Israel, Iran, and socialism: Sean Matgamna replies to Moshe Machover

Submitted by cathy n on 11 September, 2008 - 1:48 Author: Sean Matgamna

Comrade Machover: You are someone for whom I have long had a certain regard and even affection. I regret that you have chosen to join in the bizarre heresy-hunt, entirely Stalinist in conception, purpose, and execution, around my discussion article “What If Israel Bombs Iran?”, Solidarity 3/136.

I would have said that your chief trait, and sometimes fault, is an obstreperous pedantry rather than the sloppy-mindedness of those with whom you now run in a pack. I would also have expected from you an instinctive resistance to mob hysteria.

Most — not all — of your contribution is a perfectly legitimate piece of polemic against what I actually wrote. But if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas; and if you frolic with pigs, you get splattered with mud. You too, comrade Machover!

You radically misrepresent me as saying: “While an attack on Iran ‘will most likely lead to great carnage in the Middle East, and beyond’, it would be wrong to object to it if it is undertaken by Israel”.

This is simply a lie! Something that I would not have expected from you, but everyday fare for the Weekly Worker.

Four weeks before your article, the Weekly Worker had a front page picturing the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion and the words: “AWL’s Sean Matgamna: excusing an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran”.

There is no ambiguity there, and therefore no legitimate resort to attempts to “explain” the headline by way of tricky wording inside the paper. The headline was plain invention about me. It was also a piece of extra-malignant demonisation of Israel. (“Threat of Israeli nuclear attack on Iran horribly real” was the next issue’s headline). It is not good that Israel has nuclear weapons; but the idea that Israel would use nuclear bombs in any situation other than a perceived immediate threat of being overwhelmed by Arab or Islamist forces is, I suggest, on the same plane as what the Weekly Worker’s front-page text and picture attributed to me.

Your own cited cases when Israeli leaders supposedly discussed using nuclear weapons, or the threat of nuclear weapons — “it is known to have seriously considered using it against its Arab neighbours in 1967 and 1973” — were situations of such perceived immediate threat (and it is not at all certain that Israel had a nuclear option in 1967).

I don’t know whether you have even read recent issues of the Weekly Worker, though your text suggests that you have. But, coming into such a discussion late, you have, I think, a responsibility to read everything important that is in play in it. Don’t you?

Unless you explicitly dissociate, the implication is that you associate with and endorse the loony-tunes politics of the libelling paper in which you publish, and of the not-quite-reconstructed Stalinist clique who control it.

Where do you stand on the Stalinist hysteria? Do you want to assert that I “excused” an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran? Or be associated by implication with that assertion? If that claim was in your view true to any extent at all, then why does your comprehensive article ignore it?

Your article has the merit that it is an attempt to discuss systematically what I wrote; and you bring a startling new formulation into the discussion: “the USA is the main enemy of mankind”.

What I wrote

But before discussing your article it will be worth while establishing what I did and did not say.

I was discussing something over which the left could have no influence. Talk of the working class in the area reshaping the situation within the time span in which an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear installations is likely — between the US presidential election on 4 November and 20 January 2009, when a new US president takes office — is simply childish, and I notice you do not engage in such talk.

The thing that concerned me was the response of the would-be left. We can be sure that everyone within earshot of us, including the British government, will oppose an Israeli strike. That is not the difficult bit. The difficulties start elsewhere. Most leftists will measure how “left” they are by how much they manage to raise the pitch and tone of the condemnations of Israel that will appear in the Guardian, the Independent, etc.

Because of the dominance on the British left of what someone aptly named “absolute anti-Zionism”, they will go in for wild root and branch condemnation of Israel and everything Israeli. The action will be depicted as a function of the basic nature of “Zionism” or “Zionist imperialism”, or as a matter of Israel acting only as a tool of the USA, as something without any other sense and no possible upfront reason.

The crazy nonsense in which you have enlisted has been licensed by the question, in my article: “in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?”

I also said, and more than once in the short article, that “we do not advocate an Israeli attack... nor will we endorse it or take political responsibility for it... [we] should not want it and cannot support it...”

After a discussion in the Solidarity office of possible misunderstandings to which my article might give rise, I listed in its first paragraph some likely bad consequences and by-products of such an attack — that is, reasons for being against it. That first paragraph did not end with a sentence saying: “For these reasons we oppose an attack...”, but only because neither I nor anyone else in the Solidarity office thought our readers would include a sizeable number of idiots.

The approach of asking — “in the name of what alternative would we condemn...” — is not new.

It is, I suggest, an indispensable question for socialists, enemies of the capitalist powers that dominate the world, to ask in every situation. It is the question that stops you backing, in recoil from “imperialism” into de facto support for reactionary forces that find themselves at odds with advanced capitalism. In the Falklands war (1982) we said that the Falkland Islanders had a right to self-determination and the Argentinian invaders should get out — but we did not support the British expeditionary force or the war.

In 1990, AWL’s predessor said Iraq should get out of Kuwait (Iraq’s invasion was the cause of the conflict), but we did not back the Americans and British in the war.

In 1999 the AWL said the Serbian army, which was engaged in a giant pogrom against the Albanian population there, should get out of Kosova, but we did not back NATO’s war. Specifically we did not give political confidence or trust to those who controlled the NATO forces. (We did not join in the calls to “stop the bombing” because in the circumstances that call implicitly sided with the Serb would-be genocidalists).

In the case at hand, none of the demon-Zionism stuff is necessary to explain Israel’s likely action; there is good reason, from an Israeli point of view, to refuse to stand by and let people who have said that they want to destroy Israel acquire the weapons with which they just might try to do that.

Some of what I wrote was explicitly an account of how Israelis would see nuclear-armed Islamist fanatics in Iran and clearly labelled as that. I used the tone and manner proper to one who thinks that Israel has a right to defend itself, against people on the would-be left whose starting point is that it doesn’t, and, because of its origins, never could. To counter the demon-Zionism “explanations”, I described how most Israelis see the prospect of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

You, and quite a few others, insist that to do that was to justify, to “excuse”, perhaps to advocate an Israeli attack. Never mind that I stated my opposition to an attack, in terms of both principle — my basic viewpoint, which is that not of an Israeli nationalist but of an international socialist — and of the immediate likely consequences in the Middle East.

“Our point of view is not that of Israeli or any other nationalism. We want Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian and other workers to unite and fight for a socialist Middle East...”

My language expressed my determination not to join in with, or peacefully to tolerate, the outright condemnation of Israel that will most likely follow an Israeli attack, condemnation rooted in the “demon-Zionism” prejudice of the kitsch-left and in the view that Israel has no right to defend itself.

I identified the word “condemn” with the language that the kitsch-left would use against Israel. I used “should not want”, “can not support”, etc. to indicate rejecting an Israeli nationalist viewpoint and being against an Israeli strike.

Is there a meaningful difference between “not wanting” an attack, and “condemning” Israel root-and-branch? I think there is.

But the difference is not about being for or against an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. It is about how you assess such a strike in relation to the nature of Israel and of Israel’s relationship with its near and distant Islamic neighbours.

I reject the settled “condemnation” of Israel which, for example, you express in your article. I will not, in response to an Israeli strike at Iranian nuclear installations, adopt the viewpoint that there is something so incomprehensible in such a strike that Israel as such must be condemned outright.

And for myself, I will use whatever words I choose to express and nuance my own ideas. Nobody — least of all participants in an attempt to mob me and shout me down — will tell me what words I must and must not use.

Of course, the choice of words is to some extent personal, and to some extent arbitrary and a matter of non-conscious selection. In general, I wouldn’t choose to quarrel about words. To express the real arguments now about Israel and Iran by proxy, in the form of an argument about what exact words should be used to express being against an Israeli strike — is “not want” too weak, should we have “oppose” or “condemn” instead? — is a waste of life, foolishness.

Denunciation of me for my choice of words is either a piece of scholastic foolishness, or an attempt at Stalinist bullying, or an obscurantist proxy for the real arguments about the broader issues that led me to my choice of words.

Working back from conclusions?

If one tries to spell out the hard realities, and notes such things as “good reason for Israel to make a precipitate strike at Iranian nuclear capacity”, then are you advocating such a strike? Even if you add immediately: “Socialists should not want that and can not support it...”?

To answer yes is to rule out intelligent exploration and discussion of the world. It is to say that in order to avoid “advocating” the military strike I discussed, one would have to deny some key facts. In fact, the only reason for ruling out such an assessment here is to allow maximum condemnation of Israel, to depict what it does as a product of pure evil, pure “Zionism”, pure “imperialism”.

Indeed, it is implied in your own and other comments that we have a revolutionary duty to do that; and to deny uncongenial, jarring facts in general; to work backwards, so to speak, and draw one’s picture of reality from one’s political conclusions.

In this case we would be duty-bound to deny or obscure the large fact that an Islamic-fundamentalist regime, whose leaders openly call for the destruction of Israel, armed with nuclear weapons, would present Israel with a special problem.

Such an approach to politics would rule out anything but the most blinkeredly narrow, partial, one-sided, blindly partisan view of any reality! It is to advocate the politics of the ideological blind-fold, of viewing the world only through ideological spectacles, of only admitting that part of reality that suits you. It is to advocate a medievalist scholasticism — or Stalinism — in the approach to reality. It is one of the great banes and one of the worst diseases of the kitsch left, one of the legacies of Stalinism. It is “apparatus Marxism”.

The truth is that unless you are very simple minded — or very stupid — or dealing with straightforward things like workers’ strikes for improvements, or resistance to racism, you form your political responses and positions by surveying all the facets of reality and then deciding which aspects are decisive and which not.

The idea that you trim your picture from which you have to form political judgments in advance, selecting it to fit prior conclusions, has as little in common with Marxism as it has with any other rational approach to the world. And it has the drawback that if the closed-eyes self-righteous citizen starts looking at the whole reality, then he or she will go over not to our Third Camp independent working class politics, but to Israeli chauvinism.


You, comrade Machover, go through the motions of a reasoned point-by-point discussion of what I wrote; but you start off your reply with a straight lie and a radical distortion, stating that I argue: “while an attack on Iran ‘will most likely lead to great carnage in the Middle East, and beyond’, it would be wrong to object to it if it is undertaken by Israel”. I did and do “object” to it, and said so a number of times in the short article!

There is radical distortion in the usage — it is repeated again and again in your piece — “an attack”, without specification. A military strike would surely be “an attack”, but to substitute here the general term “an attack”, which might mean every and any offensive action up to full-scale land invasion, or even a nuclear assault, for a limited, specific bomb raid on nuclear installations, from the air, which is what I discussed, is to radically misrepresent not only what I wrote but also what the discussion should be about.

I bracketed the possible “strike” I was discussing with the September 2007 Israeli attack on nuclear facilities in Syria, and the June 1981 attack on an Iraqi nuclear installation; there is therefore no reasonable ground for you or anyone else not understanding what sort of attack I was talking about.

You quote me once, in passing, as talking about a bomb-strike on Iranian nuclear installations, but generally you use the portmanteau term “attack”; and you do that after the paper in which you publish your article has accused me, with lunatic abandon, of advocating an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran.

You deliberately get in step with the Stalinist-level liars who run Weekly Worker! What else could explain your usage?

You say that I “refuse to say anything against Israeli aggression. Go ahead, Israel — bomb away; feel free to cause ‘large-scale Iranian civilian “collateral” casualties’! SM will look the other way”. The framing of the direct quotation in radically misleading polemical bumpf is constructive lying. In political terms, it is simply unserious.

A duty to whitewash the mullahs?

Beginning with your fourth paragraph, you come out as someone who thinks that opposition to an Israeli attack on Iran requires of you that you do public-relations work for the Iranian regime. You criticise that regime once, and in passing, but you say that the Iranian rulers do not “openly declare their desire to destroy Israel”.

You repeat the 2006 declaration from Ahmadinejad which I cited.

“Thanks to people’s wishes and God’s will, the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is [going] downwards and this is what God has promised and what all nations want. Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out”.

But you “interpret” that passage to claim that the clerical-fascist regime is not as bad as it seems.

You seem to be governed by the belief that to oppose an attack you must defend those likely to be attacked and refute what is said about them — irrespective of what is true.

