Solidarity 196, 9 March 2011

"Yes to Libya", not "no to the USA"

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2011 - 3:01

In Libya, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, the army has not pushed aside the dictator challenged by mass upheavals. Qaddafi still controls much of the army. And so Libya is moving from street uprisings into civil war.

People at the chief rebel centre in Benghazi have called for military aid from the big powers, through a "no-fly zone" directed against warplanes controlled by Qaddafi. They oppose any idea of outside troops intervening on the ground.


Submitted by guenter on Fri, 11/03/2011 - 14:02

but not let kneejerk "no to the USA" reactions dominate our thought.

-"no "no to imperialist intervention" at the top of our slogans"

-"socialists shall not give a blanque check for the intervention"

...but perhaps one with a few little conditions?


shame, shame, shame!

Submitted by Jason on Sat, 12/03/2011 - 19:05

This is one of those strange articles that the AWL produce due to a confused position on imperialism.

Imperialist powers, like Britain, are pushing for a no-fly zone for an obvious reason to control Libya's oil. It is absolutely clear that we as socialists should oppose this. It is also absolutely clear that we should support the Libyan rebels and working class of Benghazi and Tripoli in opposing Gaddafi. An imperialist imposed no-fly zone would certainly not be in the interests of the Libyan revolution or freedom for Libya's workers and poor- it would help an elite rule on behalf of imperialism.

The article is confused- on the one hand it argues, that US or UK intervention deserves no positive support. But then asks is it our job to oppose it and answers - no.

Well actually, yes! We should be for the arming of Libyan rebels, including surface to air missiles but no to any imperialist troops, planes or wepaons under imperialist control.

Submitted by Mark on Sat, 12/03/2011 - 23:54

And who would hand over surface to air missiles except armies under imperialist control? Is such a thing as an anti-imperialist no-fly zone a possibility?

"An imperialist imposed no-fly zone would certainly not be in the interests of the Libyan revolution ..." Well, that is not what the so-called Libyan revolution thinks - increasingly they seem to think it is a good idea.
Why? Because they are more sensible than you, their lives are at stake, and can see an "imperialist imposed no-fly zone" might stop them being wiped out.
Perhaps they see the choice as being between someone who might slowly poison them, and the person who is about to shoot them dead... Perhaps you might have read Trotsky on such a matter?

Why don't we call for a no-fly zone? Because we don't want to take responsibility for it (it would not be under our control, it would come with all sorts of other baggage attached, it would come as part of an overall bourgeois policy...) On the other hand, if the imperialists do something to stop the 'Libyan revolution' being murdered (for their own reasons, of course), why would we denounce them?
No matter what you intend, as you open a second bottle of wine and prepare to write another stern email about the evils of imperialism, socialists who loudly agitate against a type of bourgeois intevention which protects the anti-regime people in Libya actually line up behind Gaddafi.

Submitted by Clive on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 07:01

All of this - these political positions - come down, don't they, to what we do, and what we say: what we tell other people to do. Should we be organising, or supporting, or telling other people to attend, protests like Stop the War's which are focused on 'no intervention!' or 'no imperialist intervention!' or some such? I just don't see how we could with a clear conscience. I don't see how they can. They can tell themselves that somehow they would not, if they succeeded, be stranding the Libyan rebels without a hope. But that's self-consoling nonsense, isn't it?

(The peculiar twist to it is that what's actually happening is that imperialism is *not* intervening to stop Gadaffi).

Arm the rebels? As Mark says, however nice that sounds, it's hard to see in practice what it means except the suggestion to the British etc military that they organise the distribution of weapons to the Libyan rebels rather than do something else. Unless it means 'overthrow the British state, create a workers' militia, and *then* give arms (including surface-to-air missiles!) to the Libyan rebels.'

For me the reality is that there simply isn't much we can do.

One thing we can do is not make it our sole point of principle to denounce imperialism for doing what they're actually not doing anyway. (If you think of the range of basic positions on military intervention as 'support', 'not support', 'oppose' and 'not oppose', we should do the last of the these four).

What can also do is build solidarity with the left and the workers' movement in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, to try to limit the terrible consequences of a Gadaffi victory, should it happen.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 09:58

It is important to build solidarity with the left and organised workers in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia.

Clive is right that without a much more militant workers' movement there is not much the left here can do- it is of course deeply frustrating. However, there are people, Libyan exiles, going to Libya- I met one yesterday for example, going to free Benghazi. We can continue to demonstrate on the anti Gaddafi demonstrations and we can make sure that any Stop the War protest, or at least the contingent, we are on is clearly in solidarity with the Libyan revolution. That would be hard to do if we don't go on the demonstrations- are the AWL comrades suggesting abstaining from or not getting involved in demonstrations against imperialist intervention in Libya?

Mark's point about slow poison or a quick bullet is a good one (I'll ignore, except for this short comment, the slightly silly distraction of opening bottles of wine to imply perhaps that I treat this as a game or diversion- such points detract from the seriousness of the argument).

It is perfectly understandable that Libyan rebels who are being bombed by Gadaffi ask for help in taking out his planes. They are right to do so. The important point is to have any such technology, expertise and assistance under the control of the Libyan rebels not imperialism. You say this is unrealistic. May be so.

But that would be the point of large demonstrations on the streets to say, "Hands off the Libyan revolution! Imperialist troops out of Libya!"

These are not the sole extent of what we say on Libya though. That is why we go on and will continue to go on demonstrations against Gaddafi and in favour of the Libyan revolt and give assistance to their cause in whatever small way we can.

It is frustrating that whatever we say other things happen but the whole point of being socialists is to battle within the working class for ideas, to win workers to action, to win the mass of the working class to actions which can liberate us whether in Libya or London from the chains of capital. We may have along way to go but the struggle for socialist ideas and politics whilst not promising any quick fixes is not insignificant or forlorn- it, along with practical solidarity and action, is what we need to do.

Submitted by Mark on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 11:21

At first glance your balance is wrong.
For example: "Hands off the Libyan revolution! Imperialist troops out of Libya!" Forgive me, but there are no "imperialist troops" in Libya! Don't you understand how strange you sound?
In fact your framework is perverse. If my mum can see that Gadaffi's regime is the main problem in Libya, by a million miles, why can't you? (Answer: because you see events through the distorting lens of Orthodox Trotskyism where the main enemy is 'imperialism', known in advance, without recourse to actually examining the dull, mundane facts of any given matter.)
We should not allow ourselves to loudly denounce, and agitate against, the (possible) actions of 'imperialism' when these actions would actually benefit people we want to see helped.

Submitted by Clive on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 12:45

There are times, Jason, when it makes sense to me to mobilise against imperialist invasion even though the immediate effect, if we are successful, would be to leave a dictator in power. Take Iraq. The 'pro-war left' were right, on a certain level, to say that if the anti-war movement succeeded Saddam would be left in power.

But I think we were right to participate in the anti-war movement, with our own anti-Saddam slogans, nonetheless, because there remained a realistic possibility of a movement of the Iraqi people themselves against the dictator, and stopping the war then didn't mean simply permitting massacre; and because the war which was about to happen was one of full-scale invasion and occupation of Iraq, which even if it removed Saddam was likely to go horribly wrong because of the character of the invaders.

If what was on the table now was another full-scale invasion and occupation - which you'd think it was from the way much of the left talk - we would be right to oppose it again.

But surely the dominant fact right now, Cameron's posturing notwithstanding, is that imperialism is not intervening *at all*.

Yet the left wants to make 'Hands off Libya!' its campaigning priority. It is bizarre. If the US etc *were* to set-up a no-fly zone, whatever that might mean in practice (and none of us are really qualified, are we, to make detailed comment on such things), it would be reasonable to make general comment on how imperialism isn't to be trusted, warn against further involvement, and so on. But *campaign* against it - try to stop it? Rather than facing up to our weakness, that is simply to construct an ideological fantasy in which by saying certain words we can make happen what we want: pretending we can 'stop imperialism' and assist the Libyan revolution. It's pretty much literally just chanting magic spells.

That doesn't commit us to saying that US military intervention is just brilliant, or losing our general opposition to the American, British, French etc ruling classes. It does mean recognising that the current situation in Libya looks really awful, and the 'rebels' don't have a lot of options. But if Gaddafi is stopped - if a no-fly zone could stop him - that would be, all other things being equal, good from the point of view of the revolution in the rest of the Middle East. Surely.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 12:56

Clive, try reading what I wrote - I am saying that in the event of an imperialist intervention e.g. US planes entering Libyan airspace it is quite likely that US troops would follow. In that circumstance it would be important to raise the slogan- now it would be a matter of against the clamouring for US/UK control of oil resources.

