The Euston Manifesto

There is plenty of noise being made in the UK blogosphere about the recently announced Euston Manifesto (of which Norm, Harry, and PooterGeek appear to be among the founding fathers).  I notice that it has come under quite a bit of criticism already, which is a good sign for any aspiring political movement (much better than being ignored); and it seems to have some support too.

On first reading, I can say I broadly agree with most of it, although none of this comes as a surprise when one considers who wrote it.  Were it ever to be implemented, I would probably fall out with the authors over the economics of its implementation, and would in all likelihood find myself standing four square behind Mr Worstall whose leave-us-the-hell-alone-while-we-trade-with-each-other attitude, along with the libertarians at Samizdata, probably represent my opinions more closely.

Whatever the eventual success or failures of the project, there are clear signs that they have at least got off on the right foot on some issues.

Section B, Clause 11 A critical openness. Drawing the lesson of the disastrous history of left apologetics over the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism, as well as more recent exercises in the same vein (some of the reaction to the crimes of 9/11, the excuse-making for suicide-terrorism, the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the ‘anti-war’ movement with illiberal theocrats), we reject the notion that there are no opponents on the Left. We reject, similarly, the idea that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right. Leftists who make common cause with, or excuses for, anti-democratic forces should be criticized in clear and forthright terms. Conversely, we pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress.

Drawing the lesson of the disastrous history of left apologetics over the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism, as well as more recent exercises in the same vein (some of the reaction to the crimes of 9/11, the excuse-making for suicide-terrorism, the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the ‘anti-war’ movement with illiberal theocrats), we reject the notion that there are no opponents on the Left. We reject, similarly, the idea that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right. Leftists who make common cause with, or excuses for, anti-democratic forces should be criticized in clear and forthright terms. Conversely, we pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress.

Good idea.  Start by recognising that the Left’s support for the Soviet Union and its continued support for the ideals [sic] of Communism will ensure that they will never be taken seriously by any voter with a shred of decency, and draw a clear dividing line between you and them.  To anyone who has not bought into the whole socialist idea, articles glorifying, downplaying, or apologising for the actions of the Soviet Union and its clients is akin to Neo-Nazis denying the Holocaust.  Any left-wing political outfit, which incudes all its members, ready to make this distinction will find I am prepared to consider what they have to say on other matters.

It is another good idea to recognise that there are some decent and reasonable folk on the right, and we are not all evil capitalist pigs bent on screwing over the poor for our own personal gain.  The liberatarian drive for people to take individual responsibility and be permitted to do what they like provided it does not harm others is almost unrepresented on the left, yet it is in my opinion probably the most attractive political policy I have seen to date.  Were a left-wing party to adopt a more libertarian stance, for instance provide unwavering support for civil liberties being eroded by an incompetent and manevolent government, they would in all likelihood prove popular.

Section B, Clause 11 

Historical truth. In connecting to the original humanistic impulses of the movement for human progress, we emphasize the duty which genuine democrats must have to respect for the historical truth. Not only fascists, Holocaust-deniers and the like have tried to obscure the historical record. One of the tragedies of the Left is that its own reputation was massively compromised in this regard by the international Communist movement, and some have still not learned that lesson. Political honesty and straightforwardness are a primary obligation for us.

Similarly to what I have written above, this is important.  One of the most unattractive parts of left-wing politics to anyone on the right is the willingness of some to view history through the prism of ideology.  One of my pet hates is the regularity with which left-wing commentators criticise US foreign policy in the 50 years since WWII in complete isolation of the geopolitical situation in place at the time.  It is not uncommon to find a lengthy newspaper column preaching the evils of say, US intervention in Indonesia, with ne’er a mention of the USSR, China, or the Cold War.  Any reader who did not know better would think from what is printed by many left-wing commentators that the US just rocked up in a boat one day and started shelling Hanoi for fun, and they supported Suharto because the US just liked killing Communists.  They would have no clue that the US had recently lost 34,000 of its men defending South Korea from an unprovoked Communist invasion from the North, backed and aided by the Soviet Union and China.  Nor would they know that the Soviet Union had in the decade earlier been actively encouraging Chinese forces to intervene in support of Communist revolutions in South East Asia, and that China had done so on several occasions.

That’s not to say that many of the US policies during the Cold War should not be condemned as being counterproductive, often immoral, and sometimes barbaric.  But to remove US actions from the Cold War context is to remove the ultimate aims of the US’ adoption of these policies from the picture entirely, leaving the reader to be appalled at the means only.  It is like discussing in detail the RAF’s bombing of Dresden in isolation of the fact that Britain was at war with Germany at the time.  Whereas historians do, and should, argue over whether the means of achieving Germany’s surrender by bombing Dresden was correct or morally sound, they at least do so on the basis that Britain’s ultimate aim of Germany’s surrender was real, and it was morally right.  No serious historian writes a paper on the bombing of Dresden in the greater context of the UK’s history of military imperialism. 

But this is in effect what a great many on the left* do on a regular basis, and that a political group is stating explicity that they will view history objectively and without prejudice is to be welcomed by anyone interested in historical truth.

Section B (excerpt)

We repudiate the way of thinking according to which the events of September 11 2001 were America’s deserved comeuppance, or ‘understandable’ in the light of legitimate grievances resulting from US foreign policy. What was done on that day was an act of mass murder, motivated by odious fundamentalist beliefs and redeemed by nothing whatsoever. No evasive formula can hide that.

Vandalism against synagogues and Jewish graveyards and attacks on Jews themselves are on the increase in Europe. ‘Anti-Zionism’ has now developed to a point where supposed organizations of the Left are willing to entertain openly anti-Semitic speakers and to form alliances with anti-Semitic groups. Amongst educated and affluent people are to be found individuals unembarrassed to claim that the Iraq war was fought on behalf of Jewish interests, or to make other ‘polite’ and subtle allusions to the harmful effect of Jewish influence in international or national politics – remarks of a kind that for more than fifty years after the Holocaust no one would have been able to make without publicly disgracing themselves. We stand against all variants of such bigotry.

It is a sad state of affairs that these things need to be said by any political body, but that they have been said by the authors, of the Euston Manifesto is welcome.

For what it’s worth, in most of their broader aims they have my support.  Once I have studied the means by which they intend to achieve them, and they’ve got rid of all the bits I don’t like, I may even add my signature to it.

*(I am aware that too many on the right do this as well, and my point applies equally to them.  But I will say that for every article in the Times or Telegraph that airbrushes Cold War context out of Russian history or Soviet history, I will provide 10 from the Guardian or Independent which do the same for US history).

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1 thought on “The Euston Manifesto

  1. “They would have no clue that the US had recently lost 34,000 of its men defending South Korea from an unprovoked Communist invasion from the North, backed and aided by the Soviet Union and China. Nor would they know that the Soviet Union had in the decade earlier been actively encouraging Chinese forces to intervene in support of Communist revolutions in South East Asia, and that China had done so on several occasions.”

    Yes, it often seems to be forgotten that the express goal of communism was the overthrow capitalist states. I would say that Churchill never lost sight of that fact – his actions towards Soviet Russia in WWII are too often questioned and cast in an insidious light.

    It is not the express policy of the US that every nation has the exact same political and economic system as our own. We still try to be polite with the Frogs, for example (it can be difficult). However, if a nation is based upon an idea that expressly calls for the destruction of your way of life, you might reasonably be opposed to that.

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