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January 29, 2005

The Worst Advertisement: The Socialists and the Iraq Election by Alan Johnson

‘As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents’ (George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937)

Alan Johnson gives a personal and scathing assessment of how “much of the left has backed itself into an incoherent and negativist ‘anti-imperialist’ corner. It has lost touch with democratic, egalitarian and humane values long-held on the democratic socialist left and argues that “The decent left will emerge as a political force by turning each negative refusal into a positive policy and campaign. For each refusal of ours does carry a positive charge: pro-human rights above all, pro-international solidarity with the victims of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity, pro-worker, pro-feminism, pro-gay rights, pro-democracy, pro-liberty, pro-social justice. A decent left politics in the post-cold war world will define itself positively as the pursuit of these values and not as a negative coalition of ‘antis’. On such values we can build a culture not just a political movement.”

1. ‘looking straight into the eyes of the enemies of democracy’

Today, January 30, Iraq holds its first election. 15 million eligible Iraqi voters will go to the polls to elect a 275-member Transitional Assembly. The Assembly will choose a government, draft a constitution, and supervise fresh elections in December 2005. After thirty years of totalitarian dictatorship, bacchanalian tortures and abuses, mass graves, wars, sanctions and continuing occupation, it would be foolish to expect Iraq’s torment to be ended by one election. But the importance of the poll is clear enough. Abdullah Muhsin, Foreign Representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, spoke for all democrats when he said “Elections certainly offer the best hope of a secure Iraq and will legitimise the current UN-sanctioned political process, which is aimed at producing a national sovereign transitional assembly and a government mandated by the people. This view rests its legitimacy on international law - UN resolutions 1483, 1511 and 1546 - and the engagement of the majority of Iraqis and their key political parties across Iraq. Surely Iraqis, after all their struggles and sacrifices, have won the right to hold elections. Democracy is not given freely, but won, and to achieve it we shall walk, with heads held high, looking straight into the eyes of the enemies of democracy”.

Abdullah’s inspiring words reminded me of those spoken by the black freedom fighter Frederick Douglas in 1857: "Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform’ said Douglas. “The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without ploughing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters."

2. The Totalitarians and the Elections

But the democrats have their opponents. The word ‘farce’ was first used to describe the Iraq elections in an Al Jazeera report, 21 November 2004, The pro-resistance Association of Muslim Scholars “describe the forthcoming elections under US occupation as a farce”. On 31 December, Middle East Online ran the headline ‘Radical Iraqi groups call democracy a farce’. MEO reported that ‘Ansar Al-Sunna, Islamic Army in Iraq, Army of the Mujahedeen…said in an Internet statement Thursday they considered democracy "farcical and un-Islamic" and warned that no-one who took part in next month's polls would be safe. “Those who participate in this dirty farce will not be sheltered from the blows of the mujahedeen…Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit…This (vote) is a mockery by the enemy to grant legitimacy to the new government which serves the crusaders. Participating in these elections . . . would be the biggest gift for America, which is the enemy of Islam and the tyrant of the age."

True to their word, on January 19 The Ansar al Sunnah Army posted today an internet video showing the killing of two Iraqis who were working for a an internet company that Ansar al Sunnah claimed was involved in preparations for the Iraqi elections. The statement read “We say to all who support the forces and have anything to do with the elections farce: Repent now and stop your disbelief so that you save your souls, or accept the hollowness of your fate as was the fate of these, as Allah is my witness. And may Allah grant peace and greetings to our prophet Mohammad and to his family and his friends. The military organization of the Ansar Al Sunnah Army, 9 Dhu'l-Hijjah 1425 / 19 January 2005.

And we have seen election workers and candidates murdered, polling stations bombed and voters intimidated. Nadia Selim wrote to the Independent (18 January) to tell of how thugs had prevented her family from exercising their democratic right to vote. “My family still live in Hay Al Jamia, which is a middle-class suburb in west Baghdad and has a mixed Shi'ite and Sunni population. In spite of the risks involved, my family were planning on voting in the Iraqi elections that are due to be held at the end of this month. Yesterday, they were visited by one of their local shopkeepers. He asked them to hand over their ration books to him for "temporary safe-keeping". It is by means of these ration books that voters will be identified when they cast their ballots on 30 January. He informed them that he had been visited by masked men carrying guns, who told him that they would be back. The gunmen had ordered him to collect the ration books from his neighbourhood, and said that if he failed to do so, he and his family would be killed. It was when the shopkeeper came back to call on my family a second time, sobbing and begging them not to condemn his children to a certain death, that they reluctantly handed over their ration books. They will now, like many others I am sure, be unable to cast their votes at the end of this month.”

