Tag Archives: The Left

Macleans: Saving the anti-war left from itself

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.”

full text

The Australian: Right of Left bounces back

A new democratic progressive alliance is born, writes Phillip Adams
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Platform Ten

Norman Geras responds to Daniel Finkelstein’s Times article.

Writing in this newspaper [three] weeks ago, Daniel Finkelstein gave the Euston Manifesto — a document calling for a progressive realignment and which I had a large part in drafting — a mixed review. “Really very good,” he said. “I agree with its sentiments; I think it well written and timely.”

But he also described it as “a gigantic waste of time and energy”. How so? Because, even though it challenges ideas widely held on the Left, the aim of those who produced it is “to save the Left from itself” and that isn’t worth the bother.

There are two things that may be said in response to this. The first is that even for someone who doesn’t regard the Left as the best place to be politically, a more rather than a less healthy Left is surely to be desired.

Finkelstein thinks the manifesto’s “clear statement of principles has been wasted on people who do not agree and never will”. But in politics you don’t know how many will agree with what you have to say until you’ve said it, and there are already signs that what we’ve said in the manifesto — holding firm to democratic principles and universal human rights, not making excuses for tyranny or terrorism, opposing anti-Americanism and not selling short the liberal tradition of freedom of ideas — has found a welcome from a section of left-liberal opinion. How far this will go remains to be seen, of course, but except from a very narrowly partisan view it has to be better for the wellbeing of the polity that those on the “other side” from you are attached to principles of a better rather than a worse kind.

Secondly, for those of us who haven’t given up on the Left, there is more reason still why we shouldn’t want to see democratic and universalist values made light of. We see these values as linked to others that have always been the special concern of the Left. No one else can be relied on to defend them.

Finkelstein writes that the “task of persuading the Left is also unnecessary”: for if the Euston Manifesto had been published by rightwingers, support for it on the Right would have been overwhelming. But that isn’t true of some of the manifesto’s positions — for example, its embrace of broadly egalitarian principles and of trade unions as the “bedrock organisations for the defence of workers’ interests”, and its defence (in Shalom Lappin’s words) of “the integrity of the public domain against the onslaught of privatisation and expropriation that has resulted from the dogmatic pursuit of neoliberal ideas”. Some conservative voices have, in welcoming the manifesto, expressed clear reservations about these aspects of it.

Still, Finkelstein is right about the people on the Left “who do not agree and never will”. For all those leftists who have responded positively to the manifesto there are at least as many who have been dismissive. What is interesting about much of this reaction is the themes it typically combines. In so far as the manifesto says anything true (so critics have said), it deals in well-meaning platitudes; and in so far as we are critical of others on the Left, our criticisms apply to only a small number of people on the very far Left. And yet despite this, the manifesto at once brought down upon itself a hostility from many that it is fair to describe as warm. Why? The document named nobody in particular in identifying some lamentable patterns of argument, evasion and apologia. If the cap doesn’t fit, no need to wear it. I would suggest that at least one of the reasons for the antipathy is that the cap fits rather more heads than just those of the Socialist Workers Party.

If this weren’t so, why is it now as common as it is to hear people on the liberal Left damning universal principles as “arrogant”, “imperialist” or (sotto voce) “Islamophobic”? The attachment to these principles — to democracy, freedom, equality — used to be standard on the Left. But in the opinion pages of the liberal press it has become routine to find journalists and others of would-be progressive outlook telling us that democracy, or liberalism, or Enlightenment values, all possibly suitable in the West, may not be so in other cultural contexts. The right to speak freely — entirely freely, barring only incitement to hatred or violence — is also frequently put in question in the face of religious sensibilities clamorously asserted.

“Understanding” noises about terrorist atrocities — in London or Madrid, but especially Tel Aviv and Haifa — as having their roots in poverty, oppression and injustice are equally common, though these voices are at a loss to explain why there have been movements in the past fighting these evils that didn’t resort to randomly blowing up civilians. Well-known writers — mature people, veterans of the Left — see their way to endorsing the Iraqi so-called resistance despite its murderous methods, or give out lightminded comparisons between the US under George Bush’s leadership and Nazi Germany. That there are such themes being aired by people on the broad liberal Left is a matter of record. It has been documented and criticised repeatedly. Presumably the newspapers carrying comment of this kind wouldn’t be doing so if such comment weren’t finding comfortable accommodation with their readers.

