Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Dispatches and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty: Once Again on Trotskyism.

with 17 comments

Responses to: The Battle for The Labour Party: Channel 4 Dispatches


The Mirror.

The programme said it had uncovered fresh evidence that Corbyn-backing grassroots group Momentum is being influenced by “hard left revolutionaries”.

It said one has advocated a “flood” of leftists into Labour while others back mandatory reselection of anti-Corbyn MPs.

Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum’s Steering Committee but has recently been expelled by Labour for links to hard-left group the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), was filmed at a Party meeting holding a copy of an AWL newspaper bearing the headline: “Flood the Labour Party .”

Footage shows her saying: “In 30 odd years of being politically active, I don’t think I can remember a time, apart from the miner’s strike, a time as exciting as this.

“If you haven’t already joined the Labour party, then you should join. If you haven’t already joined Momentum then you must join. We have to fight to shape the way the Momentum develops and the way the Labour party develops”

A Momentum spokesperson said: “Momentum membership is open to members, affiliates and supporters of the Labour Party and not open to members of other parties, those hostile to Labour or those that do not share Momentum’s objectives. All members must declare that they “support the aims and values of the Labour Party and (are) not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it.”

In a statement to Dispatches, Jill Mountford said: “We are open, honest socialists looking to discuss big ideas on how to create a better, fairer world for everyone.”

Momentum founder Jon Lansman said Ms Mountford was speaking in a personal capacity and not on behalf of Momentum.

Dispatches Momentum Documentary Prompts Torrent Of Criticism Led By Owen Jones

Zac Goldsmith says Dispatches’ ‘weak’ investigation of Momentum will only help Jeremy Corbyn.

Conservative MP calls media impartiality into question. Independent.

Apart from Momentum’s official statements we are confident that there are many others who will stand their corner. Already: Dispatches won’t stop Momentum inspiring young people – we’re here to stay.  Phil’s post which makes very accurate points, Momentum is Nothing Like Militant “an organisation that is totally transparent, easy to get involved with, and mirrors the properties of the network would do. There’s a reason why dull, plodding authoritarian outfits like the Socialist Party (despite its mini-Militant rebrand) and the SWP rape cult have been left out in the cold. As it stands, Momentum is a good way of consolidating these new members and turning them to campaigning activity, both with the party and in other labour movement campaigns.”

But what of the issue of Trotskyism and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty?

Much indeed has been made of ‘Trotskyism’ in recent weeks.

The AWL is, it says,  a Trotskyist group.

What does this mean?

To begin from their practice: the AWL has played a positive role, for some years now, in defending the cause of human rights: from its backing for the ‘two states’ position on Palestine and Israel, its refusal to follow the implicitly pro-Assad stand of some in the anti-war’ movement in Syria, its opposition to those who stand with Vladimir Putin on a range of issues, including Ukraine.

In short, in the tradition of ‘Third Camp‘ Trotskyism (neither imperialism nor Stalinism but socialism) the group has stood against the  ‘anti-imperialism of fools’ of those who automatically side with the opponents of the ‘West’, nationalist dictators, Islamists and  authoritarian of all stripes. Their stand indicates that the debate about theory indicated in more detail above can have relevance to the world today.

This has not won them universal admiration, particularly from those determined to blame everything on ‘imperialism’ in general and the USA in particular.

The AWL has also campaigned, over a long period (going back to the 1975 Referendum), for a Workers’ Europe.

This was their call in 2015:

We advocate the left forms a united campaign with the following aims:

• To defend migrants’ rights and oppose racism

• To vote against British withdrawal from the EU

• To fight for a workers’ Europe, based on working class solidarity.

Many people, trade union, political and campaign group activists, far beyond the AWL itself, supported this call.

Just before the Referendum in June they stated,

Vote remain! Workers’ unity can change Europe

Theory: for anybody genuinely interested in what the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty means by Trotskyism the place to start is there: The two Trotskyisms. Sean Matgamna followed by  Reviews and comments on The Two Trotskyisms. These debated a range of points about ‘orthodox’ and ‘heterodox’ Trotskyism, and whether these had any meaning and relevance in left politics today.

The AWL published many of these contributions in its paper, Solidarity.

They included a long article (carried over 2 issues) critical of Trotskyism from a democratic Marxist stand, by somebody that modesty forbids us to name ( Raising Atlantis?)

