Monday, July 03, 2006

The day you AWL made me proud

Well, I never thought I'd see the day.

I spent this past weekend at the AWL's annual shebang, "Ideas for Freedom" in central London. It's one of those "summer school" type events that most left groups put on, although the AWL's is usually more diverting than most. This is because (whatever my political differences with them) they have a broadly democratic internal culture that encourages debate and dissent. Their healthy internal culture feeds over into their public meetings as well, and as a consequence they tend to attract a wide range of opinion to their events too.

However, when I saw there was a "debate" on the Euston Manifesto scheduled, I almost shrank away from going to it. Not only are several of Euston's architects ex-members of the AWL. Since Euston's inception, the AWL as a group (with the surprising exception of its chieftain, Sean Matgamna) has tended to pull its punches in criticising what I truly believe is the first step towards an organised neocon movement in the UK. This is because (as you'll see from the comments elsewhere on this blog) there is a prevailing view among AWL members that Eustonites are "liberals who we disagree with on the war", basically decent types with whom one can have a discussion. Notwithstanding that those "decent" types support a disgusting, illegal and unfounded war on a country that had no weapons of mass destrution, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks of which it was accused, and whose people suffer daily under military occupation. Is that a "decent" stance? Well, I'll leave that for you to decide.

Anyways, so I attended the meeting. There were two Eustonite speakers, the very pleasant Phil Spencer and his (apparently rather more right wing) colleague Marco Hoare. Marco, I hope I've got your name right. Anyway, they began by setting out their stance. Ex-IS'er Phil gave probably the most left-wing speech in favour of the essentially vapid manifesto that I've ever seen, which presumably is why Jane Ashworth's group of chums thought he'd make a good speaker for an AWL event. Marco was, I suspect, rather more representative of the political currents that Euston represents, claiming that much of the left has turned nationalist, and that on many international issues conservatives can be "more progressive". Which is presumably why he signed a document that a liberal Tory could easily support. He went on to have the good grace to concede (I kid you not) that "I'm not going to pretend that the outcome of the Iraq war has been universally positive". No shite, Sherlock. I awaited the AWL response with some trepidation, expecting a lot of mealy mouthed "we understand your concerns but..." type of talk.

And then it came.

It was beautiful, it was magnificent, it was the sight of a group of people reclaiming their collective soul. First, Pat Murphy, the AWL's designated platform speaker, forensically took the manifesto apart, clause by clause, showing it to be the combination of political vacuousness and apology for US expansionism that it actually is. Then came the floor speeches, led by my own good buddy Jim Denham who, with typical rhetorical flourish to which I can't do justice here, called the Eustonites a "mirror image of the SWP", taking the same my-enemy's-enemy-is-my-friend approach to politics, but substituting the USA for theocratic and reactionary anti-US political forces in the Middle East.

He was followed by speaker after speaker who denounced the Eustonites in cutting and telling style, in a way that took me by very pleasant surprise. I won't do a complete roll-call, but of special note was a comment from Dan Randall, in a speech which was dripping with casual contempt, that "a group of Blairite media types" launching a manifesto "based on a meeting in a pub", can hardly be said to represent "epochal change" on the left. Quite right, sir.

The Eustonites took some umbrage at this - in particular Phil seemed to find it personally offensive that Jim had compared him to the SWP. Which, given that he was actually a member of it in its previous incarnation, was rather odd. Although not quite as odd as when he was listing the "morally corrupt" political forces that upset him so, and included among these not only the SWP and Respect (no great surprise from a Eustonite), but also the BBC and Channel 4. At this point I was about to mutter in the chair's ear that Phil might need a lie down, but I thought better of it. He was then followed by Marco saying in defence of George Bush - once he had been disabused by AWL hecklers of his quaint idea that Bush supports gay civil unions - that "at least he doesn't execute gay people for being gay". Well, that's alright then.

It was genuinely exhilarating to watch the Eustonites wilt under sustained attack, and indeed it made my ticket worth the investment in and of itself. But what was even better, was watching a group almost seeming to recover its political self-confidence before my very eyes. The AWL has a tendency to curtail its political points on Iraq and Palestine, filling them with caveats and qualifiers that distance the group from the SWP. But on Sunday they found their range and remembered that it's the right who are the real problem, not the rest of the left. I was glad I got to see it. And it made me proud that I know them.


Anonymous boogski said...

Do you believe there is such a thing as humanitarian intervention, Volty? If so, can you think of anywhere in the world where it might be justified?

6:48 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

If there is, I certainly don't believe the Iraq war was it. It didn't improve the situation of most people in Iraq, and that was never its original purpose. Come on Booger, you didn't even used to argue that it was - correct me if I'm wrong but didn't you buy into the whole Al-Qaeda links thing?

See, the thing that annoys me about Eustonites, is that they pretend this is all about high ideals when it's really about cynical politics. At least old-school right wingers are honest enough to admit that wars are usually about the latter. That's why I was glad the AWL gave them such a kicking - it punctured the Eustonites' bubble-like view of the world.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous boogski said...

I'm aware of your position concerning Iraq but that's not what I was getting at.

Let's say for the sake of argument that by "humanitarian intervention", the Eustonites mean military intervention in places where people are horribly mistreated (and I'm pretty sure that's what they mean). Can you think of anywhere in the world where it would be justified?

I'm just trying to figure out at what point you'd be willing to draw your sword in defense of others, so to speak.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Some say the neocon movement, came from the Schachtmanite tendency of Trotskyism. I think that is just a lefr cover.

Some blogs as Drink Soaked, I don't understand. They have socialist links, with support for imperialism.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Jason S. said...

There is a very distant link between the Shachtmanite-Trotskyists who moved rightwards and the contemporary neocons. Various Shachtmanites became very right-wing social democrats who supported the Viet Nam war and the Contras. Their anti-Communism overwhelmed all other aspects of their politics. But none of the current neocons were ever in Shachtman's Independent Socialist League, even if some -- like Joshua Muravchik -- knew Shachtman after he'd moved to the right. And none of the neocons in the Bush administration were ever Shachtmanites, to the best of my knowledge.

4:36 AM  
Blogger daggi said...

Was the debate taped (or "MP3d" as I presume would be the case nowadays)? I would have liked to have been there, purely for the Euston business, but was otherwise engaged. Any chance the AWL could put a recording up for download on their website - I think I'll email them right away. Thanks for reminding me!

6:48 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...


I dunno but it's well worth a listen if they have. Yep, emailing 'em's probably the best bet.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Bruce said...

The debate was taped and the plan is to put it up on the website but I don't know when.

3:29 PM  

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