Once again, I need to apologise to David Broder! I am in fact somewhat of a fool! I accidently emailed my first draft of my reply to his letter in the weekly worker, which really didn't adequately answer his points. The reply I intended to send is below:
I apologise to David Broder. He is quite right, I reread his letter (May 3 2007) and he had described my refusal to join the AWL as “ridiculous” rather than “foolish.” Given that both of us personally know people who have been caused considerable emotional distress by what their ‘comrades’ have said to them, I am disappointed that he does not acknowledge that the way in which the AWL and other groups behave in discussions can be unhealthy. In my experience, lefty-to-lefty discourse tends to be confrontational in nature. All too often the subtext is ‘I am right, you are wrong, and everyone should do what I say.’ I think this attitude is a slippery slope leading to verbal abuse of those you disagree with.
David claims that this is not the case with the AWL. I suggest he rereads the dispute between the CPGB and the AWL over the age of consent, in particular the article in Solidarity (May 16 2003) entitled ‘Crazies of the world unite,’ which concluded “there are probably one or two sane people left in the CPGB. Why do they let the nutters set the tone… of the organisation?” I am certainly not suggesting that the AWL is unique, or that all members of the AWL behave like this all the time. My point is that it is endemic to the far left. It does not need anything so crass as Sean Matgamna “geeing” anyone on: the tacit rules that govern discourse on the left are embedded in its culture. We conform to the norms of those around us and it is very hard to march out of step. Personally I have witnessed brutal verbal attacks on people or groups who simply have a different opinion. In any other context, this behaviour would justifiably be described as bullying. I regret the times when I have condoned such behaviour by staying silent. Insults should be used when you want to piss someone off. Using them to try and change someone’s mind is just weird: like a schoolboy teasing the girl he likes!
David’s own letters are the very model of politeness compared with some, but even he seems to start from the somewhat patronising perspective that he is right and that I have an obligation to justify myself where I disagree with him. For example, he uses the collective ‘we’ when saying that “we were… wrong to leave the CPGB” (May 3 2007), and infers that the rest of us were wrong again when we did not join the AWL when he did. David is of course entitled to his opinion, but here he is presenting his opinions as facts. I am sure that it was the right thing for David to join the AWL, but as far as I am aware, none of the rest of us who were involved with the red star share his opinion. I know I certainly do not.
My criticisms of the democracy in the AWL derive from their attitude towards leadership. The organisation sees itself as a leadership for the class and within the organisation there is a further division between the leaders and the led. In my opinion, this hierarchical division is inimical to democracy. Even where a decision is made within the organisation on a one-member, one-vote basis, the leadership have an unfavourable advantage over the membership in determining the outcome. Such leaders are invariably paid to do work on behalf of the organisation, affording them greater opportunities to attend meetings, gain allies and status, and in short have a plain advantage over those ordinary members who have other commitments, not least doing the paid work that allows them to financially support the leadership.
When I call the AWL Leninist, I am not using it as an insult: I use it as a description of the politics of that organisation. They are democratic centralist (which demands that the minority commits to go against itself in advance of a decision even being called, let alone being made); vanguardist (in that they have appointed themselves leaders of the class) and statist (their solution to the bourgeois state is to replace it with a state controlled by a vanguard). If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…
I am not asking David to like any of this, and I am certainly not asking him to agree with me, but I do ask him to accept that I am sincere in what I have written and that my politics are not compatible with his or those of the AWL.