The Socialist Party leadership: practised liars, but scared to debate

Submitted by AWL on 2 September, 2011 - 1:46

By Sacha Ismail

The Socialist Party has now published a third article attacking the AWL over Libya. The first two were by SP general secretary Peter Taaffe (see here) - the second not just about Libya but a lengthy diatribe against various aspects of our tendency's history and politics. The third is by Robert Bechert on the website of the CWI, the international tendency of which the SP is part (see here - note, by the way, that the SP attacks on us never link to our articles or even quote them at length).

Bechert writes:

"The idea that there was ‘no alternative’ to NATO was already disproved in the magnificent Egyptian movement that led to Mubarak’s ousting. The imperialist powers intervened for their own reasons not in the interests of the Libyan working masses and youth. Any failure to explain this as, for example, the small British AWL grouping did when it initially uncritically supported NATO’s role in the fighting in Tripoli, politically disarms the workers’ movement, leaving it unable to warn of imperialism’s intentions. The AWL has consistently supported NATO’s bombing and it now seeks to justify this by claiming the organisation of workers will be “easier” now after Gaddafi’s overthrow, something which it is not at all certain to be the case (see also: The ‘no-fly zone’, the Left and the ‘Third Camp’). In reality this is a rationalisation of their view, shameful for a self-proclaimed left organisation, that the military assault by the imperialist NATO alliance had to be supported as Libyan workers and youth had no chance on their own of defending themselves or defeating Gaddafi."

Here the SP goes beyond its existing boneheaded refusal to understand the distinction between "support" and "not oppose" (so if the police stand between us and a much larger group of fascists, we must either shout "Police out!" or endorse the police's actions?) and descends into straightforward lying. This is not a term we use lightly; it is generally not a helpful way of describing things in political debates. But it is the only appropriate word for Bechert's laughable claims.

Lie 1: we failed to explain why NATO was intervening. Right from the start, the AWL has stated clearly that the NATO powers were - of course - intervening for their own reasons and not because they care about democracy, let alone "the interests of the Libyan working masses". (Don't take this on trust: see our very first leaflet on the intervention here!) This is fully in line with the position we have taken in similar situations, eg the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosova.

Lie 2: we supported NATO uncritically. In fact, as the SP knows very well, we did not support NATO at all. Here, however, they descend a level by, bizarrely, claiming uncritical support! The word "initially" is clearly intended to cover them against accusations of lying; but it is nonsense. At no point did we give any support to NATO, let alone uncritically! You can only deny this if you defy refusing to denounce an action as a kind of support; in which case, the claim of us being "uncritical" is rather odd.

As for the idea that the Egyptian revolution showed there was a viable alternative to NATO intervention, this takes the SP's fantasy politics to a new level. It is like saying that if you are about to be murdered by gangsters, the fact that there is a powerful strike in the town down the road shows there is no need to worry about the police! In Egypt there is a history of workers' struggles going back most of a century, and for forty years working-class struggles have carved out space, limited but important, for the beginnings of independent workers' organisations even under Mubarak. In the revolution these organisations have flowered. In Libya there is no labour movement at all, and never has been; under Qaddafi's totalitarian state, the most basic civil society organisations were bloodily prevented from emerging. As of yet, the Libyan workers are not even minimally organised as a class.

In the really existing situation, and in the time frame available, nothing was going to stop the crushing of the rebels except outside intervention. We do not like that fact, but we look reality squarely in the face - something the SP leadership is clearly incapable of doing.

Similarly - dismissing the notion that it will almost certainly be easier for workers to organise and struggle under the new regime than under Qaddafi is so ludicrous as to hardly require comment.

In Bechert's article and probably in his head, the distinction between lying and failing to understand basic facts blurs until you cannot distinguish one from the other. This is typical of the SP.

In any case, we want to know: why has the SP now published three articles attacking us, but still refuses to take part in any sort of public debate? Why were we told by one of their their organisers that a debate was on, only to be told by an irate Peter Taaffe that it wasn't? Why have we not even received an email replying to our invitation?

A number of SPers have told us that the SP won't debate with us because of the sharpness of our attacks. No doubt calling the SP leaders liars will not endear us to them any further. We would only point out the preciousness of this. The SP leaders have accused us of being apologists for imperialism! (Not to mention irrelevant, a sect, middle-class and so on) In general those being criticised never like the criticism, and the political tasks facing us are too urgent to get offended.

We reiterate our invitation to the SP to debate Libya with us at a public meeting.


Submitted by AWL on Sun, 04/09/2011 - 00:23

This latest article is a response to something the SP wrote about us recently. All of our recent polemics against them have actually been direct responses to stuff they've written. I'm not saying that's decisive, because "they started it" is hardly a sufficient explanation for why we think it's useful and important to polemicise against other left groups, but it's not the case that we're attacking the SP out of the blue.

Like Tomas/Dalcassian said, why not respond to the actual political content of the article? Here are two direct questions to get the discussion going:

* What do you actually think of our position on Libya?
* Do you think your organisation was right to characterise us as "uncritical supporters" of NATO?

