David Broder 'no-platformed'
Sean Matgamna? No thanks "¦ Mark Fischer continues the saga of the AWL's refusal to allow a comrade from its minority to speak at Communist University
Comrades will be aware that we have had some problems securing a speaker from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty for our opening session at this year's Communist University.
Originally, we had invited the organisation's David Broder - and the comrade had accepted. However, this evidently set alarm bells ringing amongst the group's leadership. David is a member of the apparently substantial internal opposition over the AWL's refusal to call for the removal of imperialist troops from Iraq (see Weekly Worker June 14, June 28 and July 5).
In an article in last week's paper we urged the AWL comrades to agree to send comrade Broder, as he is in favour of 'troops out now' (the only principled line, in our view) and is a signed-up supporter of the campaign we sponsor, Hands Off the People of Iran (including its call for "The immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US-UK troops from the Gulf region" and "Opposition to Israeli expansionism and aggression"; see www.hopoi.org/main.html for full statement). Thus, as I wrote, a debate with him offered "an opportunity not simply to present an overview of the weakness of the anti-imperialist politics of the left - including the AWL - but hopefully to spark a more general discussion about how the principled politics represented by the likes of Hopi could be properly disseminated in the wider movement" (Weekly Worker July 26).
The apparent pain of the AWL majority over this invite has been instructive. We say 'apparent' because the AWL have been remarkably coy about fully reporting its debate or even - again as I have noted - allowing members of its opposition to speak in public. On July 11, comrade Broder wrote to us: "I'm afraid [leading AWL functionary] Mark Osborn's reply to my request for permission was that if you want someone from the AWL to come to CU, you should go through the AWL office."
So, we went through the office. We requested a speaker and reiterated that we wanted David Broder to be this speaker. The first of these emails was sent on July 12, the day after Broder had told us that he was not to allowed to speak; when we got no answer (not even an acknowledgement of receipt and a promise to deal with the matter in due course), we sent reminders on July 16, 20 and 22.
We were told - unconvincingly - that this silence resulted simply from a technical or organisational glitch (Weekly Worker July 26). But it took three more phone calls to the AWL (the first on July 19) before, finally (on August 4), we were able to confirm the name of speaker being offered to us "¦ Sean Matgamna!
That is, a supporter of the presence of troops in Iraq and an out 'n' proud "Zionist", as he styles himself (see Weekly Worker October 30 2003 on Matgamna's Zionism). So, call us fussy, but possibly not the ideal choice for a meeting designed to discuss how the principled politics of Hopi could be "properly disseminated" in the working class and progressive movement.
I sent the following letter to the AWL on behalf of the CPGB on August 5:
"Thank you for offering us Sean Matgamna as the AWL speaker for our opening meeting at this year's Communist University. Our leadership met yesterday "¦ and decided that this was not acceptable.
"We have actually been very clear about who we want to speak. This has been made explicit verbally, in the course of our repeated email requests to you and also in the Mark Fischer article in the Weekly Worker of July 26 which '[urged] the [AWL] to stay true to [its] stated commitment to democracy and transparency in our movement by sending along David Broder, a comrade of the minority'. We also made it quite clear that this is because we wanted the debate to be 'an opportunity not simply to present an overview of the weakness of the anti-imperialist politics of the left, including the AWL - but hopefully to spark a more general discussion about how the principled politics represented by the likes of Hands Off the People of Iran [a campaign David has sponsored, of course] could be properly disseminated in the wider movement.'
"Given this bluntly stated preference, we are quite baffled as to why you would offer us your comrade, Sean Matgamna, in that he is the leading member of your majority: ie, an implicit supporter of the imperialist occupation of Iraq and a self-proclaimed Zionist. This is not the debate we wanted to open our school.
"It is clear that you do not want a comrade of your 'troops out' minority to address our meeting. Our wider political audience will be able to draw its own conclusions from this.
"Lastly, we would like to make it clear that we would relish the chance to debate Sean or any other pro-occupation AWL comrade at any other time. Please feel free to suggest some dates."
Obviously, the AWL is an organisation in some discomfort over the question of Iraq. It has decided the best way to limit the potential damage it so palpably fears is to effectively gag its opposition.
Now there is a neat lesson here about the culture of the CPGB in contrast with much of the rest of the left, including - it is obvious - the AWL. We have pointed out that this is exemplified in the approach we have to our annual school, the Communist University.
We generally go out of way to actually feature debates and controversies that divide the left more generally and also - because we do not have a culture defined by double standards or squeamishness - have caused sharp divisions in our own ranks. What do we lose? We are after clarity and truth, not some hopeless bureaucratic scheme to artificially cohere our own ranks around some imposed majority line. (At the AWL's recent school - Ideas for Freedom, June 29-July 1 - the glaring omission in the timetable was a discussion of the organisation's divisions over the imperialist occupation. It simply did not feature - shamefully).
All of this does put me in mind of a laughably transparent AWL provocation against the CPGB a few years ago. The set-up was this. We were supposed to have 'no-platformed' Sean Matgamna at a meeting in Leeds. That is, deliberately, as an organisation, spitefully arranged the man's exclusion from a platform because he had criticised us. So, reeling from the polemical lashing he had meted out to us in his 'Critical notes on the CPGB', we conspired to have the comrade banned from speaking at a meeting. (We were indeed reeling - 'Critical notes "¦' was actually in the running for the most hilariously inaccurate and misjudged criticism of our group we had read. The document can still be found on the group's rather disorganised website, at www.workersliberty.org.uk).
In fact the meeting had not been put on by the CPGB and, although the invitation to comrade Matgamna had been issued (and then withdrawn) by one of our members at that time, we knew nothing of the details. In truth, the Leeds nonsense was part of an anti-unity campaign conducted by AWL's leadership, purportedly showing that the incident "rules out the possibility of rational politics, it rules out the possibility of unification, it even rules out - beyond a certain level - the possibility of loyal collaboration" between the two groups, as Matgamna put it (Weekly Worker January 30 2003).
That was all foul crap, of course - as the more honest of AWLers now admit. But perhaps they should ask themselves - who's 'no-platforming' whom now, comrades?