Be young and shut up

A blog about student activism.

The student ‘far left’ in Scotland and England needs to get better.

with 51 comments

Edit 11/05/12

I never meant to disrespect women in Palestine activism, Muslim women, women in the ISG, women of colour or people trying to improve things in socialist circles. I have immense respect for you personally as well as other socialist women who are working in these organisations and as well as Muslim sisters etc. I know it must massively suck to be a feminist of colour since feminism is so heavily dominated by white women like me, having to deal with misogyny on a daily basis as well as ethnocentrism from people supposed to be sisters.

I’m unreservedly sorry for basically displaying a massive amount of white privilege, ethnocentrism and eurocentrism and thank you for calling me out on it. I’m not changing the original post – which can be seen in full below. I still believe in what I wrote though I think a few things were probably phrased clumsily and I regret not putting in a paragraph about women working to change things in some of the organisatons I criticise, as well as not being clear enough about certain things.

I do not believe I am Islamophobic or racist. HOWEVER – I do display a massive load of white privilege and atheist (culturally Protestant) bias all the time. I don’t think it’s Islamophobic to say that people across all cultures, religions and classes can be shit sometimes.

Original article:

I’m writing this not because I want to rile people or to be offensive – but because if we are to grow or make a difference we need to seriously examine our behaviour. I only know about what’s going on in Scotland and England which is why I’ve only written about them.

In England the fight between Student Broad Left and other groups against Alliance for Workers’ Liberty is getting tiresome and boring. The vast majority of people involved are not in any of these groups. This is not to say that there should not be a conversation – that is exactly what should happen. We should start talking openly about difference instead of engaging in passive aggression and shouting ‘Stalinist’ and ‘Zionist’ at each other. Further, people need to start defining what they actually mean by those terms. We cannot equate those who are racist and violent towards Palestinians with people who are quite possibly looking for pragmatic solutions to a crisis in which the world’s greatest powers view the state of Israel as legitimate. Israel is not going to go away. I am scared to voice my views on this because I worry people would think I am a Zionist, but basically in my opinion need to work together to solve the immediate problems – like getting Israeli forces out of the occupied territories – before asking for anything bigger. (Norman Finkelstein has some interesting stuff to say about this.) There’s a tendency to be suspicious of anyone who believes that Israel should or has to exist – is this Zionist? I think that inevitably Israel is going to exist for the foreseeable future, whether you like it or not, and I would rather concentrate on things that are winnable, like getting withdrawal from the occupied territories, which are after all going against international law. I understand that there are deeper concerns about the AWL than this, but no one really talks about this properly, and I had to dig around to find an article (from 2005!) that actually addressed this.

Re: Student Broad Left, who are a front group for Socialist Action, and many other “socialists”: they have some very dodgy international politics, but everyone seems to ignore this. As far as I’m concerned, if you support despot dictators you are not leftwing because you don’t give a shit about the working class in those countries. Why do ‘comrades’ take the stupid attitude of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ instead of actually sticking to principles? Gadaffi was a vile dictator who needed to go, and the situation was more complicated than just a struggle with the West, plenty of Libyans wanted him gone. People who defend him can get to fuck. George Galloway is awful, an apologist for all sorts of vile regimes, he’s anti-choice and homophobic. Please can we stop pretending he’s leftwing or in any way okay. So many of the other ‘leaders’ people seem to latch on to are fucking dreadful. I even have a problem with people idolising Hugo Chavez. It all just smacks of bowing down to Great Leaders (who are nearly always men) rather than engaging in mass class action, which is the only way any kind of real change will be achieved. This kind of thing is obviously unacceptable, too.

In the Scottish left in particular, but also in the student movement in England, I’m sick of the masculinist culture of aggression and people using class or background as an excuse or saying it’s ‘just their sense of humour’. It’s nearly always men but I have seen a few women doing this. Shouting in people’s faces, refusing to talk to people you disagree with, bigging up vile dictatorships, and sexist, homophobic organisations just because they stand up to the West. This kind of thing can get to fuck. I’ve seen ‘comrades’ “joke” about ‘bring on the Islamic revolution’ or supporting Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood. (They know who they are.) It must be nice not to be a queer woman and therefore not to have to deal with the fact that those organisations hate women and hate LGBTQ people. I don’t have that luxury. I don’t know if they are joking or not, either way it’s not fucking funny.

I’d rather be realistic and miserable than give people false credit when they’re homophobes or liars. I’m getting major activist burnout from having to deal with all the double standards and hypocrisy and the privilege that people exhibit daily when they prioritise their own causes over standing up to things that hurt LGBTQ people, women and minorities in this country and others. This is not to say that I support fucking military interventionism or think that it’s the West’s job to police the world and rid it of dictators, but some of these dictators and organisations are really fucking bad and just because they are critical of the US that doesn’t make them beyond reproach.

There seems to be a culture of vanguardism and of valuing stereotypically masculine, ‘strong’ traits in the International Socialist Group (Scotland), which makes me hugely uncomfortable. !Yay being ‘radge’ and fucking shit up and group mentality! Now the first two of those have their place but valuing them so highly is grim because it tends to be men who embody those traits, just because of the way men are brought up. Just because someone doesn’t bring flares to a demo or avoids being arrested, that doesn’t mean they aren’t radical. They might have more radical views than you but just express them differently.  (There are lots of students in ISG so this is relevant.) Because ISG work with other lefties people seem to just accept all their faults (Although if anyone was at the first Scottish Students Against Cuts conference they will know that anything but working together was on the agenda – it was vanguardism all the way. Sarcastic hooray). I’d rather we were able to openly talk about how we move forward, especially in Glasgow as I’m moving there soon, working with ISG, Scottish Socialist Party and the many other groups as well as independents like myself. I’m quite nervous about this because I am used to working mainly with students in Edinburgh who are largely independent. By the way, other Edinburgh independents and I have been accused of having ‘no politics’ because we’re not in a party. Just because I’m not in a party that doesn’t mean I ‘don’t have any politics’ or I haven’t thought about things seriously. Quite the opposite. There isn’t a group that I a) identify with and b) see the point in joining. Anything I want to do I can do outside a party, and to boot I won’t have to pay dues or sell papers. Win-win. There are lots of people I consider true comrades who are in all sorts of parties though.

Silencing people who criticise things that deserve criticism, like student anti-cuts groups, many pro-Palestine groups and ALL of the parties and factions is counterproductive at best. Pushing your own party or faction’s agenda at all costs is transparent and alienating. I’m particularly fed up of people try to get their own party’s way through entryism and bullying, it all just makes me feel sick and not want to be part of the “left”. People who are in parties should be able to criticise their own party externally so they don’t turn into a weird cult. The other thing is, and this is a note for Palestine activists and anti-AWL people, working with someone or being friends with someone whose stance I disagree with on Israel does not make me a pro-Israel or some sort of sympathiser, it makes me willing to work with people on other issues, like anti-cuts. I don’t appreciate the attitude of ‘us or them’; it does no one any favours. Working with people who are wrong but are not murderous and do not agree with what is being done on behalf of the state of Israel is not the same as working with Netanyahu or meeting IDF spokespeople.

