Monday, July 17, 2006

Just Bloody Awful

I remember, about twenty years ago, talking to Sean Matgamana about Ireland. At that time, sectarian attacks between Protestants and Catholics, were rife. The British "'Sunningdale' peace attempt had been destroyed by a 'Loyalist' general strike in 1974. The 'Republican' movement, widely supported on the English 'left', seemed to be opposed to any concesions to the "Loyalists" in the Six Counties: all they (the 'Republicans') were willing/capable of saying was that the Proddies were the aggressors, and the Catholics the innocent victims. Historically, that was (very roughly) true, but it didn't help either side reach a resolution. There seemed no way out of the impasse. Sean (from an Irish-Catholic- Republican background), who had started his political career as a left-republican, but had developed (as an auto-didact) into a Marxist, was very, very gloomy; he said something like: "It's just bloody awful. We have the programmatic answer to all this slaughter - but no-one is listening to us". He went on to say something like: "I'm in despair: if you want my honest opinion, I think we'll lose and nothing can be done. but still we have to keep putting our prgramme forward: it's all we can do".

I feel very much the same way about the Middle East. I'm close to despair. The Isreali bombardment of Lebanon, and the civilian deaths that are resulting, is just awful. it *is* collective punishment, completely disproportionate, and the civilised world should cry out that it's unacceptable.

I've just recieved an e-mail, inviting me to attend a rally this coming Saturday, called by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC). The slogans seem to be OK: "Stop the Israeli attacks on Gaza and Lebanon"; OK, I can agree with that. I'll almost certainly attend. But I won't be easy in my mind: I'm never be at ease attending Palestine Solidarity events. Why not? Because I know that most of their leading members are for the destruction of Israel. Not for the "whithering away of the state" in the Marxist sense, but for the destruction of the Israeli state in an immediate sense that the PSC and their co-thinkers on the British 'left' (eg: the "S" WP), do not apply to any other state. They occassionally, when asked, claim to be for a "two state solution". But I know that they are liars about that. Betty Hunter and the other leaders of the PSC are deliberately ambiguous about "two states" because they know that to come clean as advocates of the destruction of Isreal would cost them the support of mainstream figures in the Labour Party and the unions. So they stay schtum.

So what should those of us who support a "two states" solution, do in the present situation? It is essential that we make it clear - first and foremost - that Israel's actions in Gaza and Lebanon, are unnaceptable in terms of loss of life, are politically counter-productive and in every respect disproportunate. We should join any and all protests against Isreal's miltary actions, except those called by Islamists, the SWP and anyone else calling for the destruction of the state of israel. which is where the problem with the PSC comes in: they are *not* officially for the destruction of the state of Isreal: but I know that their leading members *are*. So what do we do about PSC demos? What those of us who are unabigiously for 'two states' should be doing now, is organising our own protests against the killings in Lebanon and Gaza - but also condemning the murderous and hypoctitical role of Syria in encouraging Hizbollah to attack Israeli civilian targets. We must also condemn Syria, Hizbollah, Hammas and all those who work against any "solution" that does not recognise the right of Israel to exist behind 1967 borders..

To go back to Sean Matgamna, and Ireland. Sean reckoned that - on balance - all was lost and that all we, as socialists, could do was to put forward our porgramme in the forlorn hope that *someone* might take it up. Actually, Sean's pessimism has been been proved wrong. A programe for reconcilliation and peace (not exactly that proposed by Sean, but not altogether dissimilar - the Good Friday Agreement) has been cobbled togeter and sectarian violence has diminished, though not altogether disappeared. Massive problems remain; but the the spirit in the Six Counties is now one of hope, not despair. If the Isreali peace movement can be supported, and Palestinian secularists and non-Islamist nationalists can be supported, then there is still hope. Maybe -like Sean on Ireland- I can be proven wrong on Isreal/Palestine.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also as a member of SO a bit before this time I do remember how this programme that you claim Matgamna was supporting had it fact changed a lot from supporting the Hunger Strikes etc and national self determination to eventually the two state stuff that it is now.

So Matgamna would now see the national rights of the 43% of NI that is Catholic and the population of the South being subverted by the Protestant population of the North (in broad terms). Maybe they would support a White State in parts of South Africa, too.

And so with Israel. Is there any other state in the Middle East that comprehensively discriminates against a section of its population (the Arabs ) with many theocratic underpinnings, is built on land stolen from those still alive and displaced, regularly attacks neighbours with overwhelming brutality and still seeks to conquer new territory (e.g. with the wall). Even a Shia'a in Saudi or in Saddam's Iraq would be unlikely to get his house bulldozed or denied the right to internal travel

To allow Israel to continue would have been like sending NI on a course from the late 60s in which the B Specials weren't disbanded but furnished with jet fighters, in which Republicans had their houses burnt down and were kicked across the border or shot, where the SDLP was banned and Iain Paisley's church took over the education system.

