Bryan Sketchley reviews "It's evident that the left is dead", by Nick Cohen, reprinted in the Age August 17, 2004 from the New Statesman
It's all too infrequent that one finds op-ed pieces in newspapers that you can even half agree with, but such an article appeared recently in the Age. While I can't agree with Nick Cohen on certain points especially "Fifty years ago, there were revolutionary socialist movements in dozens of countries ready to take power. Today there isn't one, and the world is a better place for that."
Probably none of the countries that he rates in those dozens, would I class "revolutionary" movements as "socialist." They would actually have been Stalinist/nationalist/state-capitalist/putcshists of some sort, but Nick is right that the world is a better place that they didn't succeed. Unlike Nick, I see the traditions of the social democratic left as generally lacking in nobility and abounding in treachery to workers' struggles.
Nick Cohen did however reflect on important issues concerning the Left's position on the Iraqi war. The essence of his article was that the Left has lapped up Mike Moore's recent portrayal of Iraqi society under Saddam Hussein as being one of kite flying and falling in love without passing comment of the brutal, one party nature of his regime. Further, Cohen reflects on the Muslim Association of Britain, and their prominent involvement, with the encouragement of the Left, in the large anti war rallies in Britain last year. The MAB were welcomed and courted by what counts for the Left in Britain today. The MAB recently welcomed to Britain Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Cohen did some homework on his website. Islam Online.
"It supports the murder of Israeli civilians and declares that 'on the hour of judgement, Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them'. Homosexuals, the website continues, are depraved and abominable and should be put to death to cleanse Islamic society of its 'perverted elements'. As for women, they must be kept in their place. Wives are forbidden to rebel against their husbands' authority. A husband may beat his wife 'lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts'. Rape victims must carry a portion of the guilt if they dress 'immodestly"' The liberal media treat al-Qaradawi's views with tact and circumspection.
"These are symptoms of a left that has swerved to the right. Saddam Hussein may have slavishly followed Stalin's methods of dealing with his opponents, but his Baath Party was inspired by Nazi Germany and its program of exterminating impure ethnic minorities was recognisably fascist. Historians may see the similarities between the slave empires of Nazi Germany, communist Russia and Maoist China as more important than the differences, but the differences meant an enormous amount to millions of people at the time.
"However selective their condemnations and hypocritical their double-standards, the old left knew they were against the far right in its political or clerical guise."
All this, Cohen contends, is indicative of a left that has lost its bearings. There is much to agree with here. The MAB are a bunch of rabid anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynists. Hardly the types of people the left normally make merry with. Cohen poses the scenario:
"Ask an Iraqi communist or Kurdish socialist today what support they have had from the liberal left and they won't detain you for long." The left in Australia, and Britain, prefer to throw their lot in with the anti working class forces of Al Sadr and his Islamic resistance, that at its first opportunity would slaughter our comrades in Iraq, drive women back to a Taliban type existence and rent civil society apart with its own feudalist visions. All of this in the name of supporting 'anti imperialist struggles.'
"One expects the totalitarian left to be stuffed with creeps, but the collapse of the democratic left strikes me as catastrophic. Why couldn't it oppose the second Gulf war while promising to do everything possible to advance the cause of Iraqi democrats and socialists once the war was over? Why the sneering, almost racist pretence that Saddam had no honourable opponents?"
There is a bitter truth in Nick's lament: "Unless you believe that the failure of the world's peoples to look leftwards is all the result of brainwashing by the corporate media, you have to conclude that the left is dead. The anger that propelled it is still there, and although it won many battles, some of the oppressions it fought against remain as grievous as ever. The pity of the aftermath is that while the honourable traditions of the left are forgotten, the worst flourish and mutate into aberrations that would have made our predecessors choke." But limited by his discussion of the left as if unrelated to class, especially as if unrelated to the state of working class movements.
These are hard questions that the left needs to admit and address if ever we're going to reshape society. These are the sort of questions that socialists must be able to face up to and deal with in order to break out of being seen as ossified and irrelevant. Readers who agree that Nick Cohen has a case that the ISO and DSP are sidestepping would be most welcome to become part of various Workers' Liberty reading and discussion activities.