Interview with an ‘Iraqi’ Revolutionary
"The highest heroic effort of which old society is still capable is national war; and this is now proved to be a mere governmental humbug, intended to defer the struggle of classes, and to be thrown aside as soon as that class struggle bursts out into civil war. Class rule is no longer able to disguise itself in a national uniform; the national governments are one as against the proletariat!"
Karl Marx: The Civil War in France, 1871
Let's begin with a general question. What do the 'Iraqi' proletariat feel about the 'impending' war? And is there a regional variation regarding class consciousness?
A: I visited Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this year. I felt the political situation had deteriorated considerably since, say, the last Gulf War. The domination of Kurdish nationalists, with full backing from 'western' capital, has left little room for autonomous proletarian activity. Even more worrying is the growth of 'Islamic Fundamentalism' in the Kurdistan area. The general deterioration is also evident in central and southern Iraq where proletarian organizations were smashed mercilessly after 1991 with the connivance of all sides, including the neighbouring bourgeoisie as well as the United Nations who returned deserters to the regime. Saddam Hussein was left in power in order to deal with working class rebels. I feel, at present, the proletariat in and around Baghdad is in a better position to impact the class struggle than perhaps any other region.
Q: In the news we hear that Iraqi citizens have been handed weapons by the regime. Is this true? Does the regime feel secure enough to arm 'its citizens'?
A: There have been numerous assassination attempts on Saddam and his cronies, so the level of distrust is very high. Three state groups have been recruiting from unemployed youth: the Ba'ath Party, state security forces and the Fedayeen bodyguards around Saddam's sons. These agents are armed but mostly have either no ammunition or use blanks for show. They even have to hand in their guns at the end of the day. As for the people themselves, yes it is true that many have personal firearms that are kept hidden.
Q: Have Iraqis become more religious in the last decade or so?
A: Historically, 'Iraqis' have not been as religious as 'Iranians' or other neighbouring countries. As early as 1952 many people saw religion for what it is. There were even clerics who turned against Islam and became atheists. There was, for instance, one Mullah MÄref who publicly disowned religion and declared himself a communist. He was even very critical of the Iraqi 'Communist' Party. He was arrested but peasants and proles demonstrated for his release. Even in the southern region, religion did not have a stronghold. The anti-religious Zanj slaves' rebellion and the Carmathian movement occurred in the southern parts of the country. Their legacy still acts as a bulwark against religious obfuscation. The depiction of southern Iraq as a bastion of Shi'a Islam is, therefore, grossly exaggerated.Today, after three decades of financial, political and military assistance from mainly US capital, 'Islamic fundamentalism' has a considerable presence in Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and even some parts of Iraqi Kurdistan. Should any religious grouping gain power after Saddam, they will have to implement harsh economic 'remedies' to stabilize Iraqi capitalism. Consequently, they will lose support very rapidly.
Desertion as revolutionary strategy
Q: The first Gulf War ended when thousands of Iraqi soldiers deserted. Are we likely to see similar acts of refusal amongst the conscript army? What about the Republican Guards?
A: Last time round, the overwhelming majority of ordinary soldiers handed their weapons to the people and simply went home. Those too far from home, had to settle for safe havens in Iraqi Kurdistan and refugee camps inside Iran. Had the war lasted any longer, even the Republican Guards would have deserted but, as we know, the Allies chose not to finish off the regime because of its own hidden agenda.The situation this time round is even more desperate for the regime. Whereas before they could afford to pay their security forces and Republican Guards sweeteners and in case of death or injury, compensate their families, today there is no financial reward. I predict not only young conscripts but also officers and even high ranking generals will defect or desert in their thousands. The only people who will fight until the very end are the thugs and mercenaries who have nowhere to go. Like fat rats who can't hide inside any hole, they have no choice but to stay and fight.
Lack of autonomous organizations
Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Iraqi proletariat?
A: It could be argued that the proletariat does not really exist unless it has its own autonomous organizations. Prior to 1990 the Iraqi proletariat had an authentic organizational expression but the war and its aftermath put an end to these experiments. The ruling classes of Iraq, USA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran as well as the fledging Kurdish bourgeoisie were equally culpable of the massacres of militants that took place after the first Gulf War.But then again at least since 1958 the working classes of Iraq have been subjected to periodic suppression. Every time the social struggle has resurfaced with vengeance. I predict that a few months or at most a year into a post-Saddam occupation scenario, the proletariat will once again make its presence felt.
Q: Where are we likely to witness riots, strikes, uprisings and workers councils?
A: Unless the ruling classes manage to divide the proletariat along religious, ethnic and regional lines, there will most probably be riots, strikes and uprisings in Baghdad, Karkuk, Mosul, Basra, Sulaymaniyah and Irbil and anywhere else with a tradition of struggle.
