An open letter to Ashok Kumar
It’s been said before, and it will bear saying again. If everything published by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in the last five decades were to disappear, and if future historians of socialism had to rely on what our political opponents said about us, then the historians would find it impossible to make political sense of the story.
On the one hand we are people who do, and have always done, everything we can to help workers in their struggle against employers and governments. We throw everything we have into that.
We preach working-class revolutionary socialism, and work to educate those we can in the politics of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, James Connolly, Antonio Gramsci, and the other socialists of their school. Now and always, we oppose and fight all shades of race, national, or gender discrimination, exclusion, and inequality.
Against today’s populist-chauvinists, we advocate free movement of people. We are for freedom of religion, within the laws that protect children. We are for freedom of atheist propaganda.
In the socialist archipelago, we advocate unity of socialists in action and democratic dialogue about our differences.
In national and similar conflicts we advocate — after Lenin — consistent democracy. That means that we are against all denial of self-determination to nations. Where there are intractable national and communal conflicts, we advocate working-class unity across the communal and national divides, and, democratic arrangements on disputed territory.
That is the approach we take to the Israeli-Arab conflict, for example. Our basic principles were set out in a resolution which Lenin wrote for the Bolshevik Party in 1913:
"Insofar as national peace is in any way possible in a capitalist society based on exploitation, profit-making and strife. it is attainable only under a consistently and thoroughly democratic republican system of government which guarantees full equality of all nations and languages, which recognises no compulsory official language... and the constitution of which contains a fundamental law that prohibits any privileges whatsoever to any one nation and any encroachment whatsoever upon the rights of a national minority. This particularly calls for wide regional autonomy and fully democratic local self-government, with the boundaries of the self-governing and autonomous regions determined by the local population”.
And yet we are vilified, reviled, denounced in much of the ostensible left. We are “racists”, “imperialist agents”.
The latest notable example of that approach was yourself on Sky News, 4 March. Asked to comment on the press, you took an article from The Daily Express denouncing the AWL as left subversives in Labour and said of AWL that we are a “chauvinist organisation”, that we are “right-wing”, that we supported “wars” and “ colonial settler states”.
Julie Bindel countered that with the Labour Party run by “posh Stalinists”, it is difficult not to be “right-wing”.
You have to stand realities on their head to classify us as right-wing, even for the sake of argument, but Bindel’s underlying thought was just.
The difference between us and, say, you, is not a difference between right and left, but between people who try to be consistent and principled Marxists, and eclectics like yourself letting themselves be blown by the political winds.
Opinion, even grossly mistaken opinion, is one thing; hard facts another. Which “wars” have we supported? When? We opposed and marched against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. As between your “left” and ours, the shoe is on the other foot. The ostensible left which you identify with backs war against Israel.
We have not backed war or wars, other than wars of national liberation like those of the Kurds against Daesh and against Turkey.
Chauvinists? What sort of chauvinists? British chauvinists? European chauvinists? White chauvinists? Cultural chauvinists? Religious chauvinists?
Our active record against racism will stand scrutiny better than that of some of our ostensible-left critics, better than the SWP’s, for instance. We have advocated and taken part in initiatives for black self-defence against police and freelance racists.
Or do you mean that we are anti-Islamic chauvinists? We have taken part in action to defend Muslim populations in Britain against marching fascists, as has, I guess, everyone on the left. We opposed the vile colonial war which Russia waged against the Muslims of Afghanistan through the 1980s. The SWP did that then too, but much of the ostensible left did not.
We backed the Muslim victims of Serbian ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. So did many others on the left (but not the SWP).
We backed the ethnic-Albanian Muslims, the 93% majority in Kosova, against the Serbian state murdering them or driving them out. So did some others on the left, but most of the ostensible left, and in the first place the SWP, organised a “Stop the War” campaign that backed Serbia and made lying propaganda on behalf of the genocidal Serbian state.
I saw on the internet a comment by one enlightened citizen, a youngster I think, that the “AWL are potential fascists”. To make sense of that, I had to stop and think. What could he possibly mean?
I concluded that he had in mind our hostility to political Islam — as to political Catholicism, etc.
A number of things have to be examined separately here. Let me first repeat: we have been and are defenders of Muslims as of others against discrimination, exclusion, and violence. We have a long record to prove we take that seriously.
We are of course against all religious schools. The state should take responsibility for properly educating all children. Religion should be outside of that.