Currently, the main focus of international workers' solidarity is clearly to support the Libyan rebels, against Gadaffi. I think I was clear on this. You objected to my saying we should be for the arming of Libyan rebels but I think under the circumstance sthey are that is exactly what is needed- for volunteers and arms from neighbouring Arab countries and for where possible donations from collections amongst exile communities and solidarity groups here.

Submitted by Clive on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 13:19

Well, Jason, I have now reread what you wrote several times wondering if I am going mad, but you don't seem to say at all that 'no to imperialist intervention' or whatever is a slogan for the future.

I agree that probably the best thing which could happen now would be a solidarity movement in other Arab countries, an international brigade type thing - But I don't really feel in a position to *call* for that!

Submitted by guenter on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 13:51

good that my iniatial post -although never mentioned- provoked the following debate.
all AWL-debaters here probably know, that an high US-official said clearly, that a non-flyzone will be the first step 4 the NATO-intervention. so, awl is going to support it. to declare imperialism as a "slow poison", compared to ghadaffi, is shameless (oh, how sweet we die from that slow poison!)- its the same imperialism who once supported ghadaffi, ben ali, mubarrak, sadam hussein and so on, and now plans his intervention not for "bringing democracy to libya", but for his oil interests. same as in afghanistan or iraq.

i want to remember that no one here had an answer, when i posted an article, that clearly showed the real reasons 4 the yugoslawian war, which awl had supported in naive believe, that this war is to stop serb chauvinism, and even gave critical support to the kosovarian UCLA. when i recently posted about new wikileaks-documents who showed, how UCLA was an group of mafiosis and fascists, instructed by USA to act like an rebel army against serb chauvinism, then again nobody replied. my postings get ignored, cause people here dont have an answer for it. shame, shame, shame!

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 15:02

What to do is a difficult question but that difficulty should not drift into a support for (or, what amounts to the same thing, lack of opposition to) imperialism.

Clive, you are not mad, clearly, however much we may disagree. In fact, I find your comments thoughtful but still I think your position is hamstrung by the politics of equivocating on imperialism. Perhpas, I wasn't entirely clear.

In fact I think I should have made my point "I am saying that in the event of an imperialist intervention e.g. US planes entering Libyan airspace it is quite likely that US troops would follow" should have bene addressed to Mark; he wrote, "For example: "Hands off the Libyan revolution! Imperialist troops out of Libya!" Forgive me, but there are no "imperialist troops" in Libya! Don't you understand how strange you sound?" Wothout getting too entangled I was talking about what happens when or if the imperialists impose a no-fly zone.

The rebels in Benghazi face imminent defeat so I think it is very understandable that they and others are pushing for a no-fly zone. But the reality of a US/EU imposed no-fly zone would be very quickly to install a compliant regime- if the imperialist powers feel that Gadaffi no longer serves their purpose (there are of course divisions on this). If the US etc. imposed a no-fly zone it would be important to demonstrate not only in solidarity with the Libyan revolt but also for no imperialist troops in Libya and for any military aid to be strictly under the control of the Libyan rebels.

In the meanwhile it is essential that socialists, the left and trade unions here and across Europe begin to support the demonstrations in solidarity with the Libyan revolution outside the embassy in London and the BBC in Manchester for example and begin collecting for those going to Libya to fight against Gadaffi's forces.

Submitted by Clive on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 16:44

If imperialism does something - which is quite a big if - that prevents Gaddafi from slaughtering the rebels, I will not oppose them. I will not oppose a no-fly zone (I will not demonstrate against it etc). I will continue to say that Western powers are not our allies, not to be trusted, etc.

If there was an attempt to occupy Libya, I would oppose it. Is that very likely? It seems extremely unlikely at the moment, and not the most pressing or imminent danger.

If there are people we can collect for, that sounds good. But it also sounds like a very partial answer to the problem.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 17:04

If the imperialists impose a no-fly zone, no-drive zone and launch aerial bombardment against Libyan forces loyal to Gadaffi we should join the Stop the War demonstrations.

Why? Because the clear aim would be to cultivate a new loyal elite to continue to steal Libya's oil: under these conditions an anti-imperialist contigent demanding hands off Libya's oil and revolution, whilst supporting the Libyan revolt against Gaddaffi and demanding that any arms are under their control will become all the more important in staying the hands of the imperialists. Of course every jet plane targetting rebels brought down would be a cause for rejoicing by the rebels but the US and allies' forces are no freinds of the Libyan people- far from it. The imperialists are after oil and the continuing dictatorship of capital- for decades they have armed Gadaffi, Mubarak, Hussein and other despots. When their local representaties prove unreliable they move to bring in new forces. it is understandable why the poor and dispossessed under attack look to the US for support- but the only reliable way forward is for the Libyan workers to be armed themselves, to expropriate the capitalists, take control fo the resources and run society through workers' democracy. Socialists here need to point out the dangers of US imperialism not abstain from such arguments.

The fact that the AWL would not be on such a demonstration (unles Clive's position is at odds with the rest of the AWL?) speaks volumes about their politics, sadly.

Any clarifications welcome.

Submitted by Clive on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 17:25

Jason, you said in your first contribution that the AWL is confused about imperialism. (To be clear, btw, I am only speaking for myself in this discussion). But this seems to me immensely confused.

You write: "...every jet plane targetting rebels brought down would be a cause for rejoicing by the rebels but the US and allies' forces are no freinds of the Libyan people- far from it. The imperialists are after oil and the continuing dictatorship of capital..."

Of course they are no friends of the Libyan people - until a few weeks ago they were supporting Gaddafi. Of course anything they do is to further the dictatorship of capital.

But no amount of saying 'arm the Libyan people' and what have you can affect the fact that if you are demonstrating to 'stop the war', meaning stop any (self-motivated, not-to-be-trusted) intervention by Western powers, you are in fact, right now, calling for Gaddafi to be given a free hand to do as he will.

Will you rejoice, with the rebels, if Gaddafi's jets are shot down - by imperialist military force, in fact? I hope so. I will.

I am not saying we should give 'political support' (if that's the right phrase in this context) to Western military action, still less make suggestions to them, or whatever, about exactly what they might do. I am not proposing it as my answer to the problem. (Though I do accept that I don't have an immediate answer).

I am saying we should 'not oppose' them, in the (it right now looks) unlikely event that they do anything at all to stop Gaddafi. I will not join in with people - the SWP et al - whose 'anti-imperialism' is so primitive and dull-headed that they think demonstrating against imperialism is the main thing to be doing right now, and who basically don't seem to give two fucks what happens to the rebellion in Libya as long as they're beating their breasts about America.

(There might of course be an argument for going on the demos to have an argument, but that's a different matter).

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 17:39

If my immediate enemy is brought down by another enemy I don't mourn (e.g. we don't defend the dmeocratic rights of fascists against the police but neither do we applaud th epolice or clal for more of them!)

But if the imperialists do interevene then we should clearly be for those in Libya who are saying give the arms to us, don't get involved.

Submitted by Clive on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 17:47

"we should clearly be for those in Libya who are saying give the arms to us..."

Yes. But that's not in dispute, is it? And we could hold protests, I suppose, calling on the Western military to arm the rebels rather than intervene themselves. But they'd arm the rebels, if they did that, with their own agenda, too. It doesn't really solve the problem.

Western military intervention isn't my answer to the existing problem. I don't have the means to impose my answer. But it seems to me the least I can do is not seriously try to stop the one thing which today, tomorrow or the day after might save lives and prevent Gaddafi from re-establishing his power over the whole of Libya. I don't have to buy into any ideological claims the Western powers make, or lose sight of who and what they are. I just have to accept that whatever I do, I can *not* do that.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 18:51

Clive, you're right that "I don't have the means to impose my answer. " Nor of course do I.

But that doesn't mean that we have no influence. The whole point of engaging in politics is to build up collective resources and power for the working class to impose its answer. As socialsits we argue for working class power, the driect rule of the workers, for a revolutionary struggle against capitalism etc.

