You may have noticed there have been fewer and fewer posts from myself here over the past couple of months and I’m afraid that the shortage of material reflects an inability to continue with the efforts I began here almost three years ago.
This is then, I’m sad to say, my final post as a regular blogger at Harry’s Place. I hope, possibly, to be able contribute the occasional ‘column style’ item if time allows at some stage in the future and I will remain a supporter, in whatever way I can be, of the various political initiatives I have associated with but I can no longer commit myself to the daily posts and day-to-day jousting that goes with this territory.
My withdrawal is due to changed personal circumstances which leave me without the time necessary to regularly write anything of worth for the blog. Work and family commitments have obviously to take precedence over blogging, an unpaid, free-time activity albeit one with many, many rewards of its own. In the past I managed, somehow, to find time for blogging alongside those other commitments – sadly that is no longer the case and isn’t likely to be for some time, if ever.
Of course, this blog will continue with David T, Marcus, Gene and Brownie who have played a major role in developing the popularity of this site and I am sure they will continue to develop the site’s contribution to the big discussions going on across the media, the blogosphere and in political life and to promote the anti-fascist, pro-democracy, internationalist, secular, liberal and social-democratic stance we collectively hold to.
It has been a very rewarding experience to write and blog on this site over the past three years and I remain flattered that so many of you regularly read the posts here, recommend them to others or comment on them – and I mean that, I am not being rhetorical, it has been a genuinely pleasant surprise to find my efforts read and responded to. When I began the blog it was not my intention to create anything other than a space where I jotted down my thoughts about current events and political debate. I’ve always found writing not only enjoyable but the best way to clarify my thoughts, to release them and to subject them to the scrutiny of my own eye and sometimes of others. Blogging has certainly put my ideas up for scrutiny – a much wider scrutiny than I ever imagined was going to be the case.
But blogging is, for most of us whatever our motivation, a free-time activity. It has been called in some quarters ‘citizen journalism’ but it could also be described simply as ‘amateur’ or ‘free journalism’ or at least the opinion part of journalism. While blogging may have ‘taken on’ part of the media, particularly the world of punditry, it has not changed it. Blogging, unlike the media, is open to anyone. The blogosphere is the open-source software to the mainstream media’s Microsoft Office.
The liberating element of blogging lays precisely in the fact that we are able to create our own platforms or spaces to challenge the views of that small group of people who are fortunate enough to be given column inches. Some of the opinion makers have responded well to this challenge, choosing to engage with people who are, after all, nothing more or less than their interested readers while others have been less enthusiastic, even hostile, about the fact that people are actually taking up their arguments – they should get used to it because, while individual bloggers like myself may come and go, this medium isn’t going to disappear nor are readers going to return to being passive consumers of other people’s views.
In these past years the blogging scene has grown and with it the voice of the blogger has gained a little more volume. This particular blog has become, as one friend of the site put it, “ a meeting place” and while that was never the aim it has been a pleasure and privilege to meet you here. I shall miss being a regular part of this site but, thanks to the other bloggers here, the forum will remain for all of you.
I can’t sign off without some political reflections. The blogosphere has also helped to bring together and give a voice to a part of the left which would otherwise have been largely absent from public debate. If I’m proud of anything that has been achieved on this site in the past few years it is that we have played a small part in increasing the volume of the anti-fascist, pro-liberation left. From starting off by plugging the writings of a few columnists who shared our outlook on Iraq and the struggle against violent Islamism, to writing our own material and then supporting and promoting campaigns such as Labour Friends of Iraq, Engage and Unite Against Terror, on to making sure that American left knew exactly what Galloway was about, we have played a small part in something important and I am sure the site will continue to undertake that role.
It is no coincidence that the blogosphere has become the natural home for the pro-liberation left and the rest of the ‘muscular liberals’ – after all, where else is there to turn to? The Guardian, for example, can open its pages to Tories such as Kenneth Clarke and Douglas Hurd and, further to the right from John Laughland on to Bin Laden supporters – anyone in fact, of any political shade, who takes either an anti-war or pro-Islamist position, but it has been notably reluctant to give a serious hearing to those on the democratic left who support the struggles of democrats in the Middle East. Well that’s your problem Seumas, old boy, because the debate continues anyway– the means of media production, distribution and exchange are at everyone’s disposal now.
When you write a blog that has a relatively large readership you start to get a lot of emails from people – sometimes from the public figures that you are writing about. At one stage Andrew Murray, the chair of the Stop the War Coalition was in touch with me to ask why I was being so ‘hostile’ to him and his organisation. Sure we can disagree, he argued, but why be so antagonistic? I explained my feelings frankly to Murray at the time but perhaps now would be a moment to make clear to the others who followed his (and German’s and Galloway’s) leadership, if they have not yet realised, why my disagreements were not couched in the ‘comradely’ language of another era.
Of course the left has always had its splits, divisions and in-fights and if we look back to the Spanish civil war there was certainly no love lost between the Anarchists, the Trotskyists and (Stalin’s) Communists. But the difference with today is that back in the time when the International Brigades were fighting fascism in Spain, no-one on the left actually urged support for Franco.
