Left unity? Yes! But why is the “left” divided now?

Submitted by cathy n on 14 July, 2008 - 3:00

There are a sizable number of “unite the left” calls, campaigns, conglomerates and projects in Britain now. Do any of those calling for “unity”, a “new Marxist Party”, etc., have any prospect of uniting? Not at all! The unity projects serve as mere hypocritical packaging for the real message — “come join us”!

(The exception may be a small re-grouping between the International Socialist Group — Alan Thornett and Dr John Lister, a writer for the Stalinist Morning Star — and a few ex-Socialist Workers Party activists who sided with George Galloway when “Respect” split. The rumour that they will take as their common name: “Right wing ex-Trotskyist dim-wits for George Galloway and Islamist clerical fascism”, is, we understand, untrue.)

This is a “left” so confused that it let itself be led into a popular front with Islamist clerical fascists, with the tainted mercenary George Galloway as one of its chief tribunes!

The “groups” and “parties” are organised as tight single-faction organisations, with a pre-designated leadership, and at any given moment a narrowly defined set of ideas which function as shibboleths and, in fact, are not open to discussion. Internal dissent is not allowed, or is allowed only so long as it does not impinge on the cardinal doctrines or personages of the group. Dissent in the public press is very, very rare, and mostly unknown. Minorities are not allowed to organise freely.
Most groups have, internally and externally, the defining spirit of the narrow, persecuting, heresy hunting religious sect. The feeling and emotions and commitment which are a necessary part of any sustained socialist activity are focused on the group, “the party” and counterposed to everything else, including the labour movement.

Such formations are quasi-religious, as Marx long ago explained:
“The sect sees its raison d’etre and its point of honour not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from the movement”. The sectarian leader, “like everyone who maintains he has a panacea for the sufferings of the masses in his pocket... gave his agitation from the outset a religious and sectarian character. Every sect is in fact religious... instead of looking among the genuine elements of the class movement for the real basis of his agitation, he wanted to prescribe the course to be followed by this movement according to a certain doctrinaire recipe”. To “demand... of the class movement that it should subordinate itself to the movement of a particular sect”, or to “want to preserve your ‘own workers’ movement’...” is likewise the mark of the sectarian. (Letter to JB Schweitzer, 13 October 1868.)

They need intolerance, a “party regime” that keeps an iron grip — as in the SWP — and the typical internal atmosphere of an intense religious cult — or else they would disintegrate. They need certainties and dogmas and — as in the Socialist Party — consecrated, infallible leaders, and a faith which separates the faithful and the saved from the sinners and those who are “anti-party”. These can be sustained and kept in place only when dissent is forbidden or limited and ritualised.

A political culture in which every participant has the taken-for-granted right to disagree with the majority, to pose awkward questions, to express dissenting opinions and to proselytise for them — that would be anathema to the quasi-religious “Leninist” sects.

They do not follow Lenin’s ideas, but at best those foisted on the Communist Parties by Zinoviev and then Stalin in the 1920s.

That was not the way the Bolshevik Party was run. Lenin explained in 1907: “The principle of democratic centralism and autonomy for local Party organisations implies universal and full freedom to criticise, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action... Criticism within the basis of the principles of the party programme must be quite free... not only at party meetings but also at public meetings” (Collected Works volume 10).

Contact with a more open, democratic and rational ways of organising would dissolve the pretensions of the leaders of such groups, and dissipate the holy aura surrounding them, their ideas and their organisation. For that reason the groups not only control or stifle elements of such an approach within their own ranks, but also cultivate and foment extreme hostility and hatred for it when it comes from outside. Instead of teaching their supporters to reason about the world, they teach them dogmas, mythical histories and fictitious political genealogies about themselves.

The amazingly puny resistance and, afterwards, recoil which the SWP’s collapse into a popular front with clerical fascists (and into taking Arab-Islamic money, which is now admitted): that is the measure of the cult-sect nature of that organisation. Its loss of prominent members to Galloway and alliance with clerical fascism is the measure of the profound political decay at the heart of the SWP.

We must learn the lessons from the experience of so many who have tried to be honest socialists, but who tragically have fallen back into the primitive, semi-religious, sectist approach characteristic of the dawn of the pre-Marxist labour movements in the last century and earlier.

The pseudo-”Leninist” sect regime is immensely wasteful. It works to create splits out of every dispute. In any serious dispute, the minority must crush the existing leadership, be crushed itself, or split. This reality in turn works to justify the absolute predominance of the leadership. They are the alternative to splits, disruption and further fragmentation. If not us/me — chaos!

Such regimes cannot give revolutionaries a rounded Marxist education, or make them into self-sustaining revolutionary socialist cadres. That is one of the key reasons for the perpetual haemorrhaging on the left, and for the inability of so many, when they become disillusioned with their “parent” organisation, to reorient themselves and the parent group or, failing that, learn and start afresh on a more healthy basis.

Moreover, it works against spreading socialist ideas in the labour movement. An organisation where “the line” is established internally by top-down decree will use the same methods of proclamation and hectoring in the labour movement — with self-sterilising results. The worst example here is the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal (then united as Militant) for a decade and a half ran the Labour Party youth movement as an authoritarian “school” for obedient adolescents.

The root sectarianism is sectarianism in relation to the working class and its movement. Revolutionary socialist organisations do not sink into the existing labour movement and accept it at its present level. We try to develop it and lead it forward — as Marx put it in the Communist Manifesto, to represent the future of the movement in the movement of the present; but we do relate to the working class and its movement, at all its levels, as it is. Without such an orientation, Marxists can be anything you like, academics, ivory-tower prophets, moralising critics of society and of history — but they will not be serious working-class revolutionaries. Instead of their ideas being a guide to action, they will become the shibboleths of the sects into which potentially healthy socialist organisations have let themselves shrink and sink.

A viable organisation able to do the work of agitation, propaganda and organisation in the working class - the work that will make it a real revolutionary party - cannot be built except in the working class, in working-class struggle, and in the working-class movement. A “revolutionary party” or group, even a small group, that is not engaged with all the key political processes in the working class and in its existing movement, and which does not offer perspectives for the broad labour movement and try to carve them out, can not be a revolutionary party in more than name. It will be an a-political fetish for its devotees, not a political tool for working-class activists.

We organise the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in the spirit of these criticisms of the “left”. We are a democratic collective, committed to rational democratic working-class politics. We conduct our discussions openly in the pages of our press. We have been able to keep that open regime without losing effectiveness in action.