What we do has an impact, despite our small numbers. Collections or union donations here can help- demonstrations here are communcated to people in Libya. A large movement on the streets against imperialist war, against arming Gadaffi, for allowing trade and arms to free Benghazi could begin to make a difference. But as important as th epractical influence (small bt real) is the need to build a working class movmeent and socialist curent within it for revolutionary answers, for working class self-emancipation, independent from any bourgeois power. Ideas can become a material force when they are the ideas of the masses. Sometimes these ideas can spread rapidly like wildfire, like the inspiration of a people realising they are free. Living Is Believing You Are (L.I.B.Y.A.) FREE was one of the euphoric signs erected on some fo the demosntrations. To see these brave fighters destroyed and this dream of freedom drowned in blood would be a tragedy, one that imperialism is in up to its neck.

"But they'd arm the rebels, if they did that, with their own agenda, too. It doesn't really solve the problem."

That's correct of course. So to improve it the demand should be for 'aid without strings': of course to impose that would take a degree of working class organisation and militancy sadly lacking. But to raise the slogan would at least expose the complicity of the imperialists who have armed and financed Gadaffi to the brim. Exposure of course is not enough wnen the revolt faces imminent crushing- that's why socialists in the unions and on the streets need to making the call for solidarity with and even where possible practical aid to the Libyan revolution an urgent priority.

Submitted by Mark on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 19:18

Jason, take your: "We don't defend the democratic rights of fascists against the police but neither do we applaud the police or call for more of them!" Indeed, if the police are about to arrest some fascists for, say, firebombing a mosque we don't make one of the key elements of our agitation, 'police off our streets!' Do we? Now follow your thought through to Libya.
Just to spell this out, for the slow of learning, by replacing your words on fascists/police to fit the current Libyan situation : We don't defend Gadaffi's democratic right to massacre the Libyan opposition against big imperialism's war planes, but neither do we applaud US imperialism, or call for them to act.

And if bourgeois police, or American war planes, do something to protect people who we believe need protection - why would we campaign to try to stop them?

Submitted by Clive on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 19:19

"Socialists in the unions and on the streets need to making the call for solidarity with and even where possible practical aid to the Libyan revolution an urgent priority..."

I agree with that. I agree with quite a lot of the rest of what you say, actually. But I think the basic issue of disagreement is reasonably clear, so I'll leave it there.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 19:47

OK thanks, Clive for a good and comradely discussion.

Mark on your point: If there was a court case of a fascist accused of bombing a mosque we may mobilise on the streets alongside Asian community and other workers to show solidarity and unless the police were attacking us (not unlikely by the way) our main chant may not be "Racist police off our streets!" (still less BNP into HMP) but something like "Whose streets, our streets!" and the argument would be to build a working class movement to smash fascism not depend on the police.

An analogy would be if Gadaffi was on trial for war crimes perhaps.

But if police were going into ostensibly attack the EDL we wouldn't applaud them or support their presence on the streets because we know their real target. We;d say racist polcie off our streets, leave the EDL to us.

Same in Libya- the revolutionaries would be right to say as many of them are leave Gadaffi to us, let us have the arms and the trade to buy them, give us expertise and help to impose our own no-fly zone under our own control.

Submitted by guenter on Sun, 13/03/2011 - 20:10

The imperialists are after oil and the continuing dictatorship of capital- for decades they have armed Gadaffi, Mubarak, Hussein and other despots.(jason)

I said exactly the same some postings b4 jason. if clive choosed to ignore me - his prob, i dont give a damn. if at least he does listen when jason repeats the same- fine.
but real shameless -once again- is the ignorance of my hint, that some high US-official already said, that a nonflyzone will only be the first step of an NATO-intervention.
Perhaps jason could repeat this too, that clive may listen, and ask him for a clear yes or no to this upcoming intervention.
if some things here get ignored, only because i say them (having had a little clash with clive a while ago), is only highly ridicouless.

Submitted by guenter on Wed, 16/03/2011 - 00:00

The "No Imperialist Intervention" issue is a red herring and irrelevant right now to our brothers and sisters fighting for their lives in North Africa.

Is this an official AWL-position? Then Iam afraid, that AWL is more and more becoming that red hering- and irrelevant, here as much than in northafrica.

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 16/03/2011 - 13:48


Theo is not a member of the AWL, but yes in this case we oppose the slogan "No imperialist intervention" - as opposed to "No support for imperialist intervention"/"No trust in imperialist intervention", which we agree with. In other words, we oppose calling on or expressing support for the US, NATO etc, we advocate to the democratic and working-class elements among the revolutionaries that they remain independent of and hostile to these powers - but we would not go out on the streets to actively oppose the creation of eg a no fly zone which could help the rebels (who as we speak are being driven back by Qaddafi's bombers...)

What about sending arms to the rebels? Isn't that also intervention? Would you denounce that?

The reality is you don't know if a no fly zone is likely to be the first step of a broad, deeper intervention. At the moment the evidence suggests not - but you don't seem very interested in the evidence, more interested in sounding as anti-imperialist as possible.

I'd also like to hear an answer - sorry if I've missed it - to the issue of the Kurdistan no fly zone imposed after the first Gulf War. So we should have denounced it and called for its removal - even if that gave Saddam Hussein the ability to bomb the Kurds?

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by guenter on Wed, 16/03/2011 - 19:05

The reality is you don't know if a no fly zone is likely to be the first step of a broad, deeper intervention(sacha)

why must i repeat for the 3rd time, that an high US-official, who also spoke in the name of the US-army, said so?
sad, sacha, to see ur name among the ignorants.
iam tired of this type of discussions. get happy with this "green-party"-politics.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 16/03/2011 - 19:10

I sympathise with Theo's points that the main problem is that of Gadaffi's forces moving on the rebels but I think it is naive to assume that this is not a problem itself of long-standing imperialist intervention. It is pertinent to ask who armed Gadaffi before dismissing imperialism as a red herring however. Imperialism could quite easily lifte the blockade on Benghazi and free Libya allowing the rebels to buy arms themeselves, offer miltiary assistance in the form of weapons and expertise under the control of the Libyan revolutionary forces and offer massive fianncial and humanitarian assistance to the rebels. They aren't: instead thaye ar ehappy to see Gadaffi use the weapons they sold him to wipe out the rebellion whilst issuing rhetorical utterances to saopa up public opinion for when they may still go in to replace Gsdaffi with a more relaible stooge to ensure that BP can get its hands back on the oil again and esnure the Libyan people don't.

That is why the whole workers' movement and the left should be demanding solidarity and aid to the rebels, organising pracical assisance where possible (inlcuding financial aid) and opposing any imperialist intervention against the rebels in Libya. We should be against Western troops or any military intervention by the West (except stopping arms sales to Gadaffi and instead arming the rebels, with all such armaments under the control of the rebels).

Submitted by Clive on Thu, 17/03/2011 - 11:21

In reply to by Jason

I said I'd withdraw from this, and I'll probably wish I had. But - Of course imperialism - American, whichever - will only intervene in Libya, or anywhere else, with a plan which serves their interests. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot. They won't intervene in Libya simply out of the goodness of their hearts.

However they know they have no guarantee that their plan will work, and their last experience of going in with a plan - Iraq - proved very costly indeed. That's one of the things constraining them. So the dominant feature of the current situation is not the threat of an imperialist-imposed plan on Libya. It seems to me that to think it is, is only possible through the weirdest ideologically-framed schema (I'm not really meaning Jason, here: I've just been reading some SWP stuff). The dominant fact in the current situation is the threat of Gadaffi slaughtering people - and the consequences of that for the uprisings elsewhere.

(I also want to say, in passing, that this surely is the background to the Saudis sending troops to support the king of Bahrain. I've no doubt, as has been reported, that Hilary Clinton has given them the US' support in this regard, because the US obviously regards all this 'unrest' as problematic, to say the least. But it seems to me that, fundamentally, the Bahreini and Saudi ruling families have been emboldened not by the US - which has been fantastically ineffectual in the last couple of months - but by Gadaffi. His advances against the rebels have appeared to 'turn the tide'.)

It would seem, from what I understand, that a no-fly zone wouldn't really make a lot of difference right now. I don't know. And for sure - I agree with Barry Finger, below, that we should oppose any claims by imperialism/the US/NATO or whoever to have any rights in any negotiations, and so on - we should warn against whatever plan they have.

Maybe it's a good idea to call for 'arming the rebels'. If we do, though, we should recognise that it's an entirely propagandist demand - If the US/NATO/the UK/whoever were to arm the rebels, they'd do *that* with a plan, too. It sounds like an alternative to armed intervention, but in the real world, it isn't. (Peter Tatchell, as I recall, raised a similar idea at the time of the 2003 war).

But given that imperialism is not - not without a struggle, anyway; not straightforwardly, and not immediately - in a position to impose its solution (pliable government, etc - and anyway it doesn't seem to me out of the question that a government resulting simply from a rebel victory wouldn't be quite American-friendly, though not if the US keeps prevaricating,presumably) - if they did *something* which helped turn the tables back against Gadaffi, I will not be on the streets denouncing them.

I hope, of course, that the rebels turn the tide back anyway. There are signs today that they might. But if Gadaffi attacks Baghazi and drowns the rebellion in blood, while the world just watches, left-wing demonstrators running around focusing on the evils of Western intervention will not have been their finest hour.

Submitted by cathy n on Thu, 17/03/2011 - 09:57

The Solidarity article, “Yes to Libya,”, not “no to the USA” raises a crucial and fundamental point of departure for left politics. It emphasizes that socialist opposition to imperialism arises first and foremost from our solidarity with the workers and oppressed concretely in Libya, but more generally throughout the Middle East and globally. Every step in their self-liberation advances the prospects of a future reconstruction of society on a higher civilizational basis.

All this might seem trivial to past generations of leftists. So, why is this worth stressing today? Because the bulk of what passes for the contemporary far left has wittingly or not decoupled opposition to imperialism from the broader struggle for consistent democracy, as if anti-imperialism has an independent and autonomous virtue beyond that context. For the latter, democracy’s anti-imperialist doppelganger overwhelms and smothers actual socialist internationalism. On an organizational basis this vital distinction is highlighted by the difference between building cross boarder class alliances linking British leftists to Arab trade unionists and socialists with building anti-intervention alliances that welcome Islamic chauvinists and assorted reactionaries. It is the difference between fueling the political heat needed to break the chains of oppression and stoking the fires needed to reforge these chains on a different basis.

These corruptions have dislocated anything that could previously pass for socialist discussion. The honorable slogan that the “main enemy is at home” once signified the resistance of socialists to the ruling class’s ceaseless and multifaceted drive to subordinate independent working class politics to the “national interest,” that is to capitalist interests both at home and abroad. And that is how WL continues to apply it. It was never an open invitation to an unprincipled alliance with any and all forces that opposed “our” ruling class irrespective of the political basis for that opposition. Similarly, opposition to “national oppression” never meant dividing the world into “progressive and “reactionary” nations defined by which side of the imperialist fence one happens to reside in and recentering the struggle for socialism on the basis of national distinction rather than on class differentiation.

The article makes that case. But it also dangles red meat in front of a broader left, salivating for signs of pro-imperialist softness. Those who have a unifocus on imperialism may have deadened senses when it comes to class struggle internationalism, but they are highly attentive to any formulations they can bend to their purposes. “Socialists should not give a blank check to US or British military intervention.” “But is it our job to stop the implementation of a no-fly zone…?” are formulations ripe for that purpose. The first proposition is meaningless since the artile gives “no” check, blank or otherwise for any imperialist policy and the second is misleading, since, as the article explains, any intervention would have no purpose save to advance imperialist objectives.

How exactly do these awkward formulations advance third camp politics? Clearly the point of the article is this. Imperialism has no real prospects for full scale intervention. The only purpose in raising that issue is to reestablish some level of credibility with the Libyan masses, who have been cruelly betrayed by past Western support to their oppressors. Neither, however, will we sit in judgment over the hard pressed Libyan resistance should they call for some form of outside military intervention. Such an intervention is, in our opinion, highly unlikely. Nevertheless, in the improbable event of an imperialist intervention on the side of the anti-Qaddafy forces, which we neither advocate nor are powerful enough to influence or control, socialists would warn the resistance that only an attitude of “complete distrust to the US and British military” would be warranted based on “their history and their nature”. That moreover in the event of such an intervention socialists would be duty bound to join our Libyan class brothers and sisters in rejecting and denouncing any Western imperialism claim to negotiating rights in shaping the Libyan state that would replace Qaddafy.

Barry Finger

Submitted by Bruce on Thu, 17/03/2011 - 11:58


Your last contribution was totally incoherent when taken together with your fetish slogan 'No to imperialist intervention'. In course of the discussion you have managed to denounce imperialism for intervening and for not intervening, for opposing Gaddafi and supporting Gaddafi.

You call on imperialism to supply arms to the rebels. Isn't that, even under the rebels' control, a form of imperialist intervention? You oppose 'boots on the ground'. So does the AWL, but as Theo points out, that is not a remote possibility. Even those imperialist powers in favour of a no-fly zone have ruled it out and, in this case, I believe them as they have good reason to rule it out in their own interests (cost, commitments elsewhere, likely backlash).

So for all the bluster about not understanding imperialism, what the differences seem to come down to are (a) the no-fly zone; (b) the slogans. The no-fly zone is called for by the rebels and you concede "It is perfectly understandable that Libyan rebels who are being bombed by Gadaffi ask for help in taking out his planes. They are right to do so. The important point is to have any such technology, expertise and assistance under the control of the Libyan rebels not imperialism. You say this is unrealistic. May be so." So if it happens under other circumstances, do we then denounce it as imperialist intervention and call for it to end? What would that mean in reality? You need to answer this directly not by saying you wished the situation was different.

On the slogans, I think you should take account of the fact that insisting on shouting 'No to imperialist intervention' means that your overall position becomes contradictory and incoherent. It is not that the AWL is unaware or unopposed to the fact that imperialism will always act in its own interests. But just registering that is often not enough to respond to difficult situations outside our control.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 17/03/2011 - 16:01

We ended up discussing this at a Sheffield AWL public meeting on Egypt which I spoke at last night. An ex-SWP comrade was arguing a similar position to Jason. The discussion made me clearer than ever how nonsensical this position is. The way the big imperialist powers hope to gain access to Libyan oil (or rather continue to have it, since they already had it under Qaddafi!) is not by sending troops, let alone semi-colonial conquest - no version of which is on the agenda even conceivably - but by having a good relationship with whatever forces replace Qaddafi (if they do). For that reason, a no fly zone is vanishingly unlikely to lead to any broader military intervention. Given that, and given that it might well at least partially protect the rebels from being bombed by Qaddafi's airforce, why would we oppose it/call for its removal if it happened? (As distinct from opposing any advocacy of or trust in it, to repeat this ad infinitum.)

Secondly, could someone with Jason's position please explain what they think of the no fly zone over Iraqi Kurdistan imposed after the first Gulf War. Yes, we opposed the war and called for the withdrawal of US forces. But after the war was over, was it a good thing that the imperialists stopped the Iraqi airforce bombing the Kurds, or not? And if it was good, why would you call for the removal of this protection?

You could say, ah well now the Kurds are tied to imperialism, and this is not good - not it's not, but it's a damn sight better than a genocidal bombing campaign against them. (Cf Kosova - of course we oppose it being tied to NATO, but do you think the majority of Kosovars don't prefer this to being slaughtered and driven out by Serbia?) And I suppose you could construct an argument that the no fly zone was tied up with the bombing raids against Arab Iraq, economic sanctions and eventually the 2003 invasion... Well, the last bit seems to me definitely false. But for the first two, why not oppose the sanctions and the bombing (which we did, loudly), rather than specifically opposing the no fly zone? In other words, turn on your brain!

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 17/03/2011 - 16:55

At the risk of being slightly pednatic, if a position is totally incoherent then it would be impossible to engage in any dialogue at all.

What you mean I think is that you find my position contradictory, specifically I presume the idea that we should oppose imperialist miltary interevention but also I am criticising the imperialists for arming Gadaffi and not allowing arms or aid to the rebels.

I am happy to explain.

Firstly, it is not incoherent to criticise Britain for arming a vicious dictator like Gadaffi but also oppose UK troops going in to fight.

The rebels need arms- that much is clear. If there was a workers' movement able to arm them, if volunteeers from across the Arab world and North Africa could come to Libya to fight Gadfaffi like Spain in the 30s that would be ideal. However, to those who wring their hands and say ther eis nothing they can do it is right to demand massive aid to Benghazi, opening up trade, diverting some of the ill-gotten gains from libya to help the people now there. if we had a massive workers' movement here it oculd directly aid the Libyan fighters through financial donations, through working class volunteers: it would also be right to demand that the imperialist powers give this aid.

It does not therefore follow that we ask for US, UK or EU troops to go in to the Libyan rebels' aid. Why? Because all past historical evidence suggests that imperialist troops would be after one thing only control of the oil and suppression of the Libyan people's freedom.

If the imperialists do impose a no-fly zone then what should revolutionaries, socialists, the left, the workers' movement do?

I think it is then especially important to demonstrate our support for the Libyan revolutionaries, to argue against Western troops going in, to argue for all arms and actions to be under the military control fo the Libyan rebels- hands off free Libya, for the working class to control society and the war against Gadaffi.

On slogans I am not insisting that the only thing people shout is "No to imperialist intervention!" I'm not sure where you get this simplistic idea. Slogans can be useful at times but it isn't really about what we shout-

An analogy that may be useful is this: if a fascist is about to attack you and kill you and is shot dead by the police, we don't mourn the fascist or defend their democratic rights. But do we demand police action against the fascists? No. Do we instead demand racist police off our streets? Yes. Why? because we know the police target us. Now if I am about to be killed by a fascist and I see a police with a gun I might well shout, "Shoot!" (which is why I say it is entirely understandable that Libyan rebels are calling for the no-fly zone) but overall we are against police action, against the bourgeois police and against fascists.

Similarly, if a Gaddafi plane about to bomb rebels is brought down by a US missile I won't mourn. But will we demand no imperialist intervention, arm the rebles. Yes.

You may not agree with this approach. It may not be a simplistic one: however, the situation in Libya is very difficult as many life and death decisions are. But the position I am arguing does have, I'd humbly suggest, a coherent logic.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 17/03/2011 - 17:42

I'll try and answer it later in more detial perhaps but quickly.

If a UK missile takes out a Gaddafi plane about to bomb rebels then no one should mourn this (indeed it would in isolation be good) but it is all the more important to demand no imperialist troops or bombings of the Libyan rebel- held areas and for the Libuyan working class to be in control of both the economy and the war.

If the imperialists intervene it will be because they fear Gadaffi cannot tame the rebels on his own and they fear the disruption to oil supplies and that they want a safer pair of hands.

It may seem 'nonsensical' to support the rebels whether against Gaddafi or the imperialists but it's what they are demanding- they don't want imperialist troops on the ground. They are saying give us the arms, including the ability for us to impose our own no-fly zone, to fight him ourselves (of course they'd prefer an imperialist imposed no-fly zone to certain slaughte but is that realkly so hard to understand?)

Submitted by guenter on Fri, 18/03/2011 - 13:10

The reality is you don't know if a no fly zone is likely to be the first step of a broad, deeper intervention(sacha


Submitted by Clive on Fri, 18/03/2011 - 14:12

Guenter - for sure I will regret responding to you. But what is at issue is not whether a no-fly zone entails other forms of military action - of course it does, if it is enforced - or whether this is by the UN or NATO or whatever - but

1. whether any military action is automatically so colonial in scale as to cancel out its immediate effect of relieving the rebels.

The apparent jubiliation in Benghazi suggests they - for now, at least - are glad of the UN's decision.

2. should we be out on the streets denouncing the UN's decision? See above. I think not.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 18/03/2011 - 18:13

The problem Clive is that the imperialists are only after the oil and would not hesitate to wipe out the Libyan rebels if it suited them. The jubilation is understnadable- faced with obliteration by Gadaffi. However, we should be out on the streets e.g. at the emergency demo demanding all arms to be under the control of the Libyan rebels, no invasion, any military assistance to the rebels (including anti-aricraft missiles, planes, tanks etc) to be under the control and command of the rebel forces and for the formation of rank and file committees of revolutionary soldiers.

We shoiuld also make clear our support for revolution in Libya and collect for the international volunteers going to the aid of free Libya. Against all attacks on the rebels whether form Gadaffi armed by imperialists or the imperialist armies directly.

Submitted by Clive on Fri, 18/03/2011 - 18:59

I don't want to repeat all the arguments above. Imperialists are 'only after the oil'? I'm not sure about that. Of course oil is part of their agenda, but I don't think it exhausts it. Whatever, if you mean that the imperialists *have* their own agenda - like, duh.

But the jubilation is important, not just as an indicator of the rebels' emotions: it also says something about their assessment of the balance of forces. One imagines they have a clearer idea of how likely they were to defeat Gaddafi than, say, the Stop the War coalition.

On which, the STWC observes:"The announcement by the Libyan government that it will immediately halt military operations removes the last vestige of justification for armed action."

It's hard to imagine a more stupid comment. Yet these are the people who will dominate any demonstrations. You can shout 'arm the rebels', Jason, and good luck to you, but these demonstrations will be perceived by any sane, and frankly decent person, as calls on Western governments to let Gaddafi do as he will. It seems to me an utterly shameful sentiment to appear, even critically, to endorse.

Submitted by Jason on Sat, 19/03/2011 - 11:15

OK I'll accept that geopolitical questions are a factor as well. It's not just about oil- but it is largely so.

Shameful? If people go on the dmeonstrations and are either pro-Gadaffi or even neutral that would be shameful. Actually pro-Gadaffi contingents hsould be driven off in my opinion and those neutral shouted out and down.

However, if we are saying arm the rebels, support the revolt, against Gadaffi, against Western invasion I don't think it's right to call that shameful

Submitted by Clive on Sat, 19/03/2011 - 11:22

I don't think your position is shameful, Jason. And I'm sure you won't find many people on the demos who are overtly pro-Gaddafi or neutral. But most people will not be chanting your slogans, they will be chanting 'anti-imperialist' ones, and any normal person will interpret the general sentiment of the demo, whatever you are saying, as I described above.

Submitted by guenter on Sat, 19/03/2011 - 17:12

just yesterday some1 said here, that a nonflyzone does NOT automatically lead to other military steps, and now the first military attack on libya was done a few hours ago.

should we be out on the streets denouncing the UN's decision? See above. I think not.(clive)

oh no, of course not. because its neither imperialist nor colonialist...
its not for oil "only", no, no, but 4 humanity and democracy.

thanks 4 that information, my local spokesman of the torries.
or is he from labour or from the liberals? or from the greens?
...or from AWL?

united we stand.

Add new comment

Pensions: unions must organise industrial action

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2011 - 2:54

John Hutton, the renegade former Labour cabinet minister who is doing the Tories’ dirty work on pensions, will publish his final report this Thursday, 10 March.

It will propose further worsening of public sector pensions on top of the two big attacks which the Government has already put into train.

Add new comment

Tower Hamlets education workers to strike against cuts on 30 March

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2011 - 2:45

Local government and education workers who are members of Unison and the National Union of Teachers are likely to strike together on 30 March against education cuts planned by Tower Hamlets council.

The NUT ballot returned an 85% vote for discontinuous strike action. The Unison ballot is in progress, after many false starts due to Unison Regional Office being over cautious about the legalities.

Add new comment

Industrial news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2011 - 2:38

A wildcat strike at a BP plant near Hull has forced management to back down on plans for unilateral redundancies.

The GMB and Unite members, opposed attempts by Redhall (an engineering construction contractor operating on the site) to impose redundancies that were outside the framework of the nationally-bargained collective agreement for the industry. 400 workers walked off the job and blocked the main road into the site, backing up rush-hour traffic.

Add new comment

UCU names strike dates

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2011 - 2:32

Lecturers at 63 universities teaching more than 1,200,000 students will strike to defend their pensions later this month.

Their union, UCU, has announced strikes for 17 March in Scotland, 18 March in Wales, 21 March in Northern Ireland and 22 March in England, followed by a strike across the UK on 24 March.

Add new comment

Day of action for ESOL

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2011 - 2:28

The Action for ESOL campaign has called a national day of action against cuts to ESOL funding for 24 March.

Actions can be large or small — the main thing is that we get as much attention as we can!

Ideas for action:

• a demonstration outside your college or workplace

• public meetings, in or outside college premises (if your college is not friendly to this, try local community centres)

• leafletting, pickets

• pickets

Add new comment

Cuba and the unions

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2011 - 2:25

An article on the front page of the Communication Workers’ Union website proclaims that it is now “more important than ever” to make solidarity with Cuba.

A lengthy piece reporting on the visit of the new Cuban ambassador to the CWU’s National Executive Committee quotes CWU leader Billy Hayes in his affirmation that “the achievements of Cuba are an inspiration.”

