Friday, April 11, 2008

Nick Goes Green

Only kidding. Nick's blog has a piece he published in Swedish magazine Axess, Vänster om, höger om (Left turn, right turn). It's mostly recycled stuff which we've gone over before. You'd think before he wrote about the history of the Left again, he might have a wee word with, say, Norman Geras, who might just know a little bit about the subject.

FROM the 1880s to the 1980s, socialism defined what it meant to be left wing. European leftists aruged about what socialism meant. Russian, Chinese and the poor world socialists murdered each other in disputes about what socialism meant.

Nick's degree was a PPE, wasn't it? Surely 'left wing' is the adjective of the noun 'socialism' so the first sentence carries no information. And what he means by the second and third sentences is "In non-socialist countries, ink was spilled over the interpretation of socialism; in supposedly 'socialist' ones, the governments killed people." Stalin, Mao, etc killed peasants who were generally too poorly educated to argue about the meaning of abstract political ideologies and too poor to care as well as fellow intellectuals and former comrades. When "socialists murdered each other" it was almost always in power struggles which would be familiar to readers of Niccolo Machiavelli; it's always about who gets to be the boss man, not which end you open your eggs. The left in Britain, which is the only part I'm remotely qualified to talk about, has always kept its distance from the murderous dictatorships. The British Labour Party, and for that matter the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Trots, have been clear that the society they were looking to create would be very little like Russia or China.

Move forward into the 21st century and the left has changed beyond recognition. Socialism is dead, destroyed by the terrible crimes of the communists and the success of market economies, most notably in Asia.

Thanks to commenter Paul Flewers on a previous post, I read his The Evil of Banality: Martin Amis Discovers Josef Stalin.

It is quite incorrect to declare that there was ‘no suggestion’ in the 1930s ‘that the [Ukrainian] famine was terroristic’ (p.7). The US journalist William Chamberlin visited the stricken areas in the autumn of 1933, and subsequently stated that famine had been ‘deliberately employed as an instrument of national policy, as the last means of breaking the resistance of the peasantry to the new system of collective farming’ (‘Russia Through Coloured Glasses’, Fortnightly Review, October 1934). Chamberlin, it should be noted, was no penny-a-liner or dilettante dabbler like Amis, but was possibly the most seasoned observer of the Soviet scene of the interwar period.

The Great Leap Forward was in 1958. The Cambodian Killing Fields were in 1975. These were all well known to everyone who read The Guardian. Nick seems to have gone to university a little later. He still managed to be a socialist. These events - which I agree were absolutely terrible - did not kill British or European socialism.

As for the "success of market economies, most notably in Asia" I still think that the best places to live on this planet are parts of Western Europe and Scandinavia - countries with market economies and strong regulatory states. I wouldn't live in South Korea for anything. I'm sure Nick isn't thinking of Japan whose economy, rather than being 'free market' is, according to the CIA Factbook, based on

Government-industry cooperation, a strong work ethic, mastery of high technology, and a comparatively small defense allocation (1% of GDP) helped Japan advance with extraordinary rapidity to the rank of second most technologically powerful economy in the world after the US and the third-largest economy in the world after the US and China, measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis. One notable characteristic of the economy has been how manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors have worked together in closely-knit groups called keiretsu. A second basic feature has been the guarantee of lifetime employment for a substantial portion of the urban labor force. Both features have now eroded.

After that, it all gets too depressing to both with. And we've done much of it before. I'm sure some of you will disagree with the above. B2, you're welcome to step in and correct my economics.


Blogger Nathaniel Tapley said...

As an avid reader of this blog, and someone who finds it a refreshing draught of sense, I hate to disagree with you. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to.

"Surely 'left wing' is the adjective of the noun 'socialism' so the first sentence carries no information."

I'm afraid that this is just patently untrue. Without being facetious, the adjective from 'socialism' is 'socialist'. I hate to agree with Nick Cohen, but the only time when the term 'left-wing' would have been seen to have been roughly analogous to 'socialist' would have been from around 1880 to 1980, when it was the dominant mode of left-wing thought.

Anarchism, mutualism, Chartism, movements of 'national liberation', anti-colonialism, and, more recently, environmentalism and anti-capitalism would all be traditionally described as 'left-wing'. They are not necessarily socialism. Indeed, some (anarchists) could not be.

Socialism is a broad church, but many left-wingers, from the original French left wingers, would never have felt very comfortable in its pews.

4/11/2008 09:45:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Teabag said...

I basically agree with Nathaniel. The noun of which "left wing" is the adjectival form is "left wing".

4/12/2008 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I live in SE Asia, in Hong Kong.

People like Nick Cohen who talk blandly about the "success" of free market economies in Asia don't know what they are talking about. Hong Kong is successful in a very narrow sense, in producing vast amounts of wealth for its elites, but wages for ordinary people are actually flat, there is vast inequality, and there are numerous other problems such as environmental degradation.

