Friday, November 09, 2007

A Sort of Personal Statement

This isn't the anonymous authors of Aaro Watch. This is I, Dave Weeden/Backword Dave/Chardonnay Chap. This is me. These are my opinions.
Actually, they aren't even that. Th-they're a s-sort of stammering response of the "You asked an interesting question, now let me faff a bit while I try to think on my feet" sort.
Fortunately for me, I can prevaricate a bit. I've just started James Fenton's All the Wrong Places: Adrift in the Politics of the Pacific Rim. (Tedious explanatory notes: Fenton is one my favourite poets. He's also the not-so-famous-one of the Amis-Hitchens-Fenton triumvirate (as they style themselves). Finally, as I remember from the cover of his first book of poems, he is (or was) a member of the Socialist Party. I can't remember where the Socialist Party were on a putative chart of left/right conviction, but I strongly suspect that membership (rather than of the Labour Party) suggests something like the following:

Yet where I feel an affinity with left-wing radicalism, and a lack of affinity with the politics of the mainstream left represented by Labour or the European Social Democrats, is in the fundamental interest the former puts on ideals, issues and causes, in contrast to the necessary but 'humdrum' business of building a parliamentary party and winning elections, with all the compromising of principles and de-emphasising of ideas that this involves. It is not that I do not respect and appreciate the work of the mainstream parliamentary left; it is simply a different world from my own.

That's our new friend Marco Attila Hoare. (Bruschetta Boy is too decent to make jokes about his name so I will: why does he think being a foul-mouthed Michelin starred celebrity chef entitles him to political opinions anyway?) Since this is a personal statement, I'll chuck in my view. If you've ever lived in a goddam nuclear family, you'll know that just rubbing along requires compromise. This is a damp little island of 60 million people. Of course getting along requires compromise. Even if we can agree on what 'working class' means (and we probably won't), the working class in London may have different and exclusive interests from the working class in Liverpool (assuming either is homogenous). Besides, Marxism is about material things rather than ideas and such: or, as Brecht put it, "Bread first, then ethics." Anyway, Fenton is, or was, pretty big on "ideals, issues and causes" rather than politicking in the pejorative sense.) OK, I could have written all this in a footnote, but none of you would have read it.
This is Fenton writing in 1988 about 1973:
Although I had a few journalistic commissions, I was not going [to Cambodia] primarily as a journalist. I wanted time and solitude to write, and knew that travel would make me fall back on my own company. I wanted to see a communist victory because, as did many people, I believed the Americans had not the slightest justification for their interference in Indochina. I admired the Vietcong and, by extension, the Khmer Rouge, but I subscribed to a philosophy that prided itself on taking a cool, critical look at the liberation movements of the Third World. We supported them against the ambitions of American foreign policy. We supported them as nationalist movements. We did not support their political character, which we perceived as Stalinist in the case of the Vietnamese, and in the case of teh Cambodians ... I don't know. The theory was, and is, that where a genuine movement of national liberation was fighting against imperialism, it received our unconditional support. When such a movement had won, it might then take its place among the governments that we execrated -- those who ruled by sophisticated tyranny in the name of socialism.
... The broadest support for the antiwar movement came from disgust at what the Americans were doing. But the movement itself brought into being, all over the world, political groups that took the lessons of Indochina a stage further. In Britain, the Communist Party made precious few gains during this period. The tradition to which the students looked was broadly or narrowly Trotskyist, a fact which no doubt intrigued the Vietnamese communists, who had taken care to bump off their own Trotskyists a long time before. The Trotskyist emphasis -- the general emphasis -- was on opposition to American imperialism. Very few people idolized the Vietcong, or the North Vietnamese, or Uncle Ho in quite the same way that, for instance, the French Left did. Indeed, it might fairly be said that the Left in Britain was not terribly curious about or enamored of the movement it was supporting.
... At the [Indochina Solidarity Group] conference itself, I remember two speeches of interest. One was by I.F. Stone, who was hissed by the audience (which included an unusually large number of Maoists) when he attacked Chairman Mao for shaking hands with a murderer like Nixon. The other was by Noam Chomsky, who warned against the assumption that the war was over, and that direct U.S. intervention in Vietnam would cease. Chomsky also argued that members of the Left were wrong to dismiss the domino theory out of hand. As stated by Cold Warriors it might not measure up to the facts, but there was another formulation which did indeed make sense: that it was U.S. foreign policy, rather than Russian expansionism, that had knocked over the dominoes.

Pages 4-5. To start from the end, that's not a bad characterization of Chomsky, in my opinion. To begin with, he's a scientist, and he's not afraid to turn definitions upside down. That account reminds me of the story in one of Richard Feynman's books about Murray Gell-Mann: Gell-Mann came up with an explanation as to why all electrons are the same mass and charge - they're all the same electron. (Positrons, like all anti-matter, may be matter traveling back in time - whatever that may mean.) Gell-Mann may not always have been right; he may have been, on occasion, a nut - but he was always fertile. Chomsky is much the same. Arguing against him is an education.
The real purpose of this post - and why it's a personal statement - is to challenge Marco on this
You cannot oppose the genocide in Sudan, or the Islamists in Iraq, if you oppose 'Western intervention'....