Refusing to engage with people who have a different view from you is understandable in some cases and appalling in others: how on earth do you expect to win anyone around if you dismiss them from the get-go? If they are slightly uninformed/misinformed or they are in the midst of forming their opinions, you’re just alienating a potential organiser. There needs to be more real discussion instead of battening down the hatches and refusing to criticise ourselves. I’m tired. I’m tired of arguments with people where they say that so-and-so isn’t ‘that bad’ and I should stop criticising things for the sake of ‘unity’. I’m sick of people telling me that class politics are above all else like feminism or LGBTQ rights – what about working class lesbians? I’m tired of people taking stuff up with me and making absolutely no sense or espousing arguments that are practically Stalinist or imperialist. I’m sick of being lectured, patronised and hurled abuse at. Make sensible arguments and I will consider them.

In the London (student) activist scene in particular, there’s way too much apologism for people who are violent, including sexually violent people. Read these blog posts: Sexual predators are not welcome. People, often women, do not try to get rid of people who’ve assaulted them for the lols, they do it because they have to protect themselves and others. They’re not overreacting, they try to bar people because those assaulters are a danger to people.

I’m sick of people prioritising their own causes over anything else, failing to see where they’re going wrong. I’m fed up of people not taking criticism from ‘outsiders’ – maybe I wouldn’t be an outsider if you changed your organisations or groups so I felt comfortable in them. I’m completely appalled by the ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ attitudes, the badge of honour culture around arrest and winding up authorities – sometimes it’s just not worth doing stuff like that.

I can’t abide the fetishisation of the underdog that is so abundant. Not all Muslims are good people, lots are of course, and Islamophobia is a real and awful problem, but, ironically, not allowing people to criticise Islam as they do other religions, and taking on the cause of Muslims worldwide smacks of imperialism and Orientalism and is also bad Marxism. Not all Arabs are good people, particularly not despot dictators. Lots are and there is a culture of racism towards Arabs in the West which is deeply worrying and needs to be challenged, but again don’t patronise and glorify one particular group of people, it’s embarrassing. Not all working class people are nice, some of them are pretty horrid and I think it’s clear that there’s a distinct lack of working class women and minorities in the left because white straight men of all backgrounds and classes don’t listen to them.

If you want people to take your cause seriously, if you want a united Left, if you want to get heard, if you want to be effective, some of you need to take a good hard look in the mirror and stop thinking of yourselves as so worthy and good because of the time you devote to activism.

I personally prioritise things I see as having a big impact and a good chance of winning as well as things that are important and things close to my heart. I have a limited amount of time and energy, and it’s not wrong to make conscious decisions about where that goes. Stop judging people because they didn’t turn up to a particular event, sometimes we all need time off, stop treating each other as a rent-a-crowd, if you actually build properly for stuff and make it appealing  then people will come. If you don’t have many women in your group ask yourself why, don’t blame them.

I’m sick of all the bullshit. There are a lot of really good people I respect in ‘the left’ but there is also so much obnoxiousness that I find it hard to cope sometimes. Please can we try to get better. I want to be proud of our movement, not embarrassed. Suggestions welcome.


Written by CakeCakeCakeCakeCake

May 9, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

51 Responses

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  1. Started off with some good points. Shame it got increasingly whiny and unbearably self righteous. People exhibiting your level of chauvinism make me sick to my core.


    May 10, 2012 at 12:23 am

  2. I actually agree with lots of this, and I think it’s an important discussion to be had. But there’s a few points where I quite strongly disagree:

    1) The left ought to argue for a different discourse around Islam than around, say, Christianity. This argument is based around analysis of power, hegemony, and control. It’s a pretty long argument, but it’s the reason why I feel more comfortable with the Communist-Worker Party of Iran sending a tirade of criticism against the clerical regime than when white non-Muslim lefties in the UK do the same. Even liberal historians would tend to agree that you shouldn’t phrase criticisms of Islam and Christianity in the same way. Christianity is part of the existing and historical hegemony, whereas Islam isn’t.

    There’s a linguistics/philosophy argument to be made here as well around words, meanings and actions, but I don’t know the English terminology so unfortunately I can’t explain it to you. The essence is that to say “I hate Christianity” and “I hate Islam” are not just parallel criticisms, they have seriously different implications and meanings. That’s why one can be ok and the other not.

    2) Hamas has links to homophobia and is not a working class movement, but like you say, some Israel supporters can be good on cuts, in the same way I can see Hamas as a relatively legitimate resistance against Israeli terrorism, racism and oppression. Sure, I prefer a secular-Marxist working class resistance movement, but at least Hamas is a resistance movement, and its Islamism is actually a product of the failure of secular and working-class movements to mobilise the masses (for a variety of reasons too long to go into here).

    I work with pretty solidly pro-Israel people on anti-cuts, worker rights etc. and have absolutely no problem with it, and the left needs to get real on this, but to me the consistency in that argument entails also applying that ethic to groups who can have aspects we don’t like and aspects we like.

    3) You talk about how we should discard the rhetoric of ‘for unity’s sake’ but in the end appeal to unity… We should either have explicit, external arguments or keep it in the family and appear united outwards. Or a mixture, which is what I believe in.

    4) “taking on the cause of Muslims worldwide smacks of imperialism and Orientalism” – I genuinely don’t get what this is supposed to mean. You could argue that it’s wrong, stupid, misguided or poor judgement, but how is it imperialist and Orientalist?

    In other words, I think your analysis is very simplistic and it’s obvious that all this mad factionalist bullshit pisses you off. It really pisses me off as well, and it’s so important to have the discussion, but as outlined above I disagree on certain points.

    And if it matters I’m an unaffiliated queer working class atheist anti-cuts Palestine activist who is sometimes sick of SWP, often sick of SBL, and usually sick of AWL. But also often quite sick of those outside these organisations. And a huge proportion of Palestine activists have great politics on racism (incl. anti-Semitism).

    Thanks for writing this though!


    May 10, 2012 at 12:43 am

    • I agree my analysis is simplistic, I’m just calling things as I see them really, my intention was that it might start some deeper debate and reflection on where the student left is going.

      Thanks for your comments, they’re obviously very well thought through and interesting and I will think about them, I’ve already re-read them twice.

      Kate Harris

      May 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm

  3. Very good, very brave post.

    Its been 20 years since I was a student activist, but these aren’t just issues confined to the student left. They are however issues that it is important that the student left tackle, because – rather depressingly – a disproportionate number of those who find themselves in positions of influence within the left are university educated. An issue in and of itself.

    On the AWL – hostility towards them is nothing new I assure you. I never quite understood it, and thanks for the links to the Greenstein article which explains a bit of background. I completely disagree with their position on Palestine, and its not one that I would encourage others to adopt, but there is no left org that I agree entirely with their positions on anything – singling out Palestine as somekind of watershed issue is ridiculous. I have however found many good comrades in the AWL who I have a great deal of respect for. As with other orgs, it is the politics of the person rather than the politics of the organisation which defines whether I consider them a comrade. If someone told me that they joined the AWL purely because of their position on Palestine I would be deeply skeptical of their politics, but for most people joining an org is a case of who they found first at the time that they found their oppositional conciousness. This outright hostility is purile sectarian nonsense.

