From Bob's archive: The conservatism of the anti-war "radicals"

As I often do when likely to be off-line for a while, I dig out some stuff from my blogging archive. This post is from February 2008, from the fifth anniversary of the massive march against the Iraq War. (I wrote up my own views on that day a couple of years ago on the tenth anniversary.) Looking back now, the way the US-led coalition prosecuted that war is impossible to defend - although we might still defend some of the reasons the coalition made its ill-fated decisions.) 

This post feels quite timely now, with Jeremy Corbyn, an MP associated with Stop the War and the Morning Star, whose appeal to an imaginary golden age of Labourism has a kind of retro feel to it. 

Item 1: Andrew Murray, of the Communist Party of Britain, Morning Star and Stop the War, and formerly of the Soviet Novosti news agency, wrote an op end in yesterday's Grauniad celebrating the fifth anniversary of the massive 15 February 2003 stop the war march. I'm not going to comment on the piece in general, apart from noting one thing. This is from early in the article:
In the wake of February 15, Washington told Blair he could stand down our army if he wanted to.The prime minister ignored that offer and the people he represents alike.
And this is from later on:
Emily Churchill, a Birmingham school student at the time, described the experience as "trying to steer the course of our country with our own hands". Of course in 2003 other, American, hands were on the wheel.
In other words, Blair clearly made the decision that engagement in Iraq was the right thing independently of Washington, yet still America's hands were on the wheel. When the evidence within the article itself shows there was no conspiracy, we are obviously dealing with a paranoid conspiracy theory.

What Murray is exemplifying here is one of the defining features of the anti-war movement - a movement, which the article makes clear, was a movement of Daily Telegraph readers British Muslims and wishy-washy Lib Dems. What links Little England Tories, Little England Stalinists and members of the Muslim umma is an irrational, reactionary, anti-modern hatred of America. And, in this case, a hatred of America which expresses itself in deranged conspiracy theories.

Item 2: Simon Jenkins, in the same issue, attacking David Miliband's zeal for liberal interventionism, which Jenkins likens to old-fashioned imperialism.

Jenkins seeks to parade his learning by liberally quoting Immanuel Kant, but demonstrates his lack of learning by not being able to tell the difference between self-determination and sovereignty.
Self-determination, warts and all, has been the defining essence of the nation-state throughout history, which is why the UN charter qualified it only in cases of cross-border aggression and humanitarian relief.
Actually, of course, what he's talking about here is not the self-determination of peoples, but the sovereignty of nation-states. A dictator like Saddam Hussein does not represent the determination of any self other than the dictator. (Lenny Henry sketch about a Mugabe-like figure: "I introduced the policy of one man, one vote. I was that one man.") Liberating Iraq from Saddam was not denying its self-determination, but making its self-determination possible.

In my view, self-determination must always trump sovereignty, and if a sovereign is governing without the consent of the people, then fuck sovereignty.

As with Murray's anti-Americanism, Jenkins' fundamentalist faith in the sovereignty of nation-states is essentially conservative, not radical.

Item 3: A couple of weeks ago, the Gruaniad staged a mini-"debate" on CiF about some pronouncement of failure on the Iraq adventure by their resident foreign policy idiot Jonathan Steele. I say "debate": all but one of the contributors agreed with him. They included a Chatham House Arabista member of the Council for Arab British Understandinga Tory grandeea member of a US "progressive" thinktanka King's College cold war don, and, as the one voice of dissent, Oliver Kamm.

Quite a spectrum of opinions, but all united (all except Kamm that is) in a commitment to a realist approach to international politics. This realist position is well summed up in the Miliband speech that Jenkins attacks: 

We must resist the arguments on both the left and the right to retreat into a world of realpolitik. The traditional conservative ‘realist position’ is to say that values and interests diverge, and interests should predominate. This will not do. Yet in the 1990s, something strange happened. The neoconservative movement seemed to be most sure about spreading democracy around the world. The left seemed conflicted between the desirability of the goal and its qualms about the use of military means. In fact, the goal of spreading democracy should be a great progressive project; the means need to combine soft and hard power. We should not let the genuine debate about the ‘how’ of foreign policy obscure the clarity about the ‘what’.
Miliband is correct to call the realist position conservative, and the basic conservatism of the position is demonstrated by the leftist Steele's approving quotation of Douglas Hurd, and then by Hurd's ringing endorsement of Steele.