Add new comment

High Street post office workers to strike

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2011 - 2:17

Postal workers have voted by over 90% to strike in a dispute over pay and job losses.

The workers, who work behind counters at Britain’s 373 “Crown” Post Offices (larger PO branches), have not been balloted since 2007. Post Office Ltd, owned by Royal Mail, has refused to consider a pay increase for counter staff, despite making increased profits of £72 million last year, and giving managers a 2.25% pay rise and a 21% rise for directors. Management is also refusing to renew a guarantee, valid until April 2011, that no further branches will be closed.

Add new comment

Anarchism, Marxism, and polemic

Submitted by Matthew on 9 March, 2011 - 1:14

Martin Thomas’s article in Solidarity 3-195, “Working-class struggle and anarchism”, has prompted a long debate on our website. We print excerpts from two contributions and a reply to the debate by Martin Thomas. The original article and entire debate can be found here.

The polemicists have invoked the Anarchist Federation as proof that my criticisms of anarchism in Solidarity 3/195 were unjust. Let’s see what the Anarchist Federation says.

Its website recommends an interview with an AF member which says:


Submitted by guenter on Thu, 10/03/2011 - 13:07

“Too often the anarchist scene is incredibly elitist. There are loads of friendship groups doing things that exclude the participation of working-class people. They have no structures that allow people to join them, no internal democracy that places everyone on an equal footing. No point of contact for people (from the interview with an AF-activist)

I could watch this in a big german city for decades. There is an anarchist group who always makes their 10-person demonstrations, almost weekly, around subjects which are also those of a broader left, but they never inform any1 else b4 and never ask any other group for doin´something togetzher- while their place is surrounded by the offices of other groups, so that contacting each other was an easy thing to do. but remaining sectarian since decades....

why so much timewaste here with anarchists, while more important subjects have no takers?

Submitted by martin on Thu, 10/03/2011 - 14:17

a) Didn't know you were operating "in secret", and don't see why, but if you wish... ok, done.

b) You refer us to Iain McKay, who does defend Proudhon as a champion of working-class struggle.

I've explained above why I don't think the "defences of Bakunin and Kropotkin" meet the mark.

The article is not a book-length survey of all anarchist writings. But it's an article, not a book.

I now have a copy of the book which "Dee" recommended, "Black Flame". I'll study it and see what I think. I notice, though, even on first glance, that the authors define themselves as articulating a body of ideas founded by Bakunin and Kropotkin. Their attitude is not at all "we are the real anarchists, everyone else is a fake, and anything you may say about Bakunin or Kropotkin is irrelevant, since their ideas have no sway with us".

c) I do not extrapolate from what most self-described anarchists to the essence of anarchism! Right at the start of the article I say that there are minority strands in anarchism which "cannot justly be condemned “by association” with the other anarchists"...

However, we have a coherent account (which you can dispute, of course) for why "Marxism" became a prestigious word annexed by bureaucracies like the Stalinist, and thus why lots of people call themselves "Marxist" who have little in common with Marxism as we understand it. Rather as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has little in common with democracy as we understand it.

"Anarchism" has never been a prestigious word in that way, and it's not obvious why lots of people should want to call themselves anarchist other than by some identification (however loose, unformed, unclear, etc.) with ideas historically associated with anarchism.

I know there are anarchists different from the "loose anarchists" (defined by hostility to organisation, focus on one-off "actions" rather than long-term organising, fetish of consensus decision-making, etc.) whom form the big majority of self-described anarchists whom we meet. (And, Guenter, there are lots of them, and many of them young people open to discussion, not the ten-person cliques: that's a good reason to spend some time on the ideas).

I try both to explain why I think the "organising anarchists" are deficient, and why I think the "loose anarchists" describe themselves as anarchists because of a real logical connection between their ideas and the bedrock ideas of historic anarchism. And I try to do that without suggesting that the "organising anarchists" and the "loose anarchists" are the same, and without trying to knock either down by association with the other.

d) Read The Fate of the Russian Revolution. We defend the Bolsheviks on the whole, and where we think they made mistakes, we say why and what we think the mistake was. It is not remotely comparable to writing a page extolling the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists and then noting, in half a sentence, that as if by some oversight or mix-up they happened to join bourgeois governments.

Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Thu, 10/03/2011 - 21:55

As I've said, I think the terms in which this debate are being framed are fundamentally not very useful. Still, I'll try to get round to writing a full reply in a few days. But just to pick you up on one major point - no-one had major problems with your criticism of CGT-style, pre-WWI apolitical syndicalism. The problem is that you still pretend the anarcho-syndicalist tradition just ends there. So, to take a fairly major point, when you say "Unions, if they are to be effective, must include as nearly as possible the whole workforce, excluding only strike-breakers. Under anywhere near normal conditions, they include many workers whose social ideas are conformist and bourgeois. To try to make the union a revolutionary-educational force is to narrow it down and make it ineffective as a union. The activists end up with neither an effective union, nor an effective party, but something which is botched in both respects." That's fair enough. But it's not an answer to the strategy promoted by contemporary anarcho-syndicalists, when they say "The role of anarcho-syndicalist networks and unions is not to try and recruit every worker, but to advocate and organise mass meetings of all workers involved in each struggle so that the workers involved retain control. Within these mass meetings anarcho-syndicalists argue for the principles of solidarity, direct action and self-organisation." That's clearly very different to the One Big Union approach. You could say that SolFed's idea of a revolutionary union is so unlike a normal trade union that their use of the word "union" confuses more than it clarifies, and I'd have some sympathy with you on that point, but they are manifestly not aiming to recruit all workers into their "union", and they clearly differentiate between it and a mass assembly/workers' council.
If you're actually interested in engaging with the practice of contemporary class-struggle anarchists, I'd recommend starting off with Winning the Class War, the AF's industrial strategy, this discussion piece that was produced as a follow-up, and maybe the AF's critical analysis of syndicalism as well.

And can you really not see why militant working-class activists might not want their full names put up on the internet? Do you work for a living? Do you imagine you might need to apply for a new job at any point? Do you imagine you might need to apply for a new job with an employer who knows how to use google at any point? Do you intend to organise in any future jobs you have, and do you think it's a good idea to let your boss know about that kind of thing in advance?

Submitted by martin on Fri, 11/03/2011 - 08:07

Ok, I'll look into that AF stuff. But "to advocate and organise mass meetings of all workers involved in each struggle so that the workers involved retain control. Within these mass meetings... argue for the principles of solidarity, direct action and self-organisation" is in no way specific to anarcho-syndicalism. It is common-ground militant, democratic, rank-and-file trade-unionism. That is not where the difference lies between Trotskyism and anarcho-syndicalism.

On the "don't let anyone know my real name" stuff... Our AWL activists in many industries take care not to put their names to anything written about their own workplace or their own employer. But they appear at public meetings and demonstrations under their real names; they run in union and council or parliamentary elections under their real names; they sell papers on the streets; they publish articles, pamphlets, and even books under their real names...

Anyway, I notice that Tom, who objects to his real name being attached to his polemical comments against us, tells the whole world on his Facebook page that he is a leftie. So he thinks future employers would ignore his Facebook page, but refuse him employment on the grounds that... he has denounced Trotskyists? Dream on.

Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Mon, 14/03/2011 - 16:18

In reply to by martin

If Trotskyists agree with some anarcho-syndicalist tactics, that's nice to know. If you want to claim that this is "not where the difference lies between Trotskyism and anarcho-syndicalism", then sure, I'm not interested in disputing that. However, that's not what I was talking about; I was talking about the difference between classical CGT-style syndicalism, which you rightly critique for trying to "include as nearly as possible the whole workforce", and modern anarcho-syndicalism, which acknowledges that "the role of anarcho-syndicalist networks and unions is not to try and recruit every worker", in order to make the point that your "critique of syndicalism" doesn't have much relevance to what real live anarcho-syndicalists are actually trying to do today. I even directly quoted both those phrases so as to make it clear what I was talking about, so I really don't understand where you got the idea that I was talking about Trotskyism from.
I'm not that bothered about what AWL activists do or don't do under their real names; I just object fairly strongly to getting people to submit their names, telling them that it will be "kept private and will not be shown publicly", and then publishing it without asking them. I don't know Tom, I don't know his facebook privacy settings, but I take care to keep my facebook profile private, so I'd be pretty unhappy if you published my name as a revolutionary activist. I'm sure it was just thoughtlessness and not a conscious attempt to emulate Redwatch, but it's still unhelpful.

