"CPGB": Time to tell the truth

Posted in PaulHampton's blog on Fri, 17/10/2008 - 08:08,

The pathetic intervention of the CPGB at the AWL-Machover on Sunday has been followed by an even more pathetic write up in its paper, the Weekly Worker (16 October). Interestingly, it does not print what its own comrades said – as we have in Solidarity – since to do so would expose the apolitical poverty of their contributions.

The CPGB gave out a leaflet headed “time for politics” at the debate – yet none of its speakers said anything substantial about either Israel-Palestine or about Iran. Instead, the tone was set by the hysterical Ben Lewis, and reiterated by editor Peter Manson and “guru” John Bridge – lying about Sean Matgamna in order to whip up left public opinion against the AWL.

I was involved in the “basement” end of the debate – refuting the WW nonsense and highlighting the Stalinism of its story-telling and its call – repeated by Bridge - to drive the AWL from the labour movement. The WW complained that AWL comrades behaved like a “baying mob” and “continually shouted down their opponents”.

Actually the atmosphere was set by Ben Lewis – the first CPGB speaker, for whom truth is an incidental convenience, much like the broken clock which tells the right time. I came in after Lewis set the tone, and make no apology for attacking the WW lies and its behaviour – allowing others to put the politics, while it prints the gossip, steals and publishes internal materials etc. For sure some of us heckled when CPGB speakers told lies – and rightly so. We do not apologise for combating Stalinist slander.

The CPGB explanation for this? They wrote: “This behaviour was undoubtedly facilitated by the organisation’s culture of drinking at political events”. This is laughable. I’ve barely touched an alcoholic drink in over 20 years. Virtually no one in the AWL drinks alcohol in meetings. The meeting room was so full I doubt anyone present could have had a couple of pints. It is another invention, a fantasy concocted by invertebrates.

Paul

The AWL, Labour and the Left

Comments

Submitted by martin on Fri, 17/10/2008 - 21:25

The audio files of the debate are on the website, and from them you can verify that the uproar started with the first floor speaker, Dan Randall from the AWL, being shouted at when he denounced Hezbollah. He was able to finish his speech, but only after being interrupted for a while, and after the chair had appealed for order.

You can also verify that Dan's was an objective, reasoned speech, stating substantive political arguments, in a forceful and vigorous fashion, but without any of the wild, personalised, and deliberately provocative denunciation-mongering that characterised the WW speeches other than Mike McNair's.

There was other uproar at various times during the meeting, most of it from the anti-WL side. There were deliberate attempts by WW people to needle AWL people by personal insults. There was some irritable heckling from both sides. No anti-AWL speaker was shouted down. No AWL member was drunk, or anything near it.

Actually it's an indictment of the WW group that, as far as I can see, none of their members was drunk either. If they were drunk, there might be some excuse for what they said. But to make speeches like Peter Manson's or John Bridge's when sober... dear me!

The other thing about Mark Fischer's report of the debate is... that it is not a report of the debate. Mainly it just retails snippets which he has gleaned from the AWL e-list, and alleged conversations with Fischer says he has had with AWLers. Oh, of course, it says that the WW won the debate "hands down", but it neglects to mention any actual political positions they advanced, or political arguments they put forward...

Martin Thomas

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 19/10/2008 - 16:44

It is not really clear that this debate achieved much at all. Of course we should be for debating ideas in the socialisit movement about how best to raise practical solidarity with the workers' and democratic movement in Iran for example and how best to rebuild the workers' movement here to a position where we could meaningfully mobilise against an attack on Iran.

However what purpose is there in debating an individual like Sean Matgamna who asks a presumably rhetorical and certainly unanswered question about why should we condemn an attack on Iran? This is far worse than being drunk at a public meeting (if anyone was- though why mention it at all if not?)

