Tag Archives: Iraq
Jackie Guerra’s Workin’ It radio interview with Abdullah Muhsin and Alan Johnson, authors of Hadi Never Died: Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Unions (TUC, 2006) is now available to listen or download.
Workin’ It is a weekly radio show focusing on working life in America, hosted by comedienne and author Jackie Guerra. Tomorrow, 06Jan07, the show will feature Abdullah Muhsin and Alan Johnson, authors of a new book on the history of Iraqi unions and the 2005 assassination of one of its leaders. There’s more info at the American Rights at Work Website.
United against terror and sectarianism
A wide range of Iraqi organisations has united and need your support in a week of Solidarity with the Iraqi People against terrorism, political sectarianism, administrative and financial corruption, and to support the disbanding of civilian militias, national reconciliation and the unity of Iraqi people in order to build a united, pluralist, federal and democratic Iraq, writes Gary Kent of Labour Friends of Iraq.
Have you heard the latest out of England? A commitment to the institutions of democracy. No excuses or apologies for tyranny. A two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An affirmation that the United States is a great country and nation.
These notions may seem common sense, bordering on banal. Yet they have caused quite the ruckus within the British and North American left. They are key tenets of the “Euston Manifesto,” a statement of broadly left-liberal principles cooked up last spring by a collection of London-based journalists, activists and academics. First published in the New Statesman in early April, the manifesto was officially launched on May 25 (and is available online at eustonmanifesto.org).
The purpose of the Euston Manifesto is, essentially, to save the left from itself. It is an attempt to draw a clear line between the social-democratic liberal left and the anti-war left, the latter of which has, since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, made common cause with tyrants, excused terrorists, and — in some cases — sold out the rights of women to reactionary theologians, all in the service of a single-minded opposition to the United States. Enough, write the authors of the Euston Manifesto: “We must define ourselves against those for whom the entire progressive-democratic agenda has been subordinated to a blanket and simplistic ‘anti-imperialism’ and/or hostility to the current US administration.”
The London Euston Group is holding a meeting — “The Other Iraq: Trade Unions and Democracy in the New Iraq” — on Tuesday 18th July at 7.30pm at Waterloo in London.
Speakers at the meeting will include Gary Kent, Director of Labour Friends of Iraq (in a personal capacity) who recently led a soldarity delegation to Iraq, and Alan Johnson, co-author with Abdullah Muhsin of Hadi Never Died: Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Unions, just published by the TUC. There will be lots of time for questions and discussion.
Come along if you are interested in the under-reported story of Iraqi reconstruction and the role that the Iraqi trade union movement has in building the new Iraq.
Please email londoneuston at the domain googlemail.com to confirm your attendance and so you can be sent directions.
In the latest issue of Red Pepper, there is a critique of the Euston Manifesto by David Beetham and Pat Devine — both old friends of mine. Their article is also available online at ZNet. I respond here to a single theme connecting a number of the points David and Pat make early on in their article. Later posts will deal with other points.
One preliminary. Above the ZNet version of their article, the Euston Manifesto is billed as being ‘by a group of left-leaning journalists and others who backed the Iraq war’. Red Pepper has it more accurately, indicating that most of the group behind the manifesto backed the war.
But if the manifesto is presented at ZNet with this error of fact, it is an error that is faithful to what David and Pat have written. For it is the impression the two of them convey in this remarkable opening passage:
They [the manifesto’s authors] purport to defend the ‘authentic values’ of the left against those who opposed the war on Iraq and oppose the continuing occupation, asserting that we operate double standards by supporting forces hostile to our values.
While this is certainly true of some of those who opposed the war, it is a travesty as a characterisation of the overwhelming majority of those in the anti-war movement. The values that the manifesto espouses are historically, and remain today, those that the democratic left has always advocated and struggled for, and the attempt to appropriate them by this group for their own purposes is deeply offensive to the wide spectrum of those on the left who have been working for them all their lives.
The Manifesto Group’s attempt to draw a line between those who support the values of the Enlightenment, of modernity, of the Age of Revolutions, against those who do not, or are prepared to compromise them, is wholly spurious. The suggestion that the differences that exist are over values, or indeed over whether there are universal values, is to overemphasise the influence of post-modern relativism and is a diversion.
I call the passage remarkable not because of the way it turns the manifesto into a criticism of ‘those who opposed the war’ — those who opposed the war, period. For although this is a mischaracterization, the claim is by now unremarkable, having been made rather often since the manifesto was published in mid-April. Against it I will merely say yet one more time that the text of the manifesto is perfectly clear on this matter — ‘The founding supporters of this statement took different views on the military intervention in Iraq, both for and against. We recognize that it was possible reasonably to disagree… etc’ — and that several of its original signatories (including Michael Walzer) opposed the Iraq war. It continues to be a surprising piece of carelessness that neither the text itself nor this fact about the signatories gives pause to those criticizing the manifesto as a pro-war document. But it is a mischaracterization that has ceased to be remarkable.
What makes the above passage remarkable is its further claim that we of the Euston Manifesto Group have appropriated for our own purposes the values ‘the democratic left has always advocated and struggled for’ — as if we regarded these values as exclusive to ourselves. This charge is based on precisely nothing. In the manifesto we treat the central values we want to see upheld as being the common inheritance of the left: speaking of them (in the Preamble) as the left’s ‘authentic values’; and (at B 15) as ‘the inheritance of us all’. We do, indeed, criticize others on the left for compromising these values; but when we do, we say, for example, ‘currents that have lately etc’, and ‘those left-liberal voices today’, and ‘much self-proclaimed progressive opinion’, and ‘too many on the Left’. None of these is a totalizing judgement. None of them either says or implies that supporters of the Euston Manifesto extend the criticisms to the entirety of the left save only ourselves. As I’ve put this once before, if the cap doesn’t fit, no need to wear it. The group who produced the Euston Manifesto is a tiny number of people, and the idea that we would lay exclusive claim to a commitment to values such as pluralist democracy, human rights, equality, freedom of opinion and so forth, is preposterous. People sometimes do, of course, make preposterous claims, but you need a bit of evidence to establish persuasively that that is what they have done if you think they have. In the present case Pat and David don’t even gesture towards any evidence, let alone provide it.
