Defend Corbyn against the AWL

Just as the latest round of witch hunting antisemitism allegations against Jeremy Corbyn has reached its crescendo something particularly vile has emerged from the woodwork – a 2400-word open letter to Corbyn from Sean Matgamna of the AWL (Alliance for Workers Liberty), an organisation claiming to be on the radical left, arguing that Corbyn is guilty as charged. 

The AWL has a proud thirty-year record of supporting Zionism and attacking anti-Zionist Jews. An article last year concluded that “AWL is a Zionist organisation, though it does not describe itself as such. Its commitment to Zionism cancels out its commitment to socialism and internationalism whenever the two conflict.” 

Matgamna’s letter is a torrent of pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian, bile. Despite recognising the weaponisation of antisemitism against Corbyn, he argues that this is fully justified and should be supported. He argues that the MPs who left the Labour party last week to form the Independent Group were “driven out of the party” by “possible future anti-Jewish pogromists” inspired by “five decades of political and moral ferment on the ostensibly ‘Trotskyist’ left in which absolute hostility to Israel, to ‘any’ Israel, has slowly built up in the political atmosphere like poisonous smog.”

He explains: “The ‘Corbyn surge’ that recreated a mass membership almost overnight pulled into the new, new Labour Party a lot of people educated on the Middle East question in the kitsch left. With them they brought their political baggage, and a trolling and bullying culture. On a certain level, the Corbyn surge was also an antisemitic purge.”

With Matgamna you can skip to the chase. The much-debated definitions of antisemitism –that antisemitism is hatred of or discrimination against Jewish people and not opposition the Israeli Government or indeed Zionism – have little relevance. For him the main crime is exactly that – opposing the state of Israel or conversely supporting the Palestinians. 

The biggest crime in his distorted world is to call for a single democratic secular state based on equal rights as an alternative to the current occupation and suppression of the Palestinian people by Israel and to support the right of return of the Palestinian refugees driven out in 1947-8. Such people he says are “absolute anti-Zionists” and in the end they are racists who bring a “lethal poison” into the Labour Movement: They are “adamantly for a one-state solution, for an Arab and Islamic state incorporating the population of 1948-67 Israel, or those of the population whom it does not kill or drive out in conquering them.”

He goes on: “This ‘right of return’ implies, and is meant to imply, the displacement of the Jews of Israel. By what standards do the descendants of the people who lived in that territory decades ago have the right to do that?”

He accuses Corbyn of playing lip service to a two-state solution while tolerating “absolute anti-Zionists” in the party. He calls for the witch hunt to be stepped up and the party to be re-educated. He calls for advocacy of the right of return and opposition to Zionism to be proscribed:

“As well as an educational drive in the party on this question – which includes a candid discussion of the politics of the leadership – the party should declare advocacy of the destruction of Israel, by Arab or Islamic states or whomever, incompatible with membership of the Labour Party. Encoded versions of that policy – via ‘right of return’ for example – should not be tolerated in the labour movement. Advocacy of measures that are code for driving Israel out of existence – ‘right of return’, ‘from the river to the sea’, etc. – should not be tolerated in a healthy labour movement…”

And this comes from a man who told a public meeting in the 1990s that Palestinians could not exercise their right of return because “No nation should be expected to absorb an immigration greater in size than the host community”. This racist nonsense is what should really not be tolerated in the labour movement.

No doubt this kind of vile divisive stuff works well for the AWL in hardening up a sect around outrageous positions that are rejected by the bulk of the left and building its organisation. But its wider effect is to support a campaign by the right that poses a real and direct threat to the whole Corbynite project, which is the most important development in Britain and indeed beyond for a very long time. 

The response to the witch hunt has been the emergence of Jewish Voice for Labour, which does a very important job, it should fully supported by the whole of the left in the Labour party that rejects the AWL line and seeks to build a healthy left inside the Labour Party to back up and defend the Corbyn leadership.

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6 Comments on Defend Corbyn against the AWL

  1. There was no state of Israel before 1948 and the backing of Western Imperialism and the state that formed expanded through systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and this violent expropriation of palestinian land is more than enough to describe the Israeli State as illegitimate. Slamming a State is not slamming the vast majority of the people who live there, it is slamming the institutions of the ruling class and if members of the AWL claim marxist credentials they know this. To view the State of Israel or any State from a perspective other than a working class perspective is to take a bourgeois perspective and with this letter the AWL are choosing consciously to side with the national chauvinism of the Israeli ruling class by conflating antisemitism and legitimate left opposition to Israeli nationalism and Zionism.

