‘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

k2

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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The Diplomat of Islington North

By David Paxton

Diplomacy (noun): the work of maintaining good relations between the governments of different countries

Diplomat (noun): a person who represents his or her country’s government in a foreign country : someone whose work is diplomacy

A week ago Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn gave a long interview to Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy. This section, on his calling Hamas ‘friends’, immediately started doing the rounds due to Corbyn’s apparent loss of temper.

By just using that single word ‘friends’ against him Guru-Murthy left available to Corbyn the defence he decided to make. He said:

I spoke at a meeting about the Middle East crises, in Parliament, and there were people there from Hezbollah and I said “I welcomed our friends from Hezbollah” to have a discussion and a debate.

Later he said:

I’m saying people I talk to, I use it in a collective way saying ‘our friends were prepared to talk’. Does it mean I agree with Hamas and what it does? No. Does it mean I agree with Hezbollah and what they do? No. What it means is, to bring about a peace process you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree.

On the surface this is almost plausible. This was indeed what a diplomat might say, it is the language of diplomacy. Political activist, satirist and comedian, Heydon Prowse seemed to agree and said:

What an idiotic line of questioning. Doesn’t c4 understand the concept of diplomacy

We had a brief discussion about his view. It didn’t go well.

In reply to Alan Johnson’s open letter to Corbyn addressing his previous praise for members of Hezbollah and Hamas, the website Left Futures carried a piece called Reactionary and Dishonest. In it is a more fleshed out version of Corbyn’s defence:

…the all too common view that anybody who supports dialogue and diplomacy with Hamas and Hezbollah must necessarily wholly endorse their politics as well.

Jeremy Corbyn was ahead of his time in recognising the need to talk to Sinn Fein and the IRA in 1984 when he invited Gerry Adams to London, and the same is true in relation to Hamas and Hezbollah. This farsighted act was subject to a furious barrage of criticism at the time, and yet now over 30 years later the importance of such acts of dialogue and goodwill in bringing an end to the Troubles could hardly be more uncontroversial.

…Corbyn also understands that peace can only be achieved through mutual respect and diplomacy.

I think it worth examining this notion that Jeremy Corbyn is a lone, extra-governmental diplomat bravely ahead of his time in seeking peace and that we cannot draw any other conclusion from his conduct.

BFFs

As mentioned, only the word ‘friends’ was brought up in the interview and without full context, Corbyn’s explanation has legs. Try this:

“We are gathered here for an important meeting of opposing views. On my right are some friends from the Black Panther Party and on my left are friends from the Ku Klux Klan. Hopefully by coming together as friends we can… etc”

That could get in under the excuse of being ‘diplomatic’.

Now try this:

“It is my pleasure and my honour to host an event where my friends from Stormfront will be speaking. I also invited friends from the Ku Klux Klan to speak but unfortunately the FBI won’t allow them to travel so it will only be friends from Stormfront. The Ku Klux Klan is an organisation dedicated towards the good of American people and bringing about long-term peace and social justice, and political justice.”

How does that sound to you? I don’t believe the latter example would be consistent with Corbyn’s claim “I use it in a collective way saying ‘our friends were prepared to talk'”. It goes well beyond standard diplomatic niceties.

Here is a video of the offending speech, see for yourself. He said exactly that about Hamas and Hezbollah and he was being very friendly indeed.

If he profoundly disagrees with them why claim the bit about social and political justice? Hamas’ form of ‘political justice’ is to execute their political opponents. Hamas’s ‘social justice’ is to murder people for being gay. Hamas’ ‘long-term peace’ includes a Charter clause calling for the destruction of Israel and the divinely ordained killing of Jews. And feeling ‘honoured’ to host holocaust deniers means either A: Corbyn thinks ‘honour’ means something it doesn’t or B: He has some fundamental problems with his morality.

To go as far in his praise as Corbyn does is grotesque and hints far more at outright support than the forced diplomatic nicety, while holding his nose, which one might tolerate or expect. Who would possibly say such a thing if they were not ‘friends’ or did in fact ‘profoundly disagree’? I think he is being deceptive in the Channel 4 interview and this should be taken into consideration by those so willing to repeat the claim that Corbyn is the straight-shooting candidate of unflinching honesty and integrity.

Who invited you anyway?

Yes, peace talks without a unconditional surrender require compromise, they require some holding of noses. After a successful peace has been forged such actions can indeed appear noble and worthy. However, this realisation can also be used to cover a multitude of sins and just talking, per se, is not necessarily a worthy and noble act.

John Major, who happened to be the actual prime minister and leader of the government, did a difficult and presumably correct thing in starting talks with the IRA. It was a careful and deliberate process that was straining against the idea that rewarding violence with power and representation might lead to more of the same. Do I have to laud Corbyn with the same praise when he invites IRA representatives to the Commons a fortnight after the Brighton bombing? This isn’t the brave and principled putting aside of grievance, this is rewarding and forgiving brutal terrorist violence directly following its most clearly anti-democratic expression by saying that the more they bomb the more they should be given a seat at the table. Imagine your young child is throwing a nasty tantrum in the supermarket because you refuse to give him sweets. Corbyn’s unilateral intervention is the equivalent of the unwelcome shop assistant butting in and saying ‘don’t be a meany, look at his little face, give him a Mars Bar.’ It’s undermining, it’s unwelcome, it’s not really his business. But these aren’t sweets in a supermarket, this is a murderous terror campaign.

This is not to say that a backbench MP cannot engage in dialogue that has little to do with his own constituents. However, in this case it is undermining the position of his own, and successive, governments at a time when its citizens were being murdered.

Corbyn’s stands on Israel and Northern Ireland require no holding of the nose and no compromise. He supports their positions. Ultimately the Northern Ireland peace process was about changing the means and agreeing to disagree on the ends. In Israel any future dealings with any groups will require the same. The difference between those outcomes and approaches and that of our renegade diplomat is that he wants an end to Israel and have it replaced with a Palestinian majority state. He also wants the reunification of Ireland. He supports the aims of these groups and doesn’t seem to think the means should exclude them from anything.

The Diplomacy of Adrian Mole Aged 66 & 1/4

Owen Jones said:

I’ve known Jeremy for years, and have shared numerous platforms with him on issues ranging from peace to social justice. He is the very antithesis of the negative caricature of an MP: he’s defined by his principles and beliefs

Great. Corbyn has taken several positions on foreign affairs and so one would expect some common themes running through these positions that can tell us what he is about. Let’s try and define him.

He met with the IRA, but fine, some will consider this just Jezza the Diplomat diplomating, as he is wont to do. But at a Troops Out meeting in 1987, Jeremy stood for a minute’s silence to “honour” eight IRA terrorists killed at Loughall. That event brought about the end of activities of an Active Service Unit from the East Tyrone Brigade that had been blowing up police stations and executing those present. What principle and belief can we deduce from that?

From Andrew Gilligan’s Telegraph piece (worth reading in full):

Jeremy Corbyn was helping Sayyed Hassan al-Sadr celebrate “the all-encompassing revolution,” the 35th anniversary of the ayatollahs’ takeover in Iran. In his talk, entitled “The Case for Iran,” he called for the immediate scrapping of sanctions on the country, which had not then promised to restrict its nuclear programme, attacked its colonial exploitation by British business and called for an end to its “demonisation” by the West.

Corbyn has repeatedly praised members of Hamas. They kill gays, deny the holocaust and speak of starting a fresh one. He calls them a force for social justice.

He praised the leadership in Venezuela while the oil-rich country was being run into bankruptcy and the freedom of the press was being eroded.

Corbyn asserts that despite the wishes of the Falklands islanders, expressed through the ballot box, and despite a fascist junta invading them causing British servicemen to fight and die, the islands should be owned by Argentina.

Corbyn wants an end to Israel, the most democratic and law-bound state in the region. The call for a single state solution with a Palestinian majority is, under present circumstances, a call not just for the end of a Jewish state but for the end to those living within it. It is conceivable that some might believe protecting the racial or religious identity of a state is in principle wrong. However, choosing to ignore the unique circumstances and history of the Jews and decide this principle cannot be bent in their case, that they cannot expect a nation where they are a majority, while wanting them to be at the mercy of those who openly call for a new genocide is, at the very best, immoral.

Corbyn believes that the 1973 Chilean coup was ‘run’ by the CIA.

In that same Jones piece he said:

he was protesting against Saddam Hussein when the west was arming him

A more cynical person than I might well consider changing the word ‘when’ to ‘because’ to add greater truth to that statement.

Taken on their own each of these could be a difference of opinion or a forgivable misjudgment. But combined as a life’s work?

So is there a theme in Corbyn’s choice to consistently side with theocrats, homophobic thugs, genocidal fascists, murderers, terrorists, demagogues, deniers of freedom and exponents of oppression? Is there a belief in evidence when he praises the people who believe his own constituents are legitimate targets for car bombs and suicide vests? I think there is: Whatever his own government (Labour or Tory) wants, he is against. Wherever The Man is represented Corbyn is sticking it to him. And this stands in contrast to the slogans and lofty ideals spouted at the rallies he is so often seen at.