    The masculinist culture of the left has definately improved. However there is a really, really worrying tendancy within elements of the left to see being arrested as some kind of badge of honour which seems to be accelerating of late. Its not. Its really not. There are shitloads of ways to pressurise people without breaking the law, and if you do break the law in the course of political action, then avoid getting arrested. Getting arrested is shit for a number of reasons.

    1. You have all the hassle of a court case which will drain you
    2. You will be targetted by the police who will then identify you on future protests
    3. The fines will kill you financially, draining you and supporters of money which can be put to much better uses than into the coffers of the state
    4. There is an obligation on other activists to support you, and this drains resources away from the movement
    5. Gaol is shit.
    6. Going to gaol takes an activist out of the movement for a period
    7. News of arrests sends a negative message out to first time protesters that are scared
    8. Arrests over pathetic things don’t get challenged properly, instead become a cliquey cause celeb which locks activists and police in a dance where the only losers are us.

    On the ISG specifically – I’m not a member, but I have a great deal of respect for them, not least of all their “getting shit done”ness. I am aware however that they came from the SWP, an organisation with which I have considerable issues with their organisational methods. IMHO the ISG broke from the SWP for all of the reasons that everybody else thinks that they are problematic, but regardless the majority of the ISG are SWP trained, and fall back on those methods when things are busy, stressful or when they just arent thinking. Just because someone is an experienced activist doesn’t mean that they do it right, a little nudging goes a long way, especially when they have recognised the faults in the first place. I’m also quite encouraged at some strong women in the ISG who are more than capable of challenging that culture with the support of the broader feminist movement.

    The other tendancy within the left is the “all or nothingness” – there is a minimal set of politics below which you stop becoming an asset to the movement and start becoming a liability but at the same time you dont need to have perfect politics to join the movement, and in some cases I actually feel that this is damaging. I’m cool with people being in the movement who aren’t feminist/pro-feminist – that’s fine with me, so long as they keep out of the way of the people who are, and respect their views. There are also genuine challenges between aspects of the movement – the most obvious to me are branches of feminist theory and trans activists, again a healthy respect is vital. Picking a “side” and demonising the other “side” is deeply unhelpful. Again the assumption that people come to the movement fully informed about theory, international and identity politics is just daft. There are many, many arenas to fight in, some have more interest, more knowledge or more experience in some than others.We should be looking to build on their expertise rather than convert them to the cause of the day.

    I do take issue with your argument that class politics are not fundamental – as a Marxist, to me labour exploitation is at the root of all oppression, but it cant be properly addressed unless its supporting structures are challenged at the same time. I do however see a tendancy to define class not as the relationship to the means of production, but in a cultural sense which is crap politics to my mind. The “more working class than thou” approach of some activists sets my teeth on edge. There is much in working class culture that no-one should be proud of, especially the crap that is sold to keep the class passive. Class politics are not nearly prioritised enough imho and should be a thread running through every other form of action.

    The left also really, really needs to get its shit together on issues of sexual abuse. I have heard *so* many tales coming out of what can loosely be called the Glasgow Left (and the poor ways in which it has been dealt with when women did disclose) that it depresses the fuck out of me. We really need to deal with this as a priority.


    May 10, 2012 at 1:17 am

    • Fair play. I believe that patriarchy pre-dates class structures but I entirely agree that class politics are incredibly important, I do think they’re fundamental actually but I just don’t believe in prioritising class politics over gender politics. I guess that’s what I was trying and failing to say. :)

      Kate Harris

      May 10, 2012 at 1:32 am

      • Good article. Again as Mhari says, the ISG are no worse, and sometimes better, than the UK left. The Glasgow left is an unhealthy microclimate at times.

        My understanding of it is that there patriarchy and class interlink and support each other (they are different ‘spheres’ or Ideological State Apparatuses, depending on your flavour of Marxism).

        Historically forms of patriarchy pre-dated capitalist distinctions of class (I’m assuming we mean modern (capitalists) class formations when we say class), i.e. there were patriarchal structures since there have been human societies, and there have been power and wealth structures and modes of discrimination.

        But capitalist patriarchy is different to feudal patriarchy – some of its features are different, some of them are the same, but the particular structures of oppression are different.

        So (for historical reasons) gender is always going to be the major way that capitalism allocates resources/power (and because it is a handy, well-practiced form of discrimination). Along with that comes all the tools of allocation and accumulation, violence, dispossession, alienation, commodification, which the structure uses in all other situations.

        The gender distinction is important because it informs all other discriminations. E.g. Law has little in common with football, but sexism. Literature has little in common with Science, but sexism.

        So I guess my position is that class politics (not ‘working class politics’ or ‘the problems of the working class’, but the idea that classes of people are synthetically grouped together in order to select who is allocated what resources/power/respect etc) *is* prior to gender politics, but that gender is a form of class politics, and informs all other structures of discrimination. Gender is the coping stone, so to speak.


        May 10, 2012 at 8:31 am

  4. I am a gay woman and an ISG member and found this a very interesting post, much of which I agree with. I think Mhairi’s assessment of the ISG is fair-there have been improvements but also a long way to go.

    I am wary of assigning the attitude you mention exclusively to the ISG though-this isn’t me protecting my party but that it lets other off the hook. For example my impression of Edinburgh comrades (which is not extensive I admit) has always been that there is a strong macho element, and as strong a fetishisation of arrest as exists in Glasgow. I don’t think that is a result of in-party versus out-party: rather it is because of society, with a underdeveloped left feminist consciousness to counter it effectively. I also always remember as a member of the SWP (I am one of those) I had a friend who was SSP and had been sexually abused by an SSP man-this had been largely covered up-yet was at the time when the SWP was the ‘sexist’ group. Don’t get me wrong, the SWP /was/ sexist but it seemed like in yelling that at the SWP other groups and individuals forgot to be internally critical.

    I’d also agree with Mhairi’s comments about this wild expectation of people coming to the movement fully formed and a general tendency of people to state they are not engaging with various stuff if it isn’t already perfect. Honestly, that attitude confuses me when it comes from lefties, as they should have some sort of understanding of consciousness and struggle etc. I agree with what you say about making excuses-and I’m not referring to long standing members of the left who should have been exposed to all the arguments and elements of struggle. But at the other end, recently a new man joined the ISG who was paternalistically sexist and homophobic and a group of ISGers alongside other Glasgow Uni feminists started basically disengaging from him right away. I’ve been talking to him around these issues and he is already starting to come round. I came to the left through feminism, but I wasn’t sharp on imperialism-if people had refused to engage with me I’d have probably just drifted away, possibly alienated from the movement, and would certainly not have been the activist I am now.

    I’ve been fighting for years for the left to take feminism as seriously as any other issue and I still think that is a fight that has a long way to go. However, I think it is time for lefty feminists to start being internally critical too. That shouldn’t damage our fight against left sexism but strengthen it. I’ve been talking to feminists in and out of the left for a while now whose comments around GWAF, Glasgow uni femsoc and general left feminist attitude is this-straight, white middle class feminism that doesn’t care about much outside this category. I feel this sometimes as a gay woman, and I think we engage much better with LGBT issues that with those of race or class. I work with a prominent mainstream feminist organisation and even they are ahead of us on these issues. 40 years of black feminist criticism could have not happened-raising any of their criticisms of feminist organisation, consciousness raising or the fetishisation of sexual violence issues is intepreted as an attack on feminism itself. Which seems absurd, it is exactly the same attitude that we criticise in the left in their response to us raising feminist issues. I raised this recently on GWAF and it was all but ignored.

