Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Left Gets it Right

In a recent article for the Times of London, Christopher Hitchens wrote of the "horrid mutation of the left into a reactionary and nihilistic force"—one that gives a free pass to dictators and tyrants just so long as they oppose the so-called hegemony of American and other Western interests. He proposes three reasons for this shift:
  • Leftists have a "...nostalgia for the vanished 'People's Democracies' of the state socialist era"
  • "...the turbulent masses of the Islamic world are at once a reminder of the glory days of 'Third World' revolution, and a hasty substitute for the vanished proletariat of yore"
  • "...once you decide that American-led 'globalisation' is the main enemy, then any revolt against it is better than none at all"
Into this camp of mutated leftists Hitchens puts such characters as Ramsey Clark (a member of Saddam's legal defense team), George Galloway (who has had extensive and friendly ties with the Baathist regimes in Iraq and Syria) and Michael Moore (who compared Iraqi insurgents to American revolutionaries circa 1776), amongst others. The ascendancy of these apologists for terror and tyranny on the anti-war left has prompted many pro-democracy leftists (such as Hitchens himself) to disown the movement and cast around for friendlier shores.

Now, a group of leftist thinkers and bloggers (not that the two are mutually exclusive) based in Britain and calling themselves the Euston Group have written a manifesto for those of us on the left who have no interest in siding, whether obliquely or not, with forces of theocracy and authoritarianism (the full text of the manifesto is available as a pdf file). Here is the document's guiding principle:
...the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values. It involves making common cause with genuine democrats...
What makes the Euston Manifesto unique is that it makes explicit the left's responsibility to support democracy and freedom first and foremost. On this point there can be no wavering:
We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently 'understand', reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy—regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces.
So much of what drives the mutation of the left in this country and abroad is a reflexive "anti-imperialism" that casts the United States as the world's greatest terrorist power. The Euston Group takes pains to acknowledge America's often uncomfortably close relationship with authoritarian governments, but they reject the relativism that makes all other atrocities pale in comparison to America's misdeeds. In doing so, they are mindful of avoiding the traps that led so many leftists in the 20th Century to become apologists for the Soviet Union.
We must define ourselves against those for whom the entire progressive democratic agenda has been subordinated to a blanket and simplistic 'anti-imperialism' and/or hostility to the current US administration. The values and goals which properly make up that agenda—the values of democracy, human rights, the continuing battle against unjustified privilege and power, solidarity with peoples fighting against tyranny and oppression—are what most enduringly define the shape of any Left worth belonging to.
The basic principles of the Euston Manifesto should be obvious and intrinsic to anyone with an Orwell volume on the bookshelf. What a sign of the times that someone actually had to write it down. It's certainly a relief to finally see some signs of life coming from the left. The issues of democracy and human rights are the birthright of the left; it's up to us to reclaim it.

You can make a start by signing the manifesto.
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