But that is, effectively, what Murray, German and Galloway have asked the left to do for the past three years – to support first a Ba’athist-fascist dictator (because ‘victory to Iraq’ could mean nothing else) and then after his defeat to back the murdering dead-enders of his overthrown regime in alliance with the greenshirts who wish to create a new ‘year zero’ Taliban regime in Iraq. It remains a matter of astonishment that a large swathe of left opinion has been able to either support this turn to fascism or to turn a blind eye to it in the interests of anti-war unity.
But, while being on the other side in a struggle against fascism is something unprecedented, it is no novita that part of the left has been willing to defend the indefensible and justify the unjustifiable. What these last few years have illustrated is that some have really learnt nothing from the last century and the millions of dead from the campaigns of ‘resistance’ and ‘struggle’ of Stalin and Mao. I laugh when the Stopperbloggers trot out their jibe about my student political affiliation to the Communist Party – after all which is worse – to have been naïve or mistaken as an 18-year-old or to be, now, in 2005 as a middle-aged man, 16 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, actually and still a Stalinist in the manner of Murray or Galloway? Or, even more obscenely in the case of the SWP after decades of being stridently opposed to Stalinism to suddenly, in 2003, years after that movement died, to take on the politics of Uncle Joe and his followers and to adopt an open-Stalinist as your frontman?
I’ve never really gone into much depth about the relationship between that, thankfully brief, period when I was a member of the Communist Party and the politics I have put forward on this blog. I entered politics as a Labour Party activist and, after a brief departure to the CPGB, Labour is where I have remained and where I broadly belong. But the couple of years sabattical in the CP did have an important influence on the development of my ideas. There are two points I should have made about this during all this blogging and allow me to take the chance to rectify that now:
Firstly, for all the appalling crimes and horrors committed by Communist Parties in the 20th century, the two elements that attracted me to the party back when I joined in 1988 (Yes, I know!) remain, for me, primary motivators in politics. One was the proud history of militant anti-fascism of the CPGB and many other communist parties across the world. I still feel that history and I did so when during the last General Election I campaigned for a candidate of the democratic left in that historically resonant address of Cable Street. The other element is internationalism. Despite the well-documented and shameful history of betrayal and worse in the Communist International, even in 1988 the notion of belonging to a global community of people struggling for justice had survived in a basic form. Regardless of the failed politics of that ‘international movement’ the basic idea that the struggle to change the world for the better involves standing in solidarity with your brothers and sisters around the world was part of the ABC of being a communist or socialist. And it still is for me. That is why I listened to what the Kurdish democrats and socialists had to say, that is why I support them and the Iraqi left and trade unionists and that is why I shake my head and my fist when the Stop the War Coalition support their enemies and indeed their killers.
The second link between the politics I held as a teenager and those I have expressed here as a 35-year-old lays not in a continuum but in the rejection of the doomed and dangerous ideology of Stalinism in its various shades and shapes. Not, I stress, a rejection of socialism, or the various philosophies that make up that broad school of thinking, because I remain convinced that capitalism cannot be the best humanity is capable of. Instead it is a rejection of the view of some on the left that socialism consists of a defeat of liberal democracy. Whatever economically socialism may turn out to be, it has to be based on an extension and broadening of the liberties and rights gained by democratic societies so far.
Rejecting illiberal politics required a conscious evaluation of political and moral values. In this respect the point I wish to make has already been made very well by John Lloyd:
“When I ceased to be a communist and therefore ditched an essentially undemocratic philosophy, I adopted democracy as a new faith with the real fervour of the convert. We centre-left ex-communists believe passionately in democracy because we’ve reasoned ourselves towards it, so we are perhaps more prepared to support wars that establish or defend it.
“We are articulating the democrats’ case for war. Our belief is that the revolution that has really lasted is the democratic revolution emerging from France and the US in the 18th century. We believe that liberal democracy still holds out a promise to all societies – all our political values are based on this – so we must support those who are fighting for it within their own societies, like in Iraq.”
That is where I have been coming from. I have a chuckle when critics talk about the ‘shift to the right’ of those of us from a socialist or liberal background who have supported the liberation of Iraq and see the need to defeat totalitarianism in all its forms. For surely, there is nothing more radical or revolutionary than millions of people emerging from decades of oppression to begin the task of building a free society? Those Afghan, Kurdish and Iraqi citizens voting for the first time in their lives have been similiar moments, albeit in different circumstances, to the ending of apartheid or the falling of the Berlin wall – chapters in human liberation. What is truly odd is that so many who call themselves progressives squirmed with discomfort and unease at those events.
Over these past three years on this blog, I’ve tried to articulate my passion for democracy and the need to defend and support those struggling to achieve free societies. I’ve done so through a medium which, it seems to me, is the perfect tool for anyone who wants to exercise one of the key elements of democracy – free speech.
In doing so I’ve made some wonderful new friends, discovered new comrades and rediscovered old ones. I’ve also upset some people and made some enemies along the way.
To the latter I can only say: “Liberty, if it means anything at all…”
To the rest of you – thanks for all your encouragement, kind words and support over these past three years. It really has been a pleasure.