David Broder attended the “real world” launch of The Euston Manifesto in Islington on 25 May.
Despite the organisers’ claim that they had sold out a venue which could hold 800, only 250 actually turned up to the Manifesto launch. Apparently, most of the 1750 bloggers who have signed the Manifesto so far (eustonmanifesto.org) prefer to conduct their “politics” from behind a computer screen rather than venturing into the real world and talking to people.
However Alan Johnson wanted us to focus on the activist origins of the Euston Manifesto — he claimed that it “originated in real campaigns”, and was not just the output of journalists involved, such as Nick Cohen or Francis Wheen. This would be more plausible if the “campaigns” were not simply online discussion circles where Eustonites incestuously congratulate each other on how great their blogs are. While LabourStart is a good resource and a few Eustonites worked against the lecturers’ academic boycott of Israel, it has to be said that Democratiya, Harry’s Place and Unite Against Terror — blogs/websites on the Eustonian wave length — are little more than “after-dark” chit chat.
The fact that the Manifesto has no roots in working-class campaigns or trade unions has a strong relationship with its political outlook. There is no understanding whatsoever that the working-class is the agent of social change, and that workers’ movements have the power to make change in oppressive societies. For example, Johnson invited Eustonites to make solidarity with the “democratic movement” in Iran — no mention of current workers’ struggles there. “Humanitarian interventions” by the “community of democracies” were labelled by ex-Marxist “thinker” Norman Geras as a way of spreading democracy.
Indeed, while some of the panel said that they had not supported the invasion of Iraq, they all warmed to questions about “humanitarian intervention” from the floor. Most of the discussion revolved around how this “strategy” could be used to support pro-democracy movements — as if any workers’ movement calls for their country to be invaded so that it can be saved “from above”. Shalom Lappin said that there could be no “blanket opposition” to “humanitarian interventions”. There was no questioning of the motivation for Western powers to invade Kosovo or Iraq, no analysis of imperialism, and so no qualification of the Eustonites’ lining-up behind the Bush-Blair axis.
Lappin, who was the most left-wing of the platform speakers, called for a renewed social democrat project, whereby centre-left governments could harness globalisation patterns for social benefit rather than in the interests of a corporate elite.
Marxist socialists are not opposed to the export of capital and investment to the Third World per se. But it is hard to see how Lappin’s anti-exploitation project could possibly be realised top-down. Why would any British government, no doubt funded by capitalist concerns, force a multinational to treat its workers in China or India properly, and how could it? “Fair labour laws”, we are told — but workers’ rights have always been won, never given. Anyhow, if there is no focus on building strong unions for workers to fight for and defend themselves, they would surely see these rights crumble in the face of the needs of capitalism to increase profits.
Perhaps it stands in Lappin’s defence that he was the only panel member at the launch to use the language of “class-based politics”. But, since he “demanded” a redistribution of wealth to “workers, farmers and consumers”, he has obviously chosen to ignore or bypass the reality of how workers are exploited by capitalist production.
What was worthwhile about the discussion was its assault on cultural relativism. It is clear that the Eustonites wanted to stand up for women’s rights, the rights of workers to organise, gay rights, and, in a very abstract sense of the word, “democracy”. It is all too common on the left to see these concerns ignored for the sake of supporting any group which fights against imperialism.
When Geras said that the cultural relativist part of the left had no future, he was heckled, with someone asking “who are you talking about?”. It was obvious that he meant the SWP, who have made allies of Hamas, Moqtada-al-Sadr’s Mahdi army and the Muslim Brotherhood’s British offshoot.
In a Socialist Worker response to the Manifesto, Alex Callinicos ignores all of these points and simply “accuses” the Manifesto of being soft on the war. Sidestepping criticism of his own group’s cultural relativism, he writes “Much of its content is unexceptionable. It is for democracy, human rights, equality, development for freedom, a new internationalism and so on” — ignoring the ruling-class basis on which this programme is to be carried out!
Callinicos also attacks the Eustonites for claiming that the anti-Zionist left entertain “openly anti-Semitic speakers”, even though the SWP clearly has done so — Israeli “anti-Zionist” jazz musician Gilad Atzmon will be appearing (and speaking) at their summer school again this year..
The underlying problem with the Euston Manifesto is its cross-class programme. It cannot see beyond governments as the method by which progress can be made — whether by drawing up a new globalisation programme or invading to topple dictators, it is always the ruling class which is called on to liberate the oppressed “from above”.
Yes, we need democratic, egalitarian left — but this can only be achieved by being an active class-struggle militant, someone who makes solidarity with striking workers in Iran, who really are fighting for democracy and freedom from religious tyranny.
Any reliance on capitalism or the “western democracies” to help them would be, sooner or later, a surrender to privilege, inequality and continued oppression.