From Bob's archive: The conservatism of the anti-war "radicals"
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 Arabist, a member of the Council for Arab British Understanding, a Tory grandee, a member of a US "progressive" thinktank, a 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 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. Antiwar.com seeks to 'transcend' left, right categories, and they get support across the spectrum because so many leftists have 'transcended' these barriers too. They (antiwar.com) 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.