Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Last Post

For 13 years between 1974, and 1987 I was a member of Socialist Organiser, and its predecessor organisation Workers Action. I wrote theoretical documents for the organisation for example on Imperialism criticising what later became called idiot-anti-imperialism, I spoke at Conferences, and Day Schools etc., and for a short period was co-opted on to its National Committee. I left in 1987, because to be honest I was burned out, and was suffering health problems, but also because I felt alienated in the organisation. I had recently taken some worker contacts to a meeting only to find that everyone there was a student. For workers it was a hostile environment. Had it not been for the Internet, and my current illness I would probably have said a final farewell to Socialist Organiser back then, but being confined to the house led me to begin trawling the Internet to see what my old comrades were saying and doing, and to begin contributing to a number of Discussion Boards on questions of Economics and politics. One of the first things I read from the Alliance for Workers Liberty, which took on the mantle of SO, was in relation to Kosovo and the US attacks on Serbia. To be honest I thought I must have the wrong organisation or that I had misread something. But, at the time I was in the middle of a lengthy debate on Economics with some Libertarians and interested in completing that. In fact, it led me to contact Martin Thomas at the AWL to ask for his advice on a number of issues arising from that debate, and so re-began my links to them.


Shortly, thereafter they asked me to write a blog on their website even though I wasn’t a member of their organisation. I agreed, and wrote about my experiences of the corrupt and moribund state of the LP in the 1970’s, and how a group of us had successfully turned that round by consistent routine work in the community. I wrote a number of other blogs on similar issues, and some further blogs on theoretical questions of Economics as well as blogs forecasting the current Credit Crunch, and the rise of Inflation. No one raised any objections to these lengthy blogs at the time, but now they are described as clogging up their website with long, esoteric articles. No one either criticised the numerous and lengthy rebuttals I wrote to SWP and other contributors to the Discussion Board, who attacked the AWL’s position in respect of the Danish Cartoons, and the support I gave to Sean Matgamna in his position even when AWL members were baulking at doing so. See:The Issue is Free Speech (Interestingly, I have seen today - 4th September 2017 - that all of my comments on this thread have been removed)  No one criticised the pieces I wrote defending the AWL’s position as against those that argued in favour of the destruction of the State of Israel.


But, my positions were not those of the AWL. I was not a member of their organisation. No one had said to me I could write only blogs that accorded with the AWL’s position. So, when the debate over Iraq erupted I saw no reason not to disagree with the AWL position even though I was writing on their Board. The disagreement was not over the idea that we should throw our lot in with the militias. That would have been stupid, it was on precisely that kind of idiot anti-imperialism I had written Discussion Documents back in the 1980’s. No, the disagreement was over only the position of the AWL who argued that the troops had to stay in order to defeat the militias, and who, thereby sow illusions in the role of the bourgeois state and imperialism, and who undermine the whole essence of Marxism that the solutions can only come from the organisation and mobilisation of the working class. Again the debate and posts on all sides were lengthy and detailed, but, certainly between myself and the AWL, remained civilised.


That could not be said about the discussion around Venezuela. Although, for my own part I attempted to be as comradely as possible the debate soon descended on the AWL’s part into the hurling of abuse rather than reasoned argument. Worse, there was a deliberate attempt to completely misrepresent what I had said. See:Simple Fabrication. At every point of the discussion I responded not with abuse, but with rational argument referring back to what the previous position of Marxists in similar positions had been, giving quotes of what they said to back that up. But, the AWL could not deal with those arguments, and so descended into what their normal response to such discussion seems to be. Simply bad tempered abuse. Paul Hampton, commented,

”The parallels with Venezuela are pretty clear. That you choose to ignore them on the grounds of “sticking with the workers” your problem, not the AWLs. (In 1938 that would have meant going into the PRM). Given your evident hostility to us and your refusal to engage with our analysis on a rational level, you can imagine where I think you should “stick” your longwinded, pedantic sniping.”

I had commented that the AWL’s position on Venezuela was Oehlerite. Oehler was a member of the US Trotskyist organisation. In the early 1930’s Totsky had argued that the french Trotskyists should join the French Socialist Party, because their small size meant that they could be much more effective as part of a much larger Party. Some of the French Trotskyists objected to this turn, saying that it was “liquidationist” that the French Trotskyists would be swallowed up by the Socialist Party, and would themselves become opportunists. Oehler and his group made the same argument, especially when Trotsky advocated the same tactic elsewhere. It was in precisely that way that I described the AWL’s position as Oehlerite. What we had in Venezuela was the establishment of a new mass Party that was clearly winning the backing of workers both as individuals, and as Trade Unions and political organisations. Marxists might wish they were in a position to establish a Workers party more to their liking, but the job of Marxists is to deal not with what they would like to be the reality, but what actually is the reality. The reality was to suggest that socialists stand aside from this mass movement of the workers in conditions where they could clearly have some influence on its development was indeed Oehlerite sectarianism.

