‘We told you so, you fucking fools’: the Euston Manifesto 10 years on

Nick Cohen, in a piece from a forthcoming anthology of the best writing of the late and much missed Norman Geras, writes about the Euston Manifesto ten years on.

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

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Spectator 18 February 2016

The Euston Manifesto appears a noble failure. It was clear in 2006 that the attempt to revive left-wing support for internationalism, democracy and universal human rights did not have a strong chance of success. Looking back a decade on, it seems doomed from the start. The tyrannical habits of mind it condemned were breaking out across the left in 2006. They are everywhere now. They define the Labour Party and most of what passes for intellectual left-wing life in the 21st century.

To take the manifesto’s first statement of principle: the left should be ‘committed to democratic norms, procedures and structures’. An easy statement to agree with, I hear you say. Not so easy when the leader of the opposition, feted by his supporters as the most ‘left-wing’ in Labour’s history, will excuse dictatorial regimes or movements, however reactionary, if and only if, they…

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Normblog: Tell us your favourite entries

By Jake Wilde

2016 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Euston Manifesto, an inspirational piece of work that captured the minds and views of a previously neglected section of the left. Norman Geras was the driving force behind Euston and, ten years on, it remains an important reference point. The moment when a line in the sand was drawn and a voice previously unspoken was heard.

The Euston Manifesto was how I first found my political home. I’d drifted around the left for a decade or so, never comfortable with what I think of now as very British definitions of the left-wing spectrum. Even in my first spell at university at the end of the 80s the differences on the left were rudimentary; centre left or far left, pro-EU or anti-EU. And that was it. If you were centre left then the expectation was that you were pro-American, but only in the context of a choice between the US and the collapsing Soviet empire. Support for the US in this sense wasn’t to be regarded as a positive one, but rather reluctantly given and with a haughty sneer.

The far left, both amongst the staff and the students, sought comfort in the certain knowledge that the fall of socialism wasn’t really the fall of socialism because, of course, it wasn’t really socialism. The millions of people in Eastern Europe demanding democracy and capitalism had been fooled by a combination of false socialism from their leaders and lies about the true nature of the evil West they so admired. In other words the same patronising crap the far left always trot out when people reject socialism.

A few years later I returned to start a long, difficult, part-time MA in International Security. My tutor was Colin S. Gray, then recently of the Reagan administration. You know that moment when someone says things that you’ve never heard anybody else say, but you know that’s exactly what you think? That. That’s what happened. And then the same thing happened when I first read the Euston Manifesto. Euston encapsulated not just what but how I thought more than anything I’d ever read before. I hope it did the same for a lot of people partly because nobody likes admitting they were still a bit lost in their 30s.

And that was how I discovered the work of Norman Geras, his books and his towering online presence – Normblog. To coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Euston Manifesto Ben Cohen and Eve Gerrard are bringing together an anthology of Norm’s writing, to publish in 2016, with the provisional title “What’s There is There”.

Norman Geras

One of the sections of the book will be a selection of Normblog entries. While this is probably the most fun part of the project, it’s also the most labour intensive, in part because of the low-grade technology (you can’t search it directly, for example.) Given that there are thousands of entries on there, help is needed to plough through it and decide which posts to include. While some of these will be about politics it’s also important to include some of the interviews he did with other bloggers, some of the football stuff, some of the humorous stuff, the literature reviews, the observations upon life that cannot be easily categorised as ‘politics’. So what we’re looking for is the 10 posts which best represent the blog and its character.

Let us know your favourites, the entries that linger longest in your memory, the ones that still speak to you today, and the ones that mean something special to you, whatever the subject. You can choose as many or as few as you want. Don’t feel under any constraint other than the inevitable deadline which, in this case, is Friday 15 January.

Use our Twitter timeline to have discussions, to tell us your stories, to tell us your memories. And please, spread the word far and wide over this festive period so that as many as possible can take some time to indulge in the writings that made Normblog the innovative, essential starting point for so many people’s day.