Submitted by martin on Fri, 11/03/2011 - 21:22

1. Some Trotskyists have the custom of using "party names" for internal affairs inside their organisation, so that people like Labour Party bureaucrats (in Britain) can't tag them with a particular organisational role as distinct from their general politics.

I don't know of any, in more or less stable bourgeois democracies, who do their public activity under pseudonyms. Even Lutte Ouvriere, the most secretive of the would-be Trotskyist groups, has its members running in elections and doing trade-union activity under their real names. Of course. And speaking under their real names in public meetings, too, which are (of course) advertised on the web...

In any case, let's drop the wild talk of "Stalinism" and "touting". No-one is going to get picked up by the police, or blacklisted by employers, for denouncing Trotskyism!

In the actual case, of the people involved, one was identified only by a first name, which won't be much use to the Google-happy employer (and I don't even know whether it's a real first name - it's just the name the writer chose to give when registering on this website); and one can be identified as a leftie from his Facebook page (yes, basic info is available to anyone logged in to Facebook). There is no question of "outing" undercover activists.

2. The "one interview on a blog" is not one interview on a blog, but the text recommended by the home page of the AF website as an introduction to what the AF does.

3. We just don't agree that Trotsky assisted "counter-revolution". It is not as if we say, oh, he did, but that was just "a mistake" on the same level as mis-spelling a word or getting a phone number wrong.

4. If no-one in this debate has "major problems with [my] criticism of CGT-style, pre-WWI apolitical syndicalism", then that's good. (In fact, I argued in the first article that to call the pre-1914 CGT "a-political" was unfair. It was political, only in a self-limiting way). But it does mean that we are debating here with, let's say, the "wing" of anarchism closest to Marxism.

That's all right; and it's all right, also, that the comrades ask us to look at their publications in more detail.

But it also has to be all right that we, as AWL, tackle the ideas of the big majority of the anarchists we find around us, especially if we said explicitly near the start of the first article that there are many variants of anarchism, and some (which we identify as "primarily anarcho-syndicalism") against whom many of the criticisms made of other anarchists are (we think) not valid.

In the National Coalition against Fees and Cuts, and in Workers' Climate Action, we have worked with and argued with lots of activists who consider themselves anarchists, and the basic issues of dispute there are such things as whether these organisations should have any sort of membership structure; indeed, whether any organisation with a defined membership becomes, by that very fact, bureaucratic.

We ourselves have pointed out before now that: "It's been left-anarchists who've kept Jo Freeman's critique The Tyranny of Structurelessness in circulation".

But it's all right for us to criticise other anarchists, too. And there are vastly more of them around than AFed types.

We're planning to follow up by studying, and dealing in more detail with, texts like the AFed publications recommended and "Black Flame"; but also by discussing further the ideas of the anti-organisation anarchists.

Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Mon, 14/03/2011 - 15:52

I've written out a reply here. I'll be interested to see if this one gets any response.

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 16/03/2011 - 22:26

Dear "Cautiously Pessimistic" or however you want to be referred to,

Maybe your articles would stand a better chance of being responded to if you didn't write them in such a whiny tone. Your constant refrain is "oh, no-one really cares about this anyway, it's so long and boring, I've wasted my time by reading these articles, why am I even bothering?" If you feel that way, please feel free to stop writing.

And if the best you can do by way of an attempted critique of our politics is to denounce as as "bureaucratic nationalists" then I don't think you're in much of a position to lecture anyone about not engaging with the full breadth and depth of other people's politics. ("The AWL say they don't support Hamas and Hezbollah, but aha! They support the KLA! So really they're just as bad as the SWP and only anarchists have a working-class critique of 'anti-imperialism'. Job done!" It's not very impressive, is it?)

Secondly, the amount of fuss you're making about this whole name thing is bizarre. Anyone with an account on this website can see the details of anyone else with an account, so anyone who was logged-in and reading your comments could've seen that you'd put your first name as "Toby" just by clicking on your username. And, as people have pointed out, the idea that any employer/cop/whatever could somehow track you down and repress you because we put "Toby" on an article instead of "Dee" is just paranoid.

I don't think you want to engage in a serious debate. I think you just want to swear a lot (how radical of you!) and denounce AWL members as "Leninist sacks of shit" (is this meant to make us take you seriously as a critic?). If that makes you feel good, you carry on. If you think you're scoring a blow for your tradition against ours, fine. Carry on. But don't adopt the self-righteous posture about how your oh-so-important contributions aren't being properly responded to.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Fri, 18/03/2011 - 15:55

In reply to by AWL

Dear "AWL", or however you want to be referred to,
I've explained why I bother replying to your articles. As an open-minded anarchist, I'm interested in criticism of my ideas. That doesn't mean I'm under any obligation to pretend that I think any given piece of criticism is worthwhile, well-written, or makes any valid points. I'll stop replying to articles I find unimpressive when you stop writing articles on political traditions that you clearly find contemptible. I called you bureaucratic nationalists because you're keen on specific sections of the Labour movement bureaucracy, and because you're keen on specific nationalists, and provided links to pieces you'd written to support that claim. If you don't think that's a valid critique, then I can't make you change your mind, but I thought it might be helpful for both of us to talk about the areas where our politics actually differ, rather than just throwing about a bunch of insults on the level of "anarchists don't believe in the working class" "no, but Leninists did Kronstadt/Stalinism." I acknowledge that you're not the same as the SWP, but there's still real differences between our positions on the national question: you support the right of nations to self-determination - which is a nationalist position whether you like it or not - anarchists, or at least the anarchist tradition that I identify with - think that nationalism is always a cross-class ideology which should be combatted, and that self-determination is meaningless in an imperialist age.

I'm not sure about this "anyone with an account on this website can see the details of anyone else with an account" claim you make. As a non-AWL member, I certainly can't see anyone else's name, and I've clicked on several profiles to check this. I think that, as the signup form promises, it's a hidden piece of information only accessible to certain verified members, so taking that sensitive information and putting it into the public domain is a breach of trust. And that's before we even begin to consider the massive, massive difference between "anyone with an account on the AWL website" and "anyone who happens to google Tom's full name and go through enough pages".
And that's not my name - there's more than one anarchist in the world, believe it or not - but nice work making Dee's real name public again after all mention of it in the original article had been hidden. I'm prepared to accept the initial naming as thoughtlessness, but to carry on doing it is clearly malicious. And rather clumsy, given that, as I've said, I'm not Dee.
Congratulations on reading my mind, though. I thought that, by writing two thousand words engaging with the points you raised, in the course of which I happened to use a few naughty words - probably considerably less than I'd use in a real-life conversation of the same length - I might trick people into thinking that I was interested in a serious debate, but you saw right through me. Clearly, no-one who takes ideas seriously would ever swear or use a jokey allegory. I should've remembered that politics is a specialist subject, to be discussed only by those political specialists who employ the correct formal tone. This battle of ideas stuff is so much simpler when you concentrate on the style instead of that boring "ideas" bit.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 16/03/2011 - 22:59

Given that the Kosovars were facing a war of extermination from Serbian nationalists I see no problem with militarily supporting the KLA. Their politics petit-bourgeoius nationalism is quite another thing but when people are being attacked by fascist gangs surely it is only right to support armed self-defence?

NATO of course were no friends of the Kosovars and ensured that Kosova remained subjugated. It is possible to oppose imperialism and ethnic chauvinism at the same time.

Likewise we should support the rebels and revolutionaries in Libya without giving support to the bourgeois or petit-bourgeois elements of the Libyan opposiiton- for arms and support to the Libyan rebels, for a working class (and small famrers') revolution across North Africa and the Middle East.

Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Fri, 18/03/2011 - 16:02

In reply to by Jason

"Given that the Palestinians were facing a war of extermination from the Israeli state I see no problem with militarily supporting Hamas. Their reactionary religious fundamentalism is quite another thing but when people are being attacked by imperialist armies surely it is only right to support armed self-defence?"

I agree that it is possible to oppose imperialism and ethnic chauvinism at the same time, I just don't see how it's possible to oppose ethnic chauvinism and support a group that carries out ethnic cleansing at the same time.
So we should not give support to the bourgeois or petit-bourgeois elements of the Libyan opposition, but we should give support to a Kosovar group that you yourself describe as petit-bourgeois? I understand politics is a tricky business at the best of times, but I really don't think that "Libyan petit-bourgeois forces bad, Kosovan petit-bourgeois forces good" is a coherent position.