Hurd, of course, an old Etonian, was part of the war cabinet during the first Gulf War, a war that was about oil and defence of the sovereignty of the reactionary Kuwaiti monarchy (and which, in true realist fashion stopped short of unseating dictator Saddam and in fact helped him crush the Marsh Arabs' insurgency against him). Hurd was a leading advocate of refusing to allow the Bosniaks to defend themselves against Serbian ethnic cleansign (saying that allowing them to arm would create a "level killing field"; he preferred an uneven killing field in which genocidaires are allowed to flourish). Hurd retired from politics to be a director of the NatWest (in which capacity he spent time in Yugoslavia, courting Milosevic, the man who benefited from the uneven killing field Hurd had promoted).

Once again, anti-war "radicalism" is revealed as a conservative project.


In the comments, my American comrade Contested Terrain added this interesting note:
In the US, anti-war sentiment has a different focus, of course. While it's varied, one particular element is the right-wing, conservative, or 'libertarian' section. (In the U.S. 'libertarianism' has a strange trajectory.) But rather than being anti-american, they are uber-American. They draw on the libertarian tradition against big government, taxes, and 'The New World Order.' In the 30s and 40s they were against the US's involvement in WWII, and have a conspiratorial analysis of how and why the US got involved. Their website is pretty clean, but it's not so difficult to see how, in some cases the directionality, in other cases the structure, of their politics goes into antisemitic scapegoating. Of course today it's about the 'neocons' and 'the Lobby.' And the focus is on 'saving America.' It's a mix of neorealism (Mersheimer and Walt) and libertarianism. seeks to 'transcend' left, right categories, and they get support across the spectrum because so many leftists have 'transcended' these barriers too. They ( built a 'libertarian' section with the Republican Party. And so on. So, 'conservative' or however we call this kind of antiwar sentiment, has a different direction. And rather than the Left, will probably have quite limited, if any, links with Muslim groups, for example, as the libertarian right's uber-americanism is also often nationalistic, with a conception of the American 'nation' being 'white' as well. Rightwing Populism in America, by Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons (from Three Way Fight), is a great book about this tradition, and incredibly important considering the strange circumstances today.
Dave Semple also wrote a reply to my post here. I'm going to paste here some extracts from the conversation this led to.

  1. February 16, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Dave, thank you for taking the time to read my post so carefully and respond so vigorously. The first thing I should say is that if I gave the impression that I believed that the whole of the anti-war movement was or is conservative, then I did not mean to give that impression. I acknowledge that the anti-war movement was an alliance of very different forces, some of whom were genuinely radical (the most radical being those who organised around the slogan “no war but the class war” rather than those who organised around the slogan “stop the war”). What I meant to do in the piece was simply to highlight the essential conservatism of a number of the forces that made up the Stop the War alliance. It just so happened that the same issue of The Guardian contained Murray’s article and Jenkins’ article and I was struck by something that they had in common, something I had noticed in the issue of The Guardian that contained the Steele “debate” which I had been meaning to write about for a couple of weeks.
    On the three items:
    1. I was on the march on February 15 2003, and there were undoubtedly many, many people there who have not a shred of anti-Americanism. But there were also huge numbers of placards that proffered idiotic anti-American slogans, often articulated through a hysterical response to the personage of George W Bush. Seeing all of those placards resonated with the racist comments about Americans I hear on an almost daily basis from people who are otherwise sensible, honest, anti-racist and radical, people who include my friends. Murray, a man who praises the North Korean dictatorship, is an extreme version of this anti-Americanism, but by no means the most extreme.
    The hysterical, paranoid, irrational nature of this anti-Americanism makes otherwise sensible, honest, anti-racist and radical folk susceptible to all sorts of bizarre notions when it comes to George Bush. The idea that Bush’s power is so great that he could impose any policy on Blair is a conspiracy theory, and Murray’s article is an example of such a conspiracy theory, even though it contains evidence for its own refutation, i.e. that Blair chose to continue with the war out of his own, independent motivation, whether we approve of that motivation or not.
    To say that Murray being a conspiracy theorist is not “evidence” for the whole anti-war movement being full of conspiracy theorists is of course correct. But Murray is, after all, one of the most senior figures in StW, someone who regularly writes op eds for the newspaper read by most StW activists; he is hardly untypical of the movement.
    You are of course right that revolutionary socialists like Murray (and yourself?) make up the core of StW. But Murray’s article makes a big deal of the fact that the march was as much a march of Daily Telegraph readers as of Guardian readers, and that it was the biggest ever mobilisation of British Muslims. This raises a question around what sort of politics makes possible such an alliance. Is it a radical politics?
    2. Perhaps Simon Jenkins is a straw man, even less typical of the anti-war movement than Jenkins.