I hardly think this helpful to Iranian workers or a particularly fruitful use of time. A re furitful use of time may be reading Reading Lolita in Tehran which I am doing in (regrettable few) spare moments I have or watching the film Persepolis both about the repression in Iran under the dictatorship of activists and students- the very people whom, according to SM, we cannot condemn an attack on.

Submitted by sacha on Sun, 19/10/2008 - 17:07

Jason,

1. Debates like the Matgamna-Machover one can be unpleasant, sure, but they're vital for the ideological clarification of the socialist movement. I think the usefulness of this one was minimised by the fact that the CPGB members present didn't engage with the actual issues, relied on throwing around accusations of pro-imperialism and misquoted and lied shamelessly, but that's nobody else's fault. Seeing them thrown back on doing that was also fairly revealing and useful in itself. Debates between different tendencies can certainly be very useful, eg the debate on imperialism between the AWL and PR at our youth school earlier this year.

2. Why say that people had been drinking if they hadn't? Erm, it's called a lie. Another example that's stuck in my head: before NUS conference this year, we proposed a joint ENS-HOPI meeting against war and in support of the Iranian student movement. (HOPI refused, saying that it must explicitly billed as a debate, before going on to be offered a debate on another occasion and refusing that too!) Ben Lewis claimed in the Weekly Worker that we were proposing to invite a pro-war, right-wing Iranian student to speak; in fact we made clear it should be an anti-war meeting and proposed two anti-war Iranian socialists, one of who is a loose HOPI supporter!! Absolutely shamless lying on their part.

3. This is getting dull. We oppose an attack. We're against it. We don't want it to happen. If there are mobilisations against it, we'll take part - though with our own slogans and sharp opposition to any pro-Iranian or Israelophobic nonsense. However. If Israel bombs Iranian nuclear facilities it will not, actually, be an attack on "activists and students". No one claims Israel is going to bomb Iranian cities. An attack would almost certainly have very bad consequences for the Iranian masses - at minimum strengthening the regime's repression, at worst leading to deaths - which is among the reasons we... oppose it. And of course Israel is a capitalist, regional-imperialist state that does not act in the interests of the Iranian masses any more than the Israeli masses. But to talk about an Israeli attack on the people of Iran is just to obscure the issues. What it an attack on the people of Iraq when they destroyed an Iraqi nuclear facility with no casualties whatsoever? (Yes, I know it almost certainly wouldn't go like that this time; which is, again, among the reasons we oppose an attack; but that's not the point here.)

I don't know how much more explicitly I can explain this.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 19/10/2008 - 19:38

ideological clarification is useful and even essential- yes. But such debates I think should be part of building an actual movement. I'm not saying even that this debate was a complete waste of time just questioning how useful it is.

On the drunk question I meant why do you mention it if it is a lie? However from the debate on Liam's site it would appear that it is an exaggeration rather than a lie- I do agree though it is hardly the main issue.

On the possibility of an attack on Iran I'm glad you say you are against it and to be fair to you, Sacah, you have said this before but there has been extreme confusion on the AWL's position with some in the organisation defending Sean Matgamna's piece, some saying it was unclear and some saying it was wrong.

Any attack on Iran is likely to involve large numbers of casualties amongst the Iranian working class and even if there was an attack that didn't involve such casualties directly it would actually have extremly negative consequences for the Iranian workers' movement.

Submitted by PaulHampton on Wed, 22/10/2008 - 20:53

In reply to by Jason

Jason,

The reason for correcting the record is that telling the truth is important for its own sake. It's important for the left, if the left is to learn to discuss ideas seriously. And it's important for the idelogical front of the class struggle - we won't win the battle of ideas and combat bourgeois ideology unless we tell the truth about reality as a whole. This principle is important for small things (like the alleged drunkeness) and for big politics i.e. on Israel-Palestine, on Iran etc. The lies the CPGB tell about the AWL indicate how far they are from this principle - and how close they remain wedded to their Stalinist heritage.

Paul

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