By Paul Hampton
The CPGB, those pretentious squirrels of left-wing tittle-tattle, outdid themselves by chickening out of a debate with the AWL over Iraq.
- For The "CPGB" — Gossip or Political Debate? By David Broder click here
- For An Open Letter to a confused Anti-Imperialist, by Sean Matgamna click here
They have sought in vain to manufacture mischief with some AWL comrades who disagree with the group’s position on Iraq. After a series of private e-mails demanding that the AWL minority agitate to “clear out the leadership of the scabs”, the CPGB invited David Broder to debate with them at their overinflated “communist university”, under the title: troops out – but when? David referred the matter to the AWL office, which generously put up Sean Matgamna to speak for our politics.
What was the reaction of the CPGB? To withdraw the invitation to speak. To publish lies in their worthless “communist Hello” paper about having problems getting a speaker. To falsify the AWL position on Iraq. To warble on about really wanting a debate about Iran. To hold a “debate” where all the speakers on the platform would answer “Now!” instead of debating openly with the AWL, which disagrees. And all that in front of an audience of 20. (Or, to be precise, 18 — I saw only 18 people go in during the first couple of hours of the first day of "The Communist University".)
Mark Fischer promised readers in the latest Weekly Worker that he is willing to debate the AWL on any other occasion – just not at his own event, in front of his own people. Fischer, ever the mañana socialist, always promises debate tomorrow, always another day – just not at the time and the place he’d been arranging for weeks.
And all this from an organisation that tosses around the word “scab” and yet took six weeks to even bother to write about the postal dispute, the most important industrial action for years. (Picket lines not political enough, comrades?) An organisation which wants to talk about Iran but couldn’t send anyone to the largest demo for years outside the Iranian embassy on Thursday, called in solidarity with imprisoned Iranian workers.
An organisation that for four years has failed to do anything to help Iraqi socialists and trade unionists build a labour movement. An organisation that wants to inherit the mantle of the Stalinist CPGB that really did organise scabbing during WWII and acted for decades as the agents of the Russian Stalinist ruling class in the British labour movement.
Chickens when it comes to debate. Chicken shit when it comes to politics.
1. No-one at the AWL office deleted Arthur's account, nor, unless there is some technical quirk on the site we don't know about, is there any way we could have deleted it by mistake. We're as puzzled as anyone else about how it got deleted. There is no obvious way of tracking such deletions, but we've asked the techies to investigate.
2. We did delete 6 comments added by Arthur in very quick succession to a piece by Al Glotzer. This is no more "censorship" than would be an intervention by the chair of a meeting to restrain someone who followed the main speaker by demanding to speak six times in succession, and at length.
3. Anyone who accuses the AWL of "censorship" here is seriously off balance. Excuse me, which other group on the British or world left allows such freedom of hostile comment on its website? In its paper and in its public meetings too?
4. Debate? Good idea. Read the piece by Glotzer and the article by Ernest Mandel which it was a reply to - we presented both sides of the debate - think about the issues, and comment. But at appropriate length. If you have a huge screed to contribute, put it on your own blog or website and post a link to it.
5. I talked to Arthur a few months ago because a number of people had expressed concern about the huge volume of his postings. At that time Arthur accepted that the concerns were reasonable and said he would take the main volume of his posting to an offsite blog and limit his comments on our site to brief ones providing links to those offsite writings.
6. Arthur has the right to change his mind, of course; but he could not be surprised if we continued to be concerned, and acted on our concerns. Censorship? No more than the person who wants to intervene at every public meeting at huge length can accuse a reasonable chairperson of censorship.
7. Thanks to Paul for putting the issue succinctly: "Any debate, real or virtual must have rules, or those with the loudest voices, or most time, win out. If the AWL organise, fund and maintain this site, I believe they have the right to set the rules. You could set up your own blog for nothing - as many have done successfully and won a readership".
8. The only thing I'd add is that any "rules" here are very lightweight. We delete comments or unsubscribe users when the comments are obviously spam or "trolling" - or, in Arthur's case, unique up to now and very probably forever, where the sheer volume is so overwhelming that e.g. an important historical document of our movement (important whether you agree with it or not) is smothered by a huge splurge of comments.
If it's practically feasible, ok. As I said, we're consulting the techies.
One of the techies has found a way to restore Arthur's account. That settles that, I think. Now, any comment on the CPGB/WW's refusal to debate a spokesperson from the AWL on Iraq?
For the record: the AWL's rule, and as far as I know we are the only group on the left to have it, is that members with minority views can and should express their own views publicly, so long as they make it clear that they are minority views and explain to the best of their ability what the AWL position is.
So, no, we are not at all fearful of members with minority views taking part in public debates.
But if the AWL, as an organisation, is invited to debate an issue, it's not unreasonable for us to want to send a representative of the AWL's position. And not unreasonable for us to say it's a bit off if a group, having declared themselves up for debating Iraq, then refuses to accept our chosen representative.
We in Permanent Revolution also have similar ideas I beleive to allow the rights of minorities to express views publicly- as far as I am aware there aren't many things we disagree on as yet but still.
We also like the AWL allow comments on our web site- something that should be seen as basic but isn't that common. I know Revolution the L5I youth thing do as well though it seems to be underused at the moment.
Still the AWL did seem to be quite rude to anyone posting here before though there seems to have been an improvement I must say.
Yes, the CPGB/WW lets members express minority views in public. Is that grace and favour or do they have a rule about it? No rule, as far as I know. In the past the CPGB group had a row, producing a split, when some members pressed (unsuccessfully) for the "Provisional Central Committee" to be elected by the membership rather than self-appointed.
On form to date, what will we get next from the Weekly Worker? They'll approach Arthur to publish complaints against the AWL in the Weekly Worker. Another attempt to pump up a "democratic" outcry about nothing - and to try to float the CPGB/WW on the waters of the indiscriminate moaning against all activist organisations of what John Bridge once notoriously sneered at as the "flotsam and jetsam of the left".
If PR does allow minority comrades to express their views publicly (and you don't seem sure), that's quite a break with Workers' Power's Stalinist conception of democratic centralism. I look forward to seeing some evidence of this when you disagree on something.
We have substantially altered our concept of democratic centralism.
Some such as the CBGB may feel it doesn't go far enough. Admittedly a potenital fault may be that the group can still impose a lack of open debate where it feels that it could compromise security of the organisation and this in principle may be open to abuse- however, it partly depends on trust.
In practice, so far members have expressed opinions relatively freely before having a group line decided democratically and can continue to debate openly e.g. on the prison wild cat actions.
By the way 'Stalinist' is over the top- Zinovie-ite might be more ac curate. As crap as Workers Power became the leadership never attmepted to physically liquidate us though trust broke down and accusations came flying- we do now beleive that WP even its healthier days had an overstrict overcentralised idea of dc.
From our founding statement:
"14. Last but not least we re-assert our support for the organisation of our tendency on the principles of democratic centralism. However, we reject the idea that democratic centralism is merely a code word for monolithism. The revolutionary organisation, if it is both healthy and based on the working class, will necessarily reflect differences of emphasis, of tactics and of theory even though it remains united around an agreed revolutionary programme. For us the essence of democratic centralism is as simple as the decision to strike - once agreed all accept the decision, any who don't are scabs. It allows for maximum democracy in advance of a decision and maximum unity in carrying through a decision. But this principle is a far cry from the increasing bureaucratic centralism that evolved in our parent organisation and that has scarred so many groupings within the movement over many years. Unity in action does not mean uniformity of thought. And unity in action does not preclude open debates within the ranks of an organisation prior to action. The only provisos are:
the opening out of discussions to a broader public are the decisions of the organisation itself, not of the individuals or groups involved
individual members have the right to explain to people, if they so wish, where and why the disagree with the majority line in circumstances where such public disclosure does not threaten the security of the organisation or any of its members or the effectiveness of a particular action. Individual members, therefore, will only go public once this has been agreed between them and the relevant unit of the organisation (branch, union fraction, caucus, national committee, aggregate etc.)
