Friday, April 17, 2015

Not much has changed since 1969

The Spectator's archive recently republished something by Richard West from 1969 on the British left's drastic moral failure over Biafra. The left then supported the Nigerian state against the Ibo independence movement which Nigeria brutally crushed. I'd been aware of this before, but what struck me this time that the left trotted out the "blood for oil" trope back then:
If the Biafrans had been black and the Nigerians had been white, the rights and wrongs would have been much clearer... The British left resolved this problem with typically silly arguments. It was 'all about oil.'... Even the British left must now realise that the oil companies and other big business interests were on the side of Nigeria and that Biafra's fight was inspired, not by oil, but by the will to survive.
West was scathing about how the left sat back until it was too late, and then effectively said "well maybe you were right then but now it's too late." This struck me as exactly like Syria, where the left priotised "stopping the war" (i.e. stopping intervention that might prevent a war) while a war raged in which thousands died.
I have been surprised by the callousness of the British left. 'Of course Nigeria must remain united,' a socialist journalist yelled over the lunch table, 'even if two or three million people have to be killed.'
Sounds like the British left on Syria now or Yugoslavia in the 1990s...


West also notes that the usual assumptions about the left and right were wrong over Africa. It seemed as if it was the left wanted Africa to govern itself - but when it came to Biafra, the aspiration to self-government was ignored. I wonder if we can see something similar now, when it is often the right, especially in its neoconservative form, which embraces self-government outside the white world (in the Middle East as well as in a country such as Zimbabwe), while too much the white left is happy for non-whites to be ruled by dictators, because they are their dictators.

West concluded that much of left politics was about white people feeling better, a symptom of powerlessness at home. It made British radicals feel good to protest America's involvement in Vietnam - something Britain had no power over - but they stayed quiet over Nigeria, where the British position still made a fundamental difference. Demonstrations about Vietnam, West wrote,  "are rituals, irrelevant to the stated cause, just as Guy Fawkes's night is irrelevant to the Papist Peril." 

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