Iraq: Turmoil Among the Warmakers, Challenge For the People

Revolution #024, November 27, 2005, posted at

Shortly after September 11, 2001, Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, spoke soberly to the efforts that had been launched by the imperialist ruling class to "reshuffle the deck" of world power in the wake of 911 and to radically remake U.S. society itself.1 He went deeply into the ramifications of the imperialists’ "wild ambitions," while speaking to the ways in which the things they were launching could cause them real problems.

"All of this," he said, "comes together and mixes wildly--that’s why I call it a cauldron of contradictions--to produce a lot of potential for things to go in many different directions and even to get out of their control."

The recent intense conflicts within the U.S. ruling class point sharply to that potential--and underscore the challenge facing people opposed to imperialism.

The Cauldron Simmers

The war in Iraq, to understate the case, is not going well for the U.S. imperialists. The resistance to the U.S. occupation within Iraq has spread and grown more capable. The conflicts between the many different political, ethnic and class forces within Iraq show little sign of resolution, and the puppet Iraqi army is still not able to fight on its own. In response, the U.S. has escalated its tactics of wholesale terror directed against the Sunni Muslim population as a whole, which is the main (though not the only) base of the insurgency. Making all this worse--from the imperialist standpoint, that is--is the increasingly widespread and sharp sentiment against the war within the U.S. itself. And interplaying with that is a growing disaffection and anger within the army itself.

All this is causing intense concern within the U.S. ruling class. To get a sense of what is bothering some of these forces, it is worth quoting at some length the editorial "A Timetable for Mr. Bush" that appeared in the New York Times

"The ultimate Iraqi nightmare, which continually seems to be drawing closer, is a violent fracturing of the country in which the Kurdish north and Arab Shiite southeast break away, leaving the west, dominated by Arab Sunnis, an impoverished no man’s land and a breeding ground for international terrorism. . .

The consequences of such a breakup would be endless and awful: civil war, the persecution of minority populations in the new states, an alliance between the Shiites and Iran, and a complete breakdown of American moral and military influence in the Middle East. [emphasis added]"

Please note and note well that nowhere in this editorial does the Times even profess to be bothered by the wholesale slaughter that continues to be carried out against the Iraqi population, the ongoing torture, the recent revelations of the criminal use of white phosphorus against civilians, and all the rest of the horror that goes with imposing tighter U.S. domination. No, what has them bothered is the breakdown of "American moral [sic] and military influence."

Faced with the intensifying discontent and anger among the people and the restiveness within the ruling class, Bush has gone on the offensive. He has forcefully reasserted his "vision" of a world dominated by the U.S. and, in particular, a Middle East radically transformed in such a way so as to deepen and ensure that domination. [See Revolution # 22, "Bush Calls for Endless Borderless War Without Limits," for an in-depth analysis of Bush’s speeches in this period.] And he has increasingly accused the opposition of encouraging "the enemy" and demoralizing the troops.

In giving these speeches mainly on military bases and to military families, Bush is trying to do three things. First, he is attempting to firm up his base in the army; second, he is trying to win back sections of the American people by waving the banner of "supporting the troops"; and third, he is signaling to other forces within the ruling class that he does have a base in the army, and that he will not hesitate to use it should it come to that. That in itself is very heavy, and a sign of how deep the contradictions run.

Nonetheless, contradictions within the ruling class have continued to simmer. Much of this has been taking the form of Democratic congressmen raising questions about the intelligence that was used to justify the U.S. invasion. Last week, the Senate passed a resolution that called for regular progress reports on Iraq from the Administration and a "period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty." Neither the criticism of pre-war intelligence handling nor the call for progress reports got to the heart of the question: that of the war itself and its utterly unjust and immoral nature. And neither track exposed how the U.S. forces are escalating their savagery in the face of the stubborn resistance. But while this was mainly posturing--both Republicans and Democrats attempting to look like they were "doing something" in the face of an increasingly acute crisis, while essentially keeping things going on the same track--there was a secondary element within it of expressing concern that things were spinning out of control.

The Crack Widens

But even that small crack could not be tolerated by the Bush Regime, lest it begin to widen beyond the intent of even the Democratic politicians. So Bush, Cheney and their minions continued on the counteroffensive in a series of speeches that not only defended the war, but attacked any criticism at all as undermining the troops and "emboldening the enemy."