A democratic regime can do at least six important things that its opposite has no hope of doing. It can:
• increase the chances of reaching clear and accurate conclusions;
• provide the organisation with essential insurance against the certainty that sometimes its established leadership will be wrong and require correction;
• make it likely that members and sympathisers will understand controversial decisions better;
• train those members and sympathisers in the art and habit of dialogue and debate which they need if the whole organisation is to be able to operate sensitively in the labour movement and learn from the class struggle;
• by treating the readers of the organisation’s press as adults, rather than children to be given bland, one-sided, simplified, “processed”, manipulative summaries rather than the real texture of the reasoning of the “grown-ups” inside the organisation’s committees, a democratic regime makes the press more educative and interesting;
• give minorities on big political questions a plausible guarantee that they will not be crushed, silenced, or forced to pretend they think the opposite of their real opinions, and thus avoid unnecessary splits.

The regime of the single admissible “line” gives the activist only the choice of being autocrat or silenced political serf. Hence overheated struggles for dominance, and the secessions of serfs in revolt against being gagged and suppressed. This aspect of the neo-Trotskyist left is a direct infection from Stalinism. It is in no sense Leninist or Bolshevik.

Generally, the argument that democratic openness costs too much in delay and in effort diverted from external activity is a short-sighted one, as a counting-up of the revolutionary energies wasted and dissipated in decades of excessive splits and sectarian dead-ends shows.

Yet, of course, democracy should not be confused with “the tyranny of structurelessness” — a chaotic mess where anyone can debate anything at any length and at any time. Democracy has to be structured to be real; and even structured democracy is not a cure-all.

Even the most democratic revolutionary organisation will founder if it does not develop a leadership with sufficient political capacity, coherence, consistency, vigour, authority, and ability to renew itself.

Such a group will differ from a sect because the leadership will not be unchallengeable or unremovable, and because everybody in the organisation will have equal rights in discussion and decision-making.

Better than the world we have of small groups of socialists maintaining a malevolent silence towards each other except an occasional snarl, would be one in which there was at least discussion and dialogue between the dwellers on the atolls of our fragmented “left”.

The most urgent questions that need to be discussed are those raised by the popular front of so large a part of the ostensible left with Islamist clerical fascism.

Demagogic hypocrisy about the immediate possibilities of ‘left unity‘ can only work against honest discussion.


Submitted by Jason on Wed, 16/07/2008 - 22:11

We should be arguing for a reassembling of the groups not as a principle in itself but should certainly be for left unity in action on the tried and tested basis of the united front.

In other words we don't elide, hide or dissolve political differences or blunt or modify our politics for the sake of a false and inauthentic unity but do undertake common action. Now of course this is almost a truism and uncontroversial but and it's big but hardly anyone really approaches it in the spirit of building vibrant and powerful campaigns.

Go to almost any left meeting and the suggested way forward is 'join us': this though is no way to build a movement and susbstitutes an evangelical method for what should be done- building organisations of class struggle to lever sections of the working class into action against capitalism and then uniting those sections in a class wide battle to establish the organised and revolutionary power of the working class. Within this we work with the devil and his grandmother including thodse with whom we have fundamental disagreements (without in any way blunting or suspending our disagreements). The key task is to work practically and urgently in creating united fronts together as the seeds of building mass movements that can actually begin to make a difference.

Yesterday I went to an interesting meeting about how resources in the Congo continue to be stripped, millions dead over the last decade or so, British and multinational companies using armies to enforce slave labour, war and death to fuel their considerable profits whilst destroying the earth.

A Congolese activist asked what can we do? How can we ensure what we do here makes a difference?

Go to any class struggle battle however bug and small and this will be the urgent plea- what can we do, how can we build the campaign, how can we win?

We will win people to communism if at all by how well we win the leadership in struggles to win partial struggles and make the links and political points to generalise them. As Farrell Dobbs writes in the excellent Teamster Rebellion

"I was impressed by the way Grant snd Miles [Dunne] had handled themselves during the strike. They appeared to know what had to be done, and had the guts to do it.

One night after a meeting, I went into a beer joint across from the union hall and saw Miles Dunne standing at the bar. I took a place next to him, and after engaging in a little small talk, I came straight to the point,
'Are you a communist?' I asked.
'What the hell's it to you?' he shot back.
' I heard that you are,' I told him. 'If so, I guess that's what I want to be.' "p24 Monad Press, 1972

Action speaks louder than words; winning real struggles is worth a thousand years of preaching.

In my opinion, the AWL should be far more enthusiastic about building the Convention of the Left

It should be made a major part of the tactics and mobilisation of the organisation and indeed of other left groups as well and we should argue to orient the disparate groups, campaigns and activists to actions that win something tangible and big and attract people to both the working class movement and revolutionary socialism within it.

As part of this we should be absolutely for preliminary discussions and democratic debate about anything and everything with socialist groups and other groups on the left such as anarchists and social democrats like a kind of Socialist Alliance but without the immediate prospect of an electoral formation but certainly including unity in action. We need to listen to the woman from the Congo and the millions like her involved in desperate and vital battles for the very survival of humanity. I absolutely agree with ditching the Zinovievite perversion of demo-centralism with party lines- there should be free and open debate with rights for minorities to openly publish and prmote dissenting views- the only centtralism required is the centralism of the picket line- in implementing agreed common actions.

Let's loom bigger than the groups and start acting like socialists.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 20/07/2008 - 10:01

Bill I don't see how that is productive.

There can of course be a tendency in any group towards beleiving we've some kind of privileged access to the turth and everyone else is rubbish or whatever. That tendency should be resisted. I'm not sure the AWL is worse than others on this- in some respects it's better.

I want to work together with different groups in campaigns, in rebuilding a socialist movement and workers' movement that can actually defend people and win struggles. We may have soime sharp disagreements with the AWL on for example tactics towards the Palestinian struggle or the occupation in Iraq- we can debate these if we want but I see no reason to put a block on working together with the AWL, any more than with the SWP, Respect, Workers' Power, CPGB, anarchists, Socialist Party or any other groups in building real united front campaigns and I'd be in favour of some kind of reformed socialist forum/united front a bit like the old socialist alliance but not necessarily as an electoral project.

So I would suggest not making attacking statements but rather constructive ones and if want a debate over principles or tactics where we disagree then fine- but let's do so politely. Tit-for-tat may be an esssential survival mechanism in mnay cases but in debates I'm for breaking the cycle of recriminations by always being polite even/especially if your respondent is rude. The left needs to get over this culture of vitriol and insult as it just looks pathetic and non-serious to anyone facing a real problem.

I seriously suggest that people in the AWL- and I've made this offer elsewhere just not mainly online (except at Liam's site and in past at SU site) but mainly in person really give it a go to build convention of the left in short term and explore how we can begin to revive the movement. it's in our hands . It can be done. It will bring tangible results. Let's look beyond the immediate and building our own groups to seeing how can we build wider.

Submitted by Newcastle on Sun, 20/07/2008 - 11:03

whatever your accusations bill j (which i think have been answered elsewhere on discussions on this site)
whoever you are, or which (if any) organisation you belong to?

we do criticise others on the left, should we just not mention difference and not explain where and why we disagree, and not explain why there are different organisations on the left
if we do not criticise then when working together in projects either in the unions, campaigns or left unity initiatives, then the left ends up failing to discuss the way forward for the sake of "unity" and looses the politics which originally held them together, allowing opportunism to guide rather than clear strategy and ideas.. leading to the depressing mess of the respect's split's mainly to the right, and the disorientation of swp - what was the biggest left group in britain

and in terms of being a group (the only? possibly not, one of the few definitely) that allows open debate and discussion, at our events, in our branches, in our paper, and yes allowing you bill to debate with us on our website (which other groups can claim all of this?)

and open to working together, where we agree... which we can show years worth of examples, not just socialist alliance before the swp split to join respect (or sp to form the cnwp), in lefts within the unions, in international solidarity work, in feminist fightback and no sweat, in strike work like on underground now and in local government

while being clear in your criticisms of us, bill, why not look at where you agree and working with us, we will probably never be in the same revolutionary organisation, but this will go for many, many activists, workers etc.. but we can work together when and where we can find agreement

i can see from your posting you have found plenty of time to post on this site (i.e. talking to us?) perhaps you could find sometime to working with us to for example support the rmt cleaners dispute, or support the Notts campaign against the BNP festival in august (yes another initiative where we have been working hard for unity, and its appears to be working), both of these you can find more about on this site.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 20/07/2008 - 13:13

that does contain some useful pointers Ed and indeed the Nottingham action is definitely worth building for.

Constructive criticism of other left groups and socialists is fine and indeed necessary but I think only really begins to make sense when done 1) in a friendly manner 2) appealing for unity in action and actually taking practical steps to building it.

I acknowledge that your post here is laregely positive. We in Permanent Revolution (to answer your conundrum) also allow open comments on our site Permanent Revolution which is good I think and yes you do too and did before us. Ok good.

But the frustration I feel is that the left is very very small- let's be honest- and all too often inward looking, not out to build campaigns. I acknowledge many do and many in the AWL are involved in good actions so let's try to rebuild a socialist movement like a loose socialist alliance privileging joint work (alongside fraternal discussion) to actually get positive results- against a deportation, against a privatisation, to defend people and services so that new activists are attracted to the left.

I hope Ed and everyone readng this will really push for a big turn out and positive orientation to the convention of the left to begin some of this vital regroupment work or more accrately some very tentatve pre-steps towards it. See you at the Notts festival hopefully and the cheque from Bolton NUT to the RMT cleaners dispute should be in the post.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 21/07/2008 - 10:16

the disagreement if any between Bill and me is over tone. I agree that we should work with other left groups and agree that this should include criticism and at times sharp criticism- but I think it should always be polite.

Bill would probably agree with me here and argue that he is polite which is generally true but but I think sometimes Bill you are too abrupt in your tone- only really with the AWL as far as I can see.

An example would be on Israel. The AWL support Israeli troops out of the occupied territories for example and say they support Palestinians right to enter freely into the state of Israel/Palestine - we can agree on this (though the AWL only ever use one word 'Israel' to describe Palestine/Israel in itself eliding Palestinians' claims).

However, actually, as far as I can see, in practice (and actions are the fundamental point) their main intervention into the Palestinian solidarity movement in Britain is to undermine actions, to argue for example against the boycott, to smear the left with being anti-Semitic etc., to argue that Israel as currently constituted has the right to exist, to claim that anyone who calls for the overthtow of the ruling class is somehow racist and wants to destroy Israel (though the AWL itself wants to overthrow the British ruling class- this doesn't equate to destroying Britain) and so the AWL in effect end up supporting the Israeli state (or at least that's how it seesm as they try to undermine action against it- I'm sure they too support in principle the overhrow of the Israeli ruling class. It's just in practice they try to disrupt actions against it). So yes their role in this issue is negative- but this needs to be teased out merely saying they support racist immigration controls when they ostensibly don't doesn't get us anywhere because they can just say, 'huh?' we don't. Similalry, Iraq. The AWL argue against troops out now and presumably in unions and struggles would attempt to prevent and subvert the union being won to such a position. The AWL's position on this is seriously mistaken and if it actually prevented a workers' strike on the basis of troops out now it would be disgraceful. But it is not enough to say they are pro-war- their actions end up being pro-war in some particularl circumstances and we should show how. Not just say they're imperialist, pro-war, pro-occupation- I don't think they are in a simple way. it's more that the politics are incoherent and end up- or would if had more influence- in wrong tactics towards the war. Name-calling is counter-productive- we need cncrete anlaysis. So I have sharp but polite disagreements with the AWL but this doesn't stop me form working with them on the cleaners' strike, in the NUT, against immigration controls, in support of Zimbabwean workers etc. etc. And where their activists play a key role in actively courting co-operation in political work. And I'm happy to debate them on Israel/Palestine and Iraq. Why not? It shows th eleft can discuss our ideas openly and maturely without descending into invective and shouting (well, may be...!)

I also think it is worth putting some effort into building bridges with other left groups where we can- why? Because whilst we don't agree on all sorts of things and sometimes very important matters such as imperialism and tactics towards imperialist war there are nevertheless important campaigns where jpint and co-operative work can be of benefit- eg. RMT cleaners' strike, antifascist work, trade union work. None of this blunts or evades political differences over Israel/Palestine or Iraq for example but it is important for the sake of workers' struggles to actively court co-operation in my opinion. And I'd argue the same with the SWP, SP, Respect where they have an important part to play in local campaigns.

It would be good for the AWL for example to argue for the convention of the left and bring some of these campaigns there- perhaps they are and will. But I have had no reply as yet on this.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 21/07/2008 - 17:55

There appears to be a basic misunderstanding of what Marx (and we) mean by 'Sectarianism'. Both Bill and Duncan attack the AWL for being unapologetic critics of what we see as inconsistency, opportunism and reaction on the part of other socialists by .... unapologetically attacking the AWL for all sorts of 'deviations' (all of them unfounded or cooked up/distorted ie. "the AWL is Zionist therefore they are pro-war, pro-immigration controls, racist" etc... see the latest Solidarity for a reply to some of these accusations). It really is laughable - there seems to be no horse high enough for the hypocrites Bill and Duncan.
Some people seem to think that being aggressively critical of other socialist groups/ideas that pose as socialist is the mark of a sectarian. If this is the case then Marx would stand out as the most forthright sectarian of all time. He regularly suspended work on small matters like the completion of Capital to engage in vicious polemic with idiots and posers like Vogt, for instance. His personal correspondence and public statements never - not for one moment - hold back in criticism of those he disdained for their muddle-headed attempts to distort and lead astray the labour movement, the working class, from working class politics.
Being sectarian is to cut yourself off from the labour movement by elevating personal/group priorities above concern for the future of the working class. I would suggest that the AWL does not fit into this category.
We ARE in favour of 'left unity' - it really is idiotic that socialists throw their arms up in horror at the slightest bit of criticism, close the shutters rather than expose themselves (or their 'Party'/organisation/group) to debate ... or think we can achieve left unity without such debates. If it's impossible for people on the left to be robustly honest with each other then we have no hope of facing down our critics on the right.