As for the internal economy of Hong Kong - its not free market as Nick would imagine it is. It's set up around cartel behavior and there is no competition law. There is limited democracy and minmal workers rights (true of several SE Asian nations).

People in social democratic countries such as Denmark live more balanced and healthier lives, there is reduced inequality in fairer, more democratic societies.

Not bad for countries influenced by the socialism that Nick so despises and thinks is dead.

4/12/2008 03:01:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I suspect, however, that social democracy in the Scandinavian countries hasn't long to live. But it won't die because of the crimes of the Maoists and the Stalinists, it'll die because the affluent classes in those countries don't want to pay for it any more.

There really is something depressing about tis "look! look! millions of people died in the the purges!" stuff, as if we never knew that. Thanks for telling us, Nick. It's perhaps because they knew that already that most socialists in the Eest weren't, in fact, enthusiasts for the USSR - and there really were very few Maoists indeed.

Now it might be that we can be accused of having a relaxed attitude to the presence within our ranks of people who were enthusiasts for these regimes, but so what? What was the alternative? An endless series of expulsions and disassociations at the behest of the likes of Harry's Place? Because a leftwing politics like that would have been so attractive, wouldn't it?

Very occasionally, I intervene in shouting matches on far-left blogs and threads to say something like this:

"Look, comrades, it's all very well denouncing one another, but anybody looking into this argument from outside isn't going to take the time to work out who they think is right. They're just going to decide that you're all a bunch of aggressive persecutory types who hate one another and thery're going to decide there's nothing they'd like to do less than listening to that.

It's not your ideas that are the problem - people won't agree with everything you say, perhaps with very little of it, but the whole point is that you want them to stay and listen. And if you have a screaming, denouncing, exposing style, then the only people who are going to listen are yourselves - and the people who like that sort of thing. Is that really what you want?"

Now my success rate in getting this point heard is roughly equivalent to Gloucestershire's success rate in winning the County Championship, because of course people always respond by saying "no, no, it's the other people who are the problem, we must expose and denounce them" and (of course) "why are you defending them?" So I don't spend very much time making this point, because there are better things to do and not many worse ones.

But prcisely the same thing can be said about Cohen's recent style - shouty, denunciatory, finding apologists and fascists everywhere. Well, who wants to listen to that? Only people who basically enjoy the hounding and denunciation of socialists and peaceniks.

4/12/2008 08:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three thoughts: Firstly, if Nick says the left can longer aim to change society, and its gone all cuddly with the islamists - so what ? If the left is just an impotent fringe , unable to offer positive change or reform, then why hang on to them, why not just join the right (which is after all, what Nick has done)

Secondly, Nick has a "scenario" where he says

" A bomb explodes in Stockholm killing 100 people. Within minutes, the radio is filled with the voices of leftists who blame the Americans, the Israelis and the Swedish government for mass murder. Not one criticises the terrorists or the ideology that motivated them. "
- has Nick simply made up a non existent bombing here ? How desparate are your politics when you have to just make up bomb attacks to justify them.

third, is the Nick Cohen who made a career going on about the PFI, management consultants, privatisation, really saying

"People who say they are on the Left now favour higher rates of taxation and the provision of public services by state monopolies, and are justifiably wary of private corporations and financial markets. Yet when their politicians take power they often turn to the market for solutions to the practical problems of running modern societies. They bring in private businesses to run public services or create a market in education by giving school vouchers to parents.
They are not selling out merely reflecting the true state of parties of the Left in the democratic world, which are everywhere cautious and flexible. They can no longer inspire enthusiasm for vast schemes of state control because they no longer believe in them themselves – and nor do most of their supporters when they are honest with themselves"

- I guess he is

4/12/2008 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bomb explodes in Stockholm killing 100 people. Within minutes, the radio is filled with the voices of leftists who blame the Americans, the Israelis and the Swedish government for mass murder.

Relying on this kind of hypothetical situation is a bit like Martin Amis basing his entire opinion on Islamism on a novella he wrote and then abandoned, isn't it?

and in any case, nothing like what Cohen is hypothesising took place in London on the 7th July. IIRC, the only leftist on the radio minutes after the bombings was bob Crow who, when the widespread idea was that it was a 'power surge', was blaming PPP...

And as the recent trials have shown, one thing is clear - every single person who has tried to launch a terror attack on or from these shores, be they successful or otherwise, has mentioned Iraq. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Cohen and his fellow decents cannot accept that Iraq has anything to do with the ideology that motivated them.

oh and:

If the worst side of the old left was its failure to confront communism, the best was its camaraderie. European socialists supported strangers who shared their values. Today an Iranian feminist, an Iraqi democrat or a Kurdish socialist is highly unlikely to receive solidarity from Europeans who call themselves left wing, particularly if the supposed leftists are middle class intellectuals. At best they will be ignored.