    For me class is the fundamental division in society but that doesn’t mean that it is always the most important at a given time, in a given situation. Class politics have to inform our gender politics but gender politics must equally inform our class politics. I think you are completely correct in your comments about the fetishisation of certain groups, we need to stop that. It is embarrassing and detrimental. That is a very fine line though and we also need to ackowledge that. In short I think that issue needs massively more discussion rather than shying away from it.

    Jenny Morrison

    May 10, 2012 at 11:24 am

    • This comment is really interesting and gives me lots to think about – thanks :)

      Kate Harris

      May 11, 2012 at 1:42 pm

  5. These are important points that need to be expressed much more often on the left in Scotland. One of the main things we need to work towards is how to support people voicing criticism and not attack each other. I fear that the response to this article has highlighted some of the problems inherent in the way the left in Scotland thinks and organises.

    Personally, I very much agree with points about the glorifying of masculinity in a left context – this contributes to justifications for sexism and homophobia. (recently on a facebook group women were told by a man that the reason they objected to the use of DV imagery in a campaign was because the imagery was “too radical” for them).

    The left can’t get anywhere until we open up the space for discussion, and step back from our own politics to reflect on how we interact with people on a personal level. People who voice opinions about the left should be applauded and supported, and we should actively promote open and honest discussion.


    May 10, 2012 at 1:22 pm

  6. This article is not very helpful. At first glance its rhetoric of anti-sectarianism and left unity may appeal to some but in reality its effect is the very opposite of what it claims to set out to do. I want to make two points on it, although there’s more to be had:

    1) The author attributes ‘shouting in someone’s face’ and support for dictatorships to ‘masculinity’, suggesting they’re somehow exclusively male traits. I’ve seen the left build the confidence of women to be able to shout down a sexist, or racist, or Nazi if need be. And it’s not as if there weren’t women who supported Gaddafi, for example. This exposes one of the fundamental flaws in particular strains of feminism; in essentialising what it means to be masculine / feminine they end up accepting and reinforcing gender inequalities, divisions, roles, etc. Thus some feminists argued Thatcher wasn’t a woman at all given how she was ‘behaving like a man’. This is the same quagmire Black Nationalists fall into with regards to race.

    2) The author is a hypocrite in two important regards:

    a) She raves against the sectarian attitude on the left whilst comfortably and wholly fitting into that bracket.

    b) She claims that Galloway is a homophone (news to me – I do know, however, that he voted to lower the age of consent for gay relationships to 16 and that the RESPECT party has a policy of equal rights and no discrimination for LGBT people) and refuses to support him and other organisations on that basis. Yet she defends the racist anti-Muslim AWL, throughout her article. It’s always funny to see lefties abandon any principled anti-racist and anti-imperialist politics to jump in bed and get chummy with the most vile and racist group on the British left, the AWL. Indeed, why the double standards? It is strange that someone would be comfortable with the AWL, despite their Zionism, position on the occupation of Iraq and general racist attitude towards Muslims but unable to stand Galloway because he’s, allegedly, homophobic. I fear there is a name for this disease, it starts with ‘I’ and ends with ‘phobia’, very common on the European Left.


    May 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    • >Article accuses some people in the left of being unable to accept criticism and often resorting to dismissing their views rather then engaging with their actual concerns.
      >Commenter dismisses Kate’s views and calls her an islamophobe

      This is satire, right?


      May 11, 2012 at 8:51 am

    • I don’t defend the AWL in fact I link to a very scathing article. I said that people do not make their criticisms clear enough – basically calling for more criticism of the AWL! I want criticism and debate about everything.

      George Galloway IS a homophobe and is anti-choice, RESPECT isn’t, sure, but that’s because he’s made concessions in order to be taken seriously. Peter Tatchell is really angry with Galloway for good reason. ‘

      Watch this:

      Read this:

      He is not allegedly homophobic, he IS homophobic. The fact you seem desperate to defend him is exactly what I was talking about in terms of the ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ kind of thinking as well as glorifying Great Leaders who are usually men, instead of critically engaging.

      Kate Harris

      May 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm

  7. Good post. The point that “the enemy of my enemy is not my friend” needs to be repeated time and time again until it sinks in.


    May 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    • Indeed. Thanks Neil

      Kate Harris

      May 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm

  8. All I have to say is “sashay shantay!”. You’re amazing.

    Jacob Bloomfield

    May 10, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    • Hmmm, Shame. Did you not bother to read the post? As a comment about it would mean more than this “I know nothing but I support you” post. Like, y’know – friends READ and comment on stuff. Just sayin’


      May 11, 2012 at 2:36 am

      • Jacob proof-read this post for me so he definitely has read it.

        Kate Harris

        May 11, 2012 at 1:53 pm

  9. Two AWL comrades, Sacha Ismail and Daniel Randall, wrote a reply to Tony Greenstein’s ridiculous article at the time:

    The reply stands up pretty well except for one false claim which we publicly withdrew and apologised for as soon as Tony G pointed out it was wrong: that he supported the banning of student Jewish societies in the 80s. However, many others on the left did. See for instance


    May 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm

  10. The far left is a sad bunch of teenagers, who will never achieve anything or have any real influence over politics. ISG, AWL, SWP, SA, SP, SLP, CPB, IMT – have I missed one? – what a load of bollocks. My advice: stop wasting your time on the lunatic fringe. Join a real party, and look to actually doing something other than competing with the Big Issue sellers to sell your trot rag.


    May 10, 2012 at 6:19 pm

  11. Liked what you said about the badge of honour macho culture about getting arrested. some radicals think blac bloc direct action isn’t effective, doesnt mean i aint radical. and getting arrested for no reason is stupid. pick your battles


    May 10, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    • Indeed.

      Kate Harris

      May 11, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      • @Kate: I have lost all the respect I had for you as an activist. Do you think people who get arrested at protestson purpose? NO, they don’t. Get off your high horse. You talk about getting arrested like its a choice.


        May 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      • @Taylor Its not that people get arrested on purpose, its that sometimes a culture of bigging up arrests at protests means that other people don’t take the precautions that they should and get reckless. Having arrests is a sign of failure of the action, and after each arrest we should be carefully looking at what we could have done, and can now do to avoid any in future. That means taking challenging the basis of arrest and looking at more careful precautions.

        Yes, sometimes you choose to push boundaries, and Breach of the Peace legislation is a dangerous catch-all which carries up to 12m gaol, and indeed – as in the case of Faslane, sometimes you may choose to disobey a national law to enforce a higher one, but we have a serious problem especially on the Glasgow Left that many good activists have now been arrested and indeed charged over fuck all. We should be taking in advance about the risk of arrest and what we can do to avoid it as well as doing serious legal training for committed activists.


        May 14, 2012 at 1:49 am

  12. You were asking whether saying that Israel has a right to exist is Zionist. If you’re asking about its right to exist as a Jewish state, then the answer is very simple – “Yes”. You can’t legitimize the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, without legitimizing as well, the ongoing discrimination and persecution of its Palestinian citizens, as both are inherent to the ce,concept of a Jewish state.

