In the months leading up to the outbreak of war in September 1980, the WRP stepped up its glorification of the Ba’athist regime. On July 28, 1980, the Political Committee passed a draft resolution which declared: “The Workers Revolutionary Party welcomes and pledges maximum aid to the dynamic and radical policies of the Iraqi government led by President Saddam Hussein. By giving the land to the peasantry, granting autonomy to the Kurds, eradicating illiteracy, multiplying per capita income, and ending forever the domination of the foreign oil monopolies, the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party has advanced the Arab revolution and created a firm basis for cooperation with a revolutionary socialist regime [!] in Britain.”
On the basis of this resolution, Healy commissioned a series of six articles, published in August, detailing, according to the News Line introduction, “the social and economic development, cultural life,—from art to archeology—the new role of youth and the political struggle of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to use the natural wealth of the country to improve all aspects of life of the Iraqi people.” (August 9, 1980)
Six weeks later, Hussein and the Ba’athists used the national wealth to plunge the Iraqi people into a bloody war against Iran.
The historical background of the Iran-Iraq War is a territorial rivalry that stretches back for centuries and which was exacerbated by imperialist domination in the aftermath of the break-up of the old Ottoman Empire. Since the 1930’s there had been repeated border clashes which were concluded with various imperialist-imposed settlements which merely prepared the seeds for a renewal of the fighting. At the heart of the longstanding border conflict has been sovereignty over the Shatt al-Arab, the waterway formed by the convergence of the Tigris, Euphrates and Karun rivers as they intersect and flow into the Persian Gulf. Iraqi governments have always insisted their country must have full sovereignty over the Shatt al-Arab—as opposed to the Thalweg’ principle under which the boundary would be fixed at the median point of the waterway—because it is Iraq’s only outlet to the sea.
In 1975, the Shah’s regime in Iran—with the backing of the United States—won major concessions including the Thalweg’ principle after coming to the brink of an all-out war with Iraq. When Saddam Hussein announced on September 17, 1980 that he was abrogating the five-year-old Algiers Agreement he could argue, with some historical justification, that the 1975 agreement had been imposed upon Iraq by imperialism. But in so doing, he was merely echoing the complaint voiced by the Tehran government about every other treaty that ‘resolved’ the Iraqi-Iranian border dispute.
In any case, whatever the legitimacy of Iraq’s claim to sovereignty over Shatt al-Arab, it was clearly only a smokescreen for an attempt to annex a sizeable and valuable chunk of Iranian territory. Within hours of the eruption of all-out war, Iraqi troops had penetrated deep into Iran, far beyond any area traditionally claimed by Iraq.
The timing of the Iraqi invasion was critical in exposing its class character. By attacking Iran in the midst of the ‘hostage crisis,’ the Ba’athist regime was clearly seeking the backing of US imperialism and the reactionary Saudi and Gulf regimes, all of which had been thrown into paroxysms of fear by the toppling of the Peacock Throne. Hussein was in essence saying, Iraq’s military might, which had been built up to counter Israeli aggression, was now “a gun for hire.”
The launching of the war was the continuation, in fact the climax, of a steady swing to the right by the Ba’athists that had been consistently covered up by Healy. From 1975 on, relations with the Shah’s regime and the Saudi royal family improved steadily; trade with the US rose sharply; the Iraqi CP was subjected, with the approval of the WRP, to severe repression; and in March 1980 the Ba’athists announced they were forming a united front of groups opposed to South Yeman’s pro-Soviet bourgeois national government.
In the wake of the 1978 Camp David accords, the Iraqi Ba’athists asserted that the leadership of the Arab revolution had fallen to their party. But for all their bluster about revolution—assiduously publicized by the News Line—when confronted with a real mass and popular uprising in Iran, the Ba’athists feared it and fatally misjudged its power. To the everlasting dismay of Saddam Hussein, who in 1975 had helped orchestrate the pact with the Shah’s “omnipotent” regime, Iran in the aftermath of its anti-imperialist revolution was not “ripe for the picking.”
The WRP responded to the Iraqi invasion of Iran in September 1980 with a lame attempt to bring its political books up to date with a denunciation of the war and a call for an immediate cease-fire. But it was not possible to turn Marxist analysis on and off like a kitchen faucet and the statement of its Political Committee, dated September 24, 1980, was shot through with contradictions which reflected the treacherous line which the WRP had pursued right up to the outbreak of war.
