Friday, 23 May 2008

Why the British Left sucks: appendix

Alliance for Workers Liberty

I dismissed this lot in a paragraph way back when...but I now realise that this was grossly unfair. This is because I have dedicated whole articles to slagging off the snoozeworthy CPB, the well-meaning but poisonously mental CPGB-ML, and all the rest...but not one to the AWL, who are the worst group on the British Left, full stop. If there's a single reason why the global left would be better off if Britain just sank, drowning us all, it's the AWL.

Why? What can have gone wrong?

A long time ago, there was an Irishman - born in County Clare - who got tired of the old country and moved to Manchester. There, he joined the Young Communist League, before rapidly defecting to the more revolutionary but utterly mental Socialist Labour Leage, then the largest Trotskyist group in Britain. The SLL - and its successor, the WRP, was run by the petty tyrant Gerry Healy, whose political method consisted chiefly in beating up factional opponents, branding them state agents and muttering about having them shot come the revolution. Amazingly, our forthright hero lasted four years before being expelled in 1964, joined Ted Grant's increasingly social-democratic group, before leaving them in 1966. For the next two years, he was the patriarch of his own (very) little gang, which he lead into Tony Cliff's International Socialists. By now, for those who haven't been keeping track, he had been in five radically different groupings in less than a decade.

Our hero's time in the IS, however, was short; he immediately fell out over the IS's soft line towards British troops in Ireland, and came to believe that workers control existed in some catholic areas of Ulster. This was too much for Cliff, dedicatedly tailing factory-floor conciousness at the time, and it wasn't long before his faction was expelled.

Since then, our hero - whose name is of course Sean Matgamna - has led his own group, and become one of the main patriarchs of the British left. At the time of the split with IS, it's worth noting, Matgamna:

-Believed that the USSR was a degenerated workers state;
-Called for victory to the PLO in Palestine;
-Spunked himself over the Provos in Ireland;
-Excoriated all who did not do the same, and most who did for doing it the wrong way.

Now, after a few fusions and a few more splits, the AWL has abandoned all of that, barring the general method of the last point. Matgamna has swallowed the Shachtmanite doctrine of 'bureaucratic collectivism', and not only supports a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine (in which he is not alone), but openly identifies as a Zionist and denies the right of return; he has spent a truckload of ink trying to prove that when he called for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Ireland in the 70s, he didn't really mean it; and all who do not do the same are now 'kitsch', 'mad' or 'left anti-semites'.

The Matgamnist method is a most remarkable thing. First, you declare yourself in favour of fluffy bunnies; then you launch vicious attacks on all those who think that a call for the defense of fluffy bunnies betrays an off-colour set of political priorities; then you conclude that, after all, these people are kitsch, left-fluffy-bunny-ophobes, who deserve nothing but contempt from reasonable people. After all, who could be against fluffy bunnies?

Then, use your new evidence of the degeneracy of every other group on the left to slip in a genuinely and incontrovertibly scabby position. Say, refuse to call for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of troops from Iraq - hell, refuse to call for mediated and conditional withdrawal of troops from Iraq. When the work-experience boy at Socialist Worker deconstructs your bullshit after five minutes dope-addled thought, reaffirm the total degeneracy of the kitsch left. Guaranteed to rally any recruits stupid enough to have fallen for it in the first place.

It's barely worth going into the reasoning; point one is that if troops were to disappear tomorrow, it would be a terrible free-for-all (the problem being that the fact that we raise the demand does not mean it is going to happen - a point made by one Sean Matgamna against the IS leadership on Ireland); point two is that calling for troops out now is to share a political position with reactionary islamists (but it's alright, apparently, to share a position with George W Bush); point three is a detailed argument about the current state of imperialism, only slighty undermined by the fact that it's completely wrong (see Mike Macnair).

But it's the logical knots they tie themselves into that really start to grate. Chiefly, they claim that under the occupation there is some "space" for the workers movement to develop, which would disappear were the troops to leave. But they nevertheless insist that imperialism plays no progressive role at all, and act extremely hurt when people put that word in their mouths. Which begs the question: what do you have against providing space for the workers movement that this doesn't count as progressive, exactly? Is not acting as a bulwark against the barbarian hordes of clerical fascism, which eats trade unionists for breakfast and feminists for brunch, a progressive act? Well, it is, actually. Just admit it. No wonder that Nick Cohen thinks you're a bunch of tossers. So, whether or not he thinks he does, Matgamna assigns a progressive role to imperialism. To claim otherwise is humpty-dumptyism.

The problem is that the US occupation doesn't do these things, cannot do these things and could be unproblematically predicted from day one not to do these things (read an average Solidarity article on the issue, and it seems to have come as a surprise to the comrades!). It has built up these reactionary forces from the start, currently acts in alliance with the most powerful militias, and (lest we forget) has not been averse to some independent workers-movement-smashing operations of its own. The 'space' offered to the Iraqi workers movement by the US troops compares unfavourably to the 'space' offered to prisoners in Gitmo.

To point all this out to the comrades is like huffing and puffing at a 5 year old's house of cards. The reactions range from hysterical to bloodthirsty. And here's the thing. The AWL isn't terrible on factional rights and so on - various shades of opposition to this line have appeared in the paper, most notably the scarily-brainy David Broder. But factional rights is simply not enough. The entire political method of Matgamna is the hysterical denunciation, to bury political differences under moralistic invective. In this, he is the progeny not of his beloved Hal Draper, but of another angry Irishman, who once had a little gang called the Socialist Labour League. And if you removed from the Healy group the random expulsions and beatings, the political culture left over would be that of the AWL - a poisonous atmosphere, barely conducive to anything more than submission to the whims of the increasingly unbalanced patriarch, and utterly inappropriate to anything so vulgar as talking to other sections of the left.


Chris S said...

Good article comrade.

Hanif Leylabi said...

Possibly the most I will ever agree with you on anything!

Harley Filben said...

don't tempt fate... ;)

Alan said...

Hey, the thing I really like about your blog/articles is that I can understand it and find it entertaining despite the fact it has nothing to do with me! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Good words.

Frank Partisan said...

If you dislike the UK left, you should see what it's like dealing with Maoists in the US.

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