Be young and shut up

A blog about student activism.

The student far left in Scotland and England still needs to change

with 3 comments

I had a huge number of responses to a piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Here I hope to address some of what I got right and stand by, some of what I misjudged and got wrong, and iron out some confusion. The TL; DR version is I basically stick by what I said but some of it was incredibly clumsy.

The entire reason I wrote the blog was to try to start a dialogue about things that I don’t ever see people discussing properly. It wasn’t to start a flame war, it wasn’t to defend everything Alliance for Workers’ Liberty do or say, even though (shock) I get on with a lot of AWL members. I was kind of confused that people saw it as a defence of the AWL as I actually said several times that I’m not a member and often disagree with them.

In response to Sacha and other people who have asked, I don’t take the AWL line on Palestine because I don’t believe in the ‘self-determination of Israeli Jews’ simply because I don’t believe any political entity should have anything remotely to do with religion. I know most of them are atheists too, some really staunchly, as I am, but I can’t get behind that as a thing. There are probably some other differences too, like the stuff about Israel having a right to defend itself I find a bit dodgy. However, for everything they do wrong at least AWL are willing to talk and discuss things, sometimes that discussion might be a bit off-key but at least it actually happens.

What I wrote about Israel-Palestine seems to have caused a lot of controversy. I dealt with it too hastily because it wasn’t meant to be the main point of my post: most of the post was meant to be about encouraging discussion, nuance and complexity. I don’t feel like I have a right to tell anyone else what they should think about this issue, I am white and English and while I am inevitably going to have an opinion I don’t think anyone should value it particularly highly. I don’t value my opinion that highly it’s just what I think.

However the fact that me expressing my opinion, albeit clumsily, has caused such huge internet comment threads and flame wars I think is the exact reason the blog needed to be written: because any dissent on certain topics results in social exclusion and being treated as if you are no longer a human being. I am not just an ‘activist’ I’m also a 23 year old woman who has lots of ‘non-activist’ friends (whatever that means) and I don’t treat them so harshly when they have different opinions from me. There seems to be something that happens that once someone becomes even a little bit involved in a group we stop recognising that everyone is to a large extent socialised and start thinking that because they come to demos or conferences that they need to agree with everything. This is incredibly alienating especially for people who are still developing their views! After all the blog was written about ‘the student left’ and a lot of what happens as a student and as a young person is that you develop what you think.

My eventual aim is anarchist communism: leaderless, stateless, full communisation and sharing of resources: simply as Marx said, ‘from each according to their abilirt to each according to their need’. I reject nationalism as a thing. However I know that this isn’t going to happen tomorrow, sadly, so I believe in building for revolution, if you will, and even in gaining concessions that make people’s lives more comfortable in the short to medium term. Now, if you look at the resources and power of Israel I don’t think it’s realistic to expect it to go away. I also, as I know pretty much everyone will agree with, don’t agree with chucking people out especially since some Israelis were born and brought up there and that is their home, in the same way that to me people who have migrated to Britain or whose families have migrated to Britain are British without question, if they want to be. Israel might be a young state and nationalism and patriotism might be kind of bullshit in general but that doesn’t change that it’s a real thing and people have homes. Right to return is obviously important but whether through a one or two state solution (eventually I would like a no state solution :P ) we have to address the existence of Israel and Israelis as a thing.

I pointed out withdrawal from the occupied territories as ‘immediate’ not because people who’ve been forced out of their homes decades ago don’t have immediate concerns but because the program of extending the borders is ongoing and needs to be stopped right now. The use of the word immediate was wrong; I guess what I meant was that it is something that can be stopped in the short-term through activism and international pressure.

Two respected comrades said to me that the Palestinian struggle was the ‘apex’ or the ‘epicentre’ of the struggle against imperialism. I reject this as a principle because I think all struggles against imperialism are important. As someone who was born in sub-Saharan Africa I take a keen interest (which some of you may be surprised by) in the politics of West, Central and East Africa in particular. I was born in Yaounde, Cameroon, and spent a year when I was nineteen (gap yaaaah) working for an aid agency raising money in Peterborough and talking about floods, drought and urban poverty in Kenya. There have been some horrific wars in the 90s, 00s and right up to the present day in sub-Saharan Africa where both sides have been supplied guns and lied to by the West in a neoimperialist fashion. I don’t think that if we achieve Palestinian liberation we will also then achieve anti-imperial liberation in sub-Saharan Africa elsewhere, and that’s surely what is meant by an ‘apex’ or an ‘epicenter’. Why should I be asked to prioritise one cause over another when both are important?

