The following polemic was passed on to me recently by a sometimes contributor to this blog and veteran of the North American anti-imperialist and communist movements. Included are an abridged version of a recent report from the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) and a critical response. They raise the important question of what are the tasks of Iranian communists in the event of a US invasion and occupation of Iran. The CPI(MLM) argues that the "primary contradiction" and focus of struggle must be with the reactionary Islamic Republic, the critical response argues that it should be with US imperialism.
The implications of the discussion are all around us.
Iran’s Maoists make plans in the shadow of war
28 August 2006. A World to Win News Service.
[Following are edited excerpts from the much longer Political Report from a meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist).]
With the intensification of the contradictions between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), the possibility of a military attack on Iran has become the main question in Iran and the world political scene. The American aim is to achieve unchallenged and direct domination of Iran. The US wants to use Iran as a steppingstone to consolidate its domination over the Middle East and the world. To do so it cannot rely on a regime whose claims to political independence and self-proclaimed “nationalist” character are one of the pillars of its legitimacy.
At a time when the US is working in the Middle East to forge a new world order, such regimes are no long helpful to them. The US needs new reactionary experts, trained by the Pentagon and US State Department political schools. In addition, the regime’s dependence on the world capitalist system is mainly through the European imperialists, and it also has ties with the Russian imperialists. This makes it an obstacle to the US imperialists’ plans.
The contradictions at work
Whether or not the US carries out its threats, or how (air attacks, partial or complete military occupation, massing its armed forces on Iran’s borders) will depend on different factors: US military strength, given the possibility that the European powers may not cooperate; the opposition of regional powers such as Russia and China; the strength of the antiwar movement on a world scale; the growth and broadening of the mass movement in Iran against the IRI; and whether or not a significant section of the political and military forces within the IRI would be ready to cooperate with US plans for regime change.
The rivalry between the different factions of the IRI, their constant splits and mutual distrust (each fears the others will betray them to the US), is one of the main reasons for the instability and weakness of the regime. Because of both the resistance of the people and the lack of internal cohesion within the regime itself, the ruling coalition is not able to suppress the mass movements as they used to. From that point of view, they are in an unstable situation and their control of society is loosening.
Today the political confrontation between the IRI and the US plays a powerful role in shaping the political stance and tendencies of the various strata and classes in Iran. We are witnessing the growth of support for one or the other of these two poles from among a broad spectrum of different political forces. But deep popular hatred for the IRI, on the one hand, and the disastrous results of the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan on the other, have also strengthened opposition to both of these reactionary poles.
Moods and trends among the masses
There is a strong tendency among the masses to believe that the US and the IRI will ultimately reach a compromise and avoid all-out conflict. Many people tend to believe that the IRI leaders are so dishonest that at the last minute they will give in and give up whatever they must to remain in power. This logic has some material basis, but it expresses a serious lack of awareness about what’s going on in the world and the region. While a nationalist tendency and a desire to defend the motherland can be seen among sections of the intellectuals, the majority of the people react to this situation with indifference. The dominant trend is to curse and hurl vulgar insults against both the Islamic Republic and the US. The IRI has been making some effort to fan the idea of defending the motherland among the masses, hoping to revive the popular sentiments of the time of the war with Iraq, but it seems to have had no luck in this regard. When talking about the Iran-Iraq war, most people conclude, “We were deceived.”
The people know that they became poorer while those in power accumulated massive wealth. That is why they deeply hate the heads of the regime, in particular the commanders of the Revolutionary Guards.
Obviously, it is not easy to predict how the people would react in the case of a military assault. If and when a war actually breaks out, with everything that would cause, different spontaneous tendencies could emerge. The reality is that the majority of the people, in particular the people in the cities, would not defend the IRI and would remain indifferent in relation to a war between the IRI and the US. But the experience of class struggle shows that such sentiments would not last long. If the advanced and revolutionary forces do not play an active role, the main danger would be that the people will fall victim to the interests of one or another reactionary group. This makes the formation of a revolutionary pole an urgent necessity.