Your approach here would have led the left — and during the Stalin-Hitler pact did lead the Communist Parties — to insist that Hitler was not all that bad. It led people like Tony Benn and the then editor of Tribune to do PR work, side by side with George Galloway, for Saddam Hussein in 2003. It led the SWP to apologetics for the Taliban (Socialist Worker 1 October 2001).

Serious socialists tell the truth about both sides.

There is nothing, you say, in Ahmadinejad’s 2006 declaration “about an Iranian ‘desire to destroy Israel’; nor even a wish to see that country destroyed by others”. Your attempts to reassure, on Tehran’s behalf, are obviously heartfelt. God, how they have been misrepresented, these benign Iranian clerical fascists!

Your own assessment of the declaration is wilfully foolish! You write that what Ahmadinejad “expressed here is a wish for the disappearance of the Zionist regime (on another occasion Ahmadinejad spoke about the ‘regime that is occupying the holy city’ of Jerusalem)”. You insist that there is a “difference between destruction of a country and demise of a regime”.

You take Ahmadinejad’s analogy with the demise of the USSR — “just as the Soviet Union was wiped out” — to mean that Ahmadinejad merely wants a change of government in Israel.

You feel obliged, in your opposition to an Israeli “attack”, to go surety for the good intentions of the Iranian mullahs! This, at best, is wishful thinking.

What “regime” — government? state structure? — rooted in the existing Israeli population will, in the foreseeable future, be other than “Zionist” in the broad and basic sense?

For all I can know, you may be using “Zionist” to mean extreme Israeli chauvinism. It is one of the surest things in politics that that is not what the Islamist chauvinists ruling Iran mean by “Zionism”. You get in your own light, comrade Machover!

In fact there is no shortage of quotations making clear Ahmadinejad’s meaning. Take this from August 2006: “this sinister regime is the banner of Satan.... all the people are shouting a single cry... Death to Israel”.

They really meant “Death to the Israeli government!”?

Israel “has no right to exist”?

I suggest you make yourself incapable of understanding what Ahmadinejad might mean because you yourself are against the existence of the Israeli Jewish state.

You say it plainly enough: “I suppose I must belong to what SM so cutely calls the ‘kitsch left’, because I do think that Israel has no right to exist as presently constituted or in anything like its present form”. You specify what you mean: “a colonial, expansionist, ethnocratic-racist settler state, a junior partner of imperialism, to which it is structurally and inseparably allied”.

You add that “those who advocate the so-called ‘right’” of the existing, or anything-like-the-existing Israel, to exist, are “fake leftists”. There can be no question of Israel defending itself, because in fact, always, “Israel would be ‘defending’... its indefensible privileges and interests as a colonial settler state and imperialist sub-contractor”.

I would agree that Israel has no “right” to continue occupying the West Bank and building Jewish-colonist settlements there. By that I mean: I don’t want Israel to go on doing that, and I’m on the side of the Palestinians in the post-1967 Occupied Territories and of those Israelis, Jewish and Arab, who want that to stop and fight to stop it.

What do you mean? That Israel does not have a right to exist at all, so long as it does “anything like” those things? That the Israeli Jewish nation has no right to self-determination unless and until it changes its attitudes and physiognomy beyond recognition?

And? And therefore you back those who want to help Israel “as presently constituted” stop “existing”? It is not clear why you wouldn’t.


Israel, a junior partner of imperialism? Of the USA? To deny the right of a nation to exist because of its international alliances smacks just a little too strongly of the Stalinist policy of assessing nations as good or bad — and, in some instances, worthy of the right to exist or not — according to their “role” in international affairs.

The short answer is that the Israeli nation and its state have a right to exist irrespective of their international alliances. In any case, Israel’s international alignment, like the rest of its history, cannot be understood apart from the attitude to it of its neighbours — five of which greeted its foundation in 1948 with invasion, and some of them (Egypt) under the slogan “Drive the Jews into the sea!”

“Structurally and inseparably allied” to “imperialism”? That Israel has had a heavy economic dependence on the USA since 1967 is fact: that it is inseparable isn’t. How an Israel at peace with its neighbours, including a Palestinian state that had begun to develop economically, would evolve is an open question.

You use the expression “structurally and inseparably allied” illegitimately, to assert that Israel is only an outcrop of US imperialism, and to strengthen, by asserting the impossibility of Israel separating from the USA, the argument that Israel should not be allowed to go on existing. (Elsewhere in the article, you say that in so far as Israel is more than an outcrop of the USA, it is worse: not just “a mere tool, but... a regional colonial power with a malignant agenda of its own”).

Iran’s “right” to nuclear bombs?

I asked: “But if the Israeli airforce attempts to stop Iran developing the capacity to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb, in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?” I meant: in the name of what alternatives available to an Israel facing the prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons?

You comment, mysteriously and in terms of my text impermissibly: “Apparently SM believes that Israel, a non-expansionist and non-aggressive state, is not sufficiently ‘god-crazed’ to forfeit its ‘inalienable right’ to a monopoly of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.”

Nothing I wrote depends on such a view of Israel! Many things I’ve written elsewhere (a very large volume of it by now — the AWL’s pamphlet Two Nations, Two States is readily available) says the opposite: the AWL demands of Israel that it should vacate the 1967-occupied territories and agree to an independent Palestinian state. I do not advocate an Israeli monopoly of nuclear weapons. I am against Israel having nuclear weapons.

And you? Do you want to replace Israel’s monopoly of nuclear weapons in the region with a duopoly of Iran and Israel having nuclear weapons? So long as Israel still has nuclear weapons, should we acquiesce in the spread of nuclear weapons? In the Iranian mullahs acquiring nuclear bombs? I think that is what you say later. I’ll come back to it.

What is your point here? Either what you write is a trivial, misleading, and irresponsible debating point, and in fact you agree with me that an Iranian nuclear arsenal, moreover one in the hands of an Islamic fundamentalist regime, is undesirable. Or you want the Israeli “monopoly of nuclear weapons” to be broken by the Iranian mullahs.

Which is it, comrade Machover?

Again: do you believe, do you want to say, that Israel is so “god-crazed” that it can be equated with Iran?

You then undertake to champion the case that in “the historical record” Iran has been less “ruthlessly aggressive and destructive” than Israel has.

“The image of Iran’s rulers as religious fanatics, who would not think twice about incinerating their own country for the satisfaction of destroying Israel, is a pure invention of western and Israeli warmongering propaganda, here recycled by SM”.

It is “pure invention”? The regime installed by Iran’s “Islamic Revolution” in 1979, and still in power (even if loosened a little over three decades), is not run by religious fanatics?

I’ll resist the temptations of demagogy here, though it would be easy enough to list some of the social atrocities and horrors which the regime has inflicted on the peoples in the Iranian state, and especially the women, for three decades now.

Plainly the Iranian regime is an Islamic-fundamentalist one, a “theocracy” as you call it.

Yes, as you say, the leaders, or some of them, are “clever, cautious, calculating bastards”. The point, I think, is that the “clever, cautious calculation” of these “bastards” includes calculations about God and heaven, and the relationship of this world to the other, imaginary, world. They see this world as a mere antechamber to the other.

It may be that here you get in your own light. Being yourself a rationalist (maybe), you can’t grap that the religious mindset of such people is a major part of them and a regulator of what they do. You want to dismiss their religio-political beliefs as play-acting, stuff that they don’t really believe. A central part of the reality I see is that they do believe in their own religious nonsense.

You are sure that there is no possibility that they — or some of them, or some group emerging within the regime — will never let the attractions of a sudden trip to bordello-paradise overwhelm what you would think of as “clever, cautious calculations” about this world. I’m not.

You’re sure that their “clever” this-world calculations will never lead any of them to calculate that Israel would not survive a nuclear conflict, but the enormously bigger Iran would?

The idea that Israel should be denounced for not trusting and sharing in your confidence about the “clever calculations” of these “bastards” can only be grounded in an unreasoning animosity to Israel, or the sort of reactionary anti-imperialism that sees the Iranian regime (and similar regimes or movements) as automatically “better” than “imperialism” because they are at odds with the USA.

The idea that states always act rationally and according to the economic interests of the ruling class was always childish, barebones, economic-reductionist pseudo-Marxism. Hitler and the Nazis, for example, dragged Germany down to utter destruction. Trotsky in 1938 compared what the bourgeoisie was doing, in entrusting power to the fascists, with “tobogganing with closed eyes toward an economic and military catastrophe”. That can’t happen in Iran?

You accuse me of sleight-of-hand, conjurer-style intellectual trickery, sophism, “rhetorical legerdemain”. You aren’t so bad yourself at such ideological “cloak-work”!

An Arab-Islamic nuclear armoury?

Should we condemn Israel “because Israel has nuclear weapons, and therefore the Arab and Islamic states should have them too?”

You “cleverly” turn it round. To object to Iranian nuclear weapons, you suggest, “implies that Israel has some god-given right to a monopoly of nuclear weapons”. Eh? I don’t want the existing situation made worse by a proliferation of nuclear weapons... so that means I think Israel has a “god-given” right to a monopoly!

Turn that thought round once again, and it is the idea that because Israel has no “god-given right to a monopoly”, therefore we should not oppose other states having nuclear weapons, because that would make us “defend” that monopoly. Is that what you are saying?

But you want it both ways. Having waxed demagogic over my “implied” belief that Israel has a “god-given right to a monopoly of nuclear weapons”, you draw back from your own logical conclusion by accusing me of “malign[ing] the leftist opponents of aggression by attributing to them the absurd idea that Arab and Islamic states ‘should’ possess nuclear weapons because Israel does”.

Actually, no. I listed that view — that “the Arab and Islamic states should have [nuclear weapons] too” — as one of the absurdities I was dismissing, as an absurd implication of the sort of outcry against Israel which I anticipated. “Least of all should we back Ahmadinejad, or argue, implicitly or openly, that homicidal religious lunatics have a right to arm themselves with nuclear weapons...”

I dealt there with what I thought was likely to be implicit in the probable outcry — a sort of reductio ad absurdum. When I wrote that, I didn’t appreciate to what extent that attitude was already widespread. I knew Workers’ Power explicitly supported the “right” of Iran to have nuclear weapons; for the rest, I thought I was warning against possible absurd implications in what they would say.

However, you yourself share the attitude, or something approaching it. You express it like this: “The only basis on which we can justly [!] demand that Iran be forbidden to have [nuclear weapons] is to make the entire region free of nuclear weapons. This is the demand we must raise. Of course, Iran should not have nuclear weapons; but neither should Israel. And certainly we must condemn Israeli aggression designed to preserve its nuclear monopoly”. Ah!

Arguing with you here is like waltzing on ice with an india-rubber man! You seem to say that “just” opposition to Iranian nuclear weapons should depend on Israel not having them, and on the creation in the region of a nuclear-free zone. “This is the demand we must raise”.

Of course socialists should be against Israeli nuclear weapons. But to make opposition to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons depend on Israel surrendering those it has — that is to excuse the mullahs’ drive to acquire nuclear weapons. To insist that the only demand we can raise is: "a regional nuclear-free zone", cannot but soften specific opposition to the Iranian regime acquiring nuclear weapons, which would, at best, mean the emergence of a nuclear balance of terror in the region.

One-sided “pacifism”

I asked whether Israel should be condemned “because we are unconditional pacifists? [Because] we think military action is never justified, and therefore Israel has no right to attack Iran, not even to stop it acquiring the nuclear means to mount the ultimate suicide bomb attack on Israel?”

You say this “is a deliberately silly question”. (No, comrade Machover. Believe me, if it is silly, it is inadvertently so).

“Again we must turn it around... should we condone a pre-emptive bombing attack on Israel’s Dimona nuclear installation?”

This is one of the few serious points in your would-be ferocious but light-weight polemic. In reality the situation is not symmetrical. Would such an Iranian strike surgically “take out” Israel’s nuclear-weapons capacity as Israel apparently “took out” Syria’s in 2007 and Iraq’s in 1981? I doubt it.

An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations could be limited to that objective; an Iranian attack on Israel in order to eliminate Israeli nuclear weapons would in practice have to be part of a general Islamist assault.

You are careful to lead up to your question about Israel’s nuclear centre by asserting once again that “Iran has no nuclear weapons” (true); “and it has never threatened to attack Israel by nuclear or conventional means” (not true; or true only on a “benign” interpretation of all the chants about “Death to Israel”).

“Humanity’s worst enemy”

You respond to my question whether we should condemn Israel “because we would prefer to live in a world where such choices would not be posed, where relations between states and peoples are governed by reason, and strictly peaceful means” with the statement that so long as we live in “today’s world”, “we should make the right choice: oppose imperialist attacks — whether direct or by proxy — even when mounted against a detestable regime. Because today US imperialism is humanity’s worst enemy, and its global hegemony poses the greatest danger to humanity’s future”.

First of all, you work a revealing sleight of mind here. I discussed an Israeli attack. You seem to say — here, anyway — that such a thing is impossible: Israel will only act as a proxy. Elsewhere in your article you say it very plainly: “Israel cannot possibly take such a step without an American green light... [Over Suez in 1956] Israeli attack served as a prearranged pretext for the intervention of its imperialist senior partner(s). If Israel does indeed attack Iran, we will witness a broadly similar scenario”.

An air attack on Iranian nuclear installations now — which is what we are supposed to be discussing — will be the equivalent of 1956, when Israel’s invasion of Sinai on 29 October was a (prearranged) pretext for French and British invasion of Egypt (on 5 November, after bombing from 31 October)? It can only be the start of a full-scale US invasion of Iran? Just like the September 2007 Israeli attack on a Syrian nuclear installation was part of an American invasion of Syria?

What you do here is substitute a different situation for the situation I discussed.

Is it that Israel has no autonomy at all? It can only act as a catspaw of the USA? That is a point of view; but not one you stick to. Elsewhere you say that Israel can indeed act on its own concerns, and when it does so it is worse than US imperialism. This is just wriggling, comrade Machover!

My argument was not based on generalities about Iran’s regime being “detestable”, but on what its development of nuclear weapons would or might mean for Israel.

But what is the formulation about “US imperialism” being “humanity’s worst enemy... the greatest danger to humanity’s future” doing in a supposedly political document? It has the ring to it of religious denunciation!

It is cut from the same cloth as the a-historical condemnation of Israel. I have not seen anything like such a formulation, about a country or regime being the main enemy of humanity, outside of the early 1950s magazine of the US Communist Party, which I looked at a while back — Stalin’s supporters, stranded on the “wrong” side of the world divide, and hysterically whipping themselves up to back the USA’s enemy in a nuclear war.

Politically, what follows, surely, is that any regime, no matter how “detestable”, no matter how especially dangerous with nuclear weapons, is better than, less of a threat to humanity than, US imperialism the “main enemy of humanity” — and its proxy, Israel.

And therefore? What appears to follow is that you will line up with any conceivable opponent of the USA — and with the pixillated kitsch-left idiots who see Islamist clerical-fascism as better than the USA. Which is what you are doing.

The “main enemy of humanity” formula is metaphysics, not politics. It is all too reminiscent of Third Period Stalinism, with its arbitrary schematics and subjective definitions.

It is an example of what I have mind in the name-tag “kitsch-left”: inorganic, subjective, arbitrary orientation on the world. And if it is true that “US imperialism” is “humanity’s worst enemy”, then the prospects for humanity are very bleak indeed. Not least of the faults of this formula is that it dismisses the US working class, as this line of thinking usually also dismisses the Israeli working class.

It is a millenarian view of the world tightly sprung, and of an early, if not imminent, showdown between the forces of good and evil. It is a secularisation of the world-view of political Islam, focused on the “Great Satan” of the USA and its allies and “proxies” overseas. Isn’t it?


The post-Trotsky Trotskyist movement was derailed by its Third-Period-Stalinist style belief in a World Revolution that was coming to the final clash, the “lutte finale” of the great song. It was to be a clash between “Imperialism” and the “World Revolution”, which, for now, was embodied in the Stalinist states, the Stalinist movements, and the Stalinist-led revolutions in the Third World.

The would-be Trotskyists were led by their notion of a predetermined World Revolution within a very short time scale, and the identification of Stalinism as its embodiment for now, in the first stage, into a fantastic view of reality, made up of negativism towards capitalism, and of (mistaken) positive identification with the bureaucratically statified economies of the USSR and its allies. (See the introduction to The Fate of the Russian Revolution:

Today the kitsch left is in the grip of analogous politics, but with none of the seeming justification and seeming rationality of those post-Trotsky Trotskyists, the “Pabloites”.

The kitsch left now sees the world as caught up in an apocalyptic battle between good and evil — between “humanity’s worst enemy” and... the others.

As in 1951, at the Third World Congress of the Fourth International, Stalinism was written into the role of adversary of US imperialism in the “final battle”, so also today the “anti-US” forces are written into the scenario for the climactic battle: the Tehran regime, the Taliban, Al Qaeda. and... whom?...

As in the early 1950s, this leads to out-and-out nonsense — identification of black as white and vice versa by a process of arbitrary, negative selection. And without any of the twisted sense which the idea of progressive Stalinism, on one side, and totally reactionary imperialism, on the other, had.

Comrade Machover, here you are led to the side of reaction by such notions as “humanity’s worst enemy”, defined in terms of power politics. How do you wind up after six decades as a Marxist articulating a thinly secularised version of Muslim eschatology?

Israel worse than the “worst enemy”?

I asked whether Israel should be condemned “because Israel would in attacking Iran be only an American imperialist tool, against a mere regional power; and that cancels out the genuine self-defence element in pre-emptive Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear weapons”.

You comment: “The fact that Israel will not be acting as a mere American imperialist tool makes it even worse, and is all the more reason for condemning and opposing its aggression. Because in addition to acting for its imperialist sponsor, Israel will at the same time be acting to maintain its own regional hegemony, nuclear monopoly and ability to oppress the Palestinian people and colonise their lands.”

Here everything is blended and mixed into a muddy political paste! And the paste is very messy.

Israel is bad when it is the proxy for “humanity’s worst enemy”; and when it is not — you concede it is not, or not entirely, or not always — it is “even worse”! Not only is there a power that is “humanity’s worst enemy”; there is also a power than is an even worse enemy of humanity than “humanity’s worst enemy”. The US is the worst enemy, but Israel is the worst, worst enemy of humanity.

And why? Israel has “regional hegemony” and “acts to maintain it”. It has a “nuclear monopoly” and (therefore?) “ability to oppress the Palestinian people and colonise their lands.”

This jumble is an example of where reasoning around a fixed demonological view of a state and of a people can lead you! In what “region” does Israel have “hegemony”? In the Occupied Territories, to be sure. But that does not depend on Israel’s nuclear weapons. In the wider region of the Middle East, Israel obviously does not have “hegemony”. And nor does its nuclear monopoly hand it status in that region.

Only if Iran or some other power hostile to Israel had nuclear weapons, only then, would Israel’s status or even its ability to stand up to the threat of nuclear annihilation depend on its having nuclear weapons.

Washing around in your subconscious here seems to be a half-formed notion that it would be good if Israel were faced with another power in the Middle East able to brandish nuclear weapons.

Unconditional support for Iran?

Should we condemn Israel “because the Iranian government, Islamic clerical fascist though it is, is an ‘anti-imperialist’ power and must be unconditionally supported against the US, Nato, Israel?”

Here, you don’t reply at all, though you go through the motions. You say I know “very well” that “opposition to US-Israeli aggression against Iran in no way implies ‘unconditional support’ for the Iranian regime”.

I did not discuss “US-Israeli aggression”. That is your definition, not mine. Why did I write “unconditional”? Because there is something of “on their side, no matter what” in supporting (even by implication) Iran’s “right” to nuclear weapons; and that is your substantive position, comrade Machover!

But you don’t know when to leave well alone, do you? You build further on my rejection of the idea that “the Iranian government, Islamic clerical-fascist though it is, is an ‘anti-imperialist’ power and must be unconditionally supported against the US, Nato, Israel”. You comment: “Inadvertently, SM has given us an illustration of the fact that you cannot consistently be soft on the Israeli state without being also soft on its imperialist sponsor and close senior partner.”

You’d be better engaged, comrade Machover, in sifting through and defining, first for yourself, what is really going on in your own mind!

Because I reject the idea that Iran is an “anti-imperialist power” (as distinct from a regional imperialism: isn’t that what you’d say it is?), and reject the argument that for that reason (for supposedly being an “anti-imperialist power”) it should be supported against the US, Nato, and Israel, therefore....?

Therefore... my “rhetorical question”, you say, “provides an argument for not opposing an attack by the US or Nato” (emphasis added).

You can’t oppose a US attack without positively supporting Iran? So you seem to say. In fact, Iran is a small imperialist power. Saying that, and rejecting the idea that we should side with it against the bigger imperialist powers, would not hinder us from opposing an attack — any more than defining Iraq for what it is, a regional imperialist power, hindered us from opposing the US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The idea that we should define the smaller and weaker imperialism as “anti-imperialist”, and positively support it, is political and intellectual gibberish. It isn’t new, however. There were many people in Asia, and many black people in the USA, who saw Japan as a progressive anti-imperialist power, a “coloured” power, an “Asian” power, in World War Two. Japan exploited that, for example, in Burma. The US Trotskyists had to make special educational efforts to try to wean black people in the USA from such ideas (in Labor Action, for instance).

The idea that you side with the weaker imperialism, and accept its “anti-imperialist” postures as good coin, would have led to supporting Japan against the USA in 1941, and the USSR against the USA after 1945!


You add: “Let me also note in passing that SM is doing here what no serious Marxist should do: for the second time in this article he is using ‘fascist’ as a mere invective rather than as a precise political term. He should know better.”

I wrote not of “fascist”, but of “clerical fascist”. And I did not use it as “mere invective”. Here, once again, we have your irrepressible tendency to let arid pedantry override your sense of reality and of history.

I agree that “fascist” should not be used as mere insult. The Trotskyist movement, and, of course, the working class itself, paid a high price for the idiotic Stalinist habit of flinging the word “fascist” about in that way.

But in fact there are quite a few different sorts of fascism in history. The Francoist movement was an amalgam of smallish fascist organisations, the Spanish army, and the Catholic church: it was a Catholic crusade.

There were clerical fascist movements in many European countries, differing more or less seriously one from another. In Ireland in the early mid 1930s, Blueshirt clerical fascism mushroomed into a mass movement for a while: it had among its peculiarities the fact that most of it (unlike any other clerical-fascism I know, anywhere) was less nationalistic and less narrowly chauvinist than its “mainstream” rivals, the De Valera government and its unofficial IRA supporters.

Clerical fascism, in relation to Iran, means mass mobilisations motivated by religious or religio-social ideas and feelings, for Islamist totalitarian-political goals. The feelings it builds on include feelings of alienation from capitalism which, in more favourable circumstances, could lead some of the people involved to revolutionary communist conclusions: but that is a feature of all fascist movements.

You describe Iran as a “theocracy”, but that is a complementary designation, not one that excludes the description “clerical fascism”. There were large elements of theocracy in fascist Spain and Portugal. There were very large elements, perhaps larger than in fascist Spain or Portugal, of theocracy in bourgeois-democratic Ireland for many decades (when the bishops could call in a minister and simply tell him what to do, and be obeyed; and often would not even deign to give reasons for it: see the memoirs of the one-time minister, Dr. Noel Browne, "Against the Tide").

Granted that there is imprecision in it, “clerical fascism” will do to be getting on with as a description of authoritarian-totalitarian Islamist politico-religious movements.

Machover’s “third way”

You continue: “SM’s penultimate pretext is a real beauty: “[Should we condemn an Israeli attack] because Israel refuses to dismantle the Jewish national state peacefully and agree to an Arab Palestinian state in which Jews would have religious but not Israeli national rights, and therefore socialists, ‘anti-racists’ and anti-imperialists must be on the side of those who would conquer and destroy it, even, in this case, with nuclear weapons?”

“The oh so subtle rhetorical legerdemain here is to smuggle past the reader a false alternative: either you accept Israel as ‘the Jewish national state’ or else you must accept an ‘Arab Palestinian state in which Jews would have religious but not Israeli national rights’. SM implies that there is no other choice. And, moreover, he threatens his reader: if you reject the former — ‘the Jewish national state’ — then (‘and therefore …’) you must resign yourself to Israel’s destruction ‘even with nuclear weapons’.”