It is clear that comrade Sacha is right to say, “We always argue for our ideas through open discussion and debate. People either reject what we say or are convinced by it, and that’s fine. Our members and supporters make no apologies for trying to influence policy. That is what democratic politics is about. On that last point, we are no different from members of Progress, the Fabian Society, Compass and other Labour Party groupings”.

Solidarity, is known in the movement for its serious articles on trade union issues, reliable reports on subjects such as Welfare and Women’s rights, and an approach to anti-racism that does not dismiss the problem of reactionary Islamism and the persistence of anti-Semitism.

To continue on Europe to illustrate the group’s activity: during the EU Referendum,  the AWL, like Momentum, (EU referendum: Momentum movement campaigners drafted in to rally support for Remain vote) actively backed the themes of Another Europe is Possible, the left ‘Remain’ campaign.

On this key issue, which defines present British politics, the group showed its commitment to backing Labour Party policy, campaigning not in order to ‘recruit’ for its group but to further the interests of the movement as a whole.

After the vote to Leave comrade Martin Thomas wrote,

What is to be done now is to conserve and extend workers’ unity, between workers in Britain of all origins and between British and European workers; to defend migrant rights and the worker rights which have entered British law under pressure from the EU; to fight to redirect the social anger expressed in Brexit votes towards social solidarity, taxing the rich, and social ownership of the banks and industry; and to stand up for socialism. None of that can be done if the left falls for the fantasy that the Brexit vote already took things our way.

A broad swathe of democratic socialists would agree with this.

This Blog, a left European democratic socialist site, has no hesitation in defending the AWL against the accusations of undemocratic practice made by Dispatches and others.

Full text of Sacha’s video talk here: Dispatches attacks Workers’ Liberty.

17 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. It will be droll if the AWL, like so many others, are accused by the Labour Party Thought Police of anti-Semitism, seeing that they have been accusing all and sundry on the left (me included) who don’t subscribe exactly to their line on Palestine/Israel of that crime. I wrote elsewhere the following explanation of the AWL on this topic about the AWL.

    I also feel that the methodology of their positioning on this topic has also been used in respect of other subjects, including their adoption of Shachtmanism (the British franchise had long been vacant, indeed if it ever had been filled in the first place).


    To understand the AWL’s line on Palestine/Israel, I think one has to investigate the group’s way of working out its political positions. It seems to be based upon triangulation: seeing what other groups are promoting, then coming up with something different. This helps when touting for business in the crowded market-place of the far left. It is not unique to the AWL, it’s a quite well established modus operandi; my old group, the now defunct Revolutionary Communist Party, spent its whole time of existence basing its political positions upon such a method. I recall getting quite annoyed when a rival group was promoting a position on something or another (I forget quite what) with which we could not find any point of disagreement.

    With the AWL, the reference point has customarily been the Socialist Workers Party: the SWP’s line on Palestine/Israel is for a single, democratic state with equal rights for all citizens, so the AWL would logically propose a two-state solution. However, there’s a snag because some of the small fry of the far left also call for a two-state solution. But there is an answer to the problem; the AWL then adds a twist to give it a unique selling point: those who oppose a two-state solution are anti-Semitic, because they are denying the right of Israel to be a Jewish state, something one usually hears only from Israel lobbyists. My late pal Al Richardson was particularly incensed when no less than the AWL’s ganzer-macher Sean Matgamna accused him and I of holding an ‘anti-Semitic’ stance on Palestine/Israel, that is, a single, democratic state position. I was pretty narked too.

    Dr Paul

    September 20, 2016 at 3:30 pm

  2. That’s as may be, or not, Paul.

    The RCP/Living Marxism group certainly seemed to work in that way and you have more knowledge of that than I, or the rest of us, do.

    Whether Matgamna does has yet to be proven: their line on the European Union for example, has been around since the 1970s and seems more to have been the result of a justified hostility to the ‘socialism in one country’ position of the CPGB (as was), Tribune Labour Left (as was), however shrouded this was briefly by the Alternative Economic Strategy.

    Their stand gave a fairly clear impression of nationalism, something many others on the left observed. The subsequent evolution of those on the far/hard left who also opposed the ‘Common Market’ – from the Socialist Party to the RMT – confirms this.

    The reasons for taking the Workers’ Fight, Socialist Organiser/WAL pro-Remain position are fairly unimportant. Since it is something fundamental to any British politics it’s the arguments that they offer for their stans matter, and they have offered many good ones (as has Another Europe is Possible, and groups like Socialist Resistance).

