The Winter Palace, and after

by John Quiggin on October 17, 2005

Now is as good a time as any to mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1905. This upsurge of revolt against Czarism was the occasion of some of the most tragic and inspiring scenes in the revolutionary drama: the “Bloody Sunday” march to the Winter Palace, Trotsky’s leadership of the St. Petersburg Soviet and the Potemkin mutiny. The revolution seemed likely to prove successful when the government agreed to a parliamentary constitution (October 17 in the Julian calendar), but once the threat was over, the autocracy reasserted itself, and the Duma was reduced to a talking shop. Less than 10 years later, the Czarists took Russia into the Great War, leading directly to nearly two million deaths and indirectly to many more.

The lesson drawn by many was that peaceful reform was hopeless: this inevitably pushed the most determined revolutionaries, Lenin and the Bolsheviks to the fore, and for much of the 20th century, they appeared to many to have history on their side. After 100 years, however, it is as clear as any historical fact can be that Bolshevism (or, perhaps more accurately, Leninism) has been a complete and catastrophic failure.

The failure of Leninism is obvious enough in Russia and in the other countries where Communist parties came to power (and in the case of China still hold it). Nothing much is left of the Communist era except decay and corruption. Inequality and economic injustice are far more prevalent than in countries that never experienced “actually existing socialism”.

But the Leninist legacy has been little better in the rest of the world. From 1917 until the end of the Cold War, Communism was an albatross around the neck of socialist, social-democratic and progressive movements around the world, causing division and strife everywhere. Admittedly, Communism attracted some of the brightest and most idealistic opponents of capitalism, and Communist parties often took brave and idealistic stands while mainstream labour parties dithered and temporised. But this only increased the damage that was done when these talents and ideals were used to serve the interests of totalitarian regimes and ideologies.

Meanwhile, those on the Left who rejected Communism were forced into unpalatable choices, between splitting the labour movement and handing victory to the other side, or working with the Communists, accepting the resulting opprobrium and running the risk of being left high and dry by a shift in strategy (until the 50s mostly arising from a change in the Comintern line and after that from the internal vicissitudes of revolutionary politics).

Even more lasting damage has been done by the rhetoric of revolution itself. The idea that a single violent irruption, followed by a (supposedly temporary) revolutionary dictatorship, can break unending cycles of oppression, and achieve permanent change for the better is intuitively appealing and gains support daily from the failures of more modest attempts at reform, from the peaceful protest march to the Winter Palace in 1905 to the shoddy compromises of day-to-day democratic politics (and particularly in this context, social-democratic politics).

Yet the appeal of revolution is an illusion. Most attempts at revolution fail, leaving the participants and the oppressed worse off than before. Even where revolution is successful, attempts by the revolutionary party to hold on to power usually lead to reactionary dictatorship in short order. The French Revolution, the model on which Marxist analysis was based, lasted five years from the liberation of the Bastille to Thermidor, and ten years to the 18 Brumaire seizure of power by Napoleon. The Bolshevik revolution lasted four years until the adoption of the New Economic Policy and seven years before Stalin’s rise to power.

The successful revolutions have mostly been those where the ancien regime collapsed under its own weight, and where those who came to power did not try too hard to hold on to it when, inevitably, the wheel of public support turned against them[1]

At a deeper level, the appeal of revolution has a substantial residue of aristocratic sentiment. In the course of the last 200 years, and even allowing for the defeats of the past 20 years or so, the achievements of the Left have been impressive, starting with universal suffrage and secret ballots, going on the creation of the welfare state, continuing with progress towards equality without regard to race, gender and sexuality, preserving the environment from the disastrous impact of industrialism and so on. Yet most of this progress has been achieved in a thoroughly bourgeois fashion, through long agitation, boring committee reports and so on. Gains that are ground out in this way are not noble enough for an aristocratic sensibility: far better to fail gloriously.

As far as the main body of the left is concerned, the issue has ceased to matter: the appeal of revolution is pretty much dead, and the symbols of Bolshevism are more likely to appear in vodka advertisements than in progressive pamphlets these days. But the appeal of revolution is independent of ideology, and there has always been a steady stream of converts from the revolutionary left to the radical right, reversing most of the signs but maintaining Leninist styles of argument and an attraction for the violent assertion of power. In the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with Mussolini, converts of this type mostly went over to Fascism. In the 1950s and 1960s, ex-Communists supplied much of the firepower of McCarthyism and its variants. In the 1970s and 1980s, the same tendency (frequently moving via Trotskyism) became neoconservatism. Most recently, the membership of the “decent left” is drawn largely from those on the left who have never given up on the appeal of revolutionary violence, and now see George W. Bush as the agent of revolution.

I’ve made some pretty broad generalizations above, and there are plenty of exceptions. Sometimes peace is not the answer: there are just wars, and necessary revolutions. But the great problem in politics has almost never been inadequate willingness to resort to violence[2]: rather it has been an excessive belief in the potential of war and revolution to achieve desirable goals.

fn1. The February 1917 revolution might perhaps have turned out like this, if only the Kerensky government had been willing and able to extricate Russia from the bloodbath of the Great War.

fn2. Since it will undoubtedly be raised, let me concede in advance that the Allies should have gone to war against Hitler in September 1938 rather than waiting until September 1939. Against this example, there are the vast numbers of cases of decisions to go to war in which neither side was justified, most importantly the Great War beginning in 1914 (and, arguably, continuing in one form or another until 1989) which set off the whole tragic story of the 20th century.

{ 1 trackback }

Crooked Timber » » Top Public Intellectuals of 1905
10.17.05 at 8:58 am

{ 59 comments }

1

a 10.17.05 at 6:01 am

“It has been an excessive belief in the potential of war and revolution to achieve desirable goals.” Very well said!

2

paul lawson 10.17.05 at 6:34 am

Wow,Quiggin! I have been slowly writing a fiction on the notion of the ‘surge’. Might it have begun in the ‘Deer Park’? Perhaps. Was Garibaldi more important in Latin America than later? Perhaps. Was an equivocal sociopath like Brecht, Hollywood bound,via Vladivostok, an exemplar, of something? Perhaps. In Harbin the railway from St Petersberg made a connection and created a community that has experienced several subsequent diasporas.

Broad generalizations have value.

There is a ‘peg’ back to things of which at least one ancient Marxist historian has spoken. Hard to know whether he recants. But he is against the ‘invention’ of tradition. Braudel, in his confinement, needs also to be considered.

1905 was important then. 2005 is scarier in Australia, where new czarists emerge.

3

abb1 10.17.05 at 6:54 am

Was the NEP really much of a Thermidor? One could argue (and I think some do, actually) that Stalinism was the Soviet Thermidor. The NEP introduced market socialism – new and revolutionary (at the time) and progressive economic system. Stalin killed it, if not for Stalin I don’t think it was destined to fail necessarily.

4

P.M.Lawrence 10.17.05 at 7:19 am

Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to attribute the Great War even to Russia, let alone to Czarism in particular? After all, there were other European powers involved too, whichever way you want to sheet the blame for the war as a whole, and they surely have something to do with some proportion of the casualties. I cannot suppose that the Italian and Turkish theatres were direct consequences, for instance.

5

John Quiggin 10.17.05 at 7:26 am

The two million deaths I counted were for Russia alone: the total for 1914-18 was more like ten million combat-related deaths.

6

Slocum 10.17.05 at 7:56 am

“Most recently, the membership of the ‘decent left’ is drawn largely from those on the left who have never given up on the appeal of revolutionary violence, and now see George W. Bush as the agent of revolution.”

What a long, detour to get to the ‘money quote’ and what BS. From where I’m sitting, it appears to me that those on the ‘decent left’ are arguing strongly for getting behind the “shoddy compromises of day-to-day democratic politics” in Iraq and Afghanistan whereas those on the — what? — indecent left are generally unmoved by those democratic struggles (which they in fact, they try to undermine, by calling “sham!”) and argue instead for the rights of the insurgents to resist. To resist the democratically elected government (perhaps even if that means violence against civilians — their own fellow citizens). Or, less radically, they argue, that the “day-to-day democratic politics” in these countries is, for some reason, inevitably doomed to failure (despite rounds of peaceful elections with motivated voters turning out at high levels) and, therefore, not worth the bother of supporting and we might as well stand aside and let the civil begin in earnest.