“The false alternative”? You have a third alternative to offer? An Israel that is not a “Jewish national state” (with rights for minorities), but in which nonetheless Jews would have national rights? Or an Arab Palestinian state in which Jews would have national rights?

“SM implies that there is no other choice”? But you have a revelation to offer? The reader perplexed by the complexities of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict will have felt his or her pulse quicken. A Moshe has come to judgement!

Before your revelation, you spend a lot of words rehashing discussions, to my mind largely pedantic, discussions about Israel’s definition of a citizen and so on. Any national state will be to some degree or another nationalist; socialists work against the nationalism, and to win fully equal rights for minority groups in the state; but we are for the right to self-determination of nations as they are, not just of nations as they are in textbook definitions. These considerations apply to all nations, and they apply to Israel too. Socialists in Israel should fight for entirely equal rights for all minorities there; in the foreseeable future, any Israeli state will have some degree of nationalism and discrimination.

Your revelation, when it comes, is less than convincing. It appears to be a singularly undefined version of a bi-national state. “The alternative supported by true socialists is a settlement based on equal rights: not only equal individual rights for all, but also equal national rights for the two actual national groups of Palestine/Israel.

“Who are these two groups? First, the indigenous people, the Palestinian Arabs, including the refugees ethnically cleansed by Zionist colonisation, who surely must have the right to return to their homeland. Second, the Hebrew-speaking settler nation that has come into existence in that country... This clearly means the rejection of the ‘Jewish national state’ in the present Zionist sense...”

You give no explanation of what sort of Jewish national state could be regarded as an exercise of the legitimate national rights of the “Hebrew-speaking nation”, except of course that it must not be “anything like” Israel. This is what I meant above by defining you as a mere phrasemonger. Your stuff here juggles possibly attractive things that simply have no purchase on reality, and have nothing to offer in the way of telling us what we do to get from the situation in the Middle East now to one in which Jews and Arabs relate to each other in a friendly and cooperative way.

There are three distinct things to be sorted out here. First, there is what we would like — what socialists would prescribe, if we had god-like powers.

Second, there is what can be done politically with what exists, by people (socialists) who lack god-like power. At present, we have the singular lack of power of people with small influence and smaller organised forces, in the Middle East or elsewhere. And it seems to me certain that even if there were a mass revolutionary Marxist movement embracing Jewish and Arab workers, it would still not be able at will to wipe out and reconcile the national antagonisms of generations simply by decreeing the merging of nations. It would still need a democratic national programme, some variant of two states. The Bolsheviks needed such a policy after the workers had taken power in the old Tsarist Empire.

Third, the actual role in politics of the bandying-about of phrases and detached fine sentiments by socialists like you who refuse to seek solutions in the world that exists. You act as a cover for Arab and Islamic reaction!

Few socialists would disagree with the generalities of what you call the policy of “true socialists”: “not only equal individual rights for all, but also equal national rights for the two actual national groups of Palestine/Israel”. But how could it be done?

Jews and Palestinian Arabs should merge into one people? The idea is utterly fantastic that peoples can do that at will, especially peoples with their actual history.

The proposal that over four million Palestinians, the descendants of refugees, should “return” to pre-1967 Israel is a proposal for the abolition of the Jewish nation. So it is seen, and for sixty years has been seen, by both sides. There is no way it can be made acceptable to Israel; and in fact, no way in which its realisation would be compatible with the existence of the Jewish nation.

Talk about “racism” here is ideological blackjacking. Nobody would think that the amalgamation of the Germans and the French in the territory now occupied by one of them could be brought about, even after the old antagonisms have been enormously reduced. There is also a great deal of scapegoating in blaming Israel alone for Arab refugees. Almost as many (600,000) Jewish refugees made their way in the years after 1948 from Arab countries to Israel. The Arab states deliberately refused to try to integrate the Palestinian refugees, ancestors of today’s 4.6 million. They did it in part for political reasons.

Israel: “ethnocratic-racist”?

You say that Israel is an “ethnocratic-racist” settler state. Here you wallow in the political equivalent of fashionable psychobabble! Even if your epithet were justified, it would be irrelevant to what we are talking about. It is not justified.

Israeli nationalism is like any other nationalism, concerned with those it considers its own and downgrading and dismissive of others. Nationalisms loosen up, become less tight in their definings-in, less aggressive to those defined-out, the less pressure they are under, the less opposition they face to their cherished claims.

Israeli nationalism, “Zionism” — as I’m sure you know far better than I do — faced tremendous opposition, and arose in a political world which persecuted Jews and, in that persecution's most intense form, denied the right of Jews even to live, anywhere.

Israel’s right to exist is still not recognised by most of its neighbours sixty years after the state’s foundation!

Of course Jewish nationalism under pressure has been and is edgy, aggressive, inclined to ignore or deny competing “claims” that stand in the way of its own. Of course, since the Holocaust it has been seized by a spirit of ruthless determination.

Jewish nationalism, at the time that it gripped most Jews — which was not until the mid 20th century — was and is now, still, the nationalism of a people which had come close to extermination. In your lifetime and mine, two thirds of the Jews in Europe were exterminated.

Of course Jewish nationalism is often bitter, assertive, self-righteous, ruthless, unscrupulous. That is... nationalism. A major feature of the nationalism of oppressed or once-oppressed peoples is that, when demanding their own claimed rights, they are often indifferent to the rights and claims of minorities within their claimed territory. That is the nature of nationalism.

Take Ireland. We have colonised the globe more, probably, than Jews, Chinese, Indians, or Anglo-Saxons, and faced discrimination, prejudice, and inhospitality. In a vile recent example of Irish chauvinism and racism, a referendum voted overwhelmingly to deny Irish passports to Irish-born children of immigrants!

And therefore? Britain should never have left? Britain should reconquer this “racist” society?

Should socialists apply tests of moral worthiness to nations claiming self-determination, and recognise only those who themselves apply the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do to you — as worthy of our support? I can’t think of any nationalist-minded oppressed or once-oppressed people who would pass such a test.

The truth is that there is everywhere a continuum between nationalism, militant nationalism, chauvinism, and racism. There is no impassable barrier between the stages in that continuum.

Calling racist in the Israelis what in other peoples is nationalist or chauvinist is a dishonest attempt to damn Israeli nationalism — and the Israeli nation — by equating it in its entirety with the vilest form in the continuum. It is a form of political character-assassination and moral blackjacking.

There is also in it a savage injustice. A large part of the well-deserved odium in which “everyone” today holds “racism” derives from the Jews not as racists but as the supreme victims of racism in recorded history. The moral worth of such blackjacking is summed up in the fact that the attitudes of the implacable enemies of Israel, Arab-chauvinist or Islamist, even the clerical fascists among them, are not denounced as “racist” or even chauvinist, but classified as legitimate nationalism and splendid “anti-imperialism”.


I don’t classify you, comrade Machover, as “kitsch-left”. Old and well-worn terms exist to describe your politics here, pretty exactly. Lenin’s term “phrasemonger” is, as I've already said, what I have in mind.

You concern yourself with formal classifications (settler state, imperialism, etc.) rather than with the living political questions.

You denounce the existing Israel for not being the opposite of what it actually is — a Jewish state with a Palestinian Arab minority — and you do that in tandem with allies and supporters of Islamist clerical-fascism.

You combine anarchist-utopian severity of judgement on Israel, in the same article, with playing the role of understanding “interpreter” of Ahmadinejad, a couple of phrases about the Iranian rulers being “reactionaries” and “bastards” notwithstanding.

You can think yourself thereby a revolutionary politician and a highly moral man.

It is a delusion. You think you are a leftist on the Middle East, but that too is a delusion. The politics you purvey here are right, not left, wing.

Some of what you say about Israel has some use as a description. Israel is undoubtedly a settler state. It exists as a result of most of its people — or, now, their parents or grandparents — fleeing persecution and settling there over the last hundred years.

But you mean the description as automatic and outright condemnation, and use it as the basis for a denial of Israel’s right to go on existing and of the right of the Jewish nation in Israel to self-determination. Don’t you?

You use the expression “settler state” to assert that Israel is essentially the same as the old white Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), or apartheid South Africa, and to brush aside what distinguishes Israel from them — that it was not and is not fundamentally built on the exploited or super-exploited labour of Arabs, and that its Jewish citizens are the very big majority (80%) of its population.

You condemn Israel as expansionist. I believe that the dominant political forces in Israel want to keep as much of the post-1967 Palestinian territory as they can; they allow or encourage expanding Jewish settlements on that territory. If that’s what you mean, yes, expansionist.

When you talk ominously of Israel’s “own special agenda of annexation and expansion”, what are you talking about here, beyond Israel’s domination of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories? If that is what you are talking about, then you should not present it as if you are saying a lot more.

I have no idea what grandiose ideas may be in the head of this or that Israeli politician. But in the world as it is, as distinct from fantasies derived from the Bible, there is no possibility of Israeli expansion beyond the West Bank.

Of course, we (AWL, and the writer) oppose the real Israeli expansionism and condemn it. We are for a fully independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel. We back those in Israel, Arabs and Jews, and in the Occupied Territories, who oppose the “expansionism” and counterpose to it “two states”.

And you? What do you propose? The abolition of the Jewish national state! You make putting an end to “Israeli expansionism” conditional on and identical with putting an end to Israel! You propose to replace one injustice to the Palestinians, with another to the Israeli Jews, the forcible abolition of Israel. That is what it comes down to.

You don’t advocate a just solution, but the reversal in the Palestinian-Jewish relationship of the roles of victors and vanquished.


The role in actual politics of irresponsible ultra-left phrasemongering like yours — whose good will I do not question — is the opposite of what you think it is.

You invoke socialist and liberal values and aspirations. You criticise Israel, often justly, in the light of those standards. You conclude that only your “maximalist” settlement is tolerable, and, short of fitting in to that, Israel has no right to exist.

You invoke high ideals and “reject” the existing Israel with the disdain of a “historical” snob. In doing so, you are not, though you want to be, a friend of the oppressed Palestinians: you urge them to reject what is possible, a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and to aim for the impossible.

You counterpose to the “two states” policy an ideal rearrangement that will tidy up the history of the last 100 years; but involves self-liquidation of Israel or its conquest by the Arab states. The only conceivable “instrument” able to destroy Israel is the Arab or Islamic states. That is where your anarchoid phrasemongering leads you — now, implicitly at least, to backing or half-backing Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

You function as an ideological confusionist, an outrider or skirmisher, operating not to help the socialist and left-wing ideas, values, and ideal choices win support and be realised, but as an inadvertent helpmate of the right, of people like the clerical fascists in Iran. You act as an outrider, and unashmedly so for those on the would-be left who are more directly outriders of the Iranian and other clerical fascists.

I suggest that the way forward is two states, and Israelis, Jews and Arabs, working within Israel for change.

Siren song!

To conclude. You and I are trapped on the fifth story of a building that is burning beneath us, flames coming out of the windows on three sides. I look around and suggest; “Let’s tie these two ropes together, put some knots in them for handholds, and climb down. The ropes are not long enough, and we will have to jump the last storey. We may get hurt a bit, or break a leg or two, but we will survive”.

You say: “No! We’ll most likely rope-burn our hands on the way down. One sort of burn is as bad as another. There is no difference!

You say: "You have fallen in love with the fire, haven’t you? You want to compromise with fire and smoke and soot by running from it, by accepting its ‘definition’ of you! You are a pyromaniac! A filthy sootist!

“I know what to do. We should grow wings now and fly out of the window, rise and soar above it all, free of the fire and the soot and the filthy contamination with pyromania”.

I reply: “Moshe, I’d love to grow wings, but genetic engineering hasn’t got that far yet. We simply can’t grow wings in time. The only solution to our dilemma is to climb down. We must move carefully, a step at a time”.

You reply: “Don’t be silly! I know a great Yiddish song about wings. Let’s sing that. I know the lessons of Jewish history. We must learn to fly. It’s the only thing”. You start to sing:

“On a wagon bound for market/

Sat a calf with a mournful eye./

High above him flew a swallow/

Winging swiftly through the sky”.