PS. Bill: when you accuse the AWL of shutting out the "mass movement" because of our alleged "Zionism" you really outdo yourself. You're either very confused or delusional. Firstly, when you accuse us of "Zionism" do you really mean our refusal to call for the destruction of Israel. Secondly, could you point to any "mass movement" (other than the Iranian state, clerical fascist organisations and some very small 'Trotskyist' groups almost exclusively British) that agitates for this?
PPS. If by "mass movement" you mean the 'Stop the War Coalition' I should point out that it is no longer very big [the reason for this is worth discussing] nor was it ever a movement in more than a general sense of the word.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 21/07/2008 - 19:03

Tom you haven't really engaged with what has been written- you again equate calling for the overthrow of the ruling class and for equality between Jews and Arabs as the 'destruction of Israel'.

Of course it wouldn't be Israel as it currently exists any more than Britian would be the same if a revolution overthrew the British ruling class and established equality betwen Black and white workers. However, you wouldn't accuse socialists of wanting to 'destroy Britain' would you?

Sectarianism is not the same as robust criticism of other groups- you are correct on this. It is putting the needs of the group before the needs of the class struggle- at times rude criticism and invective can indeed end up being sectarian. Marx was certainly good at put downs- actually at times he was over the top in his invective I think but that was a different context and time so there may be a defence I don't know. What I do know is that continuing to imitate the kind of vicious name-calling that has scarred the left since at least the Russian revolution sometimes as a substitute for debate (even if at times such a method was practiced by Lenin, Trotsky and Cannon) is not a good recipe for building class struggle and socialism. For example Cannon was a brilliant writer and Trotsky- in my opinion two of their worst periods f writing were in the faction fight agianst Burnham, Schactman etc. when they were absolutely right but susbstituted clear analysis for attacks. At times rudeness and invective and squabbles do indeed cut is off from the labour movement- we need to have the political arguments but without the apolitical insults.

The AWL have positions on Palestine/Israel that are quite reactionary- that if adopted wholesale by the working class movement would set back the struggle for freedom and equality as part of the struggle for socialism in the Middle East. They should be subject to robust and rigourous criticism. However, that can be done in a polite and comradely fashion that engages with political points. Not too difficult, I feel.

Finally, can you take this up on the AWL internal debates and with your leadership for the AWL to promote the Convention of the Left and other initiatives for unity in action alongside fraternal discussion of ideas?

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 21/07/2008 - 22:53

... I was responding to one of your comrades who accused the AWL of being "Zionist" and therefore racist, pro-war etc... Various AWL members have attempted to engage BillJ in rational debate- with no effect. That Bill is a 'leading light' in the CoL isn't a good sign in my opinion but AWL members in Manchester have been involved in organising some sessions and the AWL will be at the event.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 21/07/2008 - 23:21

That's good but it's still a little lukewarm... but anyway how do you think left unity can/should be achieved?

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 22/07/2008 - 15:44

On Lister I think the arguments of Duncan as supplememented by Chris are correct. Even I've had an article (just once admittedly) published by the Morning Sat- but I'd write for it much more regularly if I could only on the proviso that I do not change my politics to facilitate such an aim.

Zionism/ anti-Zionism.

On the definition of Zionism provided the AWL are Zionist sure. But there are other definitions of Zionism namely defence of the modern Israeli state. Here the AWL is still Zionist but the term does tend to imply defence of all actions of the state and here the AWL clearly do have differences- advocating the withdrawl from occupied territories, support for Palestinian rights etc. So to some extent as the term is unclear and tends to operate as a kind of undifferentiated insult I'm for avoiding it excpet for those who advocate agressive Israeli expansion such as support for the settlers. But where the AWL's politics is problematic is in terms of arguing against the boycott, arguing continually for clauses supporting the right of the Israeli state to exist and for two state solutions. I think this is a big mistake- we should argue for (and perhasp this is antiZionist) equality between Arabs and Jews, for the rights of Palestinians to live in all parts of Palestine/Israel for democratic rights for all peoples including autonomy/seperation if asked for as part of a struggle for socialism and liberation throughout the Middle East and for all practical steps along the way towards achieving it.

In general, though it is beginning to seem to me that the AWL comrades on here don't actually respond to points when made like this but search for any excuse to label political opponents as unreasonable or 'confused' or 'delusional' all words seeming to shore up the true belief of the AWL adherents. But actually politics should be about open debate and wide ranging discussion not point-scoring.

But that's all by the by- what are the real issues on how to unite the left?

They are I'd suggest coming up with actions and movements to draw in new activists, to defend jobs, services, to fight to exend democratic control over them, to link these fights with struggles for justice aborad both in terms of opposing imperialist war and international solidarity. Socialists should begin to co-operate on these matters.

Submitted by sacha on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 10:17

Jason, when you say we only ever use the word Israel to describe Israel-Palestine, I'm really not sure where you get this idea from. In fact, not only do we refer to Israel-Palestine continuously; we have repeatedly polemicised against the idea that "Palestine" is a single unit; this is the underlying political basis of referring to "I-P".

Bill, a response to a few of your comments

1. You take offence at our claim that others on the Trotskyist left have "distorted" etc the idea of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. But you yourself regularly make this claim with regards to eg the AWL's ideas about the national question, imperialism and anti-imperialism ("Marxists think this; the AWL thinks that" etc etc). By definition, in areas when different Marxist groups have sharply different ideas, they will all believe that the others have strayed from the principles of classical Marxism. Your objection seems to come down to saying: "You think you're right and those who disagree with you are wrong"! Well, yes, we do... that being, you know, the basis of rational thought. And in fact it's also something you regularly do yourself - quite reasonably, though the hectoring manner in which you do it is usually unreasonable.
(It's worth noting, btw, that we are also perfectly happy to admit where we differ from "the classics", eg our disagreement with Trotsky on the class nature of the USSR, or the material we have printed critical of Lenin's position on "revolutionary defeatism".)

2. You further claim that we say everyone apart from us is "bureaucratic centralist" etc. Well, I have never heard anyone in the AWL make that claim in such an absolute form. But look at the record. The SWP's lack of democracy and free debate is well known. The SP is less overtly Stalinist, but has a stifling culture of conformity and as far as one can tell little internal debate and democracy. I don't have to explain to you WP's problems in this regard. Is PR's culture better? Yes, clearly, much better - but then you are a very new group, and one that emerged as a result of WP's highly bureaucratic regime. So, while we don't claim everyone else on the left has an anti-democratic regime, we do think our regime is fairly unusual and, given that, are doubly proud of it.
A similar point can be made about "honest debate and discussion". Again, we have never made the claim in such an absolute form. Yes, PR is much better than most of the rest of the left in this regard. Generally speaking, the left is very hostile to debate.

