Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On reading obituaries of Christopher Hitchens

Even in death he stands tall and apart from the parochial, bien-peasant, trilling, beard-stroking mediocrities – face-timers and time-servers of the writing life, men and women who have never written a good line of prose or provided a single insight into our universe or touched a human heart. Fuck them. – Max Dunbar
I’ve barely started going through the flood of obituaries and memories of Christopher Hitchens. I started writing my own, but it seems a little surplus to requirement. Kellie provides the definitive list of links (as well as Hitchens commenting on totalitarianism, in light of the departure of the North Korean dictator), and a good first point of call is Vanity Fair. Rosie sums up the rest: “The tributes are pouring in, the reminiscences, the summings ups, the paying off of old scores. The famous, the obscure, the mandarin and the meanest of spirits are all having their say. I've read a few of their pieces and liked David Frum's best of all for its warmth and this final paragraph from Jacob Weisberg.” Terry Glavin’s, of course, is especially lovely, as is George Szirtes’. And, although it feels strange to say it, given how little regard I’ve had for Peter Hitchens up to now, his lovely brotherly obituary in the Mail is probably the single thing most worth reading.

Francis Sedgemore comments on the throwaway nature of many of the obits, and in a highly recommended short post shows how journalism has changed for the worst since Hitchens entered the trade. Francis is right, and most of the ones I’ve read have irritated me more than anything else.



Some of the Hitchens posts are worth checking simply because they are illustrated with some wonderful photos of the man I’d not seen before, such as this one by Tigerloaf, which also has a great quotation. I especially like the photo that illustrate Max Dunbar’s fine post, with curl of cigarette smoke. More harrowing, of course, are some of the final pictures of him raging against the dying of the light, such as that by Michael Stravato which illustrates Hitchens’ last (and especially wonderful) Vanity Fair piece, which is about death. Some are illustrated with the wonderful Jamie James Medina portrait, with poppy and rumpled hat, that I particularly love. But only a few have anything interesting to say.



Drink-Soaked Popinjay

I think this post at Harry’s Place best captures what Hitchens meant in the last decade or so to people like me, who groped for “an anti-Islamist, anti-Saddam, pro-democracy left” in the new world order opened up by 9/11, as we watched our former comrades on the left go deeper and deeper into the abyss of isolationist, anti-American, anti-democratic “anti-imperialism” and its alliance with various forms of right-wing politics, an alliance we could not have imagined a few years before. As the author says, Hitchens was an inspiration for the early noughties trans-Atlantic political blogging explosion (of which this blog was one of the later, smaller tremors), due to the strange synchronicity between the availability of Web 2.0 as a platform and the locking out of morally decent people from the old platforms of the mainstream left.

This point is made too when Francis describes Hitchens as a “fellow drink-soaked popinjay”, taking up as a badge of pride the wonderful term of abuse coined by the eloquent George Galloway, which of course was the name of the collective blog Francis was part of a few years back, which defined the range of anti-totalitarian radicalism so well.

I’m not sure what the connection is between the drink-soaked thing and the anti-totalitarianism, but there is one: totalitarianism is based on the suppression or deferral of human desires and pleasures. Marx, a spendthrift, hard-drinking bon viveur beloved by small children, would have been unable to live under the regimes he gave his name to, while Chomsky’s priggish hatred of sport, music or anything fun illuminates why his brand of libertarianism is ultimately actually authoritarian. Hence the contempt from the puritans Ian Leslie callsthin-lipped disapprovers”.

Here’s Nick Cohen, who famously turned up splendidly drunk to denounce the right-wingers honoured with a prize named after George Orwell (a truly libertarian socialist, as well as a man who liked to smoke and drink), on the BBC’s mean-spirited obituary:
[It was] delivered by its media correspondent, Nick Higham, a ferrety cultural bureaucrat who has never written a sentence anyone has remembered. He assured the nation that Hitchens was an "alcoholic". Hitchens could certainly knock it back. But [if] he were a true alcoholic he... would he have been loved, for addicts are too selfish to love. Something else the BBC broadcast inadvertently explained was why the world feels a more welcoming place for the tyrannical and the censorious without him.
Francis Wheen makes a more important point: “Even when he reached for another late-night whisky, his perception remained unerringly sober.” And Michael Weiss: “Friendship was his only real ideology.”

Former Trotskyist Bushite

Leninists (not least those of bourgeois origin, i.e. most of them) would no doubt call the imperative to not speak ill of the dead a form of “bourgeois morality” to be dispensed with. Of course, they’re right, and Hitchens would agree with them: Kim Jong-il’s passing does not exempt him from derision and hatred, and nor would that of, say, Ahmadinejad or Kissinger (example: Hitchens the day after Jerry Falwell died). But I was irritated by the petty-ness of some of the vindictive lightweights coming out to kick Hitchens’ corpse and of some of the Leninist inquisitors coming out to confirm his ex-communication from the sect.

The reliably appalling Guardian paleo-conservative Simon Jenkins come out with one of the standard lines: writes: “The identikit Trot of our early friendship had became a rabid Bushite defending the Iraq war”. It’s worth noting that his Trotskyism was of a very particular sort: he was inducted into the International Socialists (the forerunner of the current, dreadful SWP) by Peter Sedgwick, in its most heterodox, intellectually vibrant period, a time when its publications were open to several non-party members, and when it was as much in thrall to the anti-Leninist Rosa Luxemburg as it was to Trotsky. (Hitchens, in turn, helped induct Alex Callinicos into the party of which he is now a leading member and Callinicos has written a nice and surprisingly generous obit for the Socialist Worker.) The IS did an important job, in a period when the left dominated by the authoritarian Third Worldist fantasies epitomised by Tariq Ali’s IMG, of retrieving a libertarian, democratic tradition within Marxism, the tradition of William Morris, Hal Draper, Victor Serge, CLR James, Sylvia Pankhurst, Max Shachtman and George Orwell. Arguably, it is this anti-Stalinist left that has been the model for the anti-totalitarianism of the so-called decent left, especially its more left-wing varieties.

HP retorts against Jenkins: “Although he was a Marxist to the end and certainly a Trotskyist for many years, I find it hard to imagine Hitchens as ‘identikit’ in any way. And, of course, he certainly never became a ‘rabid Bushite’. I’ll get to the Bushite bit later, but want to amplify the point about Marxism. Here’s Michael Weiss: “Well unto the toppling of Saddam, the only time I heard Hitch use the word “conservative” in a laudatory fashion was when it preceded the word “Marxist.””

Bloodthirsty maniac

Another related line of attack, to put it at its pithiest, as expressed by Negative Potential here, is that he was a “bloodthirsty maniac”. Less pithy, but no more subtle, Richard Seymour weighs in here, pontificating about why Hitchens was not “an intellectual” because he did not understand “theory”, and by Corey Robbins, who calls Hitchens a provincial narcissist. In a more thoughtful version of the critique, Simon at Latte Labour argues that there was a connection between Hitchens’ “cult of reason” and his support for war, and suggests that Hitchens’ talent as a propagandist and reputation as a liberal gave Bush moral cover. For these people, Hitchens’ position on the Iraq war is the start and finish of any assessment of him.

But was he bloodthirsty? Of course, Hitchens was always a courageous man and he came to value what would once have been described as manly or warrior virtues. (Michael Totten’s account of a slightly slapstick but potentially deadly escapade in Beirut, involving Hitchens defacing a poster of a Syrian fascist and nearly coming a cropper for it, has been widely circulated, but worth re-reading for a good sense of Hitchens in extremis.) But the large number of essays he wrote about war (such as his essay on Mark Daily, the young American soldier whose death in Iraq he could be said to have inspired, or one of his last Slate articles,  on Armistice Day) show a more visceral understanding of its horrors than the moralism of the “anti-war” camp does.

Corey Robin claims that Hitchens’ war-mongering is forgiven because
we have come to a point in our culture where war is viewed as a neutral tool of state or an instrument of national salvation and human progress—and, in either case, as something that simply does not touch “us” in its concrete facts of blood and death. Us being the people who are not the victims of our wars and the men and women who are not required to fight those wars.
But it seems to me that this anti-war position simply reverses the terms: for the stoppers, “war” acquires a different sort of abstraction and neutrality. The pious denunciation is all about an “us” that requires flagellation, while the “them” are never consulted. Thus in the Seymour/Robin worldview, there is no difference between Vietnam, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Libya, Iraq, World War I, World War II: they are all just “war” and thus evil. (Ian Baruma, for instance, talks about the “irony” of anti-Vietnam Hitchens being pro-Iraq war.)

Hitchens, though, was not in favour of war in general; he was not a bloodthirsty war-monger. Rather, he was in favour of specific wars, specific interventions, at particular times, with particular aims, and under particular conditions. He might have been wrong about Iraq (and I’m not sure whether he was or not), but surely the principle that some wars are worth fighting is correct, even if the ones doing the fighting do not appeal to us.

And likewise, the anti-war brigade pose as being against war in general, but they only seem to mention some wars – specifically those fought by Western powers in the Middle East. You don’t see the anti-war marchers mobilising to stop the devastating wars in central Africa, for example. Although perhaps the “we” of their partial universalism includes Sunni Muslim Arabs but not Africans.

Traitor

The hatred of Hitchens from the Seymours is the hatred of the cult-member for the apostate. He betrayed the left, and it can't forgive him. Most of them frame Hitchens’ right-ward turn as literally selling out, as exchanging correct thought for the yankee dollar. As David Aaronovitch puts it:
Typical was this, written in May last year, from the high-table revolutionary Terry Eagleton in the New Statesman, claiming that "those who, like Christopher Hitchens, detest a cliché turn into one of the dreariest types of them all: the revolutionary hothead who learns how to stop worrying about imperialism and love... Paul Wolfowitz". In other words, he was the lean young man corrupted by proximity to power and need for money, and turned into the fat shill of the people's enemy.*#
Smarter critics understand Hitchens’ turn in the context of the religious structure of leftist thought. Andrew Coates’ review of the book explores the issue of Hitchens’ relationship with the faith of leftism, and faith is exactly the right term. Leftism is a religion, and Hitchens’ boring obsession with religions in general must be connected to his own relationship to the leftist faith. A more interesting analysis of his apostasy was written up by Guy Rundle in the Spiked Review of Books a year of two ago (h/t AC). Worth noting that Spiked’s origins are also in the IS of that era: its guru Frank Furedi left “in 1975 on issues that remain obscure to all concerned”. Like other escapees from the Tony Cliff cult, Furedi’s RCP also eventually became apostates for the left, right-wing libertarians who make Hitchens’ alleged Bushism look like orthodox Trotskyism. Rundle suggests that Hitchens
took from the IS/SWP’s oppositionality, not a mode of doing politics, but a form of political moralising that rapidly becomes a tiresome and inecessant [sic] judgement on the taking and wielding of power itself. Thus in the early Oxford Union years we continually encounter revolutionaries, activists, writers and so on held to be bursting with brilliance, only to be tagged with the premonitory phrase about the thugs, monsters or moral failures they became. Overwhelmingly this is because they took the power they were campaigning for, and having done so, had to make some grisly choices. But for Hitchens, the result is an endlessly repeated political Fall, in which oppositionality becomes a series of impossible standards.
Perhaps this says less about Hitchens than it does about Spiked’s cringeful adoration of power in the form of the Conservative party (for Rundle, Hitchens reached his “low point” when he slagged off Matthew Parrish for being... a Conservative!) and their pose of oppositionality to the “liberal elite”. But it rings true on one level.

However, the notion that Hitchens abandoned the left is simplistic. First, it ignore the fact that in some ways he was always a dissident within the left. In Hitch-22, he describes the double life he led in his early IS days, when by night he dined, drank and fucked with the most decadent dredges of the ruling class in Oxford, and later his early (limited) enthusiasm for Margaret Thatcher. His support for Solidarity and other Eastern Bloc rebels was shared with the rest of the anti-Stalinist left (including, I think, the SWP). His support for Western intervention in the 1990s also presaged his post-9/11 position. As Aaronovitch puts it:
Rwanda provided the embers, Bosnia the fire. Any internationalist, any progressive, any leftwinger would want to intervene to try to prevent such horrors - and not just because they were horrible either, but because they made the world worse for everyone.*
And the idea of Hitchens as turncoat also ignores the continuity in his leftism after 9/11. Not just the obvious points that he continued his crusade against Kissinger and Mother Teresa, against the moral majority dominant strand of American conservatism, and so on, and pretty sharp criticisms of Bush, as well as his attacks on his friend Martin Amis’ ignorant anti-communism in Koba the Dread and his championing of Trotsky on Radio 4. But more fundamentally that his opposition to Ba’athism and to Islamism was rooted in left-wing values not conservative ones. In short, the caricature of Hitchens is, again quoting Aaronovitch, “a self-comforting lozenge that the lazy intellectual Left sucks on to make its pain and doubts go away.”