I love that song — my son and I used to sing it when he was small — and I’m tempted to join you. But I resist, and go on preparing the ladder.

Then you sing another song:

“If I had the wings of an angel/

Over these walls I would fly”.

I love that too. My father used to sing it when I was small. But I resist. I join in the singing, but I tie the ropes and knot them. I know that singing the song won’t help you sprout wings. “Come on, comrade Machover. We can sing about wings as we climb down”. You say: “F*** off, soot-monger”. As I go out of the window, you continue to sing fine songs.

As I descend, I hear you, fainter now. “I shall not, I shall not be moved...” Another song I like.

I don’t know when humankind will learn to “fly” — outgrow nationalism and other such things. For sure, “singing” for it — phrasemongering counterposed to real possibilities — won’t speed the process.

The AWL advocates working-class unity across national divisions. For that we have more than preaching and fine songs. For sure, Arab and Jewish workers in Israel, and Israeli and Palestinian workers, will not make peace with each other without the “rope ladder” of a democratic programme — two states.


Submitted by Jason on Fri, 26/09/2008 - 18:22

The second article was one from Workers Power. Martin perhaps finds it hard to beleive that an organisation doesn't have to have a monolithic policy on all matters.

That's up to him. However, we believe that it is a mistake to insist on absolute uniformity. PR's policy is established by votes- we haven't had a vote on this issue. However, our de facto policy may be more or less taken to be what is published on the web or in the journal if no dissent has been expressed- most of the time anyway (however this probably doesn't really apply to articles from a year before we existed). Even then I see no problem with minority views.

The real issue however is to assemble and rebuild a vibrant workers' movement whihc can take up the burning issues of workers' lives- including being resolutely against attacks by the US or its regional allies, attacks that will only strengthen th ehands of reactionaries whether in the White House, the Knesset or Majlis.

Submitted by martin on Fri, 26/09/2008 - 20:25

1. Jason, is a 2005 article from WP which the PR website chose to republish in 2007, as "editorial" comment (no signature). If that doesn't count as an official PR statement, what does?

2. Nothing wrong with you having a minority position in PR. But then you should argue it in PR.

3. The PR argument on the Hopi formula (from the URLs which Sacha and I have quoted) was not just that they didn't want Hopi to have that formula, but that they disagreed with the formula, as theoretically (in practice, only after Israel had nuclear-disarmed; but still, theoretically) denied Iran's right to develop nuclear weapons.

4. I'm no expert on military technology. The articles in the Israeli press say that Israel needs technology from the USA. I'm sure that Israel would want to square it with the USA, but that doesn't mean that they won't go ahead anyway. They went ahead in 1956. In 1967 the Israelis bombed an American navy ship (actually in full knowledge that it was American, though they claimed they didn't). Israel's June 1981 attack on nuclear installations in Iraq was condemned by the USA and unanimously by the UN Security Council.

5. That Israel's "society as a whole is paid for by the US government" is untrue. Yes, the US has given Israel a lot in aid since 1967. But Israel existed before 1967. It would still exist without US aid - poorer, no doubt, but it would still exist.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 26/09/2008 - 20:58

What's important is creating a movement or at least taking first steps towards such a serious campaign, however tentative and faltering those steps may be at first.

"If that doesn't count as an official PR statement, what does?" Perhaps something voted on by the membership?

But who cares anyway about 'official' statements? Why so officious? Why not just debate the issues? As it happens, whatever you think about it, HOPI supports a 'nuclear-free Middle East' and though such formulations risk being a little empty I have no problem with it. As it happens also Israel is the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.
Interestingly, there's an article in today's Guardian which lends credence to the idea that Israel were seriously considering attacking Iran- an attack that at least some of the AWL would not condemn.

It seems to me more important that we take practical steps to support activists both inIran
and here fighting deportation
to Iran as well as creating a movement that relates to workers’ needs here in fighting fuel poverty, racism and all the other shit thrown at us by the system.

Submitted by martin on Fri, 26/09/2008 - 22:27

Jason, read Sean's latest reply to Moshe Machover on the "not condemn" bit. What the original article did (and if it was unclear, it has certainly been explained in laborious detail now) was rule out various "duff" grounds for condemning Israel as such in the wake of a raid on Iranian nuclear facilities. It also, as Moshe Machover now concedes, clearly "objected to" (opposed, whatever) such a raid.

Of course, the starting point for the original article was indeed that the Israeli government was considering a raid. The stuff in the Guardian was all in the Israeli press a while back; hence our original article.

Nor, unfortunately, would I take it as certain even now that Israel will not launch a strike. The probability has, I guess, dropped a notch with Livni defeating Mofaz, but it is still a real possibility.

We have been "debating the issues", haven't we? The question of whether PR's position is or is not (a) to be pro-Iran rather than "third camp" in the event of an Israel-Iran or US-Iran clash; and (b) to support Iran's alleged right to develop nuclear weapons - that came up because you suggested it was not PR's position.

Sure, we have to "create a movement". But the movement needs politics. And if it is waterlogged with the sort of Israelophobic politics illustrated in the celebrated Workers' Power cartoon depicting revolution as capitalism being pushed into the abyss by a mullah and a veiled woman (with a stereotype worker also hanging around with them), then the movement won't be much good.

Submitted by sacha on Sat, 27/09/2008 - 01:08

Jason: "Martin perhaps finds it hard to beleive that an organisation doesn't have to have a monolithic policy on all matters." This really is just crotchety nonsense. Jason, do you really think the AWL is monolithic? Come on.

Semi-colonies: so is South Africa a semi-colony? Canada? Spain? All net importers of capital, I believe.

The WP cartoon was even worse than Martin suggests, as the worker was much smaller than the other figures and was cowering behind them. It really was ludicrous and appalling.

Submitted by Jason on Sat, 27/09/2008 - 12:05

The politics of the movement are absolutely crucial of course. We stand clearly for the working class of all countries to be at the fore of resistance to capitalism.

Sacha said before, "We oppose an Israeli attack on Iran. We are absolutely firm, absolutely clear and absolutely united on that.

What we object is the demand that we use the word "condemn" when such an attack has not happened yet and we do not know what the consequences will be."

Perhaps though if you are saying now that you do condemn an Israeli attack- good.

We stand clearly for the working class of all countries to be at the fore of resistance to capitalism and to create a new society based on workers' democracy which will require complete independence of the working class from the bourgeois.

You offer no argument against this. Good. We are not debating third-campism whatever that is (actually I'm not sure). There are two camps in society- workers and the bourgeois. We stand for the working class.

I have never seen the Workers' Power cartoon. It sounds awful. However, breaking news- I am not in Workers' Power so it's no use quoting old articles from them (even if I was in that organisation then) or cartoons which I have never seen.

The politics of the movement should be based on working class self-emancipation. I am not going to compormise on that. Nor on the necessity of practical politics- getting out there and taking steps towards raising practical solidarity. I suspect many if not most or even all of the AWL agree with this even if sometimes they seem to have certain blindspots.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Sat, 27/09/2008 - 20:22

Jason -

Yes, we can agree on immediate practical tasks like raising awareness and support for Iranian workers' struggles. But carrying out those tasks - and I for one would like to work with as many other left groups and individuals in doing that - doesn't preclude, and in fact must be supported by, serious debate about the politics of the matter.

Those debates shouldn't be hindered by deference to "anti-imperialist" dogma or blind loyalty to formulas. We're attempting to have those debates within the AWL and with others, through public meetings and on this website. Picking over exactly what PR's position on this question is probably doesn't amount to much in the grand-scheme of things but at the moment this is, in the main, a debate between a PR member and some AWL members so I think it's perfectly reasonable to discuss the respective positions of our organisations.

You dismiss the idea of third-campism by raising the idea that there are only two camps in the world - "workers and the bourgeoisie" - and that our job is to be for the workers. Well, fine; that's perfectly true on a certain level (notwithstanding "petty bourgeois" grey areas), but what happens when different forces within the camp of the bourgeoisie come into conflict with each other?

We in the AWL believe that our job is still to be "for the workers", and our objection to PR's position is that we believe it undermines working-class independence by giving support (on whatever level) to one bourgeois element against another. Third-campism is a perspective that, rather than taking sides in conflicts between capitalist forces, works consistently to develop and build up working-class organisation independently of and against all reactionary elements - regardless of whether they're "anti-imperialist" or not. Do you agree with this perspective? If so, can't you see how PR's current position of supporting the victory of non working-class "anti-imperialist" forces in the "semi-colonial" world (the Iranian government, for example) against US imperialism undermines this?

You still advocate the theory of the "anti-imperialist united front". I don't believe you've meaningfully explained in any way how Iraqi or Iranian labour organisations might construct such a "united front" with, for example, the Mahdi Army or the Iranian government (two forces whose victory over US imperialism PR would see as desirable and progressive).

Protesting that left groups don't have to be politically monolithic is just obfuscation; if you hold a minority view then fine - good for you - but as myself and Martin have pointed out you should be open about this and argue for it within your organisation. As I've said before, the simple reality is that the politics you're (muddleheadedly, in my view, but never mind...) advocating here are incompatible with the stated position of your organisation vis a vis, for example, the "anti-imperialist united front".

Submitted by sacha on Sun, 28/09/2008 - 00:45

Jason, the reason we quote an article from WP is that your organisation, PR, republished it on their website as a sort of editorial piece, without comment - self-evidently because they wanted to endorse it!

You don't know what the Third Camp means?

"But it is precisely why I believe you have made an error... where you say that in China, ‘two camps that are bitterly hostile to one another have come into being: in one are the imperialists and militarists and certain layers of the Chinese bourgeoisie; and on the other are the workers, artisans, petty bourgeoisie, students, intelligentsia and certain groups from the middle bourgeoisie with a nationalist orientation...’ In fact, there are three camps in China — the reactionaries, the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat — fighting for hegemony over the lower strata of the petty bourgeoisie and peasantry. What we must safeguard in the course of the revolution is above all the independent party of the proletariat that is constantly evaluating the revolution from the point of view of three camps, and is capable of fighting for the hegemony in the third camp and, by so doing, in the entire revolution." Leon Trotsky (1927)

"The attempt of the bourgeoisie during its internecine conflict to oblige humanity to divide up into only two camps is motivated by a desire to prohibit the proletariat from having its own independent ideas. This method is as old as bourgeois society, or more exactly, as class society in general. No one is obliged to become a Marxist; no one is obliged to swear by Lenin’s name. But the whole of the politics of these two titans of revolutionary thought was directed towards this, the fetishism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends." Trotsky (1940)

(Yes, Trotsky demagogically denied the possibility of a "third camp" at other points; quotes such as these show that, in doing so, he was betraying his own politics.)

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 29/09/2008 - 19:10

Sociall- absolutely agree no one should be on Ahmadinejad's side. To be fair to the AWL I don't think they have ever been less than clear on this however much they may have fudged other issues.

They have I suppose accused others on the left of being less than clear- not us in PR but others. The SWP for example clearly do not support Ahmadinejad but they do in a quite unprincipled and mistaken way on occasions object to our members raising the need for solidarity with Iranian workers.

Sacha and Daniel. It is not illegitimate to ask what PR's position is of course. But what you seem to misunderstand is that unlike in Workers' Power we don't have monolithic positions. We do have votes on policy matters but we have not had a vote on our precise policy to Iran having nuclear weapons. I know my position and I know what PR has written of HOPI's position. Perhaps some in PR have a different position? May be. Granted.

Third camp? OK thanks for the definition and in that case yes obviously. But overall rather than use the term third camp I prefer saying build working class independence.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Wed, 01/10/2008 - 15:35

Personally I think Sacha was being a little generous when he said Trotsky's later demagogy (and it was demagogy, I think) against the third-campists was a "betrayal" of his own politics. You can argue yourself into an early grave over whether the apparently pro-third campist stuff was the deviation/inconsistency or the fundamental spirit. Personally I'm (predictably) inclined towards the latter (I think the overall perspective of Trotsky's major contributions to working-class politics make it clear that working-class organisational and social independence was very much his starting point) but on a certain level I'm not all that bothered. While perhaps not indicating a specific "betrayal", what the quotes Sacha posted from Trotsky do show (and what various other stuff he wrote shows) is that he was obviously conflicted and inconsistent over these questions. As Jason might put it, his politics on the matter weren't "monolithic."

