Cowardice and lies
Peter Manson dismembers the latest batch of Alliance for Workers' Liberty mendacity
Incredibly, Martin Thomas, number two in the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty originally headed his report of the October 12 debate between the AWL’s social-imperialist leader, Sean Matgamna, and Moshé Machover (Campaign for a Marxist Party and Hands Off the People of Iran): “Israel-Iran debate: the real issues become clearer”(AWL website, October 16 posting).
Why do I say ‘incredibly’? Because, as we have already reported, far from the “Israel-Iran debate” becoming “clearer”, Matgamna ducked out of it completely! (‘Hitting a raw nerve’, October 16). The word ‘Iran’ did not even pass his lips in his opening 35-minute speech. All the more remarkable, you might think, when you consider that the debate was sparked by Matgamna’s now notorious article, ‘What if Israel bombs Iran?’, in the July 24 edition of Solidarity, the AWL’s fortnightly.
In this piece he excused in advance - indeed justified - an Israeli attack. For this he was condemned in the strongest terms by both the CPGB and comrade Machover, and the October 12 event was supposed to air the issues Matgamna had raised. The AWL’s own publicity leaflet began with the question, “What would socialists say if Israel bombed Iran?”
Thomas’s report appears in the print version of Solidarity (October 16) under the headline, ‘Politics and Ponzi logic’ - as if even Cathy Nugent, Solidarity’s editor, was too embarrassed to reproduce the nonsensical claim contained in the original headline. But his 2,500-word article draws a veil over Matgamna’s silence on the central question in dispute. The closest he gets to admitting that his leader had chickened out is when he writes: “That side of the debate - the ‘Iran side’, so to speak - nevertheless remained undeveloped here compared to the written debate.” Undeveloped, did he say? I wonder why.
Martin ‘honest’ Thomas pretends that what we had all turned up at the Lucas Arms to discuss was the holocaust, Zionism and Israel-Palestine, but the CPGB would not play ball. He writes: “The gist of the debate remained at two levels. In the basement, the WW’s attempts to scandal-build, and AWL rebuttals. On the upper floor, a substantive debate on Israel-Palestine.”
Yes, that’s right - those cowards from the “Weekly Worker group” just would not stick to “Israel-Palestine”. Thomas says: “After seven speeches from WW people, and vehement ones too, we were none the wiser about their actual policy.” How appalling of us not to be diverted from the topic of the meeting and insist on talking about “What would socialists say if Israel bombed Iran?” As well as dealing with Matgamna’s July 24 “discussion piece”, we also responded to a variety of false allegations raised by the AWL before the meeting - not least the claim that it was the CPGB that was trying to avoid debating Israel-Iran! In Thomas-speak the fact that we stuck to the agreed subject and also tried to answer AWL allegations against us puts us “in the basement”.
For the record, we have no objection to debating Israel-Palestine with the AWL - we have done so in the past on several occasions. But we were not going to let Matgamna get away with his blatant evasion. Nor will we do so on the next occasion - if there is one. The CPGB has written to the AWL calling for a debate between our two organisations on the subject that October 12 was supposed to focus on. We want Matgamna to justify the revolting pro-Israel apologetics contained in his article, not talk about something that does not make his comrades squirm quite so much. We have insisted that Matgamna speak to the title of his July 24 piece: ‘What if Israel bombs Iran?’
Martin Thomas has replied. But he wants a different, broader, vaguer title. Moreover, he refuses to promise that Matgamna will speak. The reasons for the prevarication are obvious. The AWL hardly relishes the prospect of defending either the article or its author. Nonetheless, the challenge remains. The CPGB insists on debating with Matgamna on the question of ‘What if Israel bombs Iran?’
AWL contributors to the group’s website discussion invariably follow Thomas’s lead in pretending that the CPGB, instead of engaging in rational debate, spent the whole time lying through our teeth. According to Sacha Ismail, “I think the usefulness of this one was minimised by the fact that the CPGB members present didn’t engage with the actual issues, relied on throwing around accusations of pro-imperialism and misquoted and lied shamelessly” (October 19).
The ever so calm and collected Paul Hampton says that our contributions were full of “wild allegations”. Apparently, “the tone was set by the hysterical Ben Lewis, and reiterated by editor Peter Manson and ‘guru’ John Bridge - lying about Sean Matgamna in order to whip up left public opinion against the AWL” (October 17).
Thomas himself states: “the WW speakers used their time not to propose politics, but to try to ‘scandalise’.” Unlike the other two, however, at least he attempts to back up his words concretely: “Sean Matgamna, in an article in Solidarity 3/136, had not used strong enough words against a possible Israeli attack on Iran! Therefore he ‘excused’ such an attack! Such an attack would inevitably be a nuclear attack! So Matgamna was ‘excusing an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran’!” (October 16).