The Euston Manifesto is a response to these political tendencies, and as such is very much on target. That is why it has aroused the interest it has, hostile interest included. We are happy to be restating some important if indeed obvious truths, in not giving up on the future of the Left.

Norman Geras is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of Manchester

The Times: The Left Needs To Get It Right

The Euston Manifesto is a corrective to extreme views on terrorism, Iraq and Bush

WRITING IN this newspaper two weeks ago, Daniel Finkelstein gave the Euston Manifesto — a document calling for a progressive realignment and which I had a large part in drafting — a mixed review. “Really very good,” he said. “I agree with its sentiments; I think it well written and timely.”

But he also described it as “a gigantic waste of time and energy”. How so? Because, even though it challenges ideas widely held on the Left, the aim of those who produced it is “to save the Left from itself” and that isn’t worth the bother.

There are two things that may be said in response to this. The first is that even for someone who doesn’t regard the Left as the best place to be politically, a more rather than a less healthy Left is surely to be desired.

Finkelstein thinks the manifesto’s “clear statement of principles has been wasted on people who do not agree and never will”. But in politics you don’t know how many will agree with what you have to say until you’ve said it, and there are already signs that what we’ve said in the manifesto — holding firm to democratic principles and universal human rights, not making excuses for tyranny or terrorism, opposing anti-Americanism and not selling short the liberal tradition of freedom of ideas — has found a welcome from a section of left-liberal opinion. How far this will go remains to be seen, of course, but except from a very narrowly partisan view it has to be better for the wellbeing of the polity, that those on the “other side” from you are attached to principles of a better rather than a worse kind.

Secondly, for those of us who haven’t given up on the Left, there is more reason still why we shouldn’t want to see democratic and universalist values made light of. We see these values as linked to others that have always been the special concern of the Left. No one else can be relied on to defend them.

link to full text of article online

The Times: Euston, you don’t have lift-off

…You might think, therefore, that I would greet with enthusiasm the publication earlier this month of something called the Euston Manifesto.

The what? In the weeks after the general election, a group of liberal commentators, led by the politics professor and blogger Norman Geras and the impressive columnist Nick Cohen began meeting in a pub to Euston, not too far from where Karl Marx used to write his polemics.

The result — a manifesto that calls on the Left to support universal human rights, to abandon anti-American prejudice, to see all forms of totalitarianism as being essentially the same, to be willing to support miltary intervention against oppressive regimes if necessary, to promote democracy and women’s rights and free speech all over the world. And so on. Read it yourself, it’s really very good…

link to full article online

The Sunday Times: At last our lefties see the light

“Misguided support for dictators destroyed the left’s credibility. Christopher Hitchens welcomes a volte-face

“One can stare at a simple sign or banner or placard for a long time before its true meaning discloses itself. The late John Sparrow, warden of All Souls College, Oxford, was once struck motionless by a notice at the foot of the escalator at Oxford Circus Tube station. “Dogs,” it read, “must be carried.” What to do then, wondered this celebrated pedant, if you hadn’t got a dog with you?

“And then there came a day, well evoked by Ian McEwan in his novel Saturday, when hundreds of people I knew were prepared to traipse through the streets of London behind a huge banner that read “No war on Iraq. Freedom for Palestine”. This was in fact the official slogan of the organisers. Let us gaze at these two simple injunctions for a second…”

link to full article online

The Guardian: We live in changed times. The Euston group, alas, does not

A manifesto of the ‘pro-war left’ is a cry of pain and an argument about ownership of a corpse

You will have to read the Euston Manifesto in full for yourself. Likewise the churning arguments that are developing about it on commentisfree.com and other weblogs. But there are two big things you need to know as the debate on this latest leftwing prescription begins to move into the mainstream press. The first is that the authors’ main purpose is to rescue what remains of the British left from an obsession with the Iraq invasion and American imperialism and to shake it out of apologising for violent Islamists. The second is that the document is a cry of pain.

link to full article

The Observer: Why the Euston group offers a new direction for the left

A disparate set of left-wing thinkers meeting in a London pub has reopened an essential debate on the nature of democracy

To be on the left is to be both temperamentally inclined to dissent and to be passionate about your own utopia, which can never be achieved. Condemned to disappointment, you rage at the world, your party and your leader.

Relative peace comes when the right is in power and the left temporarily sinks its differences before the greater enemy. But to survive in office, the left leader must keep utopian factionalism at bay and that means making your followers understand hard realities and tough trade-offs and selling them the ones you make yourself.

link to full article

Platform One

Norman Geras deals with some of the more basic attacks.
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