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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Editorial 4 - Whatever Happened to the Left?

I'm aware that I've already addressed some of these issues in a previous post, but the readership of Redbrick hadn't yet had the pleasure, so here's my editorial from last week. I think it is an issue that is particularly relevant for students, as so many I talk to these days are now reluctant to align themselves with 'Socialism' although they support the true causes which were its foundation. For example, how can my Jewish friends who oppose the war in Iraq march against it...?

“George Bush, we know you, your daddy was a killer too.” Disturbingly, these words came from the mouth of a boy barely older than five, balanced on the shoulders of his father. Anti-war slogans steamed into the February air, each of varying wit. (“Who let the bombs out? Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush!” doesn’t sound great, however many people are yelling it.)

This, the march of 15th February 2003, was, supposedly, history in the making, although it turned out to be more anti-climax than anti-war. It attracted an estimated two million people (although the number can change dramatically depending on who’s doing the estimating). I myself was proud to take part, as someone who vehemently disagrees with a war built on a false premise.

However, this column is about why I now choose not to march. The reason being that I am tired of being labelled as a supporter of causes I deplore, simply by association. We were sold an anti-war march, but what we got was a cocktail of political beliefs that we had to swallow if we wanted to protest. Why, by protesting against the Iraq war, do I automatically have to endorse placards alongside me that manifest anti-Semitic sentiments? On a recent march during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon, a protester carried a poster depicting Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert as axe-wielding murderers, drawn with over-sized noses, exaggerated “Jewish” features and spattered with blood. It was worthy of a Nazi cartoonist; Goebbels would have been proud. I would hope that anyone on that march protesting simply against the ferocity of Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s actions would have been horrified to be associated with such appalling racism.

The question this raises is: what does it now mean to be on the Left? Or, as Michael Walzer put it, ‘Can There Be a Decent Left?’ (Walzer, 2002). Before I came to university, I was a stereotypical teenage socialist, proclaiming Tony Blair to be a neo-fascist, demanding taxes be raised to at least 70% and loving Tony Benn more than Cher loves plastic. My rose-tinted spectacles were quickly washed away by the waves of cynicism that crashed over me in most of my politics seminars, but my left-wing core remains intact. I still believe in taxation and redistribution; I want to see the Welfare State survive, not sell out; and I don’t believe that neo-liberalism is anything but damaging. The real disillusionment has come not with the abandonment of my socialist beliefs, but with the realisation that with these beliefs comes an automatic alignment to other, more sinister, causes.

The Left in Britain today has now become synonymous with a set of issues that have never been a part, historically, of socialism or social democracy. The issue on which the Left is shouting loudest at the moment is principally Islamophobia, a worthy cause in itself but not when coupled with the sentiments that accompany it. Whilst berating Blair for killing Iraqi civilians (as should we all), Leftist organisations are backing Hezbollah and Hamas, groups which desire “death to Israel”, suppress women’s rights and terrorise homosexuals, not to mention oppose democratic regimes: all attitudes against which the hard Left fights in its own country, and now seemingly supports elsewhere. Meanwhile, the crisis in Darfur goes relatively unspoken of in Left circles, and racist anti-Americanism is rife.

When did being a socialist stop being about wanting equality of opportunity and start to be about rejecting all your core values in the name of the ‘resistance’, which is a poor code for ‘terrorism’? I do not want my identity as a ‘Lefty’ to be decided by others who are pursuing their own dangerous political agenda in the name of socialism. Those of us who wish to be socialists without the manacles of fascism binding our wrists must stand up for the principles which first made us proud to be on the Left. If they’re shouting loud, we must shout louder.

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6 Comments:

  • I actually find it quite exiting that so many children marched against the Iraq war. I share your dislike of some of the slogans if only because they trvialise important issues but a 5 year old marching is fantastic.

    When you go on a march there is one or more key statements that the organisers have agreed on. This is what you are marching for. Some people will choose to make their own points with the placards they carry or the slogans they chant but this is their prerogative. Marching alongside them you are not endorsing their views, it just shows the wide spectrum of opinions of marchers that their will be variations amongst them. You are marching for the core principles of the march, anything else is up to you, and up to your co-marchers.

    On the anti-semitic point, do you deny that Sharon and Olmert have blood on their hands? As long as the cartoonist had drawn their nose in the correct proportion would you have minded? Or are you more concerned at criticism of the Israeli regime in general.

    I'm sure you're aware of the double standards at play when you criticise both the Left's support for Hamas and their opposition to democratic regimes. Enough said.

    I personally don't have a problem with setting aside some of my political beliefs to support the greater good. Do me and De Gaulle have identical politics? No. Would I endorse everything in the ANC manifesto now or in the 1980s? No. Would I have supported both their efforts in the resistance against oppression? Damn right I would

    By Anonymous Gabs, at 1:07 pm  

  • There are several problems with children marching.