In any case, completely unlike the French, Russian, or even American revolutions, no radical new approach, no radical new social structures or form of government is being attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan — the attempt is only to establish the proven form of government that most of us already enjoy. Nobody is saying, “a republic if you can keep it” as if such a thing had never been tried (and had succeeded) before.

7

David Sucher 10.17.05 at 8:04 am

One smallish point: I don’t think it is defensible to state — at least for the USA — that the Left had a decisive or even important role in “…preserving the environment from the disastrous impact of industrialism” unless you view the Left extremely broadly to include Democrats as Senator Henry M. Jackson. (Humor intended.) While the Left eventually came around to supporting environmental concerns as a means of undermining capitalism, its initial take was that the environment was “too middle class.” That’s a recollection and gross summary but I think largely true, with some exceptions (in terms of personalities) such as Murray Bookchin and Paul Goodman.

8

Brendan 10.17.05 at 8:15 am

Following on from the Lenin/Wolfowitz idea, I am now copying out (!) from Bryan Magee’s little book on Popper, his view on what happens to Revolutionaries in the Leninist sense: i.e. revolutions that are imposed by elites on ‘the masses’ from above.

‘A social reconstruction which is radical, and, because radical, prolonged, is bound to uproot and disorientate large numbers of people, thereby creating psychological and material adversity : and one must expect at least some people to oppose (these) measures that threaten them….Such people will be seen by the power-holders trying to actualise the ‘ideal’ society as opposing the Good out of self-interest…So they will be seen as enemies of society ….so intolerance and authoritarianism will intensify, albeit with the best of intentions. And precisely because intentions and goals are thought to be ideal, the persistent failure of the latter to materialize is bound to give rise to suggestions that someone is rocking the boat-there must be sabotage or foreign interference or corrupt leadership…so it becomes necessary to identify culprits and root them out…..by now the regime will be up to its neck in the unforeseen consequences of its actions….’

9

Louis Proyect 10.17.05 at 8:29 am

Quiggin:
The failure of Leninism is obvious enough in Russia and in the other countries where Communist parties came to power (and in the case of China still hold it). Nothing much is left of the Communist era except decay and corruption. Inequality and economic injustice are far more prevalent than in countries that never experienced “actually existing socialism”.

Comment:
Learn from Cuba, Says World Bank
By Jim Lobe
IPS, 1 May 2001

WASHINGTON, Apr 30 (IPS) – World Bank President James Wolfensohn Monday extolled the Communist government of President Fidel Castro for doing “a great job” in providing for the social welfare of the Cuban people.

His remarks followed Sunday’s publication of the Bank’s 2001 edition of ‘World Development Indicators’ (WDI), which showed Cuba as topping virtually all other poor countries in health and education statistics.

It also showed that Havana has actually improved its performance in both areas despite the continuation of the US trade embargo against it and the end of Soviet aid and subsidies for the Caribbean island more than ten years ago.

“Cuba has done a great job on education and health,” Wolfensohn told reporters at the conclusion of the annual spring meetings of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “They have done a good job, and it does not embarrass me to admit it.”

Quiggin:
As far as the main body of the left is concerned, the issue has ceased to matter: the appeal of revolution is pretty much dead, and the symbols of Bolshevism are more likely to appear in vodka advertisements than in progressive pamphlets these days.

Comment:
If Bolshevism was dead, then there would be no need for articles such as these. After all, nobody writes articles commenting on the death of Rosicrucianism or Henry Georgism. As anybody can attest, Quiggin’s article is merely a variant on something that began appearing shortly after 1917.

Quiggin:
But the appeal of revolution is independent of ideology, and there has always been a steady stream of converts from the revolutionary left to the radical right, reversing most of the signs but maintaining Leninist styles of argument and an attraction for the violent assertion of power. In the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with Mussolini, converts of this type mostly went over to Fascism. In the 1950s and 1960s, ex-Communists supplied much of the firepower of McCarthyism and its variants. In the 1970s and 1980s, the same tendency (frequently moving via Trotskyism) became neoconservatism. Most recently, the membership of the “decent left” is drawn largely from those on the left who have never given up on the appeal of revolutionary violence, and now see George W. Bush as the agent of revolution.

Comment:
For people who want a different take on “Trotskyist” neoconservative support for the war in Iraq as a kind of bastardized version of Permanent Revolution, read what I wrote here: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/american_left/JeetHeer.htm. This is a reply to Jeet Heer who wrote an article linking Paul Wolfowitz to Leon Trotsky in a Canadian newspaper.

10

Brendan 10.17.05 at 8:31 am

In actual fact, Slocum, huge aspects of the Iraq adventure are unknown territory, from the whole concept on which the war rested (i.e. “pre-emption”: the doctrine that you can invade and conquer a nation, because you think that at some unspecified point in the future it may pose a threat to one of your allies), to writing a constitution in the middle of a civil war, to ratifying the constitution in the middle of a civil war, to the constitution itself (which has been described as the most decentralised constitution in the Middle East, perhaps the world).

Comparisons with Japan and Germany are risible: in both cases we had military and industrial superpowers (both with a tradition of democracy) which had attacked ‘us’, and had to be defeated in the interests of self-defence.

Moreover it could not plausibly be said that ‘we’ played a major part in creating either fascism or Japanese imperialism: not something that could be said about Saddam Hussein’s tinpot little regime.

In any case, both Germany and Japan were ethnically homogenous in a way that Iraq is not.

Make no mistake, in other words. Iraq is completely uncharted territory. It is a radical departure from both the ‘post-war consensus’ and arguably from Western geopolitics as we have known it since the Treaty of Westphalia. If for no other reason than this, one could have predicted it would fail, and it has.

11

abb1 10.17.05 at 8:41 am

…Revolutionaries in the Leninist sense: i.e. revolutions that are imposed by elites on ‘the masses’ from above.

Well, they won their three-year long civil war in which their opposition had support of and was financed by pretty much all of the West and (IIRC) Japan, so they must’ve had at least some support from the masses.

These are indeed pretty broad generalizations. There’s no question that evolutionary change is preferable, but missing an opportunity is never a good idea.

12

Bob B 10.17.05 at 8:51 am

John – As often happens in other accounts, in your post too you have omitted including Britain’s singular role in this.

The uprisings in Russia in 1905, especially the mutiny of the Black Sea fleet celebrated with much revolutionary (= medacious) embroidery in Eisenstein’s movie: Battleship Potemkin (1925), were an outcome of the huge naval battle in the Straights of Tsushima between the Russian and Japanese fleets on 27-29 May 1905 in the course of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904/5.

The outcome of the battle of Tsushima – the largest sea battle in the 20th century in terms of the numbers of ships involved – led to the annihilation of the Russian fleet with catastrophic losses of Russian seamen. In comparison, the Japanese fleet suffered relatively minor losses. The uprisings in Russian and the Black Sea fleet mutiny were as much a revolt against the sheer incompetence of the officer class in the Russian Imperial Navy appointed and promoted on the basis of aristocratic connections rather than skills, training and experience.
http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/mil/html/mh_054900_tsushimabatt.htm

Britain’s role in this was to have built most of – if not all – the capital ships in Japan’s Imperial navy, in particular the flagship of the fleet, the battleship Mikasa, which came to have as much significance in the Tsushima battle as Victory, Nelson’s flagship, had at the battle of Trafalagar in October 1805. Mikasa was hit thirty-two times by Russian shells but suffered only eight dead:
http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/ships/html/sh_061100_mikasa.htm

Dig deeper into the history of the context and you’ll discover that Mikasa was plated in (very effective) Sheffield armour plated steel.
http://www.city.yokosuka.kanagawa.jp/e/mikasa/

Diplomatic relations between Britain and Japan were especially cordial at the start of the 20th century. There was a Friendship Treaty of 1902 and the British embassy in Tokyo was the closest of all the embassies to the Imperial Palace. The Japanese character for England means “excellent”, an acknowledgement of Britain’s position as the undoubted global superpower of the 19th century.

On other revolutionary connections of Britain, the delicious irony is that Marx and family sought refuge in London after being hounded out of mainland Europe following the revolutions of 1848. And of course, the notorious schism in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, which led to the downstream distinction between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, emerged at the party’s conference in London in 1903. It is to be regretted that Marx didn’t spend more time in the British Museum Library reading the works of John Stuart Mill, an approximate contemporary, a course that might have avoided much misery in the 20th century. In Francis Wheen’s recent biographical study of Marx, he reports a rumour current during Marx’s time in London, that he acted as a police spy and concludes that it was probably correct.

