Slander and gossip
In this article, which he entitled Inventive illiteracy amidst petty sectarianism, Gilbert Achcar, a founding signatory of Left Unity, responds to accusations of social-imperialism. Needless to say, a reply will follow
I have not previously had any experience in dealing with the CPGB, but was regularly told by various friends on the British left that it is a sectarian organisation whose main activity is spreading gossip about the radical left through its weekly paper. I now have confirmation from my own experience that this is plainly true.
In the issue dated July 25, the CPGB’s Weekly Worker published an article signed by Yassamine Mather dedicated to their assessment of myself as a “social-imperialist”.1 This favourite label of Stalinism in its heyday (along with such niceties as “Hitlero-Trotskyite”, etc) was first bestowed on me in an article by another of the paper’s writers, Sarah McDonald, in the previous edition.2 The label was quite odd there, as it appeared at the beginning of McDonald’s article, which otherwise was praising my contribution to a debate on socialist organisation that took place at the 2013 edition of Marxism,3 the annual forum organised by the Socialist Workers Party - itself a regular target of the CPGB’s gossip.
Calling me “social-imperialist” at the outset of the article without further comment was so odd that I suspect that it was added to McDonald’s article by the Weekly Worker editors so as to deflect in advance any accusation from like-minded sources that they might be praising someone whom countless politically illiterate people have accused of ‘supporting’ Nato’s intervention in Libya, despite my repeated assertions and explanations that this a baseless accusation.
The slander stuck so strongly in the mind of sectarians of all sorts that other imagined positions have been attributed to me since then - the most vicious being the canard spread by a Lambertist multilingual website (the Lambertists are a Trotskyist equivalent of the CPGB), according to which I took part in a meeting of the Syrian National Council (whereas it was actually a meeting of the leftwing National Coordination Committee) in order to urge them to call for an imperialist intervention in Syria (whereas my contribution to the meeting was dedicated to exactly the opposite).
Mather starts her article by stating that “Gilbert Achcar has strongly objected to being described as a ‘social-imperialist’ in the Weekly Worker”. She does not explain how and where I objected. The fact is that shortly after the publication of the article, its author, Sarah McDonald, sent an email to both me and Paul Le Blanc, who took part in the same panel at Marxism, asking us for an interview and ending with “Comradely”. I replied: “How dare you ask me to give you an interview after calling me in typical third-period Stalinist style: ‘social-imperialist Gilbert Achcar’? How can you write ‘comradely’ to a ‘social-imperialist’ in your right mind?”
I asked for a public apology. Instead of that, Mather’s article in the next issue purported to “investigate” the “truth” about me. It starts with noting that I do “not fit the description of a stereotypical social-imperialist” (sic), the reason being my commitment to the Palestinian cause and my anti-imperialist record, including my stance against the Iraq war. In describing this record, Mather says that she shared a platform with me at an anti-imperialist conference in 2003 (I can’t recall that at all) and that I was “less critical of Tehran” than her (perhaps I was reluctant to “support the Iranian working class’s call for the overthrow of the capitalist Islamic Republic of Iran”, as she advocated, according to her recollection, since this “call” is a pure fantasy). She then adds “from memory” (sic) that I “emphasised the difference between Shia and Sunni Islam, the latter being the religion of the oppressed” - one of the most preposterous inventions ever attributed to me.
Then comes Mather’s discussion of my new “social-imperialist” record. It is about “the Achcar who came out in support of western intervention in Libya, Mali and Syria”. “Whether he likes it or not,” pursues Mather, “what he has written on Libya, Mali and Syria has been praised and distributed by the Eustonites, the [Alliance for Workers’ Liberty] and other social-imperialists”. Well, I do not know if all the above-mentioned have distributed what I have written on Libya and Syria, but I am positively sure that no-one ever distributed what I have written on Mali - for the simple reason that I have written not a single line on that country!4 Mather is such a scrupulous prosecutor that she adds to her accusation figments of her own imagination.