This is utter rubbish isn't it? one of the things Cohen bemoans about 'the left' is a lack of solidarity, but he's just published a book calling anyone who opposed the Iraq War a far-left, terrorist-appeasing 'useful idiot'. I wonder why so few people are going to 'stand together' with him?

We are now in the extraordinary position where liberals consider it ‘left wing’ to argue that the emancipation of women is good for white-skinned women in Europe but not for brown-skinned women in Tehran.

We're not, though, are we? The only people who are in that position exist in Nick Cohen's head.

and to return to my first point:

we are frightened and think it is better to say nothing about the treatment of women, the attacks on freedom of speech, the psychopathic ideologies, medieval hatreds and raging conspiracy theories in case we provoke the killers.

Who is this 'we'? Nick is obviously not included in it, reminding me of Aaro's JC 'we'. The point about provoking the killers is in any case rather undermined by the citation of Iraq in every single martyrdom video by people who wanted to attack Britain or launch attacks from it.

it remains as pitiful a response to Islamism as climate change denial is to global warming. Both sets of deniers believe that we can carry on as before living our safe, consumerist lives as if nothing has changed.

Isn't Nick's general attitude to Green politics to do - er - exactly that?

4/12/2008 04:45:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Nathaniel, thanks for the compliments, though I'm sure it's B2 and the others who are the 'refreshing draught of sense' - I'm just the idiot who hangs out with them. The drummer, as it were.

I see your point, and Larry's, but for me, both 'left-wing' and 'socialist' are words which cover a category of things - the way 'cloven-hoofed' does. Neither is sufficient to define something else. (I have shifted my position a bit, thank you for noticing.)

And, bloody[1] hell, Nathaniel, you've got a lot of blogs. I think my record was 5.

[1]If Catherine Tate can say that on "Doctor Who" I can say that here.

Benjamin, I think you're right. I'll leave it B2 to discuss the particulars. He claims to know about this stuff.

Justin, you're totally right. I mean, _all_ the left-wingers I've known have read some of the literature on the purges, etc. George Orwell said something like "Everything I have written has been in the cause of socialism ..." (though that can't be right, because I can't find the quote via Google) in, I'm sure, the 1940s. Yet he'd criticized the Soviet supported factions in the Spanish Civil War; he went on to write "Animal Farm" which is fairly explicit about the exile of Trotsky. I'm NOT denying the Purges or trying to apologize for them. I do mean that when I used to call myself a socialist I was neither saying "I think Stalin was a great guy" or "I don't believe in any of that mass murder business" but something like "I believe in a political system based on equality which hasn't been properly tried yet."

Also Justin, you'd probably like the leaflet I had a couple of days ago for the Communist candidate in the local elections. It went something like: "You're probably not a communist but you must agree with some of these things - [bullet list of about 20 reasonable points]". That is the right way to play it - IMO, obviously.

Anon - yes I thought all that about Nick's various speculations. I'm sorry to say that I thought "really, I can't be bothered". I don't believe I've ever justified or apologised for the oppression of anyone. I happen not to believe in bombing Iran into female emancipation, but that's not the same thing.

4/12/2008 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In todays Observer Nick tries again to claim David Miliband is standing up for democracy against those awful Saudi's

Here is a picture of Miliband fighting for freedom with the Saudi's

4/13/2008 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I had insomnia last night, largely due to a traumatic chess defeat the previous day, and so at around three in the morning I found myself rereading Darkness At Noon. (This may be because I had a brief encounter with the unlovely David T the previous evening, and I've mentioned before that there's something about the way HP go about their business that reminds me of Rubashov's interrogation by Gletkin.)

It's odd that we don't seem to hear much these days about Koestler's great novel of the Purges and of ends justifying means. You'd have thought it would fit right it with certain elements of the intellectual climate. But perhaps it's because Koestler explicity dedicates his novel to the Old Bolshevik victims of the Purges, rather than saying "well, they too were monsters and murderers from the outset".

Anyway, discussing the campaigns against saboteurs, in whose existence he does not believe, Rubashov at one point refers to "an epidemic of denunciation which revolts me". Indeed, I thought. Indeed.

4/13/2008 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a bit odd, isn't it, that someone who only five years ago was agitating for an invasion that has left quite a large number of people dead (and injured, displaced, refugees and dependent on various types of warlords) should bring up the subject of purges that happened 50 or 80 years ago. Presumably Nick has never considered how Liberal Interventionism is a naive utopian belief that is just as likely to have chaotic results as a naive belief in revolutions. Though Stalin and Mao did at least do the damage to their own countries; Liberal Interventionism wants to carry out high-risk experiments on other countries.


4/16/2008 02:15:00 PM  

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