Apolitical abuse or political polemics

Ian Donovan responds to recent attacks from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and its supporters

Last week’s letters page opened with three misaimed contributions: the first from Cathy Nugent, editor of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s fortnightly newspaper, Solidarity, and trusted follower of the AWL’s patriarch Sean Matgamna; another from some person named Martin Ohr, who from the content of his letter is evidently a sycophantic AWL member or supporter; and one from Steven Davies, a rather erratic individual who inhabits the Birmingham left, and at times hangs around the AWL (Weekly Worker July 3).

All these letters were replying to my article in the previous issue (Weekly Worker June 26), which drew out some lessons from the response of the AWL to criticism over the Middle East and the recent war against Iraq, mainly by me in the pages of this paper. Instead of responding politically, the AWL has simply gone off at the deep end with a tirade of feeble, apolitical abuse against this writer in particular.

Dealing with the least significant of these letters first, it is remarkable that Steven Davies is still raging against an article I wrote several months ago on the age-of-consent laws. He really has developed pretty authoritarian views on some questions. Eccentrically comrade Davies calls on the CPGB to expel me for holding positions that are, unfortunately for him, right in the CPGB mainstream. Over the last several years, even before I joined, the Weekly Worker has published quite a few similar articles to mine on these kinds of questions.

Indeed our draft programme, adopted well before my time in the organisation, calls, in its section on ‘Youth’, for “The abolition of age-of-consent laws. We recognise the right of individuals to enter into the sexual relations they choose, providing this does not conflict with the rights of others. Alternative legislation to protect children from sexual abuse.” Davies’s absurd call for the ‘no-platforming’ of people with these views is therefore logically a call for the no-platforming of the CPGB itself - rather hypocritical for someone who regularly avails himself of our letters page.

At least Davies’s letter contains some politics. Which is more than you can say for Cathy Nugent’s offering. It really is pretty odd to read an apolitical hate letter, complete with crude epithets, signed by the editor of a leftwing publication. One wonders how many more missives of this type are sent out by the AWL in an official capacity. However, taken in conjunction with the letter from Martin Ohr, it really does offer an opportunity to further illustrate to our readers the unfortunate decline in politics - and thereby in political honesty, integrity and indeed coherence - that is affecting this organisation, which appears to be approaching a crisis of some sort.

Look at the string of epithets that have flowed from the Nugent-Matgamna pen over the last few weeks. I have been characterised as a “nutcase”, a “nut”, a “lunatic”, a “fuckwit” - and now a “moron” as well. These allegations of mental ill-health are not used in order to give spice to a political argument, but as a substitute for a political argument. Ian Donovan is a “moron”, so there is no need to answer what he has to say and those who publish his writings him should stop doing so. Pathetic.

Frankly, it is laughable to see the comrade editor play the ‘feminist’ card in her defence. Another apolitical excuse for running away from an honest exchange. It is obvious to anyone familiar with the AWL that the real political author of her June 12 Solidarity piece was her boss, Sean Matgamna. The letter of Martin Ohr well illustrates that gender has nothing to do with it: cultists, people willing to shamelessly lie and hurl abuse in deference to a political caudillo like Sean Matgamna, can be of either sex.

Among a series of claims, comrade Ohr says of my offending article, ‘Descent into cultism’ (June 26), that after reading it, “It took me only a few seconds to find ample evidence to refute Donovan’s claim that ‘the AWL has issued not one word of criticism or analysis of this ultra-reactionary phenomenon’ in relation to the Israeli state’s persecution of Palestinians” (Letters, July 3).

But though it only took him seconds to “refute it” it is clear that he had not spent enough time reading the original article. The “phenomenon” I was discussing was ‘christian-Zionism’ in the United States, not the Palestinian question. For example, I touched upon the christian-Zionist use of the book of Revelations and the advocacy of mass expulsion of Palestinians from the occupied territories by Dick Armey, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives. In conclusion I criticised the “vicarious-Zionist AWL” because it has “issued not one word of criticism or analysis of this ultra-reactionary phenomenon, which is one of the key, concrete manifestations of Zionism today.”

The AWL has indeed not analysed this question. In other words, Ohr’s ‘refutation’ amounts to nothing. The same goes for his claim that I directly equate the AWL with the British National Party, MI5, the Ku Klux Klan, the Workers Revolutionary Party, pro-Blair witch-hunters, etc. Of course, I did no such thing. What I did was to criticise the AWL (and Steve Davies) and show what smelly company they keep on certain key issues. For example, stating the simple truth that the AWL went along with MI5’s witch-hunt of Scargill over ‘Libyan gold’ in 1992, as it does today the witch-hunt of George Galloway, does not mean I think the AWL is an MI5 front.

The real reason for this torrent of lies and abuse is of course the political crisis of the AWL. As the CPGB’s main writer on the Middle East over the last period of Israel/Palestine turmoil and Iraq war, I have of necessity had to polemicise against the AWL, as the political consequences of their ‘little bit Zionist’, islamophobic and Arabophobic deviations from the consistent democracy for all peoples it claims to uphold have become more and more obvious. The AWL has a real problem with this: its normal response to criticism of its views on the Middle East from the economistic left is to snap back that the critic is a ‘left anti-semite’, utilising the fact that many such critics tend to deny Israeli national rights on left-moralistic grounds.

Their problem is that my politics and record make such a retort from the AWL simply untenable; I am publicly known and on record to have been since 1980 a two-nationist on the Israel-Palestine question (the AWL only publicly declared itself such around 1987) and therefore a defender of national rights for both Israelis and Palestinians.

In an earlier period I was in favour of raising demands for a binational workers’ state of Israel/Palestine as part of a regional socialist federation; now as a CPGB member I have a more transitional, democratic approach, using the concrete demand for two equal states as a bridge to such a binational, working class solution. Since the AWL leaders cannot credibly use the ‘left anti-semite’ slur against me, they are reduced to crude insult to fend off these criticisms: “fuckwit”, “moron”, “nutcase”, “lunatic” ... Needless to say, this also casts considerable light on the real nature of the ‘left anti-semite’ smear the AWL regularly hurls at other leftists; for all its somewhat ideological appearance, fundamentally it is just a term of abuse; a pseudo-political version of “moron”, “fuckwit”, etc.

If I was an AWL member with any aspirations beyond being an errand-boy for Matgamna, I would be acutely embarrassed to read this latest rubbish - particularly Cathy Nugent’s.

In any case, judging by the implicitly harsh but at present inchoate and mildly expressed leftwing criticisms of the Matgamna leadership’s pro-imperialist politics - such as its ‘critical support’ for Bush’s Middle East ‘road map’ and on the Iraq war, now being raised publicly by such prominent AWL members as Mark Osborn and Mark Sandell - it seems that a significant layer of the AWL’s cadre are indeed likely to be so embarrassed.

The political crisis of Matgamnaism looks like it is only just beginning.