Not quite accurate, Martin. No-one had criticised Matgamna merely for not using “strong enough words”. Sure, he had used these weasel phrases: “We do not advocate an Israeli attack on Iran, nor will we endorse it or take political responsibility for it.” And he had added: “Socialists should not want that and cannot support it.” If that was all he had said, it would be entirely correct to point out that these words are “not strong enough”. But it was not all he had said.
This is how he asked readers to understand and sympathise with Israel’s plight: “… the plain fact is that nuclear bombs in the hands of a regime which openly declares its desire to destroy Israel are not something Israel will peacefully tolerate. They will act to stop it while it can still be stopped without the risk of a nuclear strike against Israel. Unless work on an Iranian nuclear bomb has definitively ended, Israel will bomb Iran …” (‘What if Israel bombs Iran?’ Solidarity July 24).
This ‘inevitable’ attack was then set in context. After all, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, had said in December 2006: “Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out”. To which Matgamna commented: “In the context of Iran being close to having nuclear weapons, he is talking about the nuclear obliteration of Israel. That is how most Israelis took it. Israel will act to stop this Muslim fundamentalist regime acquiring the possibility of inflicting nuclear death on the Jewish nation (and the Israeli Arab minority which would also be victims of a nuclear attack).”
Now, tell me, does this read to you like someone opposing an attack or justifying it? Before you answer that, let me remind you of the loaded question with which Matgamna continued his piece: “… if the Israeli airforce attempts to stop Iran developing the capacity to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb, in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?” The AWL has repeatedly stressed Israel’s “right to self-defence” and here the reader is supposed to infer that it is entirely reasonable for Israel to mount a ‘pre-emptive’ attack on Iran. What other choice would it have, faced with a power determined to “wipe it out”?
Matgamna then helpfully produced a whole list of ‘alternatives’ - reasons why an Israeli strike should not be condemned. Amongst them were these:
- “The inalienable right of every state to have nuclear weapons - and here a state whose clerical fascist rulers might see a nuclear armageddon, involving a retaliatory Israeli nuclear strike against Iran in the way a god-crazed suicide bomber sees blowing himself to pieces?”
How could anyone object to Israeli action to prevent such a situation arising? You see, unlike the USA, Britain and Israel, states which would only ever use their nuclear weapons ‘responsibly’ (ie, only if they were certain they would not suffer a retaliatory strike), Iran would positively relish falling victim to a “nuclear armageddon”.
- “Because we are unconditional pacifists? We think military action is never justified, and therefore Israel has no right to attack Iran, not even to stop it acquiring the nuclear means to mount the ultimate suicide bomb attack on Israel?”
I really cannot think of any way of interpreting this remark other than as an invitation to conclude that Israel must - should even be urged to - act quickly to stop this “ultimate suicide bomb attack”.
- “Because Israel would in attacking Iran be only an American imperialist tool, against a mere regional power; and that cancels out the genuine self-defence element in pre-emptive Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear weapons?”
But wait a minute. Doesn’t the AWL support Israel’s right to “self-defence”? So if there is a “genuine self-defence element in pre-emptive Israeli military action”, surely that too is to be supported - especially when the result of failing to take “pre-emptive” action has been so graphically described? But, no, we all know that Matgamna is “against” an Israeli attack, so I must be “lying” again.
Matgamna concludes: “The harsh truth is that there is good reason for Israel to make a precipitate strike at Iranian nuclear capacity.” But, of course, to say that is not in any way to excuse it. Oh no.
Finally there is this: “… least of all should we back Ahmadinejad, or argue, implicitly or openly, that homicidal religious lunatics have a right to arm themselves with nuclear weapons - and that those they say they want to destroy should be condemned for refusing to stand idly by while they arm themselves to do the job.” Presumably we are meant to believe that Matgamna thinks Israel should “stand idly by” then.
I am sure readers will forgive me for quoting Matgamna at length. This I was unable to do on October 12 because of the four-minute time limit on speeches from the floor. But for this omission I was condemned by Thomas in his article: “Peter Manson reckoned he could establish that the Weekly Worker had been ‘truthful’ about this by ... ‘paraphrasing’ what Matgamna wrote! As if the exact meaning of a text can be determined by giving your own paraphrase - let alone the flatly inaccurate paraphrase Manson made!”
Of course, Thomas does not specify what exactly I said that was “flatly inaccurate”. Which is strange, since my comments, along with those of John Bridge and Mike Macnair, are reproduced without comment in Solidarity. I actually summarised what Matgamna had written in this way: “… faced with the Tehran lunatics - if I may be allowed to paraphrase - Israel’s got the right to self-defence, including, of course, a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear installations. In the name of what alternative would we condemn such an attack? The answer was quite clearly that we would not condemn such an attack ... We wouldn’t oppose it either. The national committee of the AWL voted against this.”