  2. February 18, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    OK, back again. (I have limited internet access at the weekend!)
    1) On extra thing: Although most StW members do not share Murray’s enthusiasm for North Korea, he is in many respects very typical of the anti-war movement: he is central to it, holding high office in StW, and he is fairly influential on the left, being a communications officer in a major union, a regular Guardian op-ed contributor, and on the staff of Britain’s only left daily.
    2) If I appeared to suggest that the majority of anti-war activists take his position, I didn’t mean to. Jenkins is less typical of the anti-war movement than Murray. However, while Murray is an occassional op-ed writer, Jenkins is in The Guardian week in week out spouting his reactionary nonsense. Although his politics are clearly ambiguous (see, he regularly gets applauded by people who consider themselves of the left.
    I would suggest that a tiny minority of the people who marched on Feb 15 were revolutionary socialists against national sovereignty. Even those marchers who ARE revolutionary socialists, they seem to forget their opposition to national sovereignty when it comes to the national liberation struggles of the Palestinians and other “good” nations, and only remember it when it comes to Israel, Kuwait and other “bad” nations. The revolutionary left is not anti-nationalist, but engages in a form of vicarious social patriotism: they cannot move beyond the analytical framework of the nation-state. But, of course, most Guardian readers, most Feb 15 marchers, don’t fall into this category.
    You point out that the opposition of the anti-war protesters to war didn’t stem from their respect for national sovereignty, but “almost universally from their belief that an invasion would make conditions in Iraq worse than they were currently, even under Saddam Hussein.” I don’t think that’s true at all, again based on my memory of being there. I think most marchers didn’t actually care that strongly about whether life under Saddam was good or bad. Most just hated any US intervention anywhere, “Bush and Blair’s war” was a priori seen as imperialist and about oil simply because it was advocated by Bush and Blair. All of the arguments against regime change that didn’t simply spring from such a hostility were based precisely on some version of the sancitity of national sovereignty: it wasn’t the UN’s business to meddle in a country’s “self-determination”, or the war was only legitimate if the UN properly sanctioned it. I don’t think people had any idea of the bloodbath that Iraq would become; they simply didn’t want war.
    In retrospect, the argument that regime change was worse than Saddam’s dictatorship has become more powerful, because the Coalition made such a bad job of the war. But this was not an argument made at the time by many people. (And of course, it only really works if you accept that the horrific violence of the insurrection against Iraqi citizens can be the “fault” of the Coalition, rather than the fault of the insurrectionists who murder people – but that’s another argument.)
    3) Again, you say I proceed from a (possibly true?) A and B to a (false) C whereby “all opposition to the war is realist and thus conservative”. Again, I don’t actually make the C claim. But I do think that realism has an enormous influence on the ant-war left, because of a superficial (and misleading) similarity to materialist analysis. Just to take one example, although Walt and Mearsheimer’s Israel Lobby work only makes sense within the realist foreign policy analysis they believe in (they are Kissenger acolytes), yet it has been extremely influential on the left.
    Steele’s journalism is more or less pure realism, and Steele is undeniably influential on the left-liberal milieu in Britain through his role as The Guardian’s chief commentator on most foreign policy/international relations questions. The fact that Steele is endorsed by people like Douglas Hurd should give those people who approvingly quote him (such as anti-war bloggers like Lenin’s Tomb or Dead Men Left) pause for thought.
    On your conclusions. I am disturbed by your idea that the right to democracy is a higher right than the right to life, which makes Bush’s “idealism” seem positively realist. I believe that we have a duty to intervene to save lives more than we have the duty to intervene to save democracy. Saddam’s regime was murderous; Hitler’s elimination of the Jews was a far worse crime than his eliminaion of democracy.
    You also write: “I do not think that the use of national armed forces can ever create the conditions necessary for the birth of a real democracy”. When boredbystoppers replies with “Germany, Italy, Japan 1945″ you tell him/her to fuck off. Is it that you think post-war Japan, Germany and Italy were not “real” democracies? Your example – the Soviet invasion of Poland in the ’20s is a nonsensical one, unless you think the Soviet Union was democratic at that point.
