Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 17, 2006

The Euston Manifesto

Filed under: antiwar,imperialism/globalization,zionism — louisproyect @ 6:38 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on April 17, 2006

No matter how badly things have turned out in Iraq, there is still a hard core of self-described leftists who continue to wave pom-poms for the war and related imperialist initiatives. One imagines that if the US dropped a nuclear bomb on Baghdad, they would find a way to put a positive spin on the smoking radioactive rubble and millions of dead bodies.

It should be added that these individuals are in an alliance with other leftists who, while offering pro forma opposition to the war, reserve most of their time and energy to castigating the antiwar movement. They are the heirs of what Lillian Hellman referred to as "anti-antifascists" in her memoir "Scoundrel Time."

This loosely knit group has almost no ability to actually move people into action, as the real left does. When they get involved in rallies or demonstrations, the results are generally pathetic such as the actions that took place several months ago on behalf of the Danish government's right to humiliate Muslims. However, through their media connections and a network of like-minded blogs, they maintain a steady drumbeat of support for imperialist war abroad and racism at home.

Their most recent undertaking has been to produce something called the Euston Manifesto (http://eustonmanifesto.org/), a document that will generate much more controversy than actual mobilization. One can't imagine a group of undergraduates at a British or American university becoming inspired to actually *do something* after the fashion of SDS's founding documents in the 1960s. For that matter, the only youth who would seem to be acting on the precepts of Euston are in uniform right now patrolling the streets of Baghdad. Of course, they take their marching orders from the Pentagon and not from professors or journalists.

One of the prime movers behind the Euston Manifesto, which takes its name from location of the London pub where it was conceived, is retired philosophy professor Norm Geras, about whom the London Times had the following to say:

AN OBSCURE Marxist professor who has spent his entire academic life in Manchester has become the darling of the Washington right wing for his outspoken support of the war in Iraq.

Despite his leanings Norman Geras, who writes a blog diary on the internet, has praised President George W Bush and says the invasion of Iraq was necessary to oust the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein.

His daily jottings have brought him the nickname of “Stormin’ Norm” from the title of his diary, Normblog. The Wall Street Journal has reprinted one of his articles in its online edition and American pundits often cite his words.

But the British left has turned on Geras, a veteran of demonstrations against the Vietnam war. He has been denounced as an “imperialist skunk” and a “turncoat” in e-mails to his blog, which has up to 9,000 readers a day.

Most mornings Geras, 61, the author of such obscure books as Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind: The Ungroundable Liberalism of Richard Rorty, sits in the upstairs study of his Edwardian semi in Manchester to type his latest entry.

Last week he gave thanks to Bush, quoting an Iraqi who wants to build a statue to the American president as “the symbol of freedom”.

Full: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1472386,00.html

One of the pro forma antiwar figures endorsing the Euston Manifesto is Marc Cooper, who unabashedly identifies himself as a Nation Magazine contributor while violating practically everything that this bastion of left-liberalism stands for. On www.marccooper.com, you can find a qualified endorsement of the manifesto from the dyspeptic critic of the left: "Even as loose as it currently stands, it's still a bit rigidly 'progressive' for me." It is difficult to imagine what makes Cooper feel this way. Perhaps the declaration that "We uphold the traditional liberal freedom of ideas" was seen as contrary to his own inclination to browbeat or purge any commenter who strays too far to the left on his own blog. One imagines that if Cooper ever got in a position to wield real power, Amnesty International would have its hands filled. (Speaking of which, Amnesty International gets castigated by the Eustonians for having the temerity to link Guantanamo and other such prisons to Stalin's Gulags.)

Most of the Euston Manifesto consists of bromides about the need for "egalitarian politics", "good governance" and "global economic development." Who can be opposed to such things? Since this document is really not about challenging the main obstacle to such noble goals–namely US and British imperialism–there is every reason to suspect that this is mere window-dressing. If such words are meant to gull the innocent, there is little proof that it has succeeded. Just about everybody who has signed the manifesto is a case-hardened anti-Communist or Islamophobe, including the following:

–Kanan Makiya: ex-Trotskyist who is closely connected to Ahmed Chalabi

–Paul Berman: US journalist who spent most of the 1980s promoting the Nicaraguan contras in the pages of the Village Voice, a newsweekly that specializes in tepid liberalism and massage parlor ads.

–John Lloyd: Financial Times writer whose only connection to the left was informing his bourgeois audience how to combat it when he was the paper's East European correspondent.

Such people hardly seem the sort to go out and build support for their cause in the real world. Their role is mainly to provide free public relations (or perhaps paid, judging from the record of Frances Stoner Saunders's "Who Paid the Piper") for the real institutions acting on their beliefs, namely the Pentagon, the IMF and multinational corporations.

Lord knows that such institutions need protection from the blind rage of the non-Euston left. As they put it, "That US foreign policy has often opposed progressive movements and governments and supported regressive and authoritarian ones does not justify generalized prejudice against either the country or its people." Yes, one has to stand guard against the xenophobic mood that gripped the world after it was revealed that the CIA was dragooning people off to secret prisons where they would be tortured for months on end. During that mean-spirited time, it was impossible to sing "America the Beautiful" without getting chased down the street by student radicals agitated by Noam Chomsky's latest pamphlet.

