The anti-war movement disgraced itself not because it was against the war in Iraq, but because it could not oppose the counter-revolution once the war was over. A principled Left that still had life in it and a liberalism that meant what it said might have remained ferociously critical of the American and British governments while offering support to Iraqis who wanted the freedoms they enjoyed. It is a generalisation to say that everyone refused to commit; the best of the old Left in the trade unions and Parliamentary Labour Party supported an anti-fascist struggle regardless of whether they were for or against the war, and American Democrats went to fight in Iraq and returned to fight the Republicans.
But... no one who looked at the liberal-left from the outside could pretend that such principled stands were commonplace.
If the new left of the 21st century is to be a liberal-left worth having, then it must learn from the best of the old traditions. First, it must understand that we are lucky people who have won life's lottery. An accident of birth has given us freedom and the wealth that comes with it. We don't have an obligation to overturn tyranny by military force. But we have no right to turn our backs on those who want the freedoms we take for granted. We have no good cause to scoff at them and make excuses for the men who would keep the knife pressed to their throats. The best reason for offering them support is that we can. We have the freedom to vote, to lobby, to protest, to write and to speak, and there is no point in having freedom unless you use it to a good purpose.
November 11, 2006
What's Left? (2)
Oliver Kamm isn’t the only one who has had a preview of Nick Cohen’s new book, What's Left? How the Liberals Lost their Way, due to be published in February. Norm also has had the opportunity to read the book in draft, and here are the two excerpts he has selected to share with his readers: