Debate & Discussion: Tell the truth about the left!

Submitted by Anon on 10 September, 2003 - 2:07

Sean Matgamna

As a bald slogan, without further explanation, "for a workers' party" is meaningless. Half a dozen different people could agree that they are for a "workers' party" and then discover they all mean different things by it.
What meaning this slogan has in a specific situation is given to it by how its advocates answer certain questions. Is what is being advocated a party in the sense of a programmatically defined Marxist party, or is it a broad mass trade union based party of the old Labour Party type? If the first, what are its politics? What are its roots and traditions?

In our conditions, the "Marxist Party" is inevitably going to be small, (SWP-small), very (AWL) small or (the CPGB) minuscule-certainly not a mass workers' party.

What "perspectives" does the Marxist party have for the political development of the working class, for creating a mass workers' party? Is it for building or rebuilding a mass trade union based "workers' party"? Does it advocate that in the broad labour movement? Does it see the broad labour movement, in the first place the trade unions, as the central terrain of its work? How does it all fit together? And so on. These are the all-determining questions, not vague, general commitment to building an undefined workers' party.

Gerry Byrne understands the distinction between the Marxist and the Labour Party-type workers' party: that the Marxist Party, irrespective of its size, would be a workers' party "in that its politics represent the distinct interests of the working class." (Solidarity 3-35)

But if the Marxist party is defined first and foremost by its politics-by its programme, by its world outlook, by the political tradition in which it stands-then most of what Gerry says does not make sense.

She writes like an uncomprehending philistine with no politics of her own: "The biggest [?] problem… is that all [?] the little grouplets think they are already [the workers' party]! Sometimes explicitly, sometimes in practice."

And the AWL? She quotes the editorial in Solidarity 3/26 that the revolutionary left now has better prospects than for 20 years because of the anti-war movement, the limited industrial revival and the rise of the anti-capitalist movement, and that "a united revolutionary left organisation could hope to recruit and politically educate thousands of new people." Gerry Byrne thinks this contradicted what we do.

"And in practice? 'The fake left continues to rot'. 'crazies', 'morons', 'loonies'. It is any surprise that people who are described as some kind of human sewage are reluctant to unite with us?"

Denouncing AWL for telling what we see as the truth about the rest of the left, Gerry seems to suggest that our politics-our political assessment of the world around us and of the political organisations in it-should be determined not by what we think is true but by considerations of diplomacy, tact, and inoffensiveness!

Of course we want to unite the healthy part of the existing left. And therefore we shouldn't say the old left is rotting, even when assessing the latest evidence that it is? We shouldn't comment that the author of a succession of lunatic articles in the Weekly Worker is a crazy.* And if we do say these things, then we aren't serious when we say we want to unite the left.

The desire to unite as much of the healthy left as possible precludes saying unpleasant-even if true-things about any part of it?

We make the case for left unity in Solidarity 3/26 and thereafter we should have closed our eyes, stopped up our ears, put clothes pegs on our noses and pretended not to notice something epochally foul like the Galloway affair?

We should pretend that there is nothing significant in most of the left lining up behind a Labour MP who for a decade has functioned as an outright apologist for the murderous fascistic regime in Iraq? Who publicly admits to having received money from the Pakistan government, the Emirates and an Arab capitalist with strong ties to Iraq.

There is nothing corrupt, rotten, dying and deserving to die here? Even if there is, we shouldn't say so, because then they won't like us and will refuse to unite with us!

We answer the rational query "are these things true or not?" with the cynical or despairing injunction "don't ask embarrassing questions!"?

Gerry's approach here is entirely apolitical. The Marxist organisation is built around politics. It unites with others, if it does, on the basis of spelled out politics.

One of its cardinal functions, no matter how big or how small it is, is to discern the truth and tell it, first to itself and then to the working class. Trotsky put it like this: "To face reality squarely; not to seek the line of least resistance; to call things by their right names; to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be; not to fear obstacles; to be true in little things as in big ones; to base one's program on the logic of the class struggle; to be bold when the hour for action arrives-these are the rules of the Fourth International."

There is an element of "abusing the messenger who brings bad news" in Gerry's complaints against the AWL. She is in a peculiar position in that she has recently returned after being out of politics since the mid-80s. She hasn't lived through the political, moral and intellectual disintegration that produced the pseudo-left we have now. Let me try to put it into perspective for her.

At the time of the Falklands War (1982) the anti-war movement in Britain divided into two groups. Those like the present AWL and the SWP and Militant (now Socialist Party/Socialist Appeal) were on one side, opposing Thatcher's war but not supporting her enemies, the military rulers of Argentina, or their occupation of the Falkland islands which had triggered the conflict.

On the other side you had organisations like the WRP, crazy as a bed-bug, Workers' Power, the Mandelite "Fourth International"-then organised in a sizeable organisation, the IMG-and that half of our then organisation, the WSL, which was led by Alan Thornett (now of the ISG and Socialist Alliance).

Remember the Thornettites during the Falklands war? They quarrelled with us because we refused to back Argentina.

The fact that there was nothing "anti-imperialist" in the Argentine seizure of British territory 500 miles from Argentina, whose inoffensive population was British, didn't faze them at all.

They denounced us as "pro-imperialists" because our attitude-defeatist on both sides-implied that we wanted the fascistic military government of Argentina overthrown by the Argentinian workers during the war. They insisted it was the duty of "anti-imperialists" not only to support the Argentinian military forces against Britain, but the Argentinian government too.

When I responded to their bizarre solicitude for the Argentine military, with the statement that I'd be happy to see the whole military apparatus of the Argentinian sate-whose sole function in history has been internal policing-sunk to the bottom of the south Atlantic, they went into shock; and when they came out of it they denounced me as "an agent of British imperialism."

We-Gerry too-thought of the Thornettites then as hopelessly disoriented people, politically drunk on a fantasy of "anti-imperialism", shamefully ignorant of the Trotskyist political tradition in which they claimed to stand and, in the real world, enacting only a kitsch jokeshop "anti-imperialism" (some of the documents of that dispute can be found in Workers' Liberty 2/3).

Today the biggest forces on the left-in the first place the SWP-have the politics-or very close to it-that the Thornettites had then! Alan T could claim to have been the Copernicus of modern anti-imperialism (and for all I know he does)!

They don't just oppose our own government-they back some of the foulest regimes on Earth on the sole criterion that they oppose the British and US governments.

Even if it were politically right to go beyond opposing the war and to back Iraq against Britain and America-I don't think it was-even then, "anti-imperialism" would not require publicly identifying with someone-Galloway-long identified with uncritical apologetics for the fascistic Iraqi regime.

In the Balkan war they tried to build an anti-war movement in support of Serbia which, was engaged in attempted genocide against the people of its "internal colony", Kosova.

In the Afghan war, Socialist Worker went so far in "supporting" the enemy of our British and American enemies as to attempt to justify and explain away the horrendous treatment of women by the Taliban regime (Socialist Worker, October 2001). And so on, and on.

A large part of the difficulty in getting one's political bearings in this context of the collapse of the left is that there has been a long term decline of socialist norms. You can trace the present state of the left back to the attitudes the once-very influential Stalinists-and some of the "orthodox Trotskyists"-cultivated towards the USSR and other Stalinist regimes.

At the heart of it now is that the left defines itself largely in negative terms-what we are against, not what we are for.

The moral, political and intellectual crisis of the left takes the form of a comprehensive collapse of positive norms. But it is cumulative. It has been going on a long time.

I was shocked into the awareness of something qualitatively new during the Balkan war, when the kitsch-left and in the first place the SWP created a one-sided "anti-imperialist" anti-war campaign designed to give maximum support to the small, primitive ethno-imperialism of the Serbian regime-at precisely the point at which they had launched a genocidal drive in Kosova. In a war the Serbs could at will have ended by withdrawing from Kosova (as eventually they did).

The British "anti-imperialists" in that war were not anti-imperialists, but supporters of Serbian imperialism who even made lying propaganda for Serbia (see Workers' Liberty 2/1). They indulged in a fantasy of anti-imperialism as bizarre-and greatly more irresponsible-as that of poor old Alan Thornett, when he passionately championed the anti-imperialism of the murderous Argentine junta in the Falklands war.

Or take another measuring rod. Repeatedly in articles and speeches over many, many years, I have used an incident in the history of the French Communist Party to illustrate the moral and political degeneracy of Stalinism.

In 1938, the leader of French Stalinism, Maurice Thorez, publicly proposed that the catchment area of the "popular front" should be extended to include "patriotic"-that is anti-German-French fascists.

I can still recall how shocked I was when, young and naïve, I first read about this.

The PCF never realised a popular front with patriotic fascists. I have lived to see people who say they are in Trotsky's political tradition realise something very like it-the SWP "popular front" in the anti-war movement with the obscurantist authoritarians of the Muslim Brotherhood-MAB-who advocate the creation of Islamic dictatorships all across the Muslim world.

You could quibble that they are not quite fascists, but it would be only a quibble.

Whether or not Gerry can bring herself to face the facts, this "left" is far gone in political corruption, disintegration and decay. And the disease is infectious.

Hanging on to the coat tails of the SWP, the CPGB/Weekly Worker let itself be pulled along all the way to acceptance and support of the SA's, SWP-steered popular front with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In deference to the SWP, people who still support the 1980s Russian war of conquest in Afghanistan because those opposing them were Islamic bigots, supported a common front with such people to build a common anti-war movement!

Any half-way healthy left would have shunned George Galloway and driven him away from the anti-war movement as someone who could only taint and politically compromise it. He was sponsored and promoted by the SWP and its satellites-Workers' Power, ISG, CPGB/Weekly Worker-in that movement.

The political corruption spreads. The anti-SWP element in the SA-except AWL-came to be as fervent for Galloway and as resentful of those who denounced him as the SWP was. He is being "witch hunted"; he deserves our "solidarity" against the Tory press.

It is beyond my understanding why any socialist could think that hostility to the Daily Telegraph is so much more important than hostility to Saddam Hussein, the butcher of Iraqi workers and Kurds, that we must back Saddam's mouthpiece against the bourgeois-democratic Telegraph.

Against that our first responsibility is to tell the truth. Describe it as it is. The alternative is that we let ourselves catch the disease by way of accommodation to those who have caught it from the SWP-the ridiculous CPGB, and many of the "independents" in the SA.

Either we stand apart and tell the truth about this shameful business, or attach ourselves to the SWP's daisy chain. If that is the choice then there isn't, for honest Marxists, any choice at all.

Opposition to the SWP is not going to bind members of the SA into a "united" political force. Only positive politics can do that.

Gerry's idea that support for "unity" should lead us to mute our politics-and on a fundamental thing like a Labour MP linked to a butcherous quasi-fascist regime-is only a variant of the SWP technique of "building the party" by selecting politics and slogans they think will help do that, irrespective of truth and falsehood.

* GB'S piece led me to look at the short item in "Writing on the Wall"-Crazies of the world, unite! (You alone know what is right?)-from which she culled some of the epithets she cites. Extracts:

In the last Weekly Worker Ian Donovan wrote this about the editorial on George Galloway in Solidarity 3/29: "One gets the distinct impression that Matgamna, for all his proclaimed credentials as a democrat, would like to take his logic an elementary step further, and demand George Galloway be hanged for treason in the manner of that previous hob-nobber with (real) Nazi would-be rulers of the world, William Joyce (aka Lord Haw-Haw) in 1946". (WW479, 8 May 2003).

And if we say this shows Ian Donovan to be a nut? He may well accuse us of wanting to put him in a concentration camp. Unlikely? The following exchange took place when Donovan seemed to defend paedophilia and Gerry Byrne responded.

"Donovan: 'Comrade Byrne [and others think] my views are 'odious'… I wonder which other minority [besides paedophiles] she also considers it legitimate to characterise as 'scum'? The disabled? Those suffering from other kinds of mental illness? Or who?...

"'There is a logic of describing such people as 'scum'... it is 'the imposition of a death penalty against all offenders… hundreds of thousands of people, or on an international scale... possibly many millions. What more can I say? Rwanda anyone, or how about Belsen or Auschwitz?" (WW 466, 6 February 2003)…

Other Donovanisms: "The AWL is now on a wrecking mission in the SA - its conception of left unity is that anyone who dares to disagree with it should be 'strangled'." (Socialist Alliance email discussion list, 11 February 2003).

"It is quite obvious that the AWL doesn't really like Arabs very much, and does not regard them as having much in the way of national rights…

"If this double standard is not motivated by a chauvinist disdain for Arabs, then I do not know what is". (WW475, 10 April 2003).

With Ian Donovan, the current of unfiltered emotion runs along whatever channels it finds easiest, without restraint or sense. The result again and again is lunacy.

There are probably one or two sane people still in the CPGB. Why do they let the nutters set the tone and much of the content of the Weekly Worker and, on the Internet, of their organisation?

There is a very great deal more such stuff in Weekly Worker. Ian Donovan is not a casual correspondent but one of the "insiders" who frequently writes major features. GB has grasped that our description of this stuff-"crazy", "lunatic", the work of "nutters"-testifies that we don't see these people as close "comrades" with whom we will soon unite. That she finds the main fault in those who sum up this stuff with these words shows how far from objectivity, balance or common sense she is. She is seriously disoriented. What else is the stuff quoted here but lunatic?

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.