Friday, July 14, 2006

Discussing discrimination

the following two posts have been shamelessly lifted from fellow CWer pauls blog,
Following Peter Tatchell's speech (see below) there was a detailed discussion around discrimination, and in particular about how the left (and in particular the largest group on the UK left, the SWP) have tied themselves up in knots on the issue. Below I attempt to summarise debate, whilst making one or two comments of my own.
Several speakers pointed to the historical absurdity of the SWP, as a supposedly left wing organisation, getting into bed with Islamists. Maziar Behrooz has already documented the fate of the Iranian leftists who worked with Islamic organisations in Iran both pre and post the 1979 Islamic revolution - they were murdered, imprisoned or exiled as soon as the Islamists were securely in power.
A German comrade argued that the British left is too obsessed with "theories of imperialism" and so constantly finds the need to position itself according to what the US/UK governments are doing internationally. Whilst this has value, it was also pointed out that in the past the SWP's line of "Neither Washington Nor Moscow" was alot more credible than its current "Don't Attack Iran" - what is wrong, say, with "Neither Washington Nor Iran". I suspect however that my preferred line of "Neither Islam Nor Capital" would be a bit too strong for them!
Party TimeWhilst the "love-in" with Iran contradicts elements of the SWPs own history (one CPGB speaker made the point they said very different things on Iran in the early 80s to now) historically it is not particuarly perverse. The old CPGB managed to (wrongly) support the USSR and its satellites. In 1914 countless European socialists abandoned their principles to line up behind the first world war. The left is capable of huge blindspots when it comes to governments, particularly other peoples governments!
Being a CPGB meeting, several speakers took the opportunity to stress the need for a workers party, and that socialism comes through socialist organisations. Here I disagree - socialism, if it does come, will come through the working class, not political parties. This obsession with organisation and party permanently ties the CPGB to the trapeze act of constantly criticising the SWP, but wanting to be in their various fronts - Respect, Socialist Alliance etc - at the same time. Just as some people will stay in the Labour party no matter how far it moves to the right, some will forever shadow the SWP, no matter how absurd its behaviour.
Stating The Obvious? One interesting debate that flared was over censorship. Tatchell believes in using the law against those who incite violence or murder - a current concern is the lyrics of certain Jamaican musicians and their comments about killing homosexuals. He believes the state can and indeed must be pressed into protecting those who are victimised. Here both the anarchists and the CPGB members present disagreed, citing the dangers of giving the state more power. Indeed this applies to other sections of the establishment - calling on banks to shut down the BNPs bank accounts may have been a 'success', but the end result was the Alliance and Leicester also closing the Palestine Solidarity Campaign group's bank account. I do not believe the law and the state are the answers to our problems.
Debate closed about 7pm, and all still present adjourned to a nearby pub.
As an attack on Iran by the US/UK is likely, these issues will continue to be of importance. Should the US/UK decide that invading Iraq and occupying large parts of Afghanistan is quite enough for now, how we address issues around freedom of speech, using or not using the law, plus responding to repression in the Muslim world will remain as debates we must have.

Peter Tatchell On Discrimination

I used to dislike Peter Tatchell. I found him shrill and moralising, and thought "outing" counter-productive. Somewhere along the line though I changed my mind - a man who can pounce on Mike Tyson outside his gym in Memphis, denounce him as homophobic and actually convince him to state otherwise clearly has something going for him. Tatchell has principles, and actually believes in people working toghether to make the world a better place.
On 10 July I saw Tatchell speak on "Discrimination and the SWP" as part of the Marxism Fringe organised by the CPGB. Tatchell spoke for a good 45 minutes, which was followed by a similar length discussion. His basic position is that "the left" lacks any plan or strategy, and is instead reactive to events. Lacking relative, international values to unite around, single issue campaigns dominate. Traditional values have been abandoned - there has been next to no solidarity with imprisoned trades union leaders in Iran for example, yet massive worldwide agitation is being planned should the US attack or invade the Islamic republic.
The largest of the single issue campaigns recently has been the anti-war movement. Deeply unpleasant bedfellows have emerged - a representative of the Iraqi Al-Sadr Brigade spoke at the last major Stop The War Coalition march, whilst CND recently hosted the Iranian ambassador. At the SWP's Marxism 2006, the closing rally featured a speaker from the Muslim Brotherhood. The reactionary nature of all these characters can hardly be disputed - these are people and organisations with a long history of attacking trades unions, women and anyone else who does not fit into their narrow religious view of the world. Peter Tatchell sees this as opportunistic and unprincipled.
He is right.

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