Sunday, September 12, 2010

A tourist on the left

I could have done it yesterday if I hadn't a cold,
But since I've put this pint away I've never felt so bold.
So as soon as this pub closes, as soon as this pub closes,
As soon as this pub closes, the revolution starts. - Alex Glasgow
You cannot - to transpose this theme to the motley crew of misfits gathering with their slogans in Lower Manhattan - be Pamela Geller and George Galloway.
Or can you? Here is where Debord comes in. The spectacle may, on one level, appear divided. On another, it is united, more so than the average angry protestor may realize. – Ben Cohen

A feeble logic, whose finger beckons us to the dark spectacle of the Stalinist Soviet Union, affirms the bankruptcy of Bolshevism, followed by that of Marxism, followed by that of Socialism... Have you forgotten the other bankruptcies? What was Christianity doing in the various catastrophes of society? What became of Liberalism? What has Conservatism produced in either its enlightened or its reactionary forms? Did it not spawn Mussolini, Hitler, Salazar, and Franco? If we are indeed honestly to weigh out the bankruptcies of ideology, we shall have a long task ahead of us... The paradox that he has developed, doubtless out of a love for provocative theory, is as false as is dangerous. – Victor Serge
This post started out as comments here and here, but got so long I decided to amalgamate it into a post in its own right, although I’m still conscious of a number of loose threads still dangling. It is a series of questions, rather than an answer.

The background: Terry Glavin is asking us to re-think the paradigm of anti-fascism. In fighting clerical fascism, people like him sometimes find themselves aligned with people on the “right” of the old political divide. This alignment is exemplified by new blog The Propagandist, which lists me among its allies, alongside others who link to the far right. Waterloo Sunset, a regular commenter on this blog, has started a blog of his own, Everybody Hates a Tourist, which kicks off with an attack on The Propagandist, and on the idea of trying to bridge the old left/right divide. This attempt, he notes, has a long and largely history, most recently exemplified by the so-called “autonomous nationalists” or “national anarchists”. Since I started writing this, Terry has replied to some of the main points, and James Bloodworth has covered some similar ground.

1. The Kevin Bacon theory of political networking in the age of social media

WS suggests that being a click or two away from the English Defence League makes it hard to claim any kind of decency or status as an “anti-fascist”. This is an issue that we talked about here (in relation to the anti-German Bahamas and the EDL), and one I still don’t know what I think of. Take my blog as an example. I am on the blogroll of, on the one hand, Socialist Unity, Splintered Sunrise and Andrew Coates and, on the other hand, The Propagandist, Sultan Knish and the Closet Republican – and I reciprocate all those links. In one direction, therefore, I am a click or two away from Serbian nationalism, apologies for Mao’s genocidal regime in China and for capitalism with Chinese characteristics, Hamas, and Iranian theocracy. In the other direction, I am a click or two away from Kahanist ultra-Zionism, Geert Wilders, the Gates of Vienna and the English Defence League. (And, actually, as Everybody Hate a Tourist includes me on the blogroll, as do a fair few others on his blogroll, like Slack Andy and the Fat Man, they’re also just a couple of clicks away from this lot too.)

I wouldn’t want to have any kind of conversation with Milosovic, Hezbollah, Pamela Geller or Avigdor Lieberman, all of whom I see as my enemies. But I might want to have a conversation with people who might want to have a conversation with them. Is that legitimate?

Part of the issue is what a link on a blogroll means. Sometimes it functions as kind of endorsement or indication of common feeling, but other times a link might be simply part of a conversation, an argument or a provocation. Where, and how, do we draw the line?

2. The left and beyond

Marko Attila Hoare, in a recent conversation here, asked me if I wanted to class myself within the left, a category that includes “supporters of Chinese Communism, Milosevic, Hezbollah”. And in a conversation at his place, Andrew Coates said that Marko may or may not be this or that, but he certainly “is not of the left”, implying that therefore he is beyond the circle of people we might want to have anything to do with. Waterloo was saying the same thing when he said to the Propagandists: “You aren’t part of us.”

Instinctively, I am of the left, because my most strongly held values are equality, social justice, internationalism, and emancipation from exploitation and domination – values that are traditionally those of the left.

But (ironically?) when I was at my most left-wing, I utterly rejected the term. I was in the political milieu where sentiments like these (from the magazine subversion, but recently re-published at the fascinating For Workers’ Power blog) were expressed:
The Left has not failed. And that is one of the greatest disasters ever to befall the working class.
Most people think that the Left is the movement of the working class for socialism (albeit riven by opportunism and muddle-headed interpretations on the part of many in its ranks).
Nothing could be further from the truth.
So what does leftism consist of?

At first blush it seems to be about supporting the struggle of the workers. but when you look more closely everything is on the terrain of capitalist politics.
The main features of Leftism are
support for radical capitalist parties...
support for state capitalism...
support for nationalism in its “radical” form...
support for trade unionism...
and last but certainly not least. advocacy of the leadership of “revolutionaries” over the working class.
 Similarly, Red Action, another group in my milieu, wrote this:
because the conservatives of the Left have no answers relevant to today’s problems history is passing them by... ordinary people have not merely lost faith in all socialist parties, but at a basic level in socialism itself, Socialism is dead. The guiding ideologies, strategies and tactics with which it began (and indeed ended) the century have brought us full circle. We are back where we started. Without power, without a voice, without representation
It took me a while to return to a place where I no longer saw the left in this way. It was two things really. First, there was the growing clarity with which I knew that the abolition of capitalism would not happen in my lifetime, and that revolutionary politics as such might therefore be a dead end. And secondly being involved in grassroots community issues at a local level, mainly in South London, and seeing that, in this age of waiting (as Victor Serge put it) the state was in fact oftentimes part of some kind of a solution, however imperfect.

However, in the last decade, I have felt more and more uncomfortable, if I may use that word, on the left. Partly because the pathologies Subversion and Red Action noted seem to have gotten worse, with more and more accommodation to all sorts of reactionaries, the growing grip of conspiracy theory, and so on. Partly because the solutions the left proposes just feel less and less connected to reality. That may be a failing of imagination on my part, or an index of objective bourgeoisification, or getting old, but that’s the way it feels.

So, I find myself having less and less stake in defending the left, and less and less reason to answer  Marko’s question positively, and less and less reason to care whether I am any longer “part of us”.

And yet...

Also read: Moiders – unsolicited opinions; Marcus – socialism in an age of waiting, part one; Modernity – where the left gets it wrong; Carl – the balance is restored; Peter - the fall out; Ben - the left, social theory and terror.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you noticed my blog (For Workers' Power), your blog seems interesting.

Morbid Symptoms said...

How useful is fascism for describing all kinds of right wing authoritarian regimes and currents? I have used the term myself to describe theocratic clerical tendencies, but to be honest I am not sure radical islamism is really fascist - for a start fascism is above all based on the fetishisation of the nation and the national community - can you have an internationalist fascism or can a movement which aims for a transnational Islamic state be termed fascist? Perhaps seeing everything reactionary through the lens of the particular forms of extreme right wing thought and practice dominant from 1920 to 1945 is no longer very useful. The EDL might not be classically facsist (they are not anti-semitic and aren't based around race as such), perhaps 'national anarchists' aren't either (they don't worship the state - they just want racially pure stateleess communities!) - but they are scum nevertheless!

If fascism is just what we don't like, then anti-fascism is meaningless.

The wider problem is to define what 'we' (whoever we are) are for rather than against.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

I don't at all object to being described as 'not of the left', as I no longer define myself as part of the left. I do, however, object to Andrew Coates feeling he has the right to rule on who is or isn't part of the left. He's not the only one who does this; it's a very bad habit among left-wing sectarians.

Basically, every other left-wing sectarian will tell you 'Me and my mates - we're the only real left. All other supposed leftists are just traitors to the cause, and are not really part of the left at all.'

Of course, what it is that disbars you from being 'part of the left' will vary from sectarian to sectarian. It can be anything from supporting the overthrow of Stalinist regimes to voting LibDem !

Waterloo Sunset said...

Can I point out that there are actually two posts on my blog. The other one is dead poetic. It quotes the situs and everything. :p

I'll break replies to your post up, in the hope of avoiding the spam filter.

On linking policy.

Firstly, I'm assuming you still feel some links are unquestionably over the line. Unless you're rethinking your criticism of Jenna Delich, which I suspect you aren't.

Another important point is the broad nature of linking policy. You, as you've fairly pointed out, do take a very open approach to doing so. Although not quite as much as Dave Osler, who will pretty much link to anyone not on the far right. When that's policy, my criticisms are muted, to say the least. (While I have many criticisms of Harry's Place, that isn't one of them. The idea that they are 'fellow travellers' of Socialist Unity is obviously laughable, to both blogs). When a blog is more selective about who it links to, that's when I think links become an endorsement. That's the case with my blogroll. And I'd argue it is with The Propagandist. They don't link to what they'd consider enemy blogs. When you're chosing to omit people for political reasons, those you choose to include is a lot more telling.

The stated purpose of the blog is also important. Yours is a personal blog, with a focus of writing about what you're interested in, it isn't a political project. If the primary stated objective of a site is to build an alliance between the left and right, their blogroll is going to be judged in that light. It's part of an ongoing project and hence it's legitimate to make political judgements on that basis.