In response to Tom's point about the USSR - of course, there's no way of knowing whether Trotsky would've resolved the inconsistencies of his position (surely you don't deny that they exist, Tom?) in a third-campist direction. On a certain level to speculate about this is a waste of time. The point for us, to the extent that it matters, is that the very fact of the inconsistencies and contradictions in Trotsky's attitudes towards ideas of the third-camp show that he was still working through his politics and very clearly refute the "ortho-Trot" notion that those of us who identify with the Shachtman/Draper tradition have no claim to any aspect of Trotsky's legacy (at least on this question).

Jason -

Our issue isn't whether or not PR has "monolithic" positions. We've argued that some of what you've written is inconsistent with PR's majority line; that's fine, but we're just saying you should be upfront and honest about that. Also, if you're comfortable with the conception of the third-camp as set out in what Trotsky wrote, then why recoil from the term? In situations of conflict between big and small capital (and/or big and small imperialisms), the "third-camp" seems to sum up the notion of an independent working-class force in the conflict rather well.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 02/10/2008 - 20:18

I too think Trotsky may have got some things wrong, certainly. I agree that we shouldn't really quote his positions as if they were somehow correct. Sometimes historical analogies may help clarify of course. But all too often (in the rarefied discourse of much of the left)disputes of today are played out in some kind of code about the past.

So criticism of the Tliban- entirely justified- or the ridiculous notion that Afghan working class can have some kind of united fornt with them is not always criticised on its own grounds (ample though they are0 but be refernec eot Ethiopia in the 30s (where possibly sime kind oif united font with some fledgling bourgeois forces, whilst arguing for an organising woirking class independently, may have been permissable- don't know enough really- though the feudal aristocracy fled).

Trotsky, horror of horrors, may have been wrong! So what? We don';t take our politics as doctrine but as worked living experience under the lights of reason and practice.

I may or I may not be at odds with a PR majority- only a vote (we haven't had on this) would tell- if I am that's fine. I'll argue my corner. But you, Daniel, do seem to have a caricture of my and our positions in general such that you assume to know our policy even in advance of such a vote. Anyway never mind.

Where I disagree with the AWL is in emphasis. We would and do say to Iranian militants oppose imperialism and the rgeime- this goes hand in glove with no contradiction despite the apparent protestations of both. The AWL seem to emphaises far more opposition to the regime to the extent that some have said (not everyone in the AWL but some) we should not 'condemn' an Isralei attack on Iran. We also disagree on the best way to fight imperialism- we see it as mobilising the working class. You I'm never quite sure. If pushed may say the same thing but all too often it seems in practice you are arguing against the left.

Of course we also argue against much of the left politically but with a clear perspective of working class unity in action. Many AWL comrades at their best seem to agree with this but it often seems to get drowned out- in my opinion- by denunciations of other groups.

One final caveat- that is my impression at times. it is not an accusation or anytihng. if people want to reassure me that I'm wrong (you don't think I'm a supporter of the Iranian regime or any other such nonsense) and thta you too want proactical aid and solidairty to workers in Iran and Iranian activists here which I'm sure you do and wnat to propose practical co-operation on this then fine. I will be pleased. However, I just fear I will be denounced yet again. I hope I'm wrong.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Fri, 03/10/2008 - 14:43

...but presumably your policy in advance of the invasion of Afghanistan would've been that Afghan workers should form an "anti-imperialist united front" with them to resist imperialist invasion?

That was certainly Workers' Power's position at the time (and almost all PR members were WP members in 2001/2002); if your comrades have now broken with that perspective, great. Good for you. But since you're still using the formula of the "anti-imperialist united front", I'm far from convinced that you have. And if you've broken with that perspective over Afghanistan, why does it still apply for Iran and Iraq?

Although PR has embraced a healthy amount of libertarianism since the split with WP (again; good for you), it's still a democratic centralist organisation so I find the idea that you don't know whether you've got a minority position or not to be a bit risible. The problem is not with having minority views (I should know), the problem is with not knowing whether you do or not, and consequently not fighting for them.

The notion that we don't see "mobilising the working-class" as central to "fighting imperialism" is ludicrous. It's also deeply disingenuous to claim that PR's position doesn't have anything to say beyond this. As I've said (again and again and again, including twice already in this post), PR still use the AIUF formula which clearly implies alliances with non and anti-worker forces against imperialism. That is the disagreement between us; it's one of politics, not just of emphasis.

Submitted by Jason on Sat, 04/10/2008 - 18:04

for the overall reasonableness of your reply. These things are important I think.

On your questions- PR is democratic centralist but we have a somewhat different view of this than we previously had.
Mark Hoskisson sets this out clearly I think in this article from Permanent Revolution 7

"Lenin did not invent, or make a special fetish of, democratic centralism. For him it was merely an effective means of organising in the workers’ movement. Put simply it means this: you collectively discuss an issue; everyone involved has both the right and duty to put their point of view and shape the outcome; you take a vote and make a decision; everyone sticks to that decision and carries it out loyally.
As Buffy might say, “No biggie”. After all they are the basic rules of the labour movement. And those who breach them are, rightly, labelled scabs.
This form of democratic centralism operated throughout the history of the Bolshevik Party – until Stalin’s counter-revolution. Democratic decision making, unified action to implement the decision, directed by the party (the centralist bit). And within this framework provision was made in the party for factions and tendencies to organise and fight for their views."

On the issue of whether my view is a minority one (on whether PR members support Iran's right to nuclear weapons) it is not I'd suggest risible to say I don't know- we haven't had a vote on it. So how could I or anyone else know? Sorry if that's inconvenient but your attempt to suggest I'm somehow dishonest is really a little over the top, surely?

Mark also in his article cites the Taliban issue. Some of us in Workers Power thought the declared position ridiculous- that was minority position- I suspect it would be a majority position in PR (though no doubt annoyingly for you we haven't voted on this either). Mark writes:
"To give one illustration, if you thought it ridiculous to argue in favour of a united front with the Taliban to secure the defence of Afghanistan from imperialism you were not allowed to say so openly. Why on earth not?
This was not a practical action upon which lives, or at the very least the success of the operation, depended. It was an ideological line. And on such issues there are inevitably different shades of opinion, different emphases. Within the broad framework of agreement (in this case standing firmly for the defence of Afghanistan against imperialism) there should be plenty of scope for public debate over different ways of achieving this.
An organisation that is firmly united in its programme can well afford to demonstrate the fact that its members are living and thinking class fighters and not automatons by allowing differences to be aired publicly. This is not because we favour discord for its own sake but because where the success of a practical action is not at stake, open debate can help clarify thinking, help correct mistakes and pave the way for a dialogue with the class rather than offering it rote learned recitals of line in the form of tedious monologues.

After all, how often do you get annoyed when you hear SWP members make the same speech five times in a meeting? Well just imagine what that sounds like to a non-aligned class conscious militant. Once again, favouring open dialogue is something we inherit from Bolshevism. The Leninists were actually quite good at open and comradely debates over differences, contrary to what Galloway thinks and to what the SWP practices. As Lenin himself put it, “criticism within the limits of the principles of the party programme must be quite free not only at party meetings, but also at public meetings.”

Of course whether to undertake a united front with the Taliban would be a life and death position in Afghanistan- leading to pretty swift death in my opinion f anyone was foolish enough to try to implement it! But here having alternative views expressed does not sabotage the mission or compromise comrades' safety.

On the AIUF in general It is ably explained here
I think.
"5. The united front by its very nature is a temporary agreement. Nine times out of ten, where there exists no especially favourable relation of forces or political situation, the reformist or nationalist leaders will refuse it and do their utmost to prevent their rank and file from participating. Where it is struck it will be around clear, precise and limited objects of real struggle. Its primary aim is not to produce joint propaganda (if it did it would be a propaganda bloc not a united front) but agitation around the action goals of the united front.
6. The CI made clear that the united front was not just an 'appeal to leaders'; even less was it a proposal for a purely parliamentary combination or bloc:
The united front means the association of all workers, whether communist, anarchist, social democrat, independent or non-party, or even Christian workers, against the bourgeoisie. With the leaders if they want it so, without the leaders if they remain indifferently aside, and in defiance of the leaders and against the leaders if they sabotage the workers united front.' (BCCI April 1922)
Thus the appeal for the united front was both from 'above and below'. But, 'the real success of the united front depends on a movement "from below", from the rank and file of the working masses' (Theses on Tactics 4th Congress).
7. The striking of the united front does not for one moment mean agreeing to end criticism. For the CI there were to be no diplomatic silences or glossing over of past or present vacillation and betrayals by the reformist leaders. Communists within the united front;
‘While accepting a basis for action must retain the unconditional right and possibility of expressing their opinion of the policy of all working class organisations without exception, not only before and after the action is taken but also if necessary during its course. In no circumstances can these rights be surrendered.' (BCCI Dee 1921) Further more to maintain the united front in a bloc with reformist leaders during or after a betrayal in action, would be to become complicit in it. If it is important to know when to make a united front, it is equally important to know when to break it and thus issue an immediate warning to the rank and file workers that treachery is afoot.
8. The type of organisation appropriate to the united front is an organ of struggle not of propaganda for a programme. As such, a trade union is in one sense a united front. More correctly a united front creates ad hoc fighting bodies commensurate to the task in hand. These may be strike committees, councils of action and at the highest level soviets. Such bodies, vital for the struggle, strengthen the pressure on the reformist leaders to 'break with the bourgeoisie'. A united front can therefore take many forms, it can be extremely episodic-for a single demonstration, rally, strike---or it can be of a 'higher' form, involving a series of actions and agreements-a military bloc, a rank and file opposition in the trade unions like the British 'Minority Movement' of the 1920's. Whatever form it takes, it is a block for action in defence of working class interests, in which the communists neither boycott nor submerge their own programme, and they 'march separately, strike together'.
9. The united front is not limited to defensive trade union or extra-parliamentary struggles. It is taken on to the electoral arena where reformist parties dominate the working class. It also takes up the question of government and governmental demands. The resolution on tactics at the Fourth Congress makes clear that the slogan for a workers' government 'is an inevitable consequence of the united front tactic'. The partial struggles of the working class inevitably run up against the structures of the capitalist state, against the government of the day and its policies. The communists have to provide society wide answers to the problems facing workers, they place demands on the workers' leaders, put forward a programme for a workers' government. But these are not just left as demands; they are fought for within the rank and file of the working class belonging to all workers' parties and none, in a united front struggle to implement them via workers' control in the factories, through the fight for soviets, via the general strike etc.
10. The basis of the anti-imperialist united front rests on the clash of interests between the peoples of the imperialised countries and the imperialist bourgeoisie. Imperialism promotes industrial development in the imperialised countries but in a stunted and lopsided form. The imperialist banks and monopolies dominate their economies, extracting super-profits in the form of repatriated profits and usurious interest payments on loans. They impose their constrictions on the economies through the imperialist agencies such as the IMP, World Bank, etc, and inevitably because of the impossibility of imposing such exactions democratically over any period, in alliance with the most reactionary elements tied to imper­ialism-the military hierarchy and landed oligarchy. The demand for 'independent economic development', for alleviation from debt, for state capitalist industrialisation, protectionism, land reform, and constitutional democracy, reflects the needs of those sections of the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie which suffer most from the straight jacket of imperialist domination. These demands can lead to episodic clashes between the bourgeoisie of the semi­ colony and the imperialist bourgeoisie (or its agents within the country) as in the case of the struggle against Somoza in Nicaragua.
11. However, because of the weakness of the bourgeoisie in the semi-colonial world, the degree to which important sections of it are tied economically to imperialist capital itself, and most importantly, because of its fear of the revolutionary mobilisation of the masses, which threatens its own rule as well as that of the imperialists, the national bourgeoisie only exceptionally leads or throws its weight behind serious struggles against imperialism. As a result in many countries in the twentieth century the leadership of the anti-imperialist movements has fallen to the petit­ bourgeoisie. But in the vast majority of cases its programme has remained faithful to that of the bourgeoisie despite the attempt to delude the workers by cloaking itself in socialist or communist colours-Nyrere's 'African Socialism', Mugabe and the Ethiopian Derg's 'Marxism-Leninism', the FSLN's Sandinism, etc.
12. Where the bourgeoisie or sections of it, or the petit­ bourgeoisie, enters into a struggle with imperialism it is obliged to draw and lean on the mass of workers and peasants. In such cases it is the duty of communists to enter such a struggle alongside these forces. The anti ­imperialist united front aims to break the hold of the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois nationalists over the masses, in struggle. The communists neither stand aside in a sectarian fashion nor do they hide their criticisms of these leaderships or the goals for which they struggle. Unlike the popular front which is a cross class coalition subordinating the interests of the working class to the programme of the bourgeoisie, the AIUF confines itself to concrete joint actions, specific agreements which take forward the struggle against the imperialists, within which the communists retain both freedom of criticism and propaganda. Such united fronts, given the compromising role of the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois nationalist, are likely to be extremely episodic and temporary. There is no question of tailoring the slogans of struggle to those considered acceptable to the bourgeoisie, let alone 'reserving a seat' in the united front."