While obviously a short paraphrase of a lengthy text can never capture its “exact” meaning, I will leave it to the reader to decide whether or not what I said is an accurate reflection of the essence of what Matgamna argued, as reproduced in the extended quotations above. However, Thomas seems to be saying that to paraphrase per se is illegitimate - even though he admits elsewhere on the AWL website that he himself has paraphrased what CPGB comrades said in his report of the meeting.
I am confident that what I and other Weekly Worker writers have stated - that Matgamna excused in advance an Israeli ‘pre-emptive’ attack on Iran, an attack that would almost certainly have to employ nuclear-armed bunker-busters - is completely correct. I really cannot see how his words can be honestly interpreted in any other way.
But there are none so blind as those who will not see. Take Sacha Ismail, who writes: “We oppose an attack. We’re against it. We don’t want it to happen. If there are mobilisations against it, we’ll take part - though with our own slogans and sharp opposition to any pro-Iranian or Israelophobic nonsense” (October 19).
You may oppose it, comrade Ismail, but your leader most certainly does not. It is because of you, and other more honest (or rather less dishonest) AWLers, that he feels obliged to mix his pro-Zionist excuses and justifications for a military strike with conciliatory noises about ‘not wanting’ an Israeli attack. A schoolmaster who says, ‘This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you’ does not want to beat his pupil, does he?
No wonder Sacha was so upset when Matgamna ‘forgot’ to mention Iran on October 12. He had been hoping his leader would speak plainly, drop the contradictory messages and clearly explain how his remarks had been ‘misinterpreted’. Of course the AWL is opposed to an Israeli strike against Iran. Sean was just trying to emphasise that our opposition must be soundly based on solid working class principles, wasn’t he?
What a pity that Matgamna let you down. He thought it best to steer clear of his “discussion piece” altogether, having no confidence at all in his ability to face both ways for any extended period.
For, you see, the deliberately ambiguous phrase is his forte. It is an essential part of the AWL’s opportunist method. The leadership cannot openly admit to its social-imperialism - for one thing, a section of its own membership would not stomach it. So instead it claims to be against straightforward anti-imperialist slogans on tactical or even semantic grounds. We cannot say, ‘Stop the Nato bombing of Serbia’, because that would imply support for Slobodan Milosevic. We cannot demand, ‘Troops out of Iraq’, for that would mean implicitly backing the Islamist resistance. We cannot “oppose” an Israeli attack on Iran in an AWL national committee resolution, since that would represent “a de facto concession to the original Weekly Worker ‘argument’” (Thomas).
The fact that millions of people - liberals, pacifists, greens and believers, as well as working class partisans - are happy to use such slogans and phrases to express their opposition, often out of basic human solidarity, to the warmongering of the imperialists and their allies is of no consequence to the AWL leadership. A minority of these anti-imperialists are overt reactionaries, so it is better to renounce all clearly stated anti-imperialist demands rather than risk being identified with this minority. Matgamna, Thomas et al are, however, not at all concerned with the risk of being identified with imperialism itself, it seems.
There are numerous other examples of blatant dishonesty in Thomas’s report. Let me deal with some of them.
Not only did the CPGB not talk about Israel-Palestine, but, implies Thomas, we gave support to proponents of a single Palestinian state: “Significantly, they all got great applause, and certainly no contradiction, from the members of the Weekly Worker group.” He adds: “… on October 12 even the [CPGB] two-states people were applauding along with the ‘dismantle Israel’ crowd, and not arguing their own views” (October 16).
This line of attack is an extension of the lie that the CPGB is not open about its views - in fact Thomas would have you believe that we secretly harbour all sorts of backward ideas, but are too ashamed to admit it. So, while our official position is for a democratic, secular Palestine alongside a democratic, secular Israel, we are in reality covert single-staters. The only evidence offered for this is that we applauded some of the points raised by other anti-Zionists on October 12.
Thomas goes on to argue against another ‘secretly held position’ of the CPGB. He claims: “The WW people identify with Iran. They find the fact that Iran has been developing a nuclear-weapons programme (even if it is currently stalled), and the fact that ‘death to Israel’ has been a prime catchcry of the regime for decades, too uncomfortable to deal with. So they ‘project’ the nastiness onto Israel and the USA. Israel is going to nuke Iran! The Israeli attack will only be the first step in a US drive to ‘bomb Iran into the stone age’.”
This is just so absurd, it is difficult to know where to start. How can anyone who even casually picks up a copy of the Weekly Worker arrive at the conclusion that we “identify with Iran”? Yes, we identify with the people of Iran. But hardly the regime. In article after article in our paper the reader will find demands such as, “No to imperialist war, no to the theocratic regime.” Yes, the regime is ‘nasty’, but so too are those of the US and Israel. Yet Thomas obviously disagrees. Israel would never “nuke Iran”, would it (despite all the evidence that it has been considering such an action)? Nor would the US consider ‘bombing Iran into the stone age’ - imperialism is far too civilised for that!