There's also the chosen title. Even with tongue in cheek, calling your blogroll "allied propagandists" is a definite statement. And I don't think it's unfair to take people's words at face value. The other option is assuming it's a joke and the Propagandist are linking to dodgy members of the right for shits and giggles. I don't think that would be less problematic. The section of your blogroll I would see as similar is "Friends, Comrades & Favourites". Even though you will have differences with every blog on that list, I still think it's a definite endorsement overall.

Finally, it's not about being several clicks away. The Infidel Bloggers Alliance are, if you look at their blog, dodgy as fuck. (As are Defend Geert Wilders and several other blogs on the list). So it's not the Kevin Bacon theory. It's a direct link to blogs that are part of that clusterfuck of a milieu. In other words, the EDL link is not just literal, more importantly, it's ideological. I might be more forgiving if it wasn't really obvious from the name of the blog alone that caution is needed. The fact that the Infidel Bloggers Alliance are in with the whole JihadWatch types is hardly a staggering revelation, surely?

Waterloo Sunset said...

The point about the "anti left left" is an interesting one. Because, obviously, I come from a similar background to that on you. And in other contexts, I'm still very prone to talking disparagingly about the "left". Realistically, the main reason I don't do that as much is the slightly different political context. I don't want to be lumped in with the current "post left anarchism" crowd. And two of the biggest influences on my politics are Bookchin and the Situationists, which arguably puts me slightly outside anarchism anyway. So my relationship with the "left" as a concept is no less complex and contradictory then yours.

The two groups you mention are approaching this from a very different perspective however.

In the case of Subversion, that's a very standard left communist analysis. It's that of seeing the left as the "left wing of capital". So, in Subversion's case, they were rejecting the "left" for "communism".

Red Action are similar, but somewhat different. For them, the problem sprang from the fact that the left had failed the working class and that was where their irrelevance sprang from. And, so, their view was that the left should be abandoned in favour of an orientation to the class. (Which is a view I'm still very sympathetic to). Obviously, the IWCA were in many ways an extension of that analysis. It's also worth noting that some of this is heavily linked into RA coming to a point of rejecting both Lenin & Trotsky.

Both of those groups came at it from a very different angle then most Decents however. I can't see either of them having taken their analysis to mean that they should ally themselves with the right. (Red Action were a primary mover behind the anti BNP "Tories in Jackboots" leaflet after all). Equally, neither group were abandoning the goal of full political, social and economic transformation, they just felt that goal was best placed to be realised outside the leftist swamp.

One of their main issues with the left was that they considered the left to be (small c) conservative. I don't think that's the place decency is springing from. Decents strike me as closer to the passionately anti communist social democratic movements, especially some of those that existed in the US. The "Socialists for Nixon" crowd, as their critics called them. As such, they're no less opposed to the analysis of RA/Subversion than they are to that of the cobwebs, even if the latter seem to be far more of a priority.

Waterloo Sunset said...

In terms of the question of why you no longer feel you have a stake in defending the left, yet feel unable to accept that you definitely want to break from it, only you can answer that. I'll just throw out some possibilities for consideration.

Stubborness. When one of the main charges that has been thrown at decency from the beginning is that it's actually people abandoning their left wing principles, not a continuation of them, to accept you've left the left would be a de facto recognition that those critics were entirely correct and the decents were not.

Mixed feelings and nostalgia about the specific part of the left you were involved in. I think you're in a more complex position than the ex Trots are. Because, unlike them, your current ideological stance isn't the polar opposite of your previous one. So, whereas it is necessary for them to make a clean break from their previous anti imp analysis to follow their current international perspective, you don't quite have such an obvious need to utterly repudiate your past. Subversion are an obvious example. It's not as straightfoward as the case that you once supported reactionary 'national liberation' movements, because they were never people who did that. And I think you may find it more difficult to see yourself as more of a nationalist than you were. It might be ironically easier if it was a case of dropping elements of nationalism.

The simple truth that abandoning once heartfelt principles and opinions is always going to be painful. And it's going to raise doubts about how correct your new ones can be, if you can no longer trust that genuine belief is enough. (I know that getting rid of my softness on Irish nationalism was easily one of the most difficult political shifts I've ever been through). Link to that the whole issue round feeling you're "selling uut". It may be difficult to admit to yourself that you've accepted 'how things are' and made your peace with the establishment. I think that confusion most comes through in your attitude to the Labour Party. That's likely to be compounded from the fact that you come from a milieu that is very hostile to the Labour Party and was so when most of the left were still calling for people to "vote Labour without illusions". So, on that, you have the added complication of having moved closer to the position of the cobwebs, not further from it. Nobody wants to feel that this song is about them.