This therefore isn’t the CV of a great diplomat or a campaigner for peace and human rights. Nor do his pretensions for a role in international relations add up to a statesman of value and importance. He’s not even a gifted amateur. This is merely adolescence dragged out into late middle-age. He is less Otto Von Bismark than Otto from The Simpsons. Laughable in a pub bore but fairly tragic at the forefront of a political party with a noble history. Corbyn should be seen as what he is, a 66 year old teenager using the stature of his MP status to make a bigger noise than a man of his ability otherwise could or should. If you are looking for the next Clement Attlee, keep looking.

To observe the likes of Corbyn is to see the worst of the modern Left, where being seen to fight is more important than achieving the goals congruent with their slogans. Seemingly unaware of the victories the Left have won already, the need to keep sidestepping left has meant they’ve come out the other side and are now friends, allies and enablers of facists, racists, murderers and thugs. And worst of all, they expect a halo for being so.

Glenn Greenwald and the hierophants of an alternate imperialism

By Tom Owolade
A set of attacks happen in close proximity to your neighbourhood, and initially your response is emotive. Initially emotive and then analytical. You try to adduce from these attacks the reasoning that underpins them. You try to explain the casus belli of these horrendous atrocities. In reaction to the mainstream declaration that these admittedly atrocious acts are “acts of terror”, you investigate the meaning of the word ‘terror’- its functional significance. As a righteous opponent of the establishment, you feel obligated in trying to understand the intentions of these acts. This, in reaction to the establishment’s pronouncement that these acts are the acts of primitive, unconscionably savage bedouins. You side with the oppressed in reaction against their oppressors, you understand their reaction to be oppressed in reaction against their oppressors condemning their reaction, and continuing to oppress them. You are in essence an anti-imperialist, an unflinching critic of a nefarious global empire. You feel disinclined to straightforwardly condemn the oppressed in reaction against the simplistic condemnation of the oppressors. You have to contextualise their actions, in reaction to the establishment’s lack of context. As a fair-minded, analytical yet morally righteous person, you understand the importance of understanding why they hate us. Why they react, often violently, to us. Why we have blood on our hands, not them. Why we are the aegis of all moral depravity, and they’re the necessary blowback to our ubiquitous , callous, financially driven, imperial, war on terror.

In a piece for the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, explaining an attack that took place in Canada against a Canadian soldier, contends:

it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of Canadian bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.

Understanding the reaction of the oppressed – the disenfranchised malcontents – is basic analytics. They hate us because we ruined their lives. As a result of this, all moral carnage that they inflict upon us is ultimately our fault. Is this reasoning faulty? Does it ultimately abrogate responsibility from the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, and disproportionately concentrate responsibility on the victims of these heinous crimes? Yes, and yes. Greenwald goes on, however and develops this dysfuctional reasoning by adding:

The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.

Of course, as an analytical and a morally righteous person, it is right we express incredulity at the fact that the victims of our oppression, our imperialism, don’t react more violently against us. But of course, Mr Greenwald is not an analyst, or at the very least not a sophisticated one. He is an anarcho-libertarian moralist though, one who marinates in the perpetual loathing of a single subject: the West. Hatred that is so pathological and so myopic, not only does it rationalise the vicious barbarity of any pronounced anti-westerner, but it desensitises him to common decency. Which morally decent person would, in an immediate reaction to a wanton act of murder, contend that the west had it coming?

But, isn’t this a critique, a necessary critique, of western exceptionalism? A view which propounds that the west is an exceptionally benign force in geopolitical global affairs. Such a view is absolute baloney of course? Right? What about the irredeemably disastrous interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the alliance with wicked gulf states such as Saudi Arabia who export a toxic version of Islam; Wahhabism? What about them, hey? But of course by concentrating all of your rage, anger and moral indignation exclusively at the West one is not offering a non-partisan or cogent exegesis on western exceptionalism. Rather, what one is expressing is a foul version of it’s doppelgänger – “westisexceptionallybadism”. Such a viewpoint can be bifurcated into two key elements, dysphemistically admonishing the various imperfections of the West in one instance. And then euphemistically rationalising the malignant, and often irreducibly internecine motivations of anti-western actors. All this is demonstrative of what I consider to be an alternate type of imperialism-inverser imperialism. A viewpoint that analyses geopolitics (especially of the third world) through a parochial framework which abrogates non-western actors of moral agency and concentrates blame exclusively on the West.

