The AWL and LFIQ

Submitted by AWL on 25 May, 2007 - 11:43

This article is scheduled for Solidarity 3/85.

Barry Finger says in Solidarity 3/80: "Look at the trajectory of Alan Johnson". Johnson the late-vintage Blairite, he suggests, may hold up to AWL the mirror of its own future.

It was to be expected that AWL might be held politically responsible in some degree for Alan Johnson and Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ), and that there would be people eager to insist on it (I don't mean Barry Finger). For that reason among others, we published the polemic signed by Alan Johnson and Jane Ashworth in Solidarity 3/62, and I wrote an assessment of their politics in relation to ours (see the pamphlet Solidarity with Iraqi workers). But evidently an account of Alan Johnson's political and organisational relations with AWL is overdue.

In fact it is only in the very loosest and long-term sense that the Blairite junior neo-cons who call themselves Labour Friends of Iraq are an ex-AWL group. The idea that they "develop the logic" of our politics is simply a political misunderstanding. Even were we foolishly to think that the US/UK do and will continue to do everything right, do not loot Iraq's economy, are sure to create bourgeois democracy in Iraq, etc., for that to lead us to the politics of LFIQ we would first have to experience a political and moral collapse like theirs, a collapse of political integrity and identity. AWL bears no political responsibility for any of them.

Except for Alan Johnson, the half-dozen or so one-time members of AWL or of its predecessor, the Socialist Organiser Alliance, in LFIQ or on its fringes, have had no political connection with us for a decade; and some of them none for nearer two. For sure, they are a pitiable little coven of turncoats and apostates, but except for Johnson none is a recent or sudden political apostate.

And Johnson ceased to be a member of AWL as long ago as 1994. Though he sometimes wrote for our press, and over the years did a few workshops at summer schools, Johnson has had no organic ties with AWL since then. He has spent the last decade zig-zagging between us, the SWP, and the politics of the later Hal Draper. He has had closer ties with Barry Finger than with AWL, having been a member of the editorial board of New Politics from 1998 to 2004!

As I will demonstrate, his current politics are better understood as a recoil from a long on-off infatuation with the SWP than as a linear development of AWL politics on Iraq, or anything else.

After a long period inactive "because of" his academic job, Alan Johnson formally resigned from AWL eleven years ago, announcing that he was joining the SWP. He didn't stay in the SWP long then. He would join it for a second time five years later, during the Kosova war.

Johnson had long thought that Tony Cliff's hybrid and incoherent version of state capitalism best explained Stalinism. In that he was alone among people in or near AWL, those who hold to a state-capitalist account of Stalinism included.

In mid-1994, he made the sudden discovery that the Cliff sect, the SWP - though he had not noticed before, over the dozen years of his membership of AWL - was a proper revolutionary party. Marxist, as well. And a lot bigger than AWL... The age of wonders and miracles and metaphysical unmaskings had not, after all, come to an end.

His first period in the SWP was very short. The Liverpool district organiser accepted his application for membership and listened patiently while he explained that he had not changed his mind on everything. He still agreed with AWL on a few trivial no-count issues, like, for example, the Middle East, favouring "two states" - an independent Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel - and not the SWP's "smash Israel" position.

She said - according to his own account of it - "Oh, that's all right. That's no problem". Political differences a barrier to membership of the SWP? Don't be silly! They're not sectarians! They'd be happy to have him.

But - as if talking to a political infant, and not someone who, most likely, had been politically active longer than she had - she cautiously explained further: "So long as you don't raise these issues at SWP meetings. Or in the SWP branch. It's quite normal for new members to ask questions, but if we had more experienced members expressing disagreements, that would confuse people".

Like Queen Elizabeth I, who "would not make windows into men's souls", the SWP would let members think what they liked so long as they observed the rites of its church, paid their tithe, and kept opinionated mouths tightly shut.

The strangest thing in this story is that it surprised Johnson. And for sure it did, because he turned in his tracks and withdrew from the SWP.

How could he have expected anything else? Where had he been for the last dozen years? Fighting the SWP some of the time, as a member of the Socialist Organiser Alliance!

He had seen them stand, a self-paralysed stage army of comic-opera revolutionaries, outside the great battles in the Labour Party in the early 1980s.

Seen them utterly disoriented for the first six months of the 1984-5 miners' strike; seen them turn to indiscriminate "anti-imperialism" in 1987-8, and, as part of that, step up their crazed "anti-Zionism".

Seen them, in the colleges and the National Union of Students, harass young Jews who refused to brand Israel as racism incarnate and the most vicious of imperialisms and would not agree that it should be destroyed.

Seen them, in 1992, after 13 years of preaching that nothing could be done because of the general "downturn", start a campaign that was as sudden as it was brief for an immediate General Strike.

Seen them combat the idea of a mass workers' party in South Africa.

And so on; a full list would be very long.

Indeed, on some of these things, he had probably made speeches and written articles. Someone with that background joining the SWP had to have either suffered general amnesia or a nervous breakdown, or else thought things through thoroughly and taken a serious decision to join, joining what they knew and knowing what they joined. And Alan Johnson? God knows!

His decision to leave, on being told that there were a few slight restrictions on democracy in the SWP, was even more astonishing than his decision to join. Nothing in his adherence to the SWP exposed his confusion and disorientation like the manner of his leaving of it!

After that strange SWP interlude, he again gravitated towards AWL, welcomed by simple-minded folk - me, for instance - who thought he would learn from this episode the centrality of ideas in serious socialist politics.

He remained on the fringes, and then more or less faded out. Knowing that he was working on a book on Hal Draper, I tried to get his opinions, and maybe enlist his collaboration, in preparing a collection of "Shachtmanite" material I was putting together. Very curtly on the phone he responded: "I'll get back to you", and hung up. He didn't, until after the book, The Fate of the Russian Revolution, was published. I had, it seems, blundered into the world of "academic" competition.

After "The Fate" was published, Johnson came back more actively to the fringes of AWL, nominating himself as "reviews editor" of Workers' Liberty, to which we agreed.

