the Jews deserved it as punishment for not taking the righteous path.

In passing, Jonathan Freedland had yesterday a programme on Radio 4 on British Jews and Israel. Well worth a listen and useful political education for most of the left - includes a bit on Neturei Karta. Probably still available on the web.

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 16/09/2008 - 22:35

I try to read popular tabloid and broadsheet papers as often as possible whether in libraries or at friends/family’s houses / cafes or whatever- probably manage to read a cross section two or three days a week at least, partly because I think it gives a useful indication of bourgeois ideology, the ideas of the bourgeois presented to a mass audience. My web search for the post below was undertaken in a matter of minutes but even here it yielded a couple of cases where as I said very clearly the lie or misrepresentation is that IRAN POSES A DIRECT AND IMMEDIATE THREAT to us. The Sun quote
“World experts predict Iran will have a nuclear enrichment capability, the last step towards building a warhead, inside a year.”
The Times quote contradicting that:
“American intelligence agencies startled the world last week by judging “with high confidence” that while Tehran continued to enrich uranium – which could be used for nuclear power or bombs – it had halted its nuclear “weaponisation” programme in 2003, before the MI6 meeting.
The declassified summary of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran not only ran contrary to its insistence two years earlier that Iran was “determined” to develop nuclear weapons, but flew in the face of accepted facts among western intelligence agencies. “
The Iranian ruling class like all capitalist ruling classes are thoroughly nasty thugs who would gladly wipe out millions of people in the pursuit of profits. The US and UK ruling class – likewise. They also lie- e.g. about Iraq. Pointing this out doesn’t make you in any sense complicit with the crimes of Saddam or Ahmedinejad unlike Martin’s slurs where he again repeats the idea that I was referring to whether or not Iran’s rulers are nasty- “What is the "lie" there? That Iran's leaders have said that they want to destroy Israel? No. That they might acquire nuclear weapons, and if they acquire them "just might try" to destroy Israel? No.”
But I said to repeat, in fact to quote what I wrote (complete with mis-spelling),” The lie I imperialist lie I referred to is the sort of tanbloid bourgeois hysteria that Iran is part of an axis of evil, that we are all about to be nuked etc.”

Just to repeat, only the working class can liberate itself and we should have no illusions in any of the ruling classes- whether the imperialists or the semi-colonial dictatorships.

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 17/09/2008 - 09:17

Firstly, do you think that profits are the only thing that motivates the Iranian ruling class? Are they not driven by religion too? (As indeed, are at least some sections of Israel's rulers.)

Secondly, if you lived in Israel, do you think you would be quite so willing to brush off the threat of Iran potentially developing nuclear weapons?

Submitted by martin on Wed, 17/09/2008 - 09:39

Jason, during the Cold War the right-wing press frequently exaggerated Stalinist belligerence and military capacity. Much of the left then used those exaggerations and the need to counter them as reason to think that it was left-wing duty to insist that the Stalinist states (although a tad bureaucratic) were peaceful, benevolent, and anyway very weak militarily.

That was wrong, wasn't it? The quote you give from the Sun is a mild version applied to Iran of the same sort of thing. To add "sensation", it gives a shorter timescale for possible Iranian development of nuclear weapons than other sources. That's all.

Pretty much all facts reported by the Sun are reported by it in a hyped-up, sensationalist, distorted way. That fact about the Sun tells you nothing about... Iran.

Even if the Sun had printed something really demented, it would not follow that it is an "imperialist lie" that Iran's leaders have said that they want to destroy Israel, and they might acquire nuclear weapons.

What you wrote originally was this: you quoted Sean: "there is good reason, from an Israeli point of view, to refuse to stand by and let people who have said that they want to destroy Israel acquire the weapons with which they just might try to do that", and you commented: "This repeats imperialist lies..."

Now you redefine the "imperialist lies" as "the sort of tabloid bourgeois hysteria that Iran is part of an axis of evil, that we are all about to be nuked etc". But that is not what Sean wrote....! As it happens, it is not even what the Sun (as quoted by you) writes, but it is certainly not what Sean wrote.

You construct a hyped-up version of what Sean wrote, label it as "imperialist lies", and use that label to dismiss the original point. Isn't it exactly the same procedure as Stalinoids used? To use vehement denunciation of exaggerations in the right-wing bourgeois press as a way of dismissing real, unexaggerated facts about the USSR?

Submitted by martin on Wed, 17/09/2008 - 10:07

As Sean notes above, Moshe Machover's stance on Iranian development of nuclear weapons is: "The only basis on which we can justly demand that Iran be forbidden to have [nuclear weapons] is to make the entire region free of nuclear weapons. This is the demand we must raise".

As I understand it, this is also the official policy of Hopi, and indeed was adopted as Hopi's policy on Moshe Machover's motion, in opposition to a proposal by the Permanent Revolution group that Hopi positively endorse Iran's right to develop nuclear weapons.

Presumably, Hopi people saw Moshe Machover's position as a comfortable "middle way" between the awkward extremes of positively backing the "mullahs' bomb" (as per PR) or straightforwardly opposing it (as AWL would argue).

In practical politics, the Hopi/Machover position is identical to PR's: both defend Iranian nuclear-weapons development so long as Israel still has nuclear bombs, which, in current political conditions, means for the foreseeable future.

In its implications, though, the Hopi/Machover position is worse than the PR position, because it adds an extra twist of demonisation of Israel.

After all, correct me if I'm wrong, but PR doesn't positively clamour for Iran to develop nukes. It doesn't denounce Ahmadinejad as a sell-out for reportedly stalling weapons development; it doesn't offer to organise international brigades to ferry the uranium or to volunteer for target practice for prototype bombs.

It just says that in a world where bigger powers have nukes, it is unfair to try to stop Iran having nukes too.

PR, I assume, is very much in favour of the whole world becoming a nuclear-free zone. It does not raise that as a demand for the very good reason that to direct such a demand at the existing governments via the UN, or the G8, or whatever could have no effect other than to foster illusions in such international institutions and deflect from demands for unilateral nuclear disarmament. (A similar criticism could be made of the demand for the Middle East to become a nuclear-free zone.)

How does the Machover/Hopi position differ from PR's? It would think it fair to oppose Iran having nukes just so long as other Middle Eastern countries had no nuclear weapons. Even if "humanity's worst enemy", the USA, still had nuclear weapons - let alone allegedly more benign governments, like Britain, France, Russia, China, North Korea - Hopi/Machover would still consider it ok to straightforwardly oppose Iran having nuclear weapons. The consideration that it was "unfair" to deny to Iran what the USA (and the others) already had would not be decisive.

But it is decisively "unjust" to deny to Iran what Israel already has.

"Humanity's worst enemy" having nuclear weapons does not license other states developing nuclear weapons. Only humanity's "worst worst enemy", the only state which is worse than the worst, eviler than the evilest, more devilish than the devil - only that state having nuclear weapons makes it "unjust" to complain about others developing nukes.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 17/09/2008 - 16:25

Of course The Sun doesn't tell us much about Iran or anything else except a slightly hysterical version of what the bourgeois want us to think and it is of course possible to that an enemy of our enemy is not our friend- actually th eposition I've been arguing all along. Sean's comment strongly implies that iran is on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons and that this would be a defence for an Israeli military strike. It wouldn't and it is an exaggeration of the truth.

HOPI's position, and PR supports HOPI (as far as I am aware we have no publshed documents or discussion on the finer implications of it) is for a nuclear free Middle East. Fair enough- there is only one country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons as it happens- Israel. However, it is quite clear that if you argue for a nculear free Middle East you are not advocating that others have the bomb. There is of course an argument that our bourgeois arguing agianst Iran or other countries acquiring nuclear weapons is rank hypocrisy when other countries' ruling classes have them - including the only one to have actually used them in the field of war. However, the working class of the region have a fairly direct material interest in preventing any other ruling classes acquiring them I'd have thought. The only agent that can realistically bring lasting peace tot he region and the world is the working class organising against sectarian, religious and ethnic divisions that the bourgeois seek to exploit in our collective oppression.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 17/09/2008 - 19:48

I suppose that it is quite possible that particular members of the ruling class are motivated by all manner of things including religion. However, as a class it has to protect its material interests and the bourgeois as a whole won't tolerate people who continually undermine profits. Of course religion can often be used profitably by the ruling class as can racism and other ideologies. Actually the anti-Jewish comments of Ahmedenijad are a good example. Nothing in Islam preaches destruction of the Jews- it would be a great sin. But Iran's rulers are quite happy to go against religion on this to foster hatred of an external enemy to divert people's anger- the fact that Israel's ruling class curelly oppresses Muslims is quite convenient for them of course.

I am not brushing off the risk of Iran developing nuclear weapons at all (though that of course is differnt from demagogic claims that they have them right now). I am saying that an attack on Iran is not only wrong in itself, causing death and destruction to Iranian workers, but will actually increase the risk of reprisals, as well as increase th epower of reactionaries.

Submitted by martin on Wed, 17/09/2008 - 23:56

1. Moshe Machover's interpretation of the Hopi policy (and as I understand it he wrote it) is that "the only just demand" is for a nuclear-free Middle East, i.e. it is not "just" to demand Iran stops developing nuclear weapons so long as Israel has them (though it would be ok to demand Iran foreswear nukes if only the USA, Russia, Britain, etc. had nukes).

2. Whatever Jason's speculations about what Sean's article "strongly implies", the article actually stated the issue as the development not being "definitively ended", abandoned, renounced. Not as the development being "on the brink" of complete success.

3. Obviously we oppose an Israeli strike on Iran. That is not the issue.

4. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, religion is not just one of many things that may motivate "particular members of the ruling class". It is the all-shaping principle of the regime. Political Islam is, for example, what explains Iran's hostility to Israel (in rational terms of "geopolitics", Iran and Israel are natural allies, as powers on the edge of an Arab world much larger and richer than either, just like Turkey and Israel, or the Kurds and Israel).

5. Most Muslims would consider "destruction of the Jews" "a great sin". Much of the anti-semitism that has seeped into strands of modern Islam is taken over from 20th century European (often Christian) anti-semitism, rather than ancient Islamic sources.

But the Muslim religion, like all others, is not just whatever its more benign adherents make of it. Try telling George Bush that Christianity is a religion of "blessed are the meek"! For many political Islamists, destruction of the Jews is very religious indeed. Take the Hamas covenant, for example:

"The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees..."

6. I don't know whether Jason goes along with this, but it's certainly common on the British left to hear Israel described as a state where politico-religion plays a role comparable to what it has in Iran. This is wrong.

Even the most right-wing Israeli chauvinist leaders have generally been secular (sometimes atheist, like the founder of Revisionist Zionism, Ze'ev Jabotinsky). The two big blocs of Zionism, Labour Zionism and Revisionist Zionism, were predominantly secular. Religious-Zionist groups were always a minority in the Zionist movement, and religious Jews were generally more reluctant to adopt Zionism than non-religious.

The influx since 1948 of usually-religious Jews from Arab countries into Israel has changed the balance in the population; most Israeli governments since 1948 have had religious parties as minor coalition partners, "bought in" by extensive tampering with Israel's supposedly secular constitution; even secular or atheist Israeli leaders have usually to some extent used, or deferred to, religious customs as unifying "cultural" symbols.

Even so, Israel remains one of the world's more secular countries, with as high a proportion of avowed atheists as secularised European countries. An avowed atheist can get to be prime minister in Israel - not in Britain, yet.

Secularism and atheism do not, of course, exclude aggressive nationalism and chauvinism, and there is certainly plenty of chauvinism in Israel. But, in the ruling class especially, it is usually chauvinism of a brutally "realistic", calculating sort.

Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom comments on the likely new Kadima leader, Tzipi Livni: "Her world view is centred around the concept of a Jewish State. Jewish in the old Jabotinsky way of thinking: not in a religious sense (Jabotinsky was quite secular) but in a 19th century nationalistic one..."

Martin Thomas

Submitted by cathy n on Thu, 18/09/2008 - 13:18

This debate needs a political etymology!

What is striking with Jason here, John Palmer before, Machover, others on this and other forums where this debate has taken place is the patterns underlying their political positions. In the way they all to one degree or another swear they are no friends of the Iranian regime (and in large part they are truthful about that), but then go on to embark on all kinds of special pleading for the regime.

Special pleading is partial to almost total suppression of the truth. In this debate, on the question of the Iranian ruling class, the special pleaders say:
• it is just like any other ruling class (no, e.g. the British ruling class did not come to power in a recent counter-revolution);
• well, okay they may be clerical fascists but yah boo sucks so are the Israeli rulers (not true).
• alright you say the Iranian ruling class did organise a Holocaust denial conference but it was all much more pluralistic and open-ended than that (but why would any 21st century human being want to “debate” the Holocaust-what’s to debate(?)).
• we don’t want the Iranian ruling class to have nukes but we don’t want to point the finger at the Iranians right now so we won’t point the finger at the particular regime which has a drive to get nukes.

