The Left

Three Voices of Dissent

This makes a nice change. Here are three articles from people who opposed the war to remove the Ba’athist dictorship in Iraq but who refreshingly present sharp criticisms of the politics that have come to dominate the ‘anti-war’ movement.

Andrew Coates, who pops in our comments boxes sometimes, has an interesting piece entitled ‘In Defence of Militant Secularism’ published in the latest edition of the Marxist discussion journal ‘What Next?’ It is well worth digesting and I think Andrew is on to something when he talks about the roots of current ‘left’ communalism in British imperial history:

That is the practice of separating “communities” on religious ground. Under the Indian Raj different religious groups had the right to distinct “personal law”. That is that the profoundly unequal relations between men and women under Hindu and Islamic “law” (with the notable contradiction of Sikh rules) were eternalised in jurisprudence. At present in Canada there are serious attempts to re-establish this state of affairs. “Community leaders” (not elected but given by their status as religious figures) are recognised by the state as those who determine “their” communities’ rules.

The “left’s” response has been to try to gain their own constituency by trawling for support amongst sympathetic Muslim notables (and notably not amongst other ethnic or religious groups). The so-called Respect Coalition has explicitly pitched its propaganda at the “Muslim” vote and welcomed the endorsement of mosques. Abandoning any class-related politics it accepts the idea that there are fixed faith “communities” out there to be captured.

Via Indymedia Ireland, Daniel Finn of the Irish Socialist Network, criticises the anti-war movement for the failure to listen to the voices of the Iraqi left. I think Finn is wrong about a number of things and is trapped within the limitations of ‘anti-imperialism’ but it is still encouraging to see some signs of dissent from the politics of the Stop the War leadership:

As the situation in Iraq goes from bad to worse, it would be easy for anti-war activists to pat ourselves on the back and say “I told you so”. But the left has no reason to be smug or complacent; the last year has revealed its own glaring errors. Many individuals and organisations on the left have been found uncritically supporting reactionary groups, and failing to offer solidarity to the secular left in Iraq. While our comrades in Iraq have been fighting the battle of their lives against both imperialist occupation and the threat of a fundamentalist tyranny, too many socialists have ignored their struggles and offered support to bitter enemies of the left.

The roots of these disastrous errors can be traced back to the build-up to the invasion of Iraq. In this crucial period, not enough attention was paid to the voices of the Iraqi opposition. Many Iraqi exiles supported the proposed invasion, because they were understandably desperate to see the Ba’athist regime overthrown. The left was certainly not obliged to agree with them, but they deserved the courtesy of a response; instead, they were mostly ignored, or dismissed as lackeys of Washington.

……The errors continued after the fall of the regime. The Iraqi left and labour movement quickly re-emerged from decades of repression and began to organise; they were entitled to expect solidarity and encouragement from their comrades in the west. Instead, many socialists took the easy option and became cheer-leaders for the so-called “resistance”.

Thirdly, Labour Friends of Iraq have a guest column from Peter Tatchell: The left’s retreat from universal human rights.

Motivated more by hatred of the US and British governments than by love for the Iraqi people, many so-called leftists support a “resistance” that, if victorious, would bring to power Baathists, Islamic fundamentalists and pro-al-Qaeda militants. Is that what the left now stands for? Neo-fascism, so long as it is anti-western?

The left’s political somersaults and ethical acrobatics are most striking on the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. Muslims should be defended against prejudice and discrimination. But that does not mean that human rights violations by Muslims (or anyone else) should be ignored.

Tatchell goes on to give several examples of ‘ethical acrobatics’ in what is an excellent article.

All three articles are, in different ways, reminders of why it is worth staying to fight within the left, for a new left and why the arguments several of us in the blogosphere have been engaging in over the past two years are worth having.