National questions and the AWL patriarch - part three

Sean Matgamna - the patriarch of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty group - does not bother himself much with concrete analysis when faced with the CPGB. Fear, arrogance or sheer laziness? Perhaps all three. I do not pretend to know, but give me any day that Matgamna who still writes eloquently and powerfully on the European Union, the euro, the centrality of theory, totalitarian economism, etc. Yet for the moment it is not to be - more than a pity. Frustrating and annoying. Instead, his means of combating the CPGB is to resort to outright lies and ignorantly and ineptly sounding off whenever the fancy takes him - and in his rambling and rather ugly 'Critical notes' the fancy takes him again and again. Here, in this wretched polemic, it is as if he has said goodbye to rational dialogue. Take the question of Israel/Palestine and the right of refugees to return. He begins with a self-deluded combination of the pompous and the plain ridiculous. The comrade claims to vaguely "recall" that "we" - that is, comrade Matgamna and his chosen pupils - helped the CPGB "move from your old identikit-left politics on Ireland to a democratic working class position". He generously offers to provide the same "help" when it comes to Israel/Palestine (except where otherwise stated all Matgamna quotes from 'Critical notes on the CPGB/WW'). Sorry, comrade, but no thanks. Communists can do without your "help" on Israel/Palestine. We have no wish to embrace the AWL's old Labour, first-camp softness towards Israel. Nor could we ever imagine describing ourselves as a "little bit Zionist". Such a gormless admission is a mockery of Marxism and elementary internationalism. Not surprisingly then, we actually did perfectly well without your "help" when it came to Ireland - an issue where, yes, to the uneducated or superficial observer we would appear to have corresponding programmatic positions. We, of course, have our own road to the truth. Communists who accept the leadership of our Provisional Central Committee possess a draft programme which is solidly based on the principles of consistent democracy and working class socialism. First published in 1995, it is easily to access on our website. Comrade Matgamna might care one day to venture out of his self-imposed benightedness and enlighten himself. But maybe when it comes to the CPGB he prefers to deal in baseless accusations and throw tantrums. What does our draft programme have to say about the national question in the British Isles? Here are some salient excerpts beginning with overall principles: "As a general rule communists do not want to see countries broken up into small nation-states. Ours is the revolutionary call for humanity to shed the flag-waving, imagined community of the nation-state. Communists are the most consistent internationalists and unreservedly denounce any tactical pandering to, let alone attempts to acerbate, national tensions." "Communists want a positive solution to the national question in the interests of the working class: that is, the merging of nations. That can only be achieved through democracy and the right of all to fully develop their own culture. Communists fight to secure the right of nations and nationalities to self-determination. Every historically constituted people should be able to freely decide its own destiny. They can separate if they so wish. Thereby they can also elect to come together or stay together with others." How did we apply these general principles to the situation that exists between England, Scotland and Wales? We do not gullibly turn to Russia and the Bolsheviks for all our answers. A bungling and artless claim made by comrade Matgamna. No, we have made a detailed study of the history of the British Isles and arrived at programmatic conclusions which point the way forward under present-day conditions. There is a British nation which evolved from "the gradual bonding of three nationalities - the English, Welsh and Scottish" not least with the growth of capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries. The birth of the British nation "objectively was a profoundly progressive development". But, because it was carried out "under the aegis of a brutal absolutism", it was "accompanied by countless acts of violence and discrimination". The end of the British empire, the petering out of the post-World War II long boom, the defeats suffered by the British trade union movement in the 1980s and the capitalist triumphalism which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and bureaucratic socialism in 1991 meant that resistance in Scotland and Wales "often took a national form". What does that mean for communists? "Communists stand opposed to every form of Scottish and Welsh national narrowness. Equally we oppose every form of British-English national chauvinism. Ideas of exclusiveness or superiority, national oppression itself, obscure the fundamental antagonism between labour and capital and divert attention from the need to unite against the common enemy - the British capitalist state." Hence, though communists fight for the "right of Scotland and Wales to secede, we do not want separation". Communists want the closest unity circumstances allow. That can only come about "by fighting for full democracy". The peoples of Scotland and Wales cannot decide their own future "through the monarchy and the Westminster parliament of the House of Commons and House of Lords". That is why we "stand for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales". As an aside, let