The response of the US left to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent comments about the influence in American politics of pro-Israel lobby groups have been debated by US leftists Barry Finger and David Finkel in these pages in recent weeks. I write this letter not to respond directly to either of their comments, but to bring to Solidarity readers’ notice two subsequent statements of Omar’s.
Those statements deserve attention and, I believe, praise from socialists concerned to articulate a broadly “third camp” perspective.
First, on 16 March, the anniversary of the start of the pro-democracy uprising against the Assad regime in Syria, Omar tweeted a statement of support for the uprising, which condemned “Assad’s repressive dictatorship”. Then, on 17 March, the Washington Post published an article by Omar setting out her general international and foreign policy perspective, which she explained in the following terms: “Valuing human rights also means applying the same standards to our friends and our enemies. We do not have the credibility to support those fighting for human rights in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua if we do not also support those fighting for human rights in Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil.
“Our criticisms of oppression and regional instability caused by Iran are not legitimate if we do not hold Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to the same standards.”
On Israel/Palestine, Omar sharply and clearly articulates a principled position, based on upholding equal rights for both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs: “The founding of Israel 70 years ago was built on the Jewish people’s connection to their historical homeland, as well as the urgency of establishing a nation in the wake of the horror of the Holocaust and the centuries of antisemitic oppression leading up to it.
“We must acknowledge that this is also the historical homeland of Palestinians. And without a state, the Palestinian people live in a state of permanent refugeehood and displacement. This, too, is a refugee crisis, and they, too, deserve freedom and dignity.
“I support a two-state solution, with internationally recognized borders, which allows for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their own sanctuaries and self-determination.”
The policy Omar spells out here should be the policy of the entire international left!
Some on the left argued that to mount any criticism whatsoever of the way Omar formulated her comments about AIPAC would be to “chime in” with a reactionary campaign against her, which was and is a real phenomenon and includes substantial anti-Muslim bigotry. How will such people now respond?
Whether the left wishes to acknowledge it or not, Omar’s comments on Syria, and particularly on Israel/Palestine, are as much an affront to the common sense of much the far left as they are to the foreign policy consensus of American bourgeois politics. It is an affront that is timely, and should be welcomed.
Daniel Randall, London
Liberals and anti-liberals
Many people on the left around the Corbyn surge talk derisively about liberals with a small L. Some memes or articles don’t seem to make a distinction between neoliberalism and liberalism. You get people saying that the politics of the majority in the anti-Brexit movement in the UK are neo-liberals.
Of course many of the high-profile leaders are neoliberals, but I didn’t see many people on the 23 March demonstration with placards supporting the neoliberal elements of the EU like the Viking and Laval judgements or the state aid rules. I did see many people whose support of the EU is based on liberal principles of peace and human rights. We got no hostility from them for slogans like “build unions not borders”.
There are people on the left with abhorrent and reactionary views on issues like migrant rights or women’s rights who denounce anyone who raises those issues as infected with “liberalism”. You hear terms from the far right of American politics, like “radlib” or “sjw” used as put-downs by some who profess to be socialists.
The socialist critique of liberalism is not that it’s bothered about minority rights. Our critique is that liberalism cannot achieve its professed aims of freedom and equality because it fails to tackle a capitalist system that is by its nature coercive and unequal. Revolutionary socialism welcomes and builds on the most radical elements of the liberal bourgeois revolutions of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century. It understands that these revolutions were doomed to be incomplete, as they were led by bourgeoisies who would never allow the more radical elements within liberal-democratic ideas gain a foothold.
Only the working class that has an interest in carrying through revolutions that give true content to the slogans “liberty, equality, fraternity”. Neoliberal political economy — dismantling social democratic protections and regulations, bringing private business and marketisation deep into all elements of previously public services, and removing workers’ rights — was pioneered by the Pinochet regime in Chile. It was then pushed through by Thatcher and Reagan, who combined their market economics with reactionary views on a whole range of social questions. That neoliberalism is not inherently social-liberal.
The socially liberal elements in the New Labour or Democrat programmes of the 1990s had their roots in the struggle of the left to force the leadership to take these issues seriously. Also, let’s not forget that whilst millions vote for neoliberal parties, the economic policy of privatisation or deregulation has never been popular. Only when neoliberals have combined those economic policies with ideologies of conservatism, social liberalism or social democracy have they connected with voters.
To put it crassly, and in terms Red London might understand, a “blue haired rad-lib” who campaigns on single issues like trans rights but does not see the wider picture, is probably more likely to be convinced to be a decent revolutionary socialist than someone who agrees with you about nationalised railways, Bill Shankly, and ale, but also thinks there are “too many foreigners”. Socialism is about human emancipation. Those who already fight for elements of this are less of an enemy than the anti-liberals.
Luke Hardy, Leeds