The turn of the French Trotskyists to the Socialist Party was a great success. They rapidly increased their numbers – despite a split over the issue – and those who had previously split – the Naville Group – rejoined having seen that success. But, Oehler turned a blind eye to the success, and continued to argue that the turn was a mistake, refused to accept that he had been wrong. It is the typical sign of the sectarian who refuses to acknowledge they have made a mistake, and instead has to come up with far fetched explanations or to simply deny the reality which proves they were wrong. Trotsky wrote,

”Does Comrade Oehler know these facts?Is he deliberately closing his eyes, so that his formulas may remain intact? What does such an attitude signify? In any case it has nothing in common with Marxism, which is not a game with formulas but an analysis of realities. It would appear that Oehler does not want revoluitoanry successes because they have arrived by the road which he opposed. Let the revolution perish, so long as Oehler’s prjudices triumph! What ideas does Oehler oppose to the French experience? Must one never, under any condiitons, work in the reformist parties?” Trotsky “Oehlerism and the French Experience” – Writings 1935-6 pp66-7.

Was my position vindicated has history shown any repetition of the above experience. Absolutely. Whilst millions of Venezuelan workers were flocking to the new Venezuelan Socialist Party, the PSUV, the AWL like King Canute stood there with its hands raised telling them not to do it. Instead they told them to join a tiny Venezuelan Trotskyist group the PRS.

What was the AWL’s response? Did it recognise it had made a sectarian mistake? Did it conclude that experience showed that it was necessary to stick with the workers, to join the PSUV, and to act as Marx and Engels had advised as its organised Left-Wing? No. In response to the fact that 5 million Venezuelan workers had joined this new party the AWL’s response was to close its eyes to reality and denounce these 5 million workers as obviously all being CAREERISTS!!!!! See Careerists.

“You don’t appear to question the fact that as a ruling party being built by the current bourgeois government, the reasons for joining are probably not very progressive e.g. careerism, coercion, getting privileges etc. Nor have anything like that number actually participated in the party, other than to take a card…..You paint our position as abstention, of refusing to go where the workers are. But everything I’ve argued on Venezuela has been about going to the workers e.g. building the UNT, building an independent party like the PRS. Joining the PSUV is not a magic route to Venezuelan workers – in fact it cuts across the drive to build an independent workers’ movement. That’s why it is a mistake to join.”

Reply from Paul Hampton of the AWL to Simon Hardy.

The trouble was there were more people outside Venezuela than inside who had heard of the PRS, and even the majority of PRS members themselves decided to join the PSUV, as did the union federation of PRS leader Cirino.

But, the AWL’s position was shown to be wrong for other reasons. Workers at the SIDOR steel plant had ocme under attack during a strike. But, those same workers were able to utilise their membership and links with the PSUV to take action. The Governor responsible for the attacks on the workers was Rangel Gomez. Union Militants challenged and remove him and other right-wing candidates from the PSUV lists for upcoming elections.

“Sayago, a worker from the ALCASA aluminum plant and pre-candidate for Mayor of Caroní, said the demand for Rangel Gómez’s disqualification has been endorsed by a “good part” of the workers in basic industry and especially by the workers at the SIDOR steel plant.”

Rudeness and Misrepresentation

Paul Hampton used the same approach in place of reasoned argument when I questioned what he had written about the US economy. First he came out with this amazing comment,

“I see you haven't lost your habit of misrepresenting other people's arguments, ignoring what they actually wrote in another context and then going off about your latest pet hobby horse. 

Actually I was not writing about the state of the US economy at all, but about the argument that the US was in economic decline”

And then having pointed out to him the obvious mistake that its rather difficult to discuss “the argument that the US was in economic decline” without “writing about the state of the US economy” his responses again descended into abuse.

He wrote,

“Please go back to the obscurity from which you came.”

And when I pointed out that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, that he was merely a big fish in a small puddle he responded, by returning to childhood, and the debating style of the playground saying,

“The only puddle around here is the incontinent one left under your chair after you’ve posted.”

In fact, a look at posts by others on the AWL Board, and the responses show that this rudeness, dishonesty, and disloyalty is the AWL’s Stock in Trade. As Lenin said, “such cooks will only provide peppery dishes.” When he warned against the same traits in Stalin.


I was not surprised then when after the fractious debate over Venezuela the AWL asked me to move my blog elsewhere. I had no problem with that. But, within a few months, not only were they complaining about my blog, but they now found that my posts were too long and too numerous. So again I complied reducing the number and size, and providing links to my own blog where appropriate. About a year ago when I was witing little on the AWL Board, I wrote three separate posts on various aspects of an article by Al Glotzer in relation to Israel. None of the posts were long, they can be found on my blog:Glotzer and Immigration, Glotzer and the Jews as Special, and Glotzer, Anti-Semitism and Degenerated Workers States. In fact those posts are longer than the originals because of the need to reference the quotes being addressed.