13

Richard J 10.17.05 at 8:56 am

The Russians didn’t help relations with Britain much by attacking North Sea fishermen thinking they were Japanese torpedo boats, it has to be said.

14

Uncle Kvetch 10.17.05 at 8:57 am

no radical new approach, no radical new social structures or form of government is being attempted in Iraq and Afghanistan—the attempt is only to establish the proven form of government that most of us already enjoy.

And if the sheeple who are going to do the necessary fighting and bleeding and dying to make that dream a reality have to be duped into it by a concerted campaign of scare-mongering, revenge fantasies, and outright lies, well, that’s the price one pays, right slocum? After all, the American people couldn’t have been trusted to make the right decision about invading Iraq without all that talk of mushroom clouds and vials of anthrax….

15

Terry Stickel 10.17.05 at 9:36 am

Brendan-
In actual fact war is always unknown territory. I’m not sure where you get the idea that pre-war Germany and Japan had democratic traditions. The Weimar Republic certainly doesn’t qualify. The Germans didn’t attack us, they declared war on us, probably so that they could legally engage in unrestricted submarine warfare against our merchant fleet. Roosevelt could have sued for peace at the cost of abandoning Europe, in that sense it was a war of choice. “We” played a part in the rise of German fascism by countenancing the dire reparations of Versailles and more remotely in opening Japan to world trade and so precipitating the Meiji Restoration.
I’ll take your comment about the war goals as having already failed with a very large grain of salt.

16

Slocum 10.17.05 at 9:50 am

“Make no mistake, in other words. Iraq is completely uncharted territory. It is a radical departure from both the ‘post-war consensus’ and arguably from Western geopolitics as we have known it since the Treaty of Westphalia. If for no other reason than this, one could have predicted it would fail, and it has.”

Ah, thanks for reminding me — I’d forgotten another rhetorical approach of the ‘indecent left’ –namely, not just declaring that failure is inevitable but that IT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED. Once failure has been officially declared, then elections, constitutions, development of civil society are just irrelevant noise, I suppose.

I notice, too, that you quietly drop Afghanistan from the discussion. Yes, the circumstances and motivations for the invasions differed, but they have a great deal in common NOW — attempts to establish democratic forms of government (which enjoy high levels of support from the citizenry) in the face of persisting nihilistic Islamist insurgencies with very similar philosophies, goals, and methods (and strong connections between them). I see no reason whatsoever in 2005 that one should be interested in and open to the ultimate success of democratic government in Afghanistan but ready to declare the same in Iraq an irretrievable failure where nothing can be done but to wash one’s hands.

17

ajay 10.17.05 at 10:15 am

persisting nihilistic Islamist insurgencies with very similar philosophies, goals, and methods

They’re Islamists, dude, not nihilists. Say what you like about the tenets of militant Islam, but at least it’s a belief system.

And I can’t quite see the connection between the militant Sunnis of the Taliban, the militant Shias of the Jaysh al-Mahdi, and the moderately Sunni Baathists of the Triangle.

18

ajay 10.17.05 at 10:16 am

persisting nihilistic Islamist insurgencies with very similar philosophies, goals, and methods

They’re Islamists, dude, not nihilists. Say what you like about the tenets of militant Islam, but at least it’s a belief system.

And I can’t quite see the connection between the militant Sunnis of the Afghan Taliban, the militant Shias of the Jaysh al-Mahdi, and the moderately Sunni Baathists of the Triangle. But then I’m just an ignorant squaddie.

19

Slocum 10.17.05 at 11:32 am

“They’re Islamists, dude, not nihilists. Say what you like about the tenets of militant Islam, but at least it’s a belief system.”

Nihilist in the sense of placing no value on human life, but no, not nihilist in the ‘god is dead’ sense.

“And I can’t quite see the connection between the militant Sunnis of the Taliban, the militant Shias of the Jaysh al-Mahdi, and the moderately Sunni Baathists of the Triangle.”

Oh yeah, it’s real tough to see the connection between the Taliban, Al-Queda, and Zarqawi. And who but a conspiracy theorist would posit any alliance at all between Zarqawi and the Baathists?

20

Uncle Kvetch 10.17.05 at 11:35 am

I’d forgotten another rhetorical approach of the ‘indecent left’—namely, not just declaring that failure is inevitable but that IT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED.

Slocum, I’m convinced that there is nothing–absolutely nothing–that could happen in Iraq that would make you consider the operation a failure. A full-scale civil war could break out tomorrow, lasting 10 years and killing a million Iraqi civilians, and at the end of those 10 years you’d still be here, excorating the naysayers and talking about purple fingers and turned corners and lights at the ends of various tunnels and “Those civilian casualty figures seem grossly inflated to me, anyway….”

21

abb1 10.17.05 at 11:46 am

What’s the deal with small children having purple fingers, btw? Do they actually vote there?

22

Slocum 10.17.05 at 12:14 pm

“Slocum, I’m convinced that there is nothing—absolutely nothing—that could happen in Iraq that would make you consider the operation a failure.”

Of course there is. A lot of people seem to love Vietname analogies. OK, if Baathist-Al Queda insurgency gradually gains control over more and more of the country then mounts a massive attack, overruns government forces, takes Baghdad, and the remaining coalition personnel have to flee by helicopter off of roofs in the green zone, that’d be a clear failure.

But as it is, over time, the isurgency is having less and less success in controlling and holding any territory. They no longer seem able to be able even to attack and overrun isolated police stations let alone entire cities. And even in the areas where they should be able to count on their strongest support, large numbers of people just ignored their threats and went to the polls.

Take off your anti-American goggles for a minute and put yourself in the position of a disinterested gambler – would you take an even bet on the success of the insurgency?

23

Hodgepodge 10.17.05 at 12:17 pm

“I’m not sure where you get the idea that pre-war Germany and Japan had democratic traditions.”

Go look up the Taisho period, then. It was abortive, but Japan took a shot at democracy.

24

Hodgepodge 10.17.05 at 12:18 pm

Hmm, that was a little awkwardly phrased. I meant Japan took a shot at Democracy before WWII, obviously.

25

Robin 10.17.05 at 1:09 pm

Slocum,

I think the insurgency would consider themselves successful were Iraq turned into something like the Congo. Holding and controlling territory is your criterion; I’m not so sure it’s theirs.

Oddly, Glenn Reynolds recently said the same–that we should consider it a success if Iraq were turned into the Congo.

On this though, the insurgents, whose primary and nihilistic goal seems to be a defeat of the US seems to be on better ground.

If it were turned into the Congo both sides then could claim victory and withdraw. Of course, millions of Iraqis would be left to fend for themselves in a horrid situation.

26

Uncle Kvetch 10.17.05 at 1:34 pm

Take off your anti-American goggles for a minute and put yourself in the position of a disinterested gambler – would you take an even bet on the success of the insurgency?

Whether the insurgency “succeeds” or not–and as Robin points out, you can define “success” pretty much however you want–I’d take a bet on a lot more dead and wounded Iraqis before the whole thing shakes out. But human suffering clearly has no place on the balance sheet, unless it can be blamed exclusively on the evildoers.

27

Slocum 10.17.05 at 1:39 pm

Robin,

“I think the insurgency would consider themselves successful were Iraq turned into something like the Congo. Holding and controlling territory is your criterion; I’m not so sure it’s theirs.”

I think it’s perfectly clear that Congo-style anarchy is not their goal — they’re quite explicit (Zarqawi, Bin Laden, et al are, anyway). They envision an Arab Islamist Republic as a stepping stone to a new Middle Eastern Caliphate — so an anarchic failed state is not their goal. And the Baathists? They are not interested in control of only the oil-free traditionally Sunni region of Iraq.

“Oddly, Glenn Reynolds recently said the same—that we should consider it a success if Iraq were turned into the Congo.”

“If it were turned into the Congo both sides then could claim victory and withdraw. Of course, millions of Iraqis would be left to fend for themselves in a horrid situation.”

Well, if Reynolds said that (I’m a bit skeptical), I think he’s clearly wrong.

28

Uncle Kvetch 10.17.05 at 1:40 pm

Oh, and as long as I’m at the betting window, I’ll take an even bet on lots more of this going on for as long as our Excellent Adventure continues. Again, this is about actual human suffering resulting directly from our government’s actions, not the potential for some abstract better tomorrow down the road if everybody just keeps on clapping. As such, I realize that it’s irrelevant where you’re coming from, Slocum…but some of us do actually care.

