Monday, May 22, 2006

Duff and Euston

David Duff has a couple of posts up about the Euston Manifesto here and here. Maybe I should follow his example and break up this response up because the first thing one can say about his criticisms is they are considerably more rational and thoughtful than much of what has been coming out of the so-called left* and as such they deserve a proper response.

The first point to take issue with is the idea that the Manifesto represents a private squabble between Respect/SWP and 'NuLabour'. I'll confine myself to the observation that one of the purposes of the Manifesto is to counter a view that we believe to be held in circles that extend some way beyond these political equivalents of the Jehovah's Witnesses. This is certainly my understanding of the situation and, moreover, I say this as someone who is no great fan of the neoliberal 'modernisation' agenda that is New Labour.

The more substantive point he raises is the idea that the Manifesto commits the signer to advocating 'regime-change' across the board because unless one accepts a certain degree of realpolitik, this is the implication of supporting regime-change in Afghanistan and Iraq. I assume he is referring here to point 10, which states a belief in a 'new internationalism'. Here David repeats the idea that the signatories to the Manifesto all supported the invasion of Iraq, which they did not.

This stems, perhaps, from his misunderstanding of the concept of 'regime-change'. It is an interesting mistake because it inadvertently highlights one of the key divergences from genuinely conservative - as opposed to neoconservative - political thought. For the former, order is the first virtue of the state and the inherent scepticism from which this position flows is likely to be highly dubious about any changes to a situation where political order is held to exist. It's worth remarking at this stage the extent to which this essentially conservative idea was co-opted by those claiming to belong to the left.

But for the broad church of the centre-left, when confronted with dictatorships, 'regime-change' has always been part of its political standpoint. However - and this cannot be stressed enough - this unequivocally does not mean that support for an invasion necessarily follows from this. This is why the 'Eustonites', as David calls us, have amongst our members people who did not support the invasion of Iraq. 'Regime-change' simply does not equal 'invasion' and those who have argued since 2003 that this concept is a euphemism for military intervention are simply unfamiliar with some of the basic terminology of comparative politics. For example, I've recently argued that while regime-change in Iran would be highly desirable - I would be unable to support any American attempt to impose this with military force.

The Manifesto does stand for internationalism, which by definition rejects the notion that the 'sovereignty' of the nation-state is absolutely sacrosanct but that is a different matter. Here also we could note the essentially conservative arguments put forward by some of the antiwar left. While it is we who are accused variously of 'my country right or wrong' jingoism, or most absurdly of supporting 'ethnic nationalism', it is surely those who believe that the 'resistance' in Iraq are entitled to use 'any means necessary' who have made the integrity of the nation-state the supreme value - the altar on which all other considerations can be sacrificed?

On David's question as to whether democracy is always preferable to tyranny, I'll follow his example and leave this for another day.

*So far the prize for the most insane I've seen goes to someone calling themselves 'Brendan' in HP's comments who argued that the Euston Manifesto is a conspiracy to keep Blair in power long enough for him to bomb Iran.

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