Notes on a debate with Tony Greenstein

Submitted by AWL on 16 September, 2016 - 10:15 Author: Daniel Randall

On 15 September, I debated anti-Zionist activist Tony Greenstein in Brighton, on the topic of antisemitism on the left.

The audience was comprised mainly of local Labour Party and Momentum activists. The debate was conducted in largely civil tones - perhaps, given the depth of our differences with Tony Greenstein, both in terms of policy and approaches to political activity, too civil.

The debate was recorded, and the recording and/or transcripts will be uploaded soon. Listening back to the debate, it occurs to me to set on record a response to some comments of Tony's that I neglected to make at the time.

At the very beginning of his presentation, Tony told three lies about Workers' Liberty. He said that we "supported the partition of Ireland"; that we had taken a "pro-British position" on the Falklands; and that we had "refused to call for an end to the occupation of Iraq".

These are hoary slanders most AWL members will have heard many times before, and I'm afraid they rather went in one ear and out of the other. They are easily refuted by even a cursory glance at any of our literature on each topic. By the time Tony had reached the end of his presentation, I had more or less forgotten about them.

However, in the interests of intellectual rigour and political honesty, I feel I should respond.

We do not support the partition of Ireland. We have written: "“Partition will create a carnival of reaction north and south of the border.” That was James Connolly’s prediction. It is often-quoted and applied only to Protestant rule in the Six Counties. It applied, as Connolly knew it would, to both parts of Ireland”, and "Tragically, Connolly’s prediction that partition would mean “a carnival of reaction both North and South” had been proved absolutely correct."

Our position on the Falklands was not "pro-British", but rather anti-war on both sides, seeing nothing progressively anti-imperialist or anti-colonial in the reactionary-nationalist Galtieri regime's attempt to boost its own prestige by "reclaiming" islands that only ever "belonged" to Argentina because they were gifted to it by the Spanish monarchy. For more, see here.

On Iraq, we opposed the US/UK occupation, but did not support its overthrow by sectarian Islamist militias. For more, see here.

On the whole, it is positive that the debate took place. The problem on the left is not too much debate on issues of difference, but too little: these debates are rarely had openly. Moving towards a culture where differences are debated openly is essential for improving the political health of the left.

But that also requires abandoning a culture where it is acceptable to tell demonstrable lies about one's political opponents.