But we have never said that Israel “is going to nuke Iran” or that this “will be” part of a larger imperialist assault, although these are scenarios that are more than possible. Nor have we said anything so categorical as “Israel is inseparable from the USA!” Israel is clearly a close ally of the US, in effect nowadays an outpost, but it operates according to its own drives and internal contradictions as well as according to it place in the international pecking order.
Even though Thomas claims we find “the fact that Iran has been developing a nuclear-weapons programme … too uncomfortable to deal with”, we were criticised at the meeting by AWLer Duncan Morrison for having featured Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programme on our front page! (It now seems possible, however, that the regime has given up on any attempt to procure such weapons.)
But all this is of a piece with the continued AWL lie that the CPGB and Hands Off the People of Iran support a “mullahs’ bomb” - a lie repeated in the latest Solidarity. The paper reports Mark Fischer’s speech at the debate rubbishing the claim, but says he ignored “the implications of the Hopi formula that the only ‘just’ demand is for a ‘nuclear-free Middle East’ (think what it means when someone in Britain responds to the call for unilateral nuclear disarmament in Britain by saying that the only ‘just’ demand is for a nuclear-free world)” (October 16).
I do not know where Hopi states that a nuclear-free Middle East is “the only ‘just’ demand”, but if such a statement exists (I was unable to find it), its meaning will be the exact opposite of the one ascribed to it by Solidarity. In a previous article I comprehensively exposed the “mullah’s bomb” slander, pointing out that Hopi had specifically rejected any notion that we should accept, or stay silent on, Tehran’s ‘right’ to develop nuclear weapons.
I wrote of the Hopi launch statement: “A ‘Middle East free of nuclear weapons’ means what it says. ‘Opposition to Israeli, British and American nuclear weapons’ is specified because - in case the AWL leadership has forgotten - these are the only powers with a presence in the region that currently have such weapons. The CPGB and Hopi demand that they disarm and that no other Middle East power develop nuclear weapons” (‘AWL cadre must rebel’, September 4).
This, and numerous similar comments in the Weekly Worker, represent the CPGB’s position. But, as comrade Fischer pointed out at the meeting, the AWL ignores what we say, write and do, and instead concocts stories about our ‘true, secretly held views’ - which are diametrically opposed to our public positions!
The final AWL lie that needs nailing is the claim that, while a number of the organisation’s members might have had a drink before or during the meeting, not one of them was adversely affected in any way.
In last week’s paper, comrade Fischer, in his report of the meeting, described the AWL’s loutish behaviour and commented: “This … was undoubtedly facilitated by the organisation’s culture of drinking at political events” (‘Hitting a raw nerve’, October 16).
Paul Hampton retorts: “This is laughable. I’ve barely touched an alcoholic drink in over 20 years. Virtually no-one in the AWL drinks alcohol in meetings. The meeting room was so full I doubt anyone present could have had a couple of pints. It is another invention, a fantasy concocted by invertebrates” (AWL website, October 17). Sacha Ismail asks: “Why say that people had been drinking if they hadn’t? Erm, it’s called a lie” (October 19). And Thomas himself says: “No AWL member was drunk, or anything near it” (October 17).
These statements are breathtaking in their mendacity. The fact is that several AWLers drank “a couple of pints” before or during the debate, while at least two - Matt Cooper and Jim Denham - were completely inebriated. Ismail was sitting directly behind them and undoubtedly saw how they conducted themselves - as did everyone else in the room. Together with Hampton (who does not need alcohol to engage in his usual oafish behaviour), they were leading the constant interruptions and barracking of opposing speakers.
Afterwards, having tried (and failed) to engage Cooper in rational conversation, I asked Thomas, who was standing next to us, why the AWL permits drinking at political meetings - he could see the result before him. Thomas did not deny that Cooper had been drinking heavily, but replied to the effect that he always acts in that way. I hope this is not true.
We are making this point not because we are teetotallers, still less puritans, but because the consumption of alcohol is inimical to any serious exchange of ideas. The effect of a few comrades having just a couple of drinks is always noticeable, and these comrades tend to influence the behaviour of others and thus impact on the way the meeting is conducted.
We say, drink to your heart’s content afterwards, but before and during a meeting let us have complete sobriety. That is why the CPGB is insisting that the next CPGB-AWL debate must not be held in a pub and must agree a no-drinking rule.
But most of all we are insisting that next time Matgamna defends his July 24 “discussion piece”, which was, you may recall, supposed to stimulate a debate.
We are ready to engage in such a debate. Are Matgamna and the AWL?
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