There's also the question of where the comments and criticisms are coming from. We've debated and discussed stuff enough that I'm sure you're aware that when I talk positively about the "left" I'm generally using it to mean some combination of "the militant antifascist tradition", "the working class orientated left" and/or "those who would replace capitalism with social, political and economic democracy". Those are all traditions you may be more reluctant to turn your back on then the left itself. I'm similar. I generally use the term "the left" because it's useful shorthand. I have almost no stake in it at this point, as my politics puts me outside the mainstream of what passes for far left politics anyway. So, it's possible these kinds of comments feel more pointed from the likes of me or Andrew Coates. I'm not sure you'd have the same issue if JohnG was saying it.

Waterloo Sunset said...

o draw this together, I do think you're at a political crossroads right now. And while it's not going to happen overnight, I think you're going to have to come to some kind of resolution, for your sake. I think we'd agree that the orthodox anti imps aren't your natural home. It was never your tradition and certainly isn't now. But at the moment you have a foot in both the three way fight and the decent camps. Which is meaning you don't feel you quite fit into either. While those camps are reasonably broad, I don't think they're compatible with each other. Either ideologically or tactically.

All I can say there is that you have to go with what feels right for you deep down. At the end of the day, that's all any of us can do.

I will say this however. While it seems very unlikely at the moment, if your political journey does lead to you lashing up with the Eurabia crowd, don't expect our online friendship to protect you if we find ourselves on the opposite sides of the barricade. ;)

Waterloo Sunset said...

Hmm, I managed to partly bypass the filter at least.

Is there anything specific I'm doing that triggers it?

modernity said...

I am glad that WS has started a blog, and good he chose Wordpress.

I would only ask him to change the theme to a one slightly easier on the eyes....


PS: I wonmder when Bob's going to be truly radical and migrate to Wordpress?

Waterloo Sunset said...

Mod, can you explain what the issue is with the current one for me? I'm on a very low res monitor and quite an old operating system, so what I'm seeing is likely to be different than most people!

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'PS: I wonmder when Bob's going to be truly radical and migrate to Wordpress?'

I second what Mod said. The system of entering comments on Blogger is extremely fiddly and annoying, and some comments seem to get lost or rejected. Whereas I can vouch that Wordpress is fantastic !

bob said...

Have checked spam folder - see newly published comments from WS above.

I have no idea why Blogger has started deciding that some comments are spam, and why it seems to particularly like picking on WS (although not just WS!). It's not posts with links, nor with swearing; they're longer than some, but not all of the long ones are blocked. Any suggestions from the techies out there, apart from switch to Wordpress.

I am already convinced of the superiority of wordpress - my other on-line identity, Poumista, uses wordpress - but I don't know if I can handle the hassle of migrating, and losing all the inbound links, etc.

Everybody Loves a Tourist, by the way, is a great name for a blog, speaking as a fellow Pulp fan. But someone told me Jarvis voted Tory at the last election - tell me it's not true!

I don't like white on black on the web. It works OK on some screens at a reasonable text size, but if you have a small screen and shrink the text size, it can really hurt your eyes. This may be an example of bourgeois bureaucratic identity politics, but anyone concerned with "accessibility" issues would tell you it's a big no no.


@Anonymous (Mark?): I really like For Workers Power, as Maurice Brinton has been a big influence on me, and Subversion were key influences on my younger self. I'm also a big Sylvia Pankhurst fan.

It is one of the great things about Web 2.0 the rise of "citizen archivists" using the web to digitise alternative histories. is another great example.

More substantive points in next comment.

bob said...

@Morbid Symptoms

I broadly agree. "Fascism", in my view, remains a useful but overused term. I agree that the EDL are not classically fascist, and nor are the so-called national anarchists. This does not mean that anti-fascists should ignore them, but we need to change the way we think and operate.


On links, I do think certain links are over the line. And I also think that knowing about and being careful about the sources you pass is important, and surprisingly easy to get wrong. See for an interesting recent example.

I still think you overstate the sense that the Propogandist (a) has the aim of bridging left and right, and (b) that its "allies" are really allies - see my comment on your blog, where I note that to see the Infidel Bloggers Alliance and Shiraz Socialist as allies is clearly absurd. I think they are more of a joke than you allow for.

However, point taken that this is ideological and not just the Kevin Bacon thing.

By the way, are you saying you endorse AaronovitchWatch? And if so, in what sense?

[More to follow]

bob said...