What the meme reveals is the extent to which the Iraq war, even more than Israel, has acted as a cultural code, a shibboleth, for the self-definition of a left that has lost its moral compass as it has abandoned its core constituency and core values. Aaronovitch again: “When the Iraq war finally began in the spring of 2003 after almost a year of argument, it became clear that many on the Left now regarded being against the war as the test of belief, as the essential membership card for comradeship.” Perhaps now, as the last American troops withdraw from Iraq, the left has the opportunity to let go of its obsession and move on. But probably not...

Antisemite

Another line of attack on Hitchens, from the opposite angle, is the absurd notion (for example, in a TNR comment thread) that he was an antisemite, despite discovering well into his adult years that his mother was Jewish. The notion is based on two things: his fierce anti-religiosity, which led him to say harsh things about Judaism as a religion and its rituals, and his sharp criticisms of Israel, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Of course, the leap from militant secularist anti-Judaism or Israel-criticism to antisemitism is a leap others have taken, but that Hitchens did is an absurdity. It is true he made some mis-steps in this area: his refusal to condemn David Irving, for example, and his insistence that Irving’s historiography[hy should be admired (which, as John Podheretz puts it, “is a little like praising Josef Mengele for his medical skills”).

However, on the whole, the indictment is weak. The Forward delves a little into Hitchens’ Jewish question, and comes up with some good stuff, including this on Walt and Mearsheimer’s original Israel lobby article: “Wishfulness has led them to seriously mischaracterize the origins of the problem and to produce an article that is redeemed from complete dullness and mediocrity only by being slightly but unmistakably smelly.”

Zionist

Even more bizarre than the notion that he was an antisemite is the notion that he was a Zionist. Dave Rich gives examples: “First up is Craig Murray, with the approval of Inayat Bunglawala, claiming that Hitchens was a “zionist propagandist”.” Murray, a strange hero for many on the anti-war left, says that “British journalism is full of people of the same generation who have lurched from the Trotskyist far left to a crazed neo-con agenda with no intervening period of sanity. I suspect the available riches for zionist propagandists are a major factor. Hitchens, Aaronovitch, Phillips, Cohen. You can probably think of others. A strange and extremely unpleasant manifestation of intellectual prostitution.” Note, all the names are Jewish, as if no gentile writers lurch from the left to the right or endorse the “neo-con” agenda. It’s not even worth pointing out how wrong Murray is on this one, given the consistent anti-Israel line Hitchens continued to take post-9/11.

Parochial and provincial

And then a whole lot of commentators, including several that rarely stray from ivy league campuses or the Beltway bubble, are obsessed with Hitchens’ “parochialism” and “provincialism”. Seymour, Robin and Glenn Greenwald go on about it. Greenwald cites his buddy Aaron Bady on Hitchens’ commitment to a
“we” that never seems to extend to the un-grievable Arab casualties of Hitch’s favorite wars. It’s also a “we” that has everything to do with being clever and literate and British (and nothing to do with a human universalism that stretches across the usual “us” and “them” categories).
I don’t know which Hitchens these people actually read, but the Hitchens I read was one of the most internationalist of writers, and one who (like George Orwell, Robert Fisk or Patrick Cockburn) put himself in the line of fire in lands distant from that of his birth.

The Portuguese carnation revolution, the struggle against fascist dictatorship in Greece and against military dictatorships in South America were central to his 1970s politics, and continued to be reference points; and he did not simply offer solidarity from afar, he spent time in these countries. Ian Leslie writes:  “It wasn't really until I read Hitchens that I understood what it meant not to be parochial. He was deeply English in manner and yet deeply global in his thinking.  His points of view were enriched and strengthened by first-hand knowledge of the place and people he was writing about, as well as by his reading of history. He hardly ever wrote about a country he hadn't visited, even if it was North Korea or a war zone in Bosnia.” And, of course, his “bloodthirstyness” against Saddam Hussein was based on a long and deep relationship with Iraq and especially Kurdistan.

In 2005, he was in Iran, a place I would not be brave enough to visit, and Iranian Sohrab Ahmari here records how well Hitchens understood what he saw there. And here’s Roya Hakakian, another Iranian:
Only one belonging to a forsaken people or a forgotten cause can know the value of her flag pinned to his highly-visible lapel. He may have been born in England, but the blood that flowed in his veins was Third World blood. The depth of his kinship with the suffering of those with whom he has nothing in common can’t be otherwise explained. He lived in Washington, but his moral time zone was set to Evil Standard Time. Like those from that zone, he operated according to the urgency that dictatorships instill in their subjects. He understood that to be leisurely is to forsake possibilities, even lives.#
In fact, he was the opposite of provincial and parochial; he was a true internationalist. As his friend Francis Wheen wrote the day after his death, Hitchens’ life and mind “contained multitudes. England itself may have been too small to accommodate them, as the puritanical small-mindedness of that BBC report yesterday confirmed”.

In good company

Finally, the proximity of Hitchens’ death and those of Kim Jong-il and Vaclav Havel seems indicative of something, but I’m not sure what – maybe just “the cosmic lattice of coincidence”, to quote the immortal lines of one of my favourite films. Anyway, here’s
Hitchens’ pre-posthumous obits for his fellow dead
.



*Aaronovitch is behind the Times paywell. Extracts via Norm and Mick Hartley.

Previously:Hitchens, with poppy and rumpled hat” (November 2010); “Old soldiers, broken promises, class prejudices” (Hitchens at 61); Carl P’s review of Christopher Hitchens’ ‘The Enemy’.

35 comments:

Francis Sedgemore said...

“…the name of the collective blog Francis was part of a few years back, which defined the range of anti-totalitarian radicalism so well.”

And the Jura Watchmaker doth miss it so!

Rosie said...

Nice round up, Bob. I was lamenting how much I would have liked to have read what CH had to say about Havel and His Supreme Godhead of North Korea, so was glad of that link.

I usually can't be bothered to watch Youtube interviews and speeches, since it's so much quicker to read a transcription, but it's a pleasure to listen to CH - among other things was his beautiful voice and his ability to spout apposite verse.

the sad red earth said...

Wondrously detailed overview, Bob. You catch well the tendency of the Hitchens critics. even when they might be right on a point, to grossly simplify the man and is thinking. Case in point: I'm instructed by Rundle's keen observation that Hitchens's hallmmark moral tone and vocabulary derived from his Trotskist origins. Then Rundle, like so many others, cannot respect what he disagrees with.

Anonymous said...

The biggest sin, calling out for war on Iraq, as a mere item in a list of trivialities. Nice perversion of thouroughness.