Student Broad Left, as expected, didn’t properly address my assertions but instead called me racist, Islamophobic and a number of other things. What I was pointing out was people’s hypocrisy in terms of never picking fights with SBL, who have extremely dodgy politics and tactics, but calling out other groups (yes, including AWL). I believe in calling people out on their bullshit wherever I see it. I believe in being consistent in my politics – not rejecting complexity and nuance to win arguments. Anyone who defended George Galloway – LOL is all I have to say really. It doesn’t take much detective work to find out how crap he is and that he’s not even a socialist. I don’t consider SBL socialists.

The masculinist culture of aggression is a real thing that is happening in Scotland and England. People have been four inches away from me shouting in my face because I didn’t want to have some argument, right there, right then. I have felt physically intimidated by people, mainly men but a few women, and scared to face them. This isn’t the same as robust debate. It’s feeling too scared to go to meetings. That is the level it’s reached. People think I’m pretty strong and sometimes I struggle to move my arse to something because I just can’t cope with it.

What I did wrong was to conflate this with a lack of nuance in international politics. There is a link there, in terms of straight men often not really understanding the importance of feminism and queer politics, but it was wrong to conflate them and I’m sorry about that.

I don’t think it’s acceptable to offer ‘critical support’ or support of any kind to Hamas. I think it’s hypocritical. I don’t believe in cultural relativism of any kind. I obviously believe as someone about to graduate in Sociology that people are socialised into behaviours and attitudes and that cultures differ widely, for better or worse. I don’t hold up Scottish or English culture as bastions of anti-homophobia or anti-secism because they’re not; and also because they have other myriad problems including racism, imperialist attitudes et cetera. Having said that, as someone I follow on Twitter recently said, third wordlists having inconsistencies in their politics according to cultural relativism is patronising and kinda racist. Homophobia is never okay no matter who’s doing it. There might be good reasons but there are no good excuses. Hamas is a misogynistic homophobic organisation and I think you can support Palestinian liberation without supporting them. I’ve heard people joke about the Muslim Brotherhood as well but having read responses like this I know they must be jokes. I still think that’s not okay, but whatever. I also don’t see what electoral success has to do with anything really and don’t accept ‘populist’ arguments – does that mean we should support David Cameron?

What I wrote about International Socialist Group (Scotland) was basically a huge mess or rage and emotions, but I largely stand by it. I think that ISG get off the hook because people think ‘ah they’re not as bad a Socialist Workers’ Party so that’s good’ or ‘they work with us so that’s nice’. I don’t accept this. They are good at getting shit done and that’s to be applauded but I don’t think any organisation should be beyond criticism. What happened at the first Scottish Students Against Cuts conference was appalling and one of the worst meetings I have ever been to. There is a serious amount of revisionism going on by some folk who seem to be forgetting how grim that was. I left that meeting thinking I never wanted to be involved ever again.

What I said about arrests and ‘being radge’ on demos was insensitive but I had a point. I’m sorry if I made anyone feel like I blame you for being arrested, of course I don’t and it sucks so much, I’ve had close friends arrested for sod all and the police are dreadful. However there was a point in there and Mhairi explained it better than me but basically I just want us to be a bit sensible and not compete for activist points.

What I wrote about being an independent activist was not meant to denigrate activists who are in groups or parties but was a polemic in defence of my own choice not to be in a group. People attack me all the time for it and I don’t think it’s valid to do that. I said in the post that there isn’t a group that I identify with enough to join, and that remains the case. The stuff about papers and dues was flippant and kind of silly.

After this I wrote a polemic in favour of open and honest debate and against crap tactics that push a group’s agenda ahead of the will of whoever is at that meeting or conference. I’m a fan of anarchist organising and democracy and that is just my opinion. I also think everyone should be free to criticise each other in a sensitive manner (something I sometimes fail at!).

