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Submitted by AWL on Thu, 14/07/2011 - 19:40

Hi Yosser,

First a quotation that I will return to:

"Any small Marxist tendency which found itself at the head of a struggle as big as Liverpool's would be likely to make mistakes. The Bolsheviks, after all, made many mistakes in 1905 and 1917! Genuine Marxists differ from sectarians and opportunists not by never making mistakes, but by an honest and rigorous political method which enables them to keep workers' trust and to learn from mistakes."

1. You think the AWL is not worth debating with, but you're going to post on our website at length? Ok. Then I'll reply. I'd also point out posting on our website is not an option we have with the Socialist Party website, which doesn't allow comments - in the same way that, however you were treated when you debated us, we have *never* been invited to a Socialist Party event to debate.

2. I'd completely forgotten debating you at our event (it was a youth school in East London in 2008 - see here). I'm not accusing you of lying, in part because I don't remember. But if I did remember, what would it achieve for us to engage in punch-and-judy about it? If what you say is true, I apologise. However, I'm very surprised because normally our culture is one of scrupulously respecting the rights of those we are debating with, providing them with extra time and so on. That was, for instance, the case at this year's IFF, where we debated a speaker from Anarchist FAQ on anarchism vs Marxism, and Workers Power on the general strike slogan. We've debated various different groups over the last few years, and I'd like to think they'd mostly confirm my claims about how we operate.

I repeat: contrast this to the Socialist Party, which as far as I can tell almost never invites others on the left to debate anything.

3. I don't know what to say about swearing, since it is not very common in AWL meetings. I'm not accusing you of lying, but that is my experience, and my experience is quite extensive. In any case: get a grip!

4. You don't deal, concretely, with whether the SP does have a bureaucratic internal regime (and "other larger organisations" - you mean the SWP? Which others?) But you are happy to call us a cult, sinister etc. All I'd say is that you can read our constitution on this website (where is the SP's constitution?) You can also read our conference documents, and you can read many of our debates, not only in comments but as printed in our paper and other publications. There's nothing like that in any SP public outlet. Draw your own conclusions...

5. Some AWL members went to Oxford or Cambridge, and many went to quite posh universities. That's true. However a) when I visited Oxford two years after I left, there were no AWL members at the university, but a Socialist Party group of seven people. And so? b) The idea that most or indeed hardly any people in the AWL are from a bourgeois background is complete nonsense - and that includes people who did, say, go to Oxford. To give one example, a comrade who for a few months recently worked in our office part-time as London organiser went to Oxford. But he is from a working-class background. And of course quite a few of our comrades went to less posh universities, or did not go to university at all.

I cannot think of a single AWL member who comes from a ruling class background, as you claim. (Perhaps there is one or two I've forgotten.) Who did you have in mind? We have acknowledged that our class composition is not as proletarian as the SP's - that it what sparked this discussion! But that you distort reality is telling, I think.

6. Where did Martin say it was wrong or undesirable to recruit working class people with little education? He didn't. He said that the fact the SP cannot recruit people with extensive Marxist reading (which is not limited to those who went to university!) is instructive. Completely different point! Do you understand what the word "only" means?

7. The AWL only exists in London and Oxford/Cambridge? In fact we have only a very small number of comrades in Oxford and Cambridge. Our biggest branch outside London is Sheffield, where we have fifteen people I think. Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Hull, to name a few, are all substantially bigger. So is our branch on London Underground (seven people).

Yes, we are a small group - we do not exist in many areas. But I think a member of a group of allegedly 1,000-plus (which cannot even get that number to its national school) telling a group of 150 or so that it's "tiny", "irrelevant", "a sect" etc is more than a bit offbeam.

8. Janine has built a base on the Tube despite the AWL's politics? But then why have we recruited substantially there are so that we are now the largest group - despite being smaller in broader society than our rivals the SP and SWP? We are not afraid to admit that we and those we work with are in a minority in the union - on industrial issues and on broader ones. But to claim we are irrelevant there is laughable. The same is true in at least three other unions, PCS, Unison and NUT.

9. To sum up on the last few points: we don't claim to be "on a level" with the SP, to be as a big as you, to have the same number of stewards, executive members etc (again, which "other" groups do you think are more influential than us?) What we are denying is that we are somehow irrelevant, and the RMT election shows it.

10. Sorry, where do we say we never make mistakes? Don't be ridiculous! In fact one of the things that makes us different from the SP is that we are happy to admit we've made mistakes and try to understand them. And see the quotation at the top of this article, which I repeat. It is from a series of articles we published about what happened in Liverpool (see here).

"Any small Marxist tendency which found itself at the head of a struggle as big as Liverpool's would be likely to make mistakes. The Bolsheviks, after all, made many mistakes in 1905 and 1917! Genuine Marxists differ from sectarians and opportunists not by never making mistakes, but by an honest and rigorous political method which enables them to keep workers' trust and to learn from mistakes."

11. Our "whole reason for existing seems to revolve around pointing the faults of other organisations". Sorry, the evidence for this? As an accusation against, say, the Sparts, sure. Against us? Hardly.

12. Yes, we are small. Yes, we have always been small, and our membership has been stagnant for a while. Now, however, it is growing fairly rapidly. Militant was a relatively big force in the early 80s and then declined catastrophically from the early 90s, only to start recovering a bit after 2000. But... none of this proves anything except our relative size and growth. It doesn't solve the politics.

13. You say we distort your positions on various issues? But that doesn't get us very far, does it?

14. You ask where is our Liverpool? Actually, our history (which you can read a summary of here) is full of important contributions. But it's true that we never played a role as decisive as you played in Liverpool. However, that is not a reason for you to be proud. Your tendency could have made a decisive difference, yes, but you bottled it!

Sacha Ismail

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