    With this bourgeois perspective the AWL is aiding the forces of reaction. But no one on the left with experience of the AWL are surprised, over many years Marxist observations of the AWL have seen this veering away from a working class perspective coming.

  2. This motion was passed by Brent Trades Council on Wednesday 27. There was one against and one abstention, an AWL supporter. Shame!

    This Trades Council condemns the decision of the Labour Party to suspend Chris Williamson MP for his remarks at a Sheffield Momentum meeting.
    We do not believe that what Chris Williamson said was antisemitic and while insisting on opposition to actual antisemitism we believe that allegations are often used to smear critics of Israel and supporters of the Palestinians.

  3. The AWL’s Sean Matgamna has really gone over the top this time; he has exposed himself as a racist bigot and a disgrace to the name of socialism, let alone Trotskyism.

    Note the coded attack on Jackie Walker and the justification of the AWL participation in her victimisation.

    And he can only manage a throwaway comment in defence of the Palestinians:

    “Israel now acts from a position of strength vis-a-vis the Palestinians. There is a lot to criticise and condemn in Israeli policy towards the Palestinians – centrally, Israel’s de facto opposition to a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But at root there is a conflict of right against right here, to which the solution should be not the destruction of Israel but “equalising up” by way of the Palestinians getting their own state.”

    “Israel now acts from a position of strength” FFS as in the mass murder of defenceless civilians in Operation Cast Lead? Let us try that out in another way: “Hitler operated from a position of strength in regard to the Jews and disabled and communists etc…..” Note its errors are not the heinous war crimes of sniper killings of demonstrators in Gaza over the last year, No demands for justice there. “Centrally” their crime is opposing a logistically impossible two-state solution “de facto”, but mass murder? Who cares about the mass slaughter and maiming of Palestinians, the racist bigot says in effect.

    And the “middle-aged woman” is obviously Jackie Walker, of course:

    “On one level, a middle-aged woman saying that there have been many “Holocausts” might just be a piece of heroic ignorance or the result of an epochally thick skin. In fact, even if it comes from a misdirected urge to side with the Palestinians, it is part of Holocaust mitigation. But things like do not lend themselves to political warfare measures. Specific criticisms of Israel only become lethal and should be impermissible when they are used (as they too often are) to justify the conclusion that therefore Israel should not exist and that “we” should side with Arab and Islamic states that try to put it out of existence”

    One would need to suffer from a great deal of “heroic ignorance” and “thick skin” to mention the 10 million slaughtered Africans in the Congo at the turn of the 20th century of the almost 6 million slaughtered in recent decades for imperialism’s profits.

    “The Labour Party is the party of the broad labour movement, and therefore the concern of everyone who wishes the party well. The absolute anti-Zionist “left” are carriers of a lethal poison in the labour movement. For the same reason, people should not leave the Labour Party over antisemitism, and those who have left in disgust at antisemitism should rejoin. Fight the antisemites, don’t abandon the party to them.”

    The “absolute anti-Zionist “left””, of course, is all those who oppose Zionism and defend the Palestinians according to the warped logic of this right-wing Zionist bigot.

    And I missed the last comment, the appeal to the right-wing bigots Independent Group who have such an appalling anti-working class Blairite record to come back and assist the AWL in its mission to destroy the rest of the left. This is truly shocking!

    “For the same reason, people should not leave the Labour Party over antisemitism, and those who have left in disgust at antisemitism should rejoin. Fight the antisemites, don’t abandon the party to them.”

  4. Pete Firmin // 2nd March 2019 at 6:35 am // Reply

    There is an irony in all this, touched on when you write “The AWL has a proud thirty-year record of supporting Zionism and attacking anti-Zionist Jews”. Before then, the AWL (or rather its predecessors) supported the call for a single democratic secular state.

  5. Margot Elizabeth Virginia Lindsay // 2nd March 2019 at 4:31 pm // Reply

    The AWL’s Sean Matgamna has really gone over the top this time; he has exposed himself as a racist bigot and a disgrace to the name of socialism, let alone Trotskyism.

  6. Evan Pritchard // 4th March 2019 at 9:33 am // Reply

    As someone who supports the call for two states I repudiate the idea that there is anything intrinsically racist about the demand for a democratic secular state, no matter how wrong I believe it to be.

    If I did think that I would not be a member of PSC, which clearly contains many activists who hold that position.

    Interestingly however, when the forerunner of the AWL used to call for a democratic secular state I recall that in at least one article this was accompanied with the call for the Arabs to drive the Jews into the sea.

    And clearly the call for two states when made by the likes of Matgamna is aimed at the Palestinians and not the Israeli government.

    And to be honest the real motivation is expressed not so much in the attack on the democratic secular state formulation but on the right of return.

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