Submitted by edwardm on Thu, 17/03/2011 - 00:01

To the activist known as Cautiously Pessmistic:

Daniel (oh no! outed! MI5 will surely be hunting him down as I type!) has said just about all that's worth pointing out on your article.

The distinction you draw between "syndicalism" and "anarcho-syndicalism" is interesting, but from what I've read on the subject, I take the view that the difference is superficial. However, if you'd care to explain the difference more fully, I'd be interested to read.

I note, however, that until this point, what you've written has taken the form of precious, adolescent sniffing, as if to say, "this is so obvious, it is below me to even point the distinction out". It is not, and it is not. Stoop to explain it, would you?

On the subject of engaging fully with the politics of the AWL on the question of the Labour Party - how do you square our relentless criticism of labour movement bureaucracy (and articles such as the editorial "Labour is a rotting corpse!") with the charge that our attitude to the LP is uncritical and bureaucratic? How do you square the charge of bureaucratism with the fact that our tendency is defined by the break it made with the local-government left (within which we were hegemonic) in the 1980s-90s? Could it be that our policy towards the LP is more complicated than simple bureaucratism?

For what it's worth, and this is a discussion for a different post:

1) Independent working-class political representation lies on the other side of the split in the Labour Party; an independent working-class political organisation cannot be willed into existence but must come about through battles in the existing organisations

2) Engaging with the political party, which, for better or worse, remains the only political expression of the labour movement, and which retains the identification of a substantial number of politically conscious working-class militants is not "sowing illusions". I think it's quite daft to view our policy as "sowing illusions" - a group of 150 people cannot, through engaging with the LP, "sow illusions" on such a massive level. We can, however, organise those most politically-advanced elements in the LP for a fight, nurture what 'green shoots' exist within the party, with the perspective of paving the way for a new organisation. Our policy is a recognition of the reality of the situation of working-class political representation: not enthusiastically making propaganda for the status quo. Surely you can tell the difference? Your hysterical denunciations and "exposing" of our Labourite sins are not impressive.

You can read about this in our pamphlet "Illusions of Power", available on the website. Likewise, our internal debates, conference documents and position papers on the LP question generally are available on this site.

And as for the way you portray our attitude to the KLA: "aha! I have discovered the secret second-campism within the AWL! They uncritically support the KLA!" The way you deal with this issue is profoundly dishonest and childish - searching for the non-existent trump card in a very bad hand. What we actually wrote on the KLA in the article you quote was a long way from uncritical support:

"We argued for independence for Kosova,
because of the oppression suffered by the
Albanian majority at the hands of Serbia over
centuries. We defended the right of Kosovars,
including the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), to
defend themselves."

Is there any part of that you can honestly disagree with? Or are you just behaving like a petulant child?

Would the masked desperado calling himself Cautiously Pessimistic please grow up?

Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Fri, 18/03/2011 - 16:34

In reply to by edwardm

"Daniel (oh no! outed! MI5 will surely be hunting him down as I type!) has said just about all that's worth pointing out on your article."
He also said "Your constant refrain is "...why am I even bothering?" If you feel that way, please feel free to stop writing." If you feel that there's nothing else worth saying about my article, you might want to follow his advice. Of course, you don't, so drop the pose please.
"The distinction you draw between "syndicalism" and "anarcho-syndicalism" is interesting, but from what I've read on the subject, I take the view that the difference is superficial. However, if you'd care to explain the difference more fully, I'd be interested to read." This piece is a decent short overview of the differences:
"Anarcho-syndicalism developed out of Revolutionary Syndicalism, however whereas Revolutionary Syndicalists rejected any politics in the union (in the 1906 Charter of Amiens), anarcho-syndicalists insisted that any organisation of workers must have explicitly revolutionary politics lest it lapse into reformism and collaboration with the ruling class. Following the Revolutionary Syndicalist CGT’s support for World War One, against the anarchist principle of international working class solidarity, the Spanish CNT voted in 1923 to adopt libertarian communism (anarchism) as its explicit goal.
While anarcho-syndicalists advocate similar tactics to syndicalists, their revolutionary politics mean they don't aim to recruit all workers into ‘One Big Union.’ Instead, they try and organise alongside non-anarcho-syndicalist workers by advocating mass meetings, factory committees and workers’ councils which unite all workers...
This use of assembilies and councils for all workers, union members or not, is one of the main factors distinguishing anarcho-syndicalism from simple syndicalism, which puts more effort into recruiting all workers into the union regardless of political beliefs.
Another important difference is that anarcho-syndicalists don’t limit themselves to workplace activity, seeing tactics such as rent strikes and unemployed organising as means to further working class demands outside the workplace, alongside the more typically syndicalist direct action of strikes, occupations and sabotage by workers at the point of production...
Anarcho-syndicalists believe that workers should take direct action to get better conditions at work and win social and political demands (while always having revolution and workers’ control as their final goal). An example of this would be the Spanish CNT (National Confederation of Labour) striking for the release of political prisoners in the beginning of the 20th Century, and British construction workers doing the same in the 1970s. Other recent political strikes include general strikes against the second Iraq war in Italy, Spain and Germany."
I don't think that you can equate organisations that explictly reject political positions and aim to be open to all workers with groups that explicitly adopt revolutionary political positions and accept that they will not become mass organisations at any point in the foreseeable future but instead seek to organise mass meetings, and ultimately workers' councils, open to all workers. Criticising the CGT for backing WWI is legitimate, just as much as criticising the classic social-democratic parties is; but pretending that the story of anarcho-syndicalism ends there is about as valid as pretending that the fate of the 2nd International proves Marxism failed. As someone with an active interest in anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist politics, the distinction is fairly clear to me; I accept that this may not be the case for someone who doesn't have that interest, but I'd assumed that anyone who took it on themselves to write an article on the subject would have a reasonable amount of knowledge on it.
I never claimed that your attitude is uncritically bureaucratic. Clearly, you oppose vast sections of the Labour movement bureaucracy, both in the Labour Party and in the trade unions. However, you believe that there are good things to be achieved by getting specific individuals appointed to specific positions within the bureaucracy - as seen by your championing of John McDonnell, and certain other figures within, for instance, the NUS - whereas I don't think these structures can be meaningly reformed. You may not think that this counts as bureaucratic, but there is clearly a real difference of opinion on the subject here. As for the idea of a split in the Labour Party, I'd think that the mass exodus of membership under Blair could be described as precisely that. More to the point, I also don't really think that you have to be part of an organisation to argue that people should leave it. In fact, I'd say the opposite makes considerably more sense. If someone's such a die-hard Labourite that they'll automatically reject your views for not being part of the party, then I don't think there's much hope of persuading them of the need for independent representation.
I can honestly say I disagree with both those sentences - I don't think that ethnic separatism is the correct response to racism, any more than I think the horrific oppression suffered by African-Americans means they need a separate black state, and I'm perfectly willing to support "the right of Kosovars to defend themselves" as an abstract principle, but when that takes the form of a group that carries out murderous attacks against Serb civilians, I think that communists should be honest about the fact that we don't see that as a helpful development. Do you support the KLA's right to defend themselves, but not their right to take part in war crimes? And what does that distinction actually mean in practice?

Submitted by Cautiously Pes… on Sun, 03/04/2011 - 15:46

I realise that you're not very interested in this whole "debate" and "responding to critics" thing, but I just wondered what you'd make of this article? Obviously, just more proof that anyone who objects to your using their real name instead of a pseudonym, and wants to keep stuff they write online anonymous, is just wildly paranoid and unreasonable.

Submitted by AWL on Sun, 03/04/2011 - 16:08

We have already amended the article (weeks ago). I would also reiterate the points already made that it is really pretty unlikely that any employer or the state could find out anything about you from the publication of a first name unattached to any other details.

I am sorry no-one consulted with you before attaching your first name to the article; sometimes things that should get done don't get done. Lesson learnt, it won't happen again.

I think the repeated accusations that we are unconcerned about activist security or the implication that this was a deliberate, malicious act are ridiculous.

I also think that you might wish to consider whether the lack of interest in responding to your "criticism" stems less from our general aversion to it (after all we did publish, voluntarily and unprompted, your initial critiques, whatever you think about the name attached to them) and more to the fact that you insist on calling us things like "dishonest Leninist sacks of shit" and on conducting the debate in a tone that goes beyond sharp critique/polemic and into vituperation.

Daniel Randall

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.