If you think the SP should debate us publicly then please propose this within your organisation.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by Mark on Sun, 04/09/2011 - 14:03

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the SP's finger-waving at us (for bad manners, rudeness, bad language etc) is reasonable. Let's assume the AWL shouldn't do it, and accept Socialist Boy's argument.
But, then, Socialist Boy, tell us what's worse: poor table manners plus clear political polemic (the AWL), or a political intervention which radically misrepresents an opponent and which fails to allow a proper, open development of contending views in front of the left (the SP).
I put it to you, Socialist Boy, that, on your own personal grounds of taste, perhaps, you have a point. But it is a very tiny point! of relatively little interest to people who take ideas seriously.
The ideas are the central thing, not the tone or pitch of the delivery.
If you take socialist polemic and clarification of political lines seriously, the people being really badly behaved here are the SP. They are both unreasonably restricting the scope and depth of the discussion, and they are misrepresenting our views. They are doing so to protect themselves, to wall in their membership, and for short-term factional gain. (And, I suspect, to do a job on SP members who share our views without actually addressing their internal audience directly).

I put it to you, too, that you should try and understand why we react in the way we do to Peter T. Here we have a SP leader who both writes many thousands of words against us and also refuses to debate us because we are an irrelevant sect. Sorry, both can't be true. His stance is stupid.
Socialist Boy, in part what your doing is blaming us for noticing that PT is idiotic and having the nerve to say so openly.
And why to poke fun at Peter T? Partly because we think his polemic is shoddy (some of it is unclear; some of it doesn't make logical sense even within his own framework) and false (the bombing has clearly helped the right side to win in Libya, and without it they would have been hung from lamposts). And partly because of his absurd pomposity! There's a lot of Emperor's-New-Clothes here. This man is not a serious ideologue - he wants to be one, and in particular he wants to be recognised as an important thinker; he wants status.
But we can read, and we're not stupid or shy. So we laugh at him a bit. So?
His sactimosity and pomposity are simply defence mechanisms.

One more thing. There seems to be the idea on the left that the AWL is the group that lauches sharply critical polemics against other groups. We often do, that's true. But is also important to recognise that that is an extension of the culture which exists inside the AWL too. It is not something special we reserve for people like Peter T, it is about taking ideas seriously, and debating properly.

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 06/09/2011 - 09:06

Socialist guy,

Does not denouncing the intervention amount to the same thing as supporting it? If so, what do you think about the example I give in my article, of the police standing between the EDL and anti-fascists, effectively protecting the latter (and, in the real example I had in mind, Nottingham earlier this year, actually attacking the EDL)? Obviously the police are an agency of the ruling class (in fact, the AWL is clearer on this point than the SP, but I'm sure in general you'd agree); usually, they protect the fascists against us. So does it follow that, in the situation I mention, we must on principle shout "Police out!" or something similar? And if not, doesn't that by your logic amount to support for the police?

Yes, we do not want the big powers to be able to intervene around the world as they please. However, it is hard to see what they have gained in this case that outweighs the fact of the Libyan revolution surviving and winning, and the knock on effect of that for the other revolutionary movements in the region. Even the right-wing press is not trying to claim that the Iraq adventure has been rehabilitated; on the contrary, for their own reasons, they are stressing the dissimilarities. Or to put it another way: are you seriously claiming that it would be better, overall, if the Libyan revolution had gone down, because this would have been outweighed by not boosting NATO? If so, can you justify this view, please?

As for the idea that we did not criticise NATO, let me quote again from the very first leaflet we published on the intervention:

"There is of course no reason to trust the armies of the West, or their Arab allies, to bring democracy to Libya or anywhere else. They are intervening for their own - capitalist, imperialist - reasons, not in the interests of the Libyan people. There is no guarantee that Western intervention will even succeed in its short-term aim of halting Qaddafi’s advance... The force which is advancing democracy across the Middle East is the mass movement, above all the workers’ movement... In Egypt a new, independent trade union federation has been formed in the midst of a wave of militant strikes."

Therefore, in summary: aren't you talking nonsense?


Submitted by Clive on Thu, 08/09/2011 - 23:59

You say: "The point is as socialists we should encourage independent working class emancipation and by saying the Libyan working class need 'imperialist' help to achive this will surely demoralise the working class. I obviously think that the success of the Libyan revolution is the highest priority but I also belive it should and can be carried out by the Libyan working class."

Of course the revolution should - not just 'can' but can only - be carried out by the Libyan working class. (Or rather, any *revolution* has to be popular and from below; socialist revolution in particular has to be carried out by the workers). We certainly did not say that the Libyan working class needed imperialist help to achieve 'emancipation' - which would be a contradiction in terms! We did not even say, more narrowly, that the Libyan people 'needed' imperialist 'help.'

But a) it was, it would seem, the view of most Libyan people that they *did* need outside, ie NATO, assistance - they asked for it. And b) had it not been for NATO intervention, the revolution would almost certainly have been crushed in Benghazi. We were against people trying to prevent that intervention. This was a very specific moment. Nobody is generalising to say the Libyan people, or the working class, 'need' 'help' from NATO or some other imperialist agency.

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 09/09/2011 - 09:28

As the article says: "Note, by the way, that the SP attacks on us never link to our articles or even quote them at length... A number of SPers have told us that the SP won't debate with us because of the sharpness of our attacks. No doubt calling the SP leaders liars will not endear us to them any further. We would only point out the preciousness of this. The SP leaders have accused us of being apologists for imperialism! (Not to mention irrelevant, a sect, middle-class and so on) In general those being criticised never like the criticism, and the political tasks facing us are too urgent to get offended."

Nothing to add to that.


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