On the war: your defense is that the man didn't support all wars, only some. Pitiful strawman.

It was always clear the true motives for Operation Iraq Liberation were too mean to be spelled out in public. The main one was The Spice, oil. Others cheered the machine on out of tribalist hatred. What were yours and your Saint's?

bob said...

"Anonymous", those who believe in political "sin" are unlikely to be persuaded, but a couple of points. I devote more time to the space to the war issue than most of the others, but my point is war is NOT the beginning and ending of an assessment of Hitchens, that there are plenty of other interesting and important starting points.

And then this foolishness: It was always clear the true motives for Operation Iraq Liberation were too mean to be spelled out in public. The main one was The Spice, oil. Others cheered the machine on out of tribalist hatred. What were yours and your Saint's? We could start with how you get from my "I’m not sure whether he was [wrong] or not [about the war]" to me cheering the machine. The fact that oil obviously had nothing to do with Hitchens' pro-war stance (or with the pro-war stance of any other so-called liberal hawks and decent leftists) should be enough to muddy the standard line you are repeating.

Hitchens' "motive" for being pro-war was something he hammered home again and again from 2003, so also does not need repeating here, but it provides an opportunity to quote Aaronovitch's concise summary: "He had come to see in Saddam a gold-plated fascist of the most genocidal and war-fostering kind. It had been Kissingerian politics that had, over the years, made whole populations — Shia, Kurds, Marsh Arabs — into collateral damage, and here at least was the chance finally to smash the cycle of toleration and retreat."

Anonymous said...

" "Anonymous" "? You do like your scare quotes.

To the main point now: war, loss of life, limb, family, possessions. How easy to abstract away from all that in the well-lit and warm comfort of London.

I'll add a short reply to your points such as they were and then stop.

"...but my point is war is NOT the beginning and ending of an assessment of Hitchens, that there are plenty of other interesting and important starting points."
Your laundry list of minor and obscure criticisms does not prove that war is not, the starting, and by far most relevant point, in assessing your man's life. It was, so far, the crime of the century, in scale and cold-bloodedness.

"how you get from my "I’m not sure whether he was [wrong] or not [about the war]" to me cheering the machine"
Weren't you linking to the tired, "yes but Saddam is no more" of so many former cheerleaders? But your own position on the war is totally irrelevant. You have no impact either way. Stick to the main point. What were your man's reasons for supporting an unjust war?

"The fact that oil obviously had nothing to do with Hitchens' pro-war stance..."
That could be, or not. Your man stated publicly his belief in the existence of "WMD" for as long as his lack of shame permitted. He was not stupid; we must surmise he was disingenuous. He knew what his allies were really going after in waging war, and from that if clearly followed how the Iraqi people would be mistreated in the aftermath. He made his alliance with violent thieves, he must share blame. (Is this concept also alien enough to you to deserve quotes?)

I said: "It was always clear the true motives for Operation Iraq Liberation were too mean to be spelled out in public. The main one was The Spice, oil. Others cheered the machine on out of tribal hatred."
And you say: "Foolishness."

Please elaborate, if you can. I will be especially interested in your opinions on your man's almost racist hatred of all things Arab.

Sarah AB said...

The worst responses are the ones that hint at divine punishment for CH and/or almost revel in his death.

Bob-B said...

It would be interesting to ask some on the Left which of the trio Hitchens, Havel and Kim they least disliked. It couldn't be Hitchens given that he committed the ultimate 21st century crime of supporting the overthrow of Saddam, and it couldn't be Havel for the same reason and for his persistent badmouthing of Stalinism. So it would have to be Kim. Presiding over a police state which starves its people is a minor indiscetion compared with the crimes of the other two.

Jim M. said...

Bob:

Where can I get me some of that cosmic lettuce?

Nice round-up, btw. Tx.

Anonymous said...

@Bob-B: Reasonable objections to an undeserved secular canonization misread as a defense of cartoonishly evil dictatorship. What is this circus of high-minded morons? Yes, "Anonymous" is of the Left, and proud of it.

Waterloo Sunset said...

But I was irritated by the petty-ness of some of the vindictive lightweights coming out to kick Hitchens’ corpse and of some of the Leninist inquisitors coming out to confirm his ex-communication from the sect.

Oh, come on. Can you imagine the obituary that Hitchens would have written if Galloway had kicked the bucket?

You're coming across like a teenage groupie who's just had his favourite pop star criticised.

For these people, Hitchens’ position on the Iraq war is the start and finish of any assessment of him.

Well, a lot of that is Hitchen's doing. In his later journalistic career, it was one of the main two strands he defined himself by (the other was anti-deism, obviously). See his claim that "I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies". So, when Hitchens was presenting himself as single-issue, it's not surprising that other people are also analysing him on those grounds.

But [if] he were a true alcoholic he... would he have been loved, for addicts are too selfish to love.

What? That's ridiculous. Do addicts not have partners and family now? Cohen really is full of shit sometimes. And if we take that argument to its logical conclusion, we should all be celebrating Charles Manson as a true libertine.

And the idea of Hitchens as turncoat also ignores the continuity in his leftism after 9/11.

In 2006 he claimed "I am no longer a socialist, but I still am a Marxist". As early as 2001 he was suggesting that "capitalism is the only revolutionary system". If that doesn't preclude him from being a leftist, are there any lines it's possible to draw for you?

Certainly, he still supported Lenin and Trotsky. As he wasn't a socialist, the question is why that might be. I suggest it has more to do with the worship of powerful political figures than any kind of commitment to social transformation.

And let's not forget Hitchens has always been utterly hypocritical about the use of other drugs than alcohol. Frankly, his view on the 60's & 70's is pretty puritan.

Perhaps this says less about Hitchens than it does about Spiked’s cringeful adoration of power in the form of the Conservative party and their pose of oppositionality to the “liberal elite”. But it rings true on one level.

I think there's another, more significant parallel with Spiked. Both Spiked and Hitchens trade in professional contrarianism, within certain socially acceptable limits.

That's crucial to understanding Hitchen's work I think.

Waterloo Sunset said...

As a general critical analysis, in journalistic terms, he was a decent writer. He had a good (occasionally stunning) turn of phase. And that stayed with him up to his death. Unlike the likes of Cohen, you never got the feeling Hitchens was just phoning his lines in for his later work.

While his contrarianism was a genuine aspect of his personality, he played it up. It's one way of finding your niche in a crowded 'left opinion' market.

In his case, mostly in the US. His role in Slate etc. was to titillate middle class American liberals with his oh-so-daring attacks on the Democrats and support for TWOT.

