That’ll teach me to make silly jokes! A few issues back, in a fit of self-indulgent whimsy, I mocked some ex-comrades of ours who had abandoned socialist politics to enlist in George W Bush’s neo-conservative crusade to bring bourgeois democracy and American-style capitalism to Iraq. In a little skit, I had one of them confuse the Communist Manifesto with “the Bourgeois-Democratic Manifesto”.
Now they and others have in all seriousness produced what I conjured up as an absurdist joke — a “Bourgeois-Democratic Manifesto”. Politics today, as many have already noticed, has become satire-proof!
Mysteriously but appropriately, perhaps, for people evidently travelling fast to the right, they have named their manifesto after a railway station — the Euston Manifesto.
They say — and as if they have just discovered the political equivalent of penicillin — things that Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty have said, defended, and fought for over the last three decades. In 1990, for example, we wrote:
‘We live in a labour movement grown spiritually cross-eyed from the long pursuit of realpolitik and the operation of double standards, a movement ideologically sick and poisoned. In terms of moral ecology, the left and the labour movement is something of a disaster area because of the long-term use of methods and arguments which have corrupted the consciousness of the working class. The most poisonous root of that corruption was the Stalinist movement”. (Socialist Organiser 447, 10 May 1990).
But where we have said those things in an effort to build a better left, they say them as part of breaking from the left.
The “Euston Manifesto” consists of a preamble; a “statement of principles’, fifteen of them; an “elaboration” of them; and the conclusion.
They are, the authors say, “democrats and progressives”. For decades the use of “progressive” told you the speaker was, most probably, Communist Party or CP-linked.
Author's Doppelganger: They like to recycle and play with old CP formulas and verbiage, then?
Oddly, or not so oddly, there are bits of patented CP language and old CP ideas and policies, scattered throughout the Manifesto. And the approach is vintage CP “Popular Front” stuff.
“Many of us”, they say, “belong to the left” — but not all. They reach beyond the left to “egalitarian liberals”. They “pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress”. Boldly they “reject the notion that there are no opponents on the left” and “that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right”.
Curiously, in the form of a general manifesto we are offered a very narrow polemic against the kitsch-left. The Travelling People of the Euston Manifesto define themselves by negativism towards the kitsch-left.
Yet, though their impulse is to oppose the kitsch-left, with their “democratic” and “progressive” popular front the Euston Travellers parallel the SWP’s “popular front with clerical fascists”. They disagree with their choice of allies, not with their approach.
Doppelganger: At least Euston’s popular front with “egalitarian liberals” is better than a popular front with clerical fascists.
Is it? It might be, I suppose, but in both cases, the ally to the right limits what the accommodating “Popular Front” “left” can do. For practical purposes the grouping can go no further than its most right-wing element agrees to. That is as true for the Travellers’ ideological popular front with liberals and conservatives as it is for the SWP’s electoral and political popular front with Islamic clerical-fascists.
Doppelganger: They don’t claim to be socialists.
Some of them do, but evidently it doesn’t matter much to them. They say that the project “involves making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not”.
Doppelganger: What about their principles?
They want “democratic norms, procedures, and structures... freedom of opinion and assembly, free elections’, and “the separation of state and religion”. They “value the traditions and institutions, the legacy of good governance, of those countries in which liberal, pluralist democracies have taken hold”. They want “the separation of executive, legislative, and judicial power”.
Their second principle is: “no apology for tyranny”. They “draw a firm line” between themselves and those “left-liberals” who “explain’, indulgently “understand’, or apologise for tyrannical regimes, and movements that aspire to create such regimes.
Number three is “human rights for all. We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration” of the UN in 1948, to bind “all states and political movements, indeed... everyone”.
Doppelganger: Aha. The categorical imperative in politics — do unto others as you would have them do to you. About time someone thought of that!
They proclaim themselves “egalitarians”. But nothing rough or precipitate, mind you! They “look towards progress in relations between the sexes (until full gender equality is achieved)... [and] between those of various religious affiliations... [or] diverse sexual orientations”.
Doppelganger: They are firmly in the ranks of progressive, liberal humankind? And that’s all?
