I am not a militant revolutionary socialist. My more youthful beliefs (to be kind, they were chiaroscuro) coincided for some time with those of hardline communists. Unfortunately I was also extremely shy, suspicious, mystified by political processes, didn’t have like-minded friends, and was therefore politically solitary (which is ludicrous in a hardline communist, no? Well, I never said I wasn’t ludicrous) and therefore existed in supine and pretty constant depressive state of dispair. Indeed, as I remember it, I spent a large part of my youth in bed eating bags of crisps and waiting to expire.
I digress. I have time for the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. They want what I want, and they have a consistent position on how to get it which is also insightful about the obstacles between the society we currently inhabit and the one they want for us. We broadly share the same destination – equal rights, material and personal security, provision according need, contribution according to ability, and freedom. The difference between what I think and what they think is our assessment of the logistics, practicalities and sustainability of a revolution, and maintaining the state of affairs after the revolution has severed us from the experience of many of our former leaders. This is nothing extraordinary – I’d venture that, for most people, unless they have strong essentialist beliefs about things like race, human nature and who deserves what on which grounds, it is little more than this different assessment of what is most likely to work which separates their politics.
I digress again. From what I can gather, the AWL approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is completely free of double standards. Its founder Sean Matgamna outlines an anti-racist socialist approach to Israel and Palestine. He has been getting hammered by a left which is disorientated on the Middle East, “selective, one-sided, pacifism, deep hostility to Israel and an absolute ‘anti-imperialism’ that leads them to back some of the most regressive political forces on the planet” for daring to suggest that “that Israel has good reason to fear, and react to, an Iranian nuclear bomb”.
“We asked in the last issue of Solidarity for a rational discussion of the still probable Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations, and what attitude socialists should take to that and to Iran having nuclear weapons. What we got was a chorus of spluttering abuse. (And from the hard-pressed poor loons who control the Weekly Worker, the charge that the author of the discussion piece, Sean Matgamna, “excused” — you are meant to read: “justified”, “advocated” — an Israeli nuclear strike at Iran!)
We got the concentrated eruption of anti-Israel hysteria that we’d hoped to avoid by discussing it in advance — extravagant loathing, violent abuse and Stalinist-vintage demands that the writer of the “discussion piece” be silenced. In short, we got a noxious stream of the “absolute anti-Zionism” and vicarious Arab and Islamic chauvinism in which the left is drowning; we got an exhibition-bout of the “anti-Zionist” moral, political and emotional black-jacking that for a long time now has made real discussion of these questions on the “left” difficult to the point of impossibility.
And what we “got” was, of course, only what young Jews in the colleges get, and have been getting for a very long time wherever the kitsch-left is strong enough to dish it out (youngsters who, unlike us, have not become hardened to it).
The picture of the Left that emerges from this episode is a true likeness of the political confusion, brute intolerance of dissent, and rampaging moral imbecility of what passes for a revolutionary left in Britain in the first decade of the twenty-first century!
We have also in the outcry had a pretty good ad hoc approximation to the “internal regimes” and the atmosphere inside and “around” the typical kitsch-left group.
So then, we should conclude that it is simply not possible on the “left” to have a rational discussion about Israel and the Middle East, or of specific problems like the Iranian regime’s probable or possible drive for nuclear weapons? That, even after 60 years, it is not possible to discuss the proposition that Israel has a right to exist — and therefore an inalienable right to defend itself — without the “socialist” friends and “anti-imperialist” champions of Islamic clerical-fascism howling down anyone who disagrees with them? Can we get discussion without scenes as when, at the European Social Forum in October 2004, such people shouted down Subhi al Mashadani, General Secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, because he wasn’t ‘anti-imperialist’ enough for them?
The howl-fest we have had on the AWL website seems to answer unequivocally: “No!”
But that is not the only answer or the final one. Another answer is given by the AWL’s determination to raise such questions as forcefully and as often as necessary: Yes, it is. Yes!”
David Hirsh saw it first.