15. The importance of both of these points is that within not only the L5I but in much of the Trotskyist left democratic centralism has become a means of disciplining loyal revolutionaries rather than real class enemies. It has become a weapon in the hands of "majority" committees against "minorities" who remain loyal to the point where they can be expelled merely for what someone described on a web discussion about our own tendency, "thoughtcrime". If that was the reality of democratic centralism then none of us would have had the privilege of being able to read Lenin's April Theses. We reject this Stalinist influenced version of democratic centralism. Membership of our organisation is voluntary - you join if you agree with our fundamental programme. If you disagree, fundamentally, with aspects of that programme you need not join us. However, the programme does not answer each and every question thrown up in the course of class struggle. There are many issues around which there can be substantial disagreement but those disagreements do not undermine the agreed programme. The fact that the Bolsheviks could, in the period of July and August 1917, have a debate in which one wing openly rejected the slogan "all power to the soviets" while others maintained its importance demonstrates this most graphically. For this reason, against the school of thought that paints democratic centralism exclusively in terms of "authority", "discipline" and the repression of internal dissent, we re-assert Lenin's view of democratic centralism, expressed in 1906: "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; it rules out all criticism which disrupts or makes difficult the unity of action decided on by the party & criticism within the limits of the principles of the party programme must be quite free & not only at party meetings but also at public meetings." "
Well WW can take time to contact Arthur for an interview for their gossip sheet, but have been unable to reply to my letter of complaint, of a week ago, about a serious matter.
I can almost forgive them their mad politics, but there is no excuse for bad manners.
If the CPGB had accepted Sean as a speaker, then David would also have attended and spoken from the floor. So much for our unwillingness to let representatives of minority positions take part in debate.
Arthur, I find it quite irritating that there is now an article in Weekly Worker representing the technical problem through which your blogs etc were deleted as appalling censorship by the AWL. Are you going to write a letter to Weekly Worker clarifying what actually happened?
I've sent them two emails Arthur, so they've got my email address.
To be honest Arthur I'm surprised you lasted that long. If I'd been in charge you'd have been shown the door months ago. Just as something got interesting, here goes another three page post from Stoke-on-Trent.
The AWL doesn't have a duty to post endless stuff from you Arthur (or short stuff from me for that matter). My advice is set up your own website and see how you get on.
I'm sure you know from your past membership that long, often bad-tempered, discussion is commonplace in the AWL. I'm sure that's the case right now, but on private AWL lists. And there's nothing wrong with that in my opinion. The AWL website is the place people, interested in the AWL's politics, will seek out, for information about current campaigns, historical pieces, and the chance to leave reasonable comments, etc. Now Bill J's posts break the rules of reasonable debate, being bullet point abuse, and yours, to me are out of place on such a site. AWL members - and others - could spend all their time engaging with your very extensive postings. Now and again I have some sympathy with some of your points, but you must see that you can almost take over the site. Now any debate, real or virtual must have rules, or those with the loudest voices, or most time, win out. If the AWL organise, fund and maintain this site, I believe they have the right to set the rules.
You could set up your own blog for nothing - as many have done successfully and won a readership.
BTW I'm not in the AWL.
As short insulting posts, don't take them everything too seriously, except in relationship to WP/PR that is.
There's not a lot of point taking insults seriously even when aimed at PR (seems rather churlish but as i say what's the point of taking it seriously)
As for the line 'chickens when it comes to debates' it's just very immature.
I'll just make a very quick short point- politeness in debates does no harm at all. It may be there's no point debating with the AWL whatsoever but I happen to think that just occasionally it's worth the effort. But if anyolne starts getting insulting just ignore it.
Ther's far too much to do in the working class and far more serious debates to be had. I for one haven't given up though on some mebers of the AWL who seem to be thoughtful at least in their tone as opposed to the ones who just scream or whatever 'socialism of fools' or some other insult.
As for deleting Arthur's posts that seems ridiculous as well- just ignore them if you don't want to engage. Only offensively insulting (e.g. homophobic, racist or such like) or completely trolling posts should be deleted imo.