No, they’re better than that. They “look towards progress... towards broader social and economic equality all round”. More even than that. “We support the interests of working people everywhere” — and even “their right to organise in defence of those interests”. “Democratic trade unions are the bedrock organisations for the defence of workers” interests and are one of the most important forces for human rights, democracy-promotion and egalitarian internationalism”.
Doppelganger: I bet I know what comes next. “Workers of the world, unite!” Am I right?
No. They want “the universal adoption of the International Labour Organisation Conventions — now routinely ignored by governments across the globe”. That, they say, “is a priority for us”.
Doppelganger: Remind me what the ILO is.
It was set up by the Treaty of Versailles, as part of the League of Nations, 87 years ago.
Euston gets even better. “We are committed to the defence of the rights of children, and to protecting people from sexual slavery and all forms of institutionalised abuse”.
Doppelganger: Ah, sure the poor craeters! They mean well, anyway. Don’t be so meaen and snide about them! How are they going to achieve these things?
They think trade unions are a good thing.
Doppelganger: And how will they move “towards broader social and economic equality all round’?
There’s the rub! They “leave open... the question of the best economic forms of this broader equality”. “There are differences of viewpoint amongst us” on that.
But the Travelling People are “progressives”. They are against “structural economic oppression”.
Doppelganger: They are against wage-slavery then — against the exploitation of the working class? Nothing is more “structural” than the means of production being in the hands of the capitalist class, and the working class having to sell its labour power and thereby itself into exploitation.
You may think that. The Euston people feel that they could not possibly comment. They differ on the economic “solution”.
Doppelganger: They also want “the benefits of large-scale development... to be distributed as widely as possible in order to serve the social and economic interests of workers, farmers and consumers in all countries”. How?
Evidently, they don’t know, but “we support radical reform of the major institutions of global economic governance (WTO, IMF, World Bank) to achieve these goals, and we support fair trade, more aid, debt cancellation and the campaign to Make Poverty History”. They explain: “Development can bring growth in life-expectancy and in the enjoyment of life, easing burdensome labour and shortening the working day”.
Doppelganger: They are against privilege?
Not so fast! They are against “unjustified” privilege and “unjustified” power. What “privilege” do they consider justified? They don’t say.
Doppelganger: These are youngsters – right? Cutting their political teeth? Students? Sixth-formers?
No, no. These are grown-ups, some deep in their tired and disabused middle age, or even elderly. The main author of the manifesto, Norman Geras, is a retired professor at Manchester University. The other is the Observer journalist Nick Cohen.
Doppelganger: Jaysus! But they’re new to politics, surely?
Geras was a member or supporter of the Mandelite “Fourth International” for decades. He has written a book on Rosa Luxemburg.
Doppelganger: They’ll have some stuff to say outside the common run, then?
Well, they are against racism. They “oppose... the anti-immigrant racism of the far Right”.
Doppelganger: And the racism-fomenting agitation of the New Labour government?
Don’t know. They don’t mention that.
Doppelganger: But at least they nail their colours firmly to the mast. They are against racism.
The truth, though, is that it would very hard to find other than fascistic morons in Britain who are not “against racism” in general. The problems begin after you have proclaimed “anti-racism” as a principle.
When the Travellers repeat a very tame and delimited version of what almost everybody proclaims, they are reinventing the wheel...
Doppelganger: They do a lot of that?
Lots and lots of it. Sometimes, as in their notions on democracy, it is the square wheel they reinvent! Perhaps that’s why they take the name of a railway station.
Doppelganger: Give up! There’s nothing funny left to say about the politics of Euston station.
Don’t be a faint-heart! Maybe it’s because they know that their grouping is a badly-buckled fifth wheel on the left-hand side of the neo-con float in the post 9/11 carnival of reaction!
The Travellers are for a two-states settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. They are vehemently against anti-semitism, which they think is growing alarmingly. But they even manage to be just a little peculiar and seriously off-target on anti-semitism. They write that things have “now developed to a point where supposed organisations of the Left are willing to entertain openly anti-Semitic speakers and to form alliances with anti-Semitic groups”.