Q: What percentage of the Iraqi population belongs to the Ba'ath Party? We hear ridiculous figures such as 30 percent?
A: Maybe in the past, but today Saddam can only rely on a handful of faithful mercenaries whose fate is dependent on the regime's survival. I would say no more than a few thousand hardcore supporters.
Q: Which bourgeois opposition factions are in a position to form a government after Saddam (always assuming the next President of Iraq will not be Jimmy Carter)?
A: The most significant jockeying for power is being carried out by Shi'a forces who as a 'majority' wish to reverse centuries of relative powerlessness and Kurdish nationalists who want either autonomy within Iraq or secession. The monarchists, the party of Baqer Hakim and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan all seek to influence American policy regarding the post-Saddam scene. The Iraqi 'Communist' Party, the Islamist Da'wa Party and the 'Workers Communist' Party of Iraq are playing a more patient waiting game, since they are not in the running at this moment in time.
Q: How can revolutionaries in this part of the world help Iraqi comrades?
A: As an 'Iraqi' revolutionary living abroad I feel uncomfortable answering this question. I feel those actively involved in resisting both the Iraqi and Anglo-Saxon bourgeoisie are in a better position to respond to your question.I feel the most pressing issue right now is the war and the possibility that Iraq may disintegrate and the proletariat may be mobilized along nationalist (Kurdish vs. Arab), ethnic (Muslim vs. Christian), religious (Sunni vs. Shi'a) and regional (north vs. south) lines. Our main concern should be to undermine the war effort by linking the anti-war movement to the anti-capitalist movement here and avoid the mobilization of Iraqi proletarians under reactionary banners. Perhaps one of the most useful things we can do is to start a journal dedicated to issues related to the class struggle inside Iraq. Such a journal could clarify impending problems, promote revolutionary ideas and bring atomised radicals together.
Q: Many non-Iraqis from this country, USA and elsewhere have organized themselves as 'human shields' to protect Iraqis from harm in case of bombings. What do Iraqi people think of this phenomenon and what advice do you have for those thinking of joining such groups?
A: If this is going to be a positive experience it is imperative the volunteers are not seen by Iraqi people as siding with Saddam's regime or western media. Already the state is trying to use them as propaganda tools and regulate their activities. If the volunteers become politically savvy quickly they can establish direct contact with Iraqi people and support them without supporting the regime. In other words they must retain their autonomy. They do not have to worry too much about the cultural sensitivities of Iraqi people as all these 'sensitivities' are being questioned and critiqued by the people themselves.
Q: Are there major differences between the urban and rural proletariat in terms of consciousness and political affiliations?
A: The Ba'ath Party has been destroying small villages, and with it feudal relationships, for many years creating town-enclosures instead. Peasants were forcefully removed from their traditions and turned into urban proletarians. Those who made the transition became wage-slaves. In the past the unemployed were heavily subsidized by the central government. This created dependency. Those who escaped the reservations and went back to farming were hunted down by the army and punished. So in effect the variation in urban-rural areas is less in Iraq than neighbouring countries.
Q: We have all seen pictures of Iraqi prisoners being released by the regime. Is this true or just a propaganda exercise by the regime?
A: First, let me say that I do not recognize the distinction between 'political' and 'criminal' prisoners, especially not in a country like Iraq where every crime is 'political'. However, there may be a distinction between those who actively seek to overthrow the state and those who subvert it indirectly.The situation with regard to the release of prisoners is tragi-comic. Most of those revolutionaries who were deemed a threat to the regime were shot long ago. Saddam did away with courts and trials at least twenty years ago. Those suspected of belonging to proletarian organizations simply disappeared. The prisoners who have been released are those who are viewed as either 'apolitical' or those whose 'crime' is considered too petty to warrant a jail sentence. So, yes, it is true that many have been released. They do not pose a threat and their upkeep was taking up a great deal of resources. It was a clever move on the part of Saddam.
The Million (plus) March
Q: The 15th February marches throughout 600 cities around the world was impressive. In London more than 1 million turned up in freezing cold weather, in Rome up to 3 million. What did you think of the march? What did the Iraqis inside Iraq make of it?
A: The numbers were certainly very impressive but the organizers were very reactionary. Whether secular or religious they represented bourgeois reformism, no more. But on the positive side, the overwhelming majority of participants were proletarians who seemed genuinely sickened by the lies of the ruling class. I expect the anti-war movement will radicalise considerably although I doubt the war can be stopped by passive protests alone. What is interesting is the effect all this will have on a people who for years have been conditioned into hating and distrusting non-Iraqis. This emotional outpour of solidarity will certainly weaken all those bourgeois ideologies based on racism, such as Iraqi and Kurdish nationalisms as well as 'Islamic fundamentalism'.
‘Impending’ Gulf War II Series, Leaflet Two, 5.03.2003
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