Arthur (and others, eg Sean and Jason, please take note),
If there was a deliberate decision made to delete your posts and account, then it must have been part of a deep conspiracy unknown to at least one member of the AWL executive committee, i.e. me. And I can tell you that, having known the other five members (including Martin Thomas and Sean Matgamna) for eight years, worked closely with them for five years, and been on the EC with them for four, they must be very adept conspirators and incredibly good actors to keep this covered up.
A number of people, and I include myself in this, who have a very poor understanding of both websites and computers in general have editorial access to this site. It may therefore be possible that someone inadvertently deleted you while fiddling around. But that is a very different question.
Furthermore, do you really think, having taken a decision (at whatever level) to delete you, those responsible would reinstate you pretty much as soon as you made the request? Any small delay was because a) Martin, the key person uniting both political responsibility and technical understanding, was in Australia and b) as hard as it may be for someone whose political activity consists entirely of posting on the internet (this is not an insult, just a statement of fact as I understand it) to appreciate properly, we are *very* busy with other things. In any case, the point is that we were happy to reinstate you almost as soon as you made us aware of what had happened.
The Weekly Worker suggests that Arthur's posts were deleted because they criticised the AWL majority position on Iraq. Do I really need to spell out how utterly ludicrous this is? If I do:
a) We are quite open about, and regularly publish material from, our minority criticising the majority position.
b) Many other people, eg the Permanent Revolution comrades, have posted on the site attacking our position on Iraq, in some cases (eg Bill J or Tony Greenstein) very aggressively.
c) In all the time I have been involved in the AWL, we have, as far as I am aware, never deleted any (allegedly: other) critical comments from the site. The only things we have deleted are spam. (Perhaps someone will correct me about the details of this? But in any case the basic outline of our pro-free speech approach is clear.)
Paul M writes: "Now Bill J's posts break the rules of reasonable debate, being bullet point abuse, and yours, to me are out of place on such a site." And, yet, there has never been any question of Bill J's rants being deleted, or even us asking him not to post. The issue you about your posts, in other words, is not their content - whatever we may think of it - but their number and length.
As soon as I posted the last comment, I noticed that lack of clarity in my explanation and thought you'd say that. Here's what I meant:
i. In fact, no one deliberately deleted your account, and it was restored not long after you alerted us to the problem.
ii. In one case, ie the comments on Glotzer, we deleted your comments for the reason stated above.
iii. The idea of deleting someone's comments, asking them not to post etc etc has only even arisen in one non-spamming case - yours.
Is that clear?
Is the distinction between "too long" and "not too long" arbitrary? In general, maybe. The issue arises with you because your posts are so very long and numerous. Cf you might ask someone to write an article for a publication and say "Don't worry about the length, we're flexible", assuming they might right something between, say, 500 and 5,000 words. If they then came back with 40,000 there would be a problem! Why do you think it is that we've never had this problem with anyone else?
I have no idea why your first Red Devil post was deleted. Perhaps because it made it look as though we exercise censorship when, clearly, we don't? Why didn't you ring the office for a discussion rather than simply assuming the worst and shouting about it on the internet?
Arthur - I think we should try to calm this down, and I agree with you that we should try bring the debate to a close.
1. Do you seriously believe that you registering a new account, and Sean (Myerscough) or whoever posting once or twice (no offence, Sean!), amounts to a serious campaign which would force us to back down from our alleged determination to bar you? No, the reality is that we were as surprised by the deletion as you were. The reason there was some small delay (it may have seemed a long one to you, given your internet-prolificness, but in the real world it was very short) in reinstating you is because Martin was away and we are very busy with lots of things that have no connection to the internet. I know you may find this difficult to comprehend, as almost all your political activity is internet-related, but there it is.
2. I don't know the details of the Glotzer issue, which was I wasn't involved in, and frankly I don't care. The idea that we are hostile to free speech whether in terms of our internal life, our meetings, our paper or our website, is demonstrably laughable. By all means post a link to the Glotzer comments on your blog.
3. Your point about a word limit is just silly - as demonstrated by the fact that we've never had a problem with anyone else, ANYONE ELSE, in the ten years our website has existed. Just exercise your common sense!
4. On your relation to the CPGB coverage: fair point, I withdraw my comments.