Well, yes! But where have they been for the last 15 and more years? The SWP stepped up its level of its “anti-Zionism” as least as far back as 1987-8. It was part of its turn to kitsch anti-imperialism then. (It suddenly decided to back Iran in the Iran-Iraq war on the grounds that the USA was on the side of Iraq — as it had been for the whole near-decade of the war!).
The significant anti-Semitism of the kitsch left is not in their occasional association with open anti-Semites, but primarily in their own “anti-Zionism’, and specifically in the wish to destroy Israel, and to back those who go beyond merely wishing it to try to do it. The formula in the manifesto is perhaps deference to signatories who have only lately cottoned on to left-wing anti-Semitism.
The Travellers are “united against terror” —“in all its forms”. “The deliberate targeting of civilians” is, they note sternly, “a crime under international law”. That it is done in a just cause cannot make it right.
Doppelganger: That’s fine, surely? No cause can justify the deliberate slaughter of civilians. No militants in a truly good cause would want to.
You don’t think a would-be democratic manifesto should at least refer to terror by states —by Bush, for example, or Sharon, or Olmert?
Doppelganger: That’s the kitsch-left line: “Bush is the world’s no.1 terrorist”.
In terms of civilians killed — with indifference or criminal recklessness, if not with deliberate intent — surely there is truth in calling the “great statesmen” terrorists. Equating Bush with bin Laden is a reductio ad absurdum of something that is nonetheless true.
And “terrorism”? Terrorism today is the deliberate slaughter of civilians. What about terrorism that targets rulers and tyrants?
Doppelganger: Marxists have always opposed that!
Yes, but we sided morally with the terrorists —for instance, those who killed the Russian Tsar in 1881.
Doppelganger: Quibbling! You agree with the Travellers on “modern” terrorism!
With the branding, by an unholy alliance of Establishments, of all struggles which use “unofficial” violence as evil, wrong, unjust? Leftists who had not lost their political bearings, who had not suffered a complete moral collapse, would insist on the distinctions and brand the “war on terror” for the hypocrisy and sham and succour for tyrant regimes that most of it is.
Doppelganger: Ah, but surely they oppose Bush’s wars?
Read their tenth principle: “a new internationalism”. For practical politics, this is the most important thing in the manifesto.
“Humanitarian intervention, when necessary, is not a matter of disregarding sovereignty, but of lodging this properly within the ‘common life’ of all peoples. If in some minimal sense a state protects the common life of its people (if it does not torture, murder and slaughter its own civilians, and meets their most basic needs of life), then its sovereignty is to be respected. But if the state itself violates this common life in appalling ways, its claim to sovereignty is forfeited and there is a duty upon the international community of intervention and rescue. Once a threshold of inhumanity has been crossed, there is a ‘responsibility to protect’.”
They “stand for an internationalist politics and the reform of international law — in the interests of global democratisation and global development”.
In practice, this means open-ended support for “intervention” by the USA — “a great country and nation… the home of a strong democracy with a noble tradition” — wherever its interests can be presented as pursuit of democracy, or desirable “regime change”.
Now, it is true that there is more to imperialism than the true idea — which came to some of us with our mothers’ milk – that it is a foul, dirty thing.
Marx thought that the British rule in India was immensely progressive — ending the thousands of years of a stagnant Asiatic mode of production, opening up new possibilities. Engels applauded the seizure of Texas and California from stagnant Mexico by the dynamic and progressive USA.
And British rule did bring the progress Marx expected in India, though more slowly than he expected. Bourgeois democracy in India is the child of the British Empire. World War Two was an imperialist war on both sides. Nonetheless it brought the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule, and created the possibility of reconstructing bourgeois democracy in western Europe.
Doppelganger: So you are saying imperialism may be progressive?
It is a matter of historical fact that imperialism, throughout the 20th century, as well as bringing the immense destruction of two World Wars and countless lesser wars, also triggered progressive developments, and opened immense possibilities not there before. So, after all, has capitalism!
Without the epoch of capitalism creating its preconditions and, so to speak, putting it on History’s agenda, socialism would be impossible.
It is not even entirely ruled out — though it looks increasingly unlikely — that imperialism will bring some approximation to bourgeois democracy, or at any rate something better than the rule of the quasi-fascist Ba’th party, to Iraq.