29

Slocum 10.17.05 at 1:42 pm

“I’d take a bet on a lot more dead and wounded Iraqis before the whole thing shakes out. But human suffering clearly has no place on the balance sheet, unless it can be blamed exclusively on the evildoers.”

So kvetch, are you saying you’d bet on *fewer* dead and wounded Iraqis if we just left them to sort it all out in a civil war?

30

Antoni Jaume 10.17.05 at 1:54 pm

Since Slocum think he will be alive at the end of this process, he doesn’t care how many deaths happen until then.

DSW

31

Uncle Kvetch 10.17.05 at 2:06 pm

So kvetch, are you saying you’d bet on fewer dead and wounded Iraqis if we just left them to sort it all out in a civil war?

First of all, having US troops on the ground and “all out civil war” are not mutually exclusive, and I don’t know why so many people seem to assume they are.

To answer your question: I’m betting on lots and lots more dead and maimed people regardless of what we do at this point, Slocum. The responsibility for most of those deaths will lie directly with the insurgents, and indirectly with the Bush administration.

In addition, given what we’ve seen so far, I think the odds of more Abu Ghraib-style grotesqueries are pretty strong. Hell, we may even get another My Lai out of this if we stick around long enough.

There’s no point continuing like this, Slocum, since we’re clearly coming from different places. Your insistence that any actual short-term suffering (assuming you’re not the one doing the suffering, of course) is trumped by a potential long-term benefit has already proven John Quiggin’s point. You don’t make an omelette, etc.

32

John Quiggin 10.17.05 at 2:59 pm

Another striking feature of Slocum’s argument is the claim that the war has to go on because the alternative (all-out civil war) would be far worse. This is what commonly happens in wars and revolutions where the protagonists begin with expectations of a quick and easy victory – the term ‘quagmire’ comes to mind.

An immediate pullout would produce chaos, but the longer the occupation goes on, the stronger the insurgency becomes. The problem then is to manage a gradual pullout, starting as soon as possible. Not easy, but that’s typical of the problem of ending wars.

33

Brendan 10.17.05 at 3:11 pm

‘Ah, thanks for reminding me—I’d forgotten another rhetorical approach of the ‘indecent left’—namely, not just declaring that failure is inevitable but that IT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED. Once failure has been officially declared, then elections, constitutions, development of civil society are just irrelevant noise, I suppose.’

It was perfectly clear to most observers that Lenin’s experiment had failed by 1925 (1929 at the absolute latest). Some people were predicting failure (correctly) as early as 1921….in terms of the goals which Lenin himself set . Now obviously on some other level the Bolsheviks did in fact succeed. They succeeded in holding power. But all the ‘ethical’ aspect of their revolution had to go by the wayside in order to do that.

My argument is that the American invasion of Iraq is an analogous situation: hence my quotation of Popper. From now on, the Americans will only be able to ‘succeed’ by ignoring or positively flouting the ‘ethical’ ideals within which the invasion was framed. The reason is simple. Iraq is slipping out of control. In order to regain control, you have to take it and force people to do what you want. Only the Americans can do this (the Iraqi ‘government’ has no power (least of all military) or authority). Therefore, the only way the Americans can ‘win’ is to accrue more and more power to themselves, which, necessarily, means the undermining and eventual demolition of all the democratic framework which has been built up.
The catch 22 here is, of course, that in wielding this power, you yourself provoke the resistance that causes the instability, so the end situation is either a dictatorship in all but name (albeit with a democratic gloss) or else total chaos.

So in other words, in terms of the ethical aims and goals of the invasion, i think it is safe to say that the Iraqi project has been a failure, and I also think that this will become increasingly obvious over the next 5-10 years.

Afghanistan, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a very different country, with a very different set up, a very different history, and the US invasion was carried out under very different circumstances. I fully accept that Afghanistan looks ‘better’ (at least to an outsider) than Iraq. On the other hand……

‘Afghanistan is now the world’s largest exporter of heroin, and the opium used to produce it, supplying 87 percent of the world market… Last year, according to the U.S. state department, 206,000 hectares were cultivated, a half a million acres, producing 4,000 tons of opium, most of which was converted into 400 tons of illegal morphine and heroin in laboratories around the country.

How much opium and heroin is that?

“It is not only the largest heroin producer in the world, 206,000 hectares is the largest amount of heroin or of any drug that I think has ever been produced by any one country in any given year,” says Robert Charles, who until last spring was assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, overseeing anti-drug operations in Afghanistan.

Charles says Afghanistan is producing more heroin than Columbia is producing cocaine….What is happening, Charles says, is the transformation of a poor, war torn country struggling with democracy into a narco state where power emanates from a group of drug kingpins far more powerful than the new government.

The process began in 2001 when the United States forged military alliances with powerful warlords and used their private armies to drive al Qaeda and the Taliban out of the country.

But some of Afghanistan’s biggest warlords also happen to be some of the country’s biggest drug lords. Now that they are part of the government, often in high places, a few are even charged with eradicating the drug traffic that many people believe they’re still involved in.’

34

Slocum 10.17.05 at 3:15 pm

“There’s no point continuing like this, Slocum, since we’re clearly coming from different places. Your insistence that any actual short-term suffering (assuming you’re not the one doing the suffering, of course) is trumped by a potential long-term benefit has already proven John Quiggin’s point. You don’t make an omelette, etc.”

Hey something to agree on (that there’s little point in continuing the argument). But, in parting, your short-term, long-term argument is bogus–a precipitous pullout would result in far greater suffering in both short and long terms. We are already exercising the option with the least short-term suffering.

35

Brendan 10.17.05 at 3:22 pm

One last point. In terms of the ‘aims’ of the insurgents. As I have never tired of pointing out on other blogs the aims of the various factions are reasonably clear: but they aren’t what outsiders think they are.

The Sunnis, it’s true, do not want control only of their oil poor region. On the contrary, they are fighting hardest to hold Iraq together (this point is usually missed by those who see them as being merely power crazed ba’athists). Hence the reason they hate the Kurds: they suspect (probably rightly) that the Kurds want to secede and set up their own Kurdish state and taking all the oil with them.

The Shia’s on the other hand, lean towards Iran (culturally if not necessarily politically). The Sunnis hate the Shias because they view the Shias as being merely a pro-Iran front group, as the Iranians flex their muscles and attempt to recreate a de facto new Persian Empire. The Shias want Iraq to stay together but if it collapses…so be it. They have oil in their territory after all.

So the idea that no side has any ‘vested interest’ in a civil war is clearly wrong. On the contrary: only the Sunnis are vehemently against the break up of Iraq because they have the most to lose. Ipso facto, the Kurds have the most to gain. And the Shias probably don’t care too much either way. Hence the reason the Sunnis have overwhelmingly voted ‘no’ against the constitution: they see it as being far too decentralised, and the blueprint for an effective partition of the country. (They might be right).

The Vietnam analogy (which in many respects is perfectly accurate) breaks down over this. In Vietnam you had a divided country with the Vietnamese desperately trying to unify it, and the USA desperately trying to stop them. You could argue that in Iraq it’s the other way round.

36

Robin 10.17.05 at 3:40 pm

“I think it’s perfectly clear that Congo-style anarchy is not their goal—they’re quite explicit (Zarqawi, Bin Laden, et al are, anyway). They envision an Arab Islamist Republic as a stepping stone to a new Middle Eastern Caliphate—so an anarchic failed state is not their goal. And the Baathists? They are not interested in control of only the oil-free traditionally Sunni region of Iraq.”

Sorry, I’ll have to take their actions as to some degree instrumentally rational. As such, I don’t really see it as the best way of setting up a Caliphate. On the other hand, wanton violence, against random targets who are your base of support . . . seems like a strategy aimed more at Congo than the political rise of the ummah. Less tounge in cheek and from where I stand, it seems more a strategy to defeat the US than build anything, and if Congo-fying Iraq is the way to do it . . . they can build a Caliphate after.

Auto-genocide was hardly the stated goal of the Khmer Rouge . . . just to point out.

37

Slocum 10.17.05 at 4:20 pm

The reason is simple. Iraq is slipping out of control. In order to regain control, you have to take it and force people to do what you want. Only the Americans can do this (the Iraqi ‘government’ has no power (least of all military) or authority). Therefore, the only way the Americans can ‘win’ is to accrue more and more power to themselves, which, necessarily, means the undermining and eventual demolition of all the democratic framework which has been built up.

