This is article four in the four part series as originally published in 2003. For an edited version of all four articles click here
Sean Matgamna here concludes his article exploring the early 80s' campaign of vilification of Socialist Organiser, forerunner of Workers' Liberty and Solidarity, by the Workers' Revolutionary Party (WRP).
The article is a response to the criticism WL has received from the SWP and other parts of the left for refusing to regard Labour MP George Galloway as a respectworthy member of the labour movement.
Brent Council's Joint Staffs Committee, representing 12,000 workers: "We condemn SO, who have abandoned all pretence of socialist principle and sided with the capitalist media and state in calling for an investigation into the WRP." They too demand that we 'retract'. This is a Stalinist world, where the question of what is true and not true does not exist in its own right. There is only 'our side' - as if an appeal to the elementary principle of working class solidarity can answer for an investigation of such issues: as if there is such a thing as 'class truth', 'class facts'.
Eddie Roberts, TGWU organiser and former convenor of Fords Halewood, found it 'inconceivable' that any socialist paper, on the basis of this BBC programme [!] can support the attack on Newsline.
26 April headline: 'Libyan Magazine slams frame up!' The London segment of the Libyan People's Bureau! "The Zionists [i.e., Jews] are allowed to work against Britain's political and economic interests free from the attention of the press". These were the people who employed the WRP - it came out in 1985 when the WRP fell apart - to provide reports on Arab political dissidents in Britain and on prominent British Jews. The politics of this statement should have given socialists pause for reflection, but no.
Now a new theme: SO is out to 'get' Ken Livingstone. There is an indignant half page about SO supporters in Brent, where Ken Livingstone was publicly asked by SO supporters to account for his part in the WRP's Conway Hall meeting.
Glasgow District Labour Party - an ex-WRP turned reformist, Chic McCafferty is in the chair - condemns SO in the pages of Newsline.
Patricia Hewitt (currently a Blairite minister) then of the National Council for Civil Liberties (questioned at a meeting) commented that the Money Programme is "a further example of how left wingers are grouped together with criminals, squatters and terrorists as being people who disrupt the running of society." [!]
Newsline on 2 May quotes Alan Stanley, the Finance Secretary of Lancaster Trades Council, one of those willing to take the WRP's word for it that Libya was another socialist fatherland far away: "The Money Programme attacks the Newsline from outside the working class movement. Socialist Organiser on the other hand, plays the insiders' role of a fifth column, using its fake socialist credentials to confuse workers and isolate Newsline before the state and media attack. I put the question to Sean Matgamna: if support for the Libyan revolution means Newsline is paid by the Libyan Government, does your support of Zionism mean that you are in receipt of funds from Zionist sources?"
The Joint Shop Stewards Committee at London Hospital condemns "fabrications and lies and innuendos" by the BBC and "calls for SO to withdraw their backing from this attack".
The Newsline articles now become incitement to violence.
On the 4 May, Newsline editor Alec Mitchell, the once and future Murdoch journalist, responded to my review of their pamphlet on the affair under the headline 'More ranting lies from Mr Matgamna'.
"Mr Sean Matgamna of the Socialist Organiser group is a political provocateur who is determined to serve the forces of the capitalist state. His ranting lies against the WRP have made him a pariah in the workers' movement."
The wish fathered the thought here.
"In his latest outburst Matgamna shows what an unprincipled scoundrel he is. Matgamna's reprehensible lie that the WRP is an anti-semitic party, and that we are 'potentially pogromists' against Jewish people."
Mitchell continues: "Matgamna's original article [in response to the world Zionist conspiracy editorial] took lock, stock and barrel the reactionary and ultra-reactionary argument of (Israeli Prime Minister) Menachim Begin that to be an anti-Zionist is to be an anti-semite."
Mitchell ends: "This group will not shut up nor will it go away. It is a sustained service that it renders to imperialism and Zionism. We have a duty to clarify the role of Matgamna's group in the working class. In turn, the labour movement has the right to keep it at bay and shun it wherever it attempts to raise its head."
To add point to this lynch-mob stuff they reprinted the picture of me outside their 18 April Conway Hall meeting.
This hysterical self-righteousness in people who had recently printed the editorial about the world-Zionist conspiracy, and who functioned to filter Arab anti-semitism into the British labour movement, probably indicated their own tensions and confusions. As SO had said it: their past must have made some of them ashamed of what they had become.