3. Your attitude to Respect Renewal seems to be that we should tone down our criticisms for the sake of unity; or, at least, when we criticise, refrain from suggesting that the comrades' participation in the project is fundamentally unprincipled from a working-class socialist point of view. I think this is kind of softly-softly unity mongering is wrong. Moreover, it is very strange from a former member of a group, WP, who walked out of the Socialist Alliance as soon as the Respect project was floated (I think it was in 2003; I was at the Birmingham national council meeting where you walked out), refusing to stay and take part in the continued fight against the SWP and their allies. I think that was seriously tactically mistaken; but at least you then showed a healthy contempt for the popular frontism of the "peace and justice" proposal that became Respect.
Oddly, you seem less hostile to Respect Renewal than you were to Respect when the SWP were participating. This seems to be a widespread sentiment on the left, and one I can only contribute to SWP-phobia. It certainly has no basis in Marxist politics. Perhaps PR has changed its mind, and thinks WP was wrong/sectarian etc - in which case good, but you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Perhaps I've misinterpreted your fairly unclear comments. Clarification welcome.

Submitted by Clive on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 12:12

"as we see when Clive's frequent excesses show his true feelings"

What? As in - what?

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 12:46

On 'Israel/Palestine': OK I, largely, stand corrected- though some times you (plural) use Israel on its own e.g.
Hal Draper and Israel

On Respect, Bill can (if he wishes) answer for himself as well but I think our point is this:

we do have disagreements with Respect, sometimes expressed quite sharply but that doesn't mean we are not in favour of joint work with them in campaigns where we can and that we express our criticism in a fraternal manner.

I'm sure you'd agree on the joint work issue but I think we perhaps emphasise it more.

In terms of polemic I would be even more than most of the comrades of PR for couching it in polite terms. Not at all to hide or disguise or gloss over points of disagreement but to rather 1) cut through the sort of hostility all too often erected on the left 2) to maximise the chance that we are actually listened to if only by a minority 3) to try to overcome the very common perception based to a large extent on reality that the left groups in general are intemperate, rude and dismissive of each others' viewpoints. Respect has problems of course- not least the sidelining of socialism and class, the promotion of electoralism, the silence or at best muted criticism of Galloway's mistakes. All these need to be emphasised as well. But I'm convinced this is best done by entering into dialogue, by being scrupulously polite and offering joint work and discussions.

If I have a good freind making what I feel may be mistakes I do not denounce her/him. If I want to be effective I emphasise points of agreement, I emphasise how much we share and the good points all the more to hone in on and make my criticism more effective and most of all to open up a dialogue.

That's what we should be doing I feel.

Submitted by sacha on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 13:23


I (mostly) agree with those as general pointers. But in this case I think the term "mistake" needs breaking down, depending on who it's applied to. Sometimes "mistakes" become so serious, systematic and fundamental to a person/group's politics that it becomes a bit meaningless to talk about "mistakes". Eg we don't refer to New Labour's "mistakes"! Similarly, I think the whole Respect project - to say nothing of siding with Galloway etc - is a major betrayal of socialist politics.

Within that, however, there are further distinctions. Eg the ISG - unlike Galloway, Ridley etc - ARE mistaken comrades. They are socialists who, if they come to their senses, will most likely play a role in any serious left/working-class regroupment. In that sense, my critique of the ISG and my critique of Galloway are very different. I want to try to drive a wedge between the two; I want the ISG to break with Galloway and his bourgeois and petty bourgeois allies.

Talking about Galloway's "mistakes" (the worst version of which is eg the Weekly Worker referring to "comrade Galloway") blurs this important distinction.


Submitted by Jason on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 13:32

fair point. They are probably not mistakes as you say, but flow from his politics. However, there are- as you acknowledge- members inside Respect who are socialists and who have mistakenly taken up the wrong positions/tactics.

Submitted by sacha on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 14:12

Sure, but it's not only a question of Galloway's political crimes not being tactical errors; it is also that the political transgressions are not incidental or even in contradiction with his overall worldview, but form a broadly coherent and reactionary whole.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 15:27

We probably differ a little on this, Sacha, I think.

Galloway is I think mainly an old Labour style reformist with a basically Stalinist politics, with a good dash of nationalistic reactionary positions on women, gay people and foreign dictatorships common to such types plus a kind of accomodation to religious thinking that is perhaps more unusual.

His comments on Mehdi Kazemi on The Wright Stuff viewable here are indefencible as was the silence or at best muted criticism from socialists inside Respect. Ditto his stance on abortion, ditto his salutation of Saddam Hussein.

There may well be occasions though where we would defend Galloway- e.g. against a right wing witch hunt such as the Daily Telegraph, against the US senate, against expulsion form th eLabour party, for making the pricnipled call for British soldiers to refuse to follow illegal orders.

There was an argument to give critical support for his election in the East End for these reasons- Workers Power was divided on this though the majority opposed this. It may well be that a majority in PR would have opposed it too. But I think a case could have been made on the basis thta his campaign connected with a principled ant-imerialist war stand and was therefore worthy of support on the basis of criticisng both the inadequacies of his program and the reactionary politics on major issues such as oppression.

If Galloway had joined the Socialist llaince and stood would you have been for a no vote or even leaving the SA over that? I actually suspect you would.

Galloway and his supporters offer no way forward for the working class and in many respects he is deeply reactionary. But that doesn't mean all his supporters should be written off. We should enage with them in joint struggles and also engage them where we can in debates and discussions.

Respect was a step back from socialism and Respect renewal or Respect mark 2 is no better than the original except some in it I think are genuine enough in wanting to break with some of the more bureaucratic traditions of a certain tradition of th eleft- overcentralist and not particularly democratic. Time will tell how far they get in this- perhaps not far. But let's keep the dialogue open and joint work against fascists for example in Manchester going.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 15:42

Yeah, fine; dialogue's good. But to be honest there are probably just as many people in, say, the Labour Party who are decent or potentially decent activists; a desire to work with/open up a "dialogue" with them doesn't preclude being honest about what you think of the nature of their organisation. We should tell the truth about what RR represents, otherwise any "dialogue" we might able to have with better people inside it will be necessarily compromised by our own dishonesty. It's not a question of writing individual activists off, it's a question of telling the truth.

