Nu left

At one time bemused at punks being politically active, the big man at Harrys place finds the whole festival thing all a bit too much – especially the notion that liberal, Guardian readers might be there. According to comments, he’d prefer a “smokey basement punk club”; it’s unclear what music preference the politically minded can have without risking a derogatory bashing at some point or other. The reason this is worth bringing up is that from the description I’ve painted here, you might think said blog was right-leaning in question: bash the Guardian, act baffled that punks are anything but a joke minority, etc. But no! This is the new left, formally distinguished from the old by their support of the Iraq war; equally easy to spot by their obsession with criticizing, deriding and generally hating on anyone else who is considered left-wing. – see these two blog topics: Trots (sounds like a trip to the toilet eh? I guess that’s the point) on the bankruptcy of socialism and this on The Left, more of a mixed bag but still largely negative stuff. There is no such topic on the Right, (update – there is one on Anti Fascism but it’s extremely thin – 4 posts, the earliest in May, suggesting an afterthought) which seems surprising for a liberal UK site at a time when we are seeing the rise of the BNP and the emergence of the UKIP. These parties do get a mention, but generally in terms of how they are akin to the ‘extreme left’: they are a handy way to smear and criticize other people you really have a problem with.

It’s a shame because I like the site well enough in several respects – there are not enough UK sites I find readable or relevant (Matt T’s blog is an exception, just added to my blog-roll – deftly written, and the guy can handle statistics in a way that conjures envy in me); I like group blogs, which is why the Coop has fleshed out the flock, at least nominally; and I do think some aspects of what they are focussing on – extremes of the left wing being dogmatic and unreasoning, and potentially harmful – is a good thing. But my god, if you’re the policeman of the left must you model yourself on early 90s LAPD? If the response to left-wing knee-jerks is to jerk right back, nothing is achieved, except a damn good Cossack dance.

One theme that was strutting in these circles for a while that really, really got on my tits was the one about how concerns about attempting global democratisation were basically racism in a woolly jumper. I wrote something about this just before Japan, so it’s a bit late to be posting, but this is still being bandied about – as recently as yesterday, where a program on Radio 4 (the Moral Maze) saw these notions being raised again. So here it is:

It’s amazing how certain camps are prepared to trot out the remarkably flimsy straw man that the anti-war crowd have a distinctly colonial sheen about them, with the suspicion that ‘these sorts of people’ can’t be expected to govern themselves in the same way we can. In one sense, the thing has legs, but the rest is on all back to front.

Among those with misgivings about the current state of Iraq there is genuine concern about the transformation attempted. This is not a distrust of the Arab capacity to find democracy. It’s an awareness of the difficulty of sweeping revolutionary change. It’s something any good progressive-minded person should have cut their teeth on in the progression from naïve idealist to pragmatist with ideals. Looking at major 20th Century sweeping changes to the cultural landscape, you can see that the successful ones were remarkably circumscribed vs the big ones. Leftists can be proud of civil rights, extensions in the franchises, child welfare laws. They should be ashamed of the seizures of total power and attempts to redraw society utterly that has coloured and twisted the notion of progressive action. This should be bread and butter to the self-styled ‘new left’, as they revile the adherence to Marxist principle and starry-eyed idealism seen in the big left-wing institutions of the UK today. If they could turn it in toward themselves, they might recognise that that their zealous commitment to the Iraq project, with all its embroiled ambitions (from domino theories to transforming the entire middle east, to flypaper strategies for transforming the fight against terrorism into a conventional and finite land war) reeks of the same simplification and dogmatic commitment to project.

We all, if we call ourselves left wing, want to change the world for the better (not to imply this is exclusive to the left, but it is a prerequisite of being left-wing). However, not all of us are naïve enough to assume the world is going to skip along with our aspirations. What is being attempted in Iraq is a radical change. Perhaps the prowar left would argue that it is one that will always be radical, and so is wholly necessary. To which the follow-up, and critical step, would be to ascertain whether the proposed plan accounts for the scope of the problem in question. Will there be intricate planning for multiple, complex contingencies? Do we know what the short, mid and long term goals are and have we weighed a cost-benefit analysis? Could we do more good with the same resources elsewhere, or at less risk?

Some people did the job, and they found the proposals wanting. That’s the issue at hand, not Saddam-loving or Arab hating. I hope such claims will die down once people realise their ridiculousness. But I’m not holding my breath.

2 Replies to “Nu left”

  1. It strikes me that the war itself is a distinctly colonial effort. After all, a lot of Britain’s meddling in Africa and Asia was justified in terms of the “white man’s burden”–we must bring our kind of civilisation to these backward nations, because it’s better for us and therefore better for them too. I don’t know how many people I’m speaking for here, but my own concern at least was not that Iraq should not be a democracy, but that Iraq’s democracy must be home grown, even if that means it takes longer to appear.

    As for the similarities between extremes at both ends, I do see it myself, and I sympathise with those who sink to such name-calling. I for one find myself often tempted (and I have occasionally given in to this) to just point fingers at some of the right wing and/or libertarian sites, precisely because I get so tired of their tarring everything left of them with the pinko commie brush. Of course retaliation in kind is not remotely constructive, which is why I usually bite my tongue, but it gets so tiresome that sometimes I can’t.

  2. Sure, me too. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think ‘the left’ are all good, well-meaning, or correct. I’ve been pilloried by people who can’t accept that my sympathies for striking fireman don’t run as deep as dogma dictates, or because I am guardedly for GM, or at least prepared to take it on a case-by-case basis.

    I just wish that the Damascene conversions to interventionism you see post 2001, with Hitchens as the most public but not the only example, didn’t come with this desperate need to attack where you’ve come from, in order to circumscribe your position and get that moral high ground.
    I think if I went to Right-wing/ libertarian sites very often I would find myself losing it though. Mainly because there would be such a gulf in assumptions/priors that reasonable discourse would always collapse back to a difference in first principles, and be irreconcilable. And that’s assuming a reasonable discourse.

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