Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

In Defence of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty Against ‘Socialist’ ‘Unity’.

with 15 comments


Socialist Unity, no doubt in response to dramatically falling readership figures, has just published a bilious attack on the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL).

The article is clearly a labour of love, crafted over the long idle hours of a Swindon GMB Webmaster.

His main source of information is the no doubt up-to-the-minute,  “John Sullivan “As soon as this pub closes, the British Left Explained” 1988.

We are in all in favour of Blogs devoting time to Leftist Trainspotting.

In this vein we post a response – since Andy Newman has decided not to go for “ideological capitulation to the self-image by which Western liberalism promotes itself” and has censored my reply (Newman censors all the time, poor lamb).


Newman observes that the AWL, in its various forms (Socialist Organiser, Workers’ Fight and so on) is, we learn, a Trotskyist group – “among the most hard-line”. That “the AWL has followed a unique path of courting every other Trotskyist group, merging, and then acrimoniously splitting, taking handful of converts won through the sharp polemics.

a strategy modelled on the work of the veteran American Trotskyist James Cannon as described in a collection of his essays “The Struggle for a Proletarian Party” [Resistance Books, 2001], and is a practice known as the “French Turn”, following advice from Trotsky to his followers in France in 1934 to join the mass Socialist Party / SFIO (equivalent to the British Labour Party), and take over its youth wing. The French Trotskyists agitated against the Socialist Party forming a joint front with the Radical Party to oppose fascism, and then used this as a pretext to split the SFIO, thus creating an acrimonious and divisive faction fight that diverted energy away from the urgent struggle against fascism.

which manifests itself as being completely charming and grooming potential converts, or appearing as model members of organisations they are seeking to enter; and then once they have built a relationship, they deliberately exacerbate a climate of tension and polemic to either force potential converts to choose whether to join or leave the cult, or to split organisations they have joined, hopefully taking some recruits with them.

The author explains that, “One area where the AWL has nevertheless been consistent is their extreme hostility to the socialist countries (my emphasis) and anyone who sees any merit in them.

Newman, despite this unargued claim about ‘socialist’ countries is prepared to derive some of the AWL’s faults from the ‘Leninist’ party internal regime and its fierce disputes,

J. Arch Getty argues how internal bulletins and statements from the Bolshevik leadership were carefully drafted, with the expectation that exact phrases and careful linguistic constructions would be analysed and used, shaping both action, and a shared perception of reality within the group. Competing theories and texts were therefore hard to assimilate or compromise with; and a particular aspect of Leninist thought is the creation of symbolic categories of opponents, who are demonised, often through the use of apocryphal “atrocity stories” .

This is

consciously replicated by the AWL, whose documents stress the virtue of fierce polemic, and require all members to participate in perpetual political education classes. Their documents clearly give a messianic significance to such training as being of world-historic significance in perpetuating what they believe are the only ideas that can lead to human liberation.

He then compares the AWL to a cult, by listing various aspects of “coercive persuasion” (repetition of ideas, entrapment, weakening of members’  critical faculties).

When a combination of these techniques is employed then group consciousness subsumes individual will; one of the manifestations is that individual personalities converge towards the group norm. Cordón stresses that these techniques work on anyone, and not just the stupid or weak willed. Therefore cult members can appear highly intelligent and impressively socially adept, and yet their loyalty to the group overrides moral norms of how they behave to people outside the group.


There is some truth in this description of the AWL – as it would apply to any single small left group and factions within any party in the political spectrum.

In passing I note the worst I’ve  heard of Sean Matgamna  is that he can be overbearing.

Outside of his small circle Newman is a political innocent but even he should know that Politics are based on strong affective ties, that small groups tends to attract new recruits by ‘love bombing’, and that when people agree with what the group says they tend always to weaken their critical faculties.

As Newman does towards his hero, George Galloway – no matter how tarnished he is.

They also tend to ‘hate’ their enemies.

Newman can only expressed hatred  towards comrade Jim Denham and -in  what can only be called witch-hunting – beloved comrade Janine Booth.

He accuses the AWL of “dissembling.”

This was recently on the Socialist Unity site.

In polling conducted at the weekend, the Respect candidate in the Rotherham by-election, Yvonne Ridley, has the lead over Labour.Polling conducted in the Croydon North by-election suggests that Lee Jasper, the Respect candidate, is now neck and neck with the Labour Party to win the constituency. This overturns a Labour majority of over 16,000 at the last general election. This is nothing short of astounding and is testament to the excellent campaign team, candidate and brilliant policies we have.

Left Traditions.

I come from a very different European left tradition to the AWL.

In contrast to the large swathe of the British Trotskyist  left that is influenced by James Canon, I am influenced by his Nemesis, Michel Rapitis (‘Pablo’).

From first premises the Tendance is not in agreement with the ‘Canon strategy’ , nor for that matter with Pablo’s own brief excursion into ‘deep entrism’.

The AWL’s past can be discussed in these terms or more directly  by the experience of groups that have engaged in ‘unity’ with them, from the WSL, Briefing to the Weekly Worker.

These have not been, in many people’s view, happy times.

I would prefer to look at a contemporary real process of left unity: the French left united in the Front de Gauche – Communists, Ecologists, Trotskyists, Left Socialists and Republicans.

Socialist Unity has largely ignored this development because it does not fit into its own template.

In that kind of unity, the AWL, the Weekly Worker and the left that engages in “Western liberalism”, that is free and open debate, are welcome.

Not the mean-spirited Andy Newman.

His treament of the AWL is  indeed is a sign of the total commitment of a sectarian zealot.


15 Responses

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  1. What strikes me is how this is written not so much from the standpoint of a rival Leninist sect but that of a trade union apparatchik (or wannabe apparatchik?) – in Newman’s eyes the AWL’s truly heinous sin appears to be that they dare to publish regular newsletters criticising ‘left’ trade union leaders as ‘bureaucrats’.

    In fact this whole angle of attack very much reminds me of denunciations of left-wing rank and file and shop stewards organisations by both old right and soft/broad left Labour/CPGB union leaders back in the sixties and seventies.

    Depressing beyond words that while the world has changed beyond recognition since those halcyon days here we are still employing almost exactly the same rhetoric to fight the same empty battles with the same ghostly foes (for which also see the ritualised ‘arguments’ over the EU which talk as if it were 1974 and either Fortress Britain or a United States of Socialist Europe were still meaningful objectives rather than the deluded utopian magical thinking they have been for over a generation.

    Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy)

    December 18, 2012 at 6:58 pm

  2. I wouldn’t waste too much effort “defending” the AWL on this, Andrew. I’m sure they are thoroughly enjoying the attention they are getting as a result of Andy Newman’s piece, and as an added bonus for them certain “Socialist Unity” regulars now seem to be falling out with one another in a rather unpleasant fashion…


    December 18, 2012 at 9:54 pm

  3. For the little it’s worth, this is the last I got from Socialist Unity:

    Your comment is awaiting moderation. If you continue to see this message, please email us – office@socialistunity.com

    So, the OP is a ‘redacted’ (lovely word) version of an article written for others / other purposes that cannot be named. What has been ‘redacted’, names maybe?

    Why don’t you know this stinks, Mr Newman?

    Click to EditRequest Deletion (4 minutes and 25 seconds)
    Posted by Pinkie 18 December, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    I suspect the comment will be in perpetual moderation.


    December 19, 2012 at 1:32 am

  4. Old enemities, Andrew. I remember, no doubt you have long forgotten it but you came to a party in East Finchley with Alison and I when I was living there in 1975. My landlady’s boyfriend was an Irishman who claimed to be a member of the IRA, whether he was or not I don’t know, he might just have been winding us up. Anyway, I remember you had a row with him and said, ‘There are rivers of blood between us (Trotskyists) and you (Stalinists.’. You were a Trotskyist in those days. Basically, that’s it. A difference in politics. The AWL fall into the Trotskyist camp, although they may have added certain bits, but they are decidedly not Stalinist. The laughablynamed ‘Socialist Unity’ is out and out Stalinist.

    Sue r

    December 19, 2012 at 11:32 am

  5. I defend the AWL against Socialist Unity.

    I equally Jim, feel that Newman has breached union protocols in his attack on members of another union.

    Sue, I am and was a democratic Marxist, that’s my primary identity.

    Anyway as my latest post indicates, my main annoyance, is the red-baiting.

    You will remember the stuff in the Evening Standard (and the Sun as well I think) in the late 1980s about the house of Trotskyists in Wood Green, and how some of them were RMT.

    Andrew Coates

    December 19, 2012 at 12:37 pm

  6. There’s a bit of the ‘pot and kettle’ about SU’s attack on the AWL. But the AWL can be a poisonous organisation. I and Al Richardson were accused in person by the AWL’s ganzermacher Sean Matgamna of being ‘anti-Semitic’ because we have (or had with Al as he’s no longer with us) a standpoint on Palestine/Israel that calling for one democratic, secular state with full rights for all inhabitants.