One column which exemplifies some of the elements of inverser imperialism is a Huffington Post piece by Jennifer Izaakson – who is, incredibly, a Phd student at UCL. The piece is from last December, and follows the sentencing of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale – The Woolwich killers. In the piece, Izaakson says two especially noteworthy things. She first says:

It is the politicians who have radicalised young Muslim men.

And then she says:

Keep in mind who really has blood on their hands- the politicians.

Why can’t the people who have blood on their hands be the people who literally have blood on their hands? In other words, what is functional significance of expressing such a statement? To me it’s quite clear. Like all dogmatic doctrines, Inverser Imperialism is predicated on certain a priori assumptions. The subaltern – the victim of the oppression – are infantilised as ethereal victims. The oppressor West, even in the face of being unambiguously attacked, are the primary agent of all moral turpitude that is visited upon itself. Now to me this sounds like a politicised version of Stockholm syndrome, a diluted version that fits the peculiar dynamics of political discourse, but retaining the same essence: extroverted self-loathing.

Furthermore, inverser imperialists view the subaltern as resistors rather than instigators, as revolutionaries rather than reactionaries but who react rather than act out of their own volition. Because to act of one’s own volition would be to acquire moral agency – moral agency being an essential component of moral responsibility. Being a moral agent is also a status that is attendant with personhood. However, the incorrigible burden of the white man means that the victims of our imperialism are impervious to the possibility of personhood. The victim-victimser dialectic is retained and entrenched. Rather than assigning them the moral status of persons, they’re the vessels of western animosity. Rather than viewing them as ends in themselves (to quote Kant) they’re a projection of western self-loathing.

I’ll go on: rather than emboldening them and seeking to inspire in them the universal values of democracy and human rights, we persist in subordinating them to codes, barriers and immutable conventions. Supposing for example, that the authentic subaltern is inherently reactionary – that is to say female oppression, execution of gay people and suicide bombing are their by the by status as victims – is a racist view. Racist, as it conjugates values with identity. Enlightenment and progressive values are not therefore the inalienable rights of man, but are, ipso facto, the realisation of being white/western. Conversely, believing in divinely ordained oppressive laws, rather than man made civil laws are, if not an essential component of being (for arguments sake) a Muslim, one which should at least be tolerated and treated with equanimity. I’m sorry, you can tolerate the persecution of gay people and apostates and the delegitimisation of women’s autonomy all you want – but don’t traduce those who refuse to tolerate these ignominies by labelling them racists. The irrational and indeed pathological hatred of Muslims does exist and ought to be combated unequivocally. What is noteworthy of course is that bigots and inverser imperialists share a belief that to be authentically Muslim entails espousing a set of views that happen to be retrograde. Bigots generally believe that liberal secular Muslims practice taqiyya – are in essence closet extremists – whereas inverser imperialists belief that liberal, secular Muslims are raving neocon stooges for the establishment. Their difference is a superficial one; the difference between indiscriminate hostility and indiscriminate masochism.

Why is there still a visible taboo in extending full solidarity to unapologetic liberal, secular Muslims like Maajid Nawaz and Sara Khan? Why does a Muslim, who for example argues that homosexuality and Islam are not incompatible and supports the right to represent the prophet Muhammed, still induce elementary feelings of confusion, bewilderment and surprise even amongst seemingly secular, liberal non-muslims? And concomitant to this, why are the strident opponents of people who believe in the innate malfeasance of homosexuality and the strict impermissiblity of religious representations, viewed with more opprobrium than the people who support these illiberal, anti-secular ideas? People who loathe liberal democracies and the values it endorses.

I have an answer: the West as it is, and connected to the West are the values it endorses, ought be resisted because the ethereal victims of the West’s undying oppression side against the West and the values it endorses, and so we must also side against the West and the values it endorses. This is the perfidious implications of such a doctrine, warped in its sense of nobility. “Anti-imperialist” “pro-peace” “pro-justice” “sympathy with the oppressed” “tolerance”. But at its essence it’s just warped and not noble. Anti-imperialist, ss long as it’s against the West. Pro peace, as long as it’s “peace” for the victims and only the victims of the West. Pro-justice, as long as it’s justice against the West. Sympathy with the oppressed, as long as it’s the oppressed of the West. Tolerance, even if it will mean tolerating groups that are intolerant of your very existence.

I don’t mean to sound orotund, but I think it’s fair to say the left are in the midst of an intellectual civil war. Sectarianism has always existed in the left but in the past few decades the conflict has become particularly more pronounced around certain issues. This is a war that is fought between unapologetic, anti-totalitarian cultural objectivists and the hierophants of inverser imperialism, who to varying degrees rationalise, excuse and apologise for the most extreme version of the subaltern. Who view them as collective vehicles for self-flagellation, rather than individual ends in themselves. Who misunderstand indissoluble hatred for reasoned resistance, and who are desecrating a great intellectual tradition.