Only an anti-imperialist and anti-reactionary pole could mobilise the people and keep them active. Only by an active policy and putting forward the alternative of the third pole can we create hope and motivation for the masses to participate in deciding their own destiny. It is true that forming a third pole will be a very difficult task, because the majority of the masses have serious ideological-political doubts concerning the development of the situation and the possibilities for the future. But this atmosphere will not dissipate in the absence of a relatively powerful front that is independent of both the imperialists and the Islamic Republic and is heading for a showdown with both of them.
The mass struggles provide the main starting point for building that pole. Growing mass struggles are another political development marking the new situation. Though these struggles (workers, students, women, and toilers of the cities and the villages) have their ebbs and flows, they are an expression of a new mood that is, in practical terms, in opposition to the political poles of both the IRI and the US. We should not underestimate the influence of the bourgeois lines and existing political trends within the mass movements, but the reality is that this revolutionary potential is a big reason forcing the imperialists and reactionaries to think twice before carrying out their plans. US imperialism supports only those movements that help its influence in the society. Whenever radical and militant rebellions take place, the imperialists not only do not support them, they hesitate about going ahead with their plans.
This shows that it is only by relying on the mass struggles and organising the revolution that we can prevent the implementation of the criminal plans of the enemies.
The need to form a third pole
The anti-imperialist struggle is a class struggle too. That means different sections and classes have different approaches towards this struggle. The politics of the third pole is a class policy that first of all serves the interests of the working class and the majority of the people and opposes the political power of the reactionary classes and imperialists.
It’s not hard to think of possible combinations of forces in the regime the US is preparing for Iran’s future: the former Shah’s torturers, Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards, the Mujaheddin Khalq Organization (which, whenever they smell power, starts to threaten the communists) – all of these plus US military commanders and intelligence service officials who have much experience in organizing death squads in Latin America.
In terms of goals within Iran itself, the US is preparing to keep the
existing social and production relations in place and install new
guards for another reactionary state that is dependent on imperialism.
The politics of the third pole mean opposition to reaction and imperialism, which means opposition to the Islamic Republic and to any reactionary regime meant to replace it through intrigues, political manipulation, military crimes and possibly years of civil war of the kind going on in Iraq.
In the previous revolution, the G7 imperialists united with Khomeini and his clique to cut short the revolution in an effort to defeat it. Now the G8 (the same imperialists plus Russia) are seeking to decide Iran’s future after the IRI, and this time they want to impose a new reactionary regime possibly through war, bombing, coups and death squads.
The whole point is whether we want to and can forge another alternative. The politics of the third pole are essentially to pose an alternative to both the present and future reactionary regimes. That is why being against the threatened war is not enough. The real challenge is the future of Iran. Do we, the proletariat and toilers of Iran, want to take our future and destiny into our hands or not? This is the fundamental question that all the communists and revolutionary and progressive forces should answer.
Today the basic reality is that the reactionary regime and imperialism have their own alternatives, but the people don’t. How can this situation be changed?
The communists should create a third pole by relying on their closest allied forces that will represent the interests of the majority of the people and work to build a pole that has influence and authority over a vast section of the people. To this end, such a pole should introduce a minimum programme and a plan for running the future society, and dare to express itself as an alternative in the service of the people and strive to gain recognition as such by the masses.
It is possible to learn from reactionaries, too. Before getting state power in 1979, Khomeini and his clique were already acting like a future government. This strongly mobilized their social base and even influenced sections of the people that were not part of their social base. However, what enabled him to dare to pose himself as an alternative government was that he had reached an agreement with the imperialist powers.
Our source of strength is the people and our aspiration is to serve the interests of the majority of the people. By relying on them, we should courageously declare that the people need their own political power.