    On that point, I’d also like to note that you have no right to come and tell Palestinians of 48′ and Palestinian refugees that their plight isn’t crucial enough, and that their discrimination isn’t an immediate problem. Would you tell the people of Al Arquib, whose village was demolished over 39 times, who are living in a graveyard, who stand helpless as the JNF plant what used to be their land, in the name of a Jewish state and Jewish majority that their plight isn’t immediate? Would you tell that to the students in Safed who can’t rent a room because they are Palestinians? Or to the people of Jaffa facing eviction for the same cause? The Palestinians have decided what’s immediate and crucial for them – 3 basic right, freedom, equality of return, 3 rights which encompass all the Palestinian people, and all those who pertain to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians should stand up for all three.

    I wholeheartedly agree that chauvinism, lgbtphobia, and any form of racism should not be tolerated in the left movement, and that includes Zionism, as it is a racist ideology. Thus, when people refuse to work with anyone who is Zionist, they are not just “Being annoying”, or “preventing us from building bridges and collaborations”, they refuse to collaborate with racism.

    Before I conclude, I must note that I was very disturbed by your representation of working-class people, and working-class anger. You speak about acknowledging privileges, but you do that without owning up to the places in which you are the privileged one. Women and queers don’t have a monopoly over anger or the right to express it, and working-class people have the same right to be furious over injustices which they have suffered as we do.


    May 11, 2012 at 12:25 am

    • It’s not about working class anger, it’s about men’s anger being expressed inappropriately. Regardless of the class of those men they need to think about how intimidating they can be. Believe me, I am fully aware of my own privilege. From a purely Marxist perspective I am actually probably a prole but culturally and socially I am very definitely middle class. I am aware of the privilege that comes with that and take the mick out of myself constantly for it.

      Kate Harris

      May 11, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      • Why did you ignore what the poster wrote about the plight of Palestinians?

        I am disgusted by your views, you say we can accept sexism, lgbt phobia but islamaphobia, imperialism and zionism is okay and doesn’t really matter all too much?

        Your ignorant, and a zionist. Whether intentionally or unintentionally you are. No wonder you feel intimidated, or don’t like doing Palestine activism because you don’t feel welcome, or that other people don’t like you. I don’t blame them.

        Kate W

        May 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      • Kate W’s reply below is appalling. I should not have to feel intimidated.

        Kate Harris

        May 17, 2012 at 4:29 pm

  13. […] Be young and shut up has an important post up about the hard left and the student movment. […]

    Moh Kohn

    May 11, 2012 at 1:52 am

  14. An amazing and deserved critique – a thought provoking mirror we should all hold to ourselves. If you spot me out and about grab me as I owe you a drink!

    Keith Fyans

    May 11, 2012 at 2:08 am

    • Thanks Keith.

      Kate Harris

      May 11, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      • Just read your addition. The atheism you brought in seemed like an act of speaking against the cultural normative that religion should be given a free pass or should be left unchallenged or somehow respected. I reckon it should be treated like any other idea with a positive assertion and have to meet it’s burden of proof (the same as political claims, heteronormative assertions, or the claims of a used car seller).

        Keith Fyans

        May 11, 2012 at 6:51 pm

  15. I think you are all being very unfair, or prolix (some of you are writing essays to make yourselves look good: they bored me!:

    Is this imperfectly written: Yes

    Does it make important points: Yes:

    Are there issues the left should think about? Yes.


    May 11, 2012 at 2:31 am

  16. What you’ve said about macho culture I think is really important – related to this are the jokes people make a lot about “X is first against the wall”, how come the revolution so and so will be shot etc. I have in the past taken part in these jokes as well and I think for the most people mean it in good humour, and don’t actually have violent fantasies, but I’ve began to find it more and more in bad taste. The history of the socialist movement is filled with violence – some of it justified, a lot of it not, but all of it not something to be taken light-heartedly. I’m not a pacifist but I think that a flippant attitude to violence isn’t healthy, is tied in to the aggressive macho culture that dominates the left, and apart from anything else is horribly alienating to people who aren’t fully signed up lefties.

    Anyway I agree with a lot of what you’ve said apart from that, and disagree with some, but I’m glad you wrote this – we need to have a culture of open debate about these things.

    Liam M

    May 11, 2012 at 2:35 am

    • Good – I really want some healthy debate for a change. Agree with what you say about violence even though I’m guilty of what you describe sometimes.

      Kate Harris

      May 11, 2012 at 1:57 pm

  17. Haha awesome. I was in one of those organisations until just recently (the one you had a real go at). I completely agree with your analysis. Only thing is, all the others are just as bad, but perhaps less visibly so. My advice would be not to join an organisation. You clearly have a brain of your own and can use the internet competently. You dont need those three little letters. You’d only find yourself gradually buying into the attitude of ‘everyones wrong except us’ until the only people you’re allowed to agree with is your own comrades, who wont listen to you, will never inform you of anything that’s going on, and always seem to have appointed each other to positions of responsibility in your absence. The men (sorry guys, generalising) are very good at announcing to the world how good their understanding of priviledge is, and very good at explaining it to us. They’re absolutely crap when it comes to recognising it at play, and very likely to become defensive if accused of the same prejudices they go around insisting we all have. Well, sorry, but not me. Actually, I dont think I do have a little racist/ homophobe/ whatever inside me waiting to burst forth at an opportune moment. I think that argument has some validity (we are all subject to damaging social pressures) but it is usually used a smoke-screen for sexist behaviour. These organisations have existed in such an insular and antagonistic little community of their own for so long, they spend far too much time criticising each other, and almost none criticising their own systemic problems. That’s why you get sexist men in positions of – yeah- power. But a share of the blame does lie with the women: more often than not, we let them away with it. Usually because, as you say, we’re trying to raise our status in the group.. but at what cost? Your dignity, that’s what. Your sanity (trust me). And any chance of genuine empowerment. Anyway, you cant hide the fact that youre a feminist: they’ll smell you out. But this resurgence of feminism aint going away. It’s global and this time I think it’s here to stay. See when women start to organise politically, in a serious way, those same men will be begging you to attend their meetings. You’re moving in with a friend of mine soon. Let’s hang out.

    Laura McKeon

    May 11, 2012 at 3:00 am

    • This was a great comment! Definitely hanging out sounds good.

      Kate Harris

      May 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    • Laura, what do you mean by “if you’re a feminist they’ll smell you out”? Are you saying they don’t like feminists?
      I’d like some clarification by what you mean by that, because it sounds like a slander aganist an org.

      Kate W

      May 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm

  18. you say that siobahn, but for all their flaws the last few picket lines i was at (including of course my own ones) a large number of the core rank and file activists were part of the ‘far left’ parties or anarchists, the ‘real parties’ were the ones on the other side of the esk..

    Ayways I thought the article was needed. It was overlong and felt a bit like a rant at times, but some fo the stuff going on atm makes me feel like ranting aswell tbh.

    Two things though.

    Firstly on israel-palestine, to me the problem is more the over-emphasis of the left on this issue. Their are a myriad of other conflicts across the world locked into bitter border wars and drawn out conflcists with varyig ethnic elements; russia, china, mexico, uganda, sudan, kenya, iran, india, sri lanka, turkey, the list goes on.and on. The fact that the left spends so much time obsessing over one is pretty crap tbh.
    If i’m fightig with my workmates agaist maagemet, or with local lefties/anarchos to save a hospital/library, i honestly am not going to spend much time enquiring about what they think about russias various border wars or chinas treatment of some of its minorities.