He wrote an article for Workers' Liberty on Hal Draper and the Middle East, advocating a bi-national state in Israel/ Palestine. In my opinion, it was politically very confused and a long step back from AWL's two-states position. Alan Johnson had never previously expressed differences with us on Israel/ Palestine. I wrote a critical response.

The issue was and is far too important to peacefully let AWL politics on it become blurred and muddled. The work that falls to AWL is too dependent on clarity; the struggle to re-educate the left, and in the first place ourselves, had been too hard and long (it began from 1978 with one person, and then a few people, including one of today's LFIQ Blairites, who spent years moving AWL/ Socialist Organiser Alliance from its old confusion on the question); our success so far had been too limited (we had cleared only a small island in the swamp, and it could easily be engulfed again).

In my reply, I attempted to account for how it is that, although Draper accepted Israel's right to exist and to defend itself, so long as its citizens desire that, his writings on the Jewish-Arab conflict have fed into the stream of the anti-Jewish "anti-Zionists".

Draper, of course, was far from being one of the "absolute anti-Zionists". Indeed (according to James D Young, an eye-witness to their encounter in 1958), he denounced Tony Cliff of the SWP, the most influential British "absolute anti-Zionist", to his face for wanting to destroy the Jewish people of Israel (Workers' Liberty 34, p.44). But at bottom Draper too thought of Israel ahistorically, as an aberration, something that never should have come into existence. It was a Zionist "crime"; and it should give way - voluntarily - to something better as soon as possible.

Draper shared the root idea around which the "absolute anti-Zionists" cultivate their myths and demonisation, that Israel is an illegitimate historical formation. From that it is a short step to the dominant idea of the "absolute anti-Zionist" left - that if Israel will not agree to "replace" itself by something more "legitimate", then it must be forced out of existence, and the Arabs and Arab governments who try to force it must be backed.

Draper's opposition to Arab conquest of Israel and his support for Israel's right to exist were not obtrusive. Readers could easily separate them off from his (to my mind often one-sided, and always far too messianic) denunciations of Israel; and thus his writings could feed smoothly into the septic flood-waters of kitsch-left "absolute anti-Zionism". And they have.

In Workers' Liberty I expressed this view perhaps less clearly than here, and with proper humility in criticising someone who got most things right about Israel/ Palestine long before anyone in AWL or Socialist Organiser did so. Johnson responded to my critical article like someone who finds his cornflakes laced with carbolic acid! In abusive letters he accused me of calling Hal Draper, and himself, anti-semites.

That was not a true reading, or reasonable interpretation, of the article. I do not - and did not - think that. If I had, I would not have been mealy-mouthed in saying it. Nor had I said it inadvertently, through clumsiness. Johnson's "you call me an anti-semite!" response evidently served a need to put himself on the moral high ground.

He withdrew as reviews editor designate, announcing that he would not "serve" Workers' Liberty. I responded mildly and perhaps too unenergetically (I was seriously ill at the time and for a long time after), attempting to reason with him.

It is clear now that with Alan Johnson AWL erred on the side of patience and forbearance. But that is the best side to err on. One reason for patience was that he seemed to take Marxist theory seriously, to work at it - and that is no common thing. He might, so we hoped, one day do something useful in that field.

In 1999 he once again joined the SWP. Why? This time he was bowled over by their 1999 anti-Balkans-war campaign. That campaign was entirely devoted to organising solidarity and uncritical support for Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia - for the primitive Serb ethno-imperialism whose genocidal drive against the people of its long-time colony Kosova was the sole issue in the war. (NATO's bombing stopped immediately the Serbian regime started to withdraw its forces from Kosova). It was "anti-war" in the sense in which the CPGB, making pro-Hitler propaganda during the 20 months of the Stalin-Hitler pact, was "anti-war" in 1939-41.

If there was in the 20th century any war in which a strong case could be made for Marxist socialists to back one of the imperialist blocs - in this case NATO - that was it.

We did not back NATO. They were what they are. What they did, they did for their own reasons, in the context of their broad concerns and interests. Their goals, other than stopping the attempted genocide, were not ours; and even on that, nobody could be sure that they would not rat on the Kosovars as they had ratted on the Bosniacs earlier in the 1990s.

We did not forget what NATO is, or what its component powers are, or what we are - revolutionary socialists mortally hostile to those powers, who in all circumstances maintain our political independence from them and all their projects.

But we did not back or "defend" Serbia, or denounce NATO in such terms as would effectively mean backing Serbia or condoning what it was doing in Kosova.

Alan Johnson, the Blairite neo-con in gestation, was so impressed and enthused by the SWP's "anti-war" campaign of agitation and lying propaganda on behalf of Serbia that once more he enrolled in the SWP! He seemed to have persuaded himself to blot out and forget his experiences of five years before, as he had earlier blotted out his previous dozen years of fighting the SWP. He is good at amnesia! It is the thing he does best.

Once again he tried to combine joining an authoritarian sect with doing just a little bit of "independent" political thinking for himself. Alas, it was muddled, very poor independent thinking. Johnson decided everything with the SWP campaign in support of Milosevic and the genocidal Serbian army in Serbia's colony, Kosova, would be perfect if only to its all-defining rabidly pro-Milosevic agitation SW would add... a call on the Serbian government to get out of Kosova.

The SWP published in its magazine a letter from Alan Johnson offering sycophantic praise for its wonderful anti-war work (practice for the sort of stuff he now writes in praise of Blair!) but adding a suggestion that the SWP should also call on the Serbs to withdraw from Kosova.

Perhaps encouraged by the publication of his letter, he went to the SWP summer school and at a workshop made a speech - no doubt as full of praise as his letter: why wouldn't it be? - saying that all would be perfect if only they would add the call for Serbia to get out of Kosova. The crescendo of abuse this aroused - led by the speaker, Alex Callinicos - drove him from the meeting. He left the summer school... and, once more, the SWP.

This time too, the quick retreat tells us even more about Alan Johnson in politics than his joining the SWP at such a point in its political degeneration. What does it tell us?

