Monday, April 17, 2006

The Euston Manifesto

If you read this, I assume that you read the other blogs that travel in the same orbit as this so this is old news to you. But in case anyone is unaware, the full text of the Manifesto is here.

I've opted to sign. While there are one or two points I disagree with and others that are so vague it is impossible to say whether one disagrees or not, there is much more that resembles what I believe. And I understand that one is not signing to a finished work, neither is it one that demands complete adherence on every detail.

In particular, I welcomed the central importance given to political democracy. This is not based on the belief that our present examples of representative democracy represent some completed work of human progress; only that this form of governance has proved itself historically to be more congenial to the human condition than the alternatives - and that further, that the differences between the two are not insignificant and should not be trivialised.

Moreover, it expresses my belief that a significant proportion of the left made a historic mistake in backing the anti-democratic models of socialism as represented by the experiments in Stalinist Russia and Maoist China and that further, a similarly significant proportion of the left is making the same mistake in aligning itself today with the forces of clerical absolutism. In relation to this, the Manifesto's rejection of any totalising ideology is also particularly welcome.

Some of the responses to the Manifesto is the blogosphere have been predictable as they are intemperate and most are scarcely worth the courtesy of rational disagreement. But a couple of points raised by calmer critics are worth dealing with. First amongst these are those raised by Mike Marquesse in the Guardian's 'comment is free'. Mr Marquesse, whilst agreeing with much of the document, takes issue with what he interprets as an unjustified side-swipe at the anti-war left:
"In the first place, there's the dishonesty of treating the Socialist Workers' party and Respect as the totality of the left or the anti-war movement. One of the problems with the "line" they wish to draw is that it obliterates the existence of much of the actual left: which is diverse and predominantly anti-authoritarian. Huge numbers of people found no difficulty in opposing the war and the regime of Saddam Hussein...

While I have no doubt that this may represent in all honesty the position that Mr Marquesse took, my own experience was and is that those "huge numbers" capable of sustaining these positions simultaneously were conspicuous by their absence but in any event, my understanding of the Manifesto is that it does not exclude those who honestly took this position but rather those who find something 'progressive' in the actions of clerical-fascist movimentos.

Dave Osler criticises the Manifesto from a different perspective. He is uncomfortable with the notion of reaching beyond the socialist church to those of a liberal disposition:
"But the Euston Manifesto crowd have equally lost sight of what makes socialism different from liberalism with knobs on. So they style themselves ‘democrats and progressive’ seeking to ‘reach out beyond the socialist left to egalitarian liberal’ and even to the democratic right.

There are plenty of historical examples of others who have tried similar tactics, and the outcomes haven't been good ones, either. This is not the place to rehearse the standard Trotskyist critique of popular frontism."
He goes on to use the example of support for the Soviet Union, which hardly fits the criterion set in the previous sentences. I rather wish he had rehearsed the "standard Trotskyist critique of popular frontism" and enumerated the historical examples he is alluding to. And I'm left wondering if he finds nothing progressive in the co-operation of British socialists in the Labour Party and trades union movement that have in the 20th century co-operated on various occasions with liberals such as Manyard Keynes and Beveridge to create the welfare state and with the liberal FDR and the conservative Winston Churchill to defeat fascism in Europe.

In contrast, and contra-Dave Osler, the achievements of those who have sought to retain the purity of the socialist faith in perpetual opposition have been insignificant historically with regards to the welfare of ordinary working people.

The pursuit of doctrinal purity has at its base the belief in the possibility of cognitive infallibility and this is another fallacy the Manifesto rejects and if it were for no other reason, this alone would be enough for me to commend the Euston document to you.

As for the charge of pomposity, self-importance and irrelevance - this is a pointless criticism that could be levelled at anyone who has sat behind a computer and presumed to inflict their opinions on all and sundry. This is what the blogosphere is for, is it not?

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