The AWL deleted the posts without explanation. When I re-submitted them they deleted them again. Then they deleted my whole account, and everything I had posted to their site from Day One! They claimed this was a mistake. See:A Little Technical Difficulty It clearly wasn’t, and when other groups such as the CPGB began to take up the issue of censorship the AWL backtracked, reinstated all the posts, and my account.

I reduced my posts even further. In the meantime the positions I had been arguing for several years on Iraq were taken up by the Minority within the AWL right down to the elaboration of some of the argumentation. My own arguments in that relation were largely taken up through my blog as a look at some of the posts there will demonstrate. In addition, I continued through my blog to demonstrate as I had with the Glotzer articles why the AWL had gone off the rails due to its adoption of Third Camp politics. The basis of that can be summarised as follows. The originators of the Third Camp James Burnham and Max Schachtman were not Marxists. They were motivated by a subjectivist rather than Marxist objectivist ideology. That meant they analysed things not in terms of their underlying objective reality, but in terms of a superficial subjectivism that replaced Marxist analysis and action, with journalistic reporting. Indeed, Trotsky described Shachtman as a journalist rather than an ideologist. When Stalin signed the pact with Hitler it was the last straw for Burnham and Shachtman. They had to separate themselves from Stalin and from the USSR. But that meant no longer defending a Workers State. For the subjectivists that wasn’t a problem. They simply redefined the USSR as not being a Workers State. It is that issue of the Class nature of the Soviet State then which becomes the touchstone for Marxists, and why it remains at the heart of debate.

The reason it causes a problem for the AWL is that both they and their arch rivals in the SWP use the same subjectivist Third Camp approach, but arrive by that method at two diametrically opposed practical conclusions. For the AWL, the conclusion is to have developed a set of moral imperatives that must be fulfilled, but lacking faith in the working class to achieve them leaves them relying on the forces of the bouregois state or imperialism to carry them out. Similarly, the SWP using the same method, but with a different set of moral imperatives comes to rely on what it sees as the enemies of imperialism, be they Hezbollah or the clerical-fascists in Iraq, to bring them about, because it too has lost faith in the ability of the working class to achieve th goals set for it. Despite the fact that the myth of the Third camp is a belief in the independent activity of the working class both end up relying on alien class forces.

That was why the AWL deleted my posts on Glotzer. But it also explains the more recent events. The AWL posted an article by Trotsky on the petit-bourgeois socialists Thier Morals and Ours who criticised Lenin and the Bolsheviks. I wrote a short post that simply pointed out that Trotsky had said the same thing about the Third Campists, and gave links to two articles by Trotsky to that effect. Sacha Ishmail from the AWL responded saying that Trotsky himself had outlined what the Third Camp was, it was the camp of the working class. I responded again very briefly saying that interpretation of Trotsky was wrong, and explained why. Sacha Ishmail replied again saying Trotsky didn’t really mean what he had said in his comments against the Third Campists. Apparently, only the AWL really know what was in Trotsky’s mind even though what they claim to have been there on this issue contradicts what he actually wrote! Apparently, Trotsky had only written what he did in order to support the Cannon Faction in their fight against the Burnham-Shachtman faction! Unfortunately, for Sacha though, of course Trotsky had held a bad impression of Shachtman from the early 1930’s because of his petit-bouregois approach, criticising him for his interference on a personal rather than political level in the affairs of the French section and so on.

Of course if you look at that post you will see none of that, ebcause again several weeks after the actual discussion the AWL decided that their new recruits should not have access to such information about the beloved Shachtman, so it was deleted.
The AWL contacted me to say that I should now restrict my comments to just 3 or 4 lines despite the fact that I was in fact posting very little to their Board. I had in fact been too busy debating with some Libertarians again to have posted much for a couple or weeks or so to the AWL Board. In the meantime Paul Bogdanor was pouring forth thousands of words of reactionary stuff about Marxism with apparently no such restriction palced on him by the AWL, and similar amounts were being put forward by his co-thinker Mikey in a long running debate between them and Tony Greenstein.
But, again I complied. When several articles by the AWL criticising Tony Cliff’s theory of State Capitalism appeared, I wrote no more than the prescribed 3 or 4 lines, and linked to a discussion on the issue I was having with Mike McNair – See: Reply to Mike McNair and which had come out of a debate I had had with Jason from Permanent Revolution in my blog Critique of the AWL on Socialist Action. But, despite complying with their request these posts were immediately deleted. When a further debate on Iraq ensued further comments that complied with the 3 line rule were deleted, whilst others were not. So at that point I decided that there was no point abiding by that rule as posts were being deleted willy-nilly anyway. The intention was clear to allow a few posts through in order to give he appearance that they were allowing me to post whilst in reality deleting the posts which asked the most difficult questions, and disrupting my arguments.