With the stakes so high, and the democrats under murderous assault from a fascistic enemy, what has been the reaction of the socialists?

3. The Socialists and the Elections (with some Iraqis butting in)

I apologise for asking the reader to plough through the catalogue that follows. But as you do, please understand it is but a small selection. I really could have put together a list ten times the size. After each socialist sneer I have inserted a voice from Iraq about the elections, brave, joyful, determined and democratic. These Iraqi voices are taken from either Norman Geras’s blog at http://www.friendsofdemocracy.info/ or from Friends of Democracy: Ground Level Election News From the People of Iraq at http://www.friendsofdemocracy.info/ .

* Seamus Milne (Guardian, January 13) argued the elections would be ‘at best irrelevant’.

(“Ahmed Khudayer beamed as he described his experience on the stump: "We drove round the streets last Sunday with a motorcade led by a white school bus with the roof taken off and garlanded with flowers to get attention. It went on for four hours. People were crying with joy. They remembered the past," he said. He is campaign manager for a coalition of secular parties called the United Democratic Forces”.)

* The Australian Green Left Weekly (January 26) declared the election “a sham”.

(“I'm proud to vote for the election," Shimon Haddad, one of the first to cast his ballot, told French news agency AFP.)

* Noam Chomsky thinks the January 30 Poll is "a poor joke" (Independent January 24).

(“We have been looking forward to this time for the last 50 years, actually, so it is a very exciting day for Iraq citizens.")

*Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) the 2004 left-wing Presidential candidate, dismisses the poll as ‘a farce’.

("When I look at the ink on my finger - this is a mark of freedom," Kassim Abood told Reuters news agency.)

* Felicity Arbuthnot (CommonDreams.org, January 18) goes one better, declaring the vote, ‘a farce of historic proportions’.

(“For 35 years we haven't had free or democratic elections. There was voting for just one person, the dictator Saddam. I am going to vote and no one can threaten me because I am loyal to my country and I will not stay at home. If there really is a guy called Zarqawi I will still vote, even if it takes my life”).

* Socialist Worker sees ‘nothing but a fraud’ (29 Jan).

(“I will vote in the election... This is a very important time for us, it is a time of freedom, something new for the Iraqis that we never had before”.)

* The esteemed historian (and long-time Communist Party of Great Britain member) Eric Hobsbawm, while admitting that democracy is ‘rightly popular’ (quite as if he was talking about Sunday opening or the 4-4-2 system) is not really convinced it is meant for Iraq. He seems to think the idea of Iraqis enjoying democracy is premised on the silly assumption that “If gas stations, iPods, and computer geeks are the same worldwide, why not political institutions?”

(“I will vote and I am not going to be scared by Zarqawi's threats... The future is not just the responsibility of our government but our's also. We are always depending on our governments to do everything and this is not good...”)

* And then we have Terry Eagleton. Eagleton is a man who is moved to anger by the chocolate chip cookie (it’s American and decadent or something) but is capable of a sympathetic and playful aesthetic appreciation of the suicide bomber. ‘Suicide bombers…are out to transform weakness into power. Because they are ready to die while their enemies are not, they score a spiritual victory over them’ [they also murder ‘them’ don’t they, the little kids I mean, the people who just got on the bus, or had the coffee, and Jews as Jews, but lets not get in the way of Eagleton’s art criticism –AJ ] There is a smack of avant garde theatre about this horrific act. In a social order that seems progressively more depthless, transparent, rationalised and instantly communicable, the brutal slaughter of the innocent, like some Dadaist happening…” And so on and so on. When Eagleton is not lecturing the left on the useful social role suicide bombers play in rescuing us from our depthless and instantly communicable social and aesthetic experience he is lecturing us on the need to embrace Aristotelian virtue ethics. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

(“I will vote and I'm not scared by Zarqawi. Every single Iraqi should vote. Zarqawi is not God. His people are acting just like the Ba'athists did and they are saying anyone who plays any part in the election will be executed”)

Sorry, but we haven’t really got started yet.

