Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Euston Manifesto

The Euston Manifesto strikes me as an attempt by the many decent people who support or have supported broadly leftist ideals to retake their movement from those who aim to steal it, or at least to squat on the name. As someone who was once of the left but is no longer - largely for economic reasons, of which more later - I applaud those behind it.

The need for such a statement - itself uncontroversial, hit the link for details - was brought home to me during one of the many anti-Iraq war protests held at uni while I studied law. Apart from the usual behaviour one expects at demos/protests/sit-ins (flag-burning, cat-calling, sloganeering etc), I saw an international student spat upon when he ordered a coffee at the beverage stall outside the refectory. The student in question was American, and the spit landed upside his ear once he opened his mouth - thereby revealing his accent.

At that moment - a few years back now - I knew that a large segment of the anti-Iraq war movement had simply departed reality. I wondered, too, how much of a correlation there was (and is) between those protesters and 'the left' more broadly. The Euston Manifesto - its very existence - suggests more than a little. I know quite a few people who still consider themselves dyed in the wool lefties; they maintain that they haven't changed - the movement has. Inevitably, we disagree on economic issues. However, like me they refuse to cut Muslims any slack, regardless of how offended those Muslims may be by certain cartoons. They refuse to engage in immoral equivalency. They deny a pass to third world barbarity on the grounds that 'it's just their culture' or 'our colonialism made them do it'. Inexplicably, they find themsleves on the right.

I'm tempted to sign the manifesto myself - it explicitly reaches out 'beyond socialism and socialists' - in part because I think it is possible to combine a social conscience with libertarian economic principles. People I respect - like rocket scientist Zoe Brain - have signed up, putting paid to their often shallow categorization (by others) as 'rightist'. For the moment, I'm pleased to see one section of the community stating clearly and proudly that religious zealotry is just as unacceptable when articulated by the world's poor as by George W Bush's white heartland, that the United States is a beacon of hope for many, and that Islamic fundamentalism should receive no free pass. What is good for the goose, is good for the gander.


At June 15, 2006 8:35 pm, Anonymous Rob said...

You should sign it, sl. I did.

I did have reservations. It's still socialist -- at least in the sense of being utopian, and I've left most of my utopias behind me. And yet, as Primo Levi once said, the fight against injustice must continue, even if it will never win. If we don't fight it with dreams of utopia, what do we fight it with?

The Manifesto does gather together the best of what's left of the left. As you say, many people brought up on the left who nonetheless are revolted by its present-day excesses still feel they are part of it. Pamela Bone, The Age journalist, summed it up well when she said 'I never left the left. The left left me. The left I thought was a part of did not make common cause with fascists'.

Whether or not the left has really had its day, and is living on its memories, there still is a decent left out there, one not taken over by post-modernist nonsenses, reflexive anti-Americanism, identity politics and assiduously cultivated victimologies.

That's the left that the Euston Manifesto represents to me. I think socialism is an idea that has had its day, but the best of the ideals that lay behind it can still be recovered, or re-inscribed in a new kind of political discourse that is at the same time a very old one.

At June 15, 2006 9:47 pm, Blogger skepticlawyer said...

Hi Rob,

Like Zoe, you are inspiring to a terrible cynic like me. I'll sleep on this one and see what the new day brings... and then maybe pick your brains about how to go about signing up.

At June 15, 2006 10:26 pm, Blogger Sukrit Sabhlok said...

The principles are dressed up in the language of inclusiveness but I would never sign it as long as it contains nonsense like this: "The current expansion of global markets and free trade must not be allowed to serve the narrow interests of a small corporate elite in the developed world and their associates in developing countries."

Principles 1 ('For Democracy'), 2 ('No Apology for tyranny'), 3 ('Human rights for all'), 6 ('Opposing anti-Americanism'), 7 ('For a two-state solution'), 8 ('Against racism'), 9 ('United Against terror'), 11 ('A critical openness'), 12 ('Historical truth'), 13 ('Freedom of ideas') and 14 ('Open source') are excellent.

At June 15, 2006 11:03 pm, Anonymous Rob said...

Yes, I don't agree with that statement either, sukrit. It's too glib, and a sop to the left. One of the problems with the Euston Manifesto is that -- anticipating the inevitable criticisms -- it tries a little too hard to persuade us that it's not right-wing.

But on balance I think it is pretty well on the money.

At June 16, 2006 12:27 pm, Blogger skepticlawyer said...

Glibness is about right, in part because it implies that globalisation is serving the interests of 'corporate elites' in the developed world and 'their associates' in the developing world. I don't think that holds - globalisation is far too complex to be categorised so simply.

At June 18, 2006 3:02 pm, Anonymous mikey said...

I've gotten here pretty late but I still want to spew out a few thoughts, if you'll all be so kind. I've been nibbling around the edges of the E.M as well, though, probably from a different angle to most of you guys.