The SWP campaign depended on the big lie that Serbia - in fact the object of a great-power international "police action" to stop its genocidal drive in Kosova - was an innocent victim of imperialist onslaught. The entire political basis of the campaign would have been undercut by any recognition that the war was about Serbia's role in Kosova - about the issue on which the call for the Serbian state to get out of Kosova would focus a clarifying light.

The SWP venomously defended its whole-hog Serb-chauvinist politics. (See Patrick Murphy's account of the National Union of Teachers conference in 1999, for example).

It denounced all talk of calling on the Serbian state to withdraw from its Kosova colony. That was what NATO was demanding, wasn't it? That was what the war was about!

How could anybody capable of reading Socialist Worker who was not a political virgin - or, alternatively, an out-and-out political idiot - have so failed to register the nature of the SWP's campaign as to think they could add an endorsement of NATO's demand on Serbia - get out of Kosova - to the anti-NATO, Serb-chauvinist, "anti-war" campaign?

Johnson was unable to register accurately or understand what was going on in the SWP and in its "anti-war" campaign. He thought he could combine the two conflicting propositions in one set of slogans! This was the "oxymoronic" (contradiction in terms) option.

Talk of Kosovar self-determination, combined with the far-more-immediate-in-its-practical-effects call on NATO to stop its war to compel Milosevic to stop destroying the Kosovar entity for which self-determination was championed - that was plain political nonsense. Gibberish. Political oxymoronism! To combine those two slogans was to make nonsense of both, and to show that you either understood neither, or took neither seriously.

After that escapade, Alan Johnson again came back to the periphery of AWL! By now there were people, wiser than some of us, who thought he should be chased away. He agreed, so he said, with our opposition to the second Gulf War in 2003. The last time I spoke to him was at our 2003 summer school, after a heated debate between AWL comrades on the state of the Labour Party. He told me he agreed more with the "pro-Labour-Party" side in that debate. But nobody in that discussion went within a hundred political miles of his current - Blairite - Labour Party politics!

Exactly how or when he developed his present inverted-SWP politics, I can't say. It is of no importance. I submit that the record I have outlined shows that his current politics are more inverted SWPism than "the logic of AWL politics", or AWL taken a few steps further.

I confess that, despite knowing his record since 1994, at first I would not believe it when a comrade told me that Alan Johnson had gone over to the Blairites. Yet if you think about it there is no mystery to it. Alan Johnson is recognisably himself, the same sort of political animal whether the SWP or Blair is the recipient of his delusions, fantasies, and sycophancy. His SWP excursions and his Blairism have a common political root.

His psychology and his undiminishable talent for muddying up any political or theoretical question unlucky enough to attract his attention are part of it . But there is also, and more fundamentally, an objective, political, class-struggle explanation for his desperate zig-zagging over the last decade.

He came into a very different movement 23 years ago, and into an AWL (then Socialist Organiser) that was well-established in the Labour Party, had plausible perspectives for the political transformation of the political labour movement, and workable projects to help the movement along that transformation.

The drift of the Labour Party to the right in the later 1980s, and the political catastrophe of the Blairite coup in the 1990s, has blocked all that off, destroyed the Labour Party as any sort of functioning workers' party. The old Labour Party was not replaced by what we fervently wanted and hoped and worked for, a better class-struggle political movement.

It is still perhaps not impossible for what has happened to be reversed. But only a revolt of (enough of) the unions could recreate anything like the positive elements of the old Labour Party, and even then most probably by a split.

It is easy enough, especially if you are tired, middle-aged, indefatigably self-important, prone to forming blurred, wish-fulfilling, fantastical pictures of reality, to conclude that the working class is finished and socialism merely an opium of the stupid ones who refuse to learn.

It is that situation, fundamentally, that disoriented poor Johnson a decade ago, and sent him wandering around the left, and now into the camp of the right, like a goose drunkenly celebrating Christmas by staggering around the yard for the few minutes after a sharp knife has cut through its neck and removed its head. I've seen both, and, believe me, neither the feathered, eyeless, brain-gone poor goose, lurching and blundering, nor the sentient Johnson made for elevating or pleasant watching.

Alan Johnson, having twice seen visions, as mysterious as they were ridiculous, which told him the SWP was after all a revolutionary party and a Marxist one, and twice in his wandering recoiled, has finally, in extremis, started seeing Blairite visions. He turned back to the Labour Party. To Blair's Labour Party! To Tory Tony (and implicitly to Bush!) To Bush-Blair's "war on terror" and the neo-con mission to bring American-style capitalism and bourgeois democracy to the world.

If you despair of changing things, settle for what there is! If you can't beat them, join them - and fantasise! From desperate fantasy to... desperate fantasy.

Whatever it was about Blair that hypnotised Johnson and his friends, it could not have been his credentials as a democrat. Blair, the "Liberator of Iraq", is at home an authoritarian. He has destroyed or paralysed all the old democratic structures and procedures of the Labour Party, and thereby undermined and diminished democracy in British society. He has sapped what remained of Parliamentary control of government and even of Cabinet control of government policy.

The former British ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, recently described what he saw of Blair and his cronies interacting with Bush and the US government. They were, he thought, seduced by the glamour of US power. I suspect it was the "glamour" and power and authoritarian style of Blair that attracted Johnson and the others to the Blairite camp. Even with Johnson's powers of self-delusion, it can't have been Blair's commitment to democracy!

The reality of the Labour Party and of the Blair government - and its alliance with Bush - confronted Johnson with a choice between once more recoiling on contact - or redefining the terms of his politics. He has chosen redefinition. Maybe it did not happen exactly as I have set it out here, or as neatly. But these are the elements of it. Alan Johnson has gone home to the Labour Party.

But, as the man said, you can't go home again: it is not there any more, the one you knew and want to go to. The old Labour Party, or anything like it, is not there now. And in any case, for revolutionary Marxists it was never a "home", but an arena in which to fight the right wing and the soft and soggy Labour left for political influence on the working class and its movement.

It would be rash indeed to say that Alan Johnson's political wanderings are over. But I suspect they are. It should however be clear from the facts set down here that whatever killed Johnson, it was not AWL politics, or the "logic" of AWL politics.
"In balance with this life, this death"!