Secular education is a fundamental principle not only of socialism but of consistent liberalism. There should be no Muslim religious schools. Or Catholic or Jewish or Church of England schools.
Most Muslims in Britain are poor, but they are part of a world religion that includes people and states of vast riches. The outlook and culture of many religious Muslims, tied into the worldwide nexus, lines them up with cultural and intellectual reaction.
All religions are logically intolerant. For those who take a religion seriously, it is the one and only truth. Today, in much of the world, Islam is the most vigorous, and often the most politicised religion.
Thus many Muslims can be and have been mobilised to demand that their religious standards and sensibilities be imposed on people and on societies which do not accept them, and, some, frequently, to threaten violence unless they get their way.
Such demands from Catholics, for instance, should be rejected, and the influence of those making the demands resisted and stigmatised. The left has done that where Catholicism has been strong in politics, and even where many of the Catholics mobilised for reactionary demands have been socially-disadvantaged people. For instance the left should mobilise against Catholic groups who intimidate women outside abortion clinics.
The same should go for Muslims. Otherwise we betray the best values of bourgeois civilisation, and what should be the governing principles of socialists or even consistent liberals.
The socialist who confuses resistance to racism, discrimination, and exclusion with a supposed duty to “defend” political-Muslim activists on reactionary causes have lost the political plot.
Finally, the charge that we support colonial-settler states.
As it happens, a large part of the globe is made of colonial-settler states, from the USA to Argentina to Australia. You mean, of course, Israel. Yes, we support Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. So too, by the way, does the Palestinian Authority accept Israel’s right to exist.
The only alternative is to support Arab and Islamic chauvinists in a war to conquer Israel — and then what? To drive out or slaughter the Israeli Jews? What else? 600,000 Jews were driven out of Arab countries over the years following the establishment of Israel in 1948.
The basic socialist value of consistent democracy provides the only solution to the conflict: two states. An independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel.
There are two versions of a “one-state” solution, that of the Israeli right and that of Arab and Islamic chauvinists. Either version offers horrendous prospects for both Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews: endless decades of national-communal conflict, with either a big Arab minority in an Israeli state, or an Arab majority with a big Jewish minority, and the discrimination and conflict that will go with either.
We do not think that Israel should be subjugated and destroyed, and its Jewish people put at the mercy of the conquerors. But whatever anyone thinks, that is not calculably going to happen. It presupposes tremendous shifts in world politics and world alignments.
Those who advocate it use lamentations for the Palestinians as part of their political patter. But they are not true friends of the Palestinians. “Smash Israel” politics imply an endless purgatory for the Palestinians — and it is significant that the majority of Palestinians do not now support those politics.
The only possible program that can help the Palestinians — the living Palestinians, not the cipher in the hands of Arab and Islamic chauvinists and their would-be “anti-imperialist” supporters — is to have their own state alongside Israel.
Israel was made viable by people fleeing from Nazi murder in Europe and from the Displaced Persons’ camps after World War Two. Certainly, Israel is not solely responsible for the plight of the Palestinian refugees: so too are the Arab states that refused to let them rebuild their lives, or, sometimes, even to work.
In 1948 there were 750,000 Palestinian refugees. The claim now, when most of the 1948 people will in the nature of things have died, that there are six million Palestinian refugees, is an ideological lie. It embodies the claim that the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the 1948 refugees have, by virtue of their ancestry, more right in the territory of Israel than those who have grown up there.
Define Israel as a colonial-settler state if you like, but for truth to reality you have to add the things that make it different from other colonial-settler states, and the fact that there was a longstanding Jewish minority in Palestine (or what was until 1918 part of the Turkish province of Syria), a majority in Jerusalem in 1900, for example, a nucleus towards which the refugees from Europe of the 1920s and 1930s fled.
The history has been a tragic one for both Jews and Arabs. The tragedies can be mitigated, and begin to cease, only by way of a two-states settlement.
AWL’s adverse reputation in the ostensible left arises from the fact that we try to be consistent democrats and socialists on questions such as Israel-Palestine; from the politically decomposed state the left is in; from the prevalent unreason and displaced emotion on the left on such questions; and from the incomprehension and malice of people who are often at the end of their tether in grasping what is happening in the world.
Not we, but those who, to put it at its weakest, have sympathised and sided with religio-political reaction, are the people who have lost the plot.
Yours, Sean Matgamna
More debate on the Right of Return here.