Never mind that others have noted that 'Islamists' are more visible (and probably more numerous) in Iraq than they were under Saddam (ie - before 'Western intervention'), I wish to say that I don't oppose 'Western intervention' as simply as that. This is the sort of thing my simple mind can only approach crab-wise by analogy. This is my best effort (so far). Generally, I'm against violence. I don't think anyone should hit anyone else unless they were hit first. But that doesn't mean I don't support the police if they forcibly detain a (supposed) rapist (say). Interventions, in certain circumstances, may be for the best. As to Iraq, I presently think the following (among other stuff): America has oil interests, Iraq has oil, I don't believe the invasion was altruistic at all; the invasion looked like payback or revenge for Gulf War I - and I regard revenge as a very bad reason in itself; an intervention should have an end in view - bad as I agree Saddam was, the Iraq fiasco looks worse to me.
In short, I don't oppose 'Western intervention' as a rule. Most of the time, I think it's craven or silly or driven by the sort of idiot who ordered the Charge of the Light Brigade. But I won't say that it's wrong in principle. I believe (as I think Robin Cook did) in the UN. I also believe in consensus. If you can convince the UN (where the representatives are well educated and independently minded people, mostly) of a case, it's fairly likely to be right. If you have to lie, spin, or whatever, and then ignore the verdict ... you're on your own. (Daniel Davies made this point very well.) BTW, not supporting the Invasion in 2003 does not mean not supporting Western intervention. The West (as represented by Bill Clinton) was intervening in Iraq.

15 Comments:

Blogger ejh said...

It's also possible, for instance to oppose Western intervention as a rule (which I would) but not to do so in all circumstances. Which might be a rickety position - very easy for the "rule" to become purely notional and the circumstances always to be found - but most non-dogmatic positions are rickety to a degree.

There is a good point being made about the far left, from whence I came and where part of me still resides, which is that they do put a strong emphasis on principles and that they don't run away when they're under pressure or a cause becomes unpopular. That's a value, and a good one: but just as a willingness to compromise can easily be a tendency to trim (or hide) when the going gets tough, so an unwillingness to do so can be a failure to see when you've ended up in a place you would never have wanted to be in. It's happened to people on the left any number of times: it's happened now to the ex-leftists who've turned themselves into professional interventionists and heresy-hunters.

11/10/2007 09:07:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

What's interesting about Chomsky is that he analyses International Politics dispassionately *, and this is something that's often missed. He may be wrong about a number of things, but its not because of any innate sympathy for any particular party. Rather, its because his axioms are wrong. This is actually pretty rare. Most people who argue about international politics argue emotionally (America is the big bad bully/wonderful place, etc), which is hardly surprising because that's how our brains work. It takes training and practice to approach problems as Chomsky does.

What this means is that when people attack Chomsky as an apologist for Saddam/Milosevic/HoChiMinh - they're actually projecting. If they held his views it would be because it was an emotionally derived position.

(*) Which is not to say that he's unemotional, merely that he's learnt how to analyse situations unemotionally.

11/10/2007 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Martin Wisse said...

Apropos of nothing, have y'all seen the Nick Cohen/Conor Foley dustup in the Observer today?

11/11/2007 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

holy shit!

11/11/2007 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

as usual this is from unreliable memory, but wasn't fenton a member of the ISG, the international socialist group (sometimes "party"?) that would later become the SWP?

maybe i'm just assuming this because hitchens was (and i can't see long-standing triumviracy surviving memberships of rival trot-salad factions)

11/11/2007 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Wow, reading Nick's piece is a little like watching the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London, if Nick had been bitten by Melanie Philips rather than a lycanthrope.

It's an insight into the fevered mind - Nick is unimpressed that the police were dressed down for breaching health and safety regulations in the De Menezes case.

Hence, H&S is a wussy affectation of the brie-eating classes that is hurting the war effort, and must be dispensed with.

Is it just me, or is there a pattern forming? International law, human rights, the prohibition of torture - all of them babies Nick would like to hurl out with the bathwater. I wonder, is there anything Nick wouldn't consider expendible?

11/11/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

"I wonder, is there anything Nick wouldn't consider expendible?"

The right of the "middle classes"(1) to buy nice houses in central London

(1) Middle classes defined as those earning 100K or more a year.

11/11/2007 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous matt w said...

If I may go completely off-topic, is this Janice Turner person a known crazy, or do ordinary mild-mannered columnists occasionally just go off into nasty anti-Muslim bigotry in their last four paragraphs?

11/11/2007 04:57:00 PM  
Anonymous matt w said...

Perhaps that is more on topic with the general subject of the blog in that it includes Hitchens' discussion of the removal of his pubic hair. Personally I think that current supporters of the Bush Administration should be a bit less free with the torture jokes.

11/11/2007 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

"Rather than"?

11/11/2007 05:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I think Fenton was in International Socialists, the SWP-forerunner - the ISG is different. (Yeah, I know.)

11/11/2007 11:19:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

for years i had a handy photocopy of a genealogy of the fourth international and its discontents, from new statesman in the mid-80s -- now that i "need" it i can't find it

so far via the medium of the interwebs i've found at least three difft ISGs

"there was an old woman called mrs mccave who had 35 sons and called all of them dave"

11/12/2007 12:05:00 AM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

Twenty-three sons, I thought.

And one of them she wished to have been called "Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face", which is especially fine.

11/12/2007 12:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Naah, this is the ISG. The one I'm talking about, I mean - I don't know about any other ones. The one I know about, though - that's the ISG. You don't want to worry about any other ones.

[Heroically resists temptation to carry on in the same vein]

The one I'm thinking of is the current USFI affiliate; they were in the Socialist Alliance, hung on when RESPECT was formed, hung on in RESPECT and are now hanging on in the claimant to the title that doesn't have the leadership of the SWP in it. So quite different from IS.

11/13/2007 08:25:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

chronicles of unbelievably unimportant gotchas : what i remembered was hitchens saying it was referred to as "the group" -- and it included clr james and raya dunayevskaya

so acc.wiki it was the "socialist review group" which (briefly) became the "international socialisM group" before being the SWP

11/13/2007 09:11:00 PM  

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