us recall that Matgamna's group formally adopted this 'federal republic' position in 2001 without theorising the question or even a hint of internal debate - that after years of telling us such issues are irrelevant to the working class. Clearly economism - ie, downplaying of the necessity of democracy - remains the ruling ideology amongst the Matshachtmanites. British-Irish and Ireland How did we approach the situation in Ireland? We note that Ireland was Britain's oldest colony: ie, there existed a different relationship between Ireland and Britain and the constituent national parts of the British nation. Where England, Scotland and Wales benefited from British imperialism Ireland suffered. To blunt and head off the rising national liberation movement in 1920-21 Britain "dissected" Ireland. A "sectarian six-county" statelet was created "in order to permanently divide the working class and perpetuate British domination over the whole island of Ireland". Today's divisions are still rooted in that 1920-21 'settlement'. Therefore we "unconditionally support the right of Ireland to unite". Working class opposition to British imperialism in Ireland is a "necessary condition for our own liberation - a nation that oppresses another can never itself be free". That is why the draft programme says that the "struggle for socialism" in Britain and "national liberation in Ireland are inextricably linked". As within Britain itself, there are duties on both sides. Communists in Ireland "must fight for the closest spirit of fraternity" between workers in Britain and Ireland and their "speediest coming together". They must be "resolute opponents" of nationalism. We have never abandoned this "identikit" position which pitted us against all varieties of 'official communism' and not a few of the Trotskyite groups. What we did in 1998, as a necessity, was to modify and enrich our programmatic position by fully incorporating the question of the British-Irish. How to assess the British-Irish and what solutions should communists offer? Undoubtedly since 1921 the majority of protestants in Northern Ireland have constituted a labour aristocracy (a politico-economic category). They have sought to preserve meagre privileges at the expense of catholics - on the one hand by sectarian discrimination and on the other by appealing to the Northern Ireland and British states. However, the protestants are not simply a labour aristocracy. There is an undeniable, historically established religious, ethnic and cultural dimension. The British-Irish have inhabited what is now Northern Ireland since the 17th century. They were settled - from England, but mainly Scotland - to pacify the most rebellious parts of Ireland and hence "assure it to the crown". Inevitably the settlers quickly diverged from their origins and formed another identity. They stopped being Scottish or English. Yet in general they kept themselves against and apart from the Irish catholic majority. The million-strong British-Irish are therefore a historically constituted and distinct community of people. The British-Irish were deliberately given special privileges over and against the native Irish. The catholic majority was subject to constant persecution as catholics and denied elementary rights. As a result the Irish national question and British domination both took the form of religion. This has undergone constant re-articulation. The politics of the Cromwellian plantations are not those of modern Paisleyism. Nor are the politics of the Land League those of Sinn Féin. In 17th century Ireland British-Irish protestantism did not represent a progressive alternative to catholicism, but British colonial domination. Nevertheless historically there is a progressive side to the protestant tradition in Ireland. Inspired by the ideals of revolutionary democracy, protestants like Theobald Wolfe Tone and Fergus O'Connor fought against British domination and for Irish freedom. There have been more recent manifestations of protestant-catholic unity, but due to the unresolved national question they proved fleeting: eg, the 1932 unemployed struggle in Belfast and the initial stage of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. Protestant loyalism is fundamentally not loyalism to Britain and the British crown. It is loyalism to the privileges of the protestants. In 1912-14 Edward Carson threatened to seek an alliance with Germany if the Liberals granted home rule to Ireland. Similar warnings came from other loyalist leaders. In 1945 the Northern Ireland cabinet - needlessly worried by the newly elected Labour government and its radical social democratic promises - discussed a constitutional break with Britain. In 1974 the Ulster Workers' Council general strike wrecked British government plans for a Northern Ireland settlement. In 1980 its leader, Andy Tyrie, advocated Ulster independence. Communists do not invent or exacerbate national or ethnic questions. Our aim is to overcome such conflicts and antagonisms according to the principles of consistent democracy so as to bring forward and heighten the class struggle. For us the key practical task is not defining nations against a lifeless check list. The British-Irish do not constitute a nation according to strict scientific criteria. But neither are they merely a religion or a population of colonial settlers who, by implication, could return whence they came. The British-Irish have a common history, territory and culture. That calls for a definite political solution. There can in our view be no right of present-day Northern Ireland to self-determination. The