* Edward S Herman links the Afghan and Iraq elections in this way: ‘What makes these elections unfree is not so much the technical failures and fraud in the use of the electoral machinery, sometimes substantial, as the fact that each election is being imposed from without by a party with an axe to grind and does not come from indigenous sources. Its source is the needs of a superpower…’ Did you notice the election ‘does not come form indigenous sources’? That is it a mere ‘Theft-Rationalization Election’, nought but a mere ‘staged election in the rubble’. In fact even Alex Callinicos admits that “of course it’s true that the elections were forced onto Bush and Bremer by the mass protests that the Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called just under a year ago” (12 January 2005). Herman claims the resistance, however, is ‘a legitimate and understandable response to aggression’.

(“... a man in his early 50s, wearing an old blue jacket and a pair of torn brown trousers. His shirt is buttoned up and his grizzled hair laid flat on his head. Thick glasses rest on his nose. His hand is clutching a thick bundle of papers. "Vote for the People's Alliance," he says to people as he hands them the fliers.
..... A couple of children follow the man for a couple of blocks and every time he hands out a leaflet they run in front of him asking for more. "Do we have to vote for you if we take some of these?" asks one of the kids. "No, no," says the man, waving his hands. "It is up to you to choose who you vote for.")

* Writer Juan Cole predicted the Iraq elections would be ‘a disaster in the making’. (25 Sept 2004)

(“Even if there's a bomb in my polling place... I will go in it." "When people finally taste freedom, this country will turn around [.]" "It's the most important pillar in building a free country.")

* Corey Oakley in Socialist Alternative, an Australian socialist group, is clear enough on where she stands. “We can say this. The call by many of the leading resistance and political groups to boycott the elections are fully justified. The resistance is right to try to disrupt the elections, and right to continue its attacks on the US occupation rather than participate in an exercise designed to reassert faltering American control of Iraq… participation presupposes collaboration with the US occupation, something that the resistance has emphatically opposed”.

(“Some Baathist guy once came to our house and told my family we didn't have to go to the trouble of filling out our ballots - he'd do it for us," he said, referring to Mr. Hussein's party. "This time," Mr. Ali said, "I'm marking my own box.")

* A group of leading Quebec leftists has released a statement that the election has “nothing to do with democracy or the promotion of human rights. On the contrary, its purpose is to legitimate, in Iraq, the structures imposed by the American military occupation”. You can see how the anti-election left neatly gets you each way. While Felicity Arbutnot says the elections are a ‘farce’ because, amongst other things, there are not enough electoral observers the Quebec leftists think the Canadian election observers are a farce. Now that’s neat, you have to admit. While Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, has described his mission as an aid to the Iraqi people ('The participation of international actors in a country undergoing democratization or that wishes to consolidate its democratic foundations plays a fundamental role of legitimation at many levels.”) the Quebec leftists just grab the word ‘legitimation’, twist its meaning and pretend they have caught Kingsley in a confession. They tell us Kingley’s “fundamental role is to legitimate…the murderous invasion and occupation suffered by that country!"

(“Addressing a gathering of families who had lost their loved ones during the poison gas attacks, he [Barham Salih] proclaimed: "I am not a guest in Halabja. I am from Halabja, as all Kurds and all decent humane people around the world are from Halabja .....These elections could not be more serious. If we miss our chance now, we could miss our chance for another 80 years.")

* Perhaps, for getting it all ways up, we can’t beat Farooq Sulehria, a freelance journalist based in Sweden, who wrote, ‘The Iraq elections, no matter how fair and free, will remain a farce’. Note that, no matter how free and fair, the elections will be, despite that freedom and that fairness, just, still, a ‘farce’.

