Sunday, July 23, 2006

A neocon movement in the UK?

Those of you who follow this site rather more closely than is healthy, will recall that the other day I had a spat with one of my commenters, SWP'er Morbo, over my linking to Harry's Place. This can be re-read here, if you are so inclined. I would still hold that I was essentially right and he was essentially wrong, about linking to sites with which you may not agree politically. But... it got myself, Lala and, perhaps surprisingly to some of you, even Jim, talking about the specific case of Harry's Place, as well as the wider Euston Manifesto phenomenon of which it forms a keystone building block. Given that the "pro-war left" is such an internet-driven phenomenon, and also given that the Eustonite "line" seems to be to strenuously deny being neocons of any kind - albeit with the occasional slippage into "you don't have to be a neocon/pro-war/pro-Bush to sign the manifesto" language - I thought a cursory examination of this claim, along with the recent political evolution of one of Euston's most important components, might be in order.

Now before we really get going, it is true that there are political differences among Eustonite bloggers. The folks at Fisking Central, who have as I understand it signed the Manifesto, differ among themselves on the war on Iraq, as well as on other questions. I think the reason why they can all agree with the Manifesto is because it is so vague as to be agreeable to anyone from David Cameron to John McDonnell, but nevertheless it's also therefore possible for someone to be both essentially decent and a Euston signatory.

Right then gentle reader, let's move on to Harry's Place.

Harry's Place is one of the most-read political websites in the UK, and is almost certainly the number one in terms of comment that it attracts in the mainstream media. It's run by people who would loosely describe themselves as (though the term seems to be going out of fashion) "pro-war left". I.E, they're people who would claim in some sense to be left-wing, who supported the war on Iraq because they believed it was a liberationist war which would empower the masses in Iraq to democracy and freedom. Complete nonsense in my view, but there you are.

Now, let's look at their recent response to the crises in Israel, Palestine and the Lebanon. On the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, strong support for Israel, with posts including one that starts sympathetic, but then appears to accuse a Palestinian mother (writing about her family's suffering under the Israeli barrage in Gaza), and the Gaza population in general of complicity in the kidnapping. And of course, although in this post it is unsaid, there is then the further implication that they brought it all on themselves, didn't they? The cutting off of electricity and water supplies? Perfectly reasonable because Ms El-Farra's so complicit that she practically snatched the guy herself, right? And her kids... well that's very unfortunate but it's all in the name of enlightenment values you know - and these Arab fundos sometimes need to be taught a lesson...

And if you think that's offensive crap, then take a look at the comments underneath the post, which give something of a flavour of the type of "left" that HP attracts these days.

Now, look at their coverage for the past week or two, of the crisis in the Lebanon. Post after post with pictures of Hizbollah soldiers doing one-armed salutes, posts accusing the UK anti-war movement (which, in HP parlance, appears to consist of the SWP, George Galloway, Azzam Tamimi and the MAB, and no one else) of being "pro-fascist" because of speeches that Galloway and Tamimi have given in the recent past. A positive exhortation to people, to attend today's rally "in solidarity with Israel" in London. You name it, they've done it - apart from get to the basic point that it is morally reprehensible, and bordering on war crime, for Israel to be doing what it is currently doing to innocent men, women and children in South Lebanon.

OK, basics time. As any fool who's ever glanced in the direction of a military history book knows, you can't defeat an anyonymous guerilla movement by aerial bombardment. It has never worked, and it won't work here. And if this fool knows that, then you can safely presume that the IDF's commanding officers know it too. So, we can safely discount (as it would seem, do certain representatives of the usually pro-Israeli UK government) the idea that these are the proclaimed "surgical strikes", intended to knock out Hizbollah whilst minimising harm to the Lebanese people in general. Flattening of towns, naval blockades, attacks on Beirut airport, etc, would all seem to bear this out as well.

All of which is obvious to you and I. But not, it would seem, to the "pro-war left".

