Salem's lot

Steve Freeman reports on an attempt to bring the Liddle witchhunt into the Republican Communist Network (England)

As a result of Terry Liddle and Gary Holden attending the 'Anarchist Heretics Fair' in Brighton and later having discussions with someone called Troy Southgate of the National Revolutionary Faction (NRF), Terry had been criticised on the UK Left Network. As it turned out, the NRF had been connected to the fascist International Third Position and this opened Terry up to the allegation of collaborating with fascists.

Terry submitted his resignation as chair of the Republican Communist Network (England) on the grounds that he did not want the RCN to be damaged by his mistake. The RCN committee met and heard what Terry had to say. The committee decided, in the light of this, to refuse to accept his resignation. We asked Terry to submit a written statement and placed this as the first item on the agenda of last weekend's all-England meeting. The members could question Terry and decide what to do. We did not believe that Terry had collaborated with fascists. Consequently we did not intend to let the NRF and the anarchists mess us about.

At the start of the RCN meeting Phil Walden, a leading supporter of the Scottish workers' republic in the RCN (England), arrived at the meeting surprised to see Terry Liddle, and was then determined that he should not be allowed to put his side of the story. At the very start of the meeting Phil demanded that Terry resign and leave the meeting. He should not return "until a socialist movement inquiry clear him of collaborating with fascists".

Has anybody heard such silly nonsense? We are about to start a meeting in which the first item on the agenda is a statement to be made both in writing and verbally by Terry Liddle. RCN members want to hear this first hand. They may want to ask questions and form an opinion of their own. Our 'court' is the democratic assembly of members. Yet the member who was censured at the previous meeting for behaving irresponsibly tries to stop us hearing what Terry had to say and asking him questions.

What is proposed instead is the hope that somebody else - namely, the "socialist movement" - may or may not decide to set up an inquiry at some unspecified date in the future. That is bizarre. What responsible organisation would ask somebody else to have an enquiry when they had not looked into it themselves? If Red Action heard that one of their members had talked to the wrong person, would they first inquire into it themselves, or would they wait until a "labour movement" body was set up?

The assumption behind comrade Walden's motion was that Terry was guilty until he was able to prove himself innocent. When we made that point, comrade Walden labelled this a bourgeois deviation. Under socialism we would all be considered guilty automatically. Since we had no evidence except rumour, it was our duty to question our comrade and consider his statement.

The idea that someone is guilty until proven innocent was a very dangerous road to go down. It would be a haven for the secret police. It would enable any agent provocateur to disrupt any working class or socialist organisation, merely by making unsubstantiated allegations. Remember how Arthur Scargill was targeted by the state during and after the miners' strike. They tried to fit him up with accusations about fiddling money and reaching dodgy deals with Libya, etc. Eventually this was shown to be a plot by state security. Should we have demanded that Scargill resign as soon as these charges were made? Should he have ceased activity until he was cleared?

Phil Walden behaved in an anti-democratic way. Naturally comrades were outraged by this and some might have wondered if he was trying to disrupt the RCN. Phil Walden's motion was voted down.

He then declared that he would walk out in protest. The comrades berated him to stay and actually hear what Terry had to say and put questions to him, if he had any. He left the meeting, thus convincing us that he was more about posturing than serious politics. Eventually he returned when his ally, Phil Sharpe, turned up. Comrade Sharpe persuaded him to return and hear what Terry had to say.

Terry Liddle is not calling for an inquiry. He maintains he is innocent. He gave us his account of what he did. With the benefit of hindsight, we might think he was unwise or misled. But he had not breached our security or knowingly collaborated with fascists. If you were accused of murder, would you demand to be put on trial in order to prove your innocence? Of course not.

However, Terry has always said he will cooperate with any inquiry. He has cooperated with us. He will cooperate with the Green Party - and the LSA if they should decide to hold an inquiry.

Having seen Phil Walden's antics, we can only see the call for an inquiry as a delaying tactic. Anybody out to make mischief would want this issue dragged out as long as possible. We did not delay. We asked Terry for a written statement and questioned him about it. Of course it is possible that there are facts out there that we do not know about. But then why have these internet accusers not written to us immediately?

Surely if the allegations on the UK Left Network were true then RCN members would be in some kind of danger. Yet nobody has written to us or provided us with any facts or witnesses. They are so busy calling for an inquiry that they have forgotten about us.

This affair is now taking on a more sinister direction. The witch-hunters now seem to believe that anybody who wants to see justice for Terry Liddle must themselves be crypto-fascist police agents. I notice Steve Myers was being singled for saying something supportive of Terry.

I received a copy of an e-mail written by a Mr Liam. He says: "In addition, I have information based on speaking to an Afa [Anti-Fascist Action - ed.] source last night that a very leading member of the RCN is also playing a role behind the scenes (he has the ear of some elements in the CPGB, including Peter Manson) to discredit the calls for an enquiry. I will refrain from naming this person at the moment, but suffice to say it is not the first time over the years that his name has come up in relation to whispering campaigns against Red Action."

It occurred to me when I read this that this might just be a veiled threat against me. If it is, it shows quite clearly what Mr Liam and his chums are up to. First, I have never involved myself in whispering campaigns against Red Action. If this is in doubt then I would be asking to meet Red Action comrades to find what this is all about. I would not be calling for a labour movement inquiry into myself. I would be adopting the quicker and more direct route.

I think we should be demanding that Mr Liam tells us who this "Afa source" is. He or she could be behind some dodgy muck-raking smears. We must be given the name. If it is not forthcoming perhaps we need an inquiry into these activities.