The analysis of the war and the political conclusions which flowed from it was dominated by the WRP’s faith in the historically progressive role of Ba’ath nationalism and its capacity to lead the anti-imperialist struggle. For this reason, it approached the war as if it were an aberration, a temporary diversion from the progressive logic of Ba’athism, rather than as an inevitable expression of the reactionary character of Iraqi bourgeois nationalism, its sinister anti-Persian chauvinism, its ultimate dependence upon imperialism, and its inability to formulate a viable program for the unity of the masses of the Middle East and Asia Minor.
Even as the Ba’athists were carrying out policies which directly served the interests of US imperialism, the Soviet bureaucracy and Zionism, the Political Committee claimed that “the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party is, in the long run, the real threat to their intrigues and interests in the Middle East. It has demonstrated time and again that it is not subservient to these reactionary forces.” (Documents of the Fifth Annual Congress, p. 20)
The reference to the Ba’athists as the “real threat” to imperialism “in the long run” proves that the working class in the Middle East, and, for that matter, in all the semi-colonial and backward countries, no longer entered into the political calculations of the Workers Revolutionary Party leadership. This blindness to the existence of the proletariat, let alone its revolutionary role, produced a craven capitulation to the bourgeois regimes and a perspective of complete hopelessness for the national liberation struggles. Thus, rather than calling on the working class to overthow the Iraqi Ba’athists and assume its rightful place in the leadership of the anti-imperialist struggle, Healy and Banda crawled on their bellies to the Ba’athists, pleading with Saddam Hussein to end the war lest the PLO would be deprived of a bourgeois regime to sponsor the struggle against Zionism.
This bankrupt dependency on the bourgeois regime was articulated as follows: “As the Iraq-Iran warfare is taking place the real danger is to the Palestinian revolution in South Lebanon. The PLO has suddenly become dangerously beleaguered. Not only has it lost the immediate support of Iraq and Iran, but it cannot hope to rely upon the crisis-ridden Assad regime in Syria nor the two-faced King Hussein of Jordan. The Palestinian revolution and its allies in the Lebanese National Movement are threatened to the north by the CIA and Israeli-backed forces of Pierre Gemayal’s Falangists and in the South by Major Saad Haddad’s fascists and the Israeli army.” (Ibid., p. 21)
Rather than declaring emphatically that the PLO had been betrayed by the Arab bourgeoisie, the WRP mourned the loss of its patronage and suggested to the Palestinians that there existed no alternative to this political dependency. Far from even hinting at the treacherous role of the Ba’athists, the Political Committee placed responsibility on the crisis confronting the PLO “squarely on the shoulders of imperialism and the shabby maneuvers of the Soviet bureaucracy”—as if anything else could be expected from imperialism and Stalinism. Along these lines, the statement referred to the ICFI as a mere “opponent of these counterrevolutionary forces.” (Ibid.)
This political self-debasement was expressed in another formulation: “We differ from the national liberation and the national revolutionary movements on the decisive question of the revolutionary party and the building of the World Party of Socialist Revolution.” (Ibid.)
The implication of this statement was that the construction of the revolutionary party and the struggle for world revolution is a tactical question which Trotskyists debate with bourgeois nationalists. The very manner in which this issue was presented denied the historical materialist foundation of the policy of the proletarian party. The WRP clearly rejected the Marxist view—based on objective reality—that the Ba’athists are the representatives of the class enemy of the proletariat. Instead, in the most extreme Pabloite formulation, the possibility was left open that a political convergence between the Trotskyists and one or another variety of bourgeois nationalism may be eventually realized and, on this basis, a hybrid “World Party of Socialist Revolution” built.
The reference to two political categories, national liberation and the national revolutionary movements, was made to establish a rough equality between the political character of the PLO and the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party.
The Political Committee stated in conclusion: “The political yardstick against which every force is tested in the Middle East is the struggle against Zionist imperialism. The Workers Revolutionary Party can proudly say that its record has been principled, consistent and spotless.” (Ibid., p. 22) This passage combined a theoretical blunder with an outright lie. The first sentence falsified the Theory of Permanent Revolution; the second violated the limits of human credibility.