    Secondly on arrests. Yes there is a little bit of that at times but i would be wary of over generalising there. The SP to name but one example, while often being really good local activists, are very socially conservative at times and definitely doesn’t glorify arrests, quite the opposite.
    eg ”Liverpool & District Socialist Party is appalled at the current rioting which has resulted in the destruction of working peoples’ homes, workplaces, and the community facilities and shops they rely on”


    May 11, 2012 at 7:07 am

    • I’m not aware of Left politics much so I’m not going to comment about that, but I will point out that it has been assumed that people treat Islam the same way they treat other religions; I think that’s just not the case. Of course there are extremists everywhere, but it is Muslims that get most attention – it’s no surprise, society’s always needed a scapegoat and we just happen to be easy targets. Muslims have been increasingly alienated in recent years and particularly since the Rushdie Affair, in my opinion. I think constantly reinforcing them as ‘different’ ‘intolerant’ isn’t really helping the issue. Muslims are not a homogeneous group; they’ve been lived in Europe for centuries. I think the argument can go both ways. Perhaps in its quest for so-called secular and liberal values, Britain is becoming equally extremist.

      I also believe that this distinction between ‘good Muslim’ and ‘bad Muslim’ is highly irrelevant because you get good and bad everywhere. Such debates are placed out of context and I believe, Mahmoud Mamdani’s article ‘Good Muslim, bad Muslim’ explains this very well. In a multicultural society like Britain, focus must be placed on mutual respect and not alienation. Islam and Muslims are very much a part of Britain, and unless this is realised I don’t think there are much chances of things improving. Therefore, in this regard at least, I think this is a very biased perspective (I won’t exactly call it privileged- in reference to your edited comment)

      Khadija Basit

      May 12, 2012 at 1:10 am

      • I need to read the article you’ve referenced, thanks so much for your comment.

        Kate Harris

        May 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm

  19. Kate, this is a great blog post, it reflects the sort of honesty in wanting to debate and engage with ideas that is desperately needed on the left.


    “She raves against the sectarian attitude on the left whilst comfortably and wholly fitting into that bracket.”

    It isn’t sectarian. Nothing Kate has said demonstrates “a narrow-minded adherence to a particular sect or party or denomination.” Criticism of the politics of a group is not sectarian, especially from an independent activist!

    Political debate should be welcomed. It’s good that you’ve engaged in a debate with your first point, however, you’ve not addressed any of the political points Kate has made. In fact, you’ve spent the entire second point attacking the AWL instead of engaging with any of the arguments she made.

    “She claims that Galloway is a homophobe, that’s news to me.”

    It’s because he places very little priority on defending the LGBT community. He’s been absent for 80% of the important votes on LGBT equality in parliament, most notably the repeal of Section 28 and the introduction of Civil Partnerships[1]. Worse still, when asked about the hanging of Iranian homosexuals he claimed that Iran didn’t hang people for the crime of homosexuality, they hanged them for “sex crimes against men.” [2] Calling homosexuality a “sex crime” is homophobia. It’s a comment he’s never apologised for.

    Kate also says he’s “an apologist for vile regimes and anti-choice”, a claim you never responded to because it’s true.

    He is vocally anti-choice having said “[I am] strongly against abortion. I believe life begins at conception and therefore unborn babies have rights. I think abortion is immoral…I believe in God. I have to believe that the collection of cells has a soul” in the Independent on Sunday (4 April 2004). And has never attended a vote on abortion in parliament [3].

    It would be too time consuming to catalogue his many defences of the Iraqi and Iranian Ba’ath Parties, or of the Iranian regime, or of Omar Al-Bashir and his denial of the Darfur Genocide [4], or of the USSR [5] of which he said “I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life” and the list goes on.

    “The racist, anti-Muslim AWL… …[The AWL’s] general racist attitude towards Muslims.”

    How are the AWL racist? The burden of proof lies upon you. It’s not a claim that is bore out by our actions. I also fail to see how the AWL is “anti-Muslim” unless you ignore all of our anti-fascist work. My comrades and I have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community, physically confronting groups like the EDL and distributing anti-Racist propaganda. Meanwhile, campaigns like the UAF/LMHR, Hope Not Hate, and Searchlight hold rallies and concerts miles away from where the EDL are physically attacking people and buildings.

    We might disagree on anti-facsist tactics and other issues. But to paint us as anti-muslim racists is absurd and absolutely runs counter to rational debate of the kind that’s needed to deal with political disagreement usefully.

    “The AWL, despite their Zionism.”

    In what way is the AWL Zionist?

    Do we support an ethnically pure Jewish state? Absolutely not. Do we support any of the racist things the Israeli state is doing? No.

    We support two states because there are two distinct nationalities that live in the region; those that define themselves as Israeli and those that define themselves as Palestinian. We believe that every nation has the right to national self-determination.

    From Kashmir to Kurdistan, Chechnya to Tamil Eelam the rest of the left does not simply support “one state” as the solution to the national question if they can even be bothered to talk about these struggles.

    Let’s take the equally racist state of Turkey, where Kurds are not even allowed to speak their own language, where the Kurds can’t form their own legitimate political party, where thousands of Kurds have been killed by the Turkish government and thousands more languish in prisons for taking part in demonstrations. Is the solution one secular state comprising Turkey and Kurdistan? Do we say that two states is racist? No. It’s totally irrational. The double standard – the failure to be consistent – here is simply stunning.

    Finally, does the AWL support the Israeli Occupation? No. We have a quite clear line on what we advocate:

    “The Palestinians must be allowed to form a viable, fully independent state – a state with the same rights as Israel. Details aside, that means a Palestinian state in the area which has been occupied since 1967, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza; it means the dismantling of the ‘security fence’ and the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops. And it means massive aid from Israel, the Arab states and others to help the Palestinians rebuild their shattered society.” [6] [7] [8]

    Now people might disagree with us on these issues. But simply calling us “zionists” and “racists” and refusing to work with us is infuriating and not the sort of debate the movement needs.

    What’s more, when we’re confronting the EDL in the streets and people are calling us racists while we’re trying to do it they’re putting our personal safety at risk. This is not the sort of left we need, where the shibboleths of one’s sect trump the personal safety of people one disagrees with.


    Patrick Smith

    May 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    • Kate, it’s really telling when most of you people defending your politics and this blod piece are members of the AWL.

      The AWL is a psycho cult, and are no comrades of the Left. This isn’t secratarian, it’s because they are zionists, anti-muslim and supported the iraq war.


      May 12, 2012 at 8:13 pm

  20. (note: this got too long. Sarah J quipped that’ all the menz have got to write essays about Kate’s blog’ and it appears that I am no exception.)

    Really Kay,

    So, Kate writes a blog about the low standards of debate on the left and *that* is how you choose to respond?

    Let’s take these points of yours in reverse order, shall we?

    1) The AWL supported the Iraq war. We didn’t. This is what we wrote in our newspaper at the time: : “No to war! Solidarity with the peoples of Iraq! No to Saddam!”
    So where did you get that we maybe did support the Iraq war? The clever way we masked our real thoughts by helping organise all those anti-war protests?

