Platform Six

Shalom Lappin deals with serious misunderstandings of the nature of the document.

In Defence of the Euston Manifesto

The Euston Manifesto has attracted considerable reaction both among bloggers and, increasingly, within the mainstream press. A significant part of this comment, even when it has been favourable, has misrepresented the manifesto. It is important to clarify some of the misunderstandings that have emerged. Although Alan Johnson has covered several of these issues in his fine post, a number of points bear further amplification. I will briefly address four of them.

1. The Euston Manifesto is not a pro-war document. While many of its signatories supported the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq, others did not. I have consistently opposed the war as misconceived. I remain convinced that it has caused more damage than good. Specifically, it seems to me that the likely long term outcome of the campaign will be a severe fracturing of Iraq along sectarian lines, with Iran securing a virtual protectorate in the Shiite areas, and the Sunni-dominated sector providing an expanding haven for Islamist and Baathist terrorism that threatens not simply the people of Iraq but much of the Middle East. Where I (and, I believe, other anti-war signatories of the manifesto) part company with much of the official anti-war movement is in refusing to treat the homicidal regime of Saddam Hussein as a marginal problem, and in not being willing to indulge the grotesque fantasy that the terrorist insurgency currently targeting the Iraqi people is a progressive anti-imperialist resistance.

While disagreeing with my pro-war colleagues on the wisdom of the intervention, I strongly endorse their view that the primary objective in Iraq ought to be the development of democratic institutions that protect the human rights and security of all of its people. Some of the most vocal figures in the anti-war movement have brought disgrace upon their cause by first serving as virtual apologists for a fascist regime, and then as propagandists for the terrorists who now seek to destroy any movement towards democratic reconstruction. Moreover, opposing the war in Iraq does not entail rejecting any intervention motivated by a concern to prevent mass murder. Each case must be evaluated on its merits. Unfortunately, this is not the view of a significant number of the high profile leaders of the anti-war movement. They also opposed the American bombing campaign (and any other effort) to halt Milosevic’s assaults in Bosnia and Kosovo. They have sustained an appalling silence over the large scale violence and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, and they would, one suspects, strongly object to any serious move to halt it. This is hardly a progressive political stance. It is a primitive isolationist (and anti-Western) reflex parading as anti-imperialism.

2. The Euston Manifesto is in no sense an endorsement of Third Way economic and social policies or a defence of New Labour. I, like many other signatories, am a social democrat very much concerned to sustain the integrity of the public domain against the onslaught of privatization and expropriation that have resulted from the dogmatic pursuit of neo-liberal ideas. The manifesto focuses on the core values of social egalitarianism and support for organized labour within free unions, but it does not commit its supporters to specific economic models. It is not intended to serve as a detailed party programme or an ideological blueprint. Instead, it identifies a general location in the political spectrum at which liberals, social democrats, and other progressives converge in their view of the basic conditions for sustaining a decent social order.

3. The Euston Manifesto does not engage in cheer-leading for globalizing economic trends, nor does it regard globalization as an unmitigated disaster to be resisted at all costs. It sees the emergence of increasingly integrated world markets as analogous to the industrial revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In both cases rapid technological and economic change produced wrenching social upheaval and new wealth. Initially, this wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small business elite with resulting exploitation of labour and expanding class inequalities. As the welfare state and the labour movement emerged, the benefits of industrialization were distributed more evenly and class inequality reduced. The current revolution in global markets and methods of production has rendered the traditional constraints on the power of private capital ineffective. In the face of globalizing pressures European social-democratic governments have largely given up their traditional role as agents of social reform and egalitarianism. Instead, they have been reduced to ameliorating the anti-social effects of change while pursuing business-friendly policies in order to stem the offshore flight of investment to low wage economies.

The great challenge of progressive politics in the current era is to redefine the social-democratic project in internationalist terms in order to promote the creation of an effective set of public instruments for managing a dynamic global economy in the interests of wage earners and consumers. By contrast, part of the left has embraced a radical anti-globalization view. In so doing they have placed themselves in the position of latter day Luddites and romantic agrarians. This is a reactionary stance that seeks to halt development rather than to harness its benefits for the alleviation of poverty and underdevelopment. A progressive political response to globalizing economic patterns does not seek to suppress change or to block development. Its primary objective is to use the opportunities of economic growth to promote social and environmental rationality.

4. The Euston Manifesto is not a cover for disillusioned radicals seeking to adopt a neo-conservative agenda. It is an attempt by people deeply committed to the values of the democratic left to respond to the profound political crisis that now grips Europe and most of the West. This crisis threatens the fabric of liberal democracy, as large swaths of what presents itself as the left make common cause with religious extremism, totalitarianism and anti-Semitism, while xenophobia and social brutality emerge as dominant themes on the right. We find ourselves continuing the struggle of our predecessors in previous generations of the social-democratic left, who fought the perversions of Stalinism and its apologists on one side, and the supporters of a social order designed to service the interests of established privilege and power on the other. Above all our politics are informed by the assumption that for a movement to be progressive in substance rather than in name only, it must seek to sustain and deepen democratic institutions and human rights in any context that it addresses rather than to undermine them. Although this assumption may seem obvious to the point of triviality to some, the ease with which many who speak in the name of the left have discarded its obligations has compelled us to place it at the centre of our manifesto.

Shalom Lappin is Professor of Computational Linguistics in the Department of Philosophy, King’s College, London

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *