Bluster and lies

As Alliance for Workers liberty patriarch Sean Matgamna continues to excuse an Israeli attack on Iran, his organisation is descending further and further into irrationality, writes Mark Fischer

The latest charge against us from Sean Matgamna - the self-proclaimed Zionist who controls the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty - is that “the unprincipled little scoundrels who run the Weekly Worker group - Mark Fischer and Jack Conrad, the Chickenshit Kids” - have “turned shy and bashful” and are trying to duck a debate with AWL on Israel and Iran (see ‘Weekly Worker chickens out of Israel debate’: www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/09/20/weekly-worker-evades-israel-debate).

Now, it is true that Matgamna’s favoured polemical device is to produce huge volumes of nonsense, of palpably untrue accusations and lies piled one on top of another to generally befuddle and divert the reader.

This specific charge, however, is so ludicrously and transparently untrue that I am baffled as to who he thinks he might convince with it. Or rather I would be if I and other CPGBers had not spent so much time approaching and aggressively engaging with AWLers over the weekend at the Convention of the Left in Manchester - a practical example, as if it were needed, of just how “shy” the CPGB is of debating Matgamna and his dismal troops! It is clear from their reactions that Matgamna is consciously playing to their sect patriotism and willingness to be lied to if it blackens the reputation of the CPGB.

Both on the small Stop the War march on September 20 and at the Convention of the Left the following day, our comrades went out of their way to engage with the small number of AWLers we encountered. There were two things to note about this.

First, they came across very much like members of the Socialist Workers Party in their sullen and surly demeanour, in how quickly they would take mock-offence with some imaginary ‘insult’, ‘lie’ or ‘patronising’ behaviour by our comrades. Indeed, AWLer Ed Maltby appeared at one stage to be anxious to provoke a physical confrontation of some sort - or, at least, a verbal version of a ruck. He suggested that our position that the ideas defended by Matgamna should have no place in the workers’ movement was in effect a call for the organisation to be physically removed from the demos, meetings and general activities of the left.

Of course, I contradicted this nonsense and referred him to Peter Manson’s article, which explicitly stated: “We shall strive to defeat the ideas of first campism and seek to drive them out of the workers’ movement. Hence we not only fight the AWL minnows, but the rightwing and Blairite parasites who dominate the Labour Party, the TUC and many trade unions. Of course, that does not mean witch-hunting the AWL (as they accuse us of wanting to do). We are against proscribed lists, bureaucratic bans, etc. But, yes, because we recognise that the AWL’s politics represent alien, reactionary, anti-working class ideas in our movement and have a terrible and treacherous logic, it is quite right to clear out those leaders who insist on upholding them” (Weekly Worker September 4).

However, while I was actually explaining this to him, Maltby began to talk across me, stupidly claiming: “So you’re going to turn our stall, over are you, Mark? You’re going to get us removed from this demo and banned from the trade unions, are you?”

Many readers will be familiar with this sort of crap. It is exactly the type of nonsense we have had to put up with from SWPers who get flummoxed by our arguments. It is instructive to watch AWLers turn to this kind of lurid make-believe world when they are under pressure from the left.

Which brings us to the second and related feature of AWLers’ response to the CPGB - again very SWPish in its nature. Once a firewall of irrational hostility is established, behind it almost any lie can be disseminated and believed in a sect (expediently ‘believed’, perhaps). Thus, I was confidently informed by various AWLers:

And, again like the SWP, when CPGBers did manage to nail AWLers on these flimsy lies, we got variations of the old line - ‘I don’t have time to talk to you sectarians’; ‘I have really important work to do’; ‘Now leave me alone to sell my papers’; etc.

Similarly, the latest offering from Matgamna is equally fragile and easy to knock down - but then it really is not designed to convince anyone other than wilfully credulous AWLers - people anxious to believe almost anything negative about their chief tormentors, the CPGB.

Thus, the patriarch suggests that, having “meekly agreed” to debate his organisation (see box below for evidence of how ‘timid’ we have been about confronting Matgamna in a face-to-face), we began “squirming and backsliding”. We “are now proposing a debate between AWL and a shadowy outfit in which they are the main stakeholders, called the ‘Campaign for a Marxist Party’. Their side is to be represented by Moshé Machover, a member of the ‘campaign’.”

This truly is an odd assertion, even for someone with as flakey and tenuous a general grasp on events as Matgamna.

Originally, the London CMP (a “shadowy outfit” - what earth is that meant to imply?) unanimously agreed at its September 5 meeting to try to host a debate between the CPGB and the AWL. Then, on September 12, the AWL’s Martin Thomas directly approached comrade Machover to debate Matgamna, initially in an AWL meeting. Comrade Machover - a CMP member, who was present at the September 7 meeting - was understandably less than keen to engage with Matgamna on his home turf, and so the CMP agreed to host the proposed Matgamna-Machover debate (and also agreed to move it from October 5 to October 12 after the AWL complained that the original date was inconvenient).

So Matgamna’s assertions that (a) we are trying to avoid a CPGB-AWL showdown and (b) we are proposing a debate between the AWL and the CMP as such is a lie. The CMP is willing to host a debate that the AWL itself sought with a comrade who has written two crushingly effective polemics against its scab line (Weekly Worker August 28 and September 18).

Comrade Machover is not representing the CPGB in this debate - although there are considerable areas of agreement between us. Thus Matgamna’s claim that “[Machover] and the Weekly Worker group have different positions on the Israel-Palestine question!” is totally irrelevant. I can assure the AWL that CPGB comrades will be very much in evidence at the October 12 debate (assuming the AWL finally agrees to it), will make their views of Matgamna’s scab, pro-imperialist line very explicit, will record the proceedings for wider dissemination and will write an extensive report for the following issue of our paper.

After this meeting, Matgamna and his supporters in the AWL can judge for themselves whether the CPGB is actually composed of “such god-awful wimps”.

Hypocritical evasion

The story of our attempt to organise a debate with the AWL on Iran underlines that organisation’s fear of direct confrontation with our ideas.

The AWL was originally contacted on May 30 to provide a speaker on the issue for this year’s Communist University. Typically, it took some prompting from us to get a response, but eventually AWLer Tom Unterrainer wrote to tell us that they still had no confirmed speaker to offer us, but that they were “keen” to debate “Imperialism and Afghanistan: then and now” (email, June 13). That is, a discussion we have had a number of times with this organisation in the past - including at CU!

In my reply I doubted “if there will be much appetite in our ranks for a rerun” of this debate. However, on July 1 wrote again suggesting a “compromise”: I floated the idea that “space is made for a debate with us” at the AWL’s school, starting on July 11, on either Iraq or Iran (“you choose which one”). With that covered, “we would be more than happy to debate you on Afghanistan once again” at CU (email, June 27).

On July 5 - at the SWP’s Marxism 2008 - we were verbally informed by Unterrainer that this was out of the question, as the timetable for the AWL’s event had been “settled” for some time. This confirmed once again the organisation’s extreme sensitivity when it comes to this issue. After all, back in 2007 we invited a member of the AWL’s ‘troops out now’ minority (David Broder, who has since quit the AWL) to speak at CU. The AWL apparatus objected - ostensibly because we invited the comrade directly rather than going through its central office.

So this year I did approach the central office and asked for “an AWL speaker” on the question of Iran at CU, making it clear it was up to them to choose who they wanted. The AWL declined the invitation.

After Matgamna’s “discussion piece” excusing an Israeli attack on Iran appeared in Solidarity on July 24, this paper savaged him the following week (July 31). He was soon demanding “a public and unequivocal apology”; “the same space as that taken by their libellous fantasy-piece about me to reply”; and a debate on … Israel-Palestine! (www.workersliberty.org/node/11011). Note the almost desperate attempt to discuss any question other than the one the AWL was invited by the CPGB to debate at this year’s Communist University - Iran, the prospect of war against that country and the attitude Marxists should take.

In fact, we actually phoned the AWL office several times during CU (August 9-16) to offer a slot: we were either fobbed off or ignored, despite the fact that the leaflet AWLer Mark Osborn distributed on the first day of this school challenged the CPGB “”to debate us [on Israel-Iran] at a time and place and with a chair acceptable to both sides”.

Laughably then, on September 19, leading AWLer Martin Thomas emailed our office: “Am I right: that you are willing to debate the issues about Israel and Iran?” Er, yes - how did you guess?

Since then, there has been a lot of toing and froing over a date for such a debate - apparently Matgamna and the AWL were unavailable for a weekend debate until mid-October. The haggling  was cut across by the organisation of a meeting on the same subject - broached by the AWL itself - between Moshé Machover and Sean Matgamna.

CPGB comrades will be present on October 12. But will Matgamna show?

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