    1) It is a manipulation of the media (and => us) - they aren't doing it out of belief, but because their parents are taking them along. But it is presented as something that they are doing. Certain people accuse religious folk of child abuse because they teach them a religious framework without apparently teaching them to think things through. I don't believe in infant baptism precisely because I want children to be old enough to think the implications of things through before they commit themselves to something. Taking children on demos isn't child abuse, but it is certainly child exploitation (offspring as political prop - yuck).

    2) It also reinforces in children's minds the idea that everything is "morally certain" and "simple" - which doesn't prepare them for citizenship in a complex world. Bush/Blair were wrong to invade Iraq (a position I have fundamentally held from before the invasion, unlike many people who have grown to dislike the invasion since) - but whilst that's the presenting symptom, there is an awful lot more at stake. Although Bush may have been driven by those motivated by black gold, I really believe Blair acted in good conscience because he thought that Iraq was developing WMD (remember those?). I don't believe that the invasion was the right thing to do - but I believe that Blair believes it was and understands his responsibility for what has happened since. And Saddam's regime is not a morally commendable one.

    3) The tone set in groups is not fundamentally "rational" - there is something called "risky shift" - groups tend to do more polarised things than people will do on their own. Again, I am wary about taking children into religious settings where things will be "out of control", or the meeting itself will invoke feelings or hype that would not be invoked in other settings - the sort of behaviour that Dawkins et al would doubtless consider child abuse. In the same way, I think that it is wrong to put children into a political environment in which a group mentality might override rational behaviour. Of course, the demo may have been perfectly reasonable, and this not an issue at all.

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 1:53 pm  

  • Five year olds marching on marches they don't know much about not a good idea, Richard Dawkins reason again. People in secondary school who actually know what's going on I don't have a problem with. I do think marches showed have some seperateness of causes and not be left-wing shopping trolleys, but as gabs said when you march you agree with the organisers statement, not the nutter next to you.

    While I can see where you're coming from, I do get a little frustrated when people automatically associate anti-Israeli government (my standpoint) with anti-Israel existance or worse anti-semitic. I don't like Hamas, like I dont like Hezbollah, but Hamas were the democratic choice of the Palastinian people. If America and Britain are supposedly after spreading "democracy" (American style) to the middle-east, then why do they cut off aid to the Palestinian people just because they chose the "wrong" party?

    I support the underdog, it defines my politics generallywhich is why I am a lefty and why I'll come out on the side of the Palestinians more than Israel. Because Israel is richer and stronger, and they are supposed the be the responsible democratic country. This doesn't excuse the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups, not at all. However my view is Israel (here you could put in America or Britain for some of things that happened during the Iraq war) should know better. You don't beat terrorists by acting like them, you lose your moral high ground that way.

    P.S. I know you may disagree with this and you may delete it, but I thought I'd post anyway! I think I have been reasonably measured and calm in my analysis. Also would be great to see you back on the radish!

    By Blogger Julien, at 12:23 am  

  • julien: :) It mustn't be the "wrong sort of democracy", must it?!

    But part of the problem there - and I guess what the US and EU countries objected to - is that Hamas was bankrolled by less democratic regimes (Syria, Iran) who poured money into it to allow it effectively to "buy" the electorate - they would give thousands of dollars to people who had been hit by Israeli attacks, for example, I believe.

    ... and thence the next part of the problem was the shelling of Palestine by Israel, of course ....

    ... which they would argue was down to Hamas shelling them, again with weapons supplied by Iran and Syria ....

    ... and so on, back to Sarah asking Abraham whether he shouldn't do something about the fact he didn't have children. "Careless words cost lives."

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 11:19 am  

  • Julien,

    First, thanks for your comments, good to see another Brum student getting involved! Of course I'm not going to delete what you've said - even if I entirely disagreed with it I wouldn't... this blog is supposed to be a way for me and others to debate and refine thoughts. Also, I would be on the Radish if I had any spare time whatsoever!

    To everyone, esp. Gabs, in view of your points: I understand what you mean about just signing up to the main purpose of the march. But what I wanted to get across is that I feel the organisers of such events have now blurred different subjects. Stop the War obviously encompasses many beliefs other than just stopping the War in Iraq/Iran, such as its views on Israel and Palestine (as was evidenced with the George Galloway meeting last week). And these beliefs are echoed in the shouts of the protesters who, yes, are individuals, but do reflect the amalgamation of different issues that occurs in the organising body.

    Furthermore, I by no means endorse everything the state of Israel does and has done - far from it. Maybe I should post some of my thoughts that have resulted from "Jewish Awareness Week" to redress the balance of what I've posted.

    See you at GC tonight... muahahaha.

    By Blogger Bec, at 2:50 pm  

  • Well you wouldn't have seen me at GC tonight, because I am in Germany this year on my year abroad. Makes me appreciate the internet that bit more. Keeping track of uni/guild stuff through the radish as well as your blog along others. Liking you posting your editorials, because obviously can't get redbrick out here, and the redbrick website seems to have not been updated in a while, so cheers ears!

    By Blogger Julien, at 11:28 pm  

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