26 February 2007

Did the Left lose its way?

In recent years we have all watched with some fascination the developing strong alliance between the Western left and Islamist right. In fact, one cannot quite call it “right” as the European political ideas do not apply to Islamism.

It has, nevertheless, been eerily fascinating to listen to left-wing feminists justifying, indeed glorifying an ideology that believes in the complete oppression of women. Organizations that preen themselves on noticing every slight to the gay community find common ground with people who believe all homosexuals should be killed, preferably in public and painfully. (All honour to Peter Tatchell, who has broken away from that mob politically.)

A much discussed book in London is “What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way” by Nick Cohen, a left-wing journalist, who has written for the New Statesman and the Observer. I have not yet managed to read the book but the Wall Street Journal has published an article by him on the topic in question.

He starts with an obvious target, Hizonner the Mayor of LondON, Ken Livingstone, whose extreme left-wing sympathies apparently do not stand in the way of creating apartheid at conferences he organizes and participates in or, as, perhaps, Mr Cohen does not know, supporting the idea of sending women into a permanently inferior separation behind the veil.

Having eviscerated Livingstone, Mr Cohen widens his aim:

Mr. Livingstone's not alone. After suicide bombers massacred Londoners on July 7, 2005, leftish rather than conservative papers held British foreign policy responsible for the slaughters on the transport network. ("Blair's Bombs," ran the headline in my own leftish New Statesman.) In any university, you are more likely to hear campaigns for the rights of Muslim women derided by postmodernists than by crusty conservative dons. Our Stop the War coalition is an alliance of the white far left and the Islamist far right, and George Galloway, its leader, and the first allegedly "far left" member to be elected to the British Parliament in 50 years, is an admirer of Saddam Hussein and Hezbollah.

I could go on with specific examples, but the crucial point is the pervasive European attitude to the Iraq catastrophe. As al Qaeda, the Baathists and Shiite Islamists slaughter thousands, there is virtually no sense that their successes are our defeats. Iraqi socialists and trade unionists I know are close to despair. They turn for support to Europe, the home of liberalism, feminism and socialism, and find that rich democrats, liberals and feminists won't help them or even acknowledge their existence.
Very true but hardly new. After all, real trade unionists in the Soviet Union were often in despair and those who are fighting for basic freedoms in China have, it seems, long ago given up on Europe and its “liberals”.

In fact, Mr Cohen does casually refer back to another era:
There were plenty of leftish people in the 20th century who excused communism, but they could at least say that communism was a left-wing idea. Now overwhelmingly and everywhere you find people who scream their heads off about the smallest sexist or racist remark, yet refuse to confront ultra-reactionary movements that explicitly reject every principle they profess to hold.
Then he goes on to explain that President Bush’s catastrophic policies (I presume he means the war in Iraq) have caused the spread of anti-Americanism in Britain and Europe.

Having more or less nodded in agreement so far, I must take issue here. The left’s love-in with Islamism has been around for a good deal longer than the war in Iraq, the war on terror or, even, Bush’s presidency. The pathological anti-Americanism and anti-westernism in Britain as much as Western Europe is also of long standing. There is no point in doing exactly what the leftish commentators on 7/7 did. Presumably, Mr Cohen thinks those bombs were Bush’s but not Blair’s.

Then there is the question of communism and support for it. I think it would be fair to say that most or, even, almost all leftish people supported and excused communism in the 20th century, pouring bile and contempt on those who tried to tell the truth about it.

The crucial phrase there, however, is “but they could at least say that communism was a left-wing idea”. Cool and casual. According to Mr Cohen calling something a left-wing idea justifies support and excuse for some of the most oppressive regimes in history.

Let us take this a little further. “Communism was a left-wing idea.” What does that tell us about left-wing ideas? A system that was built on the notion that individual freedom was wrong; that anything that was not under control of the party was wrong; that any disagreement with the ruling elite was wrong; and was prepared to implement this with as much force as it thought necessary, “was a left-wing idea”, thus making it understandable that leftish people supported and excused it.

If it is trade unions Mr Cohen is worried about then, perhaps, he ought to realize that the only difference between their fate under Communism and under Islamism is that the latter is honest about it.

To be fair to Mr Cohen, he does point out that
But if Iraq has pummeled Mr. Blair's reputation, it has also shone a very harsh light on the British and European left. No one noticed it when the Berlin Wall came down, but the death of socialism gave people who called themselves "left wing" a paradoxical advantage. They no longer had a practical program they needed to defend and could go along with ultra-right movements that would once have been taboo. In moments of crisis, otherwise sane liberals will turn to these movements and be reassured by the professed leftism of the protest organizers that they are not making a nonsense of their beliefs.
Then he goes on to specify that in Britain the left has many strong beliefs to abandon, such as multiculturalism and identity politics. The left must also accept that it is not fear that will defeat the enemies of freedom but courage to stand up to them.

In reality,of course, Nick Cohen is advocating that the left should abandon its left-wing ideas and ideology, something that neither he nor his leftish friends and colleagues can contemplate doing.

There is, after all, nothing particularly odd about the left defending tyranny; it is only because the details of Islamism are deemed to be right-wing that anybody should find it so.

Nor is it particularly helpful to equate the left with liberalism, at least in its British meaning. The left from its inception as a political force, during the French Revolution, has opposed freedom and individuality. Its obsession with management, planning, state control, can be seen to lead smoothly to identity politics. What the modern left hates is western ideas of fairness, liberty and justice, based as it is on individuals rather than groups.

The Soviet Union like Nazi Germany (also supported by many lefties until the Soviets called out imprecations against it) reversed the western notions of justice with guilt having to be proven against individuals. A member of the wrong class or the wrong race was ipso facto guilty and the left accepted and glorified this.

It is, therefore, not a particularly new idea for the left to view people solely as part of a group, which is really what identity politics is all about: a denial of individual rights to members of certain groups, for example, Muslim women. The need to see people as cogs in managed groups overrides feminism, which is not based on liberty. After all, left-wing feminists assume that any believer in equal rights for women is going to be on the left.

Left-wing warriors against racism pour out hatred against any member of an ethnic minority who breaks away from the laid down rules and declares himself or herself to be on the right – Conservative or, worse, Republican. If you don’t believe me, read some of the venomous attacks on Michelle Malkin who as a woman of Philippino descent has no right to be a right-wing commentator.

Or think of the nasty racist attacks from left-wing politicians and journalists directed at Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice or, above all, Judge Clarence Thomas. Think of Ken Livingstone’s vicious comments about Trevor Phillips, who has dared to stray from his allotted role and declare that multiculturalism was leading to ghettoization. Livingstone likes the idea of ghettoization. That way he knows where various people are.

What lies under it all is a contempt for people. The left may proclaim itself to be for the people against rulers but that is people as an abstract group. In reality, of course, they believe in all being fitted into carefully managed patterns and obeying rules as laid down by their left-wing managers, some of whom might be benevolent.

To me it seems unlikely that the Left has lost its way, despite the fact that it seems to support a political grouping that denies ferociously all the things the Left is supposed to be in favour. On the contrary, this is a logical position for them to find themselves in. There is nothing really contradictory between supporting Kim Jong-il and supporting Saddam Hussein or, for that, matter Osama bin-Laden or the Mad Mullahs of Iran.