An editorial on 5 May titled 'Jewish Chronicle - Matgamna ally' dealt with a Jewish Chronicle article discussing Libyan influence in Britain: "All the slanders and lies were served up in the Money Programme. They have since been adapted and expanded by pro-Zionist [i.e., Jewish - SM] MP Reg Freeson and Mr Sean Matgamna's Socialist Organiser group... when Newsline raised the Zionist connection in the witchhunt, Mr Matgamna made the disgusting accusation that the WRP and its leadership were anti-semitic and 'potentially pogromists' [in fact I'd said that the Jewish Chronicle's interest in the WRP was hardly surprising: the WRP must seem to them to be 'potential pogromists'].
"This is the basest piece of slander ever levelled [!] against the Trotskyist [!] movement [!] since the Stalinists in the 1930s accused it of being 'agents of Hitler'. [SO] stands with the state media arm, the BBC, and with the Jewish Chronicle." The Jewish community paper is the equivalent of the 'state media arm'? The BBC has no autonomy and is only a 'state arm' for propaganda?
They call on SO supporters - in fact on the group of former WRP members around Alan Thornett, and Tony Richardson within it - to "publicly repudiate the highly reactionary ranting of Mr Matgamna, withdraw the slanderous statement that the WRP is 'anti-semitic', and join with other sections of the labour movement in condemning the Money Programme's lies."
Socialist Organiser was then divided between the former WRPer on one side and the rest of us. In fact, the Thornett group considered the two states position, still very much a minority view in Socialist Organiser, to be "Zionist". But the WRP attempts to invigorate the SO minority failed entirely. All they got was an indecisive attempt by one of the minority leaders, Tony Richardson, to publish a letter in SO rejecting the idea that the WRP was anti-semitic ("the idea is laughable", etc.).
On 6 May, Swansea branch EEPTU: "We therefore demand that Socialist Organiser withdraw its treacherous support. Will it continue to side with the BBC and the state, or does it stand with the working class?"
There are now many public meetings against the BBC and SO. In Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, etc., etc. In Glasgow, with Ron Brown MP; SO features in many resolutions now.
Wigan Trades Council, whose Secretary is another unreconstructed WRP drop-out, Mike Farley, condemns SO, "who not only support the witch hunt but actually went further in their allegations."
A resolution from Manchester no.1 branch of UCATT denounces SO: "As we expected, the most vile slander emanated from the pages of Socialist Organiser... Here there is an inner soul projection onto SO of what the writer feels about anti-semitism - when he can allow himself to see it: Sean Matgamna "accuses the WRP of being anti-semitic - the oldest and foulest manifestation of racialism... Matgamna in his frenzied anti-communist hatred has broken every tradition of working class solidarity and socialist principle."
Evidently the writer did feel strongly about anti-semitism. There is no reason to doubt the writer's hatred of anti-semitism, which he will have bracketed in his head with Nazi persecution of the Jews, with Tsarist Russian pogroms, the anti-Jewish campaign by the Mosley fascists in the 1930s, etc., etc. He evidently can't even entertain the idea that the writers of the recent editorial on the 'world Jewish conspiracy' are now a quirky variant of what he hates. He rationalises from what he wants them to be. Such people couldn't let themselves see anti-semitism where it was rampant. The term 'Zionism' here served its camouflage purposes well.
Ron Brown told "70" at the WRP Glasgow meeting: "Matgamna of Socialist Organiser is doing the dirty work for the Tories."
Now another new turn: they devote a lot of space to denouncing SO for its alleged attitude to Ken Livingstone, seeking the Labour nomination for Brent East.
"Mr Matgamna of Socialist Organiser has begun a 'stop Livingstone' intrigue - he is so pathologically opposed to the WRP that he will try to destroy anyone in the labour and trade union movement who appears on our platform. Recounting when Livingstone gave Newsline a principled statement of opposition to the Money Programme [the statement across a page from the crazy world-Zionist conspiracy editorial - SM] Matgamna went into a rage Matgamna accused the WRP of being 'anti-semitic' and 'potential pogromists'. These hateful calumnies were extended to Livingstone with the flourish of a Vyshinksi [prosecutor in the Moscow Show Trials of the 1930s] or a Senator McCarthy.
"Matgamna attacked Livingstone's statement to the Newsline, adding "He hadn't then read the anti-semitic editorial what does he think of the editorial? Does he think we should just shrug and accept anti-semitism as a feature of the far left?" (Socialist Organiser 4 April 1983) That'll teach you, Mr Matgamna, to ask awkward questions!"