I suspect you hold a different conception of it- we are very clear that we are for the independence of the working class. Nine times out of ten if not many more times it cannot actually operate at all- it is a tactic to break workers from bourgeois or petit-bourgeois misleaders. E.g. Iraqi workers in Iraq who have illusions in Sadr- we would say, "If you think Sadr is fighting imperialism you are entirely deluded. He plays into their hands. Only the working class can defeat imperialism. if you think he is genuine why not ask him for arms to fight imperialism? But we tell you now he will not only not give you arms but you will need to defend yourself against his vicious thugs. Do not trust him or his Islamist militias for one second- that way lies death and ruin!Instead arm yourselves and break from Sadr and all other bourgeois misleaders!"

This in no sense “implies alliances with non and anti-worker forces against imperialism” It is in contrast a tactic to precisely break workers from boureois or petit-bourgeois misleadership.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Tue, 07/10/2008 - 15:53

Jason -

I think we can probably leave the stuff on party organisation/culture to one side for now; in that we are both, broadly speaking, revolutionaries within the Leninist tradition who favour a far more "libertarian" culture than "Leninist" groups have usually possessed, I think that we agree. However, the point about your claim not to know whether you're in a minority or not being "risible" can't be explained away by pointing out that you haven't voted on the issue - you don't have to have had a formal vote on every question to judge what the perspective of the majority of an organisation is, and personally I think it's clear that at least superficially, what you've said here goes against the grain somewhat. Again - this isn't a criticism (far from it), and I hope you're able to fully debate through these issues within PR.

On the substantive question of the united front, I'd say that the idea of a "united front" with non-working class forces fundamentally misunderstands the tactic. It is about breaking elements of the workers' movement away from reformist misleadership; in what sense does this apply to the Mahdi Army? Of course we want to break working-class individuals away from such organisations but trying to apply the united front tactic to such a scenario is square-peg-for-round-hole stuff. Breaking Iraqi workers from the Mahdi Army implies organising against Al-Sadr (not just independently of him) as a bourgeois element, rather than simply trying to "expose" him as somehow insufficiently anti-imperialist.

I don't rule out the possibility that in a situation of armed working-class resistance to, say, an occupation it might be necessary to attempt to reach military/tactical ententes with a force like the Mahdi Army. But I think that a) the likelihood of the Mahdi Army agreeing to that is so incredibly remote as to make talking about it somewhat sophistic and b) to make it the point-of-departure for what we as British revolutionaries say about Iraqi workers' resistance to occupation is a grave error of judgement. In the first instance we should be talking about how Iraqi workers can defend themselves against organisation like the Mahdi Army, not about how they can ally with them.

The history of class struggle across the Middle East and beyond (the Iranian counter-revolution is the obvious example but there are plenty more) shows us very clearly the role that Islamist forces ultimately play in relation to our class. Our job in that context isn't to play up the possibilities of what are ultimately incredibly incidental potential military alliances ("ceasefires" is probably a much better word) but rather to explain very clearly and loudly what the Islamist forces represent in class terms.

When the hegemonic elements on the left in the UK have collapsed so completely into tailing these forces in the most obscene, treacherous way I think the responsibility to explain those things becomes all the more acute. The AWL bends the stick too far sometimes? Maybe, but when the loudest voices (i.e. the SWP) are coming out with such utter shite it's difficult not to sound shrill.

In summary, I think your position on the AIUF both a) drastically misunderstands the class nature and application of the united front tactic and b) abdicates, or at best subordinates, our very real and urgent duty to tell the truth about the nature of Islamism and its relationship to working-class politics and the socialist project.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 08/10/2008 - 19:13

"I don't rule out the possibility that in a situation of armed working-class resistance to, say, an occupation it might be necessary to attempt to reach military/tactical ententes with a force like the Mahdi Army."

Exactly. You then come up with, virtually repeat from me as it happens, several arguments why in this case there almoast certainly couldn't be such a united front. Again I agree (in fact I said it myself)- which is why I posted our understanding of the anti-imperialist united front that explicitly says, "Nine times out of ten, where there exists no especially favourable relation of forces or political situation, the reformist or nationalist leaders will refuse it."

Even this is in the situation where rank and file workers have illusions in these nationalist forces- it is not really the situation that organised workers in Iraq do. However, some less politicised workers- not organised in unions or as workers but hating imperialism and the occupation- clearly do have illusions in the Mahdi Army. To them we should say, I suggested, "If you think Sadr is fighting imperialism you are entirely deluded. He plays into their hands. Only the working class can defeat imperialism. if you think he is genuine why not ask him for arms to fight imperialism? But we tell you now he will not only not give you arms but you will need to defend yourself against his vicious thugs. Do not trust him or his Islamist militias for one second- that way lies death and ruin! Instead arm yourselves and break from Sadr and all other bourgeois misleaders!"

On whether my view that we should support HOPI's position of a nuclear-free Middle East and be for the working class in Iran oppose Iran having nuclear weapons as we haven't voted on it I really don't know whether it would be a minority position or not. It is a reasonably complex issue that doesn't fit schemas and PR unlike the previous organisation and many on the left think through issues. On many matters- like say supporting, "Troops Out Now!" or for strike action and any direct action possible against an attack on Iran I know the majority and almost certainly unanimous PR position. There may be some other positions I'm less than sure on- e.g. nuclear power. I think it would be a slim majority position for a workers' enquiry, workers' control, in which we'd argue for publc safety as a paramount concern, carbon neutral energy. Another view I guess of a slim minority would be to say close them now. We can have- as you say- different views in an organisation as long as they don;t undermine common actions.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Thu, 09/10/2008 - 12:13

"On the substantive question of the united front, I'd say that the idea of a "united front" with non-working class forces fundamentally misunderstands the tactic. It is about breaking elements of the workers' movement away from reformist misleadership; in what sense does this apply to the Mahdi Army? Of course we want to break working-class individuals away from such organisations but trying to apply the united front tactic to such a scenario is square-peg-for-round-hole stuff. Breaking Iraqi workers from the Mahdi Army implies organising against Al-Sadr (not just independently of him) as a bourgeois element, rather than simply trying to "expose" him as somehow insufficiently anti-imperialist.

I don't rule out the possibility that in a situation of armed working-class resistance to, say, an occupation it might be necessary to attempt to reach military/tactical ententes with a force like the Mahdi Army. But I think that a) the likelihood of the Mahdi Army agreeing to that is so incredibly remote as to make talking about it somewhat sophistic and b) to make it the point-of-departure for what we as British revolutionaries say about Iraqi workers' resistance to occupation is a grave error of judgement. In the first instance we should be talking about how Iraqi workers can defend themselves against organisations like the Mahdi Army, not about how they can ally with them.

The history of class struggle across the Middle East and beyond (the Iranian counter-revolution is the obvious example but there are plenty more) shows us very clearly the role that Islamist forces ultimately play in relation to our class. Our job in that context isn't to play up the possibilities of what are ultimately incredibly incidental potential military alliances ("ceasefires" is probably a much better word) but rather to explain very clearly and loudly what the Islamist forces represent in class terms.

When the hegemonic elements on the left in the UK have collapsed so completely into tailing these forces in the most obscene, treacherous way I think the responsibility to explain those things becomes all the more acute. The AWL bends the stick too far sometimes? Maybe, but when the loudest voices (i.e. the SWP) are coming out with such utter shite it's difficult not to sound shrill.

In summary, I think your position on the AIUF both a) drastically misunderstands the class nature and application of the united front tactic and b) abdicates, or at best subordinates, our very real and urgent duty to tell the truth about the nature of Islamism and its relationship to working-class politics and the socialist project."

Please try and respond to it directly this time. I've highlighted the key bits.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 09/10/2008 - 15:03

I don't have much time either. I will attempt a brief response despite your lack of courtesy and extremely patronising style. Perhaps lack of time led you to not notice that I have already responded to all your points.

To reiterate:
"I'd say that the idea of a "united front" with non-working class forces fundamentally misunderstands the tactic.”

You may well say this. I said exactly the same thing- "it is a tactic to break workers from bourgeois or petit-bourgeois misleaders."

You ask: "in what sense does this apply to the Mahdi Army? Of course we want to break working-class individuals away from such organisations but trying to apply the united front tactic to such a scenario is square-peg-for-round-hole stuff. Breaking Iraqi workers from the Mahdi Army implies organising against Al-Sadr (not just independently of him) as a bourgeois element, rather than simply trying to "expose" him as somehow insufficiently anti-imperialist."

As I said twice before and repeat for a third time- it does not apply to the Mahdi army. I fail to see how it can. You can try to expose them as insufficiently anti-imperialist- if you like. But they are not at all anti-imperialist they play straight into the hands of imperialism and are directly anti working class (murdering trade unionists for example as do the imperialist occupiers). I repeat- the working class needs to defend itself against the Islamists.

"In the first instance we should be talking about how Iraqi workers can defend themselves against organisations like the Mahdi Army, not about how they can ally with them."

Good. This though more or less quotes my earlier point- "we tell you now he will not only not give you arms but you will need to defend yourself against his vicious thugs." Why would you want to ally with them?

"In summary, I think your position on the AIUF both a) drastically misunderstands the class nature and application of the united front tactic and b) abdicates, or at best subordinates, our very real and urgent duty to tell the truth about the nature of Islamism and its relationship to working-class politics and the socialist project."

You I believe misunderstand the AIUF. It is a tactic ONLY to be undertaken where substantial sections of the working class are already mobilised by bourgeois misleaders. Just because it is possible at some points does not mean it can be read off as a formula and applied at all times irrespective of reality. I'm not sure how it can remotely be applied with forces such as the Taliban or Mahdi army- if you can think of some concrete instances of how it can let me know.

You seem to be inventing differences where none exist on this. We do though differ on:
a) The need to oppose and actively organise imperialist war
b) The need for troops out now
c) The need for the working class to defeat imperialism
d) The need to oppose imperialism as well as the regional dictatorships.

I think what has happened is that much of the left has fallen into a trap of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. The SWP 9or at least many in it), Galloway and Respect (or at least many in it) for example see that imperialism is an enemy so brook no criticisms of the Iranian regime (see current exchange on Liam Mac Uaid's site) and claim those who criticise the dictatorship or even raise issues around it must somehow be friends of imperialism. The AWL recognise that the Iranian regime is a barbaric dictatorship but then have a variety of positions from 'not condemning' Israeli attacks to
claiming that those who oppose imperialist attack are somehow friends of the dictatorship.

I think we can break with this logic and support socialist working class internationalism.

Finally over the next 6 weeks I will hardly have any time to respond on this. I may come back to it after then. Thanks

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Fri, 10/10/2008 - 11:25

Jason -

If you have no time to debate, don't debate. Don't endlessly recycle the same crap.

PR's position as I understand it - and as I will continue to understand it until I see written material to the contrary - is that Iraqi workers should form an "anti-imperialist united front" with the "resistance" militias. The Mahdi Army is clearly one of the best organised, best funded and most powerful "resistance" militias in Iraq. So if you don't think your AIUF schema can apply to them then I suggest you need to rethink the tactic. And if your only - or primary, or fundamental - objection to the Mahdi Army is that they're not really part of the resistance then I suggest you need to rethink your analysis of Islamsim.