* Carsten Kofoed is the Spokesman of the Danish Committee for a Free Iraq. We need to dwell on Kofoed for a little while because he in being so candid he expresses the thinking of quite wide layers of the ‘anti-globalisation’ left. He is not just for “boycotting the election farce” (January 22, 2005). Also in his sights are the softies who appeal for participants in the election (election workers, party activists, voters) not to be murdered. This is an unacceptable concession to Imperialism/Empire. Wait, you’ll get it. Listen up. ‘Firstly, Allawi is participating in the election fraud, as he is running for “president”, and he is an Iraqi…Allawi, his regime and all the parties being a part of it, all these Quislings, who together with the occupiers bear the responsibility for all the crimes of the occupation, the killings, torture and destruction, traitors, who have just hailed the massacre on Fallujah [are] …all legitimate targets of the Iraqi resistance. Secondly, and as regards ordinary Iraqis, the resistance, being the flesh and blood of the Iraqi people, does not want to hurt any innocent Iraqi father, mother or child, which is exactly why the resistance has been warning all Iraqis not to participate in any way in the illegal sham elections. Trying to destroy the US election farce, which has the purpose of legitimizing the occupation by “electing” a new religiously and ethnically based US puppet regime and of driving Iraq further towards civil war, is an inherent part of the strategy of the resistance, just as it has been the objective of the resistance to smash the whole US-imposed “political process” in order to hinder the establishment of a stabile pro-US regime in Iraq, a goal that has been reached up until now”.

And what about the socialists and the free trade unionists? Does the Spokesman of the Danish Committee for a Free Iraq spare even these Iraqis? Well, you know the answer. Any appeal to spare would be ‘completely wrong and extremely dangerous, because they blur the line between patriots and collaborators in Iraq, between those who are in the camp of the resistance and those who are the lackeys of the occupation, which includes people claiming to be “Communists” and “trade unionists”’.

(“Registration lines are starting to get more like shopping lines. In Baghdad, the rates of registration have been inconsistant, but on my way back from work today I saw a good number of people at the local governmental office taking part in the registration process. This only means that people are losing their fear of the terrorists” This from Husayn at his Democracy in Iraq blog)

* The international network titled ‘the anti-imperialist camp’, after attacking ‘the faked elections in Iraq’ have organised a demonstration ‘in Support of the Iraqi Resistance’ in Porto Allegre on January 30.

* The Trotskyist ‘Fourth International’ claims the election is nothing but ‘a subsidiary pretext for the Bush administration in its drive to seize control of the crucially strategic area stretching from the Arab-Persian Gulf to Central Asia’ (Ashcar, Jan 05).

(“As is happening every day, [election] posters were being torn off and replaced quickly by similar ones or by posters with a new design”.)

* Socialist Worker in the USA thinks it has travelled back in time to 1916 and Zimmerwald. Sharon Smith, as Lenin, advises, ‘The antiwar movement must not lose sight of the fact that its main enemy is at home--any resistance to that enemy deserves our unconditional support…If we are waiting for the “ideologically pure” movement--assuming the unlikely scenario that all those opposed to the war could agree on one--we could be waiting forever.’ (Sharon Smith, Socialist Worker, US, January 25). Well, let’s just back the beheaders and socialist-torturers then.

* Romantic nonsense about the resistance is not confined to the US left (though the US left really does seem more than a few pages short of a full shooting script). In England, the Weekly Worker reported that at a public meeting in Sheffield on November 23 2004. ‘The Labour MP Alan Simpson…stated of Iraq: “If I was there, I would be in the resistance.”’ http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/555/stwc.htm. Alan Simpson denies he said this. Writing to clarify the WW claims he points out ‘My comments were roughly that "it is wrong of the press to describe the fighters as foreign militants. Most are now Iraqis who simply oppose the occupation of their country. It is not for us to tell Iraqis what they should do. They will make these decisions themselves. But we should understand their resistance. In similar circumstances, many of us would be involved in active resistance to a foreign power that took military occupation of our own country."’ (16 December 2004).

(“Iraq's first electoral debate was sponsored by Friends of Democracy in Samawa, Al Muthanna province. Our correspondent Kasem covered the event. The first two debaters were Mr. Mouhammad Al Zayadi from list No. 185 of the Al Mathna block and Mr. Hakem Khazal from list No. 118 of the middle Euphrates block”).