A whole page is given to the still popular actor David Calder-then a cop in a popular TV show - denouncing the BBC: "Newsline not only earns the hatred of the ruling class and with them of those who declare themselves to be of the left but, in their heart of hearts, believe the working class to be defeated.
"Of all the groups the Socialist Organiser now stands exposed as the most insidious and treacherous of them all stooping to a racist attitude on the Arab struggle [!] accusing the WRP of being anti-Jewish, places them outside the workers' movement and exposes them as an instrument of the state in its desperate black propaganda campaign It is only the Newsline and the WRP that fights for the independence of the working class"!
On the 16 May one hundred were reported to have attended the Liverpool meeting.
NALGO Grampian branch: "SO breaks ranks to invite further attacks - we call on all trade unionists to repudiate such provocative behaviour and demand that a full retraction be made by SO." The internal authoritarian voice of the WRP keeps breaking through.
Aberdeen trades council passed a resolution on the lines quoted. The Newsline printed the speech evidently written up by its author that had introduced it. This gives us a rare account of a typical WRP speech on the subject then, that is, of how the Newsline's 'anti-Zionism' translated into the work of the WRP in the unions. The speech ranted, carrying the words in the Newsline editorial on the world Zionist conspiracy, about "Mr Stuart Young, a well-known Zionist" [that is, Jew] "being chair of the world's largest radio and TV company" the BBC: "It should not go unrecorded, thought it went quickly through the news." This is the sort of thing into which the Newsline's rantings had translated 'on the ground' - agitation against a Jew being appointed governor of the BBC.
On the 15 May Albert Hodge, Secretary of the London Direct Labour Co-ordinating Committee and senior steward at GLC EEPT: "By its actions SO is in favour not only of an 'enquiry', not solely by right wing Labour, but by the Tories, police and state at a time when they are in the middle of the greatest attack on living standards since the 1930s They have finally nailed their flag to the capitalist flagpole."
On the 23 May the Islington 523 branch of COHSE "calls on SO to rethink the stand it has taken and join the rest of the trade union and labour movement in condemning the attacks on the labour movement newspaper."
On the 25 May in another editorial 'Freeson's Bagman' [guess who]. This is an attack on SO because its supporters campaigned in Brent East in the upcoming general election for the re-election of the official Labour candidate, Reg Freeson! 'A Trotskyist-baiting Zionist' [read Jew].
But the General Election campaign is now starting and the WRP's campaign dies down. Over nine weeks and 54 issues, there have been more than 50 pages of testimonies and much else besides.
The statistics of it can't tell the number of individuals and trade union branches and trades councils who voted or nodded through the 'down with the BBC and SO' resolution.
In fact the campaign achieved none of its objectives: we gave as good as we got, and continued to comment as we thought fit.
The experience educated and toughened SO supporters.
Vindication of the sort that was ours when the WRP imploded two and a half years later - one of the casualties was Labour Herald, 'Livingstone's' paper which immediately collapsed when the WRP did - is rare in politics.
None of us who knew the WRP were unduly alarmed by the lynch mob atmosphere they tried to whip up. They had a reputation for small-scale thuggery but they talked a better fight than they fought. They made a few clumsy gestures-a couple of flats of SO people were broken into and nothing taken although political papers were rummaged through.
They sent a couple of 'agents' into SO. They were too obvious to get away with anything: the WRP could train its people to rant in trade union branches about the 'Zionist' chair of the BBC, but subtlety it couldn't teach them.
An unknown quantity was what their alliance with Libyan state personnel and others meant for their 'lynch SO and Sean Matgamna campaign'. Someone in the Libyan Embassy about then shot dead a police woman Yvonne Fletcher. In fact nothing happened.
One of the most disappointing things about the affair was that when, in October 1985, the truth about the WRP came gushing out from its warring factions, not one of those who had denounced SO, neither an individual nor any of the labour movement bodies which had passed resolutions denouncing us and demanding that we 'retract', felt they had anything to apologise for. Not a single one.
The experience outlined above tells us nothing about current disputes except that it is always a good policy in such affairs to follow the advice which Karl Marx, speaking in the words of the 13th-century Florentine, Dante, put at the beginning of Volume 1 of Capital. "Go your way and let the people talk." Decide what you think and stick to it until someone gives you reasonable grounds for changing your mind.