All of this flows from Iranian defencism of course and that is one political pattern. A defencism which might say something like: Iran are under attack and as much as we want the Iranian working class to lead Iranian defence and be the political force behind any “victory to Iran” we still have trim our politics to emphasise the hypocrisy and rapaciousness of the western bourgeoisie.

But there is another root to the special pleading it seems to me. Yes, it’s Stalinism. Or rather the Stalinoid politics which infected the Trotskyist movement (and more generally the left, sections of the labour movement, its bureaucracy included) in the last century.

Take the example of Cuba and the Castroites.

It’s the strongest case example for special pleaders it seems to me because Cuba has been under real threat of invasion and continuous economic etc blockade for many decades. And is a very small country under threat from a very large imperialist country.

The Third Camp position? It is to defend Cuba’s right to self-determination, to fight the actions of the imperialist power in the region and to oppose the blockade. But also to be crystal clear about the nature of the regime, not to suppress any small detail, any small matter of truth about what it represents. And to do this because we stand with the workers of Cuba against both its rulers and the imperialists.
Against the Third Camp there are all kinds of “defences” made about the Cuban regime on the left, ranging from hagiography to the kind of special pleading we have seen in this discussion. I was treated to the special pleading type of “defence” at an event at the Tolpuddle Martyrs festival a couple of years ago, where Jeremy Dear of the NUJ saw fit to not mention the suppression of the media in Cuba (special pleading by omission), and some twit from the TUC saying he realised it was all “very difficult” and we should be critical but one had to realise that a. the options for the regime were limited and (sigh), b. it is easy for us to criticise in the west, we should be more self-conscious etc etc.

“Defending Cuba” in the above fashion (this wasn't the usual Cuba is somekindasocialist nonsense) in post-Trotsky Trotskyists has it’s origins in an infection of Stalinism, a capitulation to Stalinism as being the “best available” post-capitalist political option especially if that option is opposed to the imperialist western powers.

And therefore my point is that the suppression of truth in “left wing” politics, here and elsewhere, also has its origins in that entire framework of Stalinoid infection.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 18/09/2008 - 17:49

and pretty insulting too! Actually far more insulting than swearing or rudeness- which I'm against just becuase it makes people look unfriendly and rude but personally don't get oo worked up about.

But lying is another matter.

I NEVER ONCE (sorry can't find bold button) said:
"• it is just like any other ruling class (no, e.g. the British ruling class did not come to power in a recent counter-revolution);"

Actually the Birtish ruling class is like any very brutal (participating as a leading player in a war and occupation killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, propping up global cpaitlaism through G8 and IMF killing over 30 000 children every day etc.

However, in the domestic arena it is very very different. I have not lived in Iran but know people who have and have lived in another country where people are routinely shot, tortured, beaten, raped either by the agents of the ruling class or with their complicity. You are simply lying about me having any kind of support for those bastards and that is sometrhingb that does make me angry- perhaps it shouldn't to be honest. But knowing people who have only narrowly escaped murder does I'm afraid.

I never said:

"• well, okay they may be clerical fascists but yah boo sucks so are the Israeli rulers (not true)."

Too stupid to respond to- yah boo sucks' about a regime that murders hundreds of thousands- please have some respect! And I have never used the word fascist about Israel's ruling class- brutal and nasty as it is not 'fascist'- inb fact this may be seen as something of an insult given the history of Jews and fascism but perhaps anything goes for Cathy in political discourse. Not for me.
"• alright you say the Iranian ruling class did organise a Holocaust denial conference but it was all much more pluralistic and open-ended than that (but why would any 21st century human being want to “debate” the Holocaust-what’s to debate(?))."

I never denied the conference and absolutely condemn it- I certainly never said it was pluralistic. Another lie.

"• we don’t want the Iranian ruling class to have nukes but we don’t want to point the finger at the Iranians right now so we won’t point the finger at the particular regime which has a drive to get nukes."

I never said that either. I acknowledged the argument some make that it is hypocritical of 'our' BOURGEOIS to point the finger but said very clearly that the working class has every interest in opposing Iran and others acquiring nuclear weapons.

Finally, you call me a Stalinist or Stalinoid. Again utter lies and insulting. My wife's father saw almost all his comrades murdered by a regime claiming to be 'socialist' but actually Stalinist. He had to go into hiding and didn't see his family for years. I have opposed Stalinism all my political life.

It is easy to bandy insults and throw muck in th ehope that it stciks. But it is a dishonest and entirely unhelpful way of debating.

Perhaps, if this was all just a petty debate in the privacy and safety of armchair class war it would not matter- it would not be pretty but who cares? But actually it takes place against a backdrop of class struggle activists in Iran facing death on a daily basis and communities here organising against deportation.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Fri, 19/09/2008 - 16:11

Jason -

Characterising someone's politics as Stalinist or Stalinoid is "insulting"? Okay - fine; but no-one has a "right" not to be insulted or offended by someone's criticisms of their politics. If you think Cathy's assessment is wrong, argue against it politically - don't just demagogically invoke your wife's family history and complain about how "insulted" you are in order to deflect the criticism.

Sharp polemic requires you to call things by their proper names. If we think someone's politics are Stalinist - or influenced by Stalinism (that is, "Stalinoid") - then we say so. It's called being honest.

Try it sometime.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 19/09/2008 - 19:01

I didn't just say it's insulting- though personally I do find it pretty insulting to be called by the name of a murderous barbaric distortion of politics that has had an effect on immediate family members. I'm not sure that is demagogic.

Demagogy s appealing to emotions in the absence of rational argument. I have made plenty of rational points about how we don't have to choose between two evils, about how an attack on Iran is not only a disaster for those killed but a triumph for reactionaries and far from defending the interests of Israeli Jews helps imperil them. However, I do think it is entirely relevant to point out that Stalinism like the crimes of the Iranian dictatorship has been responsible for – and in the latter case continues to be responsible for horrific crimes beyond most of our experiences (perhaps my wife’s father’s experiences aren’t directly relevant admittedly- it was just an example and it was on my mind as she has recently been to visit him).

But as I never once said any of the points Cathy falsely claims I did say how can I directly argue against them in my post responding to hers?

You don't have to choose between two evils- the Iranian dictatorship or imperialism.

There is an alternative- supporting working class resistance in Iran, Israel/Palestine, and Middle East as whole as a whole and here.

And what's with the final riposte- "It's called being honest.
Try it sometime."

Firstly, there is nothing honest about misrepresenting my political position and claiming I said things I never did and never would.

Secondly, 'try it sometime'- where have I been dishonest?

Can we not get over this kind of playground banter?

(And anyway you started it!)

PS That parenthesis was a joke in case anyone is tempted to pull me up on it!

Submitted by paulm on Sat, 20/09/2008 - 08:36

In reply to by Jason

But it's OK to call AWL supporters of 'racist' Israel, and worse, is it?

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Sat, 20/09/2008 - 15:30

Jason -

Your playground must've been fucking boring if this is your idea of "playground banter".

As we've been over many times, your position is simply not to support working-class resistance against both the Iranian regime and US/UK imperialism. This is a blatant distortion. Your stated position is to support the victory of the Iranian regime against imperialism ("if Iran was attacked by the US we would be for the defeat of the US and the victory of Iran") and to encourage workers to ally with the Iranian regime - and other anti-worker forces, such as the sectarian militas in Iraq - in an "anti-imperialist united front". Your attempts to pretend to some kind of third-campism are very much dishonest.

Stalinism doesn't just refer to the social system that existed in the USSR; it's a whole tradition of politics that have poisoned - and continue to poison - labour movements and lefts throughout the world. A whole number of positions that are "common sense" on the left today are borrowed more or less wholesale from Stalinism. Those of us who can see that aren't going to hold back from saying it because it's potentially "offensive" or "insulting".

To be perfectly honest, I don't care if you find it insulting to be characterised as "Stalinoid". It's a legitimate criticism; deal with it.

Respond to the politics.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 21/09/2008 - 13:54

On the playground politics you may have a point- there’d be a lot more swearing and calling each others’ mums I guess! However, still best to avoid formulations like, ‘Try it sometime.’ It does risk coming over as slightly childish.
But far more seriously on the politics, Daniel is completely wrong. We support the forcible overthrow of the Iranian dictatorship by the organised working class. We are for the defeat of US imperialism in Iraq and if they invaded Iran there too by the organised working class arming themselves. We are in no way for any support for the Iranian regime or suspension of class struggle but for the workers organising against both the US occupation and the Iraqi and Iranian capitalists.

Daniel claims this is supporting, quote, “to encourage workers to ally with the Iranian regime”. Quite how he squares this is beyond me.
Daniel may not care if he insults people. Far more important though is having practical solidarity campaigns with e.g. Iranian exiles fighting
deportation
Or Iranian students facing imprisonment
if not worse.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 21/09/2008 - 17:58

I wrote:
"if Iran was attacked by the US we would be for the defeat of the US and the victory of Iran- but this emphatically DOES NOT mean suspending class struggle against the bourgeois but fighting for arming the working class, for participation in the army but using the situation to argue for socialist politics and the necessity of the working class controlling society and the war effort."

For Daniel this means: "it's a whole tradition of politics that have poisoned - and continue to poison - labour movements and lefts throughout the world. A whole number of positions that are "common sense" on the left today are borrowed more or less wholesale from Stalinism."

This seriously misunderstands Stalinism. Stalinism is NOT a politics arguing for the 'working class controlling society' as Daniel suggests. It is a counter-revolutionary dictatorship of a bureacratic caste over the working class, destroying workers' power.

Stalinism has indeed infected parts of the left but it is somehwat perverse to argue that workers' resistance and workers' control of society- precisely the things Stalinism smashed- are part of that.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Sun, 21/09/2008 - 19:50

"Stalinism is NOT a politics arguing for the 'working class controlling society' as Daniel suggests."

What the fuck are you on about? Where do you get this from? Where did I "suggest" anything of the sort? Like, seriously...

...what the fuck?

Here's what I actually wrote:

"Stalinism doesn't just refer to the social system that existed in the USSR; it's a whole tradition of politics that have poisoned - and continue to poison - labour movements and lefts throughout the world."

You are literally making stuff up.

As for the business about counselling Iranian workers to "ally" with the Iranian regime, is it or is it not the position of your organisation that "semi-colonial" bourgeoisies, and other forces such as clerical-fascist (or very close to clerical-fascist) militias in Iraq, should be approached (quite how such an approach is supposed to be made, I'm not sure) as potential partners for the workers' movement in the "anti-imperialist united front"? A straight "yes" or "no", please Jason...

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 22/09/2008 - 07:24

Daniel you said that my position was Stalinist. My position very clearly said that we should be "fighting for arming the working class, for participation in the army but using the situation to argue for socialist politics and the necessity of the working class controlling society and the war effort"

I am saying tthat to call this Stalinist is very clearly a misunderstanding. I suppose the relaity is you are not calling my actul position Stalinist but making unwarranted assumptions about my position because you don't actually read or pay attention to what I write.

"is it or is it not the position of your organisation that "semi-colonial" bourgeoisies, and other forces such as clerical-fascist (or very close to clerical-fascist) militias in Iraq, should be approached (quite how such an approach is supposed to be made, I'm not sure) as potential partners for the workers' movement in the "anti-imperialist united front"? A straight "yes" or "no", please Jason..."

No it is not our position. Our position is that the working class should lead the resistance. There may be times when the guns of reactionaries and working class organisation point in the same direction against the occupiers but there is no doubt whatsoever that the workers will need to defend themselves against the Islamist reactionaries.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Mon, 22/09/2008 - 11:39

Jason -

Your position is Stalinist (I actually said "Stalinoid", which means "influenced by Stalinism" - but hey; let's not bother with the details...) because it is infected entirely with formulas borrowed from, amongst other places, Stalinist third-worldism and the "two camps" schema of Stalinised Trotskyism. It gives "semi-colonial" bourgeoisies a progressive "anti-imperialist" character and believes that "anti-imperialist united fronts" can be built with forces such as clerical-fascist militias. The contortions you use to deny this are truly spectacular - the concept of the "anti-imperialist united front" makes it very clear that there is something more involved than the fact that "there may be times when the guns of reactionaries and working class organisation point in the same direction against the occupiers". The whole idea of a "united front" implies that you see these "anti-imperialists" (the Iranian regime, the Mahdi Army, whoever...) as in some sense potential partners in a common struggle. Again - this is deeply Stalinoid. It's essentially a stagist theory whereby all forces, of whatever class, can be brought together in the "anti-imperialist united front" to defeat "the occupiers", presumably after which the working-class can engage in a struggle for power (if we're not all dead, of course).