The problem with that analysis is that the Iraqi government has been exercising more power, not less. The U.S. has turned over more areas to Iraqi control (see the notorious Haifa Street, for example). It is (as in Tal Afar) increasingly serving a backup rather than primary role. The electoral and political processes have continued, and participation has grown rather than shrunk. The sense of legitimacy seems to have grown as well – there seem to be fewer inside and outside the country who believe that the election results will be ‘whatever the U.S. wants’. The negotiations leading up to this week’s vote were clearly between various Iraqi parties with the U.S. as a bystander. The bloodiest battles involving U.S. forces (Fallujah) appear to be in the past rather than the present or future. The insurgency, due to its gruesome attacks on civilians, seems to be losing rather than gaining popular support. And so on. Iraq does, indeed, seem to be slipping out of control…of the insurgency.

38

Rich 10.17.05 at 4:38 pm

I’d suggest that had Britain and France gone to war in 1938 they might well have lost – e.g. Germany could have attacked France instead of Poland, gained air superiority over Britain and succesfully invaded the latter.

One condition justifying military action is a reasonable chance of success.

39

John Quiggin 10.17.05 at 5:27 pm

A belated response to David Sucher. As I think should be clear, I’m using the term “Left” broadly to encompass liberals (in the US sense of the term) and therefore many/most Democrats. Protection of the environment in the US was promoted mostly by liberal Democrats. AFAIK, Jackson fitted into this category in domestic policy terms at least.

40

Brendan 10.17.05 at 6:28 pm

‘The problem with that analysis is that the Iraqi government has been exercising more power, not less.’

The Iraqi government is nothing without its army.

To quote Juan Cole:

‘SecDef Rumsfeld and Gen. Casey were saying not long ago that there were 3 Iraqi units (a brigade and two battalions) that would and could take the lead in fighting the guerrillas…Now Rumsfeld and Casey say there is only one battle-ready brigade in the Iraqi army. And Casey now says it isn’t even one of the 3 units earlier so identified. What happened to them???!!!’

If anything, therefore the Iraqi army is losing power (and credibility etc.). Any military progress that has been made has been made exclusively by the United States army who then ‘hand over’ power to non-battle ready Iraqi units, who are then picked off (or infiltrated) by the insurgency one by one. There is no major battle in Iraq in the last 2 years in which the Iraqi army has fought on its own (and won).

In other words, no progress has been made in creating an Iraqi government with real (i.e. hard, military power). If anything (given by the tale of the three battle ready units who either turned out not to be or who were infiltrated/defeated by insurgents) the government is losing power.

41

Slocum 10.17.05 at 6:49 pm

To quote Juan Cole:

‘SecDef Rumsfeld and Gen. Casey were saying not long ago that there were 3 Iraqi units (a brigade and two battalions) that would and could take the lead in fighting the guerrillas…Now Rumsfeld and Casey say there is only one battle-ready brigade in the Iraqi army. And Casey now says it isn’t even one of the 3 units earlier so identified. What happened to them???’

Well, those batallions didn’t just melt away into the desert — they were downgraded from ‘level 1′ forces (completely independent: can fight without coalition air, armor or logistics support) to ‘level 2′ (require some support) or ‘level 3′ (can fight alongside coalition troops). For an explanation, see:

http://fallbackbelmont.blogspot.com/2005/10/few-good-men.html

If anything, therefore the Iraqi army is losing power (and credibility etc.).

I think it’s a serious error to conclude that from just the number of ‘level 1 rated’ battallions especially given lots of other data that would suggest Iraqi effectiveness is improving. It would seem to me that a far better measure is what the Iraqi troops are capable of doing now vs then. IIRC, Iraqi units were virtually useless in Fallujah but took the lead in Tal Afar. Police stations used to be overrun routinely, now they are not. Areas that used to be patrolled by U.S. or other coalition troops are now patrolled by Iraqis. My understanding is that Iraqi forces provided the vast majority of on-the-street security for the elections, and so on.

And ‘complete independence’ a critical measure? Who really cares if the Iraqi government depends on coalition air support for five or ten years? After all, it was only under the protection of the ‘no fly zones’ that the Kurds were able to establish and maintain their autonomous zone.

42

Louis Proyect 10.17.05 at 9:28 pm

(Where does slocum get his information on Iraq? I thought that Judith Miller was on a leave of absence.)

Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA)
September 15, 2005, Thursday
Iraqi insurgents are a moving target
By Jill Carroll and Dan Murphy

DATELINE: BAGHDAD AND CAIRO

As the attacks in west Iraq ended, insurgents’ bombs in Baghdad killed at least 152.

In the north and west of Iraq Wednesday, troops were wrapping up operations designed to restore government control to insurgent dominated towns, in an effort to deny foreign and local insurgents the “rat-lines” to move men and equipment into Baghdad and other cities to carry out major attacks.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, at least a dozen explosions thundered across the city, with the deadliest a suicide attack that killed at least 114 laborers waiting for jobs in a Shiite neighborhood. In total, at least 152 were killed – the single largest one-day death toll attributed to insurgent attacks in Baghdad.

The contrast between what are being described as largely successful operations against insurgent hotbeds in Tal Afar, Qaim, and Haditha – towns with historic trading links to Syria that the US military says are way-stations for foreign fighters – and ongoing violence across the country, demonstrates the fluidity of Iraq’s insurgency against thinly spread US and Iraqi forces.

In particular, the assault on the ethnic-Turkmen town of Tal Afar – where 8,500 US and Iraqi troops, largely drawn from the ethnic Kurdish peshmerga militia, took over the city this week – was aimed at limiting the mobility of Sunni insurgents. “It is a pathway from Syria that pretty historically was a trading route and smuggling route into Iraq,” said US military spokesman Lt. Col. Steve Boylan.

An estimated 200 militants were killed and hundreds captured. But as forces moved on the city, the US military said many insurgents simply fled, using a network of tunnels they’d created in advance of the assault. That pattern has become increasingly common since the April assault on Fallujah, where hundreds of insurgents died in the most sustained combat of the war.

Instead of standing up to superior US firepower – particularly air support that drops 500-pound bombs on insurgent positions – insurgents now generally avoid major engagements. Instead of holding their ground, insurgents are counting on US forces to eventually withdraw and on the Iraqi forces left behind not being able to prevent their return.

So far, that approach has worked. This was at least the third major assault on Tal Afar in the past 18 months. As in previous engagements in western Iraqi towns along the Euphrates like Hit, Haditha, and Qaim, the insurgents reasserted themselves when US forces were shifted elsewhere.

43

Jack Strocchi 10.17.05 at 9:33 pm


Less than 10 years later, the Czarists took Russia into the Great War, leading directly to nearly two million deaths and indirectly to many more.

The Great War was certainly the central disaster that befell our civilization in modern times and toppled the Proud Tower that was European power. The irony was that it lead to the down fall of five Imperial Monarchies (Romanov, Ottoman, Hohenzollern, Hapsburg and ~Savoy).

It was an act of civlizational suicide which was undertaken by the leaders of civilization. Proving that conservative tories can match “constructive” liberals in their tolerance of the civlizational Death Wish.

Dr Knopfelmacher pointed out that the WWI bloodbath was promoted by reactionary “God, King and Country” types. It brought forth a revolutionary response from what I would call the “Party, Leader and State” types. A reformatory middle way (social democracy, Christan Democracy or liberal nationalism) was indicated.


The lesson drawn by many was that peaceful reform was hopeless: this inevitably pushed the most determined revolutionaries, Lenin and the Bolsheviks to the fore,

The Great War also caused decent 19th C political movements to spawn monstrous ideological mutations that deformed the second quarter of the 20th C. Liberalism mutated into stock market speculation. Nationalism mutated into fascism. And socialism mutated into communism.


those on the Left who rejected Communism were forced into unpalatable choices, between splitting the labour movement and handing victory to the other side, or working with the Communists, accepting the resulting opprobrium and running the risk of being left high and dry by a shift in strategy

It is an open question whether communism or fascism has done more damage to the cause of social democracy. My money is on the communist as the worser evil because they had greater organizational staying power, were a source of divide and rule and recruited some of the best and brightest on the Left.

The communist’s betrayal of democracy was its greatest sin against the Left. The Left exists to support lower-status groups – workers, women, coloureds, gays, non-human animals – against the depredations of the higher-status groups (white male capitalists, militarists and ecclesiasts).

Thus the non/anti-democratic Left – bolsheviks and anarchists – have done extreme damage to the cause of the democratic Left. This is because they have delegitimised the Lefts most potent political weapon: democratic public choice. That is why the connection between democracy and the Left is organic: the lower-status always outnumber the higher-status.

The passage of the Left through History continues to generate ironies. Some parts of the New Left now bear similarity to the Blakian Old Right. They have degenerated into reflexive hostility to the institutions of modernity eg anti-capitalism, anti-American, anti-science, anti-industry. Which is why Nader and Buchanan sometimes seem to get along.


But the appeal of revolution is independent of ideology, and there has always been a steady stream of converts from the revolutionary left to the radical right, reversing most of the signs but maintaining Leninist styles of argument and an attraction for the violent assertion of power…Most recently, the membership of the “decent left” is drawn largely from those on the left who have never given up on the appeal of revolutionary violence, and now see George Bush as the agent of revolution.

Some parts of the New Right have adopted Leninist Old Left methods, in particularly the idea of class war, withering away of the state and revolution. This is most obviously the case with Bush’s starve the beast tax cuts, regime change and investor politics. It is why Hitchens and Kristol seem happy to share a stage.


Yet the appeal of revolution is an illusion. Most attempts at revolution fail, leaving the participants and the oppressed worse off than before…The successful revolutions have mostly been those where the ancien regime collapsed under its own weight, and where those who came to power did not try too hard to hold on to it when, inevitably, the wheel of public support turned against them1

Revolutions only work when they have the backing of a majority of the population and are carried out by enlightened rulers, without internal secession or external intervention. Only the Japanese revolution (1868+) worked out without massive social costs. Even the American revolution did not properly work itself out until after the US Civil War. The Velvet Revolution is in post-communist Eastern Europe is the best example of a good revolution, an irony that Trotsky might have appreciated.


In the course of the last 200 years, and even allowing for the defeats of the past 20 years or so, the achievements of the Left have been impressive, starting with universal suffrage and secret ballots, going on the creation of the welfare state, continuing with progress towards equality without regard to race, gender and sexuality, preserving the environment from the disastrous impact of industrialism and so on.

The Lefts achievements over this period have been substantial, although Pr Q seems to be a little silent on the perverse consequences of some of the Left’s liberal welfare and “lawfare” policies. Not to mention the disastrous effects of Left wing social constructivism when framing cultural policies for racial, gender and sexual minorities.

The single greatest factor improving mankinds well being over the past generation has been the unfettering of industrial capitalism in China and India. This is a right wing, not left wing, achievement.


Yet most of this progress has been achieved in a thoroughly bourgeois fashion, through long agitation, boring committee reports and so on.

“Politics is the slow boring of hard boards.”
Max Weber

44

David Sucher 10.17.05 at 10:26 pm

Fair enough, John Quiggin.

Under that broad definition, there is no question that the environmental movement of the past 30-40 years is entirely a creation of the Left…The only problem is that Senator Jackson — though a liberal on many social/economic issues, was also a hard-core cold-warrior. He was referred to by some as “the Senator from Boeing.”

But in general, taking it from the other perspective I think it’s totally accurate to say that conservatives, Republicans etc etc had nothing whatsoever to do with the emergence of the environmental movement.

45

MarcinGomulka 10.18.05 at 2:52 am

Here in Poland, it has been the conventional wisdom that only a war between Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary (at least two of them) would give us the chance to achieve national independence. We would help one side and create the state on land taken from the looser.

So we were very glad at the outcome of WWI, where it turned out that ALL THREE empires lost the war! In the ensuing chaos we were able to carve out the territory for the national state.

Whether or not WWI was justified in the mind of the nations who started it, it was certainly a situation which we were waiting for since 1795.

46

soru 10.18.05 at 5:27 am

Revolutions only work when they have the backing of a majority of the population and are carried out by enlightened rulers, without internal secession or external intervention.

On the contrary, revolutions are rarely successful when not accompanied by foreign intervention. The less famous French revolution, the one that finally deposed Napoleon’s successors and established lasting democratic rule, was only possible given France’s defeat in the franco-Prussian war.

Simliarly Galtieri after the Falklands, the american revolutionary war, the ‘Glorious revolution’ (aka dutch invasion of britain), overthrow of Milosovic and Charles Taylor, etc.

It’s common sense – if you fight an actual revolutionary civil war, your society is going to be so devastated and bitter it will take you a generation to return to the pre-war status quo, better abandon any thoughts of actually making things better. Much better to get some third party to do the job for you, then kick them out when that job is done.

In a few years, the US will be gone from Iraq, and all parties in that country will be agreed on one thing: that that going was a good thing, and that all the bad things that happenned immediately after the overthrow of saddam were the fault of the evil americans, not their neighbours.

At the end of the day, the US gets a trading partner and abscence of a threat, the iraqi people get a government that, at the least, isn’t doomed to a dead end of minority rule that can be sustained solely by terror and external arms supplies.

I’m not claiming that is in any way morally justified, let alone anything I would kill or die for. (Remember the difference between understanding and justifying, and how that is so important to maintain when discussing those who blow up pizza parlours?). I’m just explaining what is, by the precedent of history, the most likely outcome, the baseline from which unexpected events, a skilled politician or military genius may cause a deviation.

soru

47

Brendan 10.18.05 at 7:09 am

I do apologise for my short posts by the way. They lead to an entirely unwarranted impression of optimism on my part. Of course, by merely concentrating on the fact that type ‘1’ battle units can turn out, on further examination, to be type ‘3’, I may have inadvertantly given the impression that the only problem with the Iraqi army is that it is thoroughly infiltrated by insurgents, incompetent, badly trained, and of dubious reliability. All these things are of course true. But the problems are much worse than that.

‘The Bush administration’s exit strategy for Iraq rests on two pillars: an inclusive, democratic political process that includes all major ethnic groups and a well-trained Iraqi national army. But a week spent eating, sleeping and going on patrol with a crack unit of the Iraqi army, the 4,500-member 1st Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Division, suggests that the strategy is in serious trouble. Instead of rising above the ethnic tension that’s tearing their nation apart, the mostly Shiite troops are preparing for, if not already fighting, a civil war against the minority Sunni population.

Ghilan’s army unit is responsible for security in western Baghdad, where many Sunni live. But the soldiers are overwhelmingly Shiite, and, like Ghilan, they’re seeking revenge against the Sunni who oppressed them during Saddam Hussein’s rule.’

I think it can’t be stressed enough that whining from the pro-occupation ‘left’ about how we ‘can’t leave’ because if we leave this will ‘lead’ to ‘civil war’, should be treated with a ‘wake up, smell the coffee’ response.

Folks: the civil war has already started . The reason it doesn’t look like civil war is because it is disguised as ‘insurgents’ fighting the ‘Iraqi army’ (or ‘our boys’) thus fitting in with a paradigm that the pro-invasion bunch can easily accommodate.

But there is no Iraqi army. There is just the Americans and Shia/Kurdish militia who help them. And what these militia do is fight, not for the Americans (why should they? Everyone hates the Americans) but for themselves. And as rational utility maximisers this makes perfect sense. Everyone knows that Iraq is going to split, and the key question is: who is going to get the oil?

The idea that the Americans will leave because they will get a ‘trading partner’ is risible. What they will get is a splntered country, with violence spilling over into Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and a massive increase in Iranian power .

The pro-invasioners endless capacity for self-delusion and mindless optimism used to be sort of charming in the way watching small children leaving presents for santa’s reindeer is charming. But I’m afraid that things are spiralling out of control and their childish delusions are no longer quite so funny. We are in deep shit in Iraq, and unless people start by recognising just how badly we have screwed up there is no chance to make things right.

You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. The pro-invasion team are part of the problem because their mindless refusal to accept any responsibility for the ongoing black farce in ‘Iraq’ is the main reason why we can’t start looking seriously at where we went wrong, and looking at how we can make things right.

48

Don Quijote 10.18.05 at 7:46 am

After 100 years, however, it is as clear as any historical fact can be that Bolshevism (or, perhaps more accurately, Leninism) has been a complete and catastrophic failure.

It may have been in Russia, but in the West it did wonders for the working class as it showed the Ruling Elites the consequenses of failure and the price of class warfare. It also seems to have prevented a shit load of wars from occuring, how many wars have occurred since 1989?