* George Galloway, leader of the Respect Coalition, interviewed by the BBC, said, “Actually, the Iraqi Resistance does not target its own civilians, but the people that are being fought by the Resistance in Iraq are the people who are working for the occupation (…) Our county in 1941 stood alone when the Americans were watching the war on newsreel. Hitler was at the Channel Ports and might have crossed. If he had crossed he might have occupied our country. If he had occupied our country there would have been a British Resistance. And no matter how hard up a family was the idea that they should join Hitler’s occupying police force and not become a target of us, the British Resistance, is preposterous.” His interlocutor, John Harris, asked, “Do you think there is a moral equivalence between Hitler’s Nazi occupation of Europe and the British and American Occupation of Iraq?”. Galloway replied, “…There is no difference at all.”.
(For an analysis of Galloway’s interview see ‘George Galloway’s Brechtian Solution for Iraq’ (http://www.labourfriendsofiraq.org.uk/archives/000181.html)

(“The city of Amara woke up today to find dozens of young volunteers from different parties sticking large posters on walls and shop windows. The last four days of the campaign are expected to witness an invasion of advertising material’)

* Walden Bello, a long standing Fellow of the Transnational Institute (TNI), has opposed attempts to question the resistance. “What western progressives forget is that national liberation movements are not asking them mainly for ideological or political support. What they really want from the outside is international pressure for the withdrawal of an illegitimate occupying power so that internal forces can have the space to forge a truly national government based on their unique processes. Until they give up this dream of having an ideal liberation movement tailored to their values and discourse, U.S. peace activists will, like the Democrats they often criticize, continue to be trapped within a paradigm of imposing terms for other people.”

However, on December 7 2004, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) placed Waldon Bello, along with other Filipino activists, on a death-list as "counter- revolutionaries". Some on the list have been shot. Of course Bello must be defended. But to do so we will have to reject his views about being ‘trapped within a paradigm of imposing terms for other people’. Indeed the Appeal Letter issued by Bello’s comrades begins ‘ASSASSINATION AND VIOLENCE HAVE NO ROLE IN CIVIL SOCIETY’. So it seems there are times when it is acceptable to push one’s own ‘values and discourse’.

(“Here is the Communist Party list, written on a wedding ring! There is list No.169, for the Unified Iraqi Coalition, plastering the walls with a new poster bearing the photo of Mr. Abdel Aziz al Hakim, and a second one with the photo of Mr. Mohamad Baker Al Sadr. Pink and green-colored pamphlets were also given out).

* Arundhati Roy, the novelist and activist, has argued that “It is absurd to condemn the resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq, as being masterminded by terrorists (…) Like most resistance movements, [the Iraqis] combine a motley range of assorted factions. Former Baathists, liberals, Islamists, fed-up collaborationists, communists…But if we were to only support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity. Before we prescribe how a pristine Iraqi resistance must conduct their secular, feminist, democratic, non-violent battle, we should shore up our end of the resistance by forcing the U.S. and its allied governments to withdraw from Iraq.” (Who are these ‘liberals’ in the insurgency? Communists, far from lining up with the former ba’athists and Islamists, are being tortured and shot).

(“Nobody wants History to repeat itself. Nobody wants to see a new Saddam addressing “the great people of Iraq” on television, while at the same time crushing and humiliating them. Iraqis will not accept being ruled by a man whose intentions and goals are obscure, or by a leader not chosen by them. The times of suspicious coups are over, and the eyes of the Iraqis will remain open to any attempt that might put Iraq in peril. Iraqis will bear their historical responsibility towards God and future generations. If not, eternal curse will fall upon them. The first step along this Holy road is elections”).

* Alex Callinicos, leader of the SWP, philosopher, revolutionary Marxist, author of many works about the leading role of the working class in the victory of international socialism from below, dismissed as a ‘hullabaloo’ the international trade union condemnation of the torture and killing of Hadi Saleh, international officer of the IFTU. After all, pointed out Callinicos, Hadi Saleh was “an Iraqi Communist Party leader who supports the occupation”. Oh, well, that’s alright then, and let’s hope his killers got the IFTU membership files, yes, Mr Callinicos?

(“The campaign platform for the Coalition of the Independent Sons of Missan, a group of independent professionals running for the Missan governate council [includes] Point 1-Serving the people of the governorate in cities and rural areas with total honesty, integrity and sincerity, without any discrimination based on class, tribe or confession”) .

Enough. Orwell’s point is made. The socialists really are the worst advertisement for socialism. Why has it come to this?