On Libya, she singles out of context one sentence of a long article that I have written on the issue to insinuate that my “unambiguous” stance was one of “support for military intervention”, a stance of “a social-imperialist character”. I have warned so many times against such illiterate distortions of my position on Libya that I will not waste my time and that of the readers in reminding them here of what I really stood for. Anyone interested can read the above-mentioned article as well as my two interviews to NLP on this same debate.5
On Syria, Mather provides us with yet another illustration of great reading skills, powerfully enhanced by the thick glasses of petty sectarianism. She pretends that I “actually advised the opposition on how to go about getting foreign intervention” and produces as proof a long quote taken from an article based on the talk I gave at the meeting of the National Coordination Committee referred to above, in which I explain why it is important for the Syrian opposition to “define a clear stance on the issue of foreign military intervention”.6 However, what Mather overlooked (or maybe she stopped reading the article at this point) is that this was a preamble to an argument against any calls for a no-fly zone over Syria and other forms of direct western military intervention. A few quotes from that article are here in order, since this same canard is also propagated by the Lambertists:
“The Syrian opposition must be aware that the cost of allowing direct foreign military intervention (as opposed to indirect intervention, such as providing arms) in Syria will be much higher than in the Libyan case for several reasons …
“Acknowledging this reality does not in any way suggest that one must therefore refrain from supporting people’s demands for democracy and human rights, whether in Syria or Iran. It requires, however, to be taken into account in the way the Iranian opposition does, which completely rejects foreign military intervention in the affairs of its country and defends its country’s right to develop nuclear power in the face of Israeli-American threats that attempt to prevent it from doing so by claiming that Iran is developing nuclear weapons …
“The requests made by the leader of the Syrian Free Army for international intervention in order to ‘implement a no-fly zone or no-sail zone in Syria’, and create a ‘secure zone in northern Syria that the Syrian Free Army can administrate’ are at best further evidence of the lack of strategic vision among the leadership of the Syrian uprising. They are also a product of that blend of short-sightedness and emotional reaction to the viciousness of the regime that leads some of its opponents to hope for what could lead to a major historical catastrophe in Syria and the region as a whole.”7
In passing, Mather’s article displays another illustration of the CPGB’s ability to fabricate slanders when she accuses Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists of “moving from supporting the Muslim Brotherhood to welcoming the army coup” - a pure calumny and another figment of Mather’s sectarian fantasy. She ends up describing as “frankly ridiculous” a reference to the Rwandan genocide that I made in the long article on Libya that she quoted initially. Her argument for this is a piece that Edward Herman wrote against me in 2011 (I found it so despicable that I did not bother to reply8). She quotes the following excerpt from Herman:
“Achcar clearly swallows the standard narrative on the Rwanda ‘genocide’, in which the imperialist powers just ‘stood by’ … while the Hutus supposedly massacred between 500,000 and a million Tutsis (and ‘moderate’ Hutus). But in fact the western powers didn’t just stand by: they actively intervened throughout.”
Mather apparently only reads the initial paragraphs of articles or does not understand what she reads. She omitted Herman’s main point that he makes clear right after: that it was not the Hutu government along with Hutu militias that perpetrated genocide against the Tutsis, but the other way round.
A word of advice for the CPGB’s next piece bashing me: some holocaust deniers attacked me for my book The Arabs and the holocaust; you’ll find there plenty of other great quotes for your defamatory purpose.
1. ‘Progressive sentiments amidst reactionary illusions’ Weekly Worker July 25.
2. ‘Not taking into account the specific conditions’ Weekly Worker July 18.
4. Besides, whenever I have been asked about my stance on the French intervention in Mali in public meetings, as was the case recently again at the summer university of Attac in France, I came out unequivocally against it.
5. The article: www.zcommunications.org/libya-a-legitimate-and-necessary-debate-from-an-anti-imperialist-perspective-by-gilbert-achcar; the interviews: www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/popular_rebellion_and_imperialist_designs1; www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/after_gaddafi.