Note the symmetry here, however. Just as we are supposed to be claiming that it is ‘against those who opposed the war’ (without any further qualification) that we defend the values we defend, so we are supposed to have tried to appropriate these values for ourselves in a way that would exclude the rest of the democratic left. The effect in the two cases is to turn a criticism directed against specific tendencies of argument and apologia, against some currents of opinion on the liberal-left, against documented cases of individual advocacy, into a blanket condemnation of opposition to the war as such and the entirety of the liberal-left.
Read on and you will see that pretty much the same thing is repeated here:
The manifesto also accuses the anti-war movement of anti-Americanism and suggests that criticism of Israel’s racist treatment of the occupied Palestinian people is often a cover for anti-semitism. Once again, this misses the point. While there undoubtedly exists blanket anti-Americanism and some resurgence of anti-semitism, the real issue is not that of being pro or anti America or Israel, but recognition of the differences that exist within countries and the decision as to which internal forces the democratic left should support in terms of its values.
You need perhaps to read that twice to see what its logical structure is. The passage tells you that the Eustonians miss the point because… there is another point. But this is an elementary logical error, since it’s possible for there to be more than one point at any given time. If, as David and Pat allow, blanket anti-Americanism does exist and there has been some resurgence of anti-Semitism, why wouldn’t it be to the point to combat both the one and the other? In its best traditions, the left has always stood against prejudice and bigotry, and there seems every reason for it to continue doing that. Countries do, of course, contain different internal forces, to be supported or opposed (as appropriate) by people on the democratic left. But that is a real issue, rather than the real issue, if the latter phrase is meant to convey that anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism have no serious purchase anywhere today.
And this really is the crux of the matter. On each of these points, David and Pat seemingly agree with supporters of the Euston Manifesto that the criticisms the manifesto makes have some application. They evidently think, though, that their application is marginal. And we don’t think it is. We think there is significant evidence, which we have done our share over the last three years to assemble, for our view. But in any case that — a judgement about the spread, the extent, of certain contemporary themes of political argument — is something there can be serious discussion about. Nothing is gained towards such a discussion, however, by seeking to diminish the significance and extent of what we for our part criticize, via the suggestion that we present it as rampant, omnipresent — and then knocking this down. Nothing is gained by the several fictions that the Euston Manifesto stands against opposition to the Iraq war as such, or that it lays claim to democratic and universalist values to the exclusion of everyone else on the liberal-left, or (by implication) that we treat every criticism of Israel and of US foreign policy as instances of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism respectively.
Finally, it is by the same impulse to diminish, that Pat and David say that we Eustonians ‘overemphasise the influence of post-modern relativism’ — as if post-modern relativism exhausted the reasons for the differences over values that the manifesto talks about. We think that cultural relativism plays some part in these differences (see B3). But that is all we’ve ever said. We also point to other sources of them, like double standards and a simplistic ‘anti-imperialism’.
When people on the Western left make excuses for suicide terrorism, when others — some of them, writers of world renown — treat the contemporary US as comparable with Nazi Germany, when some of those who opposed the Iraq war cannot bring themselves to comprehend what considerations might have impelled others to support it, when it is not uncommon for the crimes committed by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib to be seen as overshadowing what happened in that same place during Saddam Hussein’s rule, when well-known left or liberal journalists tell you that democracy may not be for everybody or that an attachment to the legacy of the Enlightenment is a form of Islamophobia — this is not all due to cultural relativism, much less to postmodernism (though some of it may be). But it does betoken a difference of some kind over values, notwithstanding Pat and David’s view that the attempt to argue so is ‘wholly spurious’.
The TUC has launched an appeal for unions and their members to pass on their used mobile phones to the Iraqi trade union movement. You can help too, by passing on your old phones and/or chargers.
Unions representing workers in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan face incredible challenges in defending working people and rebuilding democracy. One of their requests for solidarity from British trade unionists is the provision of mobile phones — crucial for any union organiser these days, but especially in Iraq where travel can be dangerous and landlines aren’t sufficiently reliable or widespread.
But mobile phones can be expensive to buy in Iraq (and UK phone systems don’t work there yet), so buying new ones could eat up scarce union resources. Instead, the Iraqi trade union movement has identified a way of easily converting old European mobile phones for use in Iraq. So now the TUC Iraq Solidarity Committee has opened an appeal for used mobile phones alongside Labour Friends of Iraq.
Old mobile phones (and their chargers, of course) should be sent to the TUC Aid for Iraq appeal at Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS. Or bring them to the Euston Manifesto Group launch.
Posts written by bloggers who signed or support the Euston Manifesto are not endorsed by us and might not be about the manifesto.
- Baggage Reclaim
- Bill Baar’s West Side
- Black Triangle
- Harry’s Place
- Harry’s Place
- Infotainment Still Rules
- Jeff Weintraub
- Never Trust A Hippy
- Nick Cohen
- Oliver Kamm
- Paul Bell
- Read and Write
- Shuggy’s Blog
- Simply Jews
- Skuds’ Sister’s Brother
- Small Town Scribbles
- The Enlightenment Project
- The non-bloggish blog
- The Silent Hunter
- Un swissroll
- Who Knew?
- Winds of Change