On Galloway, his 2005 election campaign wasn't "connect with a principled...stand" on anything; his anti-war politics are NOT principled, that's the point. His opposition to the 2003 war was linked inextricably to his support for the Ba'ath regime and more broadly his Stalinist, Arab chauvinist worldview. Was David Davis's "stand" on 42 days "principled"? Would you have supported him? No, because his "stand" on that issue was part of a particular set of reactionary politics which can't be seperated from the whole. Same goes for Galloway.

The question about the SA is completely redundant, Jason, as there's no way that Galloway would've joined an organisation which - for all its faults - did have a conception of independent working-class politics and meaningful anti-capitalism. If Galloway joining the SA had become possible or likely at any point it would have represented a degeneration so drastic that we probably would've left some time previously. (We did oppose Galloway speaking at the 2003 or 2004 - I forget which - SA conference.)

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 16:17

In terms of addressing Socialist Allaince conferences I see no reason to oppose that- but I was not here in this country at the time then so don't know the full context.

However, in 2003 Galloway said, "The best thing British troops can do is to refuse to obey illegal orders."

This was absolutely spot on and was progressive and was why he got such support among some sections of the working class, particularly Muslims. This is a principled stand even as we disagree with him on other matters such as th enecessity of the working class coming to the fore of the resistance and so on.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 23/07/2008 - 16:44

We also said refuse to follow illegal orders- so no it is not a caricature of your position. However, we- like you- did not have an MP so it is perhaps not surprising that Galloway got more publicity!

Some things the Telegraph print may be true- of course. But the hounding of Galloway was obviously from a very right wing perspective and in the absence of any real evidecne no we should not support their case.

The bourgeois establishment hated Galloway because of his stance on the war- for solidiers to refuse to follow illegal orders. Not because of anything else that we may share criticism on.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Thu, 24/07/2008 - 18:47

The "bourgeois establishment" probably didn't/doesn't like a whole heap of Stalinist bureaucrats because they saw them as being in some sense threatening to their interests. But so what, frankly?

We don't base our assessment on political figures solely on their relationship to "the establishment." We base it on their relationship to the workers' movement, domestically and internationally, and class struggle.

Again, it's a question of being honest and telling the truth. When the hegemonic voices on the left were creating a clamour of disgusting sycophancy for Galloway (which has now, tragically and predictably, come back to bite them), those of us who had a different - more sober, critical, realistic - assessment of Galloway and his role had a responsibility to make that heard, not to subsume ourselves into a chorus of cheers (while maybe whispering a few criticisms at the back).

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 25/07/2008 - 02:35

Yes I agree Daniel we should not just whisper criticisms but make them loud and clear. However, for such criticisms to bite, to take effect and actually mean something they will hve to be voiced alongside and as part of tactics towards reformist misleaders- including Stalinists- by placing demands for action on them to drive a wedge between those workers who support them and show in practice that the demands of revolutionaries for rank and file control, for self activity of the class is absolutely crucial for effective action and working class self-emancipation.

This obvioulsy applies to union leaders, and to some extent to leaders of campaigns such as stop the war. I certainly do't think there's any case now for any kind of critical support for Galloway in elections but there may well be a case for critical support for candidates of struggle possibly including SWP ones implausible though that sounds at th emoment and even possibly Respect candidates- though I don't think this has been the case so far and isn't particularly likely but it all depends on the balance of class forces. I agree that respect was a step back form the SA in the wrong direction. But socialists base our tactics in campaigns and even election not directly on the platform but on the relationship between the class forces and the candidate whether the campaign had the potential to both help organise and test the politics of the reformist or even self-avowed (and often quite genuinely so) revolutionaries (not of course including GG in this- he has never claimed to be such as far I'm aware).

A big topic worth revisiting.

There's some prety useful writing on this produced by Workers Power circa 1983- honestly it's worth reading I think

However, of far more immediate and dare I say urgent necessity than elections is rebuilding the working class movement, re-elaboarting our ideas in campaigns of joint action with militants, activists and campaigners in order to offer socialism and the revolutionary organisation as a resource to the class struggle, not, absolutely NOT, primarily to build the organisation (such would be the method of sect building) but to build the movement- in so far as workers see organisation and revolution as essential to achieve their aims- something we explicitly argue for at all times then we will win workers to revolutionary organisation.

We don't or shouldn't claim to be that organisation or even the nucleus of that potential organisation. A fundamental rethink and re-elaboration is needed.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 25/07/2008 - 18:29

is deeply problematic and even offfensive. However, I think we need to clearly reason it out not just say we wpon't touch the AWL with a barge pole.

That evades the issue.

Also we should engage in united front work and socialist discussion with all sorts of groups and individuals within them. It may well be that many in the AWL can be won from oppressive positions.

As importantly we need to show a wider workers' movement- one we should be trying to create alongside AWL comrades among others- that it is posible to have discussions amidst and alongside wider struggles.

So I don;'t quite agree with your method here, Bill, though I'm sure you can live with that!

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Mon, 28/07/2008 - 15:48

All three of Bill's "propositions" (all of which are, as usual, completely unsubstantiated and stated without reference to any AWL material) have been systematically dealt with on a number of occasions.

The point has been frequently made that if Bill is incapable of meaningfully engaging with our actual politics (or otherwise unwilling to do so), he should stop posting his pathetic lies and save his own time and ours by ceasing to post on this website.

The selective illiteracy and complete lack of retention that visits Bill whenever he reads AWL material also appears to possess him when this point is made, time and time and time again.

Seriously, Bill, why do you post here? What do you get out of it? And Jason, the problem with Bill's post isn't just one of "method"; he isn't providing some kind of comprehensive critique of our politics which happens to be a bit nasty in tone (which I could live with). He's not engaging with our politics at all; he's just repeating the same, boring, unsubstantiated lies. What he's doing isn't debate - it's the online equivalent of millennial religious nutcases standing in busy town centres and screaming at "sinners" as they go past.

So, for what I hope will be the final time but am almost certain will not, Bill - stop lying. Or, failing that, stop posting.

Submitted by NollaigO on Tue, 29/07/2008 - 01:22

Ni thagann ciall roimh aois

“The sect sees its raison d’etre and its point of honour not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from the movement”. The sectarian leader, “like everyone who maintains he has a panacea for the sufferings of the masses in his pocket... gave his agitation from the outset a religious and sectarian character. Every sect is in fact religious... instead of looking among the genuine elements of the class movement for the real basis of his agitation, he wanted to prescribe the course to be followed by this movement according to a certain doctrinaire recipe”. To “demand... of the class movement that it should subordinate itself to the movement of a particular sect”, or to “want to preserve your ‘own workers’ movement’...” is likewise the mark of the sectarian. (Letter to JB Schweitzer, 13 October 1868.)

...The sectarian leader, “like everyone who maintains he has a panacea for the sufferings of the masses in his pocket.

A poem, perhaps?!

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 04/08/2008 - 11:52

To some extent this thread perhaps shows why left unity will be difficult because whenever differences are aired people are accused of lying etc. etc.

