Tuesday, 6 July 2010

A Straw-Man Pissing Contest? How Very Gauche.

Ante-Script

A while ago I found a solution to the problem that certain displays of idiocy tend to push my rant button, resulting in the counterdispaly of a blogpost that itself displayed my compulsive need to respond to certain types of fuckwit in print rather than just my internal monoshout.

That solution was: stop visiting CIF.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good rant. But it was interfering with my life of lounging around on taxpayers handouts that, as a leftie, I almost certainly do.

Anyway, today I got out of the boat. Hence the following.

Script
So, every so often, people who were once broadly on the left, drift to the right in their old age. In Mark Steel's case this meant leaving organised Trotskyism for free-wheeling Trotskyism. More usually it marks a more drastic break with your past. Classic examples include: Christopher Hitchins, David Aaronovitch, and of course, Nick Cohen.

Today Peter Bracken* has decided to join this band of bluster and, as is traditional, he has bravely launched an attack on a strawman. There seems to be an inherent need when these people defect to vociferously attack some perceived holy cow, as though the Tories (who in this situation might be analogised to the big kid in the playground who's got all the Transformers to Peter's weedy but needy asthmatic) will welcome them into the Kool Kids Klub once the ritual beating of the little kid (who, as we thankfully reach the end of this oddly over-written analogy, is whatever right-wing idea about what the left is this time, or if the motive is sectarian, something that can be attributed to the many tentacled monster that is the SWP) is complete.

Of course, if you're going to do this sort of thing, it's vital that your screed attack some version of your enemy that everyone with 'common sense' (a term which in politics is an effective simile for 'ignorance') can agree to dislike.

In Peter's case, this is
the section of the left denies the mainstay of the authentic left's agenda: liberalism.
Which is of course, rubbish. Liberalism is not a left-wing position but a centrist, and crucially, non-ideological one. Liberalism is pragmatic and comfortable with the wielding of power over others, the left is revolutionary. Even the right-wing of the labour movement, the aim is to alleviate the effects of inequality and the worst of poverty, a sure recognition of the desire to change the status quo, that cannot be authentically called liberal. Liberalism is distinguished from reaction largely by its recognition of and compassion for the poor. To the extent that one attempts to change this situation it is a left position, because that is the extent to which the existence of class conflict is recognised and arms are taken on behalf of one side against the other. You will look in Marx in vain for support of the Whigs, but you can see the faint ghost of Marx when liberals defend the minimum wage.

Anyway, having made a mess of his political categories, Peter goes on.

a left that aligns itself against the west cannot be a progressive force, especially one which vents its opposition by finding cause with the grotesque illiberalism of theocratic and proto-fascist regimes

Of course, the left aligns itself against capital and its forces, not 'the west'. And who are these lefties that align themselves with theocrats? Well, Peter provides a list, but unfortunately they do not seem to mean what he thinks it means. 'The Left' (a mysteriously monolithic beast to someone who claims to be on the left and should therefore know better), is guilty of

morally depleted rationalisations that "explained" 9/11 (the US had got its comeuppance).

Funny, cos the article he links to says

there is also the feeling that all the ‘civilised world’ (a phrase which Western leaders seem able to use without a trace of irony) is paying the price for its glib definitions of ‘terrorism’ and its refusal to listen to what the ‘terrorists’ have to say. There are very few people on the planet who devise carnage for the sheer hell of it. They do what they do for a cause; because they are at war. We might not like their cause; but using the word ‘terrorism’ as an alibi for thinking what drives it will get us nowhere in stopping the violence.


which actually seems to be saying "if we mindlessly use the word 'terrorist' we will have no clue as to how this event happened." How terribly glib. Of course, Peter is in no way being glib by suggesting that the US did nothing to anger anyone, and conflating the US Government with its people (an error he has in common with Al Qaeda).

The rest of his bobbins isn't much better, I'm afraid. Having made his exceedingly palpable hit by finding Comrade Beard's secret communique to the Supreme Soviet, outlining Teh Left's Like Totally Universal Position on 9/11, he moves on to attack people who support the Palestinians. This isn't really worth bothering to come back on, as it's a permanent feature of these kinds of articles that you have to side with the aggressor against the victim: it's all part of the posturing. Notable that he doesn't provide a link for that one though.

The ones that there are links for are so misrepresented that it's easy to see why he couldn't even quotemine them. For example, he complains of
the fanciful opinion – expressed only recently by Seumas Milne – that China, far from being an exemplar of human rights abuses on a colossal scale, is in fact an exemplary bulwark against a rapacious, capitalist hegemony.
Curious, as the article is about the strikes that have undermined the state recently and what this means for the economy. At no point does he defend Chinese state repression. Seriously, go read it. I'll wait.

Done? OK, so next up is an attack on Zizek and Callinicos. Fine, except that again, he just displays stupidity. When Zizek says
The problem is that such a simplistic liberal universalism long ago lost its innocence. This is why, for a true leftist, the conflict between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is ultimately a false conflict.
he does not mean, as Peter implies, that the Iranian government doesn't kill people, he's saying that calling your society a liberal democracy does not wash the blood off your hands. You'd really have to be remarkably obtuse not to see that.

Amazingly he then manages to be even more facile.
Alex Callinicos himself is a member of Socialist Workers' party, which implores Iraqi insurgents to "use whatever means necessary" to defeat the western coalition. He is a supporter of an organisation, in other words, that apparently condones the use of terror to destabilise a fledgling democracy. An honourable opposition to the war in Iraq is one thing; an express wish to see Islamist insurgents prevail is quite another.
Here's why this has teh stoopid:
  • If you're opposed to the war in Iraq, it is in no way inconsistent to support the Iraqi people against their occupation. In fact it seems, if you're genuinely progressive, the obvious response to the unchecked aggression of a superpower. Peter doesn't like the word 'imperialist' when applied to the US, but if he can think of a more appropriate one, I invite his submission.
  • A genuinely leftist critique of Iraq would have to talk about the nature of the invasion and its effect on the people, otherwise it is not leftist or even political, but handwringing drivel.
  • It ignores the consistent, genuinely terrifying use of terror used to both topple the Iraqi government and then to impose a neoliberal nightmare of the occupiers' choosing.
  • The use of the phrase 'Islamist insurgents' is particularly telling. 'Islamist' is in no way implied by support for the Iraqi people. 'Insurgents' is a funny way of talking about Iraqis. If there are insurgents in Iraq it is surely the foreign military powers that are imposing the new political order. Foreign fighters in Iraq even at the height of the 'insurgency' were relatively few, though a flood of arms into the country did seem to be noticeably present. You know, in amongst all those American invaders.
  • Fledgling democracy is a lovely turn of phrase, but in the context of Iraq can only mean the successful imposition of a regime approved of by the victors. The Iraqis did not make a revolution against Saddam and they did not choose the form of their new government. They are being asked to participate at gunpoint.
He then has the nerve to call those on the left who genuinely support self-determination for the Iraqis 'nihilistic' and claims for himself the mantle of defender of freedom. Sometimes, one is tempted to think that some people would really benefit from a bit of extraordinary rendition, if only to remind them of what 'support for a fledgling democracy' really means.

To conclude:
I didn't like this very much, and I don't think much of its author either. This is a reductivist, dishonest and ignorant account that wears its simple-mindedness on its sleeve.
----------------------------------------------
*No, me neither.

3 comments:

Roobin said...

Here's your answer, from Peter Bracken's CiF headshot:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/peter-bracken

"France based trader in equities... Advisor to the Labour Party... Served 10 years as an army officer".

Case. Fucking. Closed.

Christie Malry said...

Bloody hell, I *really* didn't need to write any of this, did I? That does the job very nicely. Thank you.

Christie Malry said...

Actually, with that biog, my piece's initial assumption still works: career politico with no ideology of his own noisily ditches any connection with the side he's associated with in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to leave looking clean and curry favour with the new lot.

And I make this confident analysis without ever having met the man. Damn, I'm good. Or very mistaken. But probably good.