    Dr Paul

    December 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  7. Andrew: Are you referring to the Mandy Mudd debacle? Can’t remember anything about RMT Trotskyists in Wood Green, although Pat Sikorski did live for a time in Wood Green.

    Sue R

    December 19, 2012 at 8:27 pm

  8. I remember Matgamna around the East End in the 70s. The mother of his child was a squatter and he would turn up to meetings and pubs flogging what ever brand of Trotskyism he was peddling at the time. He always had a little group of hangers on, yes persons, who handed out leaflets and tried to recruit.

    The squatting movement being largely anarchist took no notice of him whatsoever and he eventually gave up. It was probably all our fault for not recognising his genius! I have always looked on the Matgamnas of this world as people who have wasted their lives, it was all for nothing.

    Newman is a joke and I don’t think anyone takes him seriously. He is very much a vicar of Bray type of character who changes party allegiance at the drop of a hat and then denounces his former comrades. By my reckoning he has been in the SWP, went with them into Respect and is now in the Labour Party and is after a paid GMB position and a seat on the local council.

    Neither of the latter two objectives are likely to be obtained as Labour have many people looking for seats of much higher calibre than Newman and whilst we won’t see the purges of the Kinnock era former Trots are going nowhere.


    December 20, 2012 at 8:35 am

  9. There was an article about a ‘House’ of leftists where DP lived, as well as RMT people. It was not about Mandy Mudd.

    Andrew Coates

    December 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm

  10. For those us real people, who is Mandy Mudd?


    December 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm

  11. From the Guardian. Caron Jones The Guardian, Friday 6 January 2012

    “My friend Mandy Golding, a London headteacher, who has died of cancer aged 54, lived a life underpinned by a powerful sense of social justice. Well known before her marriage as the political campaigner Mandy Mudd, she was a vibrant personality with a mischievous sense of fun, a generous heart and a great capacity for love.

    Brought up in Richmond, North Yorkshire, and educated at Liverpool University and Newcastle Polytechnic, Mandy went on to teach English, driven by her passions for literature and the way education can change lives. As well as the classics, children in her classes studied Wham!, Jamaican reggae panto and Madonna as post-feminist role model. A natural communicator with an empathetic ear, she was a refuge for children in trouble.

    Mandy’s sharp intellect, energetic leadership, strategic nous and talent for academic improvement earned her a series of promotions, culminating in her appointment in 2007 as headteacher of Acton high school, west London.

    Inside and outside education, Mandy fought for social equality. A trade unionist, she was active in the ideological struggles of the 1980s, leading campaigns against rate-capping and homophobia, and supporting black representation and democratic accountability. She was a key figure in the Labour party in Haringey, north London, a supporter of the publication Labour Briefing and an outspoken champion for the London Fat Women’s Group. The party’s unsuccessful attempts to discipline her in the 1980s led to media coverage.

    Mandy’s great zest for life was expressed in many, often childlike, enthusiasms. Her quirky cultural tastes encompassed northern soul, neon lighting, leopard-skin and all things pink. She threw great parties, mixing both the music and the frozen margaritas, and organised many happy holidays for friends.

    Romance came late – she married John Golding in 2007– but the relationship brought her enormous happiness. She is survived by John and her mum, Dorothy.


    Andrew Coates

    December 21, 2012 at 11:42 am

  12. Bit of a Trot then?


    December 21, 2012 at 5:28 pm

  13. Yes, Newman deleted my comment as well when I referred to this piece on a later post about the state of the left. I don’t have any time for the AWL as an organisation but they have some decent militants and surely the point is to find a way of working with them around concrete objectives. This was deleted as “off-message” and “boring” by Newman, which is fine – but why does he insist on calling his blog Socialist Unity when it is clearly about promoting the opposite? Notice he’s in no rush to delete a host of sectarian posts – for example about Owen Jones, that followed an unfounded attack him a couple of days ago.


    December 22, 2012 at 1:40 pm

  14. Mike, I agree, but I am one of his ‘pathetic enemies’, ready to be cast in the flames by the mighty Vengeance of NEWMAN Son of NEWMAN Lord of UNITY!

    Andrew Coates

    December 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm

  15. francis: certain “Socialist Unity” regulars now seem to be falling out with one another in a rather unpleasant fashion

    Having grubbied myself enough (more than enough) in recent weeks reading the “Socialist Unity” website, I have come to the conclusion that Colleague, Friend Of The People Newman intends that most of his contributors and regulars fall out with him so he can turn it into even more of his personal fiefdom (a blog!) than it already is.


    January 9, 2013 at 6:16 pm

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