Thursday, May 31, 2007

red star legacy

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.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

An exchange of views

Dave broder was a member of the old red party group, his decision to leave to join the AWL was the catalyst that finally broke the remainder of the group from traditional leninist, trotskyite Left. Broder recently wrote to the newspaper of the cpgb the Weekly Worker, ptting forward his own version of the break,which can be found here .
This is jez's reply which we reprint here as it sums up quite well how our politics have developed over the past couple of years;

I doubt that readers are interested in how two people have different memories of the same, fairly insignificant series of events, but since David Broder feels the need to “correct” me in the pages of the weekly worker (May 3, 2007) I am obliged to do the same. David, now as then is preoccupied with the faction rights of the red platform and how the decision was taken to not publish one of the seeing red columns. I have to say this was never a particular concern of mine. As far as I am concerned, the weekly worker is controlled by the PCC and they make editorial decisions in accordance with their tactical concerns, which can be criticised at members’ aggregates after the event. Not how I would do things, but that’s how Leninist publications work, surely?
I was more concerned with the decision that was taken to critically support Respect and what it revealed about the cpgb and Leninist politics, rather than how that decision was made. Most people can see that Respect is bollocks: an opportunistic attempt by a bunch of self-serving politicians to try and get themselves voted into the petty corridors of power. The vast majority of the membership saw this too, yet the decision was taken to ‘critically support’ it in order to get a foot in the door and influence the people around Respect. This meant openly arguing that Respect was worth being in and trying to persuade other people to vote for it and join it. I was not comfortable with this: it seemed dishonest, arrogant and bossy. For the first time I began to seriously question whether or not I actually agreed with Leninist politics. In retrospect it marked the beginning of my rejection of democratic centralism: there are some things I am prepared to do or not do even if the whole of the rest of the world disagrees with me, let alone the narrow majority of a small political group.
David says that we should have stayed in the cpgb and fought to win the majority to our position, which is what the cpgb argued at the time. I disagree. In retrospect I was growing disenchanted with Leninism as a political method. To stay in an avowedly Leninist organisation, stamp my feet and insist that they stopped being Leninist would be daft. It only makes sense if you subscribe to the (Leninist) position that there should be one all powerful vanguard party. I don’t. I think the revolutionary movement should be, as it is, made up of people working together in groups of varying size and permanence whose analysis and objectives change. Groups form and fall apart, grow and shrink and above all change in response to changes in material conditions.
However, it needs stating that despite what David claims, the red party did not start out hostile to Leninism when we formed, and certainly not because of any petulant dislike of the cpgb. To the contrary we all found it hard to break with what was for most of us the only political method that we knew. We tried very hard to reconcile our increasingly humanist and libertarian tendencies with Leninist politics. We could not make it work. The problem as I see it is that Leninism and its variants start with a pessimistic view of our class: that we can only achieve genuine emancipation if we follow a leadership that can match the bourgeoisie in ruthlessness and levels of organisation, and that this leadership can and will sacrifice freedom and individuality in pursuit of a future that will supposedly celebrate freedom and individuality. I could not reconcile Leninism with libertarianism and humanism, and so I rejected Leninism.
Given that they embrace vanguardism, statism and democratic centralism, it hardly needs saying that I don’t regard the AWL as a libertarian socialist organisation. I suspect that the AWL doesn’t either. The cynic in me suspects that David’s attempt to rebrand the AWL has more to do with its current orientation towards the anti-capitalist movement, where, like the good Leninists that they are, they seek to provide leadership to the poor befuddled masses. Apparently our reluctance to join the AWL was “sectarian” and “ridiculous.” The rest of us all made it clear to David that we had no intention of joining them. Other members of the red party explained their reasons less politely, but personally, as I said at the time, I would not join them because in my opinion the AWL combine the authoritarianism of Leninsm with the smug arrogance of Guardian readers.