A response to critics

Submitted by SJW on 9 May, 2018 - 1:52 Author: Ashok Kumar

More debate on the Right of Return here.

In response to your reply to my Sky News appearance I had immediately said that I did not seek to send a response of my own. In answer to this you wrote a short text saying that I had failed to deal with the substance of your issue. Now I feel I should reply to answer your political questions.

First of the questions posed is: is the AWL racist? To which one might reply: what would a left-wing racism even look like? In the week in which we mark fifty years since Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood speech’ the AWL’s response on this question is an important one.

It seemed to many observers that the other question posed by my Sky News appearance was: do the AWL support settler colonialism? As I commented at the time, this was not simply a question of Trotskyism’s record in the twentieth century, or even the AWL’s.

These two questions – racism and settler colonialism – form the very heart of the matter in discussion. Readers of Solidarity have the right to a response to these same questions, given the importance of the AWL’s positions in this regard.

The question of the AWL’s position is one for future historians.

Scholars examining the AWL’s record might ask: “why do so many on the Left call the AWL racist? And if settler colonialism is a form of racism (settlers and settlized are different races) surely these are connected questions”.

The future historian will query: “Why would a group so sure of its own anti-racist record, as was the group of the AWL, in the 2010s or even earlier, be called racist by other groups also so sure of their own anti-racist records?”

Bona fides and shibboleths are not the issue, here. Playing the ‘race’ (or racism) card would be of no use to our future historian. If we want to do more than chronicle the past, but understand the deeper raison d’être of this debate, we have to look beyond these questions alone.

In truth, the problem is probably a historically rooted one. For the Marxists of the twentieth century, the differences of opinion between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin were of doubtless great concern. Trotsky’s opinions were of course widely circulated among the anti-Stalinist Trotskyist groups.

The AWL can in many regards be considered a Trotskyist group (and certainly, there is no question here of using the term ‘Trotskyite’, though this term was used by the politicians and activists who enjoyed most popularity during the interwar Communist International).

Faced with mishaps and setbacks in the twentieth century, the Trotskyist movement (in which I include AWL) might claim that it has been treated unfairly and often called nicknames which do not appropriately discuss its politics.

Sean Matgamna brooks no such talk in his piece, in which he forcefully argues that the AWL are not settler colonialists. In his view, the very notion is not an answer to the questions posed in my Sky News appearance.

Needless to say, those invested in the Palestinian cause, and Muslim left-wingers in general, who come into contact with the AWL will be left in no doubt as to the Trotskyist attitude toward questions of anti-racism and anti-imperialism.

Of course, constructing an anti-racist politic takes more than historical references.

If Sean’s own work is something of a masterclass in international politics, I was one of those quick to challenge his views on Israel, a land today mainly inhabited by Arabs, Bedouins, Jews and non-Jews.

Since the Iraq War the Middle East has been a veritable hotbed of politics as one after another country saw the forces of democracy and their trade unions form coalitions on a new and sometimes radical political basis faced with the rise of Islamism.

Readers of Solidarity will of course be in no doubt as to my own country’s cultural backwardness. Here as in Rwanda, Lebanon and Syria the international community has failed to step up to the plate. But how can a nation of so many distressed millions aspire to Western-style democracy?

My compatriots had a bruising experience of independence and a not always happy experience of the new communalist politics. Of course, the UN mission’s work did not deserve the advance confidence of the AWL and other forces in the working-class movement.

Could this be considered a purely racial issue though? As the AWL have argued, today on the Left it seems that anti-imperialism often takes the form of opposing military actions, colonial projects and even invasions mounted by imperialist powers.

The AWL has however been pointing to the dangers of the anti-imperialism today dominant on the Left. Different externally- or self-identified racial groups are as ever a factor in analyses of the specifically racial dynamics of this conflict.

When Sean Matgamna argued that much of the culturally backward Islamic world looks with green-eyed envy at the Western and sexually sinful countries there were many on the Left who were willing to characterise this as racism. Others pointed out that Islam is not a race.

Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq saw many Muslims, and even non-Muslims including my own compatriots, involved in a war in which Solidarity acted decisively in breaking with left-wing common sense on what it means to be an anti-racist and anti-imperialist.

Today humanity finds itself at a crossroads. New anti-racist politic, or more settler colonialism? The pages of Solidarity will be home to an expression of views on all sides of this tangled debate, a paradigm of the tensions of our time.

Our future historian might ask: between anti-racism and the settler-colonialist politic, what relevance are the views of Trotskyism, a tradition that has never secured more than a few thousand members in any country.

Envy and racial politics will be keenly contested in the pages of Solidarity. But for it as for other new voices on the Left and beyond (the Independent, Clarion, Jacobite) it seems hard to believe that the spectre of racial envy will ever be entirely absent.
This is in particular a question for the student Left, which collectively decided not to support the candidacy of Sahaya James, faced with evidence of her attachment to AWL front organisations at the Check Their Minutes webzine.

At times the AWL’s views on racism have stirred opposition among entrenched racial lobbies and the latest article by Sean Matgamna is certain also to raise debate over the AWL’s attitude toward soi-disant culturally backward groups.

Last in this panorama of racial animus is the Labour Party, today beset by keen-felt debates over whether anti-semites should be welcome in its ranks or else ‘purged’ or ‘witch-hunted’ for their own benefit as for our own.

The AWL’s attitudes are clear. Their printed and online contributions have long been debated and no one on the Left is in any doubt as to the AWL’s positions on anti-racism and anti-imperialism. Yet not currently welcome in Labour ranks, many will not openly declare their allegiances.

Sky News is a platform on which I and others will doubtless continue to appear. We will draw our conclusions, the historians their own. What remains the case is that the AWL will remain uniquely characterised by its attitudes toward Islam and imperialism.

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