The problems I have with it are:

1) Its largely unnecesary. There are very few 'leftist', who disagree with any of the principles that Sukhrit lists, and are taken seriously. (Caveat: having visited Normblog, I accept that it is a significant problem at least in the U.K.)

2: It perpetuates the same left/right dialectics that are the root cause of so many stupid policy goals and decisions. Taking back the left, or purging the left of all but the decent ones, implies all kinds of pointless and harmful political dyanmics. It appears that the reason why the E.M takes such an approahc is because they see a number of urgent issues that the traditional 'left' has screwed up on. The strongest point in this regard is Anti-Americanism. On the whole i think the 'decadent and anti-freedom left'image is overblown.

3: By training its eye (and making some telling shots on) the 'fascist loving left' it is blind to the excesses of a number of other groups (Neo-cons, social conservatives and economic libertarians.) Their para on Iraq remains 10 times more like an apologia fo the Coalition of the willing than their caricature of anti-war types appears an apologia for Saddaam. It's unbalanced.

4) It's not exactly a new, visionary and unsullied manifesto.
In a lot of ways its Third Way Blairism, which I still have time for as it happens. But it's not exactly a clean handkerchief.

You asked for 2 cents?

At June 18, 2006 3:29 pm, Anonymous mikey said...

BTW, a good post SkepticLawyer.

I just think it and the E.M are based on, not so much false ideas, but false political rhetoric.

Any movement which genuinely pushed forward these ideas (and there are probably many others i would add) shorn of political baggage, would attract a vast majority of people, both 'left' and 'right', poor and rich, christian, muslim, hindu and buddhist and so on...

And its not like the concepts embodied in it haven't been around for quite a while; I mean if that's the first broadside against religious zealoty, regardless of its stripe, then I suspect you haven't really been listening. Or more likely you heard it spoken by
'lefties' and it was couched in different terms, with a focus on GWB and his zealous Christian supporters

Maybe upon hearing this- similar to the reaction of a lot of good upstanding 'lefties' upon reading the E.M - you were immediately turned off because it was pushing the wrong political buttons. Perhaps, and now im stretching it (apologies if I'm slipping itno stereotypes), it seemd to you that the lefties spouting this were rabidly Anti-Bush and some of them were Anti-America and a few of them even appeared to be Anti-freedom. But, if i'm not mistaken they were the ones who pushed the concept onto the table. (can't find the link i was looking for)

Similarly I have no problemn with the free trade stuff that Sukrit quoted, but I suspect that's because I read it with a different emphasis and with different political instincts. Ultimately I agree with SL, that globalisation is much more complex to be cateiogrised so simply, but i suspect we differ on the question of who is doing most of that categorising.

In sum,the E.M is a worthy talking
point but as a manifesto to bring 'good' people together and to form a new politics it's not nearly good enough.

At June 18, 2006 6:06 pm, Blogger skepticlawyer said...

All good points Mikey, although I don't think it's possible for the EM to be all things to all men - that is, not only criticise the anti-war left but also neo-cons, social conservatives and libertarians like Sukrit and me.

I must admit - in my admittedly solipsistic frame of reference - the majority of lefties I've encountered can be characterised in the way the EM characterizes them. Shallow anti-Americanism competes with silly cultural relativism and a tendency to excuse barbarity when it's practised by browns and blacks.

That said, I've encountered the other sort of lefty as well - the 'good lefty' who is passionate about liberty and equality, and doesn't draw silly distinctions about who gets how much liberty and equality and why they should get it. Many of those lefties - as both Rob and I alluded to (Pamela Bone is a good example) now find that the ground has shifted beneath their feet.

I am still unsure about Iraq, largely because there is a part of me that supports 'humanitarian intervention', but also in part because the idea that it is possible to invade a country and completely reshape its politics offends my libertarian instincts. Not sure where that leaves you, but there you have it!

2 cents much appreciated, too.

At June 20, 2006 5:37 pm, Anonymous mikey said...

It seems to me, sl, that there is still a bit of a grey no-mans land in between us. My instinct (facts will only take my bounded mind so far...) is that, if we are looking for ways forward, the best answers are hidden in amongst that no-mans land, clouded over at present.

Your critiques of the left are finely sharpened, and i've no doubt they apply to a significant number of people. But I think they (and the EM) lead one to overlook significant and valid political/historical/philosophical positions, which often find themselves nominally on the same side as those you lay the boot into.

To me this is not just because of an inaccurate and Machiavellian characterisatin of their positions by opponents, but also because of a certain timidness and maybe also because historical context has rendered them temporarily hamstrung.

In this vein I've got a couple of questions, and anyone ought feel free to answer them.

1) Would you call yourself a Structuralist?

2) Do you see Sociology (and all or some of its descendants) as a Science?

3) What do you think about the World Scoial Forum?


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