By MARTIN THOMAS
The Weekly Worker group invited an AWL member to debate Iraq (or was it Iran? their story is not clear) at their recent  summer school.
We said yes, and delegated a representative of our majority view on Iraq. No, the WW then said, they wouldn’t debate. They would only accept an AWLer who disagrees with our majority view.
The AWL, pretty much uniquely on the left, has a rule that members with minority views not only can but are expected to express those views in public (while not campaigning against our organisation, and while explaining the majority view as best they can). But, well, if we’re invited to a debate, we want AWL policy represented by someone who agrees with it...
Mark Fischer of the WW, in recent articles (30 August 2007), turns this round into a story of us “banning a member of [our] ‘troops out of Iraq’ minority from speaking”.
AWL believes that the scuttling of the US troops which scaffold the disintegrating polity of Iraq would unleash full-scale civil war between the various sectarian Islamic clerical-fascist militias, intervention by Iran and probably other neighbouring states, a bloody carving-up of Iraq, and the crushing of the Iraqi labour movement. We also stand in intransigent working-class hostility to the US/UK troops. Our conclusion: solidarity with the Iraqi labour movement, against both the US/UK and the sectarian militias.
Some people argue that the Iraqi “resistance”, or sections of it, could effect a real if imperfect national liberation of Iraq. Others estimate that the current Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki, which is after all elected, after a fashion, could survive US withdrawal and thus embody some national liberation. Yet others may believe that the Iraqi labour movement is strong enough to become, in a workable future, the agent of “troops out”.
Real issues, real arguments. The problem with the WW is that it cites our assessment, makes no attempt to debate it or offer a different one, but instead just screeches: “If you say such things, that makes you ‘pro-occupation’, ‘troops in’.”
To go into the details of Fischer’s contortions would be to aid his effort of displacing political debate by scandal-mongering. It may, however, be worth explaining to the bemused observer the general pattern behind such WW operations as using the fate of the peoples of Iraq simply as grist for logic-chopping.
The Weekly Worker group was, for the first decade and a half of its existence, a (small) hard-line Stalinist splinter of the disintegrating Communist Party.
Around the mid-1990s, it started to mutate. Over the following years, it adopted, one by one, a series of ideas from non-Stalinist socialism — Hillel Ticktin’s ideas on the USSR, Steve Freeman’s ideas on the monarchy being the central question in British politics, and then (a version of) our ideas on Israel-Palestine, on Ireland, on “reactionary anti-imperialism”, and, finally, on the Labour Party.
Naturally, we tried to talk to them in a friendly way. We were bemused by their blank failure to engage when we challenged their many remaining Stalinist-stock ideas.
In late 2001 WW proposed a merger of their paper with Solidarity. Knowing the intractable differences in basic political culture, and the vast difference in practical orientation of the two papers, we said that was hardly realistic.
Jack Conrad, WW’s top writer, promptly set about us with a polemic in the tone (as we put it at the time) “of a high priest scourging an apostate” (28 February 2002).
What was going on? As the polemics flooded the pages of WW, it became clear that they were designed to “fish” (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) for a minority in the AWL (one person, in fact) more inclined to give credence to the idea of a WW/Solidarity merger as “the paper of the Socialist Alliance”.
To round out the fishing operation, WW discoursed about the evil “economistic wing” of the AWL — which, on the basis of eagerly-reported gossip about “body language” and casual conversation, they claimed to be led by Mark Osborn and Jill Mountford — and the irresolution of the “political wing” in combating that “economistic wing”. No such 'wing', subgroup. faction or current of political opinion existed, or ever had existed! It was, entirely, an invention, a projection of their wishes; yet they regaled their indulgent readers with accounts of the "economistic" tendency in AWL!
An internal document of theirs revealed why they had been so blank in discussion: their explicit aim in talking with us had always been, not to examine ideas, but to find ways to “split” us.
All Conrad’s show of “high theory” was merely gloss for such manoeuvring. This time, too, the concocted “scandal” about debating Iraq is merely a lever to shit-stir.
The tin lid was put on it when we questioned their reprinting with only trivial demur (11 October 2001) of a screed of theirs from their full-on Stalinist days praising the 1978 Stalinist “revolution” in Afghanistan. The ensuing row, which included a series of seven huge articles denouncing us by Jack Conrad (starting November 2002) but failed to include any substantive reply on the question of Stalinism, confirmed our view that this was a group with which, as Trotsky once said of another similar grouping, one should watch "their fingers and not their theses".
And then, of course, after chiding us in 2001-2 as insufficiently unconditional in our hostility to Taliban clerical-fascism, they rallied to the SWP’s “adoption” of the Muslim Association of Britain, and joined Respect in 2004.
Will they even take their own ostensible ideas seriously? Given the bizarre charivari of mutually-contradictory borrowed notions which those ideas are, it’s a hard thing to ask of them. But in any case they don’t.
• Assessment of WW we made in September 2002: www.workersliberty.org/node/330
• In Defence of the October Revolution: a detailed reply to WW’s exalting the 1978 Stalinist coup in Afghanistan as the equal of the Russian workers’ revolution: www.workersliberty.org/taxonomy/term/65
• “Never Stalinist?” The short comment about their Stalinist record which prompted the storm in 2002: www.workersliberty.org/node/354