There is a term to describe people who believe in using western military might to enforce freedom (a contradiction in terms to most of us) in countries across the world, people who believe in virtually unconditional strategic support for Israel as the state capable of quelling religious fundamentalism, and people who define any kind of stance against western imperial adventures as being irredeemably reactionary. "Liberal interventionist" and "Liberal imperialist" have been used. But the real heritage is that of the US neocon movement. Ex-Democrats all, still socially liberal on many domestic issues - witness Irving Kristol's statement in the book "Neoconservatism" that he would expand social security for the elderly - but believers in using the co-ercive power of the state to enforce forward-looking enlightenment values upon the world. That's a description of neoconservatives, and it's a description that also fits the core values of the pro-war "left" in the UK as well. Postings on HP being the most obvious expression of those values.

There is a lot more to be said about the core group organising the various public faces of Euston, but that's a post for another day.

It was a particular concern of mine prior to the AWL's Ideas for Freedom event this year, that certain younger comrades of theirs were falling into the trap of thinking that the pro-war Euston crowd were somehow "better" than the mass of the left in the UK, because they share and reiterate many of the AWL's (largely correct, albeit vastly over-reiterated) criticisms of the SWP. Because of that superficial agreement the deeper issues where the AWL and the SWP are closer than either group would care to admit - ie their basically socialist vision of how the world should be, their opposition to wars like that in Iraq, etc, were being forgotten. As I've mentioned in a previous post, that particular concern was laid to rest in a magnificent debate between the AWL and two hapless Eustonites at that event.

But nevertheless, I would seek to reiterate my point to anyone on the left, who thinks that the neocon core group of those who composed the Euston Manifesto are a positive influence on progressive politics in the UK. They're not, and if you're one of the many good people people who is considering signing the manifesto, and I know you're out there, then I'd ask you to consider very carefully the political project that you're signing up to before you put your name on the dotted line. Similarly, if you're one of the several good people who have already signed it, I would ask you to consider removing your name. You're not signing up to a progressive project in the sense that most would understand it, you're not even signing up to a vaugely Blairite centre-left statement of intent. You're signing up to a nascent UK neoconservative movement, and unless you're fully aware of the implications of that, you should not put your name on its founding document.

And my link to Harry's Place? It's staying up for now, but for information purposes only. An interesting read it may be, but "left" or "liberal" in any sense, it simply is not. I don't support the politics of the so-called pro-war left, and neither should you.


Blogger Renegade Eye said...

I link to anyone who'll link back to me. The more links you have, the stronger your blog. I would link to Harry's Place, if they put a link to mine. If they don't link back, remove the link.

If I linked with who I agreed with, I'd have about four links. I have some links that are religious, conservative and Stalinist.

I don't want to leave out the nudist from Tonga.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Brynley said...

A neocon movement in the UK? Up and running on the Middle East.

Start with our Prime Minister and his analysis of the Middle East, with his 'existential' struggle for democracy achieved through destabilisation and western force. Throw in important strands of the media and the Conservative Party.

But how useful is the neocon label? Hard Christian right moralists have had a thin time of it trying to transfer their successful brand from America to Britain.

As for the Harry's Place people. Leaving the left may be important to them, but keep the link, it's useful to keep testing any arguments they may have.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Baby Washington (Fisking Central) said...

You are right that we at Fisking Central have different views on the Iraq War and that we have all signed the EM (I think). That is also true of the original writers of the document. Alan Johnson, to give an example, has always been vehemently opposed to the war, and he was scathing in his assessment of recent US involvement at the last Euston meeting.

I don't know where you got the impression that Euston has a 'neocon core group'. That just isn't true. If it was, I wouldn't have signed it.

Anyway, cheers for the link.

3:38 AM  
Anonymous Baby W said...

Voltaire, can you email me?

Sorry, I can't find your address...

3:53 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...


Email sent.

4:29 AM  
Blogger El Tom said...