He had the social capital to make that transition easily, being an Oxbridge boy from a highly aspirational upper middle class background.

More importantly, where his single issue approach led him to overtly talk about his "temporary neocon allies". Now, if you believe there is a class war (and I obviously do), it logically follows that Hitchens knowingly took up with the other side. That's another parallel with Spiked for me. And some of his supporters would claim to have a class struggle analysis. And yet they refuse to condemn him in the same way they would they'd condemn someone who supported Saddam Hussain. I can only conclude that they (and possibly you) don't consider attacks on working class people to be important. Unless they're outside the west and all sexy and exotic and stuff.

All that said, I don't see Hitchens as an apostate. He merely returned to the interests of his class. That's hardly uncommon. Hitchens just did so very publicly.

the sad red earth said...

Bob, someone like anonymous, who offers undecidable argument about unprovable “true motives” isn’t worth your time for response. The unknown one has got a truth and is sticking with it. Witness the tabloid movie reviewer’s offering of a “crime of the century” just a decade into it, neglecting, from some cheaply conjured “well-lit and warm comfort of London” – because only what the reveiwer’s own may do in the world counts, don’t you know – the hundreds of thousands dead in Darfur and the millions in Congo. This is “left” merely because the joker can’t tell it from right.

Anonymous said...

@Sad: Oil was one of the ""true motives"" for invading Iraq. How is this unprovable? Even for the willingly blind: are there no internal documents, no witnesses?

In the Left, as I see it, the anti-war and universalist prejudices dovetail, but the former is not as central.

bob said...

Bob-B, good question!

Anon, yes I like scare quotes, and no I don't like commenters who can't be bothered to make up a nickname (whether or not I suspect who they are).

We could argue over whether or not Iraq was the crime of this very short century. (Other candidates might include the sectarian terrorism of the Sunni and Shia insurgents in Iraq, who were supported by many in Stop the War, as well as the Sri Lankan government's assault on its Tamil population, the slaughter of black southern Sudanese by the Northern government and its auxiliaries, and the actions of more or less all sides in the Second Congo War and its aftermath.)

But why does being wrong about this trump being right about more or less all of the worst crimes of the preceding three decades of his political activism, including Serbian genocide against Muslims, the Rwandan genocide, the American war in Vietnam, the brutal suppressions of their own people by the various dictatorships of Argentina, Chile, Greece, etc etc etc? Why does the Iraq war have to be the start and end of every analysis?

--

I chuckled at this:
your own position on the war is totally irrelevant. You have no impact either way. Stick to the main point. What were your man's reasons for supporting an unjust war? The reason I mentioned my own position was that Anon no.1 had said "What were yours and your Saint's [reasons to support the war]?"

bob said...

I will be especially interested in your opinions on your man's almost racist hatred of all things Arab. I'd be quite interested to see evidence of this racism. this an example of his anti-Arab racism or this, or this? If Hitchens is a racist against Arabs, I presume so are Jalal Talabani and Barham Salih and Kanan Makiya?

Sam said...

Is it just me, or does "Anonymous" sound a bit like Skids?

bob said...

WS, lots of good points, as always, some of which hit home. Just to be clear, there are lots of things about Hitchens I disliked, and lots of issues he was wrong on. However, some responses:

Can you imagine the obituary that Hitchens would have written if Galloway had kicked the bucket?
Fair enough. But I don't think there are that many good things it's possible to say about GG. He is a brilliant public speaker. And... well, that's about it isn't it?

-

when Hitchens was presenting himself as single-issue, it's not surprising that other people are also analysing him on those grounds.
Yes, that's true. CH was certainly stubborn, and the more people that decided he was wrong after all on Iraq, the more he clung to it. That he clung to the WMD story longer than almost anyone else is, I think, also true, a point I'd concede to Anon.

-

On libertinage and alcohol. First, of course addicts often continue to be loved by those closest to them, but in my experience they don't easily expand and keep wider circles of loving people. I might have gone too far in celebrating his libertinage, and also you are right it had strict limits, but it was the thin-lipped disapproval that got me worked up.

I think I stand by the bit I said about Chomsky and Marx etc too. I think that people who are politically sound are generally angry people and also generally whatever the opposite of misanthropic people. Chomsky seems to me angry, but also fundamentally misanthropic, and that's one reason I don't trust him. Marx, Hitchens, Kropotkin, Rocker, Orwell: they all loved humans as well as being angry, and that's one reason to trust them. Am I completely barking up a wrong tree here?

-

In 2006 he claimed "I am no longer a socialist, but I still am a Marxist". As early as 2001 he was suggesting that "capitalism is the only revolutionary system". If that doesn't preclude him from being a leftist, are there any lines it's possible to draw for you?

OK, it is wrong to say that he remained a leftist in any simple sense. But I think he remained committed to many of the values of the left, and did not in any sense become a simple "Bushite". Also, to repeat what I've said in several posts, I don't see leftist as necessarily a positive thing. Being right is more important than being on the left, and even at my most leftest, I didn't like the label.

-

Certainly, he still supported Lenin and Trotsky. As he wasn't a socialist, the question is why that might be. I suggest it has more to do with the worship of powerful political figures than any kind of commitment to social transformation.

Interesting the opposite of the Spiked assessment. Probably partly true. But it depends on what you mean by powerful. CH admired Trotsky the prophet outcast much more than he admired Trotsky the prophet armed. Orwell too was an outcast, marginal, dissident. Same with Serge, James and the others he admired. He was far less admiring of Lenin. In fact, Havel, Bush and Jalal Talabani are the only heads of state I can think him saying anything positive about, and he was pretty harsh on Bush and prefered Havel out of power.

-

bob said...

Both Spiked and Hitchens trade in professional contrarianism, within certain socially acceptable limits.

I half agree, and often think that "contarian" is as much an insult and compliment. Still, I often find Spiked's kicking against the liberal mainstream refreshing, and that we need more contrarianism, even professional, in our public discourse. Bob Black and Red Action are kind of professionally contrarian in some ways, and right about lots of things (wrong about others).

-

On the class thing. Well, I'm obviously much more of a collaborationist in the class war than you are, or than I used to be, so I don't have good moral high ground to stand on there. But I admire lots of people who are on the "wrong" side of the class war and I despise lots of people who are on the "right" side, and it seems tedious to preface everything good I say about someone who is not right about everything, even the most fundamental things, with some kind of obligatory disclaimer, the way Communist Party publications used to do.

-
I can only conclude that they (and possibly you) don't consider attacks on working class people to be important. Unless they're outside the west and all sexy and exotic and stuff.
I don't quite get what you mean here.

skidmarx said...