    As for Israel, I care a lot more about what’s happening now in Syria and Iraq, where the issue has been clouded by the ‘anti-imperialism’ of the StWC. I happen to agree with their views on Palestine and Israel: they are those of a very large group on the left, most of whom will not have even heard of Matgamna.

    As the AWL are open about their internal discussions and advance views open to democratic debate (regardless of the dispute you cite; the Weekly Worker tolerates somebody, Tony Greenstein who screams abuse all the time at anybody who disagrees with him, including my good self) I would consider that another reason to defend them.

    Andrew Coates

    September 20, 2016 at 4:18 pm

  3. Incidentally just for the interest of Trotskyist spotters this gem has come up on Facebook.

    SWP demands to Corbyn,

    Letter to a Jeremy Corbyn supporter.

    A year since his first letter, Charlie Kimber warns that no peace is possible with the vicious Labour right—and that vital battles outside the party risk being neglected.

    “But he could set out a programme for a left wing Brexit and call meetings and demonstrations to battle for it.”


    Andrew Coates

    September 20, 2016 at 5:00 pm

  4. Dr Paul has come out with this “AWL (positions are )based upon triangulation: seeing what other groups are promoting, then coming up with something different” nonsense for years. Similarly his bleating about being accused by Sean Matgamna of anti-Semitism.

    Dr Paul needs to engage politically with the AWL, instead of repeating his tired old apolitical cliches

    Jim Denham

    September 20, 2016 at 6:03 pm

  5. That the AWL’s press is relatively open, compared to other groups’ papers, is a good thing, although Dave Spencer told me that when he was in the group its internal regime was not so easy-going as the external appearance suggested. Its position on the EU was better than most on the left, and I signed up to the left-wing ‘in’ campaign that it initiated. The AWL’s members and supporters do some good trade-union work as well.

    However, it’s the cavalier accusations of anti-Semitism that annoy me, not least in that I was accused of it by Matgamna himself. It’s one thing to hold to a one-state solution for Palestine and Israel. I think that it is a legitimate standpoint from a democratic point of view, just as the two-state solution is legitimate; my disagreement with the latter is that would cement divisions rather than solve them, and that, with the West Bank in tatters, it would be rather difficult to achieve. I am in favour of a single-state solution as I feel that it’s the only hope for a peaceful solution of a long-running and bitter conflict, and that I do feel that there could be unity between the members of the Hebrew and Palestinian nations, that the national divisions could be overcome in a democratic manner (I think that the two-state solution implies this to be impossible). I may well be unrealistic; I accept that. It’s quite another thing to have this position described as ‘anti-Semitic’.

    To have this described as ‘anti-Semitic’ is not only slanderous — I do not hold any prejudiced attitudes towards Jews and I am quick to condemn such attitudes whenever I hear them — it is also to trivialise anti-Semitism. I don’t believe, as a few people on the left do, that anti-Semitism, hostility to Jews, has disappeared. The alt-right movement in the USA is starting clearly to show its anti-Semitic face. Most far-right groups are, at root, still anti-Jewish, although they tend to hide this at the moment. Although it’s far less prevalent than other forms of prejudice, it’s still around and could revive.

    What Matgamna is doing is to conflate hostility to Jews with a critique of Zionism as both a political philosophy and the ideological driving force of a state. He’s not the only one to do this, Israel lobbyists do it all the time, but he is the only one when it comes to the far left in Britain. I do believe that this is political triangulation, adopted to give his group a unique selling point. (He didn’t use to say this, certainly not when I was a contact of the group back in the late 1970s.) This may not be conscious: I don’t think my old lot deliberately sat down and said, ‘This is what the left says, we must say something different’; it’s more a way of thinking that automatically leads people to do this almost without thinking.

    The danger in crying ‘anti-Semitism’ like this is this. If it is anti-Semitic to subject a political doctrine and the conduct of a state to a critique and to suggest different ideas and courses of action, then politically unsophisticated and inexperienced people might well conclude that if it’s anti-Semitic to criticise Zionism and what the state of Israel does, then it’s alright to be anti-Semitic. Jews as a people, defined ethnically and/or religiously, will thus be seen as synonymous with Zionism and Israel, and be held responsible for what is done in the name of the philosophy and state. I don’t want that to happen. So to make cavalier accusations of anti-Semitism is actually to make the possibility of real anti-Semitism, hostility to Jews, more rather than less possible. I don’t believe for a second that the AWL wants that; but that’s what it’s in danger of helping to do. It’s as serious as that.