49

Slocum 10.18.05 at 8:28 am

I think it can’t be stressed enough that whining from the pro-occupation ‘left’ about how we ‘can’t leave’ because if we leave this will ‘lead’ to ‘civil war’, should be treated with a ‘wake up, smell the coffee’ response.

Folks: the civil war has already started . The reason it doesn’t look like civil war is because it is disguised as ‘insurgents’ fighting the ‘Iraqi army’ (or ‘our boys’) thus fitting in with a paradigm that the pro-invasion bunch can easily accommodate.

If the coalition leaves, you can bet the sectarian violence you describe as ‘a civil war that doesn’t look like a civil war’ will quickly look EXACTLY like a real civil war — with mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing (think Bosnia).

Think of the differences between Bosnia and Kosovo before and after the interventions. Did ethnic hatreds disappear? Of course not. Were ethnic intimidation and revenge killings eliminated entirely? No. But was the level of violence greatly reduced compared to what it had been and would have been without the intervention? Without doubt, it was. Withdrawing from Iraq now would be like running the the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in reverse.

I have to assume proponents of immediate withdrawal take that position with the expectation that this won’t happen and they’ll never have to see the results.

Lastly, I did not say and am not saying that there are not sectarian problems in the Iraqi forces, I was only disputing your earier claim (which now seems to have vanished or morphed into a different complaint) that Iraqi forces are becoming inexorably weaker and less effective and that, therefore, the U.S. forces will have to take over completely.

50

Brendan 10.18.05 at 9:49 am

‘I was only disputing your earier claim (which now seems to have vanished or morphed into a different complaint) that Iraqi forces are becoming inexorably weaker and less effective and that, therefore, the U.S. forces will have to take over completely.’

My point self-evidently has not morphed into anything different. Nor am I claiming that the US ‘will’ have to take over completely. My argument is that, to all intents and purposes, the US already run everything. The Iraqi ‘army’ never has (and never will, as long as the Americans stay) initiated a military action which it then went on to win. Nor is it capable of fighting a war against the insurgency on its own (and it never will). The reason is simple: large sections of the Iraqi army are the insurgency, or are at least sympathetic to their cause.

The argument that civil war will ensue if we leave is a nicely disprovable statement: since the Americans have no intention of leaving (actually by the logic of their own position they can’t) then we will never know will we? Since it is unfalsifiable (in a real world situation) it is a statement of faith, not of reason (cf Karl Popper).

The key fact that everyone sane admits that the Americans are in fact fomenting a civil war by their continued presence would seem to be irrelevant. However, my scientific prediction (scientific in the sense that it is falsifiable, and I hope it will be falsified) is that if the Americans stay, civil war will eventually break out, and Iraq will split.

Note: when this happens I don’t for a micro-second expect your position to change, even though the invasion will have then been shown to be wrong on every level: morally, politically, pragmatically, economically. Instead we will hear much about ‘things would have been much worse’ if we don’t stay even longer.

You just have to ask yourself a very simple question. Would the pro-invasioners be now campaigning for the troops to leave if everything had gone ‘perfectly’, if there was no insurgency, if the elections had gone swimmingly? The answer is simple: of course they wouldn’t.

The pro-invasioners want a permanent American presence in Iraq to keep the Iraqis ‘on track': in the same way Syria kept Lebanon’s demmocracy ‘on track’ until recently. This is obvious by the fact there is no conceivable situation in which the pro-invasion bunch will ever call for the troops to be brought back home.

51

Slocum 10.18.05 at 11:35 am

The reason is simple: large sections of the Iraqi army are the insurgency, or are at least sympathetic to their cause.

The Kurds and Shia in the Iraqi army whose dominance is the source of sectarian tensions are ALSO part of the Al Queda-Baathist insurgency (or sympathetic to their cause)? Do you even notice when you advance contradictory theses?

The key fact that everyone sane admits that the Americans are in fact fomenting a civil war by their continued presence would seem to be irrelevant.

‘Everyone sane’? You mean everyone you agree with? This hardly counts as an objective ‘key fact’. I would say that anyone who expects sectarian-driven violence to dissipate with the withdrawal of coalition forces is deeply deluded (if not actually insane).

You just have to ask yourself a very simple question. Would the pro-invasioners be now campaigning for the troops to leave if everything had gone ‘perfectly’, if there was no insurgency, if the elections had gone swimmingly? The answer is simple: of course they wouldn’t.

Are the ‘pro-invasioners’ a monolithic block? Do you think Norm Geras, for example, has secretly been wanting a permanent U.S./U.K. troop presence all along? Did the ‘pro-invasioners’ in the Clinton administration go into Kosovo with the goal of stationing troops there permanently? Is that why the French went into the Cote d’Ivoire?

52

Brendan 10.18.05 at 12:09 pm

The notion of an ‘Al-Qaeda-Ba’athist’ insurgency is something of a myth (note the phrase ‘something of a’ by the way.). Like many myths it’s not completely false. But it’s not completely true either. There ARE Al-Qaeda associated insurgents and a very nasty bunch they are too. But using the phrase ‘Al-Qaeda-Ba’athist’ insurgency implies that those are the only ones there are, and that Al-Qaeda and the Ba’athists are working together, perhaps on some master plan to restore Saddam and create a Caliphate or something.

For a start, this omits the Shia ‘insurgency’. Al-Sadr etc. But the Shias are a major force in Iraq as the recent elections have shown: nor are they friendly in any sense to the US/UK. For example: ‘But whatever happens nationally, Shia militias – many backed by Iran – are already imposing their own strict version of Islamic Sharia law on the streets of Basra, in southern Iraq’. Etc. etc. And I could supply many more links to talks of Shia extremist/militia.

The Kurds themselves are extremely friendly to the US but only because they want to destroy Iraq and see (entirely correctly) that the US might inadvertantly help them to do this. In a recent referendum 98% of them (!!!) voted for independence. I saw a Kurdish politican on the news the other day denying that the Kurds wanted independence. This is a flat out lie, believed by no one except those who want to believe it (another Iraqi politican on the programme correctly pointed out that the only reason the Kurds wanted a ‘yes’ vote on the constitution is because they believe it will fatally weaken Baghdad and lead to the break up of the country).

Likewise: yes the Sunni insurgency does have Ba’athist roots, but that’s very different from saying that every Sunni who picks up a rock, or fires a gun or helps shield someone running away from the Americans actually wants the return of Saddam Hussein.

For example:

‘Sunnis fear the charter will break up Iraq by ceding too much regional autonomy to their sectarian and ethnic rivals.

Some leaders denounced the initial tallies as evidence of a rig but others welcomed the fact that the community had mobilised for the first time since the invasion, paving the way for participation in December’s poll.

Voters in Falluja said they would continue supporting the insurrection. “The resistance will go on,” said Hamid Jassim, 60, queueing to vote at al-Khansa primary school. Those within earshot nodded vigorously. “God willing it will go on,” they said.

Amir Ismael, 45, a former army colonel, said the ballot box was a complement, not a substitute, for armed revolt. “The resistance is legitimate.”

Sheikh Kamal Shakur, the head of the city council, said violence would continue while Iraqi and US troops continued to raid homes and detain suspects. “Tribal sheikhs here say there is a legitimate national resistance,” said Lt Col Patrick Carroll, a US marine political officer.

One year ago Falluja, a city of 300,000 an hour’s drive west of Baghdad, symbolised resistance when US marines levelled the city, destroying or damaging almost every single home, during an effort to flush out insurgents. Now the flashpoints have migrated to other parts of Anbar – a bomb killed five American soldiers in Ramadi on Saturday – and Falluja is relatively quiet, with residents requiring special badges to enter and leave.

Drones and helicopters buzzed overhead but the marines lurked mostly out of sight, leaving security to Iraqi police. New Iraqi flags distributed by the Americans gleamed amid the dust and rubble.

Most voters had not received copies of the constitution and some were allowed to cast ballots for relatives. Uday al-Hatib, the supposedly neutral director of one polling station, made his feelings plain. “I pray everyone votes no.”

There was no doubting the enthusiasm and sincerity of the no vote, the dawn of a strategy some homegrown insurgents have consciously modelled on Sinn Fein’s “ballot box and Armalite” policy in the 1980s, though in their case an AK-47.

Ahmed Mohammad, a 26-year-old furniture-seller, was the sole resident who told journalists he voted yes, citing his impatience for stability and a job.

The turnout was a stinging rebuke to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremist groups which had called for a boycott of the vote. But the question is whether those who endured decades of oppression under Sunni dominance will share power now that Sunnis have signed up to politics.