Once you get past the empty generalizations of the Euston Manifesto, you find a number of talking points that keep coming up on blogs like "Harry's Place." We are warned that anti-Zionism leads to anti-Semitism. We are also told that the antiwar movement must renounce the Iraqi resistance with as much vigor as it denounces US occupation. Of course, such a position has a hoary past. Albert Camus, the ideological inspiration for a number of the Euston signatories, especially Paul Berman, put the French paratroopers and the FLN on the same moral plane since they both used violence. Needless to say, one could have respected Camus if for no other reason that he put his life on the line during the Nazi occupation of France when he published an underground newspaper. But the Eustonians have more in common with the Vichy collaborators that Camus sought to overthrow rather than with Camus himself.

12 Comments »

  1. I suggest sabotage–see the entry under ‘Justus Streicher’ in the ‘Signers’ section. There’s another one (‘Leftist Warmonger’) but without the commentary.

    Comment by Poulod — April 17, 2006 @ 7:10 pm

  2. Yeah, I tried that already myself but I wasn’t subtle enough. I signed it “Paul Wolfowitz”.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 17, 2006 @ 7:11 pm

  3. Dammit–Julius. Let’s pretend it was a pun.

    Comment by Poulod — April 17, 2006 @ 7:14 pm

  4. And ‘Augusto Pinochet’–let’s see how Cooper likes that.

    Comment by Poulod — April 17, 2006 @ 7:21 pm

  5. Great post detailing the commitments of key individual signers. I think we are overdue for a War on Terror version of Frances Stonor Saunders’ Who paid the piper: The CIA and the cultural cold war, that would detail the funding of ‘intellectuals’ like Hitchens et al. and their paying masters.

    Comment by hollowentry — April 17, 2006 @ 8:36 pm

  6. I think these people have to be related to a specific tendency in British history and the history of the British left: my take is here:
    http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2006/04/peculiarities-of-pro-war-left.html

    Comment by Scott — April 18, 2006 @ 12:44 am

  7. I don’t know if you noticed, I dropped the Hitchens reference from my blog header. I think he is actually looking for a way out of his support for the invasion. He has recently done posts on the Huff and Puff blog.

    I think the war the signers of that document are talking about, is different than what is on the ground.

    If support for the Kurdish was sincere, wouldn’t a plebiscite on Kurdish statehood, be one of the first tasks, the coalition would have done?

    They don’t talk about how the coalition divides Iraqis by religion, nationality etc. Hitch calls it a war for secularism.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — April 18, 2006 @ 5:03 am

  8. Reading the seemingly endless commentary from Nick Cohen, Oliver Kamm etc. on why the Iraq war is a just war, one striking thing is the amount of ‘me me me’ going on at all times. It’s amazing how often this repetitive stuff about the sour inter-personal relations between the pundits and the anti-war left features in these articles. Hollowentry’s reference to Francis Stonor Saunders has good journalistic instincts – ‘follow the money’ – but it’s also apparent that most of these pundits are looking for their own ‘Kronstadt moment’ to explain their support for the war.
    Going from memory, I recall a Malcolm Cowley memoir about how seeing his ex-comrades failing to hold a door open for a pregnant woman led to his break with the CPUSA. The comment in the UK press/blogs has been similarly self-obsessed. For instance, this week (April 13) Nick Cohen even tells us ‘I’ve taken a short break from finishing the book to save the Left from itself, a task which feels harder than saving the planet at the moment.’ Such herculean efforts!

    Whatever its political faults, the Euston Manifesto is at least written in a way that avoids the usual narcissism of its supporters.

    Comment by Graham — April 18, 2006 @ 8:54 am

  9. Lloyd does have a connection to the left, albeit an odd and sectarian one. I’m pretty sure he was associated with the British and Irish Communist Organization in the very distant past

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_and_Irish_Communist_Organisation

    and then, later, with some incredibly obscure Maoist/Althusserian theoretical journal of which the name escapes me. He may also have been a member of the CPGB in its “Marxism Today” phase.

    Comment by Chris Bertram — April 18, 2006 @ 2:02 pm

  10. John Lloyd was in BICO? Hmmm. Interesting.

    I am familiar with 2 other people who were in this group. One was the late Bill Warren, who made a name for himself writing books and articles claiming that capitalism played a progressive role in the 3rd world. He was quite controversial. The other is Paul Cockshott, who has written extensively about computers and socialism and more generally about Marxist theory with his writing partner Allin Cottrell. Cockshott is on Marxmail but posts infrequently.

    BICO also had the position that Irish nationalism was reactionary and that Protestants and Catholics should unite and fight the British. Typical dogmatic stuff that came out of the Maoist movement in the 60s and 70s.

    Given this background, I can completely understand why Lloyd would have ended up where he is.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 18, 2006 @ 2:11 pm

  11. The B&ICO split in 1974 over the issue of whether there was a parliamentary road to socialism. The anti-parliamentarians formed COBI, the pro parliamentary roaders stayed in b&ICO. Lloyd was in the pro parliamentary road faction if I recall. I had been persuaded to join the B&ICO by Maisels in 73 in the hope of opposing the parliamentary road group, and left with the COBI people who were Boriguists.

    Comment by Paul Cockshott — August 31, 2006 @ 2:31 pm

  12. […] poem that an agonizing moralist or a muscular liberal, a fan of Hitchens or a signatory of the Euston Manifesto, might sympathize with. But they could never write the line “I am afraid of my fear” […]

    Pingback by What to do about Syria | a paper bird — April 18, 2014 @ 12:24 pm


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