AWL challenges Peter Taaffe to debate Libya

Submitted by martin on 3 June, 2011 - 8:25

Peter Taaffe, leader of the Socialist Party, has written two long polemics against AWL over Libya, the second of them digressing to many other things, back to Taaffe's grievances against criticisms in the 1960s.

AWL formally and publicly challenges Taaffe to debate the issues publicly, and we offer him a platform and an audience at our summer school, "Ideas for Freedom", on 8-10 July.

We wrote to the Socialist Party challenging them to a debate on 21 April, as soon as Taaffe's first polemic appeared on the web.

We have written to them again since then, and repeatedly followed up with phone calls to their office. No reply yet: which indicates that they are not sure.

Do they dare venture into public face-to-face debate? On the other hand, do they want the derision they will face on the left if they write at such length and with such a laboured display of indignation, and yet flee public debate?

Peter Taaffe: what is your answer?

Click here for the online debate.


Submitted by DB on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 11:19

What is to be gained from a public debate though? Condensed verbal exchanges (as opposed to substantial written polemics) are bound to constrain the participants, allowing for less ground to be covered, with less detail and less rigour. In this case, a shortened rehash of the arguments that have already taken place in print is hardly going to produce much insight. Why not respond at length to Taaffe's much more substantial second critique, dealing with each of the issues at a time? To be honest, judging by the somewhat childish tone of your public "dare" (!) above, I wouldn't blame SPEW or Taaffe for spurning your offer and refusing to indulge in such bravado...

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 13:07

Yes! I find the idea that face-to-face debates are pointless a bit bizarre - as is the idea that it would somehow be justified for the Socialist Party to refuse to come because they were 'offended' by the tone of our challenge to debate.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by DB on Fri, 03/06/2011 - 14:08

Now then lads. I never said face-to-face debates are pointless (what a Stalinist contortion of what I wrote, tut tut). I said it would probably add little or nothing to this debate, at this point, because a can of worms has been opened which certainly can't be resolved by a debate alone. Unless, of course, the debate lasted a full 48 hours or more. And that's if it didn't degenerate into mudslinging and insults and cut the whole thing dead. If it matters that much, a more productive way of going about the matter might be to answer his criticisms in the paper and then arrange a separate debate on one specific aspect of the issue at a neutral venue further down the line? But let's be honest: this isn't really about achieving anything productive, is it? It's about putting on a bit of entertainment for the troops and having an inter-sect pissing contest. In which case, if the debate goes ahead, can we please have Jim Denham representing the AWL? Many would testify that his online debating style provides a great deal of insight into the nature of the organisation and comrades with whom he identifies.

Submitted by martin on Sun, 05/06/2011 - 13:30

Why is it an advantage in life to be able to converse (and argue) with people face-to-face, rather than living in hermit conditions and communicating with other people only in writing?

Why do schools, colleges, and universities hold classes and discussions rather than just handing students a textbook and saying: "that's it, no point in talking about it"?

Why in political and trade-union life generally do we have meetings, rather than avoiding all talk with our workmates while at work and then fleeing home to communicate exclusively in writing?

If you have a workmate who is staunchly anti-socialist, do you say to her or him: no point in talking - because her or his objections to socialism "open a can of worms" which cannot be resolved in a single conversation? or because talking would not be anything "productive" but only a "pissing contest"?

Do you say to that workmate that you only talk with people who agree with you, or at the utmost stretch with people whose attitude is something like: "I'm not quite sure I agree, but I'm ready to be convinced, and I won't argue strongly against you"?

Do you concede that debates between strongly opposed views are pointless? That face-to-face debate is worthwhile only when the debate involves no firmly-held and strongly-opposed views?

I can only think that the very idea that it could be all right for the SP to fire off polemics like Taaffe's and then say: "no point talking about it" is the ill-effects which internet culture has had on the left - the growth of the notion that you can be a good activist by sitting in your bunker and firing off written polemics, without ever engaging face-to-face in the outside world.

Submitted by DB on Sun, 05/06/2011 - 17:27

I think you're getting into the realms of fantasy now, Martin.

Theo is spot on. It is highly significant that Taaffe raised the matter of Jim Denham's foulmouthed tirades against the organisation's political enemies on the Left. It was once said that Sean Matgamna conducted polemic with "all the amiable good nature of a Gaboon viper". It should be obvious that such an approach isn't always appropriate, but I'd say the viper analogy is a fitting summary for how the organisation orients itself as a whole -- the hysteria of ritual denunciation towards comrades and organisations for being soft on Stalinism or anti-Semitism (a serious charge, usually followed by an overuse of exclamation marks); the personal baiting and mocking of former party members like David Broder on this very website; or the online ravings of Denham referring to Crow as a "fake left twat" or other comrades on the Left as "filthy, fucking, pro-Nazi anti-semite[s]" ... Despite some of the good work done by the AWL, this is its primary political discourse, and it is well known (and widely disliked) for it. The reality is that whilst the usual suspects find all this entirely worthwhile and acceptable in the name of open dialogue, everyone else on the Left and in the wider working class sees it for what it is: childish, petty and embarrassing, and, like the practices of various revolutionary left groups, driven less by a commitment to socialist politics than by the fragile egos of a few patriarchs who find in these "frank" debates some degree of personal self-validation.

Yours as-comradely-as-possible-in-the-circumstances

Submitted by Clive on Sun, 05/06/2011 - 20:16

This makes me feel I inhabit a parallel universe. Blogs are blogs - and however people, Jim or anyone else, expresses themselves personally on their blogs is really neither here nor there. But this notion that the AWL is so perversely and weirdly rude - I find this really odd. The AWL can be sharply polemical, sure. But this 'childish' etc etc etc. It's not the planet I inhabit. The ovewhelming majority of what is publshed on this site, and in the newspaper, is reasoned, well-argued stuff.

The fact is here that Peter Taffe has written a public polemic against the AWL, and it is perfectly normal to have that debate in person. Except the SP, like Militant before it, think such debates are beneath them - not because they *are* beneath them, but because it suits their self-adoring persona to suggest that they are. This lordly disdain for lesser mortals, 'sects at the fringes of the labour movement' and what have you, is, I would suggest, what is actually posturing, childish and tiresome. (These are my words, not yours, I know).

In most circles, if you publish publicly a polemical criticism of someone and then refuse to debate it publicly, that would be seen as running scared.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 06/06/2011 - 11:53

Bravo, Clive.

Another interesting, relatively recent example which illustrates the AWL's approach. At the end of last year we published an article about comments made by Counterfire's prominent student activist Clare Solomon - "No to right-wing witch-hunts, no to 'left' anti-semism". Despite the anti-semitic logic of Clare's remarks - remarks which she herself had apologised for - we were very careful to be measured and reasonable, both in our description of the nature of her 'offence' and in defending her against ongoing assaults from the right-wing press and right-wing student activists. So much so, in fact, that some members of Workers' Liberty felt we were being too soft, and there was a mini-row inside the AWL. We also went on to campaign for her in her narrowly lost re-election bid.

Then, about a week ago, one of our comrades who is a student union sabbatical officer approached Clare at a gathering of SU officers and asked her if Counterfire would come and debate the AWL about socialist feminism. Not about anti-semitism or Islamophobia or anything like: a friendly debate about socialist feminism. Her response was that Counterfire don't debate other left groups, but in any case the AWL is racist. Just like that.

Compare and contrast!

Sacha Ismail

PS As I recall, Jim D had already apologised profusely for the remark you cite even before our EC contacted him to ask him to.

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