Doppelganger: So we should support the imperialism of the USA, the UK, and other advanced countries! You say Marx supported the British in India?
Honest analysis and recognition of what is happening in the world is a duty we owe to reason. It is not “support” for capitalism, or abandonment of socialism, to say that the dominant world capitalist system continues to do “progressive” things.
But if we recognise progress, or potential or probable progress, we do it from our point of view. We do it as socialists, mortal enemies of capitalism.
We do not need to tell lies — least of all to ourselves —about capitalism and imperialism. They are bad enough without that!
Marx on India is a good model here. He saw great historical progress in the British rule in India, and yet when the “Indian Mutiny” broke out in 1857 — a backward-looking, regressive, reactionary (or mainly reactionary) movement — he indicted the British rulers for the savagery with which they put it down. “We have here given but a brief and mildly-coloured chapter from the real history of British rule in India. In view of such facts, dispassionate and thoughtful men may perhaps be led to ask whether a people are not justified in attempting to expel the foreign conquerors who have so abused their subjects”.
Marx recognised progress; but he stood apart from the British bearers of progress to India. He took no responsibility for them or their deeds — from which, remember, he expected, in the long term, immense advantage. He maintained his own viewpoint and his political independence.
He did not banish from the record the venality, profiteering, and robbery by the colonial power, or the terrible consequences of the neglect by the British of the prerequisites for Indian agriculture which the old Asiatic despotism had maintained.
Doppelganger: He was irresponsible, then!
No, he was responsible to the task of maintaining an independent, revolutionary, communist outlook on the world. Politically he was not a “developmentalist”, but a class-struggle revolutionary.
The Travellers are “developmentalists”, people for whom the possibility of objectively progressive developments triggered from above is all-important.
There is a curious continuity here. For many decades, “socialist” — Stalinist — politics was defined by the pursuit of industrial development, as measured by crude economic statistics, regardless of human cost. That was supposedly development towards socialism. Would-be Trotskyists, too, bought into that view. For them, the USSR was “in transition to socialism”. Stalinism defined the core value of “socialism” as the development of economies from backwardness to industrialisation.
With the Travellers we have something similar, but they are talking about capitalist development and imperialist-sponsored “progress”.
The Travelling people declare themselves for “a critical openness”. Self-preening, they say: “political honesty and straightforwardness are a primary obligation for us”.
But in fact the Travellers themselves now stand with forces in contemporary society that can’t tell the full truth.
Thus, they say nothing about the casual barbarity with which their “good guys” of contemporary history — because they are bourgeois, because they are imperialist — lace, poison and subvert even potentially good works, like smashing the Saddam regime.
They justly denounce the kitsch-left for dishonesty and for double standards. Yet they themselves use double standards. In a revealing sleight of mind, for example, they misquote the slogans of the Great French Revolution of the 18th century (in the last point of their statement of principles, no.15).
“We reaffirm the ideas that inspired... the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century: liberty, equality and solidarity”.
“Solidarity”? The French revolution said: “fraternity”. Fraternity did not explicitly exclude the competition of capitalism, the “war of all against all”; indeed, historically, it cleared the way for it. Solidarity explicitly does.
Here the crusaders for truth themselves employ the same sleight of mind and lamentable standards as the kitsch left.
Fighting the “dragon” of kitsch-leftism, they adapt to the shape of what they fight.
Doppelganger: Try not to be so f...ing pretentious!
All right then, forget Nietzsche! Take what Lenin said about what he saw as the warping of Rosa Luxemburg’s ideas by over-preoccupation with her political fight against Pilsudski’s Polish Socialist Party.
“To a mouse there is no stronger beast than the cat, it is said. To Rosa Luxemburg there is evidently no stronger beast than the “Fracy”.” (Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, 1914).
Loathsome though the politics of the SWP and much of the “revolutionary left” are — the allies of Islamist clerical fascists, Ba’thist quasi-fascists, and reactionary “anti-imperialists” — there are more powerful, and not less loathsome, forces in society!
The Travellers are an anti-SWP group, an inversion of the SWP.
The SWP’s mechanical inversion of official bourgeois politics makes them not an independent force but only a foolishly dependent negative imprint. The Travelling people’s inversion of the SWP turns them into a positive offprint of bourgeois politics.