Moreover, in order that the third pole become more than just an opposition, it must involve itself in leading the mass struggles and become a leading centre for the various struggles of the masses. The experiences of these struggles has shown that when the mass struggles arise, the existence of such a centre can play a positive role in the development of the mass struggle and expansion of revolutionary initiatives, and helps develop the political and practical strength of the third pole. The task of our party in this sensitive period is to draw a clear horizon for the revolutionary struggle. The effort to form such a broad revolutionary unity corresponds entirely to our aim and horizon. Within the current of such unity, our party will propagate and agitate for its own programme and perspectives, that is, the proletarian revolution. Our alternative is a new state. The framework of such a new state is sketched out in our party’s programme. It is clear that the new state with a new democratic social and economic programme and a socialist orientation can only come about through a revolutionary war. But the political opening to that goes through the agenda of today’s political struggle.
How to carry out this policy
Like any other great work there is a need for a strong core with the necessary flexibility to be able to unite a wider spectrum.
Our party as a communist party should play a key role in forming such a strong core. But such a role should be extended to the whole communist movement of Iran. Without the intervention, cooperation and coordination of communist and revolutionary parties and organizations who feel they are close together, it is not possible to turn the policy of a third pole into reality and achieve a common programme.
Definitely such a programme would help strengthen the whole communist movement in Iran and serve as a ground for the ideological, political, organizational and practical development of that movement. Of course, to build the broad unity of all the communists of Iran demands other kinds of theoretical and practical efforts as well, and we cannot reduce the whole of the tasks of the communists of Iran to the most urgent political tasks of the day. But without active political intervention and organizing revolutionary practice, it is not possible with the scattered front of Iran’s communists.
The effort to unite some of the left forces and parties is one level of activity, while to unite the activists of the mass movements around the politics of the third pole is another level. Without forming such a level of unity, it is not possible to decisively influence public opinion. This will give hope to many of the advanced masses.
It is clear that the people’s struggle should be focused against the main enemy, the IRI. As long as the IRI is in power, there cannot be any talk of aiming the struggle against the US and the regime equally. However the reality of the likely future – the plans of US imperialism – should be strongly presented and illusions or support for US policies should be opposed. This is the only way to prevent the disintegration of the mass movement in the interests of one or the other reactionary pole and line up support for the third pole.
The whole point is that the masses and especially the communists and revolutionary forces must understand the urgency of the situation – that if we don’t hurry up, there is a danger that in the coming political developments we will be caught between the IRI and the imperialists. Right now the contradiction between imperialism and the IRI and the splits within enemy ranks have created some breathing room for us. If we don’t do anything now, then tomorrow will be too late. Such a situation certainly will not last long and after that we may be faced with a situation even worse than Iraq.
- What is the relation of this policy to the strategy of people’s war?
- How would this tactic serve our strategy? What are its short and long term goals?
- What is its relationship to the plan to reconstruct the communist movement?
- How can it help to initiate the people’s war?
There is a need for more discussion and debate to answer these kinds of questions.
After the foundation of the party, we emphasized that we need an initial accumulation of forces to initiate the people’s war. We need to win these forces through activity in the mass movements and expanding the building of our party.
We should continue to emphasize this basic orientation. But how to advance when the political situation undergoes critical changes? This is especially the case when violence is sure to play a critical role in political developments. One of the positive particularities of the situation is that the imperialists do not hide this fact – they admit that they cannot advance without using guns and violence. Although they have always used violence, in the decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, illusions about “the era of peace”, even among progressive political forces, created an atmosphere of hostility to revolutionary violence and the idea of just war. But today’s atmosphere is more favourable for the propagation of ideas such as “Without a people’s army the people have nothing” and “Without political power all is illusion.”
Economist and reformist trends in the left movement will be an obstacle for this line, but we should broadly continue with our propaganda and agitation that without revolutionary violence there is no way to turn this society upside down and eliminate injustice. Such a situation will increasingly facilitate the work of educating the masses about the necessity of having their own army and organizing revolutionary violence.
Ultimately the third pole, in our view and in fact, is a new political power, one opposed to the old system and its effort to renovate itself. In the final analysis this pole will be materialised through people’s war, a people’s army and the new power. But the politics that will lead there must be put forward now and start becoming a reality. The programme of the future society as opposed to the old system should be courageously put forward. Naturally we should look not only at existing political forces, but recognize and work to realize broader potential as well. This will create an atmosphere that is favourable to our strategic work.