If I Had a Hammer…

by David Paxton (@CanYouFlyBobby)

In case you were unaware, there is currently a theocratic, fascistic, paramilitary force operating in North-West Iraq. In recent days the object of these gentlemen’s endeavours has been to capture, rape, convert, starve or murder an entire religious group. i.e. genocide. And by any proper definition of the word ‘genocide’.  Not like some Spanish actor opining about Israeli operations in Gaza. Actual, scary, nasty, full-blown, hairy-arsed genocide.  The sort we are supposed to have an international and internationalist obligation to prevent.

The group’s propaganda often consists of videos of hacking off heads followed by hi-def  stills of these heads imaginatively arrayed. Other highlights include videos of driving alongside cars and unloading AK 47s into the driver and passengers, pulling over and finishing up at close range. If these are unavailable then shootings of prone prisoners in mass graves often have to do.

They indoctrinate children with the desire to join the ‘jihad’ and ‘kill infidels’ and ‘apostates’. They do this in a clear state of religious exultation, with hearty songs and full cries available on the accompanying audio. Sometimes they can be reduced to tears by the sheer joy and passion of their work.

Last night Owen Jones, the Orwell of Our Generation™, explained why dropping a bomb on such people, in the course of their genocide, is a bad idea. It is a bad idea because it will “fuel them”.

I know, I know, how much more fuel could they require? How much more commitment could they possibly muster? Or even withstand?

But perhaps, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he means ‘fuel’ in the sense of recruitment. That their ranks would swell.

The recruits already come from all over, if they are not Syrian and other Middle Easterners they are from North Africa and the European, Antipodean and American Muslim Diasporas. There is little indication that they are relying on fresh Iraqi Sunnis to survive. So can this really be what ‘fuels’ means? I doubt it. I doubt he knows.

He also said, “the key issue with ISIS is Sunni resentment towards a sectarian government”. Although they currently fight several governments we can surely assume that the government in question, in the fight in Iraq, is the Iraqi one (this government’s existence is clearly the fault of the neoliberal US/West, if this helps understand the choice at all). If one cares to listen to these people they clearly state their aim is to resurrect the Caliphate. And they would now argue that they have achieved this. Such an ambition has previously been expressed by several groups, long before Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office. So is it fair to attach such parochial motivation to this internationally recruited group especially when it contradicts their own proclamations? Could it simply be that this motivation would be the one for which the US are most culpable?

As said, this is a genocide going on right now. For the Yazidi the situation is utterly urgent. Hence emergency food and water being dropped on their desolate mountain hideaway as I write. I asked Jones what best case time-frame could be expected to achieve this soothing of Sunni resentment. I received no answer, but contrasting the urgency of the Yazidi situation with any possible answer, we surely arrive at the conclusion that to address ‘Sunni resentment with a sectarian government’ at the exclusion of confronting the combatants, we would be allowing genocide. Accepting genocide. Standing aside in the face of genocide.

This is a severe accusation to be sure. However, today when the US is about the only significant force that actually has a chance of stopping the onslaught, and the worst possible blowback is to ‘fuel’ the responsible group mid-genocide, are we not compelled to make the accusation?

The paucity of logic in the point of view Jones provides, combined with the implications of its outcomes, raises the following question: At what point is it fair to consider this merely the contortions of somebody who simply cannot, under any circumstances, accept the notion that the vast power of the US military can possibly be used in a positive way? That any action by the US is inherently bad. That any actions by local actors are merely the consequences of the only actor ascribed any agency. As David Aaronovitch said in his exchange with him, “it’s a view”. But it’s a view that is simply not morally serious.

This is ad hominem, but the argument under examination doesn’t hold up to any logical justification. When an intelligent person forwards such an argument what other avenue is left but the ad hominem?

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And unfortunately it seems Owen Jones merely has anti-Americanism as a basis for any thinking about international affairs. Surely a terrible vanity and conceit when so many are faced with such an urgent catastrophe.

Now to a large extent the above is a statement of the obvious. So perhaps not worth the effort. Except Owen Jones is a man of influence. An unserious voice seriously listened to by a great many. Particularly by the young, a young with voting power. His views are very far from an anomaly. If the arguments expressed last night are indeed from the Orwell of Our Generation™, well, then this is very bad. In the pretentious words of a snooty Chicago maître’d, I weep for the future.