I'll let your suggestion that our "real" differences are over the fact that I support imperialist wars (while you oppose them) and that you want the working-class to overthrow imperialism (whereas I? Well, who knows what you're accusing me of here) speak for itself. I won't, as the phrase goes, dignify them with a response. If you think there's one scrap of evidence in anything I've written here to support any of those nonsensical claims, you've been paying even less attention than I thought.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 13/10/2008 - 12:54

I didn't say I had no time I said I will have little time over next 6 weeks because of a personal family situation- I'd suggest thta this is no reason to be rude or dismissive.

As I have already posted the link to our web site in which we make it abundantly clear that the AIUF- where it applies and nine times out of ten it doesn't- is about breaking workers from bourgeois or reactionary forces.

I don't see why you assume this would automatically apply to the Mahdi army- a very strange assumption. You then- incredibly- state, our "objection to the Mahdi Army is that they're not really part of the resistance". Well no they are not in any way- let alone 'really' part of ther resistance- they are also murder trade unionists, gay people, women who don't wear the niqab and have fought a sectarian war of ethnic/religious cleansing against Sunni Iraqis. As I said before on several occasions.

As for your positions on imperailism- as I also pointed out before you (the AWL) are against 'troops out now', for a refusal to condemn an Israeli attack on Iran, just to give two quick examples. Both pretty disgraceful.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Mon, 13/10/2008 - 13:50

Are we against the slogan "troops out now", because of what it represents in terms of its common usage in the anti-war movement, and because - abstracted from a programme of working-class power - its consequences would be reactionary? Yes. Does that mean we positively support the presence of occupying troops in Iraq, or would oppose their withdrawal (immediate or otherwise) and would counsel Iraqi workers not to fight for it? No. If you can't get your head round that, Jason, then I'm sorry. It doesn't seem to me that one would require a PhD in political science to understand the idea that just because you don't choose to make shrilly demanding (in the abstract) a particular outcome in a given conflict, you're necessarily in favour of its opposite.

The stuff about an Israeli attack on Iran is just a lie; Sean Matgamna has his views, I have mine. There is no AWL policy declaring that we would refuse to condemn an Israeli attack on Iran. In the event of such an attack I am entirely confident that we would be involved in mobilisations against it - opposing both the attack and the poisonous, pro-Tehran, anti-Israeli (rather than anti-Israeli ruling-class/state) politics of the forces that would inevitably hegemonise such a movement.

On the Mahdi Army, the stuff about them not being sufficiently anti-imperialist/part of the resistance came from you, not me. If you don't consider them (or the Iranian ruling-class) suitable partners for your AIUF, then who exactly are you talking about? If the best armed, best funded and best organised forces capable of simply "resisting" US imperialist hegemony (as the Iranian ruling-class and the Mahdi Army certainly are) aren't to be approached, then who is? Who exactly do you envision constructing this mythical "united front" with?

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 14/10/2008 - 15:33

You say you oppose troops out now- "because - abstracted from a programme of working-class power - its consequences would be reactionary?"

So in other words you oppose it. I get thusa stuff from your website, your publications and people's comments on this board- now confirmed by you.

"Does that mean we positively support the presence of occupying troops in Iraq, or would oppose their withdrawal (immediate or otherwise) and would counsel Iraqi workers not to fight for it? No. If you can't get your head round that, Jason, then I'm sorry. It doesn't seem to me that one would require a PhD in political science to understand the idea that just because you don't choose to make shrilly demanding (in the abstract) a particular outcome in a given conflict, you're necessarily in favour of its opposite."

I never said any of the above. In fact I said, "you (the AWL) are against 'troops out now', "- that's all.

On Matgamna- OK that's his view. He is a leading member of your organisation and there have been several articles in your paper supporting him- and to be fair several opposing it. Fair point - I should have said, several members of the AWL have put forward views suggesting a lack of willingness to condemn an attack on Iran by israel. I am happy to make that clarification.

On the Mahdi army you brought it up not me. You keep assigning views on it I don't ave and then berating me for them. It';s a line of argument often called the straw person (or 'strawman' in its orgiinal). Once again I don't consider them "not being sufficiently anti-imperialist/part of the resistance "- they are anti working class forces, not part of resistance at all.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Tue, 14/10/2008 - 15:47

"Who exactly do you envision constructing this mythical "united front" with?"

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 14/10/2008 - 17:27

What united front? Why do you assume the AIUF is necessarily operational under all circumstances? There may be times when it is of course. But they are concrete practical proposals. I don't think it is operational at all in Iraq at the moment for example.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Wed, 15/10/2008 - 14:18

Okay, so when/where do you think it would be/is operational?

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 16/10/2008 - 09:58

If for example the nationalist bourgeois were actually fighting imperialism then there might be times when it is permissable to form a bloc with them- as in for example aiming our guns at the same enemy. Under no circumstances though should the working class cease to be either politically, organisationally or miltarily seperate from the bourgeois.

This is because the workers need to defend themselves against the oppressive bourgeois.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Thu, 16/10/2008 - 21:57

But PR people (such as Dan J and Bill elsewhere on this site) raise the AIUF formula as a guide-to-action for workers fighting imperialism now (Dan I believe specifically spoke of its application to the Iraqi situation).

The situation you describe, Jason, doesn't exist anywhere in the world and - in an era of largely post-colonialist imperialism - is not likely to. How, then, is the AIUF formula of any use to us as a policy for current conditions?

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 17/10/2008 - 13:35

The AIUF, like all policies that are any good, is not some abstract timeless textbook slogan but has to relate to concrete situations on the ground now. You are th eone who keeps raising it not me.

It is hard to think of concrete examples to be honest and i am not convinced that we need to search real world examples to fit text book schema. i think rather articualte what is best for working class liberation under particular circumstances and proceed from concrete situations.

So if the US are threatening Iran as they are then put our energy into raising solidarity with Iranian activists in iran, Iranian migrants here and building the antiwar movement for troops out now from Iraq and Afghanistan and for exemplary actions such as strike action against an attack on Iran.

You may say how does this relate to some textbook Trotskyist policy? I don't know or care. Policies including Trotskyist ones are developed as guides to action not some kind of template for all times.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Sun, 19/10/2008 - 17:05

Talk about straw-men... I didn't mention Trotsky, or how the AIUF does/doesn't relate to "some textbook Trotskyist policy". (Although while we're on that, PR/WP people often defend their international perspectives by reference to the Trotsky quote in which he advocates backing "fascist" Brazil against "democratic" Britain, so if you want to stop people invoking Trotsky in this biblicist manner I think you should have a word with your own comrades, Jason.)

You've totally dodged the issue here; the AIUF is the bedrock of what PR says about how workers should struggle against imperialism, so I don't really think it's acceptable to respond to a question about its practical/real-world application by saying "never mind the details; what's important is what's best for working-class liberation!"

Indeed, Jason - and the entire point of this exchange is my attempt to convince you that at no point under existing conditions is the redundant formula of the AIUF any use at all in the struggle for working-class liberation, and that a "third-camp" perspective of working-class independence and opposition to global imperialism, regional/sub-imperialism and reactionary anti-imperialism is required.

You admit that it's "hard" to think of concrete examples where it might be possible to apply the AIUF formula. Shouldn't this tell you something?

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 19/10/2008 - 17:31

is that you've read somewhere or certainly assumed that the AIUF is the bedrock of our politics or some other formulation- you then assume a certain version of it based (presumably) on readings of Trotsky (certainly Sacha quoted Trotsky from the 20s earlier)- something you bring up not me (for example Brazil in the 30s). But the world in the 1930s was quitw a different place and even one of the main examples used historically- supporting Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian emeperor (or Negus as Trotsky refers to him using the Amharic for king) against the fascists is in hindsight not that useful or rather is to show that Trotsky may have got it wrong.

Certainly against the fascist occupation socialists should have been for raising solidarity and aid for the Ethiopians as Sylvia Pankhurst did (and indeed several hundred African_Amercians went to Ethiopia to fight). It may well have emant forming a united front with those workers, peasants and petit bourgeois willing to fight the fascists. The leaders including Haile Selassie fled the country. Actually the fact that Pankhurst became an apolgist for the Ethiopian aristocracy and Haile Selassie's ruke should prove as a warning in itself I think.

Of course even now it may well be that tactics of a united front under specific situations arise.

The difference though is that I argue that we should try to apply our tactics to concrete whereas you seem to be for some kind of algebraic substitution reading off from reality which bits fit into forumlas. That can be useful at times but in this case comes across as rather scholastic I'm afraid and certainly irrelevant to the bruning needs of the working class in Iraq or here for that matter.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Mon, 20/10/2008 - 13:14

Sorry, Jason, but I don't have the slightest idea what you're on about. I didn't in any sense defend Trotsky on the Brazil issue so quite why you've decided to take me to task over Trotsky's support for Hailie Selassie is beyond me.

As you say, imperialism now is very different to pre-WW2 colonial-imperialism; this is the whole point. Your organisation's perspective fails entirely to take this into account, reading off anti-imperialist formulas from 1916 onto today's conditions.

Once again your method of argument seems to be to ignore entirely the substance of what I'm actually saying, accuse me of arguing something that is not even an exaggeration of my actual position but its complete opposite, and then adopt something like my own position and pass it off as yours.

You personally may not think Muqtada al-Sadr or Ahmedinijad suitable partners for your AIUF, but the fact remains that PR believes that constructing "anti-imperialist united fronts" with bourgeois/petty-bourgeois Islamist forces is still the implied policy for workers fighting imperialism in the Middle East. If you don't agree with that - good; you have my full support in your presumably on-going attempts to change PR policy.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 20/10/2008 - 16:18

You ignore whatever I say and then say in effect something like Jason is from PR therefore Jason believes this (or latterly perhaps Jason doesn't but the rest of PR do) and come up with a schematic misunderstanding of a policy which only applies in concrete circumstances.

I never said you support the AIUF at all. In fact I never mentioned it- you though seem to think we do support it under all circumstances. I have given examples of where I think it doesn't work and in fact also shown that PR in their documents say it is a policy only to be applied in particular concrete circumstances> We don't just have slogans and plicies applied irrespective of what is actually happening. It was that caricature of Trotskyist politics I was attacking (attacking both the fact you are caricatruing us and that some people may on occasion actually operate that way). To repeat the AIUF only operates where sections of the working class are already in common action with and under the sway of bourgeois or petit-bourgeois leaders- circumstances that do not exist currently in Iraq (as Sadr is not fighting imperialism in any effective sense and no progressive forces can or should in any way advocate a united front with him or his militia).

On that we agree- yet you persist in ascribing beleifs to me or the organisation I'm in, beleifs that as I have amply demonstrated we do not have.

Where we disagree is on the necessity for troops out now and the necessity to condemn an Israeli attack on Iran. The rest I think is either flak or perhaps a genuine confusion on your part because you decide what we believe and then disagree with your version of what we are meant to beleive- only we don't. There's the rub.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Tue, 21/10/2008 - 16:27

Is this Hamlet now?

If you want to believe, Jason, that the "real" difference between us is that I support the occupation of Iraq and an Israeli attack on Iran then fine; go ahead.

I'll let the abundant amount of freely available written material by myself and my organisation to the contrary speak for itself.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 22/10/2008 - 12:56

I didn't however say what you mistakenly claim. I said the differences are the "necessity for troops out now and the necessity to condemn an Israeli attack on Iran"

You translate this into "I support the occupation of Iraq and an Israeli attack on Iran then fine;"

Now admittedly in many people's book refusing to call and organise for troops out now may seem like supporting the occupation of Iraq.

I happen to believe that AWL members are sincere in not supporting the occupation but very confused and mixed up in refusing to organise for troops out now- it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

I also believe you and Sacha don't support an attack on Iran- yet the 'refusal to condemn' line of Matgamna and others is very contradictory to the avowed (and no doubt sincere) lack of support for such an attack.

I'd have thought it would have caused quite a lot of members of the AWL to be somewhat aghast and holding their heads in their hands saying why oh why do some of our leading members have to come out with this sort of thing- but that's up to you.

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.