six-county statelet was founded on the cynical basis of permanently institutionalising the oppression of the catholic-nationalist minority. We do not, and cannot, support the right of the British-Irish majority in the north the oppress the catholic-nationalist minority. The British-Irish do not constitute a single reactionary mass. They are divided - above all by class. The task of communists is to split British-Irish workers from their reactionary misleaders and win them to the side of revolution and communism. There are no permanently reactionary peoples who should be denied rights. Such ideas are alien to the spirit of Marxism. A short detour. The early Soviet Republic included a Don Republic. The Soviet Republic was established as a "voluntary union of the peoples of Russia" - something Lenin thought "should fully reassure the Cossacks" (VI Lenin CW Vol 36, Moscow 1977, p472). The 1st Congress of the Soviets of the Don Republic, held over April 9-12 1918, "regarded the Don Republic as part of the RSFSR" and declared the "working Cossacks' readiness to defend Soviet power" (VI Lenin CW Vol 42, Moscow 1977, p509n). The reader will know that the Cossacks were historically a privileged caste who served as the counterrevolutionary terror troops of tsarism. We make no apology for learning from this splendid example of political astuteness and boldness. The CPGB is for the immediate abolition of the United Kingdom, not expelling Northern Ireland from the union. Unlike the Matgamna group we therefore demand the immediate - ie, unconditional - withdrawal of the British state and British troops from Northern Ireland. Following on behind a whole medley of bog-standard reformists, soppy liberals and ultra-reactionaries, the AWL direly warns of a consequent and inevitable bloodbath. Protestant will slaughter catholics and vice versa. Nonsense. Our slogans are not magic spells which simply by the repetition instantly transform reality. Slogans flow from programme and together make up planks, or linked elements, which for the working class constitute a process of being and self-becoming. Struggle - political and ideological - decides. Anything else is socialist voodoo. In other words realising the demand 'troops out now' goes hand-in-hand with realising a democratic united Ireland and the whole of our minimum programme. The CPGB fights for a federal republic in Britain of England, Scotland and Wales and a united Ireland. That also explains why we refused to side with either the 'no' or the 'yes' camps when it came to the 1998 all-Ireland referendum on the Good Friday deal. Mealy-mouthed 'yes' calls by the Socialist Workers Party, the Morning Star and the Socialist Party revealed a complete lack of socialist principle. Even to call for a 'no', as did Socialist Outlook, Workers Power and dissident republican elements, while not surrendering to the gigantic 'yes' bloc which embraced everything from Sinn Féin to the entire establishment in Britain and Eire, was to voluntarily dissolve oneself into the Paisley campaign. Communists therefore called for a boycott. We are for a democratically elected, all-Ireland constitutional assembly, whereby the Irish people can freely decide their own future without a Tony Blair or a Bill Clinton setting the agenda. Where Blair proposed to reform the constitutional monarchy from above, we communists single-mindedly fight for change from below. Naturally in the united Ireland achieved using our methods communists are for the maximisation of democracy and therefore working class leadership. As stated above, in general communists are for the organisation of the working class in the biggest, most centralised states. That by no means contradicts far-reaching measures of local autonomy. As a transitionary measure, however, we are prepared to accept or advocate federalism as a step towards the unity of people, in particular the unity of the working class. Hence to overcome present-day divisions in Ireland it is necessary to seriously address the British-Irish question and the legitimate fears of the protestant community. This can only be done through consistent democracy. A united Ireland established through a "voluntary union" of its peoples should "fully reassure" the British-Irish. It is true that in the early 1970s Sinn Féin adopted a programme, Eire Nua, which advocated a "federal Ireland". However, this ignored the living cultural/ethnic divisions in contemporary Ireland, and sought instead to revive the "four historic provinces" - Connacht, Munster, Leinster and a nine-county Ulster. This singularly fails to address the objective British-Irish question in a democratic manner. So in 1998 communists decided to include in their programme the demand for a federal solution in Ireland, whereby the area containing a "clear British-Irish majority has the right of self-determination up to and including session". This area forms a geographically coherent whole and includes north Tyrone, south Derry, north Armagh, county Antrim and north Down (there are catholic majorities in Fermanagh, south Tyrone, south Armagh, north Derry and south Down - West Belfast also has 100,000 catholic-nationalists). In a united Ireland a federal solution would require new federal borders. Again it is worth noting that in February 1918 Lenin and Stalin, the commissar for nationalities, argued that the "geographical boundaries" of the Don Republic "must be fixed by agreement with the population of the neighbouring zone and the autonomous republic of the Donetsk Basin" (VI Lenin CW Vol 36, Moscow 1977, p483). A similar approach ought to be adopted in Ireland when it comes to exact borders. Today we must concern ourselves with principles, not details. There would, of course, still be a catholic-nationalist minority in the British-Irish part of the country. There would also be a British-Irish minority elsewhere in the united Irish republic. We do not advocate a movement of population or ethnically 'pure' states. Whatever the religio-ethnic majority community, there must be full citizenship rights for all. Are we - as some jaundiced, not to say stupid, opponents claim - for self-determination up to and including the right to secede for orangeism? No. Are we for such a right for Irish protestants? No. Orangeism is a deeply reactionary and sectarian movement. Protestantism in Northern Ireland is a politico-religious category. There can be no right of secession for political movements or religions. Suggestions to the contrary might conform with so-called Austro-Marxism but not our Leninist Marxism. Such national rights have to be attached to a distinct, significant and historically established territorial dimension. Communists support the right of a British-Irish federal entity in a united Irish republic to self-determination, but argue against exercising that right in favour of secession. We are for voluntary unity and the growing together of the two traditions in Ireland on the basis of a common struggle for international socialism and world communism. Right of return Comrade Matgamna seems dimly aware that the CPGB has also "modified" its position on the Middle East in the "same way" as we did on Ireland. This is indeed true. But, though the comrade freely admits that this programmatic change and the debate surrounding it in the Weekly Worker "isn't something I've followed", that does not stop him, as is characteristic, from offering a wise-foolish opinion. He says that the CPGB "will have to be braver, less afraid of offending the 'anti-Zionists' who dominate the political world you live in, and altogether more consistent and rigorous, before you will be any good on that question". Comrade Matgamna's bone of contention is what he calls the "collective Palestinian 'right of return'". True to form, he attributes such a right to what he calls "old Stalinist baggage". He suspects "that here too you still carry a lot of old Stalinist baggage you haven't got round to jettisoning yet". The "collective Palestinian 'right of return' is properly part of programmes that include the elimination of Israel - the 'secular democratic state', for example". Before enlarging upon this discussion I feel obliged to once again comment upon the charge, routinely laid at our door, of "old Stalinist baggage". I have already dealt with the demented lies of comrade Matgamna when it comes to our position on the USSR and eastern Europe in the 1980s. And I have no intention of repeating my demolition job here. No, what I want to bring to the reader's attention is the comrade's worrying mix of self-importance and naivety. He seems to be under the impression that a two-state solution originates with anti-Stalinism and Matshachtmanism. Yet everyone knows that Joseph Stalin's USSR took the lead amongst the 'great powers' in recognising the division of Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948 - arms and munitions from Czechoslovakia helped tip the balance against Arab forces. The jews in Palestine were pictured as fighting imperialism and certainly imposed upon Britain, the mandate power, a humiliating withdrawal. All that changed when Nasser and his pan-Arab movement fell out with the US and turned towards the Soviet Union as an alternative. 'Official communism' duly lined up with Palestinian nationalism, which insisted that the "establishment of the state of Israel" was "entirely illegal" and "regardless of the passage of time" conflicted with the "natural right" of the Palestinians to a homeland. Jews "normally" residing in Palestine were to be regarded as Palestinians. However, the rest, those who came after 1947, were considered Zionist invaders who were expect to return from where they originally came. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation considered it a principle that jews do not constitute a "single nation" but rather a "religion" (Palestinian national covenant, as amended in July 1968). Interestingly in that historical context one can read dissenting voices within 'official communism'. In Britain Hyman Levy, a well know scientist, criticised the Soviet Union's internal attitude towards jews and its about-turn on Israel. While it is true that jews in general cannot be called "a single nation" - no common language nor common territory - there does exist a "community of feeling", sharpened "most intensely" by the Nazi holocaust. Furthermore a jewish nation "has undoubtedly come into existence in Israel" (H Levy Jews and the national question London 1958, pp39-40). Equally to the point, who was first to propose a democratic, two-state solution from the left? Was it comrade Matgamna and his little group? Or was it the much more vocal and socially weighty 'official communist' Palestinian Peoples Party, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Communist Party of Israel? Seen in this light, it appears that comrade Matgamna has junked his old Trotskyite, single-state baggage only to adopt the programme of 'official communism'. But we do not want to descend to comrade Matgamna's miserable level and trade off cheap polemics. What is the position of the CPGB on Israel/Palestine? We oppose all nationalisms, including Zionism: ie, a secular, but anti-assimilationist ideology, which insists that jews and gentiles cannot live peacefully together and that therefore there must be a separate jewish homeland (Eretz Israel). That idea gained a following as a direct reaction to the anti-semitism that sullied and shamed Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Crucially mass Zionism resulted from the vicious persecution of jews unleashed by tsarism and then, most decisively, in the attempt, and near success, at exterminating the entire jewish population in Europe perpetrated by Nazism. Zionism was given another boost by the anti-semitism preached and practised by bureaucratic socialism. It goes without saying that its anti-Zionism was a reactionary anti-Zionism. The dramatic influx of jews into Palestine after World War I was possible only because of the British protectorate. The Balfour Declaration (November 2 1917) enshrined that sponsor-client relationship. Imperialist pro-Zionism stems from either the classic colonialist ethos, post-1945 European guilt or the undoubted influence of pro-Zionist jewish capitalists and intellectuals in imperialist countries, not least in the United States. The jews coming to Palestine in the 20th century were a settler-colonial people of a special type. There was no specific homeland - apart from the European continent as a whole. Moreover, inspired by thinkers such as Ber Borochov (1881-1917), many entertained notions of building a socialism. However their socialist civilising mission was in essence no different to British colonists in Australia or New Zealand, or the Dutch colonists in South Africa. The kibbutzim were communist-imperialist. Land might have been purchased according to the laws of the day. But the same can be said of the European colonists in America before and after 1776. There existed a completely unequal relationship between the colonists and the colonised. The colonists rebelled against the colonial power after World War II and launched a violent struggle for independence. But that does not detract from the original colonial-settler nature of Israel. The first war against the British (United Nations mandate) colonial power was a combined war - against Britain, against the colonised. The creation of the state of Israel in 1947 and the subsequent expansion of Israel in 1948 and 1949 witnessed numerous crimes against the indigenous Arab population. Resistance there was - and not only from the Palestinian masses themselves, but the reactionary monarchies in Egypt and Jordan too. Despite the ulterior motives of these rulers the desperate rearguard actions carried out by the Palestinian masses was undoubtedly just. Nonetheless Israel won its combined war. British troops departed. So did hundreds of thousands of Palestinians - they fled or were forcibly driven from their homeland. Nor were they allowed to return. The whole of Palestine was then dismembered by Israel on the one hand and Jordan and Egypt on the other. In 1967 there was another defensive-expansionist war by Israel. Since then both the Gaza strip and the West Bank have been seeded with numerous military-settler colonial towns. Those on the West Bank have become a system of permanent occupation. After 1967 the enemy within for Israel expanded dramatically. Israel never officially incorporated either Gaza nor the West Bank. However, the ultra-right in Israel does propagate a vision of a greater Israel, a greater Israel that by definition must be cleansed of Palestinians in order to make it viable. Israel is the biggest recipient of US overseas aid. The US supplies Israel with advanced warplanes and electronic warfare equipment. However, Israel has never been a mere client state. Israel certainly possesses nuclear weapons in defiance of UN conventions. More to the point, it has its own, independent, internal class politics and state interests - interests which it pursues even if they risk conflict with the sponsoring power: eg, the United Kingdom or the United States. As we have said, communists favour a democratic solution in Israel/Palestine. We strive for the ending of all antagonisms between nations and their eventual merger. Communism and nationalism are antithetical. Nevertheless we champion the right of all oppressed nations to self-determination. In the conditions of Israel/Palestine that means that communists support the right of the Palestinians where they constitute a clear majority to form their own state. While communists have no truck with Zionism and condemn the colonial-settler origins of Israel, we recognise that over the last 50 or 60 years a definite Israeli jewish nation has come into existence. Time matters. To call for Israel's abolition is unMarxist. Such a programme is either naive utopianism or genocidal. Either way, it is reactionary. The Israeli jewish nation is historically constituted. The Israeli jews speak the same language, inhabit they same territory, have the same culture and sense of identity. The position of Rhodesian or South African whites is not analogous. They did not nor could they form a nation. Nowhere in territorial terms did they form a historically constituted majority. The same cannot be said of Israeli jews. Marxists do not deny the right of the Israeli jewish nation to self-determination on the basis of some half-baked or perverted reading of classic texts. The right to self-determination is not a communist blessing exclusively bestowed upon the oppressed. It is fundamentally a demand for equality. All nations must have the equal right to determine their own fate - as long as that does not involve the oppression