Now, people have valid reasons for not wanting to work with others, but I do stand by what I said about an ‘us and them’ culture. People are put into categories of ‘decent’ and ‘dodgy’ and often no one tells us dodgy folk why we’re dodgy, there’s just an unspoken mistrust. It might just be that our views are too anarchist or that we don’t think x about y. I don’t have a problem with working with AWL on domestic issues and I don’t really see the big deal. If it were a Palestinian person having a problem with them then I would understand but it’s often white middle class folk saying that what I say is ‘minimising’ or ‘triggering’ – erm what? Unless you’ve been through a trauma that relates to those issues that’s not relevant or sensible language to use. Someone you disagree with turning up is not the same as say, a sex offender showing up or someone who directly threatens one or more people.

The most controversial thing I said I think was about ‘the fetishisation of the underdog’. What I’m talking about here, which I didn’t explain very well, is white English and Scottish people chanting ‘intifada’, ‘we are all Palestinians’ or ‘we are all Egyptians’ as if we can ever understand what that oppression feels like. I could stretch to chanting ‘intifada’ but not ‘we are all Palestinians’ or ‘we are all x oppressed group or person’ because I won’t ever understand. I’m not really sure what purpose this serves to be honest and I think it’s alienating and bad propaganda. There are other specific chants I’ve heard that I seriously disagree with. I also find it weird when white people greet me in Arabic, I know maybe three words of Arabic and I’m sympathetic to what they say but c’mon dude, I’m white and you’re being presumptuous. Anyway, George Galloway is the worst offender in terms of thinking he’s an Arab when he’s a white bloke who, to be honest, can massively fuck off.  Him chanting ‘we are all Hizbollah’ was repulsive. I apologise that I didn’t properly explain what I meant. I appreciate what was said about me trying to sort people into ‘good Muslims’ and ‘bad Muslims’, it wasn’t my intention and I phrased what I was trying to say incredibly poorly.

No one commented on what I wrote about not ‘treating each other as a rent-a-crowd’, which is a shame because that’s one of the most important things I said. Thinking people aren’t ‘good activists’ (whatever that is, lol) because they didn’t show up to something is pathetic. Some of us have chronic illnesses and personal problems that we don’t feel comfortable talking to you about. Also, we don’t have to explain ourselves. Why don’t you go up to everyone in the street and ask them why they didn’t attend? For fuck’s sake.

Regarding what was said on my Facebook about Students for Justice in Palestine Edinburgh having lots of women, well, good for you. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a macho culture at times, which needs to be addressed, as it does across the left.

To anyone who was incredibly mean to me, like Fiona Edwards, you really upset me. Luckily I’m now dealing with it and it’s not going to put me off saying what I think. And there is a hell of a lot of obnoxiousness around.

What I want to see is a lively movement with big ideas – that doesn’t stifle complexity, nuance or debate because they’re confusing or because they threaten ‘unity’. That would be a false unity anyway. Rigorous but respectful argument is a good thing and is what will help us build a better future. I appeal to political consistency but also to recognition of the lack of homogeneity in any group, political or otherwise, the world over.

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Written by CakeCakeCakeCakeCake

May 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Welsh student far left: still awesome.

    Edmund Schluessel

    June 22, 2012 at 12:56 am

  2. Hi Kate,

    Thanks for the reply on my question. You wrote:

    “I don’t take the AWL line on Palestine because I don’t believe in the ‘self-determination of Israeli Jews’ simply because I don’t believe any political entity should have anything remotely to do with religion.”

    Neither do I – I hope my, and the AWL’s, record on this is clear. So let me ask you this, phrasing the question more exactly and as it should be phrased to avoid confusion:

    Do you agree with self-determination for the mainly Hebrew-speaking, Israeli-majority nationality, ie the other main group who share the territory of historic Palestine with the Palestinian Arabs and whose now-imperialist state is oppressing the Palestinians?

    This group are generally referred to as “Jews”, as in eg “Jews and Arabs unite”, but it what is at issue here is their ethnicity/nationality, not their religion (many of them being – as you point out – atheists, though if all were religious the distinction would still stand). If you can think of another way of saying this, fine. “Israelis” won’t do since many Israelis are Arabs. I guess you could just say “the Hebrew-speaking people” or something, but that’s pretty clunky…

    Sacha Ismail

    AWL

    June 22, 2012 at 11:57 am

  3. Hi Kate,
    What are your thoughts on this?

    Sacha Ismail

    July 3, 2012 at 11:10 am


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