Strange fascination

One of the things that has impressed me about those on the left who supported the war in Iraq is that there has been a healthy absence of hyperbole or self-promotion.

The left that rejected the ‘peace’ movement and even those of us who actually opposed the anti-war campaigners, have been, on the whole, pretty down to earth about things. We haven’t created an organisation and we haven’t pretended that we are the future of the left. If anything the voice of the left opposition to the anti-war campaign has struck the tone of the frustrated friend – when, oh when, will the left start to a get a grip?

This seems to have irritated the anti-war camp rather a lot. They would much prefer if their opponents were tied to a single organisation/faction/ideology that they could attack as a whole – that is their usual approach. But there is no pro-war left package to unravel. The dissident voices of the minority of the left who were perfectly happy to see the end of Saddam’s fascist regime, are disparate and disunited and show little interest in presenting a united front. Taking them on required dealing with the arguments rather than the personalities or histories of the people who made the case.

And the anti-war left have clearly failed to rise to that challenge.

There have been some pathetic attempts to smear the pro-war left as having ‘caved in’ to Blairism or taking on the job of ‘doing Bush’s work for him’. These cheap shots have usually been accompanied by stupid suggestions that we now believe that the US imperialism has become an entirely benevolent force for good in the world (every where and at every time in history apparently) and that we must be under the illusion that GW Bush has become a revolutionary socialist.

Ha, ha, ha, what silly naive people we must be (and how many times have you been called naive over Iraq?). Of course the fact that few, if any, of the left hawks (or whatever crap label we must use) have ever suggested such things appears not to bother the likes of Paul Foot and his comedy allies. The attempt to laugh off the uncomfortable fact that not everyone on the left has been cheering on the Iraqi ‘resistance’ reveals the rather week conformist consensus that exists on what passes for a radical left these days.

Part of this nervous attempt at a riposte has been the age-old tactic of political cowards – the dismissal of a minority view simply because it comes from a minority.

In a recent Tribune article Lindsay German and Andrew Murray of the Stop the War Coalition (and respectively leaders of the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party of Britain) wrote of the great achievements of the anti-war movement and how their position has been vindicated by events.

Paul Anderson deals with that article this week and reviews their feeble acknoledgement of dissent.

And who doubts this? Only “former leftists such as David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens — who believe that the whole movement is the result of a sinister collusion between Islamic fundamentalism and the Socialist Workers’ Party”. But they are “utterly ignorant of the Muslim community”. And the SWP “is only a problem if you come from that part of the left which has spent the past 20 years stampeding ever-rightwards”. “A lesson of this past historic and exciting year,” they conclude, “is that such squabbles are of minor importance.”

As Paul sharply puts it: Well, if you believe that, you’ll believe that the British revolution is imminent or that Stalin’s slave-labour camps were a fiction of imperialist propaganda.

Yet while they try to dismiss their critics as ‘former leftists’ they remain rather worried by that irritating minority who refuse to join in their slogans. Nick Cohen did one of those interesting but rather limited online discussions at the Guardian site on Friday and while the topic was his just released book about New Labour (which hardly appears the work of a former lefty) many of the contributors wanted him to deal again with his views about Iraq.

The anti-war questions weren’t of a very high quality (sample: . I don’t understand how anyone with your ability to see through bullshit could go for it) but they did show that the anti-war left, far from being unconcerned with the view of the minority remain nervoulsy fascinated by them.

The minority left position is of course far from limited to the oft-cited trio of British newspaper columnists, it is there in the Labour Party and it can be found on weblogs and other alternative media. If the big anti-war marches were depressing moments for those of us who supported the liberation of Iraq, we can at least look back on the past few months of arguments with some small amount of satisfaction.

The alternative perspective was heard and made some small difference. And for those attracted to politics in the run-up to the conflict – the dissident voices at least ensured they know another view is possible.