of another people. Hence communists recognise that the US, Russian, German, Polish and French nations have the right to self-determination. Today that is generally unproblematic. However, we desire to see that same elementary right extended to all oppressed peoples. Progressive Israeli jews must champion the democratic rights of the Palestinians to a separate state. Progressive Palestinians must likewise champion the rights of Israeli jews to a separate state. Only on such a reciprocal basis is it possible to overcome national antagonisms and envisage the eventual unity of these two peoples (perhaps first of all in some kind of confederation). Ours is not a solution to be presided over by Sharon and Hamas. Communists look towards a democratic and secular Israel existing alongside a democratic and secular Palestine. Within each state national and religious minorities must be given full democratic rights. As with Ireland the suggestion that communists call for 'pure' national-religious states - jewish or islamic - is either the result of sheer ignorance or is malign misrepresentation. The immediate call for a single Palestinian state within which the jewish Israeli nationality is given citizenship but not national rights is in present circumstances to perpetuate division. The Israeli jews will not voluntarily accept such a solution - the whole of the 20th century since 1933 mitigates against that. There is moreover the distinct danger that the poles of oppression would be reversed if such a programme were ever to be put into practice. In all likelihood it would have to involve military conquest. The call for a single-state solution is therefore impractical - Israel is the strong nation and, far from being in danger of conquest, is able to invade neighbouring territory at will. What is on the cards is a greater Israel, not its termination. But what of the right to return? Comrade Matgamna has transformed this into an ideological shibboleth which stems from a definite softness exhibited towards Zionism. According to him, for 50 years the 'right of return' has, to jews and Palestinians alike, "implied the opposite of two states". It means to them and comrade Matgamna the "dissolution, in one way or another, of the jewish state". The 'right of return' and two states are "starkly at odds with each other". Israel and the "right to collective resettlement" would see "millions of Palestinians" flooding into Israel in an effort to reverse the results of 1948. What a hopeless muddle, and pure demagogy to boot. The comrade makes a straightforward mistake first of all by conflating a democratic right and the manner in which that right is exercised. It is like opposing the right of men or women to divorce because "collectively" without such a ban safely in place every-one would instantly file for annulment of their marriages. Yes, we can demand the right of divorce "safely" in the knowledge that it will not be "collectively" exercised. If comrade Matgamna is insisting upon the opposite in order to keep his group intact it is quite frankly either sad or mad. Communists, as an elementary principle, oppose all immigration controls and support the free movement of people. That is no programmatic "detail" by the way. Yet standing by that principle - instead of abandoning it in the face of Israel's version of the Daily Mail - in no way "implies" demanding, or encouraging, some "collective movement". That is the sort of crime we saw perpetrated by Stalin in post-World War II eastern Europe and could only be put into practice under conditions of extreme bureaucratic dictatorship, and that over half a continent. Germans in particular were forced to "collectively" return to their designated homeland and vacate areas in Poland and Czechoslovakia which had been inhabited by their ancestors for hundreds of years. In our considered view Palestinians "must have the right of return" - but this is a "right of habitation decided upon individually, or by family group". The 'right of return' is not a demand for what comrade Matgamna ludicrously implies is a "collective" movement of the entire diaspora - which now inhabits not just Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, etc, but the US and many countries in western Europe too. Even by dint of some kind of remarkable historical reversal and an Arab conquest of Israel no serious Marxist could imagine the Palestinian diaspora as a "collective" giving up their livelihoods and packing up their bags in order to move to Palestine. How could it be "collectively" imposed upon them? The honest and serious answer is that it cannot. So why does comrade Matgamna pretend otherwise? That the SWP and the "numerically dominant forces on the British ostensibly revolutionary left" advocate the 'right of return' does not dictate our programme nor our slogans. Talk of our joining "the large choir" of conventional left thought is a bit rich when coming from comrade Matgamna. This after all is the same comrade who, along with the herd, used to worship at the shrine of auto-Labourism and with the best of them idiotically prattled on about the "wild upsurge of hope and expectation" after the election of Blair and New Labour on May 1 1997 (Workers' Liberty May 1997). On the other hand, if opposing whatever the SWP and the "ostensibly revolutionary left" proposes is the 'method' employed by Matgamna when directing his group, then that only goes to show just how disorientated and mired in sectarianism he has become in recent years. Jack Conrad * Leeds, lies and Owen MacThomas - part 1 * Afghanistan and Owen MacThomas - part 2