Then John Murtha, a very right-wing Democratic congressman with ties to the military, put forward a resolution for U.S. withdrawal in six months. Murtha framed his move entirely in terms of the toll that the war was taking on the army: "The threat by terrorism is real, but we have other threats that cannot be ignored. We must prepare to face all these threats. . . The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin. . . Many say the Army is broken." That is a rather sharp statement! Murtha went on to say that his "most important point" was that "incidents have increased from 150 a week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over a time when we had additional more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since... Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled."

All this was made more significant by who Murtha is and who he speaks for. According to David Gergen, a former adviser to four different presidents, Murtha is "very close to a lot of generals in the army. . . and when he speaks many think they are hearing the voice of those generals." Murtha, in other words, is a gung-ho servant of imperialism who serves as a mouthpiece for some forces in the army. He backed the war from the beginning and is only now criticizing it on the basis that it has been and is being poorly led, and damaging larger imperialist interests in general, and the stability and effectiveness of the army in particular.

The regime hit back hard. The House Republican leadership then took Murtha’s proposal, changed it to call for immediate withdrawal, and put it on the floor for an immediate vote. This was extremely unusual--bills are supposed to go through hearings in sub-committee and committee before coming on to the floor. Murtha likely counted on that, and may have mainly intended to use the bill to argue for changes in how the troops were deployed, equipped, and so on. There is a whole school of thought, which includes many leading Democrats as well as the influential Arizona Republican (and war criminal) John McCain, that calls for more troops to "do the job right."2

But the Bush crew, and the Republicans more broadly, sensing that the dynamics were going against them, tried to turn this against their critics by demanding that people either vote for immediate withdrawal or not. One Republican Congressman said essentially that now other politicians are not going to be able to say they were misled, or continue to criticize--they had to go on record, and if they voted for the war, they basically had to shut up.

The House then voted down the resolution to withdraw by 403 to 3--with even Murtha voting against it!

Think about it: 403 to 3. What the hell kind of "opposition" is that?

Their Interests--And Ours

Friday’s vote made very clear there is no real sentiment in the ruling class for an immediate end to the war. There is no dispute over militarily dominating Iraq and the Middle East more broadly; rather there is a dispute over how to best do that. This is not an argument between those for imperialism and those against it. This is nothing but slaveholders arguing how best to maintain and expand slavery; nothing but mass murderers, torturers and war criminals arguing over "the right mix" of each.

Right now Bush’s main critics within the ruling class are arguing, from different angles, that he a) put more focus on more effective military domination of Iraq, b) more forcefully and attentively restructure the Iraqi puppet government, and c) more effectively mystify and mislead the American people into backing, or at least tolerating, the war. This is why McCain reiterated his call for more troops in Iraq, in a very highly publicized recent speech; this is why the Times editorial called for Bush to "set clear goals" for the Iraqi government to get into firmer control, and made a number of concrete proposals as to what the Iraqi government must do to that end; this is why even pro-war politicians and columnists complain that Bush is "not communicating well." But the overarching ruling class consensus right now is that there is no alternative--again, from the vantage point of imperialism--to the continued military occupation and domination of Iraq, despite the risks and real costs to their interests, as pointed to by people like Murtha.

Yet immediate withdrawal is the only just thing, the only thing in accord not only with the interests of the great majority of people in both Iraq and the U.S., but increasingly with their sentiments. Friday’s Lou Dobbs show on CNN ran a poll of its viewers--and Lou Dobbs is far from liberal--on what the U.S. should do in Iraq. Dobbs said that they had an overwhelming response and that 11% voted to do whatever was necessary to win, 2% voted to "stay the course," and 87% voted for immediate withdrawal! Lou Dobbs, of course, can rig his polls any way he likes--and polls in general are set up to create, rather than reflect, public opinion--but that kind of number at minimum amounts to someone like Dobbs raising very serious concern that "the public is being lost." It also poses a huge opportunity--and, as we shall speak to, a very significant challenge--to those who are burning to change this society in a progressive direction.

So the top Democrats speak out against Bush "around the edges," for two reasons. First, they do hope to influence the policy. Second, they need to convince people that they, the Democratic leaders, are doing the most that is reasonable to oppose the war.

Bob Avakian has compared the ruling forces in society to a pyramid, with the top Republicans and Democrats contending at the apex.