    Dr Paul

    September 20, 2016 at 6:12 pm

  6. Tony Greenstein, who writes for the Weekly Worker, has accused a lot of people of racism, including myself.

    According to profound scientific historical materialist and dialectical analysis he is barking mad.

    But his diatribes about Israel appear regularly in the above paper.

    Apart from his incontinent rants many people read the WW, and often find much of interest in it.

    The left needs a culture of debate, of serious activism, and, I personally hope, a turn away from focusing on Labour’s internal disputes to both creating some serious policies (instead of simply being ‘against’ austerity and so forth), and being capable of speaking to an audience outside of itself.

    I also feel that it is nationalism, sovereigntism, and the kind of witless politics advocated in the SWP call for a ” programme for a left wing Brexit and call meetings and demonstrations to battle for it.”, that are far more of a problem than the issue of anti-semitism.

    But in that respect there are genuine reasons for concern, not just in terms of prejudice, but, far more deeply, in the kind of politics Donovan and Gerry Downing advocate (they merely openly say what others believe less forthrightly) about the “international Jewish/Zionist bourgeoisie’.


    Andrew Coates

    September 20, 2016 at 6:27 pm

  7. The best argument for a two-state settlement — and I use the word “settlement” rather than “solution” deliberately — is probably this:



    September 20, 2016 at 6:45 pm

  8. AWL should be expelled from the Labour Party and driven out of the left, out of the workers movement.
    Trotskyites are part of the problem, and the third campist types are the worst.

    the video was funny, especially when this wally introduces himself as a ‘revolutionary socialist’?


    September 20, 2016 at 10:58 pm

  9. It all boils down to one thing. The Labour Party is a supporter and defender of using parliamentary democracy to further its programme. Trotskyists (including the AWL) see parliament as a platform to further the cause of revolution and, ultimately, overthrow it and counterpose a “better’ democracy, a “workers’ democracy”. In the same way, being in the Labour Party is a tactic in the building go a “better” party namely, a revolutionary party.

    The AWL stand in the traditions of the Bolsheviks who overthrew the fledgling Russian parliament, the Constituent Assembly, when they received only 25% of the vote [1]. They proposed instead “All Power to the Soviets” and, when the votes there didn’t go the way they wanted, banned democratic socialist parties, anarchists etc and, ultimately banned factions in their own party as they consolidated their one party state.

    Most readers of this blog will know this history, of course, but it looks like this will need to be repeated again and again. This is the clear line between the Labour Party tradition and the AWL and all those from a Leninist tradition.

    The overthrow of parliamentary democracy was also expressed in an article by Sean Matgamna regarding the events of May 1968 in France [2]. Instead, revolution and “workers’ democracy’ is the alternative proposed. No doubt, if the AWL had been a force at that time, they would have called for a boycott of the “bourgeois election” and the building of worker’s councils in an attempt to re-run Russia 1917.

    So, even though I can agree with a lot of what the AWL say (e.g. the Stalinist roots of “left” anti-Semitism, support for Kobane and opposition to Islamism), there is a clear difference between democratic and revolutionary socialism.

    That’s why the Labour Party is quite right to defend its structures and tradition against all those who would seek to undermine it and overthrow parliamentary democracy.

    [1] https://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1978/lenin3/ch03.html

    [2] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2010/04/30/france-1968-when-ten-million-workers-took-capitalism-throat-1968

    John Rogan

    September 21, 2016 at 10:35 am

  10. I certainly do not think, as Trotksyists do, that the Russian Revolution is a ‘universal’ model to be followed.

    For a start the practice of killing or imprisoning people, not in self-defence, or open battle, not because of their violent acts, but because of their class origins and ideas, began then.

    Even the ‘benign’ practice of exiling dissidents – from their own country – soon ended and was replaced by open repression. (The Philosophy Steamer: Lenin and the Exile of the Intelligentsia. Lesley Chamberlain. 2007)

    this violence was justified at great blood-thirsty length by Trotsky himself, in Terrorism and Communism(1920), which has a lot to do with terror and force, and nothing to do with anything more than ‘barracks communism.’

    That this cannot be explained away by the ‘circumstances’ of the civil war can be seen in how quickly ti became part of the Bolshevik ideology and practice, and remained there.

    Trotsky remained ambiguous about permitting non-Bolshevik parties Democratic rights to the end of his days, and never accepted full democratic rights for all.

    As democratic Marxist – one strain of democratic socialist opinion – this is a fundamental dividing line.