With no concessions at all to the anti-semites and those who really would want to push the Jews into the sea, a democractic and secular (and hopefully socialist) state is what we should argue for.

7:35 PM  
Anonymous boogski said...

"I'm never be at ease attending Palestine Solidarity events. Why not? Because I know that most of their leading members are for the destruction of Israel."

Gee, ya think?

At least you Commies can be reasoned with somewhat. Negotiations between Labor and Management have resulted in benefits for all.

The Islamic religion has nothing to offer Socialism. Nothing. In fact, I find it amusing that the Muzzies have fragmented your "cause" so dramatically. In your rush to see who can be the most "politically correct", you've condemned your movement to failure. People are sick of that shit.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Jim Denham said...

Southpaw: I don't know when, exwactly you were in the group and when you knew Matgamna: but I *do* know that the group always supported the national rights of minorities - even minorities that we didn't much like (like, for intance the South African whites): that is the Leninist tradition on this question. As you probably know, early in the last (20th) centurary, Rosa Luxemburg argued that nationalism wa irrelevant and reactionary; Lenin disagreed with
her, and argued that communists should champion the rights of national groups (especially, but not exclusively, national minorities): It's amazing how the so-called "left" doesn't want to apply Lenin's criterion to people they don't like - like the Israelis, for intance. The ANC, on the other hand, were big enough to offer South African whites their own state.

8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'always supporting national groups' or more famously the Kelpers in the Malvinas - hence my exit from SO.

Indeed Lenin did as you say, he supported the national rights of the Irish minority in the (then) UK of GB and Ireland to achieve national independence, not 26/32 independence. Remember the comments of Trotsky (and Lenin) on 1916.

I don't think for a moment that you think that people who argue like me are anti-Semetic or anti 'Unionist people' but you are very flawed when you argue there are 'people' we don't much like - e.g. Israelis, White South Africans as though there is some bigotry.

Naturally we don't like Israeli bosses or indeed Arab rulers but have every degree of worker solidarity and think equally of Jewish workers as of the Arab 'in the street'. I am sure that 'two-state' people do, too.

But in the same way that we would have supported every progressive struggle of Dixie whites against their employers in the USA, we would have also needed to oppose our class brothers and sisters when they acted as a 'national group' (and of course, in concert with their 'own' national group rulers) in asserting their 'independence' from (in their eyes)a different national group, e.g. burning out blacks or lynching them.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Renegade Eye said...

I'm closer to Southpaw on this issue.

I think a more equitable solution, than the two-state solution, is for a secular, multi-ethnic, socialist Israel, as part of a socialist federation of Middle Eastern states.

Trotsky always opposed Zionism, but after Hitler rose to power, and the German workers, were taught solidarity over and over, still anti-Jewish sentiment happened. Trotsky conceded a little to a Jewish area in the world.

12:22 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Of course, the AWL didn't support the Good Friday Agreement, did it Jim? That was a biiiig mistake. But I digress.

12:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"but I *do* know that the group always supported the national rights of minorities - even minorities that we didn't much like (like, for intance the South African whites)"

Please tell me this is not true.

2:00 AM  
Blogger Jim Denham said...

The ANC offered South African whites their own state: to the best of my knowledge, we (the proto-AWL) didn't oppose that. The right of national self-determination is a indivisible: you're either for it or agin' it. For instance, Trotsky, in the 1930's was sympathetic to the idea of a seperate black ("negro") nation within the geographical area of the USA: he was persuaded against the idea not because thre was anything intrinsically wrong with it, but because US comrades persuaded him that US blacks were integrated into US society, and had no great desire for a seperate nation.

Renegade: like you, I would support a "multi-ethnic...federation of Middle Eastern states": but why not a "multi-ethnic federation" of the world? Of course! But how do we get there? It seems to me that two staes is an essential step towards the "no state" solution that all socialists would support.

finally, "anon": IMHO our support for the much-despised "Kelpers" in Argentina (in contrast to the big-nation distain heaped upon them by other lefti groups) was our finest hour.

3:14 AM  
Anonymous Clive said...

Erm... We didn't support 'national rights' for white South Africans, Jim. The reasons why not are at the core of the falsity of the Israel/South Africa analogy.

Somebody sweetly put up on the AWL website this thing I wrote back in the 1980s about this question. I wouldn't stand by every sentence, but the gist...

Otherwise, I agree with Jim. Even kelpers have the right not to be occupied against their will be a military dictatorship. Turns out many Argentinians thought so too.

4:13 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

I sincerely hope you're right and he's wrong on the question of support for a white "homeland", Clive.

4:16 AM  
Anonymous Simon B said...

The difference between South Africa and Israel is that Israeli Jews are a nation that doesn't rely on exploitation of Palestinian labour. Indeed, Palestinian labour is largely excluded. The Israeli jews and the Palestinians are both viable nations, and a majority of both want their own states.
The white South Africans rule(d) by explotaition of the black majority. They aren't a nation, but an elite reliant on black labour. Race and class are virtually the same thing in South Africa.

5:29 AM  
Anonymous Simon B said...

We were quite right to oppose the Good Friday Agreement.

It institutionalises sectarianism. All elected politicians have huge pressure to identify as either nationalist or unionist, as there must be a majority on both sides in the assembly to pass any legislation.

The GFA also has written in to it that the nationalists can call a referendum on a United Ireland when they have a majority. This doesn't solve the problem, as whoever is a majority or a minority doesn't matter. The point is that both peoples have rights, and both will fight for them.

The GFA is a timebomb.

5:34 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Actually, the significant minority within the AWL who called for a critical Yes vote were right, because a cessation of sectarian killings opens up a space for more progressive dialogue. Anyone in the AWL who supports the "oppose the GFA" position and seriously wants to argue that things would have moved further if it had never happened than they have with it, is of course welcome to do so. But I'd like to see how they'd manage to put that argument.

6:41 AM  
Anonymous Clive said...

This is pertinent to much discussion about Iraq, actually: it's possible to welcome certain things, or certain consequences, without giving political endorsement. It seems to me that Northern Ireland is a much better place to live than it used to be. But Simon's right, the Agreement enshrined sectarianism, and that was a good reason not to give it support.

7:04 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

This seems to me to be a bit of a cop-out, if I'm being perfectly honest. Surely, all caveats aside, when it comes down to it either you think it was a good thing, or you don't. And if it was a bad thing, then it would be better if it had never happened. That's a position with which I wouldn't agree, but which would at least be consistent.

But it seems to me that your position is "it's good that it happened because life for ordinary people in NI has improved so much, but it should never have happened". Which really doesn't make sense.

7:09 AM  
Blogger Jim Denham said...

Clive you're right about national rights for South African whites: I stand corrected. But, as you say, it doesn't effect the rest of my argument.

8:17 AM  
Blogger AN said...

The degree to whch GFA has enshrined sectarianism is exempliefied by David Ervine MLA joining the Official Unionist group in Stormont, to give a unionist majority.

I think it was perfectly possible to argue for both a cease fire, and a no vote to the GFA.

9:01 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Indeed, but in deciding one's attitude to the GFA, one has to bear in mind that tied to that, comes the question of one's attitude to the ceasefire that comes with the GFA.

Whether or not you're for a ceasefire in the abstract, is not entirely relevant to the question at hand.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It’s kind of interesting how a few innocuous comments provoke such debate.

Kelpers aren’t a nation in themselves but British and the conflict was Britain and it’s desire to maintain its colony v Argentina. It wasn’t 1500 Kelpers v Argentina. The Malvinas are like if some Spanish Costa, full of Fish ‘n’ Chip pubs, suddenly declared itself a detached part of Essex.

As you are no doubt proud, the AWL is far removed from most of the left on these issues. Have you ever thought that your distance from the rest of the pack is not clever foresight but an ever increasing flawed deviation from the collective wisdom of most revolutionary socialists?
So Workers Liberty’s current front web page starts well - Stop the Israeli assault on Gaza and Lebanon! But then, in an incredible article, directs most of its fire on Hamas and Hezbollah. What’s the current Palestinian and Lebanese v Israeli death toll since the first prisoner capture?!
The article includes ‘Hamas would rather play with the lives of Palestinian people’ Any organisation that follows a military strategy “plays with the lives of … people”. Only a pacifist can have a problems with this although all note it with regret. Israel is hardly going to take notice of polite requests and whilst it would be welcome, Palestinians can’t wait for mass action by Israeli workers in their support.

The article also states, “Once again senseless small-scale provocative guerrilla action by the militias of Hamas and Hezbollah.” Capturing Israeli soldiers is a good strategy. Past experience suggest the Israelis will pay a high price of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange. Or should Palestinian prisoners be left to rot?

As you head where Jane Ashworth (There’s a name I never thought I would hear again) and the like have trail blazed the path for you, spare a thought for people like me who never mention their once membership of SO because I then have to spend a further ten minutes explaining they were very different then and distancing myself from your current politics.

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Clive said...

The Falklanders didn't suddenly pop up there. But even Fish N Chip eating Brits have the right not to be occupied by a military dictatorship.

