Monday, July 17, 2006

AWL to the rescue

I must apologise for missing my first day (Sunday) since starting the blog - this is entirely due the Radical Activist Network and their minions and in no way am I responsible for the gap.

As attentive readers will know I went to the RAN conference on Latin America. This is the third, and best, Latin America conference that I've been to in four weeks and the comparison is interesting I think. The RAN conference was bigger than the Socialist Resistance and AWL conferences and the composition was much broader ideologically which gave the whole thing a far more open and inquisitive air.

The one explicitly "I am a Marxist and say Marxist things" contribution I heard was from a pseudo-Spartatists who felt we really must be informed of events in 1905 and 1917 (although I think he forgot to mention where). That lack of commitment to Marxist jargon meant the debate had a greater theoretical depth.

Mexico takes to the streetsWhilst the SR day school was an enjoyable event a good number of the speakers and contributors (not all) were clearly trying to use Latin America as an example that 'proves' Marxism, and in the debate on Che Guevara in particular the speaker was more concerned about the integrity of Marxism than the integrity of his argument. Obviously neither SR nor RAN conferences were as appallingly dogmatic and schematic as the AWL event - this goes without saying I guess.

The two best sessions to my mind were:-

Venezuela: Creating Social Movements from above? The debate on Venezuela was probably the most honest in its critical analysis of the 'Bolivarian revolution' that I've seen so far - and I think this is in no small part due to the fact this is the first time I've seen an actual debate between platform speakers who disagree on the character of what's happening - and what the implications are for participatory democracy and social movements. Why aren't other groups providing a space for alternative ideas in this way?

Mexico: Where now for the Zapatistas? Was also really excellent, not only because the speaker (Paul Chatterton of kiptik)
was a charismatic and thoughtful speaker with a lot of useful information to impart but also because the very real debates around the 'other campaign' and electoral fraud at the recent elections were played out in the discussion. It's always slightly irritated me that for parts of the radical movement in this country the Zapitistas are the only interesting thing happening in Mexico and this discussion really helped sketch out the Mexican context in a much fuller way I thought.

But, as always, some of the best discussions take place in the corridors, at the stalls and in the bar around the conference. I will leave aside my terribly insulting behavior towards one stall holder when I described one of the books they were pushing as 'rubbish' because, whilst I felt confirmed in my view after our 'discussion' on the book's merits, I was a bit rough with him and that's unforgivably Trotskyist of me.

Actually two debates that I hope to have more time to discuss in other posts were about whether the workers of the 'first world' benefit from the exploitation of those of the 'third world' and how bloody awful NGOs are. The debate on NGOs has particularly burned into my consciousness the dangers of NGOism not particularly because of the arguments put against them but because of the way WDM workers choose to defend their policies - essentially reproducing almost word for word (literally) the Stalinists in the film Land and Freedom. More on this later perhaps.

Typical RAN member at two in the morningThe really odd starting time (one p.m.) simultaneously allowed me to get a proper night's sleep on Friday and led to a nightmarish wandering round of Kings Cross at three in the morning in the early hours of Sunday with another Cambridge activist, who I will refrain from naming as Rich would not like everyone to know how drunk he was.

The AWL came to our rescue and Beckie (spelling?) gave the two strangers a place to sleep the night and was a really wonderful host. The conversations we had with her reminded me no matter how reactionary and dogmatic I feel the AWL can be at times, it is also home to some really splendid socialists.

Anyway, if you ever get the chance, do go along to a Radical Activist Network event, they prove in practice that you don't need to have swallowed a text book to grapple with important ideas (and can it be a coincidence that all the speakers from the floor kept their contributions short and succinct?).


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim. I just saw your comment on my post over at Tim's blog. This is a v. good blog! And I liked your review of the wind that shakes the Barley.


BadMatthew said...

Hey Jim. This blog just made me want more details.

Question: are all NGOs the same in your view? Surely there are different approaches and relationships, 'NGOism' isn't a single thing. And what precisely were the WDM people saying? I joined the WDM after I saw a previous head of the organisation demolish a representative of the International Chambers of Commerce in an argument about globalization on Newsnight. Should I stop giving them money for their ecxellent campaigning work? Didn't they provide some funding for Oscar Olivera's tour, the cunning bastards!
PS good photo of you though.
PPS link to 'kiptik' doesn't work.

AN said...

I also think you are a bit unfair on the SR school, which was a fair go at trying to understand new developments, and there was a diversity of views, after all they had Jorge Martin and Armancay on the platforms, as well as the brilliant Celia Hart. BTW I was impressed with Jorge, both on a political and personal level.

Certainly during the session on Cuba I think there was a genuine attempt by everyone to develop an understanding of a subject none of us were expert on.

Jim Jay said...

Hi Rachel - glad you like the blog, see you at the next CAN meeting perhaps?

Hi BM - yes there's a lot to say but the blog entry was getting far too long as it was, so I thought I'd come back to some of the other points.

I will definately do a post on NGOs and WDM in particular because they are at the 'left' end of the spectrum.

I don't think they are all the same - but they do share certain charactistics I think. Characteristics that mirror, or replicate the imperial geography of the world. I'm being careful there not to say they are tools of imperialism.

To give a taste of the arguments here is one thing that was said(paraphrasing whilst trying not to distort) "WDM is the most important NGO because it has the most money and we can't put off our rich supporters by being too radical. Like opposing privatisation on principle - that's why we are careful to specifically oppose the water privatisation in Bolivia."

I'm not going to advocate not giving them money - as the ones I've met on the ground are cool, right on people. The full timer I met at this conference was a nice person - but she would still have me shot if she could.

I will ask this though - where does that money go? They did pay for Oscar to come - they also tried to dictate the terms under which he came and to have a say over who he spoke to.

Did you see him at Marxism? They tried to prevent him speaking there... because they were afraid of being associated with the left.

Oh - and I'll correct that broken link now - thanks for the tip off.

Jim Jay said...

AN - the RAN conference was better.

At the SR school (which I enjoyed) there was too much Marxistising and not enough trying to understand what was going on.

Like the first speaker who trotted out a series of cliches about latin america (liberation theology has a deep hold, indigenous struggles are at the front all over the continent) turning the whole place into one homogenous lump. I mean the guy was on the platform for goodness sake!

I still enjoyed it though because the ISG are the least dogmatic, most open marxists in the UK.

Incidently people like Amancay and Jorge are on loads of left platforms because they are non-sectarian, know their shit and go to those organisations and ask to speak so any group would be mad to turn them down.

Renegade Eye said...

It sounds great.

This week I have a commemoration to go to, related to the 1934 Teamster Strike in Minneapolis. Picture Minneapolis under Trotskyist control.