Thursday, March 15, 2007

SPGB Talking Shop

Just stumbled across this list on Wiki.

Looks like some comrades have too much time on their hands. Shouldn't you be doing a paper sale, comrade? Only joking . . . maybe.

From a quick glance through the list, I think I attended maybe six of the listed debates. I think the compiler missed out a debate the Party had with the AWL at the Lucas Arms in Kings Cross in '97. I remember Dave Flynn speaking for the SPGB but, for the life of me, I can't remember who the AWL speaker was.

It was when I was a *cough* candidate member of the AWL and, if I remember rightly, I was half-cut quite early on and proceeded to make an intervention from the floor in favour of the SPGB. This resulted in leading AWL member, Tom Rigby - whatever happened to him? - sidling up to me and whispering in my ear: "You haven't psychologically broke from the SPGB, comrade." He may have been right 'cos after the meeting, I ended up getting the other half cut downstairs in the bar with old SPGB comrades.

For some reason there always seemed to be a bit of needle at AWL/SPGB debates, and I'm not sure why. I think it was more from the AWL side. They seemed to encourage a culture of snottiness and high-handedness amongst their members. A 'less is more' approach to Trotskyist grandstanding that meant that part of their debating technique was to look down their collective noses at political opponents.

The SPGB didn't get the worse of it. If the AWL cadre hated the capitalist class as much as they hated Socialist Action and Workers Power, the North London Poly Junior Common Room would have stormed the Alexandria Palace sometime around tea-time, October 1997.

Should mention that Kara and I attended the Left Forum last weekend at Coopers Union in Manhattan. Really interesting event, once you get past the overpriced tickets - we got a free pass by volunteering for the event - and the academic jargon wafting through the air. Attended a couple of panel discussions that I found of interest, and if I can get off my lazy arse, I might blog about them. But in the meantime, Next Left Notes has some photos on its blog from the event. Enjoy.


voltaires_priest said...

LOL - accusations of snottiness and sneering coming from an SPGB member. Next week, accusations of smelling of mutton coming from a burning sheep ;)

Darren said...


You know that I speak the truth. ;-)

And what was that you say about the AWL being mutton dressed as lamb?

voltaires_priest said...

If truth be told, that isn't the way I remember it. As far as I can recall, you had already rejoined the SPGB at the time of the debate, the debate was at Caxton House, it was Kate Buckell who the AWL put up, and you thought she kicked Dave's arse.

Not that you can say that in public obviously, given the "you've got to be aggressively sectarian clause" in the SPGB's constitution or whatever it's called. :P :P :P

Darren said...


You're thinking of a different debate. I remember the debate you were referring to, and it was less a case of Kate Buckell kicking his arse, and more a case of a semi-detached - from the SPGB - Dave, half-heartedly arguing the SPGB case. (Though I do remember Chris Hickey coming across as a bit of a dick during that debate).

I was referring more to the debate at ULU in '95, when Adam Buick debated Mark Osborn, and then the debate at the Lucas Arms when I was a member of the AWL - early '97 - when snottiness abounded.

Back to Caxton House - whatever happened to that AWL student politico you were chatting to at the time? ;-)

voltaires_priest said...

That being the case, you might need to edit your post - which quite clearly says "Dave Flynn" and not "Adam Buick". If indeed that was the one, then I wasn't there.

On Caxton House however, I believe "we got our arses kicked" is a (more or less verbatim) quote from none other than your good self, at that Caxton House debate. It was largely because Dave had quickly become flustered when challenged in the debate, if I remember rightly. It stuck in my mind because I was unused to hearing such candour from members of other leftie groups.

And which AWL politico was that?

Darren said...


Read the post again. Not just for my silky prose, but because it clearly states that when I mention Dave by name I'm referring to the Lucas Arms debate and not to the Caxton House debate. (He debated with the AWL twice.)

And with reference to the Caxton House debate, you're probably right that I did say "We got our arses kicked" - apologies Dave, if you are reading this - but not so much from the debate itself, but from the piss-poor contributions from the SPGBers on the floor in the discussion period. (i.e myself and some other SPGBer at the time.)

But I say, Dave was already semi-detached from the SPGB at that time, and that's why I remember him approaching the debate from a philosophical standpoint rather than from the basis of political differences. I remember that quite clearly because we discussed the matter prior to the debate itself in a chippy just by Archway tube station. ;-)

"And which AWL politico was that?"
OK, my imagination might be getting the better of me but wasn't it a young Kat Fletcher?

DespairToWhere said...

I was there too! If my memory is anything to go by, Dave was frustrated because no one challenging him had really got his point. This frustration was not helped by the fact that SPGB speakers from the floor were undermining what he was trying to say rather than supporting it (which, as Darren says, is probably fair enough given that Dave was at the time semi-detached from the ideas he had to defend. He's now fully detached).

Still, Darren is right. The AWL, on that night, beat the SPGB hands down for being snotty, sneering tosspots. And why not? They were considerwably more wevolutionawy than yow.

voltaires_priest said...


You see, that last bit there (about sneering snottiness) was a bit of a let-down. After all, for all their flaws, the AWL isn't the group with the "you've got to be dead nasty to other groups" clause (I paraphrase rather than quote, obviously) in its constitution. That's why I always take apparent flashes of hostility from SPGB'ers with a pinch of salt. I know y'all are just doing yer jobs... ;)


Might well have been a young Kat Fletcher there - she was certainly in the AWL for a while, although to my recollection that would have been before her time. We're both knocking on a bit relative to her, you know (although obviously I've aged remarkably well! :D)

DespairToWhere said...

Every political party has a hostility clause. Only the SPGB is honest (dumb?) enough to write it out and place it on all their literature.

Darren said...

"Every political party has a hostility clause. Only the SPGB is honest (dumb?) enough to write it out and place it on all their literature."


You're much too wise for one so (relatively) young.

voltaires_priest said...

Whereas you Darren are (still) far too young to be in the SPGB :D

DespairToWhere said...

I nicked that idea from you, didn't I?

Darren said...

D2W wrote:
"I nicked that idea from you, didn't I?"

Not sure,

it sounds too clever to have fallen from my lips.