4. Another Left is Possible

Much of the left has backed itself into an incoherent and negativist ‘anti-imperialist’ corner. It has lost touch with democratic, egalitarian and humane values long-held on the democratic socialist left. This has come about because the ‘anti-imperialist’ left – guided by the likes of Callinicos - has reduced the complexity of the post-cold-war world to a single Great Contest: ‘Imperialism’ or ‘Empire’ versus ‘the resistance’ or ‘the multitude’. Today’s ‘anti-imperialist’ left is griped by the same manichean world-view and the same habits of mind that dominated mush of the left in the Stalinist period (from apologia to denial, from cynicism to grossly simplifying tendencies of thought, from the belief that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ to the abandonment of workers who get on the wrong side of the ‘anti-imperialists’). The consequence of this Manichaeism, in the Stalinist period and again today, is political and moral disorientation and a Grand Dumbing-Down of the left. At the extremes the ‘anti-imperialist’ left actually lends its support to vicious sub-imperialisms such as Milosevic and Saddam.

For the post Communist world cannot be reduced to a manichean struggle between “Imperialism” and “Anti-Imperialism.” There is no “anti-imperialist camp” in which the working class and the democrats merge their forces with General Galtieri, the Mullahs of Iran, the Serb chauvinism of Slobodan Milosevic, Ba’athists, or Islamic fundamentalist forces. The latter, especially, can indeed become a magnet for the poor and oppressed, as a reaction to Great Power imperialism, but so, in its day, could Stalinism. Socialists cancel themselves out if they support such forces. Politics involves more than just putting a plus sign where the U.S. State Department puts a negative, to paraphrase Trotsky.

If “anti-imperialism” is defined as whatever, at any given moment, is in conflict with the U.S., then one’s politics are defined negatively, but decisively, by the actions of the U.S. An independent democratic socialist judgement on events is impossible.

When John Pilger says the left ‘should not be choosy’ but should back the fascistic Iraqi ‘resistance’, we refuse. When the left says 9/11 was simply ‘blowback’ for the crimes of US imperialism, we refuse. When Michael Moore asks us to believe that pre-war Iraq was a country of happy kite-flying children, we refuse. When Michael Moore writes ‘there is not terrorist threat, repeat after me, THERE IS NO TERRORIST THREAT’, we refuse. When a warm welcome is extended by the ‘left-wing’ Major of London, Ken Livingstone, to the Fundamentalist cleric, Dr Al-Qaradawi, an anti-semite, and a proponent of the killing of homosexuals and wife-beating, we refuse. When the left fails to rouse itself to oppose Crimes against Humanity in the Balkans, or in Zimbabwe, or in the Sudan, or in North Korea, because to oppose ‘the resistance’ of Slobodan Milosevic or Robert Mugabe or Kim Il Sung is to support ‘imperialism’, we refuse. When the left apologises for the suicide bombers who blow up Jews in coffee bars in Tel Aviv on the grounds that the ‘resistance’ must be supported, and the ‘Zionists’ opposed, we refuse (even as we seek a secure Palestinian state). And when a leader of the Stop the War Movement (and the SWP) John Rees, argues that ‘Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein’, we say enough is enough.

The decent left will emerge as a political force by turning each negative refusal into a positive policy and campaign. For each refusal of ours does carry a positive charge: pro-human rights above all, pro-international solidarity with the victims of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity, pro-worker, pro-feminism, pro-gay rights, pro-democracy, pro-liberty, pro-social justice. A decent left politics in the post-cold war world will define itself positively as the pursuit of these values and not as a negative coalition of ‘antis’. On such values we can build a culture not just a political movement.

We remain partisans and artisans of the great reforming project of Kant and Marx.

Democracy is impossible in Iraq while the country is occupied. We work for a speedy withdrawal of US and UK troops through the political process, as Robin Cook outlined in a thoughtful article in today’s Guardian.

But – and it is not always clear Cook understand this point or feels the need to act urgently on it - there are many fights to wage now in order to achieve that withdrawal in a way that strengthens the forces of democratic and progressive Iraq and not the theocratic or secular authoritarianisms. For security. For an economy that serves the people of Iraq and has social justice not private profit at its core. For women’s rights against the Islamist militias issuing Fatwas in the south. For jobs, and for labour rights. For an international reconstruction that would deserve the name Marshal Plan for Iraq. For freedoms of speech and association. For the right to vote.

The polls open in a few hours. I do not think we will not be talking about a ‘farce’ when they close. The anti-election left will be proved wrong. And we will be reminded of these lines from Euripedes, ‘Those self-important fathers of their country / Think they’re above the people. Why they’re nothing! The citizen is infinitely wiser’ Rooted in that wisdom a decent left can grow

Alan Johnson

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