"Good God, Holmes! I never saw anything like it. Drowned at his word-processor! 'Pon my soul! Sitting alone in a dry room with the doors and windows locked from the inside. Extraordinary! Foul play? But how? Drowned! I can't understand it, Holmes".

"Elementary political hydronomy, Watson! Observe, my dear chap, observe. Read what the poor fellow had just written. This was the wettest politician of them all! If he were a piece of land, Watson, he'd have been a swamp. I can scarcely believe it".

"Eh? Holmes, you don't mean like that whatchamacallit nonsense, spontaneous combus...?"

"Yes, Watson, I do! It is very rare in nature, but well-known to political science. This, my friend, was a case of spontaneous drowning!"

(From Arthur Conan Doyle's The Salutary Tale of the Waterlogged Scribbler).

Sean Matgamna


Submitted by jane ashworth on Fri, 25/11/2005 - 18:30

Wow - that's vile. Now the Sparts have gone it takes a good rummage a long way down into the achives to find such polemics.
It reminds me of those great 80's IBs about Thornet and Lister -'Enough is Enough', 'Alas Smith and Jones' and '60 Lies and Myths' (although maybe Lister wrote that one: I don't remember). Back then these polemics were gestetnered onto recylced paper, with good reason they were marked 'confidential' and our youngsters gathered together to read them and giggle and revel in Sean's great turn of phrase. (Co-incidently, only this week a former member from Scotland who I hadnt seen for 25 years told me his favourite line was the description of Thornet as 'subterrainian poison')

The AWL/SO has spent years building up a reputation as the fluffy, thinking man's Marxists. The decent left-group. That's your USP. Why risk such a reputation by giving the outside world this peak into your living room?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/11/2005 - 20:16

In reply to by jane ashworth

I just wanted to thank Alan Johnson for Democratiya. I suspect this is going to be the new NLR.

Democratiya is something that the left needs. Is the AWL's role in this really going to be that of court jester? It is the politics that's important. Not Sean's showboating and amateur psychology. Sean's grumpy old man impression is great fun, but surely he's capable of so much more.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/11/2005 - 06:21

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Interestingly, there is a letter from the AWL (and not a critical one) in Democratiya. Doesn't this undermine the argument that AWL cannot be associated with Alan Johnson's politics? If the AWL doesn't want to leave the perception that it is a First Camp organization, why associate with Democratiya? The best way for Sean to convince people of the argument about Alan Johnson is to adopt Barry's troops out slogan immediately.

Ravi Malhotra
Ottawa, Canada
Member, Ottawa-Centre New Democratic Party (for ID purposes only)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/11/2005 - 22:15

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Ravi writes 'Interestingly, there is a letter from the AWL (and not a critical one) in Democratiya'

please reference

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 08:52

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

So if the AWL is so super-critical of Alan Johnson as Sean seems to claim, why would this appear here? See link below. It seems the AWL is constantly in danger of verging on the First Camp.


Submitted by paulm on Tue, 29/11/2005 - 16:58

In reply to by jane ashworth

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/12/2005 - 13:59

In reply to by jane ashworth

The most striking thing in JA's exchanges with Pete R and Arthur Bough is that — plainly — she just can't understand why AWL has turned sharply hostile to Alan Johnson, herself and the other Blairite ex-socialists in the LFIQ (and "ex-socialists" is the proper term, whether she knows it or not). Or why AWL might feel the need publicly to dissociate from them. What, after all, have they done that is so terrible? What, between old comrades is a little — or even a lot! — of belly-crawling and bootlicking to Tory Blair and his American allies, eh? Or with lining up with the Blairites at Labour Party "Conference"? And what's so wrong about Johnson's quasi-loony fanzine stuff on Blair? Just a little bit of harmless eccentricity! Where's your pluralism, AWL? In a little book about her years organising a women's football team, which she published in the late 90s, Ashworth said of her youth that, before she wised up, she sublimated her obsession with football in working as a political organiser, "bossing students". (I don't have a copy, so the quote is from memory, but that is the gist of it.) Politics? Just a bit of fun! A game, in the eternal fight against boredom. Shame on AWL for being so uptight! Loosen up, comrades!

And think what nasty polemics will do to AWL's reputation. Pointing out that before he became a Blairite, Johnson had been more SWP than AWL — that's vile! She seems unable to grasp the fact that failure to seperate itself, sharply and unambiguously, from Johnson — and Ashworth — would do far greater harm to AWL's "reputation" (the political one which we care about)?

She takes refuge in weary I've-seen-it-all-before little middle-aged cognoshintiesque observations on political technique, and "chimes at midnignt" reminiscences of ancient political disputes. Remember that polemic back in eighty-whatever? Oh, how young and innocent we were! Ha! ha! ha! Remember poor old Alan Thornett backing the Argentine junta during the Falklands War? Ha! ha! ha! ha! (Oh my aching sides!)

Doesn't she notice that she and her friends are now in the "there-are-only-two-camps-and-you-must-choose-one-of-them" Alan Thornett school of politics?

Now as then, Thornett is on the pseudo anti-imperialist side. And what would have been the equivalent of the politics of LFIQ now, applied to the Falklands War? Back Thatcher! No? Why not? Britain (backed by Ronald Reagan's America) was defending the democratic rights of the Falklanders. That really was the cause of the war. We never pretended otherwise; and we were not deterred from saying that the Argentinians should get out of the Faulklands by the fact that Thatcher — whose direct political progeny Blair is — said it too, and was prepared to go to war to enforce it.

In fact the Falklands war had a better claim that the Iraq war to the support of socialists: there was no equivalent there of the US economic looting in Iraq; no bombing or occupation of Argentina; no slaughter of civilians; the Junta was overthrown by mass popular action by Argentinians, seizing the chance give by the Junta's defeat in the Falklands war. If socialists had had to join one camp in that dispute, then it would have had to be that of Thatcher! (An awareness that was not entirely foreign to us then, either...)