Re the "anti left left

To make myself slightly clearer (hopefully). I don't mean to suggest that there is something the same about The Propagandist, Subversion and Red Action. What I was trying to say, I think not that coherently, that I didn't use to see myself as on the left, so it would not be difficult for me to renounce it or be ex-communicate myself from it. (A parallel to this, mentioned in a previous thread, which I want to come back to some time, is the left-wing and anti-racist critiques of multiculturalism, which were powerfully articulated and circulated long before centre-left and right-wing critiques arose.)

There are key differences and similarities between the 3. Red Action does not write off the state (e.g. they defend council housing) as simply an agent of capital, while the ultra-left do. Red Action are comfortable with national liberation movements, which neither Decents nor ultra-left are. And so on. I think all of them have something useful to a contribution of what's wrong with the left - e.g. Modernity's checklist would overlap with all of them.

The ultra-left don't follow their critique of the left with any re-alignment to the right. (Well, with the exceptions of people like "Jay Knott" of Wildcat UK now a leading US antisemite with Pacifica Forum...) And nor do Red Action (although your average leftist would probably see a lot of what the IWCA say as "right-wing"). Some Decents in contrast do align with some right-wingers.

For myself, I absolutely don't want to align with the right in any way. But I don't want to discard everything the right say. There are a fair few "thinking conservatives" that I think are useful, even if I'd disagree with them about core values, such as Ron Radosh, Roger Scruton, Andrew Sullivan, Daniel Greenfield, Theodore Dalrymple, Victor Davis Hanson, Phyllis Chesler or Charles Johnson.


My comrades at Contested Terrain feel that any left-right alignment is inherently evil, and have drawn attention to two recent examples from the anarchist fringe. See and

[More to follow - am snatching time at work between other tasks!]

bob said...

OK, final comment. First, on the Labour Party, although this is probably of no interest to most people: I started out in the Labour Party [mid/late 80s], then reached a position quite close to Subversion [by mid-90s], then have been moving in this direction since roughly 2000m whatever this direction is. So, a zig zag rather than a straight line. I'll write about that in the next instalments of my self-indulgent "Political Influences" series!

Second, yes, some kind of cross-roads, although I wouldn't want to over-dramatise it. And not one I'm going to resolve. I've always had quite schizophrenic politics, but thought it'd be worth using this blog to worry away at some of my current contradictions.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Bob

It seems that Jarvis was misunderstood . So you can carry on listening without feeling queasy. (I only wish I could say the same about The Smiths...)

Cheers for the accessibility advice. I'll tinker when I have some time. I see that less as identity politics and more a case of not being obnoxious for no reason!

The whole linking thing is a minefield, to be sure. One thing on my list of 'stuff to do' is to add a list of useful online text resources. I'm planning to include "That's Funny You Don't Look Anti-Semitic". But there is the obvious question of if I can do so without also endorsing the more Eustonite politics of Engage, just by default.

And yes, I think it's valid to say that my inclusion of AaronovitchWatch is a form of endorsement in that kind of selective blogroll. Especially when I also link to Flying Rodent and the Encylopedia of Decency, which spring from the same circles. Generally, I think their analysis and criticism of decency is excellent. Politically, they seem to be pretty standard left liberals to me.

I'm slightly surprised they were who you've picked up on, as opposed to the more orthodox anti imps like Permanent Revolution or Infantile & Disorderly. Or Weekly Worker, although that one's there for the same reason I may link to Popbitch at some point.

One of Wildcat UK is apparently a primitivist now. Not sure if it's the same guy. The guy from Attack International (of rioting TinTin fame) is apparently a buddhist I hear. With the former though, I think we need to differentiate between apostates and heretics quite carefully.

My issue is very much with alliances, not getting information from or even being influenced by useful stuff on the right. To give just a few examples, I've read Adam Smith and Murray Rothbard. Even started on Ayn Rand, before deciding that she was a horrible writer.

On top of that, there is the issue of influences having really dodgy views. Several of the most prominent early anarchist theorists were gibbering antisemites, even by the standards of the time. Debord was a bit of a shit to the people around him. On a more esoteric level (which I may post on at some point), I have been know to dabble in occult bollocks. And Crowley wasn't the nicest chap in the world.

It doesn't surprise me that CT and I seem to be reading from similar pages. I find we either seem to passionately agree or passionately disagree on most stuff, with very little middle ground!

Ah, that makes sense. Whereas my original entry into activism was a month in the Anti Nazi League, followed by a swift jump to AFA after meeting them at the back of a coach to a demo. (Partly, to be honest, because they seemed a lot cooler and harder than the Swuppies to my 17 year old self). From there, I came into contact with DAM, Red Action, Class War etc. So I come to the issue of the Labour Party from what is possibly a less complicated political background then you.

Waterloo Sunset said...

As a quick note, I may be a bit patchy in involvement this week. I am going to university as a mature student next Monday. I mention this mostly for the edification of Mod, who can now take pleasure in the fact he can accuse me of being a "student wanker" with the knowledge it's entirely accurate. ;)

modernity said...

"Mod, can you explain what the issue is with the current one for me?"

Happy to help,WS.

Basically white text on a dark colour is hard to read, and doesn't induce readers to continue reading for a long period.

If you fancy changing or trying something out, here's how:

1. Go to the Dashboard
2. Click on Theme Redoable Lite
3. That takes you to Manage Themes.
4. Then click on A-Z
5. Now select a theme and hit the preview button.
6. If you don't like it click on the X, on the top left.

Then just play around until you find one that looks OK and inviting to readers.

I should say, as a bloke, I have little ascetic sense so I think it is easier to stick with the plainer or black and white themes, that way people are more interested in what you say, rather than the pretty surroundings.

But it is a personal choice.

I like The Journalist v1.3 or v1.9, they are plain and it allows people to up the font size from the browser without it going all strange.

I hope that helps.

modernity (all for education!) said...

PS: WS, No, on the contrary, I congratulate you. Good luck :)

Are you studying any thing interesting?

Morbid Symptoms said...


The Wildcat guy who became a primitivist is the same 'Jay Knott' (seems to have gone via primitivism to going soft on US 'anti-state' militia types to that kind of 9/11 'truthers'/holocaust revisionist scene). The ex-Attack International guy might be a Buddhist and is certainly a yoga teacher but he is still politically sound, involved with the @ Bookfair etc. There's really no comparison between him and 'Jay'/Rod.

One of the bits of baggage I have managed to dump is the assumption that atheism is always a more radical response - there's plenty of decent anarchist/communist Christians, Buddhists, pagans and Jews, and plenty of social darwinist right wing atheists (indeed your typical 'new atheist' is more likely to be in that camp than the tradional leftist secularist).

Morbid Symptoms said...

It's only the relative social peace of the last 10 years that has made any kind of right/left dialogue based around defence of modernity and enlightenment seem in any way a viable politcal configuration. The social question of rich and poor has been displaced by conflicts arounds war, islamism etc. on which there isn't necessarily a clear right/left divide.

Historically the key difference has been the left's (including the communist 'anti-leftists') insistence on equality. The right has historically upheld notions of the innate superiority of particular nations, cultures and races (rationale for racism and imperialism), of traditional gender roles and 'family life' (superiority of men over women, straight over gay), of the 'betters' over the lower orders.

Today many of these ideas have been defeated, by a mixture of social movements historically close to the left and the needs of capital not to waste human resources by disregarding the potential of people because of their race/gender/sexuality. So now you have modernized conservatives and liberals who defend gay and women's rights as if they were a natural product of the enlightenment, when in fact for centuries 'enligthened' liberals and conservatives vigorously opposed them.

But social inequality between rich and poor is certainly not getting any better, and the basis for any kind of emancipatory politics has surely got to be 'how do we end this?' which at the very least involves some kind of redistribution of wealth and restrictions of private property. Once the less well off demand this, as they have in social movements periodically, the decent liberals and conservatives (and the leftists who have joined them) will soon discover that the civil liberties of the masses are rather less important than safeguarding the rights of property by any means necessary. Where's the basis for the right/left dialogue when the tanks are on the lawn? (as in Chile 1973, arguably the first massacre of the neo-liberal era).

Of course that doesn't mean that all the proponents of equality are history's good guys and girls.

And whether there is scope for people who identify as right and left wing to co-operate on single issues or campaings is a separate tactical/strategic issue.

bob said...

phew, what a relief.

Steve Cohen:
If you don't want to even touch Engage with a bargepole, there's another version on-line here put up by someone involved in Jewdas (which I note you link to) and who has commented here as Luther Blisset and blogs at Contemporary Anarchist. There is "further reading" in the link list down to the bottom right that might include things for your resource list. (I think all are linked to somewhere on my blog.) Contested Terrain also have a resource page I'd strongly recommend.

I'm not sure that Steve Cohen endorsed Engage - he might have done, although he is more Zionist than some of them and less so than others. But I think this is an example of the problem of link-as-endorsement: can't you endorse one thing someone says without endorsing the whole package?

And is it fair, anyway, to talk about Engage's Eustonite politics? They occassionally big up Denis McShane and Louise Ellman, but otherwise most of what they write is against left antisemitism rather than pro Israel, pro war or pro any particular line.

AaroWatch and other lefists:
I just don't get anything worth linking to about Aarowatch, whereas both the Encyclopaedia and Between the Hammer are often genuinely funny. I link to Weekly Worker myself - a great source of gossip and of sharp critiques of left stupidity, and I see Permanent Revolution as having broken with many of the things wrong with the left. (Do I link to them? Not sure. Might add them if I don't.)

On Wildcat UK:
I agree totally with Morbid Symptoms (great nom de plume by the way). For more, see including the comments thread.

Worth noting that it is a collective project, with at least two or three main contributors, so that might partly explain.

Coming from a provincial town, many of the people in my AFA branch were also Labour Party members, including some in Labour Briefing and some that were just independent socialists. (I joined AFA and the Labour Party within months.) It was in the debates between them, WRP Trots and anarchists that I received my first political education. Only when I moved to London did I meet RA, DAM, and also Workers Power.

Good luck with the student wanking!

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Mod

Thanks for your help with the theme. I think the most sensible option is to look at the various themes over the next few days or so, pick out several and then ask my (rather arty) girlfriend which looks the best!

And thank you to both you and Bob for your best wishes about the studenting. I'm actually going to be studying journalism. A bit vague about what I'm going to do with it, but the current idea is to look at music or maybe gaming if I can get a foot in the door.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Morbid Symptoms

My juxtaposition of those two people was illjudged. I was typing without thinking and didn't realise how it read until looking back at it now. To be clear, I agree totally there's no fair comparison between the two. Wildcat guy fits into my thing about differentiating between apostates and heretics. He's the latter and that isn't a bad thing. Apologies for giving off a different impression.

I agree totally about religious believers as well. Some of the left need to lose the stick up their arse on this issue. I've known theists I'm proud to call comrade and I've known atheists who I'd cross the road to avoid. At the end of the day, what people believe in terms of religious faith is their own business. (And considering I dabble in chaos magic, I'd be a hypocrite if I took any other position on this one).

And I agree with most of what else you say as well. We're in a position now where one of the most vital political divides is our approach to social equality. Which, by definition, I would take to include the overthrow of capitalism in the longterm and attempting to mitigate the worst effects of it unless that becomes achievable. I don't think it's feasible to try and achieve social equality without it. As you say, it's not the only issue that allows us to define who the "good guys", but it's a crucial factor.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Bob

Out of interest, do you know for a fact it's the same Luther Blissett? It's actually a collective nom de plume used by hundreds of people. Sort of like a modern day Captain Swing.

Thanks for those links and I'll certainly look at CT's resources page for compiling my own. (And I hadn't realised they were a group blog. That explains my confusion!) On Engage, it depends how you read the old chestnut about "the personal is political" I think. For me, the politics of most individuals who post their regularly, including several of the founders, is what makes me consider them Eustonite. Partcuarly when they have the Manifesto as a handful of group links, despite the fact it's focus really isn't antisemitism. I really should stop being lazy and put "Political Entropy in the Jewish Diaspora" online at some point as well. I don't think it's currently available outside of my Google Documents file.

I actually think AW has done some really interesting stuff on decency. Ironically, mostly when they aren't talking about Aaronovitch. So I mostly link to it on the "criticism of decency" grounds. That's why I put PR up as well, along with some interesting militant antifascist stuff. But, in terms of their approach to international affairs, I think they're still a lot more orthodox left in many ways. Certainly if you compare them to someone like Renegade Eye, who's easily one of my favourite Marxist bloggers. Which is interesting there, because he/she combines a very different approach to internationalism with what I suspect is a Trotskyist background.

bob said...


Obviously with Luther Blissetts one can never be sure, but I think that there is one person behind Contemporary Anarchist, the EDL comments here and that Steve Cohen blog. All laudable projects, in my view.

Contested Terrain: actually, looking at it now, I see that most of its contributors (including me) have been quite slack. Almost all the posts are by Schalom Libertad/admin - someone who comes from a pretty similar background as you, except in NY and Berlin.

Renegade Eye: as well as being a generous blogger, RE represents the genuinely internationalist heritage of the trad left, as does Entdinglichung or Maryam Namazie, the real anti-imperialists who expose the pseudo-anti-imperialists for what they are.

Permanent Revolution: I think they have an interesting political trajectory. They came out of the IS/SWP when it was at its best in the 1970s, as a reaction to its turn towards various kinds of stupidity, but oddly returned to a most orthodox Trotskyism in Workers Power (a backward step). However, their experience of WP repeating all of the stupidities of the SWP made them really re-think things. Like the people at Critique, The Commune and Radical Chains, PR recognised some of the inherent problems of Trotskyism, and are struggling to articulate a new kind of politics. This piece on 1921 is truly exceptional from a Trotskyist party.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

I visit Aaronovitch Watch every so often, and I'm underwhelmed by their running critique of the decent left. I have no problem with robust critiques of the decent left, but the folks at AW just seem to engage in endless nit-picking and personalised sneering at individuals, in order to mask their unwillingness to tackle the decent-left case full on.