It's not just a question of who leads "the resistance" - it's a question of what kind of resistance, on what basis and in the name of what. A "resistance" that seeks to engage fascistically reactionary bourgeois forces, and sees them as being in any sense progressively anti-imperialist, is doomed to failure - no matter who's at the helm. What's necessary is a specifically working-class, democratic resistance - independent of, and against, all other class forces. There can be no "common struggle" or "united front" with the Iranian ruling-class. This, fundamentally, is the difference between our positions here (despite your attempts to distort this); we stand for consistently independent working-class action, you believe there can be a "united front" with bourgeois reactionaries.

(Good luck with your "participation" in the Iranian army, by the way. Send us a postcard, won't you?)

Your position also bears the hallmarks of Stalinism in that you claim that it's somehow an anti-imperialist duty to deny that the Iranian regime's really that bad. As Martin has pointed out, this looks a lot like the way Stalinists and Stalinised Trotskyists used to respond to bourgeois criticism of the USSR by arguing that it wasn't really as dreadful as all that.

We believe, by contrast, that our actual duty is to tell the truth about the Iranian regime in a much more consistent way than the ruling-class and their press is prepared to.

"There is not the slightest doubt, for instance, about the behaviour of the Japanese in China. Nor is there much doubt about the long tale of Fascist outrages during the last ten years in Europe. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads - they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late". (George Orwell, 'Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War', 1942)

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 22/09/2008 - 13:29

We are implacable opponents of the Iranian regime. We never say under any circumstances to mute criticisms of it. In fact that is our criticism of much of the rest of the left who do seem to beleive that opposing imperialism means somehow covering up for thwe crimesof the iranian or other semi-colonial bourgeois.

You obvioulsy beleive it is impossible to say simply: "We oppose imperialism and we oppose the Iranian bourgeois who despite anti-imperialist rhetoric offer no defence against imperialist attack. the only way forward for the Iranian working class is its sel-organisation and self-defence. the best defence against imperialim is to arm the working class, occupy the factoreis and the land and we offer practical solidarity to iranian workers and pro-democracy activists."

We do say that however and condemn those who either cover up the crimes of the Iranian dictatroship or those who beleive we therefore cannot condemn an attack on Iranian workers.

Submitted by sacha on Mon, 22/09/2008 - 13:38

Jason,

Once again you blur the real issues with phrase-mongering.

We oppose an Israeli attack on Iran. We are absolutely firm, absolutely clear and absolutely united on that.

What we object is the demand that we use the word "condemn" when such an attack has not happened yet and we do not know what the consequences will be.

We also object to the implication that an Iranian nuclear programme would not pose a serious threat to Israel, that there is nothing for Israelis - as distinct from Israeli chauvinists - to be worried about.

We also object to the claim that what we are talking about is "an attack on Iranian workers". An Israeli attack would very likely have very bad consequences for the Iranian working class; which is among the reasons we oppose it, as explained above. But would it really be an attack on Iranian workers? In striking Iranian nuclear facilities, would the Israeli ruling class be aiming to retard/destroy Iranian workers' struggles? (Yes, I know they're capitalist and are against workers' struggles in general, before you say something ridiculous!) Was it really an attack on Syrian workers when they destroyed the nuclear facilities last year (which I would have opposed if I known about it in advance)?

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 22/09/2008 - 13:52

You say I blur matters. I don't think so. My main point is to say that it is not only possible to oppose imperialism without giving any support to the Iranian bourgeois - it is necessary. I'd have thought you'd agree with this. I suspect you do.

You say, "We oppose an Israeli attack on Iran. We are absolutely firm, absolutely clear and absolutely united on that."

Good.

Then you say, slightly confusingly, "What we object is the demand that we use the word "condemn" when such an attack has not happened yet and we do not know what the consequences will be."

This if anything seesm to blur the 'absolutely' of the previous sentence. If I oppose firmly and absolutely something then I am also for condemning it if it did happen. If Israel attacked Iran it would almost certainly involve deaths of Iranian workers. More than that though, even in the extremely (vanishingly small) unlikely event of no workers being killed, it would actually bolster the Iranian dictatorship, and certainly be an entirely negative and reactionary attack leading to the Iranian workers' movement being set back. For those reason also we oppose and condemn any such attacks.

It would also do nothing to protect Israeli or Palestinian workers who if anything would be more likely to face attacks by Islamic terrorists and blanket reprisals by the IDF. For all these reasons an israeli attack should be opposed and condemned in the strongest possible terms.

Daniel seems to imply that somehow this means glossing over the crimes of the Iranian dictatorship. Not at all! This is perhaps the mistake he is making- it is perfectly possible to oppose two enemies and support the self-organisation of workers in Iran, Israel/Palestine and the rest of the world and lend practical solidarity/funds etc for those workers on the sharp end.

Jason

Submitted by sacha on Mon, 22/09/2008 - 16:41

Hi Jason,

I haven't got time for a proper reply now, but: if we'd had advance warning of the strike on Syrian nuclear facilities last year, then I think we would have had to oppose it, both because the human consequences *could have been* disastrous and because, given what Israel is, it could have involved all kinds of other nastiness, eg a crack down on the Palestinians. The fact that it turned out relatively "well" doesn't mean we would have been wrong to oppose it in advance, if we could have. But after the fact as it was, why should we "condemn" it? I think it's good that Syria's nuclear programme was destroyed with no or almost no casualities, repercussions etc etc. And saying that is perfectly compatible with saying I would have opposed it!

Do you "condemn" Iran's nuclear weapons programme? And do you "oppose" it, ie not want it to happen and think we - primarily the Iranian left - should fight to stop it happening?

Sacha

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 23/09/2008 - 12:27

Also pressed for time. On 'oppose' and 'condemn' I think this is splititng hairs and perhapsyouare doing this to defend Sean's article even though you have said you disagreed with some of it, speciifcally making clear you do oppose and campaign against an attack on Iran- good.

I do oppose Iran having nuclear weapons in solidarity with the Iranian working class who are the main agent who could stop it. Have to rush.

Submitted by sacha on Tue, 23/09/2008 - 12:39

Hi Jason,

Opposing and wanting to campaign against an Israeli attack on Iran isn't a disagreement - everyone in the AWL agrees on this.

However, if you oppose Iran having nuclear weapons, that IS a disagreement with the position of Permanent Revolution - isn't it?

Sacha

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Tue, 23/09/2008 - 14:52

Okay Jason - I'll give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that you do genuinely believe the stuff you're writing, and you're not just distorting your actual views to play up to a third-campist audience.

But if that's the case, you're somewhat at odds with the position of your organisation, which is:

* to support the military victory of "semi-colonial" bourgeois forces such as the Iranian regime in any conflict with imperialist powers
* to argue for workers to form "anti-imperialist united fronts" with e.g. the Iranian ruling-class and the Mahdi Army in Iraq
* to argue for the "right" of the Iranian ruling-class to have nuclear weapons, or at the very least to argue that opposing Iranian nukes is somehow misplaced or inappropriate in the current context.

I'm not making any of this up; quite the contrary. All of these things are the public, open, stated policies of your group and are available for anyone to read on your website and indeed in comments that yourself and other comrades have made on this site.

It's time you took account for the positions of your organisation. So, let me ask another straight question; if you believe (as we do) that the Iranian bourgeoisie really doesn't have any anti-imperialist character whatsoever, how precisely would a hypothetical PR section in Iran go about forming this mystical "anti-imperialist united front" with their bosses, exploiters and oppressors?

You can have it both ways, Jason. Either be honest about your disagreements with PR policy (perfectly fair enough, of course) or stop ducking out of defending your actual positions by pretending to be a third-campist.

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 23/09/2008 - 15:45

I don't really like the term third-campist. In a war between Iran and the US we should be for the defeat of the US imperialists- at the hands of the Iranian working class.

I am pretty sure that PR is quite clear on this. I am not as far as I know at odds with the organisation. If I am then as you say fair enough- we are allowed to have different opinions after all.

However, I am definitely at odds with the AWL who seems to imply that we should not call fro troops out of Iraq or the defeat of US imperialism.

If we were in contact with a socialist group in Iran I think the main thing before giving advice would be to find out how we can support them, what practical steps of solidarity we could take- arranging funds, publicising cases, etc. However, we would also want to engage in dialogue and offer advice after making it clear that we are not the ones in the thick of it or having to make life and death decisions.

I suppose it would be to get involved in the workers' strikes as much as practicable, take up every sectional demand for wage increases, democracy, for workers' rights and raise the need for collective organisation and self-defence.

We would be for no political support to the mullahs, for an independent working class party, to say that the claims of Ahmedenijad to anti-imperialism are fake claims and that any workers or democrats who genuinely oppose imperialism cannot depend on any genuine defence from this bunch of crooks.

We would be for the complete separation of faith and state, for complete equality between the sexes, against restrictive dress codes, for democracy, including the right to distribute political and anti-religious literature, for the rights of oppressed groups such as the KURDS to self-determination.

I think matters of survival would be paramount and such an organisation would certainly have to operate clandestinely and seek out allies in more mainstream struggles such as over wages, student democracy, against targeting of worker trade unionists etc. All this is perhaps obvious and not necessarily of great value to Iranian militants who no doubt know these things- putting them into practice is a very different and difficult matter of course.,

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 23/09/2008 - 17:31

Sacha writes, "if you oppose Iran having nuclear weapons, that IS a disagreement with the position of Permanent Revolution - isn't it?"
Not as far as I am aware.
From recent PR article

"HOPI and the "nuclear free Middle East"
HOPI’s founding statement states it campaigns “for a nuclear-free Middle East as a step towards world-wide nuclear disarmament.”
The AWL know this: bizarrely enough they even go on to quote it … after spending several thousand words comparing the Iranian theocracy to Hiterlite Germany. There is, however, only one nuclear power in the Middle East and that is Israel. Not Iran … Israel. This means there is only one country in the region with the capacity to use a nuclear weapon to annihilate the working class of another country and that is, obviously, Israel. Not Iran… Israel.

The AWL leadership needs to recognise this simple fact.

There is a great deal of consensus on the subject of whether Iran is currently developing nuclear weapons. It isn’t. The American imperialists say it isn’t. Israeli academics say it isn’t. The British left, with the exception of the AWL, says it isn’t. Therefore, Iran does not pose a serious threat to Israel. Israel, on the other hand, poses a huge threat to Iran. It truly is that straightforward. Now the AWL has a choice: it can continue to talk in increasingly far-fetched hypotheticals to the very end, or it can start to engage in reality. Which is it to be?"

We haven't as far as I know debated or voted on this issue but though individual articles don't necessarily reflect the position of the whole organisation unless anyone disagrees after say a few weeks it can be taken as the view of PR as far as I know.

Also from PR6

"Workers’ organisations of various kinds, from hiking associations (which never go hiking), to clandestine workers’ committees and shoras proliferated. Strikes and sit-ins saw a dramatic upsurge in frequency. By necessity all figures are estimations but there were approximately “140 strikes in October 2005, followed by 120 in November” compared with around 90 in over two years from March 1998 to May 2000. “The frequency of strikes since early 2004 appears to be unparalleled in post-Mossadeq non-revolutionary Iran.”

Malm and Esmailian go on to suggest that there is little or no scope for reform of the regime from within. Rafsanjani tried this in the 1990s and failed. The millionaire mullahs’ control over almost every aspect of economic activity, including illegal ones, proved to be just too strong. They also cite evidence that the workers themselves have little interest in reform of the regime under which they have suffered so badly for so long. In a society where the engine of capital accumulation is the state, protest quickly focuses on it and nothing short of regime change is seen as a solution.

What could also save the regime, in a strange irony, is its demonisation in the west and in particular the US. Bush needs an evil enemy and Ahmadinejad needs a diversion. The more bellicose Ahmadinejad becomes, the more Bush will attack him, thereby returning the gift. While the threat of outright war with the US seems unlikely due to difficulties in Iraq, Ahmadinejad can afford to play this game.

In the cycle of Iranian politics that Malm and Esmailian describe, an emergent workers’ movement grows to establish itself as a force throughout the country, only to be cruelly and brutally repressed. As they say, “after spring comes winter”. They offer little by way of prognosis for this latest emerging workers’ movement, but we have to hope that the Iranian workers can this time achieve the necessary level of self-consciousness and organisation to enjoy a long hot summer. "

Submitted by martin on Wed, 24/09/2008 - 09:56

Workers' Power, 16 May 2008: "Permanent Revolution intervened into the founding conference [of Hopi]... moved the deletion of the formulation in the founding statement that called for a 'nuclear free Middle East', arguing, quite correctly, that semi-colonial states have a right to nuclear weapons, if they so wish, in order to defend themselves against imperialism (but lost the vote). Members of Permanent Revolution have argued that Hopi is not third campist..." [i.e. would be pro-Iran in a US-Iran war, rather than upholding a working-class "third camp" against both sides].

I suppose WP may be misreporting PR, but I'd guess not, since here WP is praising PR (the "but" bits follow later). And the alleged "semi-colonial state" in question is Iran, isn't it?

Of course we are against Israel having nuclear weapons - have been since the news of Israel having nuclear weapons first came out, in 1986 (some people think Israel had then already had nuclear weapons for some time). But I see no evidence that Israel is likely to nuke Iran - no strategic reason for Israel to do it - any more than Britain is likely to, short of Israel feeling at risk of being militarily overwhelmed (not likely soon).

Iran would have no "ordinary" geopolitical-strategic reason for nuking Israel, either. It's possible, of course, that Iranian development of nuclear weapons would lead only to a "balance of terror" in the region. Even that is not desirable.

But the Iranian regime is special. It is a regime in which a political monopoly is held by more or less ardent political Islamists, people whose world-view includes a strong cult of martyrdom and identifies "Zionism" as the world's greatest evil. Thus the standard chant "Death to Israel". It is condescending and naive to suppose that the Iranian leaders are cynics who say these things for effect but are de facto atheists and rationalists. All of them "mean" their Islamist slogans to some extent: some of them may well "mean" them to the point of doing things which are irrational in ordinary geopolitical-strategic terms.

US reports say that Iran has suspended its nuclear weapons programme for now. That is not the same as there being no question at all of Iran having nuclear-weapon ambitions. As in a previous comment, I could refer you to Yassmine Mather of Hopi, who unfortunately has now got caught up in the concocted outcry against the AWL, but knows something about Iran. Only a couple of years ago she wrote candidly: "It is quite clear that Iran’s nuclear programme has only one aim: the development of nuclear weapons" (WW 611 Thursday February 9 2006); Iran is "committed to nuclear weapons" (WW 660 Thursday February 15 2007). Was she then an "imperialist liar"?

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Wed, 24/09/2008 - 13:07

Jason -

This is getting laughable. To nonchalantly pretend that you don't even know whether you're at odds with the position of your own organisation is a joke. Of course there's nothing wrong with having minority viewpoints (I have plenty myself), but serious revolutionaries are honest about the fact that they are minority viewpoints and will engage in a struggle to win a majority for them.

If your position is that Iranian workers should organise independently of all other class forces, and that only working-class resistance to imperialism can deliver meaningful social change, and that a victory for Iranian capital against US capital is in no sense progressive - then we agree.

If, however (and as I very strongly suspect), you actually support PR's position, which is to see "semi-colonial" ruling-classes as in some sense progressively anti-imperialist, to support their victory and to advocate "anti-imperialist united fronts" alongside them - then clearly we disagree.

I reiterate my direct question, which you failed to answer:

"if you believe (as we do) that the Iranian bourgeoisie really doesn't have any anti-imperialist character whatsoever, how precisely would a hypothetical PR section in Iran go about forming this mystical "anti-imperialist united front" with their bosses, exploiters and oppressors?"

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 24/09/2008 - 14:33

As said PR supports HOPI which supports a nuclear-free Middle East as we clearly said in the article published on the site from which no one (in PR) has demurred. It is certainly possible that someone from PR argued "that semi-colonial states have a right to nuclear weapons, if they so wish, in order to defend themselves against imperialism (but lost the vote). "

I was not at that meeting. However, I wouldn't agree withputting it like this. In a war between the US and Iran we'd certainly support Iran- i.e. the organised working class in iran fighting against imperialist occupation.

I answered your question in ample detail, Daniel about what advice I'd offer a socialist or putative pR group in iran. I reproduce it here for your benefit:
"I think the main thing before giving advice would be to find out how we can support them, what practical steps of solidarity we could take- arranging funds, publicising cases, etc. However, we would also want to engage in dialogue and offer advice after making it clear that we are not the ones in the thick of it or having to make life and death decisions.

I suppose it would be to get involved in the workers' strikes as much as practicable, take up every sectional demand for wage increases, democracy, for workers' rights and raise the need for collective organisation and self-defence.

We would be for no political support to the mullahs, for an independent working class party, to say that the claims of Ahmedenijad to anti-imperialism are fake claims and that any workers or democrats who genuinely oppose imperialism cannot depend on any genuine defence from this bunch of crooks.

We would be for the complete separation of faith and state, for complete equality between the sexes, against restrictive dress codes, for democracy, including the right to distribute political and anti-religious literature, for the rights of oppressed groups such as the KURDS to self-determination.

I think matters of survival would be paramount and such an organisation would certainly have to operate clandestinely and seek out allies in more mainstream struggles such as over wages, student democracy, against targeting of worker trade unionists etc. All this is perhaps obvious and not necessarily of great value to Iranian militants who no doubt know these things- putting them into practice is a very different and difficult matter of course."

And yet you pretend I didn't answer the question. You say "I reiterate my direct question, which you failed to answer:

"if you believe (as we do) that the Iranian bourgeoisie really doesn't have any anti-imperialist character whatsoever, how precisely would a hypothetical PR section in Iran go about forming this mystical "anti-imperialist united front" with their bosses, exploiters and oppressors?"

But I did very clearly answer this- "no political support to the mullahs, for an independent working class party, to say that the claims of Ahmedenijad to anti-imperialism are fake claims and that any workers or democrats who genuinely oppose imperialism cannot depend on any genuine defence from this bunch of crooks"

Perhaps you don't agree with this answer or you somehow possessing psychic ability think I am lying about what I think but, even for non-psychics, it is clearly the case that I did answer your question.

To Martin- I never denied the strong likelihood that some ruling classes have strong religious beliefs- it is though interesting how these beliefs never challenge the rule of the rich and are malleable to suit their own class interests. This isn't necessarily a cynical and knowing ploy but has evolved over centuries I'd suggest. I am also not claiming that it is impossible or even unlikely that Iran may want to develop nuclear weapons. The imperialist lie routinely about things- it doesn't mean that there isn't a grain of truth in what they say.

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 24/09/2008 - 18:27

Jason, you say you are for the defeat of US imperialism by the Iranian workers. This is just word play. Aren't you for the "defeat" of Iranian military plans by the workers too? If not, then your position is defencist; let the argument continue. If you are, then you should be consistent and admit that you take a third camp position.

If Iran was semi-colonial, we would support the defeat of US imperialism not just by the Iranian workers, but by the Iranian regime too (while giving no political support to Ahmedinejad, seeking to develop an independent workers' party in Iran, overthrow the regime etc etc). You say it is semi-colonial; so why are you only for the defeat of US imperialism by the working class?

Sacha

Submitted by martin on Wed, 24/09/2008 - 18:51

... says Jason. Well, yes. Most do. Even today, I'd guess that outside Northern Europe and some ex-Stalinist states, the majority in most ruling classes are practising devotees of some religion or other. Even in relatively secular Britain, it has caused a minor scandal that David Miliband says he is an atheist; if he should topple Brown, he will be the first ever leader of a big political party in Britain to be an avowed atheist.

All that, however, is of a different order of things from a regime like Iran's, explicitly modelled on rule by the clergy according to the principles of religion.

It's something we haven't seen in Europe for a long time - even the clerical-fascist regimes of Franco and Salazar were more "moderate" - but let's not see the rest of the world just as minor variations on the European model.

Of course, in general, religions serve the rich. But a politico-religious government like Iran's does not necessarily do what is "economically rational". Taliban policy in Afghanistan was not "economically rational". Sections of the Iranian regime are certainly more "moderate" and semi-rationalist than the Taliban, but Ahmadinejad is not Khatami.

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 26/09/2008 - 10:04

Tom,

Whether or not Israel will act without US approval is something we still can't know. In fact, the article on the front page of today's Guardian speculates that Israel might go ahead anyway and quotes Olmert's spokesman saying *last night* that "all options must remain on the table".

Isn't the article rather a blow to those who claim, a la the CPGB/Yassamine Mather, that Israel would be acting as a catspaw for a US imperialism eager for war with Iran? After all, it seems that even *Bush* opposes a strike.

Looking around the PR site quickly, it seems that they don't state their position forthrightly. The nearest I could find is

1. This report of the HOPI founding conference, which implies support for Iran's "right" to nuclear weapons, but is unclear
http://www.permanentrevolution.net/entry/1819
(I also seem to recall the CPGB report of the conference describing PR as taking a similar position, but can't find it.)

2. This article from 2005, before the split with WP, but which they have reprinted on their site without comment/with implied endorsement:
http://www.permanentrevolution.net/entry/1161
"The right of Iran to defend itself, including by the possession of a nuclear bomb, must be defended."

Maybe they are starting to change their position: if so, good. But the reality is that their comrades have stated their support for the "right" of Iran to have nuclear weapons in numerous meetings and conversations.

Sacha

Submitted by martin on Fri, 26/09/2008 - 10:33

1. I don't see how it was rational for Iran to pursue its 1980-8 war with Iraq after Saddam Hussein had started suing for peace. It was clear that the USA (with the agreement of many Arab states) would not allow Iran to overrun Iraq. But Iran did continue, sending in waves of young boy soldiers to be slaughtered.

And things like the ban on women attending football matches - not to mention many other bans imposed in the early 1980s, some of them allowed to lapse since, some being reinvigorated by Ahmadinejad - are hardly straightforward bourgeois rationality.

Anyway, if you concede that "some national bourgeoisies do act in a crazy way", it seems odd to single out the clericalist, martyrdom-cult Iranian regime as a guaranteed non-crazy one.

2. There's been lots of stuff in the Israeli press about the Israeli government seeking aid from the USA for a raid on Iran, and being refused. Maybe that will hold back the Israeli government from a raid: I hope so. Maybe the Israeli government can find and play on differences within the US administration (Gates is reported in the Israeli press as vehemently against an Israeli raid; Cheney, not so). Maybe it will reckon it can find a way round the difficulties of doing a raid without prior US approval, and present the US with an "accomplished fact". I don't know. All these possibilities, though, rather confirm Sean's point that the Israeli government acts in this (to the extent it can) on its own judgement and in its own perceived interests, rather than as a catspaw of the US.

3. For PR praising Hopi on the grounds that Hopi does not have a "third-camp" position, see http://www.permanentrevolution.net/entry/1797.

For PR upholding Iran's "right" to nuclear weapons, see http://www.permanentrevolution.net/entry/1819.

It never seemed likely to me that WP would "over-praise" PR from WP's point of view - misrepresent PR so as to make PR better in WP's eyes. In any case, WP didn't. WP's report was accurate.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 26/09/2008 - 13:43

I will at some point try and come back to this but cannot for the moment due to family commitments and intense work pressure. I'll check out the references, for example. But just a quick respone to Sacha's point on semi-colonies- Iran is a semi-colony (on our definition not Sacha's) because of economic factors- it does not accrue massive profits from export of finance capital, it does not back up economic capital export with military interference etc. None of this means that iran's bourgeois are in any sense progressive or any less barbaric or exploitative. We are for the defeat of US imperialism- but that does not mean we support the Iranian bourgeois. It means that the workers' movement should support Iranian workers being armed and given weapons to defeat imperialism.

Support for the defeat of imperialism does not imply support for another bourgeois government- it implies that the working class needs to organise a revolutionary party to seize power and arms in order to better prosecute the struggle against imperialism (one tyhat almost all workers in such countries- extrapolating from my experience of living and working in Ethiopia and visiting Syria- understand, which is why their rulers sometimes - when it suits- fraudelently claim the anti-imperialist mantle.

I'll try and come back tot his but it might not be for a few days.

Jason

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 26/09/2008 - 17:10

A slight sleight of hand there, Martin. You said this article is an example of "PR upholding Iran's "right" to nuclear weapons" The article actually says, "Permanent Revolution had argued that taking a position on this question was not necessary in the campaign’s founding statement" which is quite distinct.

It argues that taking a position on this question is not necessary as a precondition of supporting the campaign. I can understand this argument- on balance however I think it is good that HOPI did take a position on this. Perhaps I do have a different opinion from some therefore in PR- so? I think it's good to have a range of opinions and debate on all sorts of matters.

Submitted by martin on Fri, 26/09/2008 - 17:13

1. "Israel is completely autonomous, which Sean implies"? I think this is yet another of the "implications" which people see in Sean's article but aren't there at all!

Small states are generally not "completely autonomous" from their big allies. Of course Israel "has an interest - not absolute, obviously, but very substantial - in keeping tight with the US".

However, the immediate reason why the Israeli government approached the US on the question of a strike on Iran is (according to the reports in the Israeli press, and they seem plausible) not just general deference, but (a) that Israel needs (or wants) some special military technology from the US for the job; (b) that Israel needs (or wants) US compliance in order to get through Iraqi air space to Iran.

The "policy of presenting itself as unpredictable and likely to react aggressively to the slightest provocation" is called the "madman theory", though there may be a posher name for it. Kissinger used it over Vietnam. Apparently he would tell the Vietnamese: "Of course, I would never be in favour of nuking North Vietnam. But Nixon? He's mad. He might just do it. So watch out".

2. If the URL I found from PR's website doesn't convince you, check out the one that Sacha has posted. Yes, PR upholds Iran's "right" to nuclear weapons. It may also have tactically wanted to avoid a vote on the issue which it thought it would lose at the Hopi conference, but that is a different matter.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.