It is clear then that the statement made by Dan Randall,

“Here's a brief list of things that might not: (constitute Healyite Gangsterism AB)
1) Asking people who repeatedly clog up a political organisation's website's debating facility with gargantuan, esoteric and impenetrable tracts to stop, and then doing something about it when they don't.”

is ridiculous. There had been no “gargantuan” or even lengthy posts to the AWL website for around 12 months! There was certainly nothing impenetrable about them witnessed by the number of non-AWL contributors who both agreed and disagreed with their contents, not to mention the AWL Minority itself which took on Board wholesale the argument I had been making over Iraq, a Minority which itself includes Dan Randall! I have prints of the articles deleted, and can quite easily show they were neither lengthy, esoteric, nor impenetrable. Indeed, there was nothing gargantuan, esoteric or impenetrable about the post Dan was responding to which simply said why bother responding to the AWL when they simply delete your posts, and compared the methods of the AWL now to those of Gerry Healy and Stalinism. Yet, that post too was deleted!!!!

In the 1920’s the Stalinists first tried to push Trotsky out of the limelight. Then they began to organise heckling of him at meetings, which then deteriorated into spitting and then muted violence. Then they tried to restrict what he could. When he wrote things that went beyond what they thought was acceptable it was simply censored. The main problem for the Stalinists was Trotsky’s position in the party which meant they could not simply dismiss what he said. First he had to be marginalised. Then having pushed him to being left to criticise from outside they could characterise his comments as “anti-party”. They wanted and needed to get Trotsky to be seen as writing in the bouregois press, something which on occasion he had no alterntive, but to do, and to associate him with some separate party in order that they could appeal against him to traditional Leninist tribal loyalty. That is what the AWL have tried to do in my case. Last year after they deleted my account Sacha Ishmail accused me of running to every other left-wing group and spreading my charges over the Internet. He later had to remove the accusation, because in fact I could show that I had not spread any charges over the Internet, and when the CPGB had approached me for an interview I had deeclined, and had sent the AWL copies of the relevant e-mails where I stated that I would not participate in such an inter organisation squabble. So instead the AWL have resorted to the old salami tactic, gradually over the last year using the same old arguments to gradually restrict what I can write, until they felt safe to simply go back to deleting any comments at all.
They will no doubt be delighted that, in addition to my blog here, I now post comments to the Permanent Revolution discussion Board, because they will be able to appeal to that Leninist tribalism that they rely on in their debates with other organisations, and which they had been unable to utilise in my case. Well, so be it. The truth is that the AWL are a tiny sect with no relevance to the labour Movement at all. I had hoped that given what I know about many of its comrades from the past it might still be salvageable despite the turn to petit-bouregois socialism it had undertaken. But clearly, it can’t. And as Trotsky said in relation to Christian Rakovsky even with old friends we have to move on when they are no longer capable of redemption.

When soldiers are buried they sound “The Last Post”, its time to sound or in this case to write the Last Post over the grave of the AWL. R.I.P.


Anonymous said...

Arthur - note by way of incidental information on this front Jim Grant's letter in the latest Weekly Worker (July 3), pointing out that the AWL have directly falsified by omission their reports of the PCSU conference (on the affiliation to HOPI) and of the 'reclaim the campus' conference (on the defeat of the AWL on the troops out vote.

I made a passing comment in the WW debate on imperialism in 2004 on Sean's "original Healyism" as affecting AWL comrades' debating style ... your post adds new evidence.

Incidentally, I am close to being able to respond to your reply to me on the 'Soviet question' but not yet quite there.

Mike Macnair

Boffy said...


Thanks for your comment, and I look forward to seeing your reply on the USSR. It gave me no pleasure whatsoever to write the post on the AWL. I gave up 13 years of my life to its predecessor organisations - literally because during all that time I was engaged in political and Trade Union activity pretty much everyday of the week. I even began a subscription to the AWL and made donations to them when I made contact with them again a few years ago, and as I said to one of their comrades in an e-mail recently I probably would have continued to do so had it not been for the increasingly abusive tone of some of their comrades in discussions. In fact, the comrade I was talking to by e-mail said they too felt there was no excuse for the rudeness of many of their comrades. But, that rudeness and attitude ultimately derives from the natureof the organisation, and thereby of its leadership.

In fact, all small organisations that become detached form the working class as a mass movemnt in the way that the AWL is must have a tendency to degenerate in this fashion. It is one of the reasons I have rejected Leninism. The AWL might not commit any of those crimes that Daniel Randall listed as Stalinism, but then it is an organisation of a few dozen impotent individuals. Imagine, if such individuals actually had control of a State apparatus. God forbid!!!