Though we were careful not to say or do anything that would imply endorsing the Argentinian Junta, we did not back Thatcher. We kept the overall picture in mind. We did not "forget" who and what Thatcher was — or who and what we are. Then as now we were "Third camp" socialists (though we didn't call ourselves that then), concerend to mantain working class political independence from both war camps.

We did not lose our heads and hail Thatcher — whose war did indirectly helped topple the Junta — and Reagan as righteous enemies of Argentine quasi-fascism and — though they were certainly crusaders against Stalinism — crusaders for bourgeois democracy, who had to be supported.

Obviously we were wrong. Looking back, we should have supported Thatcher then, shouldn't we? Ha! ha! ha! How unsophisticated, how earnest, how unrealistic, how very young and naive we were then, eh? Revolutionary socialists fighting for independent working class politics, that's what we thought we were! Ha! ha! ha! ha! How quaint! How stupid! Youth, eh?

And how ridiculously shocked and outraged we were at Thatchers policies in Britain — "we social democrats", as the foolish Johnson puts it, who have since learned to love Thatcherism in its Blairite manifestation. Time, eh? Middle aged softening of the brAins and backbones!

Just as Alan Johnson's call, "Let Blair Be Blair" (See Solidarity 84) was a — risibly coy — way of saying "Let Blair Be Johnson!" (and Ashworth!), so, too, AWL's attitude to political renegades who go over to the bourgeoisie — and that is what it is, Jane — is a way of saying, insisting upon and underlining something central about ourselves and our politics.

If she ever lets herself grasp the politics of the dispute between AWL and the LFIQ, there may, just, be hope for Ashworth yet; she might even understand what the fuss now is about. But that would mean becoming a socialist again. Ha! ha! ha! Don't be ridiculous!

Old Trot

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/12/2005 - 18:35

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Quite right Old Trot. For the political regeneration of the Fourth International in the Falklands/Malvenas!

It should have been the Falkland/Malvenas workers who drove out the Argentinian sub-imperialists, not Thatcher!

For a Working Class Falklands/Malvenas militia!

For a workers Government in the Falklands/Malvenas!

If only we'd recruited a few more people in the Falklands/Malvenas, the global revolution might have started there - with a bloody nose to both Galtieri and Thatcher! Lets re-double our efforts. Leninise! Educate! Take ourselves seriously.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/11/2005 - 20:32

This is typical of the AWL's trademark combination of left imperialism and sectarianism.

They call 'Labour Friends of Iraq' Blairite - and denounce it.

But their own 'Engage-Online' initiative is one big apology for Zionist racism.

Who can tell the difference?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/11/2005 - 07:20

I have been reading the WL website for a few months now - I found it through Harry's Place (the water cooler of the anti-totalitarian left). At Harry's there is political discussion, a few loonies, a sense of humour. HP and Norm have shown that it is possible to be anti-totalitarian and still on the left. I thought AWL was similar. Am I right that Sean Matganma is one of the leaders of AWL? I am amazed that there is so much of interest on your website - and then you denounce 'apostates' and 'turncoats' as though you were the prosecutor in a Stalinist show trial. Nick cohen, David Aaronovitch and Johan Hari have shown that you don't have to be a fruitloop to be on the left. That you don't have to denounce 'Zionism' - that you don't have to support the jihadi-fundamentalists - that you can still be for lesbian and gay rights and for trade unions - without moving to the right.

People who seem serious have told me that AWL is not a relious sect. It seems obvious now that they were acting out of loyalty to their own political childhoods. The language of the Ayatollahs is not the language of the anti-totalitarian left.

Submitted by Pete on Sat, 26/11/2005 - 09:07

It seems that this is the underlining motive to most of the contributions made to this topic so far. Well I think it is very necessary for a clear distinction to be made between the AWL and the politics of Alan Johnson. Sean never pulls punches whether it is with the likes of Galloway or with Alan Johnson. (Nor for that matter does Alan himself). Is it necessary? Yes it is!

I have contempt for the idiots of the SWP, when I hear them as I did again last night excuse the mass bombings of Shi'ites as a natural reaction to the US occupation. But equally damaging to the principles of socialist solidarity are those who have so lost the plot that they heap praise on Blair and the purpose of the US/UK occupation.

Alan's endorsement of Blair is fairly open and the purpose and intention of the occupation is naively taken by him as Blair (and Bush) present it.

It is not that Alan is an apostate. It is that Alan was long associated with our view and that, even up to year ago was untruthfully claiming to be speaking for a part of the AWL that he was not even a member of!

Identification with those who support the occupation and those who led the war and take responsibility for the actions of the occupying army can only do damage to anyone who is an internationalist or a socialist.

Nothing would be better for the pro-Islamist SWP left than for democratic socialist internationalists to be confused, either with Hitchens and his open support for Bush, or Alan Johnson and his open support for Blair. Clear lines have to be drawn.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/11/2005 - 10:30

In reply to by Pete

The really reprehensible thing about LFI is not its political line, which is familiar enough from hundreds of neo-con sites, but the way that it tries to present its politics as the expression of the Iraqi labour movement.

LFI seizes on violence against the Iraqi union movement by reactionary parts of the insurgency, and seeks to tarnish the whole of the anti-war left with the brush of this violence, but it never discusses the violence and repression the occupiers of Iraq and their puppet government visit upon Iraqi workers. It ignored the June 28th atrocity against the demonstrators of the Unemployed Union of Iraq, and the violent suppression of the Kut textile workers' strike in March, because these acts were committed by the puppet Iraqi government.

Likewise, LFI seldom acknowledges that the Iraqi left and labour movement opposed the war and oppose the occupation. When the major Iraqi trade union bodies issued their historic joint statement against the invasion and occupation earlier this year, LFI put it on their site in PDF format, which made it much harder to access and link to, and didn't give it any comment at all.

I've just been to the LFI site and done a search using the words 'decree 875': nothing came up, yet this decree, which extends the ban on unions in Iraq to the IFTU, has been repeatedly raised by the IFTU and IWU in recent months as an attempt by the occupiers and their government to 'crush' the Iraqi union movement. While the last sliver of hope for a legal union movement in Iraq disappears, LFI spends its time attacking George Galloway.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq looks increasingly like one of the biggest disasters in the history of US imperialism. The number of people prepared to take the rationalisations of the neo-cons and Blair loyalists seriously is vanishingly small. In these conditions, the attempt to make out that the invasion and occupation have the support of the Iraqi labour movement is a necessary manoeuvre for latter-day Kiplings like Ashworth and Johnston. Real leftists should make sure that these fraudsters do not get away with their sordid little deceptions, by making sure that the real positions of the Iraqi left and labour movement get out to the public.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/11/2005 - 13:31

In reply to by Pete

Pete writes: 'It is not that Alan is an apostate. It is that Alan was long associated with our view and that, even up to year ago was untruthfully claiming to be speaking for a part of the AWL that he was not even a member of!'

When, where, what are you talking about?

yours, mystified

Submitted by Pete on Sat, 26/11/2005 - 19:57

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

In email correspondence that I had with Alan (and I know he had said to others), he argued that his support for the troops was what Sean Matgamna believed but was unable to say for fear of causing a fight within the AWL.

Unbelievable to anyone who really knows Sean or anyhting of the AWL, but Alan appears to have believed it. I can look for quotes if you like but I'm sure Alan wouldn't dispute this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/11/2005 - 21:23

In reply to by Pete

Pete writes of Alan predicting a change of line coming from the AWL and lead by Sean... 'Unbelievable to anyone who really knows Sean or anyhting of the AWL, but Alan appears to have believed it.'

Doesn't sound that unbelivable to me. But I am not surprised you find it 'unbelievable'
You probably said a change of line on the Mid -East was unbelievable in 78 - in fact you did say that.
You probably said Sean's postion on the convergence with SO was unbelievable in 83 - in fact you did say that.
You probably said Sean's positon on the troops and Ireland was unbelievable - in fact you did say that.
You were also against the SO turn in 79.
In fact - you have always been up there amongst the last to see a change in line coming your way.
Call Alan's assertion 'unbelievable' if you want but for sure anyone who knows you won't take comfort in your perspicasity.

And anyone who is new to the orbit of the AWL and does think your judgement is to be trusted, well, they should look at your own poll in the last general election when you stood for the Socialst Alliance on your own patch. What was your poll? 780 odd, I think.

An adventure indeed - and a bloody waste of time which you should have been able to predict, see coming, anticipate...just like all the other oncoming trains which you havn't noticed over the years but should have been able to see coming.

Pete - you have forgotten who you are talking to. You cant get away with trading on 'insider knowledge' with us.

Submitted by Pete on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 09:54

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Nick has answered this fully but just one more little point about the General Election.

Ironically, the last time I met Alan Johnson was the AWL Summer School in 2002 I believe. Alan came to me with a proposal... that after I had stood in the General Election 2001, I should stand again in 2005. So maybe my judgement isn't the only one that should be questioned.

If anything changed between the time of Alan's proposal to me and 2005, it was a huge collapse in the popularity of the government, especially a massive collapse of the vote of your man, Blairite John Heppell. Our campaign wasn't able to prevent these votes going to the Lib Dems. For my comments at the time see this.

But even the Blairites didn't want to draw much attention to their war and occupation record during the election, as you would probably have wanted them to. If they had, their result would have been far worse.

Oh, and Jane, (it is you isn't it?) you were an advisor to Oona King during the election I believe. I shouldn't try to advise anyone about elections after that, if I were you!

Submitted by jane ashworth on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 11:36

In reply to by Pete

Yes Pete, it is me - not hiding but had techi. trouble logging in.

Nick, It isn't that I think Sean is personally scared. How would I know if he is or isn't? And if I were privy to such personal details then they wouldnt be for sharing. Enough!

Positions evolve and I think your line will change. Positions evolve probably for a million reasons including the pressure of external events, because of their own logic or, I guess, sometimes under the weight of new theoretical insight.
On this occasasion its your own logic that sells the pass. Within your position, (summarised as) defeating the resistance is primary to avoid untold reaction, lies the new one. But I do understand it would be irresponsible of a leadership to change the line right now. You would be commiting suicide to come out as pro-troops until the rest of left understands the resistance to be fascistic or until you are prepared to leave the 'trot family'.

Sometimes the leadership has to wait until the time is right before reopeneing the debate. And you know this. Take the change in positon over the middle east. It took from 78 til c84 for Sean (and me too from 81 onwards as Sean kindly notes in the lead piece this thread) to change the line on Israel/Palestine. For one thing we had to wait until we'd thrown out Thornet (and as it happens the timing of that wasn't an accident either. The move to the endgame with Thornet didnt just happen - it was planned for. We waited and then we moved fast)
Back to Iraq: I might be wrong and your commitment to belonging to the 'left family' prove strong enough to prevent a change of line. The key is that Pete's judgement on this matter is not a solid. He has often been the last to see change coming -one of the last to have read the subtext, to have anticpated the next stage and understood the drivers within the existing position.

Pete, it isn't that you or Oona lost. (And you overstate my role in Bethnal Green by a very great deal) Its that you should have been able to see what a waste of time it was for you to stand.
It should have been obvious to anyone who can read a political situation that you had neither a positive local climate or the numbers of people ready to footslog to make the effort pay off. It was a daft, and possibly a voluntarstic misjudgment.

Submitted by jane ashworth on Sat, 26/11/2005 - 22:51

In reply to by Pete

You write as though the AWL is indifferent to the outcome of the battle between the troops and 'the resistance'.
It isn't. Since the troops went in your positon has been that, when pushed, if one side or the other has to win, you'd rather the resistance lost.
Jeez, even I know that's your line. Its been in your paper.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 00:14

In reply to by jane ashworth

I think I might say lots of things 'if pushed'. Surely the whole point is trying to build a different force which can win instead of either of them. That doesn't mean I couldn't care less whether there's a bourgeois democracy or an Islamist state, but it's rather different emphasis and way of looking at it than 'not being indifferent' to 'the' battle 'between the troops and the resistance'. Is that 'the' battle?

Submitted by jane ashworth on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 08:35

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Anon writes:
'not being indifferent' to 'the' battle 'between the troops and the resistance'. Is that 'the' battle?'

Unless you are playing dungeons and dragons it is. Like you, I'd rather it wasn't but it is.
THe fate of the working class is inextricably bound up with the fate of the first camp. Recognising this doesn't necessitate surrendering independent organisational forms, or believing waging class conflict isnt nec.

Either that or you repeat the worst mistake of Trotskyism - the Cannonite positon of WW2. And I thought you'd moved on from that.

Submitted by Pete on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 10:10

In reply to by jane ashworth

Fighting for working class independence may be dungeon and dragons to you, but not us. You say that the fate of the working class is 'inextricably bound up with the fate of the first camp' i.e. Iraqi workers are dependent on US good favour and intentions.

Well given that it now looks as though Bush is planning his exit strategy after passing over as much power as he can to Islamists he trusts, one can only presume that Iraqi workers are pretty well finished, in your view.

Submitted by jane ashworth on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 11:45

In reply to by Pete

Why will you not accept I am for independant working class organisation? Even a half-baked liberal bourgeois is too, as are elements of the State Dept. Regardless of any other considerations, unions are critical for civil society to operate.

I've said this a thousand times and I'll say it positon is more akin to the ILP in WW2. Your's repeats the monsterous error of Cannon and yet you insist on pretending my line is a lift from the CPs.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 11:31

In reply to by jane ashworth

Seems quite dingeons and dragonsy to me to think that if 'the troops' 'win' 'the battle' the result will be democracy. I don't think WW2 is a very reliable guide in this respect.

There has been considerable movement towards democracy since the fall of Saddam. But to put it down to 'the troops' winning the battle is, shall we say, a bit simplistic.

Submitted by jane ashworth on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 11:52

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

You are right to say reducing the battle for democracy down to 'troops' is too simple.
I should instead say something like, 'the UN backed process for creating a self-governing Iraq based on direct elections which is underpinned by the troops (inadequate and criminal though they sometimes are)and contingent upon their military and poltical defeat'

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 02:21

In reply to by jane ashworth

As I said, the letter in Democratiya from the AWL would give the impression of continued links (of some kind) between Alan Johnson and the AWL.


Submitted by jane ashworth on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 08:37

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

You said this before...please provide the link to the AWL letter in Democratiya

Submitted by Pete on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 09:59

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

As far as I can see the only 'letter' produced was the Open Letter to Tony Benn that we had 'openly' published. In other words we have no control over who reproduces it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 15:35

"I am the originator of a secret society. We have taken upon ourselves the task of exposing corruption in government. We investigate corrupt politicians, and expose their corruption to the newspapers. We have brought down a few mighty men." He said this last with some pride.

Holmes interrupted, "Have you destroyed any innocent men?"

"We are very careful. But, it is possible that we have made mistakes."

"What is the name of your society?"

"We have no name. It reflects our efforts to remain humble, and not claim credit for our successes." I thought that our visitor seemed rather proud of his humility.

"Go on," said Holmes.

"Recently, one of the members of our society noticed that he was being followed. And one of my coded letters had been opened and sloppily resealed. We communicate with each other with letters written in code. Some of the other members are sure that our code has been broken. I have tried to reassure them that the code is unbreakable. But they won't listen. I'm afraid that our society will break up soon, unless I can convince them of the security of our code."

Submitted by Pete on Sun, 27/11/2005 - 16:06

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

What? Can anyone translate this?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/11/2005 - 16:02

In reply to by Pete

"the US/UK/UN transformationmal project triumphed than see a taliban-like regime insalled"

The "triumph" of these forces will be the installation of a Taliban-like regime, that's the point!

The dynamic of the occupation since it began has been to hand power to the most backwards, right-wing tribalist and ethno-sectarian forces in Iraq. The US/UK ruling-classes want to cut and run from Iraq and leave it in the hands of people like Allawi or Sistani. Even the Mahdi has been co-opted into the state apparatus in some areas.

The counterposition Jane draws - between some kind of liberal, bourgeois-democratic, "US/UK/UN" occupation and the fascistic resistance - is false. The occupation vs the resistance is fascists vs fascists and we don't take sides.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/11/2005 - 20:04

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not sure it's right that they are 'fascists vs fascists'. Sistani is not a fascist, for sure - he's a clerical leader, obviously, and socially conservative, but on the scale of these things a relative liberal. The Da'wa Party is sort of 'constitutional Islamist'. The most unpleasant of the Islamists on the Interim (and probable post-December) government side are SCIRI, who are heavily backed by Iran. But I'm not sure even they are really fascists.

On the other side, the Sunni extremists are fascistic in the broadest sense. In a way, Muqtada's movement is the closest, I think, to classical European fascism - with its broad base among the most dispossessed, but with a middle class layer, also, inherited from his father's movement. (And of course, as you say, they are being incorporated into the state; and reps of Muqtada are now openly involved in the same electoral list as Sciri etc).

That the 'legalistic' Islamists aren't fascists doesn't mean they're our allies, of course. But I would beware of crude generalisations and false labelling. There is a form of bourgeois democracy being installed in Iraq - truncated, etc etc. But it would be wrong to think that if the Sciri/Da'wa (Sistani in the background) list wins the election that it's only fascism coming to power. Things are quite bleak in Iraq, I think, but not that bleak.

Clive Bradley

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/11/2005 - 22:50

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Would you take sides if you agreed it were fascists vs bourgeois democracy with the labour movement being too small to stand alone?
Of course you would...presumably thats why you insist both sides are fascists

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/12/2005 - 14:55

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

My how the creature became cleverer and cleverer. But try as it might to assimilate to its surroundings and the culture of its hosts it could not disguise the fact that it was quite alien and not only in appearance. And quite so much as simply not to be able to register or understand what its hosts were discussing or the meaning of what they were saying.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/12/2005 - 08:05

This is taken from a right wing/neo-con journal. But what if its right?

Iraq's a lost cause? Ask the real experts

WHEN IT COMES to the future of Iraq, there is a deep disconnect between those who have firsthand knowledge of the situation — Iraqis and U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq — and those whose impressions are shaped by doomsday press coverage and the imperatives of domestic politics.

A large majority of the American public is convinced that the liberation of Iraq was a mistake, while a smaller but growing number thinks that we are losing and that we need to pull out soon. Those sentiments are echoed by finger-in-the-wind politicians, including many — such as John Kerry, Harry Reid, John Edwards, John Murtha and Bill Clinton — who supported the invasion.

Yet in a survey last month from the U.S.-based International Republican Institute, 47% of Iraqis polled said their country was headed in the right direction, as opposed to 37% who said they thought that it was going in the wrong direction. And 56% thought things would be better in six months. Only 16% thought they would be worse.

American soldiers are also much more optimistic than American civilians. The Pew Research Center and the Council on Foreign Relations just released a survey of American elites that found that 64% of military officers are confident that we will succeed in establishing a stable democracy in Iraq. The comparable figures for journalists and academics are 33% and 27%, respectively. Even more impressive than the Pew poll is the evidence of how our service members are voting with their feet. Although both the Army and the Marine Corps are having trouble attracting fresh recruits — no surprise, given the state of public opinion regarding Iraq — reenlistment rates continue to exceed expectations. Veterans are expressing their confidence in the war effort by signing up to continue fighting.

Now, it could be that the Iraqi public and the U.S. armed forces are delusional. Maybe things really are on an irreversible downward slope. But before reaching such an apocalyptic conclusion, stop to consider why so many with firsthand experience have more hope than those without any.

FOR STARTERS, one can point to two successful elections this year, on Jan. 30 and Oct. 15, in which the majority of Iraqis braved insurgent threats to vote. The constitutional referendum in October was particularly significant because it marked the first wholesale engagement of Sunnis in the political process. Since then, Sunni political parties have made clear their determination to also participate in the Dec. 15 parliamentary election. This is big news. The most disaffected group in Iraq is starting to realize that it must achieve its objectives through ballots, not bullets.

There are also positive economic indicators that receive little or no coverage in the Western media. For all the insurgents' attempts to sabotage the Iraqi economy, the Brookings Institution reports that per capita income has doubled since 2003 and is now 30% higher than it was before the war. Thanks primarily to the increase in oil prices, the Iraqi economy is projected to grow at a whopping 16.8% next year. According to Brookings' Iraq index, there are five times more cars on the streets than in Saddam Hussein's day, five times more telephone subscribers and 32 times more Internet users.

The growth of the independent media — a prerequisite of liberal democracy — is even more inspiring. Before 2003 there was not a single independent media outlet in Iraq. Today, Brookings reports, there are 44 commercial TV stations, 72 radio stations and more than 100 newspapers.

But aren't bombs still going off at an alarming rate? Of course. It's almost impossible to stop a few thousand fanatics who are willing to commit suicide to slaughter others.

Yet there is hope on the security front. Since the Jan. 30 election, not a single Iraqi unit has crumbled in battle, according to Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who until September was in charge of their training. Iraqi soldiers are showing impressive determination in fighting the terrorists, notwithstanding the terrible casualties they have taken. Their increasing success is evident on "Route Irish," from Baghdad International Airport. Once the most dangerous road in Iraq, it is now one of the safest. The last coalition fatality there that was a result of enemy action occurred in March.

This is not meant to suggest that everything is wonderful in Iraq. The situation remains grim in many respects. But the most disheartening indicator of all is simply the American public's loss of confidence in the war effort. Abu Musab Zarqawi may be losing on the Arab street (his own family has disowned him), but he's winning on Main Street. And, as the Vietnam War showed, defeatism on the home front can become self-fulfilling.

Submitted by AWL on Fri, 09/12/2005 - 01:43

1. The short answer to Arthur is this. In the areas controlled by the Transitional Government and the US/UK, the new Iraqi labour movement still operates, more or less, and with much harassment. In the areas controlled by the "resistance", it can't. US brutality, arrogance, ineptness, corruptionn is pushing towards an extinction, one way or another, of the little leeway the new Iraqi labour movement has. We oppose the US. Its policy is leading towards catastrophe. But why make our slogan "catastrophe now"?

The Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions had its conference in Baghdad, a short while ago, in the Palestine Hotel. The Palestine Hotel is not actually in the Green Zone, but it is one of the buildings in Baghdad heavily guarded by the Americans in the same way as the Green Zone. The FWCUI opposes the US troops - vehemently. It is absolutely clear that it gives the US troops no endorsement, no support, no political credit. But it calculated, rightly, that it could hold its conference in that hotel with relatively little risk of it being attacked by the Islamists. So we should demand the US troops clear away "now" so that the Islamists can destroy the conference? Now! This minute! Without even waiting for the trade-unionists to conclude a bit of business and then disperse to safe places before the Islamists arrive! (Plainly, of course, it would be a demand on the local US general, not on any working-class force). Why make that demand? It would be like yelling "cops out now" on an anti-fascist demonstration where we are surrounded by much larger numbers of fascists.

2. The even shorter answer is, Troops Out Now cannot be anything other than a demand on Bush. If the working class were in a position to force troops out - or defeat the Islamists - "now", then we would be in an entirely different situation. Adding the "now" to "troops out" makes it unambiguously and clearly a demand on Bush, and not on the working class, to sort the situation out - by handing over to the Sunni-supremacists...! Why does Arthur want to make that demand on Bush? Or why does he want to raise a demand which to him, privately, means something completely different (working-class mobilisation, etc., and actually not "now", but when the workers are strong enough) from what it means literally, and to the vast majority of listeners? We should not add to the too-long history of Trotskyists raising demands which they justify to themselves by "revolutionary" private interpretations but which literally, and to almost all listeners, mean something different ("Labour Take The Power", etc.)

3. The ILP did not support World War Two! In fact, with its pacifist bent, it was if anything more "anti-war" than the Trotskyists (Cannonites) with their "proletarian war policy".

Martin Thomas

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.