I link to plenty of people with whom I disagree, providing that I find them amiable and not idiots. I have a tory and an SWPer on my list, as well as student broad left, a faction which rivals my own. that's because it's not up to me to make other's minds up for them, though I'm happy to guide.

on Euston, we ain't neocons, though a minority clearly are.

I agree with using 'the co-ercive power of the state to enforce forward-looking enlightenment values upon the world' because I am against right wing Islamism/theocracy; one of the two most reactionary ideologies in the world today, along with Juche, and what I can only call 'china'.

Does that mean I support the daily pounding of Arab civillians into the ground with US/UK bombs? no way in hell. But I won't support the same thing on a lesser scale by the 'resistance' either.

the way I figure, the SWP de facto support chopping off the hands off theives and banning homosexuality as opposed to liberal capitalism... so I'm way to the left of them! the geography, for the real left, should be irrelevant.

victory to the weak and unrepresented!

2:10 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

So you're in favour of the Lebanese then? You'd be surprised just how many you disagree with...

5:14 PM  
Anonymous boogski said...

I notice that people at the pro Israel rallies act like civilised human beings yet the "No War, no matter what" crowd behaves like undisciplined hooligans. Prime candidates for employment...not.

8:05 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

Yeah, the demonstrators at pro-Israeli rallies cheer on the forces committing massacres of civilians in south Lebanon... in a jolly civilised fashion.

So that's alright then...

1:03 AM  
Anonymous boogski said...

The placards I saw in the photos from the pro-Israel rally said something to the effect of "No to terrorism - Yes to peace". Contrast that with the placards at the anti-Israel rallies. Some of which were absolutely despicable.

3:16 PM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

So what if their placards said that? They were at a rally endorsing a bombing campaign that's made 700,000 people homeless - at a conservative estimate.

Therefore I'm not impressed by placards saying "yes to peace" when there's no meat in the sandwich.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous boogski said...

I think the placards are a very good indication of the mindset of the opposing sides. Where the pro-Israel side calls for peace and no terrorism, the anti-Israel side calls for the destruction of Israel, pretty much by any means possible. Now, I know that's not your position, But I submit that a far greater percentage of your anti-Israel comrades wouldn't mind seeing Israel gone than not. The impression I get from the pro-Israel crowd is: If you don't want trouble, just leave Israel the fuck alone!

If nothing else, it's just common sense, isn't it? Where's the logic in incessantly hastling a Country with a vastly superior military? It strikes me that groups like Hizbollah are playing some of you guys like violins.

"Hey, I know! Let's antagonise the shit out of the Israelis until they respond with overwhelming force. Then we can cry Foul! to the bleeding hearts who probably don't like Israel anyway."

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Brynley said...

"I agree with using the co-ercive power of the state to enforce forward-looking enlightenment values upon the world" says El Tom, who gives us three examples:

1) North Korea
2) Right wing Islamicists
3) China

I wish you the best of luck with North Korea. I'm utterly mystified by what you mean in the case of China.

May I ask a question about no 2)?

My question is: how can western armies bring enlightenment values to popular movements?

Thank you for your consideration, El Tom.

3:29 AM  
Anonymous migsuk said...

At the last rally outside Parliament, the usual anti-war crowd shouted "Death to Israel".

Simply not acceptable and indicative of the mindset of many of those who are advocating "peace".

Enjoyed the article about the Euston Manifesto and Harry's Place, interesting that the blog is getting such a hostile reception suddenly - I would grant that some of its articles on the recent conflict between Israel and Lebanon have not been as balanced as I would normally expect.

As co-Chair of the Euston Parliamentary Forum, I would ask for readers of this blog to read the manifesto before prejudging it. It is not as benign as made out in the article, but a statement against moral and cultural relativism and in favour of pro-active left-wing participation in international affairs.

7:05 AM  
Blogger voltaires_priest said...

If it's not as benign as even I've made out (and my article was highly critical), then why should anyone sign it at all?

8:17 AM  

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