No. 13 of their principles is commitment to “the traditional liberal freedom of ideas”. But don’t run away with the idea that they’ll cut up rough in defence even of that. They hasten to add that it must be “within the usual constraints against defamation, libel and incitement to violence”.
Britain has immensely restrictive libel laws (laws which, like so much else in liberal bourgeois-democratic society, greatly favour the rich). Who decides what is “defamation”? Especially under Blair’s new “anti-terror” laws, who decides what is “incitement to violence” (or “glorifying terrorism’, as the new law puts it)? The liberal democratic courts, of course!
The Travellers say boldly, however: “Respect for others does not entail remaining silent about their beliefs where these are judged to be wanting”. The philistinism and cliche-clotting of the language is itself an important part of their new politics!
Doppelganger: But they support “human rights; the pursuit of happiness... the brotherhood and sisterhood of all men and women. None should be left out, none left behind”. Here at last they raise a rallying cry; they nail their theses to the door of the cathedral. Here they stand; they can do no other! The Martin Luther touch. Something they will dig in and fight for. It’s good!
Not quite. They hasten to add — and it is characteristic of their whole enterprise: “We are partisans of these values. But we are not zealots. For we embrace also the values of free enquiry, open dialogue and creative doubt, of care in judgement and a sense of the intractabilities of the world”.
Doppelganger: These are our truths, but, er…they may be wrong! Here we stand — but we may be persuaded to move!
They desire to have more backbone than the invertebrate liberals they criticise, but — moderate in all things, and with a proper sense of the intractabilities of the world —not too much!
I prefer Trotsky. “Revolutionary ardour in the struggle for socialism is inseparable from intellectual ardour in the struggle for truth”.
Only the most feeble, liberal notion of class (as a duty of care to the poor), and no notion at all of class struggle, is in this manifesto. In a revealing passage, they complain that “even educated and affluent people” have bad attitudes, as if “affluent” people are those who can normally be expected to favour enlightenment, and it is scarcely surprising if the proles are yahoos.
Do not think, however, that they merely defend the status quo. Within their bourgeois-democratic “defencism”, they understand that “these democracies have their own deficits and shortcomings”.
Doppelganger: Because they are bourgeois class democracies? They bear the stamp of the bourgeoisie and embody — in access, control of assets, etc., if not in formal rights — the rule of the capitalist class over the working class.
No, none of that Marxist old guff! They say it is now a “battle for the development of more democratic institutions and procedures, for further empowering those without influence, without a voice or with few political resources”. This, they affirm “is a permanent part of the agenda of the Left”.
Doppelganger: Permanent? So a society where no-one would be left without influence, voice, resources is a myth-mirage that can never be attained?
They state that “the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country’s infrastructure”.
Doppelganger: Surely you agree with that?
Yes, but also no! Read what they mean by it. They unceremoniously bundle Third Camp socialists into the same ash-can as the sharia-socialists and reactionary “anti-imperialists”. They are opposed not only to those, “but also to others who manage to find a way of situating a way of situating themselves between such forces [the sectarian militias in Iraq] and those trying to bring a new democratic life to the country” [Bush, Blair, etc.]
Those who are not entirely with them, and with Bush and Blair and their allies in Iraq, are against them. The parallel with the attitude of Stalinism when it was vigorous and expanding is striking here. These are the “Pabloites” of post-Stalinist bourgeois arrogance and expansion!
Doppelganger: Remind me who the Pabloites were?
“Pabloites” were would-be Trotskyists who looked to Stalinism to carry through the socialist revolution and saw their own role as critical cheer-leaders and auxiliary propogandists.
Doppelganger: But they do not agree with the invasion?
No, not all of them. But they all defer to those who did and do support the invasion. They agree to denounce those “many left opponents of regime change in Iraq” who perversely refuse to understand why “others on the Left” supported it. By “dishing out anathema” they “betray the democratic values they profess”.
Doppelganger: What are they themselves doing if not anathematising those who reject their — in fact, Bush’s and Blair’s — politics?
That’s all right! Double standards against the double-standards-blighted left are perfectly all right. Not only do they reject the idea that there are no enemies on the left; they reject the idea that there are friends on the left who disagree with their conversion to Bush and Blair.
They are fed up with left and liberal “progressive opinion” operating with “double standards” which make it see “lesser (though all too real) violations of human rights” at home, or in countries it dislikes, as “more deplorable than other violations that are flagrantly worse”.
Doppelganger: What’s wrong with that? The kitsch left operates with stark double standards.
Indeed. But, as we’ll see, they slip into the stance that “the main democratic friend is at home”.
They “roundly” condemn “the violation[s]... at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of “rendition” must be roundly condemned [as] a departure from universal principles, for the establishment of which the democratic countries themselves, and in particular the United States of America, bear the greater part of the historical credit” — and then direct their fire at the “double standards” by which “too many on the left... treat as the worst violations of human rights those perpetrated by the democracies, while being either silent or more muted about infractions that outstrip these by far”.
As a general statement about the left, it is true. But the idea that the main enemy is at home and our proper first concern is with the crimes of “our own” is also true. As when Karl Liebknecht first proclaimed it in World War One — knowing that Russian Tsarism was also an enemy, and a worse one than the German government — the core idea can be separated from its corruptions — those that arise if all notion is lost of scale and proportion; if the idea that there are, or may be, worse in the world than “our own” bourgeoisie and its allies, is lost; or if the guiding idea becomes “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.
The Travellers’ motto is, by contrast: the main enemy is not at home, or in the USA. That is where the hope of the democratic future lies!
You must keep that in mind! Don’t forget that you must defend the workers’ state — sorry... bourgeois state — because it is “progressive”. (You see why they adopt old Stalinist language).
Don’t be unfair to our rulers; even where they fall, it is from the standards for the establishment of which they “bear the greatest historical credit”. None of the enemies of that “great nation”, the USA, with its “noble tradition” is fit even to clean its moral galoshes, so to speak! (The Euston Travellers will do that!)
Amnesty International compared Guantanamo with the Stalinist gulag (in a comment by its secretary-general, Irene Khan, in her preface to AI’s 2005 annual report). She presumably meant it was similar in type, not the same in scale or duration. The Travellers are outraged at this “grotesque” comparison!
But surely Guantanamo is the same sort of thing as the gulag — even if it would be nonsensical to compare the US regime in general with Stalin’s Russia.
The point is that, like the Stalinists and “Pabloites” of old, the travelling people feel that the righteousness of the perpetrating powers’ cause mitigates, if it doesn’t excuse, what they do.
Nowhere is the parallel with the attitudes of the old Stalinists and present kitsch-left so blatant. For example, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when a great outcry arose in the West in response to hard knowledge becoming available about Stalin’s slave labour camps, Ernest Mandel and others of the “orthodox” Trotskyists denounced the left-wing (and recent left-wing, like David Rousset) organisers of the outcry, and worked to blunt public awareness of the camps. The outcry was preparation for war, don’t you see, and you must never forget that the USSR is progressive compared to its opponents!
On things like Guantanamo, it is indispensable for any socialist or serious democrat to be hard and merciless in criticising “their own” government. The travellers claim to “roundly condemn” Guantanamo — but immediately hasten to defend its perpetrators from too-rough criticism. The kitsch left could not ask for better help in its foul attitudes than that its critics adopt such a posture.
The Travellers’ conclusion sums up what they are: “We must define ourselves against those for whom the entire progressive-democratic agenda has been subordinated to a blanket and simplistic “anti-imperialism” and/or hostility to the current US administration” (emphasis added).
They are the anti-anti-Bushites! But if you define yourself as the inverse of people who are themselves shaped by a simple-mindedly rigid and mechanical inversion of dominant capitalist and imperialist policies, then you turn into... a positive image and epitome of the Establishment.
You may choose to see that Establishment not as it is and has evolved and is evolving, but in an idealised “essentialist” notion of it —rooted in the 18th century! Leave aside for now the limitations of 18th century Whig “democracy”. Just as the Islamic fundamentalists who want to go back to the 7th century cannot do that, and in fact would construct a present-day caricature of it, so too the would-be time-travellers of an idealised capitalist democracy end up backing the all-too-real and none-too-democratic capitalism of Bush and Blair.