‘What is important to me is that I participated’

Like pretty much all the Sunnis I didn’t vote in the election in January and we were marginalised. We didn’t want that to happen again. All the mosques were urging us to participate. So I voted today to guarantee our rights.

I didn’t get to read the constitution but I got the gist from television and newspapers. I don’t like it. It’s not the way to unify the country and ensure there is no sectarianism. Other people are entitled to vote how they want. What’s important to me is that I participated. I’m looking ahead to the election in December and intend to vote. It’s an additional way to register protest. You ask: ‘Is the resistance legitimate?’ What would you say if it was your country that had been invaded?

· Jumah Abid, 33, an Arab engineer who lives in Fallujah and voted no’

The fact is that the Sunnis are terrified not just of American but of IRANIAN imperialism. They see themselves as true patriots fighting for Iraq against Iranian/US forces trying to break it up.

So to repeat: talking of Al-Qaeda-Ba’athist insurgency is a highly misleading way of talking about the current ongoing civil war.

As to the rest: where are the ‘pro-invasion’ forces calling for the troops to be pulled out of Kosova? Or Afghanistan? They are nowhere to be found because in practice they pro-invasioners will take no action and say nothing that will lead to troops being withdrawn. In practice, therefore, their actions let the troops stay: indefinitely.

The US caused the current situation. They are responsible for the insurgency, the power situation, the civil war. When they leave there might be hope (although we can’t be too sanguine): while they stay there is none.

And that really is a fact.

53

Slocum 10.18.05 at 1:12 pm

As to the rest: where are the ‘pro-invasion’ forces calling for the troops to be pulled out of Kosova? Or Afghanistan? They are nowhere to be found because in practice they pro-invasioners will take no action and say nothing that will lead to troops being withdrawn. In practice, therefore, their actions let the troops stay: indefinitely.

The ‘pro-invasioners’ are not calling for immediate withdrawal of the troops for the same reason they aren’t calling for withdrawal from Kosovo, Afghanistan, or Iraq — because they don’t think withdrawal is the best way forward FOR THE IRAQI PEOPLE. That hardly proves their goal is secretly imperialist.

The US caused the current situation. They are responsible for the insurgency, the power situation, the civil war. When they leave there might be hope (although we can’t be too sanguine): while they stay there is none.

And that really is a fact.

No, it’s clearly not a ‘fact’ in any reasonable sense of the word — it’s your assessment. I would never claim my own predictions for the future had the status of a ‘fact’, and even if you are certain you are infallible, I suggest that you might want to disguise that and back off just a bit for PR reasons.

It’s obvious that there are a lot of factions in Iraq that want things that they’re ultimately not going to be able to get. Yes, the vast majority of Kurds probably do dream of an independent Kurdish state, but Turkey won’t stand for it, and they’ll lose U.S. backing if they attempt it, and other Iraqis will fight them for control of the oil fields, so they’re going to have to accept some form of autonomy within Iraq. The Sunnis want something like their previous dominance, but they aren’t going to be able to get it. The Shia would like to be able to use their majority to call all the shots, but it’s not going to happen. The religious parties would like a more religious state with Sharia enshrined in the constitution, the secularists want a secular state and constitution, and so on. And, of course, none of these groups are accustomed to resolving such conflicting demands through democratic politics. There’s no doubt, it’s a tough situation. But it does not follow from that (certainly not as ‘a fact’), that these competing demands could be better resolved by letting the various parties have at each other in Iraq any more than in Kosovo.

54

Louis Proyect 10.18.05 at 2:15 pm

The ‘pro-invasioners’ are not calling for immediate withdrawal of the troops for the same reason they aren’t calling for withdrawal from Kosovo, Afghanistan, or Iraq—because they don’t think withdrawal is the best way forward FOR THE IRAQI PEOPLE.

===

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper–
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard–
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
“Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Ye dare not stoop to less–
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Have done with childish days–
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

55

Brendan 10.18.05 at 4:25 pm

‘The ‘pro-invasioners’ are not calling for immediate withdrawal of the troops for the same reason they aren’t calling for withdrawal from Kosovo, Afghanistan, or Iraq—because they don’t think withdrawal is the best way forward FOR THE IRAQI PEOPLE. ‘ (italics added).

There goes the cat out of the bag. I bet you didn’t even realise when you wrote that how revealing that sentence is. I don’t doubt that YOU think that the troops must stay. I also don’t doubt that you automatically (as you did above) count YOUR opinion as being the most important in this issue.

But I frankly don’t care what the pro-invasioners think, or why. What I care about, vis a vis Iraq, is what the Iraqi people think and the British people and the American people.

‘ Only a third of the Iraqi people now believe that the American-led occupation of their country is doing more good than harm, and a solid majority support an immediate military pullout even though they fear that could put them in greater danger, according to a new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll.’

‘The effort to promote democracy in Iraq is generating little enthusiasm. Seventy-four percent (including 60% of Republicans) said that the goal of overthrowing Iraq’s authoritarian government and establishing a democracy was not a good enough reason to go to war. Seventy-two percent said that the experience there has made them feel worse about the possibility of using military force to bring about democracy in the future. Sixty-four percent (65% of Republicans) are ready to accept an Iraqi constitution that does not fully meet democratic standards and once the constitution is ratified 57% want to start withdrawing troops.’ (note: the constitution has just been ratified).

‘A Channel 5 poll in September 2005 asked “Should British troops pull out of Iraq?” A majority – 57% – said yes. That number is similar to a finding in a January 2005 poll by The Independent in which 59% said that British troops should be withdrawn quickly after the January election in Iraq.’

(Interestingly enough, I couldn’t find a single opinion poll that had been carried out in Afghanistan which asked people the interesting question if and when they wanted the troops to leave. Nor could I find such a poll that had been carried out recently in Kosova, so either no one cares, or else such polls have been carried out and no one has thought them worth publicising.)

But in Iraq, the people have spoken (and in Britain, and the US). It’s the middle class academics and journalists and bloggers of the ‘pro-invasion’ side who are out of touch with public opinion. It’s them that are the elitists attempting to force their opinions on the British (and American and Iraqi people). And in case you were wondering, yes I know that opinion polls fluctuate, but believe me, these numbers are not going to improve for the pro-invasion posse. Instead they will get worse, particularly after the January elections (assuming they happen) which is the last remaining coherent reason for the Americans and British to be in Iraq.

56

Slocum 10.18.05 at 4:33 pm

Only a third of the Iraqi people now believe that the American-led occupation of their country is doing more good than harm, and a solid majority support an immediate military pullout even though they fear that could put them in greater danger, according to a new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll.

If a solid majority of the Iraqi people really have concluded that they’d be better off without the coalition forces, then they should elect representatives running on that platform in December and the Iraqi government should then request the departure of the troops. When/if the Iraqi government requests the withdrawal then, yes, it surely will be time to have a parade and pack up and go. No argument there.

57

John Quiggin 10.18.05 at 5:41 pm

Slocum, the UIA platform for the elections last January called for a withdrawal, but the leadership backed off (either at the last moment before the elections, or just after, it’s not clear).

58

abb1 10.18.05 at 5:49 pm

When/if the Iraqi government requests the withdrawal then, yes, it surely will be time to have a parade and pack up and go. No argument there.

Get lost, sucker – I want that oil, I paid for it. It’s mine now.

59

Brendan 10.19.05 at 6:01 am

Pro-invasioner’s calls for ‘democracy’ in Iraq should be taken with an extremely large pinch of salt. If they really wanted to legitimise their occupation, why don’t they call for a pan-Iraqi referendum on the presence of the Americans/British? But they don’t because they know very well what the result would be.

One of the key policies of the UIA was ‘A timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq’. This was published in December 23. When one takes into account the Sunni hatred of the occupation it is reasonable to assume that a ‘solid majority’ of the Iraqi people did in fact vote for the removal of American/UK troops. From what I can tell, the government only agreed to not set such a timetable in september of this year (this may not be correct). So what we have here is plain and simply an example of a government breaking its own stated promises: something that Americans (“read my lips: no new taxes”) are usually pretty upset about. The US political class seem mysteriously not to be bothered by this current betrayal, however.

I am glad to see, incidentally, that by not challenging the opinion poll results, Slocum is implicitly accepting that the majority of British American and Iraqi people want the troops brought home. It’s only a tiny minority of pro-war fanatics in all three countries that want this war to continue .

Comments on this entry are closed.