    But in fact while waiting for the second coming of the Bolshevik Revolution groups like the AWL have changed and it is hard to see that this means more than the endless wait of the Faithful for the advent of the Saviour.

    Andrew Coates

    September 21, 2016 at 12:23 pm

  11. Andrew, I’m sure the AWL (and most Trotskyists) would prefer a revolution to turn out better than the Russian one. They believe, though, that the main reason for the rise of Stalin was the isolation of revolutionary Russia not the suppression of democracy by the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky. I disagree with them on that.

    As for the AWL changing, well in 2010, Sean Matgamna wrote this in the piece quoted above regarding France ’68 –

    “To attain workers’ power the necessary steps were:

    a. To prepare organs of workers’ power by generalising the factory committees (already taking many decisions not normally taken by workers) into local, regional and finally a national council of workers’ delegates — thus opposing an embryonic workers’ state to the bourgeois state.

    b. Begin to actually run the factories, under control of the workers’ councils.

    c. Decisively smash and dismantle the bosses’ state —and consolidate the new order as a workers’ state.”

    The “bosses’ state” needing to be smashed here includes, of course, the “bosses’ parliament”.

    In Sean Matgamna and the AWL’s view, parliamentary democracy is there (in situations like Franch ’68) “to filter an explosive mass revolutionary ferment through the slit in a bourgeois ballot box” and “to forego forever the prospect of workers’ power”. The “bosses’ parliament” is among the “institutions [which] are specifically designed to prop up capitalism — not to knock it down”.

    Parliamentary democracy has its many faults but it’s still the best form of democracy we’ve yet seen and needs to be supported and defended.

    John Rogan

    September 21, 2016 at 12:41 pm

  12. I’m unlikely to take Sean Matgamna’s writings on May 68 in the slightest bit seriously, any more than I would have this piece of piffle (which I have a copy of…).

    Andrew Coates

    September 21, 2016 at 1:08 pm

  13. John Rogan might want to read what the AWL actually say regarding parliamentary democracy in 2016:


    As to my own view re: Lenin and “Leninism” and the (lousy) justifications for (inevitable) Bolshevik authoritarianism during the Russian Civil War (not after, I should note), feel free to read:



    September 22, 2016 at 4:56 am

  14. I’ve read the Sasha Ismail piece. It’s putting forward the same views as Sean Matgamna but is not so blatant about overthrowing parliamentary democracy.

    Sasha Ismail writes –

    “We think that labour movements in history have created, at high points of mobilisation and struggle, more flexible, responsive and meaningfully democratic institutions than the kind of parliamentary system we have in Britain today. That doesn’t mean we are “against parliamentary democracy”. Workers’ councils are in fact a kind of “parliamentary” system, in the sense of a system of elected assemblies.”

    All sounds very good on paper except the “workers’ council” idea was the argument put forward by the Bolsheviks when they launched their coup and ignored and suppressed the democratic rights of the 75% of people who did not vote for them in the Constituent Assembly.

    Of course, without realising it, the Bolsheviks and their supporters started the process whereby their own democratic rights of were suppressed as well.

    The AWL and all other Trotskyist groups believe the suppression of the Constituent Assembly was correct and it is the same argument put forward by the AWL leader Sean Matgamna regarding France ’68. Namely, the AWL wanted the overthrow of the French “bosses’ parliament” and the suppression of “bourgeois democratic” rights by a revolutionary party leading the workers’ councils.

    With that scenario, I disagree. Parliamentary democracy is not perfect but, despite its flaws, it’s still the best on offer.

    I’ve written a short piece (only six minutes!) on all this here.

    View at Medium.com

    John Rogan

    September 22, 2016 at 10:29 am

  15. John Rogan is an honest reformist, However, Lenin did lead to Stalin, and Trotskyites pose as ultra left ‘revolutionaries’, but they play a ‘wrecker’ type role in any party they are in.

    The AWL are zio-trots, third campists, one branch of which became the Neo Cons.

    Lenin did lead to Stalin, Here’s a video of a yong man talking about Stalin:


    September 22, 2016 at 10:38 am

  16. Outside the goldfish bowl of leftist trainspotters, does anyone give a monkey’s about the petty differences between far left sects on this or that issue? The various groupuscules fishing in the Momentum pond for a few extra members or a few extra paper sales are all in it only for themselves. Their numerically insignificant presence serves only to give the right a convenient stick with which to bash Corbyn. They are in every respect a diversion.


    September 22, 2016 at 10:51 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: