Monday, January 31, 2005

Towards a New Left

Hak Mao quotes Alan Johnson who quotes George Orwell As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents’ (George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937).

Johnson then gives examples of statements from "socialists" like Alex Callinicos, Terry Eagleton and Edward Herman followed by contradictory quotes from Iraqis.

Then he makes the case for a new left
Much of the left has backed itself into an incoherent and negativist ‘anti-imperialist’ corner. It has lost touch with democratic, egalitarian and humane values long-held on the democratic socialist left. This has come about because the ‘anti-imperialist’ left – guided by the likes of Callinicos - has reduced the complexity of the post-cold-war world to a single Great Contest: ‘Imperialism’ or ‘Empire’ versus ‘the resistance’ or ‘the multitude’. Today’s ‘anti-imperialist’ left is griped by the same manichean world-view and the same habits of mind that dominated mush of the left in the Stalinist period (from apologia to denial, from cynicism to grossly simplifying tendencies of thought, from the belief that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ to the abandonment of workers who get on the wrong side of the ‘anti-imperialists’). The consequence of this Manichaeism, in the Stalinist period and again today, is political and moral disorientation and a Grand Dumbing-Down of the left. At the extremes the ‘anti-imperialist’ left actually lends its support to vicious sub-imperialisms such as Milosevic and Saddam.

For the post Communist world cannot be reduced to a manichean struggle between “Imperialism” and “Anti-Imperialism.” There is no “anti-imperialist camp” in which the working class and the democrats merge their forces with General Galtieri, the Mullahs of Iran, the Serb chauvinism of Slobodan Milosevic, Ba’athists, or Islamic fundamentalist forces. The latter, especially, can indeed become a magnet for the poor and oppressed, as a reaction to Great Power imperialism, but so, in its day, could Stalinism. Socialists cancel themselves out if they support such forces. Politics involves more than just putting a plus sign where the U.S. State Department puts a negative, to paraphrase Trotsky.

If “anti-imperialism” is defined as whatever, at any given moment, is in conflict with the U.S., then one’s politics are defined negatively, but decisively, by the actions of the U.S. An independent democratic socialist judgement on events is impossible.
We need a left based on "democratic, egalitarian and humane values" like we need clean air to breathe. It's that important.

As Michael Ignatieff put it in yesterday's Observer
Liberals can't bring themselves to support freedom in Iraq lest they seem to collude with neo-conservative bombast. Anti-war ideologues can't support the Iraqis because that would require admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies. And then there are the ideological fools in the Arab world, and even a few in the West, who think the 'insurgents' are fighting a just war against US imperialism. This makes you wonder when the left forgot the proper name for people who bomb polling stations, kill election workers and assassinate candidates - fascists.

This is a dispute between "democratic, egalitarian and humane values" and Fascism. Some of us like to think we are on the side that is fundamentally opposed to Fascism. What side are you on?

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