    In conclusion, the anti-war movement as a whole is not motivated by conservative values; nor are the majority of anti-war activists necessarily conservative. However, a number of deeply conservative positions sit side by side with radical ones and apparently radical ones within the movement. Anti-war activists should be troubled by sharing positions with Douglas Hurd, Justin Raimondo, Pat Robertson, Norman Tebbit, Ken Clarke and Peter Hitchens. Yet they aren’t. The left should be developing a critique of the forms of conservatism I’ve written about here. But it doesn’t seem interested
  3. February 18, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Well, thank you once again for getting back to me. Since it comes up in your post, and to forestall any further questions on the subject, allow me to explain my own background. I’m a Labour Party member and member of the LRC. I’ve had long experience of the sectarian left – was once a member of the Socialist Party and was forced to work alongside the SWP. In the course of my political development I’ve also come up against all the other sects – from Communist Party to Workers Party (which has links to the Official “Sticky” IRA in Northern Ireland).
    During all this, I have never ceased to point out that certain elements of the left march in lockstep with much more reactionary ideas. My particular favourite is the support of people like Ken Livingstone and John McDonnell (and generally the Labour Left Briefing group) for the ‘independence’ of Northern Ireland from British ‘rule.’
    When I criticise these people – whom on many other issues I agree with – I am always careful to specify who I am getting at and for what reason. And undeniably you are right – some of the so-called ‘radicals’ who marched on February 15th and beyond were of just the sort I’ve criticised in the past and you criticised in your article. Yet I think you rather branded too many of us with the same brush.
    Criticise Jenkins, criticise Murray – but be careful when extrapolating to others as a result of opinions they promote. I’d contend that both are extremely atypical of the left – and atypical in a way that is not all good, I should add. The support of Murray for North Korea you’ve mentioned and you’re right – I don’t know anyone, even among the Trotskyists, who think that North Korea is a workers’ paradise.
    Where people on the left do speak out is to criticise American attitudes to the North Korean regime for example. We should always bear in mind that the USA is a self-interested national power. The government of the US is uninterested in the condition of the people of North Korea as many on the left in this country clear are (e.g.
    If we seem to criticise Israel or the USA out of proportion to the times we criticise their equally appalling opponents – the Palestinian Authority or take-your-pick respectively, we’re not indulging in second campism, we’re simply trying to highlight prominent features of the capitalist system and the imperialism which is derived from it. When I say we, I mean most of the people I have worked with on the left, both in and out of the Labour Party.
    I do not speak for everyone of course. The examples you’ve provided amply demonstrate that. I would reply that these examples would have been better specified in your original article and should not be generalised at any rate.
    One of your defences in that generalisation was that both Murray and Jenkins hold various positions and accolades from others on the left that might lead one to suspect that more than merely these two men hold positions which are not radical but merely anti-American. That’s a fair point, though for Murray I’d point out that he was elected by an unrepresentative meeting of sectarian political hacks.
    For Jenkins and Guardian journalism as a whole, I think it is fair to say that many receive accolades from generally more progressive people only because there are few real radicals at work in the national press. The tabloids are not the only papers to indulge in cheap populism – and anti-Americanism appeals to that populism because the quality of debate in the press and in Parliament and on street corners is so low.
    These are much wider problems than a few cranks holding positions within the Stop the War Coalition or having the ability to write articles for the Guardian – a paper which is not particularly progressive itself. Believe me, no one is more disgusted by the behaviour of the apparatchik who were at the centre of the StWC – but that’s not what you attacked. As far as I could see, your article was a dismissal of the entire anti-war movement.
    Additionally, a suggestion of mine was that no one on the march cared about national sovereignty (except perhaps any experts in international law and Charles Kennedy) and that more people cared about the effect the war would have on Iraq. You said above in your reply that this wasn’t the case – but you only need to look at the dozens of articles published before the invasion or shortly after, when it looked like everything was going swimmingly, to see that you are wrong. Below is a selection:
    Socialist Party, made clear in the first paragraph, dated 2002.
    Socialist Workers’ Party, first line, January 2003.
    Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, pp10-14, discussing the break up of Iraq as a real possibility, dated Dec. 2002.
    And no doubt those publications – like the Guardian and the Mirror – who don’t have writings encumbered by forays into political theory will have aligned themselves with the liberal wing of the movement; CND, the Quakers and other pacifistic groups. I’d say it’s pretty clear that even among the nuttier more doctrinaire sects, concern was more over the state of Iraq post invasion than regarding ‘national sovereignty.’
    I’d say it’s even more evident that the majority of the anti-war movement owes nothing to ‘realism’ if you investigate what realism is (I’m using the helpful writings of International Relations 101 textbook, Baylis and Smith, 3rd edition, pp141ff). None of the organisations at the core of the Stop the War coalition would even know what raison d’etat is never mind what ramifications it has for global affairs.
    And as I’ve said, the hacks who made up the electorate of the StWC were either socialists who (at least on the surface) oppose the idea of a national state or by groups which are not engaged in political theorising at all and thus borrow concepts from many different ideologies – the Muslim groups are a prime example.
    I don’t read [Jonathan] Steele and if asked, I doubt most people on the march would have known who he was. I have never read any work by Walt or Mearsheimer and I doubt very much if most others on that march had. I’m sure some of the intellectuals who came along for the ride – and as a result got invited to the televised debates etc – probably are influenced in the manner you suggest. Yet I think in the popular consciousness, the anti-war movement was more a robust denial of war than a conscientious endorsement of any political view.
    Obviously I can’t speak for the millions of demonstrators, I can only speak of those I had contact with. Among those, anti-Americanism extended simply to deploring the actions of the US government across the world, rather than indiscriminately hating Americans. For many, as you say, it didn’t even go that deep and many protesters merely focused on President Bush.
    I don’t think that shows a reactionary anti-Americanism, I think in many cases it is an acknowledgment that the foreign policy the US indulges in is corrupt and dangerous – and people have been saying that in this country since the movement against nuclear weapons began. In truth I met very few anti-American racists, though I would point out that in the aftermath of the anti-war protests, several US commentators did attempt to portray the whole thing as an anti-American sham.
    It wasn’t. Had Blair himself been the only one leading the charge, do you doubt that there’d have been equal numbers of people protesting
  4. February 18, 2008 at 4:33 pm
    Now, on to dealing with other matters. I hope you don’t mind but I split my answers into two. The above deal with the questions raised by your article and my counter-article. The next post will deal with issues subsequently raised, such as the success of interventions and democracy.
  5. February 18, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    1. On Democracy
    Democracy, for me, is more than merely a system in which people choose their representatives using an electoral system of whatever sort. As far as I am concerned, that is formal democracy, which at any rate is skewed by important features of capitalism.
    Before I continue I should make clear my opposition to talk of things like ‘rights’ and though I am guilty of lapsing into that talk, I also occasionally mutter “Jesus Christ” despite my militant atheism. I dislike talk of rights because they mask a more scientific analysis of society.
    Returning to our theme; I think democracy is a tactical weapon for the progressive left. Its absence – as in Italy, Germany and Japan – was marked by the absolute smashing of workers’ movements. Formal democracy allows for the development of progressive movements on a mass basis.
    If we’re going to talk about comparatively measuring the right to life against the right to democracy, then I would suggest the possession of that tactical weapon is more important. It’s not that I don’t abhor death of any sort – but if it comes down to a choice between removing an elite caste by forcible revolution and surrendering democracy, I’m going to choose revolution.
    2. On Interventionism
    Since I have pointed out that democracy is more important than not rising up and forcibly suppressing opposition, one might think that this idea could also be translated to the removal of undemocratic regimes by force of arms.