Thus, the central decent-left thesis - that the mainstream left is generally unwilling to oppose reactionary anti-Western regimes and movements or show solidarity to their victims, and often actually supports these regimes and movements - is simply sidestepped at AW.

Frankly, AW is just another case of one left-wing faction descending to the level of pathological hostility to another left-wing faction whose politics aren't a million miles away from its own.

The most surreal moment of this for me was when the dementedly sectarian Daniel Davies got upset because I said that President Clinton had collaborated with the Taliban and Milosevic.

What's the world coming to if one can't even condemn wrongdoing by US presidents ?!

Decentpedia, on the other hand, is great !

James Bloodworth said...

I always thought of myself as 'on the left', until, as one innevitably does, I came across the apologetics for clerical tyranny and mass murder, written off as they are as 'our fault'. This was at its worst at university, where nobody was really interested in socialism anymore and it was all about 'identity': to qualify as a revolutionary one had to begin each sentence 'speaking as a......' (insert religious minority/sexual preference).

The wierdest thing espoused by those claiming to be left-wing was the moral relativism. In the end it boiled down to extremely cauterised debates whereby 'there is no right or wrong and every position is equally valid'.

As a side note, you see (and I saw in university) a similar thing with regard to religion and the theory of evolution - you are increasingly told not to tread on the toes of religion as again 'every opinion is equally valid'; as if the mere act of holding an opinion gives the opinion itself considerable weight. You see this all over society these days, but especially with regard to the cultural practices of religious groups or new arrivals to the UK; or indeed to the citizens of far away lands, when the practice contadicts what we might consider 'progressive values'. The racism of low expectations perhaps.

How can anyone who buys into a position where everything is relative believe in any kind of socialist change any longer, when that would mean acknowledging at least in part that there is such a thing as progress and there really do exist certain values which are culturally, shall we say preferable, to others?

Perhaps being a socialist is no longer a 'left' position, because then you would at least have to believe in something! :/

Andrew Coates said...

Attile Hoare states that he objects to being defined as not of the left by anyone other than himself.

That's fine by me.

I did not define him: he did, and I read his statement (I think it was here).

This is the reason for my statement.

On defining other people, the allusion to Serbian nationalism I assume refers to myself. However, I have nothing to do with this - in conceptual and political terms. If you want to criticise my views o twenty years ago you can refer to 'anti-imperialism'.

If Bob you'd wish to define me it's through what the Trotksyists call 'centrism'. Put simply it's democratic Marxism. Its origins are in Austro-Marxism, Pivertism,the POUM, Sniverlet, the left of the ILP - the 2 and a half International, the London Bureau. After the war this current flowed back into mainstream socialist and labour parties. But it re-emerged in the late 1960s.

During the 1970s when I was in the IMG I worked closely with members of the Portuguese MES in a campaign of solidarity with the Carnation Revolution.

In the 1980s I was a member and on the Parisian Co-Ordination of the Federation pour une Gauche Alternative. This involved the PSU, the AMR - Pabloites - the CCA and various alternatives.

At the turn of the decade I was on the steering committee of the Socialist Society for some years. leading memebrs such as Hilary Wainwright and Richard Kuper are related to this tradition.

Amongst the left publications I write for Chartist consciously defines itself in terms of this 'centrist' tradition.

The latest issue of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation's journal, The Spokesman, carries a number of articles celeberating the life of Ken Coates (including mine). Ken was also a 'centrist'.

Andrew Coates said...

By the way, as Attila Hoare remarked the Blog service is not as nimble as Wordpress.

Apart from the its chunkyness I can't cut and past from your post when commenting.

I also found it hard to correct my post so let it go tel quel.

One name has to be corrected how.

I meant Henk Sneevliet.

bob said...

Thanks Andrew. I'm quite partial to the centrist tradition myself, finding the reform/revolution dichotomy to be problematic. In particular, I think of myself as a POUMist, and Sneevliet, of course, was a great friend of the POUM.

On Yugoslav nationalism, I was thinking more of Splintered Sunrise.

Jay Knott said...

Bob says 'People like "Jay Knott" of Wildcat UK now a leading US antisemite with Pacifica Forum' and 'Morbid' says I "seem to have gone via primitivism to going soft on US 'anti-state' militia types to... 9/11 'truthers'/holocaust revisionist scene". I'm not a leading anything, though I confess to being soft on militia types, but I reject the conspiracy theories about 9/11. Nor am I impressed by holocaust revisionism.