I will repeat that we should build unity in action e.g. against the BNP even with those whom we disagreee in quite fundamental principled ways e.g. over denial and suppression of Palestinian rights etc.

Bill's comments may be a touch sharp at times but my point wasn't that but that merely labelling the AWL imperialist is not enough- we need to show how your politics leads to tacit support for imperialism or at best confusion. After Matgamna's latest peiece on Iran this job is of course made considerably easier.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Mon, 04/08/2008 - 12:26

For a man who mewls about his opponents being "free with the insults", Bill seems surprisingly happy to end his posts with bilious and slanderous invective about them; I am, apparently, a "racist", a "Zionist" and a "warmonger". I eagerly await Bill's campaign to drive me and my comrades out of the labour movement - a movement in which people who think the murderous oppressors of the Iranian working-class simply MUST be supported are more than welcome, but in which anyone who entertains the notion that the ambitions of these oppressors to kill Israeli workers might be a source of concern for us have no place at all!

Fortunately, I have a thicker skin than Bill so will let the personal offence slide...

Bill's attempt to justify his repeated lies was an amusing piece of contortion. To justify his repeated lie that the AWL supports immigration controls in Israel, he pulled out a piece of ours explaining why we think the demand for the collective resettlement of millions of people (which is what the demand for "the right of return" amounts to in the heads of the people who politically hegemonise it) is a reactionary fantasy. Not quite the same thing.

Then, to "substantiate" his particularly poisonous lie that the AWL hold the Palestinians in the same regard as US white supremacists held/hold black people, he simply quotes our two-states position. Then, to bridge the yawning gap in logic, he concluded that because (in his view) this position is a fantasy, we *must* be positively in favour of segregation and apartheid and only bang on about all that equality business to "disguise" our real agenda - Israel-Jewish racial supremacy! Quite a trick.

Finally, Bill "substantiates" his claim that we support the occupation of Iraq and positively want the troops to be thereby quoting a piece which includes the following lines; "We are, in general, for getting the US troops out of Iraq. But we believe how that is done - by the sectarian militias, or by a labour or at least democratic movement - is critical." So Bill "proves" the truth of his lie by quoting a passage that contains its opposite idea!

Bill is clearly an expert contortionist. I have no doubt that he will later inform me that it is my fairly to properly grasp dialectics that leads me to view all this as a load of fucking nonsense...

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Sat, 09/08/2008 - 18:20

Bill -

We do not support the Israeli 'law of return' and I have said many times in direct debates with you on this very website that we do not. We also do not, however, make the abolition of immigration controls a precondition for supporting the right of Israeli Jews to self-determination, just as we do not think that (for example) the Palestinian people will only have a right to self-determination once they have smashed the racist and reactionary forces within their society.

We do not believe that the US (or Israel) should arbitrarily impose a Palestinian state from above; we hope that an independent Palestine will emerge as the result of united struggle between Israeli and Palestinian workers. However, any development that gives any amount of breathing space for the organisation of labour in Palestine (as any created-from-above Palestinian state probably would) should be exploited, just as the opportunity presented by the smashing of the Ba'athist state (which we rightly opposed) was exploited by Iraqi workers to organise unions that did not previously exist.

We do not support the presence of occupying troops in Iraq; some of our members believe that, while we are for their withdrawal, focusing all our demands on it is reckless given the current balance of class forces. Perhaps you are incapable of understanding the difference between these two ideas.

Dan -

You can't gut a sentence like that and still pretend to credible political debate. The "quote" from me on the "right of return" (which you hacked apart and then used to tacitly claim that I, and the AWL, think it's a good thing that there are lots of Palestinians in refugee camps and that they should be forcibly kept there) actually reads thus;

"To justify his repeated lie that the AWL supports immigration controls in Israel, he pulled out a piece of ours explaining why we think the demand for the collective resettlement of millions of people (which is what the demand for "the right of return" amounts to in the heads of the people who politically hegemonise it) is a reactionary fantasy."

If you think I'm wrong here then deal with the substantial politics instead of lying about what I actually think. Presumably you're capable of understanding the difference between a political idea (in this case that those Palestinians expelled in 1948 and their descendants should have freedom of movement and settlement, which the AWL supports) and the political character given to a particular set of words or slogans by the forces which politically hegemonise them (in this case, the use of the "right of return" demand not as an expression of opposition to immigration controls but as a veiled advocacy of collective resettlement of Palestinians and the displacement of the Israelis - be they first, second or third-generation - who inhabit the land/houses from which they or their anscestors were displaced).

PR members posting on this website have kicked up plenty of fuss about the sectarian and dishonest tactics employed by the rest of the left (including the AWL) in debate. Perhaps you should set your own house in order before you carry on preaching to us about how to conduct ourselves in argument.

Submitted by paulm on Sun, 10/08/2008 - 18:30

Trying to explain why Bill J spends so much time on the AWL site posting what is in effect the same email is, after you get over the annoyance, is quite a thing.

For a man who won't touch the AWL with something "longer than a barge pole" it's all a bit odd. Is he keeping an eye on his mate Jason? Or hoping to pick up a contact or two? (The latter seems very unlikely I think we can all agree).

Or something else?

I saw Bill destroyed in public debate with the AWL many years ago (Ireland was the subject I think), and at the time it struck me that he didn't seem to have a clue about how badly Workers Power, and he, had done. So maybe, just maybe, over the last year or so the events of 15 years ago have started to get through his sectarian skull and its caused some kind of trauma.

Then again I may be wrong.

Bill's lucky that the AWL are far more forgiving than I am, because he'd had been banned a long time ago.

Submitted by paulm on Sun, 10/08/2008 - 19:09


Part of the reason the left is such a cesspit, is because of a) the politics of PR and the rest, and b) the behaviour of people like BIll J

Or haven't you read any of the above?

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Sun, 10/08/2008 - 20:30

Dan -

I wrote:

"You can't gut a sentence like that and still pretend to credible political debate. The "quote" from me on the "right of return" (which you hacked apart and then used to tacitly claim that I, and the AWL, think it's a good thing that there are lots of Palestinians in refugee camps and that they should be forcibly kept there) actually reads thus;

"To justify his repeated lie that the AWL supports immigration controls in Israel, he pulled out a piece of ours explaining why we think the demand for the collective resettlement of millions of people (which is what the demand for "the right of return" amounts to in the heads of the people who politically hegemonise it) is a reactionary fantasy."

If you think I'm wrong here then deal with the substantial politics instead of lying about what I actually think. Presumably you're capable of understanding the difference between a political idea (in this case that those Palestinians expelled in 1948 and their descendants should have freedom of movement and settlement, which the AWL supports) and the political character given to a particular set of words or slogans by the forces which politically hegemonise them (in this case, the use of the "right of return" demand not as an expression of opposition to immigration controls but as a veiled advocacy of collective resettlement of Palestinians and the displacement of the Israelis - be they first, second or third-generation - who inhabit the land/houses from which they or their anscestors were displaced)."