@Sam - Well it's not. Personally, I'd have picked up on "Worth noting that Spiked’s origins are also in the IS of that era","Like other escapees from the Tony Cliff cult" and "support for Solidarity and other Eastern Bloc rebels was shared with the rest of the anti-Stalinist left (including, I think, the SWP)" which all contain elements of stupidity (and the last could have been confirmed by anyone who actually knew anything about the SWP).
But then I realised after going on an OccupyLSX march and seeing the V for Vendetta masks and then watching the movie that evening that the politics of those involved with their rejection of the national security anarchism of Bob and the like tend to render him irrelevant. I started visiting this blog because Bob chose to continue an argument we'd been having at A Very Public Sociologist here, it was interesting for a while to point out the contradictions in the abuse he hands out to those that actually want to change the world, but I did get bored with him offering approving links to so much garbage while implying that we should accept it as fact while offering little in the way of thought of his own.

bob said...

Sorry for not knowing enough of the details of the IS/SWP internal history. Was Furedi not in IS?

I thought the SWP was supportive of Solidarnosc, if critically. I see that I wasn't completely wrong, but perhaps they were more critical than I thought.

http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=136issue=108

http://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1982/03/poland.htm

Glad you got bored Skid. Bye.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Bob

Fair enough. But I don't think there are that many good things it's possible to say about GG. He is a brilliant public speaker. And... well, that's about it isn't it?

Possibly not, at least in my book. But I'm not convinced there's that much you can say about Hitchens apart from "he was a good writer".

But the point more for me is that I doubt Hitchens would have bothered to attempt an even vaguely objective critical evaluation of Galloway. He'd have done what Galloway did here and gone for the jugular.

I don't have an issue with that (I celebrated when Ian Stuart died. I'll celebrate when Maggie Thatcher dies) but I think it's a bit much to claim that this is an example of what puts Galloway beyond the pale. Unless you're going to apply the same standards universally.

We've had different experiences of addicts from the sounds of it. I've known utterly charming heroin users. Wouldn't have trusted them in my house without supervision, but genuinely wonderful company. I think you see that a bit with Pete Doherty and his inner circle. I don't see it myself, but the man does genuinely seem to inspire devotion among some people and not just fans of his music.

A lot of this is personal preference though, tbh. I don't come at this from a straight edge perspective. I come to it from someone whose drug of choice is speed, not booze (I suspect that's not a particularly shocking revelation) and, as someone who doesn't get drunk often, I generally find drunks really annoying to be around.

Marx, Hitchens, Kropotkin, Rocker, Orwell: they all loved humans as well as being angry, and that's one reason to trust them. Am I completely barking up a wrong tree here?

To an extent, though possibly for different reasons then you mean. The problem with the "loving humans" argument is that it often turns into Linus from Peanuts going "I love mankind, it's people I can't stand!". Certainly the case with both Marx and Orwell, who were often complete shits to those around them.

Also, I'm not convinced that Hitchens' love of humanity was universal really. As you said yourself, "he dined, drank and fucked with the most decadent dredges of the ruling class in Oxford". And that pattern was repeated through his life. Those were the circles he preferred to move in on the whole. He wasn't so keen on mixing with hoi polloi, the 'great and good' were always his preferred social circle. I think his background is highly relevant here. It's a matter of record that his father wanted Hitchens to join the ruling class. I don't think he ever quite managed it, so he became their loyal jester instead. Always crossing the line, but never in a way that would seriously rock the boat.

OK, it is wrong to say that he remained a leftist in any simple sense. But I think he remained committed to many of the values of the left, and did not in any sense become a simple "Bushite".

I think he became a Thatcherite. What else would you call a radical capitalist? He was never going to be that keen on Bush, because Bush was never really that ideological, apart from on religious grounds. But, at the heart of Hitchen's politics, was the belief that neoliberalism should be enforced by the gun. (He just dropped the Bible part).

Waterloo Sunset said...

Also, to repeat what I've said in several posts, I don't see leftist as necessarily a positive thing. Being right is more important than being on the left, and even at my most leftest, I didn't like the label.

I'm not keen on the term either really, but I don't think we've currently got a better one. I reject "anti-totalitarian" for roughly the same reason you reject "anti-war". I think it means "anti-totalitarian as long as it coincides with the current Western ruling class agenda". I use "pro working class left" sometimes but that's obviously way too subjective and means "people I agree with". "Class struggle left" is probably my favourite, but there's still a lot of room for argument. The SWP would certainly see themselves as such, even if it's not a term used much in that tradition.

I half agree, and often think that "contarian" is as much an insult and compliment. Still, I often find Spiked's kicking against the liberal mainstream refreshing, and that we need more contrarianism, even professional, in our public discourse. Bob Black and Red Action are kind of professionally contrarian in some ways, and right about lots of things (wrong about others).

I have no time for Black, at all. The grassing primitivist fuck. I see Red Action as a bit different. They weren't contrarian so much as seeing themselves as right and everyone else wrong. But I don't think that was being contrarian for the sake of it. (And they were right a lot more than they were wrong, in my view. Probably more than any other group on the left).

The problem with the Spiked/Hitchens approach is firstly that it becomes predictable very quickly. You can't play an effective devil's advocate if everyone knows what you're going to say from your title. It also leads to deliberate playing up of some opinions at the expense of others. Once contrarianism becomes a marketing gimmick, it loses all power. (Actually, in the blogosphere, I'd argue that two people that are genuinely good at not following the orthodox line are BenSix and FlyingRodent. Both are basically on the left, but neither are possible to pigeonhole. Which is why HP hates FR so much).


On the class thing. Well, I'm obviously much more of a collaborationist in the class war than you are, or than I used to be, so I don't have good moral high ground to stand on there. But I admire lots of people who are on the "wrong" side of the class war and I despise lots of people who are on the "right" side, and it seems tedious to preface everything good I say about someone who is not right about everything, even the most fundamental things, with some kind of obligatory disclaimer, the way Communist Party publications used to do

How is that different than suggesting you can critically support Hamas but not take responsibility for their antisemitism?

To put this another way, despite what you've suggested, this isn't simply about Iraq. Neither Stuart Craft (on Iraq) nor Ian Bone (on Libya) attract anywhere near as fierce criticism from the class struggle left, despite the fact most of us would disagree with them strongly. Why do you think that is?