    I don’t think this is a feasible view; in fact I think the idea of imposing democracy by force of arms is impossible. Was democracy imposed on Germany, Italy and Japan in 1945? These nations, among the most developed economies in the world, had an equally well-developed bourgeoisie and even proletarian movements.
    Germany and Italy were among the world’s oldest democracies to begin with. As a result I think it is not arguable that democracy was imposed, so much as it re-emerged from hiding. Indeed, in Italy and Greece democracy was suppressed by the USA to prevent the communists taking power.
    For Japan, some of the reforms are particularly useful to look at. The US occupation unshackled progressive forces such as trade unions, the Communist Party and women. It was the social democratic movement which gave democracy meaning in Japan – not to mention Germany and Italy, all of which saw a dramatic upsurge in workers’ movements.
    These were forces in society unleashed by occupation but not generated by occupation. To see just to what degree this distinction is not semantic, look at Iraq where the US has made common cause with some of the most regressive elements in Iraqi society, and made peace with even more regressive elements. The result being chaos.
    The social democratic movement has been persecuted to a ridiculous degree – and one need only look at the ILO-IFTU figures for how many trade unionists are killed and kidnapped in Iraq. That’s the key difference. US military intervention cannot of itself generate democracy as if by magic.
    My response to the other chap was merely anger at his audacity, coming on to my website and deciding to mouth off rather than engage in serious debate
  6. February 18, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks, David, for these very thoughtful replies. I wrote what I wrote having not read any other posts on your blog, of which I was unaware before you linked to me (as you were unaware of me before Will linked to me). I have a much better – and more sympathetic – understanding of where you’re coming from now.
    I should reciprocate by saying that I am not a “pro-war commissar” but am very ambivalent about it. (My position is best summed up in something like: right enemy, wrong justifications, wrong strategy.) What I feel most strongly now is that, whether the war was right or wrong, it would be utterly wrong to simply withdraw and leave Iraq to its fate. We need to do whatever we can to make the situation better: our follies since 2003 make that all the more imperative.
    I’m guessing that I’m about 12 years older than you. The first “Gulf War” in 1991 had a similar effect on my political development to that which the 2003 war had on mine. I marched in 1991 with some “critical” support for Saddam as an anti-imperialist. It was only later, with exposure to real Marxism in the form of groups like Aufheben and Subversion that I learnt about the anti-Saddam revolution in Iraq in the wake of that war, which our withdrawing forces helped Saddam crush. I began to revise my whole concept of imperialism and anti-imperialism, and the kneejerk defence of the left for whichever little imperialist the superpowers are at war with. I began to draw away from the isolationist and appeasing international relations models that the “anti-imperialist” critique inevitably (at least in teh absence of global revolution) leads towards.
    I don’t think that the Blair-Brown-Miliband project is a perfect realisation of a better, cosmopolitan way of engaging with dictatorships in places like Iraq. But their language – and certainly Miliband’s speech – opens up space for such a cosmopolitan politics. It is in that spirit that I am defending Miliband, even if I wouldn’t want to defend all his government’s policies.
    As for February 2003, maybe you are right to say that there was more concern about Iraq’s fate than I remembered (I haven’t yet clicked on the links you provide).
    But what I am certain I am not wrong about was the presence of obscene amounts of anti-American racism. I saw it, you can see it in any of the picture galleries at Indymedia or elswehere, and I recognised it easily because I was (and am) surrounded by it in my daily interaction with the Guardian-readers I spend my time among. The focus on the figure of President Bush, as the necessary and sufficient explanation for all evil in the world, by so many protestors, is one symptom of how this anti-Americanism corrupted the liberal mind (“Bush Derangement Syndrome”).
    “Had Blair himself been the only one leading the charge, do you doubt that there’d have been equal numbers of people protesting?” Yes, actually, I do doubt it. The fact that they saw (thought they saw) Britain prostrating itself before America, Blair as Bush’s poodle, was a massive factor in galvanising the Guardianistas and Telegraphistas. Not the whole movement, of course, but many marchers.