Actually, large sections of the international left were entirely with us on this one, including the healthiest groups in Argentina.

VP: I don't think it is a cop out, no. I support the overthrow of Stalinism in Eastern Europe; doesn't mean I therefore support capitalism.

10:58 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Clive on that basis you could abstain on every political issue in the world by saying 'I'm glad it happened but I don't support it'. Which would give you a splendid sense of being right about absolutely everything but mean that your opinions had no purchase on the real world whatsoever.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Clive said...

Fair point. In retrospect, it obviously was better there was a GFA than if there had not been; and I suppose if I could have known for certain this would be the case, I might have taken a different view.

But at the time, the referendum was asking us, among other things, to advocate a vote for the entrenchment of sectarian divisions.

I guess you could say those who were more sanguine about the GFA were right, had better foresight. Maybe that's true.

But I don't think it follows that in every case you have to make an assessment about what's likely to lead to the best outcome and then back it. That, basically, is the approach of the Euston Manifesto/ILFIQ etc regarding Iraq. Isn't it?

11:43 AM  
Blogger El Tom said...


3:08 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...


Well, except that LFIQ can't even sustain their argument because Iraq has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Clive said...

'Unmitigated'? It's very bad, but there are mitigations, aren't there?

1:03 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Not ones that could credibly be used to justify support for the war, no.

3:14 AM  
Anonymous Clive said...

That's not what I said. That's precisely what the argument isn't about.

4:34 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Then we're getting our wires crossed.

You said that their argument was about mitigation, and I said their argument was unsustainable on that basis.

My argument, however, is that supporting the GFA (even critically) would have been the right thing to do, because it opened up a space for progressive politics that would not otherwise have been there. And prevented a whole lot of people dying along the way.

4:44 AM  
Blogger Louis Proyect said...

I continued to be amazed by the tendency of social democrats to refer to Karl Marx (or Lenin, Luxemberg, etc.) in order to justify their rancid politics. Wouldn't it be more honest to invoke Irving Howe, Jay Lovestone and Francois Mitterand?

6:50 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Is there any "rancid" individual in particular to whom you're addressing that point, Louis?

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Trini said...

The PSC has never disputed the right for Israel to exist. Israel has hardly made that concept a possibility.. such as the aparthied system which operates between the Jews and the other minorities, such as restrictions put on Arabs obtaining property and land. In Gaza the water supply has literally been destroyed.. a wall has been built in West Bank, which Israel refuses to bring down. The refusal of Israel to withdraw the Jewish settlements from West Bank territories, deciding to annex these areas into Israel, making the Two State solution an impossibility to fulfil.

There is a enviromental crisis, with water supply etc and the idea for these two nations to live seperate, in the last few years has become futile, so I do believe it is for |Israel to take the idea of the two states solution to become possible and the first thing to do is to stop killing and destroying the Palestinian and the Lebanonese. We need to realise that Israel has not gone through the security council to resolve the Lebenon crisis and israeli is not either willing to obey and respect International laws.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Jim Denham said...

You're quite simply *wrong", Trini: many leading members of the PSC (eg: Betty Hunter) stand for the destruction of Israel. All the 'left' groups (SWP, Socialist Action, "Resistance", etc) that support it are for the total destruction of Israel.

By the way, the idea that Israel is an "apartheid" state is simply nonsense, that had been repeatedly demolished, most recently by John Strawson on the 'Engage' website. Google it.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Louis Proyect said...

I am not concerned with rancid individuals but rancid politics. Zionism and socialism are completely incompatible unless the colonizers had seized land in Germany after WWII to set up their exclusivist state. Instead they grabbed Arab land just like the Europeans grabbed Indian land. Benny Morris understood completely what this was about when he stated that "Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians."

11:11 AM  
Blogger Jim Denham said...

Louis: you clearly have little or no understanding of the Marxist/Leninist tradition on nationalism. Are you a Luxemburgist? Or only Luxemburgist when it comes to Israel? Benny Morris' point about the USA (as I understand it -I'm not that familiar with his work)is that it was a "settler" state, but that no-one now caqlls for its destruction because of that. The left and liberals call for reparations, but not for the destruction of the "illegitinate" state...yet people *do* adopt that position with regard to Israel: why?

1:08 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Regardless of what is or isn't Betty Hunter's personal position on Israel (and I must confess that I haven't the faintest idea what her view is), it remains a fact that the PSC's formal position is for two states, does it not?

3:26 PM  
Blogger LaLaMiMi said...

Yes it does - but they also are talking about One State option - where they can live together - I was there when this was announced a few years ago - not sure if they are still going on about it though.

4:40 PM  

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