I don't quite get what you mean here

It's another reworking of the Fat Bloke "Thomas Paine abroad, Edmund Burke at home" argument about decents. I think Hitchens fits it perfectly. In terms of US domestic politics, his main issues were the war on drugs and anti-religious agitation. The first is important, but I don't think it's the most vital issue. The second is arguably more relevant in the US (where the religious right does genuinely have power), but I don't see that as primarily a philosophical anti-deist issue, which Hitchens did. Some people need to realise it's not the 19th Century and the church is no longer a serious political power...

bob said...

Thanks again WS.

I think it's a bit much to claim that this is an example of what puts Galloway beyond the pale. Unless you're going to apply the same standards universally.
No, this in itself doesn't put GG beyond the pale. I guess I'm being partial, when someone I see as slime kicks at someone I see as basically admirable.

-

The problem with the "loving humans" argument is that it often turns into Linus from Peanuts going "I love mankind, it's people I can't stand!". Certainly the case with both Marx and Orwell, who were often complete shits to those around them.

Maybe Marx and Orwell weren't perfect examples, but then unless you go in for saints nobody would be (well, maybe Rocker, my personal saint). Both Marx and Orwell were shits at times, but incredibly generous, loveable and hence well-loved on the whole. They took huge and genuine pleasure at the company of fellow humans. That is, they liked people not humanity. I see Lenin, Trotsky, Chomsky (and, for that matter Bob Black and George Galloway) and most of Hitchens' "thin-lipped" detractors as loving humankind but not people. I wrote about this once ages ago, in relation to Chomsky, but won't go and find the link now.

bob said...

Also, I'm not convinced that Hitchens' love of humanity was universal really. As you said yourself, "he dined, drank and fucked with the most decadent dredges of the ruling class in Oxford". And that pattern was repeated through his life. Those were the circles he preferred to move in on the whole. He wasn't so keen on mixing with hoi polloi, the 'great and good' were always his preferred social circle.

I'm not sure about Hitchens avoiding the hoi polloi. Maybe you're right; I didn't know him. But the attraction to ruling class types is certainly something I intensely disliked about him. (See my own actual "obit", below this post.)

-

I'm not keen on the term either really, but I don't think we've currently got a better one. Almost every term is so compromised by those who use it, including progressive, libertarian, socialist... I quite like "emancipatory" but it's very pompous, and "radical" which has the advantage and disadvantage of being incredibly vague.

-

The problem with the Spiked/Hitchens approach is firstly that it becomes predictable very quickly. You can't play an effective devil's advocate if everyone knows what you're going to say from your title.

That's certainly true.

-

How is that different than suggesting you can critically support Hamas but not take responsibility for their antisemitism?

I don't see the analogy, but that's probably because I didn't explain myself well the first time.

The point I was trying to make was something like this. It would extremely tedious, and off-putting, if I said things like the following at the start of every assessment of anyone: "Although a petty entrepreneur, Mohamed Bouazizi was a man of incomparable heroism". Or "Although she lacked a class analysis, Hannah Arendt's reflections on..." Does that make more sense?

I remember as a teenager, working with anarchists, Trotskyists and social democrats in anti-fascist and anti-poll tax campaigns, that ideology, and explicit fully developed subjective class analysis, did not at all map on to being decent and having integrity. I thought possibly some deeper conception of class consciousness was what explained the difference, but that seems completely wrong to me now. I now think there's a moral dimension to politics that the term "solidarity" starts to capture, but barely. This moral dimension is missing, I think, in much (but not all) class-based politics.

the sad red earth said...

Anonymous,

Oil was one of the ""true motives"" for invading Iraq. How is this unprovable? Even for the willingly blind: are there no internal documents, no witnesses?

Ok, and you have to offer in the way of internal documents and witnesses...?

TNC said...

This was an impressive obit roundup. Always amazed by how much you manage to read. Have you read Michael Weiss’s short reflection? You might want to add it to your list:
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/michaelweiss/100124526/friendship-was-hitchs-only-real-ideology/

There are a couple of interrelated political points you identify in this post. One concerns the supposed left to right trajectory of Hitchens and the other is the transformative power of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. In one version of this narrative, 9/11 caused some former leftists to become “neocons” and,
in another, 9/11 led leftist to forge alliances with radical Islamists and other right-wing undesirables.

You seem to be taking this latter stance when you write, “we watched our former comrades on the left go deeper and deeper into the abyss of isolationist, anti-American, anti-democratic “anti-imperialism” and its alliance with various forms of right-wing politics, an alliance we could not have imagined a few years before.”

The failure to see this alliance developing years before 9/11 represents a tremendous lack of imagination on our part. All the signs were there. The “anti-imperialist” elements of the left routinely expressed solidarity with all sorts of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes as long as they were hostile to the U.S. and Israel. I think 9/11 accelerated and strengthened these ties but in very few cases did it create these ties.

This transformation or acceleration is important. Perhaps rather than “leaving the left” what we have in the case of quite a few “decent” leftists and Eustonites is the notion that the left no longer stands for the same things as it did in the past. In other words, they do not see a home or place for them on the left. This is different from rejecting the principles that led them to embrace the left. They say, “the left no longer stands for the principles we once and continue to support and believe in” while neocons say, “we were wrong for ever believing that leftist nonsense in the first place.” There is an important difference between these two perspectives. I think Hitchens and to a lesser extent someone like Marko A and to an even lesser extent someone like myself place ourselves in the position where it is the left that left us, rather than the other way around.

What do you think?

bob said...

Thanks TNC. There's a link to Michael Weiss buried in the post, but I got so overwhelmed after awhile the later things I read didn't get proper treatment.

On your analysis, I basically agree with you. But I think that there always was and remains multiple lefts, some of which were always compromised beyond redemption (the pro-Soviet left which was its mainstream from 1917 to 1989 is no more connected to any values I hold than the much less consequential pro-Islamist left is now). And it includes now, even after everything, the most honorable, decent, high integrity and clear-thinking people around. The problem with Nick Cohen's line, for example (and Hitchens to some extent) is to see "the left" as a single thing that you're either with or against.

A second question is on the actual values, and whether supporting the free market and being comfortable with profound inequality has anything to do with the better original left values, like justice, democracy, etc. Here, Hitchens tended to avoid making his position clear, while Marko makes his position clearer, and it is much further from the left than someone like me.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ TNC

I think Hitchens and to a lesser extent someone like Marko A and to an even lesser extent someone like myself place ourselves in the position where it is the left that left us, rather than the other way around.

There's one obvious flaw with that argument for me.

Those of us on the left who'd never bought into the anti-imp analysis, as a whole, didn't make the mistakes you're talking about. (There were some exceptions to that, but they're isolated as opposed to part of a wider pattern).