    Jonathan Steele and Simon Jenkins may not be household names among the Guardianistas who made up a large number of the marchers. But they probably glance at their articles (and, if they venture into the international news section of the paper, certainly read Steele, as he is called upon to provide the authoritative commentary on all sorts of non-domestic issues), and these columnists have an influence far beyond their expertise. They start thought-memes that spread virally in the blogosphere, as Walt and Mearsheimer’s writings spread virally far beyond people who have actually read them.
    Realism is probably the least important of the three things I looked at in the article; maybe I’m overstating my case in dwelling on it. Little Englandism, anti-Americanism, conspiracy theory, faith in the sanctity of the nation-state, support for right-wing dictatorships because they are putatively “anti-imperialist”, casual alliances with deeply reactionary theocrats on the principle of my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend: these are all far more pernicious, and far more common. When the left accomodates itself to these forces, either it is abandoning the ethical values that made the left what it once was, or it is time to leave the left.
    On democracy:
    I’m not sure I follow what you’re saying. I accept that formal democracy is a pale excuse for real, deeper democracy. I accept that from a working class point of view, formal democracy is just step one to genuine emancipation, and in that sense a tactical weapon. I also accept that even formal democracy cannot be birthed without bloodshed, and that cost might be worth paying.
    Buy you say: “but if it comes down to a choice between removing an elite caste by forcible revolution and surrendering democracy, I’m going to choose revolution.” Well, I guess you mean that if a vanguard of socialists overthrew a democratically elected tyrant you’d support it, and I suppose I would. But if they then do not govern with the democratic consent of the populace, they are no better than the dictator are they? If you cannot impose democracy from outside with a cruise missile, you cannot impose it from the inside with a palace coup or a car bomb.
    On the post-war rebirth of democracy:
    I’m not sure how deep democracy’s roots were in Italy and Germany, both relatively new members of the European family of nation-states. But if we accept that democracy there returned, rather than was imposed, then (a) it still needed fascist tyranny to be removed for that to happen, and (b) Iraq has had democracy in the past, so why couldn’t it re-emerge there without our hope?
    Of course the labour movement in those countries was essential to re-building democracy after the war. But this makes it incumbent on us to support Iraqi trade unionists, not to support the insurgency that murders them, as many in Stop the War do.
    I don’t think anyone claimed that US intervention would bring democracy to Iraq by magic. But without intervention opening up the space for civil society – for the trade unions and women’s movement, for example – then it never stood a chance.
    Where the surge has been successful, we see the emergence from its hiding in the shadows the shadows, to use your image of Germany, of this civil society. Of course, the Coalition has chosen to support reactionary forces instead in many cases, but that does not invalidate the basic principle of demanding of our leaders that they intervene to support the forces of emancipation, including militarily
  7. February 19, 2008 at 12:53 am
    Sorry to cut across your argument with David Semple but:
    Is it that you think post-war Japan, Germany and Italy were not “real” democracies?
    I don’t think post-war Italy was a ‘real’ democracy; strategy of tension and the Gladio network anyone?
  8. February 19, 2008 at 12:57 am

    I did mention the suppression of democracy in Italy post-war but yes, a point well made.
    Would people stop calling me by my full name…just David will suffice
  9. February 19, 2008 at 11:21 am

    I guess that there are more than one definitions of democracy we’re slipping between. If we are talking formal democracy, then, yes, Italy was democratic: it had elections. The Strategy of Tension and the covert operations against Communism undermined formal democracy, but this was just a slightly more extreme version of what happens in any bourgeois democracy. Nonetheless, surely even that constrained formal democracy was millions of times better than Mussolini’s rule (or, in my opinion, if Italy had become a vassal state of the Soviet Empire)? Better for all citizens, better for the working class movement, better enough to be worth fighting for.
    As for “real” democracy, well, the modern world hasn’t seen many instances of it has it? Maybe the Paris Commune, St Petersburg for a few months in 1917, Chiapas for a while, parts of Spain during the Spanish revolution, a few more examples. The fact that bourgeois democracy doesn’t measure up to these doesn’t mean it is not a good thing if compared to dictatorship.
Finally, if you're not exhausted yet, I wrote a follow-up here, clarifying some of my points.


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