Alan Johnson (editor Democratiya)

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Alan Johnson Sept 2006

Alan Johnson is a reader in social science at Edge Hill College, and is the editor of Democratiya, a founder member of Labour Friends of Iraq, a co-author of Unite Against Terror and the Euston Manifesto, and an advisory editor of Engage.[1]


Johnson was born in North Shields and became a socialist in 1979 as a volunteer in Days of Hope bookshop in Newcastle. He joined the Labour Party in 1980.[2]

Academic career

Johnson was a Reader in Social Science at Edge Hill University, where he taught a course on the Holocaust. His books include the co-edited Leadership and Social Movements and he has published essays in Radical Philosophy, The Sociological Review, Oral History Journal and Tribune and at normblog and Harry's Place. He has written extensively on the American socialist Hal Draper. His essay Democratic Marxism: The Legacy of Hal Draper can be found in Marxism, the Millennium and Beyond.[3]


Alliance for Workers' Liberty

According to an early version of his Guardian profile, Johnson "was a supporter of the newspaper Socialist Organiser in the 1980s and 1990s."[4] DD Guttenplan describes Johnson as "a veteran of the Alliance for Worker's Liberty, a Trostskyist groupuscule",[5] which was Socialist Organiser's successor organisation.[6]

The (AWL)'s Sean Matgamna claimed that Johnson joined Socialist Organiser in the mid-1980s, and was an organiser for the Socialist Organiser Alliance, but left the AWL in 1994 for the Socialist Workers Party. According to Matgamna, Johnson later returned to "the fringes" of the AWL, leaving again for the SWP in 1999, before returning to "the periphery" of the AWL.[7]

By now there were people, wiser than some of us, who thought he should be chased away. He agreed, so he said, with our opposition to the second Gulf War in 2003. The last time I spoke to him was at our 2003 summer school, after a heated debate between AWL comrades on the state of the Labour Party. He told me he agreed more with the "pro-Labour-Party" side in that debate. But nobody in that discussion went within a hundred political miles of his current - Blairite - Labour Party politics![8]

Johnson is described as "a supporter of the AWL" on the Workers' Liberty website as late as November 2003.[9]

Socialist Workers Party

During the period in 1999 when he was, according to Matgamna, an SWP member, Johnson wrote to the SWP journal Socialist Review on Kosovo arguing that: "The method of the third camp, 'Neither Washington nor Moscow,' but consistent democracy and independent working class socialist politics means today, 'Neither Nato nor Milosevic!"[10]

New Politics

Johnson is a former co-editor of the third campist journal New Politics. According to Sean Matgamna, he served on its editorial board from 1998 to 2004.[11]

In a 2001 article, he offered a third campist critique of the Congress for Cultural Freedom in a review of Frances Stonor Saunders' study Who Paid the Piper?:

IN THE COLD WAR PROGRESSIVE POLITICS WERE DESTROYED because much of the left entered one or other Faustian pact of the mind. Two "lefts" took the view that "the times" or "the situation" dictated their temporary, knowing, intellectual and practical subordination to state power in Russia or the United States. The result was that both ended up no sort of left at all. Both, like Goethe's Faust, lost their souls. Both discovered that state power, like Mephistopheles, strikes a hard bargain: "The Devil is an egoist/And is not apt, without a why or a wherefore/'For God's sake', others to assist."[12]

In Summer 2003, he offered a third campist analysis of the situation in Iraq, which was notably critical of pro-war leftists such as Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman:

Paul Berman argues that political Islam is just the latest ripple produced by the stone of "European irrationalism" which splashed rudely into the quiet pond of Western liberal culture around the late nineteenth century. These dreams of transcendence come and go, don't you know. We suffered Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and now we have Osama bin Laden. We faced them down. We will have to face bin Laden down. A new "vital center" must once again take up arms (or, at least, once again cheer on the arms of the Pentagon) against totalitarianism. The book really is -- some interesting passages about the Islamic theorist Sayyid Qutb aside -- as crass as that. It meets a widespread late-modern yearning for complex problems to be wrapped up in simplistic explanations, tied with bows of pseudo-profundity (in this case borrowed from Albert Camus) and moral certitude. The book is a measure of the disorder of our intellectual culture.[13]

The piece supported Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane's call for the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions to get involved in creating democratic trade unions in Iraq:

The MacShane May Day Statement looked to the free trade unions to aid the establishment of secular and representative trade unions in Iraq. While no trust should be placed in the ICFTU (which has said it wants the World Bank, the IMF, and the OECDs Trade Union Advisory Committee to be involved) and while there remains a danger of business-friendly unions being established with few democratic structures, there are real possibilities to create genuine international union-to-union links "from below."
Two British Labour MPs -- Harry Barnes and Peter Lloyd, and trade union leader Kevin Curran -- issued an appeal for a workers' campaign in solidarity with the fledgling trade unions in Iraq.[14]

This article attracted favourable comment from Harry's Place:

The likes of Johnson and the AWL do welcome the downfall of Saddam but are unable to admit openly that the war was a positive step forward for Iraq.
There is no need for illusions about America’s aims in the world, no need for the ‘Third Camp’ to merge itself into the ‘First Camp’ and raise the Star Spangled Banner.
But there is a need for accepting that sometimes a revolution from above is preferable to no revolution at all.[15]

Labour Friends of Iraq

Johnson was a founder member of Labour Friends of Iraq[16] which was created in September 2004,[17] and served as its research and publications officer.[18]

In January 2005, Johnson marked the Iraqi elections by calling for the emergence of a new "Decent Left".[19] He later said that he took the term from Michael Walzer.[20]

Unite Against Terror

Johnson was one of the authors of the Unite Against Terror(UAT) statement in response to the London bombings of 7 July 2005.[21] He co-wrote the statement, issued on 15 July, with "Harry Hatchett."[22] He suggested in a normblog post a few days later that the text was remarkably similar to Tony Blair's speech of 16 July:

Don't get us wrong, we are very happy to be unpaid speech-writers. We put this statement up just so people would read it and use it. The bigger the megaphone the reader has the better. Tony Blair's speech was important, powerful and clear-sighted. It was a call to arms for democrats faced with a totalitarian threat.[23]

He went on to complain that Labour Friends of Iraq were "struggling on a shoestring and voluntary labour".

Here is my suggestion: we start talking about creating a well-funded think-tank/foundation - UK-based but global in ambition, participation and intent - with the ability to take the political persuasion and community we have been creating online to a new level. Time to get serious.
I'll even offer a name: The Democracy Foundation.[24]

The Alliance for Workers' Liberty criticised UAT as a "sub-group created by Labour Friends of Iraq" and attacked Johnson for his sympathy with Tony Blair.[25]

Johnson responded:

First, it is not true that the UAT statement ( is a Labour Friends of Iraq venture. Of the organisers only myself and Jane Ashworth are involved in LFIQ. The blogs Harrys Place and Hak Mao, and an individual, Adrian Cohen, are the other organisers. Second, I did not write the statement alone. Harry and I co-wrote it with help and input from other people.[26]

On his support for Tony Blair, Johnson added:

One of your writers - Sean Matgamna - held up the example of the ILP in World War Two as a model to follow. Fine. The ILP gave critical support to Churchill, a Tory. Yet because I give critical support to Blair, the leader of the Labour Party in this war you scream in horror 'popular front! popular front! ex-socialists! run away!'. Well, make your mind up.[27]

In an August 2005 post on the AUT website, Johnson criticised BBC coverage of terrorism and the war in Iraq and suggested readers "could log episodes when BBC coverage of terrorism is of this cringing, exculpatory, apologia-mongering kind?"[28]

This was criticised by Daniel Davies of the Crooked Timber blog:

Anyone who has no particular views about BBC bias, but who out of goodwill and solidarity signed up to a nonspecific statement of opposition to terrorism in the belief that the people behind UAT[1] had too many scruples to start using them for an entirely unrelated political agenda, has the right to be bloody angry at this little shenanigan.[29]

In a comment on Crooked Timber, Johnson defended his piece on the BBC and other posts on Jean Bethke Elshtain and Stephen Schwartz:

to refuse to use the site as a forum and resource, to ignore the suggestion of many signers to open it up would not have been wise. The net opens up new possibilities. In the old days a petition was just that. But the web opens up the possibility of the signers beginning a conversation. It woould have been wrong not to take that opportunity.[30]

In a further comment, Johnson said he had opposed the war on Iraq, and described his political background:

I used to edit New Politics and Historical Materialism. I am setting up a new ejournal called Democratiya. I am an ex-Trot. Ive shifted my politics, basically. An old story, littel different in my case I guess. I would call myself a reformist democratic socialist now. LP member. I think socialism and liberalism need articles of reconciliation.[31]

Johnson ultimately accepted some of the criticisms made on the Crooked Timber thread:

Basically, we took your advice, which, on reflection, was wise. So, many thanks. The site now reads:
We have removed the links to various statements against terror, such as those from the TUC, the MCB and the Chief Rabbi. Several signers felt that while our intentions were good it would be better to let the founding statement and the ‘why I signed’ statements stand alone.[32]


Johnson was the editor of the online magazine Democratiya[33], which first appeared around 15 September 2005.[34][35] Among those interviewed by Johnson for the magazine was Dr Andrew Bostom.[36]

Euston Manifesto

Alan Johnson attended[37] a series of meetings in a London pub the at led to the creation of the Euston Manifesto[38], and co-authored the resulting document[39] published in the New Statesman on 13 April 2006.[40]

DD Guttenplan noted that the New Statesman failed to mention Johnson's role:

Look at the New Statesman's introduction to the Euston Manifesto and you see an alliance between anti-anti-Zionists and anti-anti-imperialists. But look at the Manifesto group's own home page and you'll notice one name curiously absent from the Staggers version: Alan Johnson. A reader in Social Science at Edge Hill, Johnson, like Engage director Jane Ashworth (another of the manifesti) is a veteran of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, a Trostskyist groupuscule. Johnson's particular interest is the "Third Camp," a tendency associated with the late Hal Draper, a brilliant polemicist but politically marginal character who set up his own third camp on the wilder shores of American Trotskyism. During the Cold War Third Camp-ers scrupulously avoided becoming either apologists for Stalin or cheerleaders for American imperialism. But Draper's latter day acolytes are not so fastidious.
What makes sectarians like Johnson dangerous, however, is not the content of their politics but the form: the obsessive pursuit of ideological purity, achieved mainly through repeated "splitting" of any group or coalition foolish enough to attempt to find common ground. Max Shactman, who was Draper's own guru, split his way from the American Communist party to the inner councils of the Reagan administration - if only posthumously (Though Shactman died in 1972, he and Irving Kristol were the intellectual godfathers of American neo-conservatism). Hence the Euston Manifesto's manifest zeal for hurling anathemas at the rest of the left (like those of us who stand ever ready to subordinate "the entire progressive agenda" to "a blanket and simplistic 'anti-imperialism'").[41]

Johnson spoke at the public launch of the manifesto in May 2006. He criticised journalists for ignoring the "real-world campaigns inspired by our principles" which underlay the document.

The Euston Manifesto emerged in part from campaigning activity of a new sort, developed by networks of a new sort - networks that bridge together cyberspace, the blogosphere and the 'real world' of parliament, trade unions and civil society, and which might help to renew social democracy. For those willing to dig – at normblog, Harry's Place, Little Atoms; LabourStart, Labour Friends of Iraq and Engage; Unite Against Terror and Democratiya - that's where the real story is. These campaigns and networks are modest affairs. But they are growing by the day, they punch well above their weight and they signpost a future.[42]

Washington visit

In December 2006, Johnson and Abdullah Muhsin visited Washington to promote their book Hadi Never Died.

A packed schedule was organised for the two authors by the American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organisations and Solidarity Center staff Heba F. El-Shazli, (Regional Program Director, Middle East & North Africa) and Shawna Bader-Blau (Senior Program Officer, Middle East). The authors:
  • Presented a seminar paper on the state of the Iraqi unions to staffers from National Endowment for Democracy, the Solidarity Center, and the AFL-CIO,
  • Interviewed for the AFL-CIO blog,
  • Briefed Democratic Senior Staff, including Alan Makovsky, Sr. Professional Staff Member (Dem) Committee on International Relations, and Robin Roizjman, Democratic Professional Staff Member with responsibility for Iraq.
  • Gave an interview to Jackie Guerra’s radio show ‘Working It!' broadcast on Air America (listen at the Workin It itunes podcast)
  • Launched the book at AFL-CIO Headquarters at a special evening - Honoring Iraqi Workers in the Crossfire: An Evening of Remembrance and Hope, attended by around 200 people. Professor Johnson spoke on the platform with John Sweeney, President, AFl-CIO, Barbara Shailer AFL-CIO International Director; Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (A-CA), Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Ninth District, IL, and Ilinios, Joslyn Williams, President Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO, and Abdullah Muhsin. A book signing followed the event.
  • Attended the AFL-CIO Global Organising Summit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel as international guests.
  • Attended a Rally for a higher minimum wage at Upper Senate Park. Other Speakers included The Hon Edward Kennedy.
  • Held meetings with staff from Democratic and Republican think tanks and policy institutes, including Rachel Kleinfeld, Executive Director, Truman National Security Project, and Clifford May, Director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), and a member of the Iraqi Study Group, and David Lowe, Vice-President for Government and External Relations at the National Endowment for Democracy.
  • Attended the Paul Wellstone Awards and met the recipient, Senator John Edwards (Democratic Party Presidential hopeful in 2008).[43]
A special house party was organised for the authors at which guests included the writer Christopher Hitchens, William Galston (Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy during the first Clinton Administration and Executive Director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal, now editor of The Democratic Strategist and Prof at University of Maryland School of Public Policy) Mal Caravatti, formerly in Clinton Administration working on New Economy and Technology – now works at the AFT; David Kusnet – former Clinton speechwriter, now at prolabor think tank, the Economic Policy Institute; Prof Jeffrey Herf (Prof of History, University of Maryland), Marc F Plattner (Editor, Journal of Democracy), Robert J Leiber (Prof of Government, Georgetown University), Guy Dinmore (Financial Times IUS Diplomatic Corr), Ladan Boroumand (The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation for the Promotion of Human Rights and Democracy in Iran), Joshua Muravchik (Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute), Jane Jacobson (National Endowment for Democracy), David E Lowe (Vice President, Government and External Relations, NED) and many others from DC.[44]

The Democratiya Interviews

Johnson edited the anthology Global Politics After 9/11: The Democratiya Interviews published by the Foreign Policy Centre in 2008. In the acknowledgements, he credited "Rachel Kleinfeld of the Truman Security Project who offered encouragement, and the idea for the book, after a warm meeting on a frosty Washington DC morning."[45]

June 2008 US visit

Phyllis Chesler held a party for Johnson in June 2008. Among the other guests were Michael Weiss, Paul Berman, Sol Stern, Austin Dacey, Fred Siegel, Jan Rosenberg, Nahma Sandrow, Bill Meyers and Ibn Warraq.[46]

Miscellaneous events

Johnson spoke at Camus: Moral Clarity in an Age of Terror, a conference organised by Med Bridge Strategy Center, Paris,on 25 February 2006.[47]

Johnson was due to speak on the March for Free Expression organised by English PEN in March 2006.[48]He reportedly pulled out because he did not want to share a platform with the Freedom Association.[49]

In July 2007, Johnson wrote a Normblog article, explaining why he was no longer a Marxist.[50]

I used to think Marx's thought had been distorted not disproved. But I have come to find compelling Irving Kristol's argument - any theory that can't stand being placed in the real world without turning into its opposite must be judged by that fact.[51]


Contact, References and Resources


Tel: 01695 584270
Email: johnsona AT



  1. Alan Johnson Profile, Comment is Free,, via the Internet Archive, 9 May 2009.
  2. Alan Johnson, Research and Publications Officer, Labour Friends of Iraq, 18 September 2004.
  3. Alan Johnson Profile, Comment is Free,, via the Internet Archive, 9 May 2009.
  4. Alan Johnson Profile, Comment is Free,, via the Internet Archive, 9 May 2009.
  5. DD Guttenplan, No sects please, you're British, Comment is Free,, 17 April 2006.
  6. Jane Ashworth, Democratiya, 9 May 2009.
  7. Sean Matgamna, The AWL and LFIQ, Workers Liberty, 25 May 2007.
  8. Sean Matgamna, The AWL and LFIQ, Workers Liberty, 25 May 2007.
  9. Alan Johnson, Marx For Our Times, Workers' Liberty, 6 November 2003.
  10. Alan Johnson, 'Neither Nato nor Milosevic', Socialist Review, Issue 232, July/August 1999.
  11. Sean Matgamna, The AWL and LFIQ, Workers Liberty, 25 May 2007.
  12. Alan Johnson, The Cultural Cold War: Faust Not the Pied Piper, New Politics, vol. 8, no. 3 (new series), whole no. 31, Summer 2001.
  13. Alan Johnson, Iraq and the Third Camp, New Politics, vol. 9, no. 3 (new series), whole no. 35, Summer 2003.
  14. Alan Johnson, Iraq and the Third Camp, New Politics, vol. 9, no. 3 (new series), whole no. 35, Summer 2003.
  15. The Third Camp?, Harry's Place, 7 October 2003.
  16. Alan Johnson Profile, Comment is Free,, via the Internet Archive, 9 May 2009.
  17. Alan Johnson, Moving on at the conference, normblog, 30 September 2004.
  18. Alan Johnson, Research and Publications Officer, Labour Friends of Iraq, 18 September 2004.
  19. Alan Johnson, The Worst Advertisement: The Socialists and the Iraq Election by Alan Johnson, Labour Friends of Iraq, 29 January 2005.
  20. Alan Johnson, Unite on this and swivel (comment), Crooked Timber, main post 2 August 2005, comment 4 August 2005.
  21. [Unite Against Terror, accessed 8 May 2009.
  22. Alan Johnson, Towards a Democracy Foundation, normblog, 19 July 2005.
  23. Alan Johnson, Towards a Democracy Foundation, normblog, 19 July 2005.
  24. Alan Johnson, Towards a Democracy Foundation, normblog, 19 July 2005.
  25. Unite With Who?, Looking Left, Workers' Liberty, 22 July 2005.
  26. Unite With Who?, Looking Left, Workers' Liberty, 22 July 2005, Alan Johnson comment 28 July 2005.
  27. Unite With Who?, Looking Left, Workers' Liberty, 22 July 2005, Alan Johnson comment 28 July 2005.
  28. Alan Johnson, What can we do about the BBC?, Unite Against Terror, 2 August 2005.
  29. Daniel Davies, Unite on this and swivel, Crooked Timber, 2 August 2005.
  30. Unite on this and swivel, Crooked Timber, 2 August 2005, Alan Johnson comment, 3 August 2005.
  31. Unite on this and swivel, Crooked Timber, 2 August 2005, Alan Johnson comment, 3 August 2005.
  32. Unite on this and swivel, Crooked Timber, 2 August 2005, Alan Johnson comment, 4 August 2005.
  33. About Us, Democratiya, accessed 10 May 2009.
  34. Norman Geras, Democratiya, normblog, 15 September 2005.
  35. "Harry Hatchett" Democratiya, Harry's Place, 10 May 2009.
  36. Alan Johnson, [ Islam and Antisemitism: An Interview with Dr Andrew Bostom], Democratiya, Winter 2008.
  37. Alan Johnson, No One Left Behind: Euston and the renewal of Social Democracy, normblog, 1 June 2006.
  38. Norman Geras, Introducing the Euston Manifesto, Comment is Free,, 13 April 2006.
  39. Alan Johnson profile,, accessed 10 May 2009.
  40. Norman Geras, Introducing the Euston Manifesto, Comment is Free,, 13 April 2006.
  41. DD Guttenplan, No sects please, you're British, The Guardian, 17 April 2006
  42. Alan Johnson, No One Left Behind: Euston and the renewal of Social Democracy, normblog, 1 June 2006.
  43. Iraq Book Launched in Washington DC, Edgehill University, Department of Social and Psychological Sciences, accessed 23 June 2008. Iraqi Workers Form Unions Despite Violence, Obstacles, AFL-CIO Now Blog, by Jamie Parks, 8 December 2006.
  44. Cutting Edge Reesearch Newsletter Edgehill University Spring 2008, accessed 23 June 2008.
  45. Global Politics After 9/11: The Democratiya Interviews, edited by Alan Johnson, Foreign Policy Centre, 2008,
  46. Phyllis Chesler, A Glittering Gathering At My Home For Alan Johnson and Democratiya, Chesler Chronicles, 30 June 2008.
  47. Alan Johnson, Camus' Catch: How democracies can defeat Totalitarian Political Islam, Democratiya, Spring 2006.
  48. March for Free Expression, English PEN, 6 March 2006.
  49. The Euston Manifesto, Alliance for Workers Liberty, 17 March 2007.
  50. Alan Johnson, Why I am not a Marxist, NormBlog, 16 July 2007.
  51. Alan Johnson, Why I am not a Marxist, NormBlog, 16 July 2007.
  52. Linkedin Alan Johnson. Accessed 15 February 2017.