Despite what I thought was a reasonably comprehensive attempt to explain my position behind the politics of the "right of return" demand and what I actually advocate in terms of winning justice for the Palestinian refugees, you are capable only of responding with:

"you think the right of return for the millions of Palestinians in camps is a fantasy."

I'll reiterate myself once more and then pack this whole debate in, because it's becoming a waste of time.

I do not believe that winning a situation whereby Palestinian refugees and their descendants are able to resettle in Israel (or an independent Palestine) is "a fantasy". However, I believe the politics of those who hegemonise the demand for "the right of return", which they use to mean not what I have just outlined but the collective resettlement of millions of Palestinians and the displacement of millions of Israelis, are reactionary - hence my unwillingness to use the demand. If you think I'm wrong you have to prove either that a) the demand has some other meaning (in the real world, not just in your head) or that b) the idea that cynically attempting to use millions of Palestinians as a demographic tool to displace Israeli-Jews is a good one.

You're obviously a more rational individual than your comrade Bill so please attempt to deal with the politics rather than just repeating your mantra about what you've convinced yourself I believe.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Mon, 11/08/2008 - 17:09

Dan -

I'm sure there are some people who make campaigning for "the right of return" a priority who have decent politics. But the majority of the political forces who make that demand central to their politics on Israel/Palestine don't; they do not believe that the Israeli-Jews should have national rights and see the collective resettlement of the Palestinians as a demographic way of undermining them. That's something I want to disassociate myself from which is why I don't use the demand.

I think it's also worth nothing that the politics of "the right of return" as outlined above also rather tend to let off the hook the Arab bourgeoisies who have been very much complicit in (and to some extent are responsible for) the miserable plight of the Palestinian refugees, who they have kept in poverty to use as a tool against Israel. Fighting for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to Israel is fine, but we should also fight for them to have full civil rights in whichever country they've ended up in - something which the anti-Israeli brand of "right of return" politics implicitly dismisses.

I think workers in Israel should fight against immigration controls and for open borders. That's a different idea to "demanding" the collective resettlement of millions of people.

We're probably going to go round and round in circles here as we both apparently think each other's proposed programme for Israel/Palestine is utopian. For me, the geographical settlement that's reached is entirely secondary to the building of working-class unity. I advocate two states as a transitional demand because I believe it's the only demand around which such unity can be built in the here and now. I say, concretely, that Palestinian and Israeli workers should unite around a programme that recognises the national rights of both groups, up to and including seperate national entities if they wish. You say that they should unite around a programme that says "well, there might have to be some resettlement, maybe there'll be some displacement - who knows, really? Let's cross that bridge when we come to it." I think a programme that in actual fact says nothing concrete about the national rights of either group and is based instead on an abstract (rather than concrete) conception of workers' unity is the very definition of utopian.

On the stuff about rebuilding the left, I basically agree that reinvigorating the labour movement from the bottom-up is the primary task and prerequisite for everything else. However, I also think that a left shackled to what I see as essentially classless (or worse) politics on international questions will always be limited in what it's able to achieve, which is why I think debates like this are worthwhile and important.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Tue, 12/08/2008 - 23:03

Dan -

I agree with you to an extent when you say (I think you garble this, but this is what I take from your argument; correct me if I'm wrong) that it's conceivable that, during a united working-class struggle for two equal states, such a degree of workers' unity and militancy would have been achieved that you'd be talking about post-national solutions (e.g. workers' federations of some sort). Fine; that's legitimate and as I said quite conceivable, but in my view it's more than a bit abstract to say "what we need is workers' unity, and once we've got that everyone will develop post national consciousness and the whole debate will be redundant."

But of course, that's not what you're saying; you counterpose to my position a position of opposition to "the Zionist state" and positive advocacy of "one state." This position is fraught with contradictions, Dan; firstly, what does "the Zionist state" mean? The existing Israeli state? Well, fine; I'm opposed to that too. But then why not be specific? Perhaps because by "the Zionist state" you actually mean any expression of the self-determination of the Israeli-Jews. (Perhaps you don't mean that; feel free to correct me. I'm just trying to work through what I see as the inconsistencies in your position.) In which case we have a fundamental point of difference; I don't think the Israeli-Jews should simply have the right of an ethnic minority in a Palestinian state, I think they're a national group in their own right and historically that has meant something specific for Marxists in terms of national rights.

I said that the bankrupt maximalism that counterposes abstract workers' unity to actually raising any concrete democratic demands wasn't your position, but there was more than an element of it in your response to Paul. It doesn't seem to me that your position has any way of negotiating the issue that no national group in history has simply been persuaded to give up their national rights. Again, you can circumvent this whole question entirely if you don't see the Israeli-Jews as a national group but rather as a colonial settler caste (such as the white South Africans), in which case it'd be perfectly legitimate to advocate their removal from their current position by any means necessary.

But what you've said about the importance of workers' unity (and the implied revolutionary potential you see in the Israeli-Jewish working-class) suggests you *don't* crudely draw an equals sign between the Israeli-Jews and the white South Africans, in which case your position *does* oblige you to have a far more worked-out and comprehensive answer to Paul's question than the one you gave.

I have no particular brief for a two states settlement in the abstract or because I have a particular interest in partioning bits of land. Ultimately of course I think "no states" is the only real "solution". But I think the demand for two states (that is, a recognition of the existence of two distinct national groups who should be entitled to full national rights, up to and including independence, if they so wish it) is useful because it's a demand around which workers' unity could be built in the here and now. The fact that the existing Israeli ruling-class (the "Zionist/apartheid state" as you very misleadingly and, in my view, incorrectly, call it) would be hostile to such a development is frankly neither here nor there; your argument on that point reminds me of Luxemburg's argument against Lenin that it was pointless to advocate self-determination for small national groups because the big imperialist powers would never stand for it.

As I said before, the key thing is workers' unity. The geographical settlement is secondary, and yes - perhaps (hopefully, in fact) in the course of united working-class struggle the demand for a single bi-national federation (or, better still, a workers' federation of the whole area or region) will emerge and take hold. But the question facing us now is how to initiate the building of that unity in the here-and-now. And I believe that only a programme that recognises, as I say, the existence of two distinct national groups who should be entitled to full national rights, up to and including independence, if they so wish it is capable of gaining a platform amongst Palestinian and Israeli workers and forging the necessary unity. I call the basis of that programme 'two states'. If you have a problem with the semantics, I'm not wedded to the words.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 14/09/2008 - 22:52

I am assured (or was sometime back) by Sacha that you are fully supporting this. So it would be good to see it advertised. Full timetable program here

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.