In any case, within this broad front we should constantly try to create public opinion that without a people’s army the people will be crushed between two powerful forces, the Iranian reactionaries and the imperialists, and not achieve anything. Further, the experience of Iraq has shown that the people will not be silent in the face of an imperialist invasion. If the US attacks and occupies the country, the people will resist spontaneously. If the communists are not present on the scene to channel the struggle and hatred of the people towards proletarian revolution, the people might tail the reactionary classes and be lead along another reactionary path.
Our policy toward the world antiwar movement
Among Western antiwar forces, we are facing a trend that pays little attention to the class character and the social programme of the reactionary forces resisting the imperialists. They should distinguish between the different forces resisting the imperialists, and take a position in a way that would help the forming of a revolutionary resistance (not a reactionary resistance) against the imperialists.
This would help the masses throw off the influence of local reactionaries and launch a revolutionary and anti-imperialist liberation struggle. To struggle against imperialism with a reactionary programme is not resistance against imperialism. The aim of these reactionary local forces is to gain a small share of the exploitation of the people of the world. This should be looked at from an internationalist point of view. Our understanding is not in contradiction with revolutionary defeatism [Lenin’s stand that in wartime people in the imperialist countries should welcome defeats for “their” ruling class], but completes it. The present slogan of the global antiwar movement should be to prevent a US war against Iran. But this movement must at the same time support the struggle of the people of Iran against the IRI.
The weakness of the antiwar movement in the case of Iraq is that an anti-imperialist and anti-reactionary third pole has not existed in that country. If there were one, the antiwar movement would support it, and that movement would have qualitatively more influence and political legitimacy against the imperialists. In sum, it is important that the antiwar movement support the revolutionary forces in Iran.
[Another Extract from the Report]
Is The Theory of the War of National Resistance of Mao Zedong Still Applicable?
The sharpening of contradictions between the Islamic Republic and America and the possibility of US military attack against Iran, once more brings forward the old theoretical questions.
Questions such as: what is the nature of this war? Should resistance against this invasion be considered as a national war of resistance? Even further that that, could Mao's theories regarding China's anti-Japanese war of resistance be applied to the present situation? Do all aspects of these theories apply regarding this matter (specifically whose wars that imperialists wage against their puppets?) How are we going to look at the changes, since Mao's time, which have taken place regarding one of the world's basic contradictions, that is the contradiction between imperialist countries and countries under imperialist domination.
In particular, what changes the trend of globalization has caused in the forms of domination of oppressor nations over oppressed nations? What has been the effects of these forms over class relations and formations of national and classes against the imperialist invasions? Does the resistance of reactionary forces have a national character?
In his analysis of the war of resistance against Japan, Mao correctly relates the main reason for the resistance of Chiang Kai-shek against Japan to the contradictions between other imperialists with the Japanese imperialists. Mao says that as long as these imperialists confront Japanese imperialists, Chiang Kai-shek will also resist Japan. But from some of Mao's writings you can conclude that the resistance made by Chiang Kai-shek against Japan is given a national character or at least considered as part of this resistance.
In any case, the aims of a resistance are decisive in determining its character. The resistance of forces such as the Taliban and supporters of Saddam is a reactionary resistance. Chiang Kaishek's resistance against Japan was based on the aims of US imperialists and his class interests of feudal compradors and not on the basis of the national and class interests of the Chinese people.
At present forces such as nationalists, national religious and some left forces base their reasons regarding the sharpening of the contradictions between the US and the Islamic Republic to the 1979 Revolution. It gave Iran political independence from America and now America wants to take it back. On the basis of such an analysis, they want to mobilize the people on the issue of national and political independence. Such a line is the expression of political compromise. Some of these forces also abuse the theories of the war of resistance against Japan of Mao Zedong.
The line of class compromise under the pretext of defending political independence has also been strengthened due to recent developments in Latin American countries such as Bolivia and Venezuala. On an international level we are now witnessing how forces such as the Communist Party of the Phillipines, which also considers itself Maoist, values the Iraqi reactionary forces which are resisting America.