    In fact, when the Iraqi trade unions held their first public congress in decades under the occupation, in Erbil, we were the only UK organisation to send anyone – at all. Our comrade Ruth Cashman arrived and had a badge saying “British delegation” pinned on her, although she protested. Iraqi comrades didn’t know why the rest of the left wasn’t there. In fact it was because much of the UK left thought that the Mahdi Army and other religious militas were more exciting and chose to ignore and occasionally slander or attempt to no-platform their movement. Her report of the conference is here:

    We joined up with comrades in the Worker-Communisty Party of Iraq to set up Iraq Union Solidarity: . Because the Worker-Communist comrades in Iraq, Iran and Kurdestan told the truth about the religious “resistance” groups in Iraq, who were and are killing and kidnapping trade unionists, much of the UK “left” refused to work with them. On one occasion, because of this disagreement, the SWP organised a “walkout” of NUS conference when Houzan addressed it: – read the article, it’s a shocking story.

    So – we opposed the war, and against the opposition of some of the left, who thought it was wrong to back the fledgling labour movement in its fight for survival against religious militias, we organised with anti-Stalinist revolutionary socialists and trade unions in Iraq. There was a difference of opinion between us and the rest of the left – what attitude should you have to the Iraqi working class and the Iraqi labour movement? For us, that was the chief thing to organise around. For the rest of the left, it was secondary to supporting any force in military conflict with the USA. We thought that that position erased class from the picture and was wrong. We could have had a debate about it. Instead, we got no debate, but a great deal of nonsense at the time, and wholesale re-writing of history now. That is a pretty spot-on example of the awful, irrational culture that Kate is taking issue with. Any difference becomes a matter of high heresy.

    2) The AWL is “anti-Muslim”. We are not. This is what we wrote in response to the July 7 bombings:

    3) The AWL are Zionists. Sigh. Engage with what Patrick has written above. Any of it. Have you read it?

    4) The AWL are no comrades of the left: not much to say to this one by way of rebuttal, because it’s so ludicrous. But the fact that it is so ludicrous shows how skewed your view of politics has become: left and right are no longer meaningful terms, just things that are thrown around in the welter of hysteria that has come to replace debate. Speaking of using scare-words and swear words instead of rational argument:

    5) The AWL are a psycho cult. Good job on the disablist language there. Stay classy. But what is a cult? A group in which internal debate is banned or at least looked down upon. A milieu in which airing opposing views is regarded as “brave” – the number one word that people are using to describe Kate’s post. A milieu in which the only people who are allowed to put out new ideas are the appointed ideological leaders, who are unaccountable and can’t be challenged. A group where any departure from the orthodoxy puts you outside the fold, where dissenters are subject to abuse and ostracisation. In a cult, you have to pretend the opposite of what you think in order to not upset your superiors. In a cult, people are promoted as objects of worship. “Cult” is a word that describes a place where differences are dealt with by anything but rational debate, where recruitment happens not on the basis of ideological agreement but on in-group/out-group stuff and hustling. The foregoing is actually a description of most of the left, which Kate was critiquing, and whose policing methods she is now on the receiving end of.

    In the AWL we pride ourselves on cleaning this crap off Marxism. Our constitution ( says up at the beginning: “Activists should not pretend to hold beliefs contrary to their real ones”.

    When I joined the AWL, I was in a minority grouping over the question of slogans on the Iraq war. I explained my minority view to comrades outside the organisation. People in the minority (mostly the young members) wrote scathing articles against the majority in the paper. We got almost half the votes at conference. This is why I joined. I joined knowing I would not agree with everything the group said, and I knew that I’d be expected to defend my ideas and not just keep my head down – and that the group would view my dissent not as some troublesome rot, but as a valuable thing that needed to be discussed as part of the work of keeping the group rational and thinking. In that respect, we see ourselves as making a radical break from most of the left – a departure which is far more radical than our difference of line over Israel-Palestine. This article, I think, is interesting from that point of view:
    “The “revolutionary superman” today is typically a “Trotskyist” builder of “the revolutionary party”. One of the things trade union supporters of Workers’ Liberty in Britain have to contend with — in the civil service union for example where the “revolutionary” left has had a presence for many years — is that many good trade unionists, honest, rational people, have come to hate the “revolutionary left” as liars, manipulators, people who place themselves outside the norms of reasonable political, moral and intellectual interaction. To a serious degree they do not have a common language with people who do not share their methods and habits of thought, or their special view of themselves and their “party”.”

    Kay’s little slew of lies about the AWL is not a series of misapprehensions that one could get from reading our stuff – clearly it is a series of slurs which one has to learn, because if you talk to our people and read our stuff, there is no way you could think that that was our position. These misrepresentations are passed around between ‘”Trotskyist” builders of the revolutionary party’, not in public debates or newspaper articles, but under the counter, in corners at pubs, like kids swapping dirty pictures, “do you want to know what to say about the SP? About the AWL?”. That is where the “debate” between left groups takes place: in back-room trades of pre-agreed slurs, which bear no resemblance to reality! Aidan T has blogged about this, here:

    But the worst thing about Kay’s article is the innuendo: “it is telling that you are being supported by the AWL”. Firstly, this is guilt by association: Kate can’t help it if we are agreeing with her on this or that (mainly, on the issue of demanding a higher level of debate). This is a way of dismissing someone without engaging politically – when you do guilt by association, there is no way for the victim to come back. Kate is defenceless against this, because it is true that AWL activists have received her blog sympathetically (if critically). Bang to rights! She’s trapped. But worse – the meaning of this guilt is not made clear either. “It’s telling that…” What does it tell? There is the implication that something is bad, or at least that something is being told – but Kate can’t come back on that, either. These are the tools of the Stalinist hack, the ideological policeman, the priest, the cult enforcer. These methods, slippery, opaque, tricky, always on the offensive disappearing when you push against them, are the opposite of what is needed for rational, emancipatory politics – plain facts and ideas, stated clearly, in the light of day, backed up with facts, that anyone can evaluate and comment on.

    Ed Maltby

    May 13, 2012 at 12:31 am

  21. A few thoughts

    1. Kate is right that Israel is not going anywhere, and that refusing to raise the goal of withdrawal from the Occupied Territories because it’s insufficiently radical, is basically telling the Palestinians to give up on any realistic hope of progress. Where I’d differ, at least in emphasis, is that for me it’s not just a question of realpolitik, that the big powers support Israel so – sadly – we can’t get rid of it. (I’m not saying this is exactly Kate’s view; I’m dramatizing.) For me it’s more that the better solution – a single binational, democratic state, which would certainly have all sorts of advantages – is simply impossible except through self-determination for both peoples and then a mutually agreed federation or merger. Any attempt to force this solution against the will of the majority of either Palestinians or Israelis means that the single democratic state will not be democratic, but a cover for one side subjugating the other. Just because the Israelis are currently the oppressor doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to self-determination.

    2. Kate, this aside, could you explain where you different from the AWL on Palestine? I ask because I’m amazed how often people think they disagree and have simply been misinformed about our position. Obviously if you genuinely have disagreements – fair enough, and would be good to know what they are.

    3. Joanne is right that, in Britain, we need to have a different attitude to Christianity than Islam. I’d quite happily shout “I hate Christianity”, whereas – in the racist, Islamophobic climate of Britain today – I wouldn’t shout “I hate Islam”. So far, so much agreement. But firstly, there has to be a limit to this – we have to maintain the right to criticise ALL religions to some degree and in some form. By giving up this principle the SWP has ended up in the ridiculous situation where it opposes calls for the abolition of ALL religious schools as Islamophobic – even though 99.99 percent of them are Christian! And secondly it’s important to recognize that the situation is different a) within majority-Muslim communities (why shouldn’t ex-Muslims express their hostility to Islam?) and b) within the majority-Muslim world, where one problem is rather non-Muslims and ex-Muslims being oppressed in the name of Islam. It’s not as if various forms of Islam are not – also – a reactionary force in the world, just as various forms of Christianity are. More generally, aren’t we internationalists? Try actually talking to the Worker-communist Party of Iran or Iraq (the AWL works with them extensively) and you’ll find they want solidarity for their anti-religious position. Actually I think they are too crudely anti-religious, but my point is it’s not good enough to say: let the Iranian criticise Islamism. We have to have a consistent standard and make solidarity with our comrades in and from other countries. Instead they are often denounced. I remember the SWP and Socialist Action walking out of NUS conference in 2005 when an Iraqi women’s rights activist from the WCPI spoke – see
    Isn’t that disgraceful?

    4. The point about Hamas is not just that they are reactionary in their politics, but that they are fundamentally hostile to and chauvinist against Israeli Jews. They seek to deny the Israelis the right to self-determination and, even if you’re for one state, their goal is an Islamic state in which the Israelis are not equal citizens but crushed. Is that not an issue for you? So simply lauding them as a “resistance movement” is fairly problematic. That’s before you get to the fact that in fact much of the left – particularly the SWP – ignores or justifies their attacks on workers, women, LGBT people etc etc.
    5. Since at least two people have repeated the lazy and ridiculous slur that the AWL is Islamophobic, could someone state briefly – and if you can, calmly – why and in what way?

    6.We’re a “psycho cult”? Isn’t this just evidence of how unwilling to engage in rational debate much of the left has become?

    7. Lastly, since there’s rightly been a lot of discussion about the interaction and inter-relationship between the left and various oppressed groups, I’d like to comment on women and black people in the AWL. A number of people on the left have developed a habit of making incredibly offensive comments along the lines that the AWL are, for instance, all men – despite the proportionally large number of women in our organisation, including in our student organisation, and the fact that we are one of the most active left organisations when it comes to women’s liberation. We saw the hypocrisy of the left on this at this year’s NUS conference, when our comrade Rosie Huzzard narrowly missed out on election to the NEC and the SWP – in addition to voting to make sure she didn’t get on – hailed this fact. Not just sectarianism, but putting sectarianism above the only possibility of getting a left woman elected to the Block, when all five left-wingers elected were men. Again, isn’t this disgraceful?
    Similarly, I’ve had white left-wingers mocking my Muslim heritage as part of their campaign “against Islamophobia”, not to mention the recent episode in which a prominent student SWPer went round telling people I’d changed my name to “sound more Muslim”. Other black and Asian AWL members (yes, the AWL is disproportionately white – like much o the left) have experienced similar crap. The ludicrousness to a pitch on the ULU election night where a Somali-background activist who works closely with us was told by a white SWPer he was racist for his position on Palestine!
    This kind of hypocrisy and cynicism is a stain on the left.

    Sacha Ismail

    May 15, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    • I’ll form a more serious reply after I’ve done some thinking, but the thing about you changing your name to ‘sound more Muslim’ is obviously disgusting and offensive – but it’s also so absurd. Laughable

      Kate Harris

      May 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm

  22. The other thing to add, quickly, is how selective the SWP and others are when saying they can’t work with the AWL. In fact, they work with us all the time – when they feel they have to. Thus last they ran on joint SU election slates with us in a number of places. Three years before that, they ran with us on a slate for the Unison NEC. This year, their “Unite the Resistance” conference in London was chaired by an AWL member, Unison activist Ruth Cashman, who is on the UTR Steering Committee (our comrade Bob Sutton is on the EAN Steering Committee – as I understand neither ever meets). So they had a racist chairing their conference? There are many other examples. I don’t doubt some clueless SWPers have been brainwashed into actually believing all this stuff, but the attempt to tag as as ‘untouchable’ is basically a factional artefact, designed to smash a group in the student movement which though it has always been small was once very dominant and which they therefore see as a potential competitor.

    Sacha Ismail

    May 16, 2012 at 12:01 am

  23. “…refusing to raise the goal of withdrawal from the Occupied Territories because it’s insufficiently radical, is basically telling the Palestinians to give up on any realistic hope of progress.”

    It is not for us to “tell” the Palestinians anything. Our role is to support their struggle for self-determination. If they chose to reject withdrawal without the right of return, as it would seem is the position of the vast majority of Palestinians it is not for us to demand that they accept partition of their land.

    Israel is a young and seriously problematic state, yet there are Israelis who are not Palestinians – as with all others who seek a homeland free from fear of persecution their needs must be taken into account once the land is returned.


    May 17, 2012 at 12:55 am

  24. More about it here

    Mhairi, actually the position of the majority of Palestinians – let alone the vast majority – is not so clear at all. There are many polls suggesting support or at least acceptance of a two-state settlement.

    In any case, yes, the Palestinians must have self-determination, but why shouldn’t the Israelis have that right too? What does it mean for the “the land to be returned”? In this democratic state you envisage, wouldn’t the national minority of Hebrew-speaking, Jewish background people have the right to secede, ie to self-determination of the compact areas where they are a majority? If not, what is left of democracy? And if so, doesn’t the idea of seeking to force the two peoples together, rather than a two-state settlement as the stepping stone towards any possibility of something better (not just a single state, but Arab-Jewish workers’ unity and struggle), make no sense?

    Sacha Ismail

    May 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm

  25. Why is this behaviour so much worse in the student movement than the labour movement? This is how I summarised it in the article I posted above:

    “I’m not sure why this kind of dishonesty and sectarianism is worse in the student movement than the labour movement. But I suspect it may be to do with the fact that people stay in the student movement for relatively brief periods of time. In the labour movement, where people often work together, in the same workplaces, industries and unions, for many years, there is a built-in tendency against this sort of behaviour. If SWPers in the NUT or Unison, for instance, regularly called us racist, they would much more quickly discredit themselves in the eyes of union activists. In the student movement too, though, the SWP’s behaviour alienates a lot of people: which is one of the reasons that most independent left activists, including many who disagree with us about issues like Palestine, backed Daniel Cooper in the ULU election.

    “And on the other hand, there is lying and dishonesty on the left in the labour movement as well. In all cases, the willingness of the SWP and others on the left to tell lies about their opponents poisons the political atmosphere. Cut it out, comrades! Let’s debate our differences openly and honestly instead.”

    Sacha Ismail

    May 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm

  26. […] activism, protests, worldwide hippies by Worldwide Hippies By Alasdair,WWHD – Reading Kate Harris’ post on the state of the student far-left in Scotland and England sparked a discussion about the […]

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