Trotsky explicitly rejected the bogus political “yardstick” of the WRP when he wrote: “One must measure not the attitude of every given national bourgeoisie to imperialism ‘in general,’ but its attitude to the immediate revolutionary historical tasks of its own nation.” (Third International After Lenin, New Park, p. 132)
Five days after the publication of the Political Committee statement, a supplementary statement, dated September 27, 1980, was issued by the Central Committee. This was no less treacherous and self-contradictory than the previous one. On this occasion, the WRP went as far as to urge the Iraqi masses “to mobilize against the war by arresting the bloody hand of the war instigators and to seek unity with the Iranian masses in confronting the common imperialist enemy.” (Documents, p. 24)
But the insincerity of this appeal was exposed by the fact that the Central Committee tactfully avoided mentioning the names of the “war instigators/’ Apparently, the “bloody hand” was not attached to any body! However, Healy and Banda (who authored these statements) did not fail to offer Saddam Hussein some friendly advise: “The Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party has consistently fought against every attempt to make it subservient to imperialism and Stalinism. For that, it has won the support of all revolutionary forces, including the Workers Revolutionary Party. It must understand that its present military offensive and war aims are a break with that policy, cannot be supported, and if persisted in will result in disaster for the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party itself.” (Ibid., p. 25)
This statement ended not with a call for revolutionary action by the working class against imperialism and its national bourgeois agents, but rather with a pathetic appeal for “a peace conference now of Iraq, Iran, the PLO and all those fighting the imperialists and Zionist enemy!” (Ibid., p. 27) Presumably, this conference would have included a delegation from the WRP, with Healy and Banda serving as attorneys for Saddam Hussein to assist in the drafting of a peace treaty. The reactionary content of this statement is that the political and historical issues which gave rise to the war should be settled, with the help of the WRP, behind the backs of the working class and without the intervention of the masses under their own banners.
At no time did the WRP consult the International Committee as it proceeded to formulate, in friendly competition with the British foreign office, its own foreign policy.
As the war continued into 1981 with thousands killed and maimed, Healy was still attempting to cling to the coat-tails of the Ba’athists. Thus, at the Fifth Congress of the Workers Revolutionary Party in February of that year, a Manifesto which was unanimously adopted declared: “Our opposition to the war does not diminish our support for the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party in Iraq in so far as it continues to uphold its struggle against imperialism and Zionism and support the Palestinian revolution.” (News Line, February 7, 1981)
Healy was not prepared to let the corpses of thousands of workers and peasants in Iran and Iraq come between him and the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party. Retreating even from the WRP position of the previous September, Healy no longer held that the continuation of the war was incompatible with the defense of the Palestinian struggle against Zionism.
Such devious formulations cannot be attributed simply to mistakes of a theoretical nature. They are the work of a man who had directly sold himself and his party to the agencies of bourgeois states and who was working consciously and directly in their behalf. No other conclusion can be drawn from this record.
In the official statements issued by the Political Committee, Central Committee and Fifth National Congress, the WRP had sought to balance between the two opposing camps and had failed to specifically recognize the right of the Iranian regime to repel Iraqi aggression. A principled Marxist position would have explicitly stated that Iran was waging a defensive war against an opportunist attack by the Ba’athist regime in collaboration with US imperialism. It would have called upon Iranian workers to take up arms against Iraqi forces while maintaining an attitude of critical vigilance toward the bourgeois Islamic leaders, placing no confidence in their disavowals of aggressive designs against Iraqi territory and rigorously defending its political independence. At the same time it would have demanded that Iran renounce all claims against Shatt al-Arab and that the national rights of all minorities in Iran be respected. Moreover, it would have explained that the political roots of the interminable conflicts between Iranians and Iraqis arise out of the uncompleted democratic revolutions in both countries, the state divisions which hinder economic progress and obstruct the instinctive strivings of the masses of Iran and Iraq for unity. In addition, it would have explained that the sole basis for ending fratricidal conflicts and securing national independence from imperialism is through the unity of the proletariat of Iran and Iraq, the overthrow of capitalism in both countries and the common struggle for the establishment of the United Socialist States of the Middle East. In summation, it would have explained that the only alternative to fratricidal war, economic dependency and imperialist domination is the socialist revolution.
By early 1982 it was clear that the military position of Iraq was growing increasingly precarious. In May the Iranians scored major victories, culminating in the recapture of Khoramshahr. In typical opportunist fashion, without any theoretical explanation, this event was described in a News Line editorial, dated May 25, 1982, as “a triumph for the Iranian revolution and its struggling masses.” With equally typical shortsightedness, the News Line also expressed its full confidence in the intentions of the Iranian bourgeoisie: “We do not believe Western claims that Iran’s next intention is to invade Iraq. If this did come about, we would oppose it as vigorously as we opposed the Iraqi invasion of Iran.”
These stupid illusions expressed a complete absence of any Marxist analysis of the class nature of the contending forces. Blind to the new dangers in the political situation, the News Line went on to declare that Iran’s military successes had “strengthened the revolution in the process.
“This is a sign of the political development of the revolutionary masses, not only in Iran but throughout the world and the British working class should take note.”
The Islamic Republic did not take notice of the News Line editorialists and pressed ahead with its attack against Iraq. In placing intolerable political and economic demands upon its people, the Khomeini regime exposed the fact that Islamic fundamentalism was nothing more than a messianic guise for the traditional expansionist aims of a capitalist Greater Persia, occupying the role of strongman in the Gulf. At this point the conflict ceased to be a defensive war on the part of the Khomeini regime and it called for a sharp change in the policy of Marxists, who would now be obliged to adopt a defeatist position in relation to the war.
However, the News Line, anxious not to offend the rising power in the Gulf and increasingly doubtful about the value of its ties with Iraq, issued only a mild rebuke using, as usual, the Palestinians as a cover for Healy’s political skullduggery: “The Iranian invasion of Iraq is a disservice to the besieged Palestinian and Lebanese fighters in Beirut and to the Iranian revolution itself, and must be denounced.”(July 16, 1982)
With the financial resources of the Iraqi regime bankrupted by the war, Healy decided that his alliance with Saddam Hussein was no longer of any use. The time had come to shift to the more promising bourgeois camp. But there were two major obstacles blocking Healy’s path—the prior opposition to the Iranian invasion and the initial analysis made by the International Committee three years earlier of the class nature and perspectives of the Iranian Revolution. In a statement dated February 12, 1979, the International Committee of the Fourth International laid bare the class nature of the Khomeini leadership and warned that no confidence should be placed in the Islamic clergy.
While acknowledging Khomeini’s paramount role in the events leading up to the downfall of the Shah, the ICFI rejected any concession to his religious ideology and political program:
“The truth is that the masses are moved by class questions, not religious ones.
“However, in the absence of an organized revolutionary leadership and because of the cowardly class collaborationist policies of Iranian Stalinism in the Tudeh Party, Ayatollah Khomeini and other religious leaders of the Shi’ite sect have been able to establish a virtual political monopoly on the opposition forces.
“Millions of Iranians today follow Khomeini not because they desire the reactionary Utopia of an Islamic state’ but because the Ayatollah symbolizes uncompromising opposition to the Pah lev i Dynasty and its autocratic rule.
“Khomeini’s own political doctrine is vague, contradictory and ambiguous.
“It combines progress and reaction. Sharia law and the Constituent Assembly, oppression of women and personal liberty.
“The policies of Khomeini reflect the contradictory and equivocal nature of the bazaar merchants and other elements of the Iranian native capitalist class and petty bourgeoisie.
“These sections of Iranian society balance precariously between imperialism, the oil monopolies and the banks, on one side, and the Iranian masses on the other.
“Their semi-colonial position forces them to oppose US and British imperialism.
“But they cannot and will not challenge capitalist state power in Iran...
“Now it is the fundamental questions of the socialist revolution which predominate.
“It is the conscious mastery of these questions and the revolutionary practice dictated by a scientific grasp of the objective situation, that will decide the issue.
“What are these basic principles, established in over a century of revolutionary experience?
“The working class is the only revolutionary class in
modern society. The revolution against imperialism is a world revolution, to which the revolution in each nation is subordinate...
“The capitalist state cannot be taken over and adapted to socialist purposes: its bodies of armed men must be smashed, broken up, dispersed.
“The people must be armed and mobilized behind a Marxist revolutionary party.” (News Line, February 17, 1979, pp. 7-10)
The statement concluded with the elaboration of a revolutionary socialist program and the call for the construction of an Iranian section of the ICFI.