Surely imperialist conspiracies, invasion and occupation give rise to national sentimements and national resistance. But such feelings should be led into channels of social revolution by communists. It must also be made clear to the masses that the reactionaries will resist and fight to some degree but this is to obtain their share in power. In such circumstances, they resort to fanning the flames of national feeling in order to use them as their blind soldiers. The living example of such a policy is the 'defence of the national rights of Iran' by Ahmedinezhad and other leaders of the Islamic Republic. National resistance and wars are those resistance wars which are genuinely lead to national independence and this is impossible without proletarian leadership and social revolution.
Our policies, slogans, programs play an important role in creating opinion and morale among the masses and the progressive forces. We must pay enough attention to such a task.
In certain times we may face with a situation where parts of the country are occupied by the imperialist armies and other parts are under the rule of the Islamic Republic-in such circumstances the question of the overthrow of the government in both areas must be the agenda of revolutionaries. [end excerpts]
R E S P O N S E
Was Mao Correct About Wars Of National Resistance?
By Maoist 1
We must all acknowledge the horrific repression that communists have suffered in Iran at the hands of the reactionary Iranian Islamic Republic (IRI) regime. However, the line of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) on the issue of US threats of attack must give some cause for concern.
This concern has its origin in the way the Central Committee's line does not fully take into account the current world situation. Western imperialists, led by the US, have invaded Iraq, reducing the country to rubble and chaos and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. They are now forcing the collaborator Iraqi government to enact laws that will allow western oil companies to steal the countries oil wealth and reduce the nation to permanent poverty.
In Afghanistan, a sovereign country has been invaded, with the government of the country being handed over to warlords and feudal reactionaries. In East Africa, the US induced the Ethiopian government to invade Somalia and establish another collaborator regime. The US assisted this illegal invasion and bombed the country to assist the invaders. The country is now in complete chaos with hundreds of thousands displaced from Mogadishu. In the 2006 Lebanon war, the US sent bombs for Israel to drop on innocent civilians, via the UK. Thankfully the heroic struggle of the people of Lebanon beat back the Zionist/imperialist aggression.
Wherever the US goes it spreads chaos, destruction and poverty-reducing whole nations to ruins. If the US is now planning to spread its mayhem to Iran the main task of the people of the world is to prevent US attack-and this includes the Iranian people. The people of Iran do not want to end up like the Iraqis or the Somalis or the Palestinians.
In a previous contribution to this discussion I raised concerns about the position of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). In this contribution, I discussed the extract from a Central Committee Political Report (see excerpts below) entitled Iran's Maoists Make Plans In The Shadow Of War (link to full published document, RCP-USA website). The Central Committee states here that the main enemy of the Iranian people was the Iranian regime rather than the US. This is despite the fact they had also concluded there was a serious possibility of US occupation.
Here I comment on the other extract from the Central Committee Report, which is also included in this discussion, entitled 'Is The Theory Of The War Of National Resistance Of Mao Zedong Still Applicable?'
This extract starts with the statement of a rather confusing concept. In the second paragraph they talk about the possibility of an invasion of Iran. The authors ask,
'Should resistance against this invasion be considered as a national war of resistance? Even further than that, could Mao's theories regarding China's anti-Japanese war of resistance be applied to the present situation? Do all aspects of these theories apply regarding this matter (specifically those wars that imperialists wage against their puppets?)'
The Iranian Central Committee is saying that a US invasion of Iran would be a war against one of its 'puppets'. But how could this be the case? War can only take place when there is an antagonistic relationship between two parties. If the Iranian regime is under the control of the US, by definition, there can be no antagonistic relationship. This statement by the Iranian party may be motivated by an understandable anger against a reactionary regime, but it does look unscientific.
Next, the party asks 'Does the resistance of reactionary forces have a national character?'