"Who are the people that [the Democrats] try to appeal to–not that the Democrats represent their interests, but who are the people that the Democrats try to appeal to at the base, on the other side of this pyramid, so to speak? All the people who stand for progressive kinds of things, all the people who are oppressed in this society. For the Democrats, a big part of their role is to keep all those people confined within the bourgeois, the mainstream, electoral process. . . and to get them back into it when they have drifted away from--or broken out of--that framework. Because . . . [the Democrats] just sell out these people every time--because they don’t represent their interests. They represent the interests of the system and of its ruling class. But they have a certain role of always trying to get people who are oppressed, alienated and angry back into the elections. You know: "Come on in, come on in–it’s not as bad as you think, you can vote, it’s OK." This is one of the main roles they play. But the thing about them is that they are very afraid of calling into the streets this base of people that they appeal to, to vote for them. The last thing in the world they want to do is to call these masses of people into the streets to protest or to battle against this right-wing force that’s being built up.3"

Right now, there are intense pressures pulling on the pyramid. On the one hand, there are sharpening differences within the ruling class over how best to deal with real difficulties in carrying through their murderous imperialist war. On the other, there is the widening gulf between the Democratic Party leadership, which supports the war (as evidenced by the 403-3 vote), and the people they claim to lead (and are supposed to corral), who grow more sharply opposed to the war by the day.

So the top Democrats speak out against Bush "around the edges," for two reasons. First, they do hope to influence the policy. Second, they need to convince people that they, the Democratic leaders, are doing the most that is reasonable to oppose the war.

But that is a lie. The Democratic leaders are not doing the most that can be done to oppose the war; again, the vast majority support the continued occupation of Iraq. They are in fact working to demobilize and detour the real opposition to the war and keep it confined within very limited terms; they want to blunt the demand for immediate withdrawal into a plea for some phased withdrawal that couldn’t even begin until imperialist interests are secured. They aim to keep things politically under control, while the imperialists maneuver and bludgeon their way through a situation that grows more difficult and dangerous for them by the day.

Two Contending Dynamics

The Democratic politicians aim to divert the growing sentiment to END the war NOW and to constrain the limits of the debate and blunt the edge of people’s anger. They, and their supporters, pose lining up behind them against action from below demanding an end to the war, and to the whole program of which it is a part. Yet it is only mass struggle, on its own terms, that can compel progressive change.

There is a bitter lesson here in the 2004 elections. There had been a huge antiwar groundswell both before the war and then at the Republican Convention in August. But people were persuaded to pour that energy into backing Kerry--Kerry who, while posing as the "moderate alternative" to Bush, nevertheless firmly supported the war and played up his military qualifications as potential "commander-in-chief." The dynamic set in where people essentially abandoned the stands they held most essential--including their opposition to the war--in the name of being realistic and reasonable.

That was, and is, a deadly dynamic.

We need to bring a whole different dynamic into play, particularly as the "election season" begins to gear up. We need a dynamic where the people who OPPOSE the war, along with people who oppose all the other depradations of the Bush Regime and the whole fascist direction of society, act in their own interests and for their own demands, in a mass political way. We need a dynamic where the people against this regime, by dint of their numbers and determination, compel every other force in society to respond to them. This in fact is the only "realistic and reasonable" course--that is, if you wish to change the reality of a war without end, borders or limits, and an increasingly fascist social order at home that corresponds to and reinforces that.

We should learn from the way that both the Bush regime and the Democrats, in their different ways, are showing fear in the face of the alienation of the people and even within parts of the army itself. Why are they scrambling? Why are they lashing out, both at the people and at each other? What are they scared of? Well, they are scared of many things right now, but not the least of their fears is the anger and resistance of the people they rule right here. They are scared that we will realize our own potential power-- if and as we dare to get out from under their control, and take mass independent political action, in our own interests and, more than that, in the interests of the world’s people. They are scared that people, in the words of the Call to drive out the Bush regime, will "refuse to be ruled in this way."

The question right now is not whether to vote or not. It is whether to rely on voting, or instead to pour your energies into winning over and rallying millions to their true interests, channeling their discontent into a course that will not once again betray them, but will result in really changing the direction of society and the course of history. It is whether to seize politically on the cracks that are beginning to appear and, through mass independent political action from below, open them up into a whole different future, or whether to allow ourselves to be gathered back into the fold and reduced to another passive "pressure group," as the authors of this war figure out how to patch up those cracks and continue their reign of white phosphorus and secret torture cells.

Very immediately, the urgent challenge is to throw in everything to mount massively powerful protests at the time of Bush’s State of the Union address in January, forcefully demanding that Bush himself step down and take his regime and his whole program--including this brutal and reactionary war--with him. Protests massive enough, and determined enough, to make nothing less than this the central political question in the country.

We must meet this challenge.


1. "The New Situation and the Great Challenges," by Bob Avakian, at

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2. This would almost certainly require a reimposition of the draft, which Murtha, by the way, supports but which would almost surely intensify the opposition to the war among the people.

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3. "The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era", p. 3.

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