Indeed, a handful of people I can think of that I disagreed with strongly on Iraq, Afghanistan and/or Libya very obviously stayed part of that section of the left overall. A few anyway. Stuart Craft of the IWCA. Ian Bone, celebrity anarchist. The AWL. And I'd include most of the ex drink soaked Trots in that. But after that, I kind of run out of examples.

Because most of the people we're talking about, like you, didn't carry on with their previous fights, let alone actually go and join a left group that didn't do what you criticise. To the best of my knowledge, the SPGB say, did not suddenly double its membership and find it had to move its meetings to a bigger phonebox.

So I think it's reasonable to suggest that a lot of people were no longer part of the left and were looking for an excuse to jump ship.

This reminds me of what happened after the Soviet Empire collapsed. I remember the liberal left papers from the time. They were full of people that had been loyal Stalinists suddenly claiming that the whole left was discredited by Stalinism. I thought at the time they were cheeky wee fuckers. I never supported Stalinism. It's not my bloody fault.

Same principle applies here.

Also, and this will sound arrogant, while I've got a fair bit wrong over the years, most of my analysis and predictions have turned out to be broadly accurate. Ditto for the political groups I feel closest to- The spiky wing of anti-capitalism, Red Action, Class War, AFA, The Meanwhile at the Bar crowd, Left Luggage, the IWCA etc.

If people ended up in groups that did the whole kneejerk "as long as they're fighting the imperalist West we should conditionally support them", that's a shame.

But, y'know, maybe they should working out why their section of the left and their political choices turned so sour. Once they've done that, maybe that would be the time to start trying to preach to those of us who were never in the hole they found themselves in.

And also giving credit where credit's due. I've seen not one 'decent' even acknowledge that the first group to demonstrate in the UK against both the traditional far right and the Islamist far right were actually Antifa.

Because, at the moment, as far as I'm concerned, most of the 'ex-left' crowd have a credibility gap problem.

TNC said...

Bob, I agree there are and were multiple lefts. I recognize there are differences between social democrats, anarchists, Leninists, Maoists, Trots, etc. I do not lump all of the left together in one undifferentiated mass. Neither did Hitchens. I don’t think Cohen is this broad either, is he? I have only read a few of his articles.

Re: Rocker
There used to be a vibrant working-class anarchist movement in the U.S. It was never very large, but it did represent a diverse cross-section of the working-classes. What we have in its place today is something quite different and quite removed from the vision of people like Rocker.

WS writes:

"Because most of the people we're talking about, like you, didn't carry on with their previous fights, let alone actually go and join a left group that didn't do what you criticise."

I can't speak for Hitchens or Cohen but the anarchist milieu was the segment of the left that I participated in.

After 9-11 I did remain on the left and addressed what I thought were serious problems. I also made efforts to hook up with just these sorts of groups on the anarcho-left but they were largely moribund. It was like two dudes who met once a month when me and the rest of the lauded working-class were actually working. Imagine that...

As to whether it is more wack than the UK anarchist scene, I'll defer to you and Bob. I will say that the anarchist movements that originated in Europe and spread throughout the world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are dead. They are not coming back. They were the product of unique time and place, a world that has disappeared.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ TNC

I also made efforts to hook up with just these sorts of groups on the anarcho-left but they were largely moribund.

Ah, fair enough. I didn't realise that and I apologise for assuming.

As you may agree though, one of the things that the fact the groups you got involved with were "moribund", is that there are no quick or easy solutions to the current situation we find ourselves in. The cracks in neoliberalism are showing more and more, yet we have no serious left alternative presenting itself. I think that speaks for itself. My real worry is that I think the more intelligent sections of the far right are actually better placed to capitalise on that then the left.

As to whether it is more wack than the UK anarchist scene, I'll defer to you and Bob.

You have Crimethinc. A group that once earnestly told us that using deoderant and soap made you a tool of TEH MAN. I'm not sure anything we can do can top that. (Making fun of Crimethinc is a cheap shot, but it's very hard to resist sometimes).

I will say that the anarchist movements that originated in Europe and spread throughout the world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are dead. They are not coming back. They were the product of unique time and place, a world that has disappeared.

In the holiday spirit, I believe we have a point of total agreement. While I don't believe the anarchist movement made the same mistakes as the anti-imps after 9/11, that doesn't mean I believe they're 'fit for purpose'. You don't really have this in the US, but I'll also say that the current "1980's battle re-enactment" being pushed by certain Brit anarchists is not a way out of this mess either. I know they miss the times when they got to posture in the tabloids as a proper folk devil, but those days are long gone.

I don't take a year zero approach and say there is nothing we can learn from historical Marxism and/or anarchism. But you're absolutely right that we can't transplant those movements to today. Apart from anything else, they both assumed a working class on the offensive and that is not the situation today.

We need to reconfigure, for sure. And without sacred cows and dogma stopping us doing so. But I don't think we can do so by hitching our star to the ruling class' current agenda, simply because we don't know what else to do. At the end of the day, our interests are still not theirs and never will be.

A Happy New Year to you too! I am being dragged to an extreme metal gig by my rocker friends. Keith Kahn-Harris would be proud.

bob said...

Very interesting comments. As an aside, I saw a headline that over Xmas someone was prevented from boarding a plane from (I think) UK to Malaga because of crimethinc leaflets in his luggage. I expect the indymedia world is up in arms about that. As well as crimethinc, American anarchism has or had the Unabomber. And you never get people at demos in the UK whose political agenda revolves around enlarging their testicles, who seem to feature in photos of every major American demonstration or march! Happy new year

Waterloo Sunset said...

I really hope that Crimethinc don't start coming under heavy state attack, or I'm going to feel obliged to do solidarity work with them. Green bloody Anarchist were bad enough.

Rosie said...

Some of the commentary I've read about CH's motives - money, sucking up to the American ruling class - reminds me of one of his aphorisms. I can't remember the exact wording, but it's too the effect that when the Left has found the lowest motive for anyone's actions, they think they have discovered the true one.

Happy New Year

Waterloo Sunset said...

But the "sucking up to the American ruling class" allegation makes no reference to his motivations. It's an interpretation of what he wrote and said, not what he thought.

And suggesting he was motivated by money (which is obviously going to be true in part. The guy was a professional journalist and writing was how he made his living) isn't the same as saying that's the only thing that mattered in his life.

Honestly, I do find the defenders of Christopher Hitchens awfully fanboyish at times. It's like debating My Chemical Romance fans. Any criticism is taken as an attack on their faith.