The answer, to be blunt, is yes, if these forces are genuinely fighting an occupier. Here is what Mao says in On Contradiction:
When imperialism launches a war of aggression against such a country [a semi-colonial one], all its various classes, except for some traitors, can temporarily unite in a national war against imperialism. At such a time, the contradiction between imperialism and the country concerned becomes the principal contradiction, while all the contradictions among the various classes within the country (including what was the principal contradiction, between the feudal system and the great masses of the people) are temporarily relegated to a secondary and subordinate position. So it was in China in the Opium War of 1840, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and the Yi Ho Tuan War of 1900, and so it is now in the present Sino-Japanese War.
We all need to ask ourselves, what is the United Front?. If we can't make it with reactionaries, who do we make it with? Ourselves? Ourselves and a few front organizations? We all need to consider this matter seriously.
In the next paragraph the Central Committee asks 'But from some of Mao's writings you can conclude that the resistance made by Chiang Kai-shek against Japan is given a national character or at least considered as part of the resistance.'
Mao did not say anything of the kind. He knew perfectly well that Chiang was no nationalist. As he stated in On Tactics Against Japanese Imperialism:
'The big local tyrants and evil gentry, the big warlords and the big bureaucrats and compradors have long made up their minds. They maintain, as they have done all along, that revolution of whatever kind is worse than imperialism. They have formed a camp of traitors, for whom the question of whether to become slaves of a foreign nation simply does not exist because they have already lost all sense of nationality and their interests are inseparably linked with imperialism. Their chieftain is Chiang Kai-shek.'
The Central Committee of the Iranian party does not differentiate between Chiang and others in the Guomindang. The communists wanted to enter into an alliance with the Guomindang to win over the more patriotic minded elements and split them from the traitors. This yielded fruit in the Sian incident, when Chiang was forced to make common cause with the communists after being arrested by one of his subordinates.
The next paragraph seems to lump together Chavez and Maoist comrades in the Philippines together as believers in class compromise. Why does the Central Committee say that the Communist Party of the Philippines 'considers itself Maoist'? Is the Iranian party saying they are not Maoist? We must all learn to avoid sectarianism. We all need to get our own houses in order before implying that good comrades are not Maoist, whatever errors of line they may have.
This paragraph also seems to criticize our comrades from the Philipines for supporting the 'Iraqi reactionary forces which are resisting America'. In the absence of a Maoist party able to lead this resistance what are the Iraqi people meant to do?
A clue is given in the last paragraph, when the possible invasion of Iran is discussed. The Iranian Central Committee states that '...we may face with a situation where parts of the country are occupied by the imperialist armies and other parts are under the rule of the Islamic Republic — in such circumstances the question of the overthrow of the government in both areas must be the agenda of revolutionaries.'
The Iranian Party's desire to defeat both imperialism and a reactionary regime is fair enough. The idea that both aims can be achieved at once is impractical. It is impossible to fight on two fronts in this manner. This is why Mao developed theories around the United Front that allowed his party to fight its enemies one at a time, rather than striking out in all directions at once.
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) reached a similar conclusion when it reached an agreement with the 7 bourgeois parties in Nepal (including Congress, that had been responsible for the cold-blooded slaughter of a great many of its members and supporters.) The CPN(M), under the wise leadership of Comrade Prachanda, realized it could not fight the autocratic monarchy and all the 7 parties all at once. It had to enter into a stage of concentrating its forces on the monarchy, a stage that they are currently struggling to bring to a successful conclusion.
No one can object to the comrades in Iran trying to develop Maoism in new directions. But we must avoid analyzes that appear to be motivated more by subjective factors than a cool, scientific assessment of the current world situation.
Such an assessment would indicate that whatever the reactionary nature of the Iranian regime, the priority now must be preventing Iran becoming another Iraq, or Somalia or Palestine. The overthrow of the Iranian reactionaries can only come after this stage. I repeat what was said in my previous post. The Iranian party may not be in a strong enough position to lead a United Front in a war of national resistance. But if it can urge the Iranian people to overthrow the reactionary regime, it can also urge the Iranian people to make its current priority resisting the destruction of their country by US imperialism.