Friday, May 09, 2003


We are faced here with a political, moral, and intellectual collapse of the old left, and with the cumulative result that the “left” no longer knows quite what its own identity is. How and why has this happened?

Isn’t it that much of the left, or more accurately the pseudo-left, no longer defines itself positively, in terms of what it is for? No longer measures political organisations, classes and regimes by how they relate to what we ourselves fight for?

Instead, the “left” defines itself negatively, by what it is against. It is against capitalism. Against imperialism. Against America. It is on the side of whomever at any given moment is against them — on the side, even, of those who are worse. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was certainly worse.

Of course socialists could not have had any confidence in, or given support to, the US and Britain. But still less could we give anything like support to the quasi-fascist regime in Baghdad.

Again and again the post-USSR left — the pseudo-left, the fake left - lets itself be pushed by its antagonism to the dominant powers into supporting worse. If going for “the best” can sometimes be the enemy of going for the merely better, here opposition to the bad, to the enemy at home, to the immediate enemy, becomes, again and again, support for the worse overseas!

It happened in the Afghan war of 2001, when in antagonism to the Americans Socialist Worker let itself half-apologise for the Afghan Taliban regime’s treatment of women (6 October 2001).

Most terribly, it happened in 1999 with the Balkans war. Opposition to “imperialism” — to one imperialism — led the fake left to line up with the primitive Serbian imperialism at the point where it was trying to sweep Kosova clean of its Albanian population (90% of Kosovars).

Never mind the unproven charge that George Galloway took money from Saddam Hussein. Socialists, or even half-decent liberals, who do not feel embarrassed by the things George Galloway admits to, who do not feel shame at having had Tariq Aziz’s Christmas house guest on their anti-war platforms — those socialists have lost the plot. To call them socialists without some qualifying adjective like “fake” is now an abuse of language..

Regular readers may have gathered by now that I am not (and never have been) a big fan of the Trotskyite groups on the fringes of the British left. But sometimes you have to give credit where it is due. This powerful denunciation of the Defend George Galloway campaign and the majority of the Stop the War brigade comes from the publication Workers Liberty. It is worth reading it all. It is proof that not all of the marxist left has lost the plot.

posted by BA on 3:37 PM link

Rosie Kane, newly-elected Trotskyist member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow and Geri Halliwellalike has stated in her acceptance speech that she hoped "parliament is going to become a bit like the Big Brother House, and people are going to watch it to see what's happening...they're going to be amazed at all the madness and craziness that's going to happen in there"

I thought the purpose of a parliament was to debate policy and pass laws for the benefit of the people but I'm obviously a product of my repressive oatcake-munching Calvinist background. I should get "with it" Scottish Socialist Party style and dig the madness and craziness...

posted by marcus on 1:12 PM link

Are American newspapers really so dull that people feel the need to pay webloggers to keep them entertained?

According to Andrew Sullivan, 4,500 people have given him cash as thanks for him exposing the communist conspiracy at the BBC and getting indignant at liberals the world over. Now he is trying to tempt his readers into forking out $20.00 for an email. Wierd.

posted by BA on 9:36 AM link
"The world is living through a series of never-ending and incredibly quick changes. Shouting 'peace, peace' at a time when there is war around us, is like going to a hospital and shouting 'health! health!' " Giovanni Lindo Ferretti, Italian communist and punk rock singer explaining why he refused to provide a song for an anti-war CD.

posted by BA on 7:28 AM link

Thursday, May 08, 2003

"The bourgeoisie may not be ready at this point to resort to “pogroms” or “civil war” in Britain, but there are lesser weapons of a similar type in its arsenal. Hence the Galloway witch-hunt, straight out of the McCarthyite stable" Weekly Worker, May 8, 2003

posted by BA on 3:02 PM link

Now and then I check the stats for this weblog to see how many people are reading and, more interestingly, how on earth they found out about it. The vast majority of traffic is generated by other blogs linking here but in second place is of course the search engine - overwhelmingly Google.

It can be quite an eye-opener to find out what key word searches have brought up Harry's Place. The most common search, which appears every day, is a search for Harry Hatchet or Harry Steele (RIP). That suggests to me that there is a degree of word of mouth still operating. But there are some fascinating random results.

The most popular are names - just before the war a lot of people came here to find Iraqi student Rania Kashi's pro-intervention email which Tony Blair referred to in one of his setpiece pre-war speeches. Once war was underway Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, who gave that memorable eve of battle pep-talk, brought plenty of surfers this way although those who were searching for pictures must have been disappointed. Suffice to say I suspect the Colonel has alternative career options.

But the biggest war search that delivered results was "pro+war+arguements" - proving not that I am a major source of opinion on the Iraqi war but merely that I am one of hundreds who constantly spell argument wrong.

Still lots of people came looking for the views of Johann Hari and Nick Cohen - and at least in that respect I think they found the click worthwhile.

There were some rather odd war searches though - "pictures of dead soldiers" seemed to pop up with disturbing regularity as did "pictures of dead Iraqis" - as the Americans say - I don't want to go there.

However the oddest search has to be "my first wank" which has now appeared several times on the radar. Sadly I failed google again - the youngsters in search of answers to those never-to-be-asked questions had to look elsewhere, unless they really wanted to read the views of David Aaronovitch.

posted by BA on 2:36 PM link
I really should have recommended Jackie's weblog Au Currant weeks ago - after all I am a regular reader and she frequently pops up in the comment boxes here and kindly links to items she finds of interest. Jackie is an American living in the UK and she doesn't like being pigeonholed so I'll avoid trying to place here on the political spectrum.

She has intelligent things to say so that's good enough for me and anyway it seems most of us in the Brit blogosphere don't fit easily into the left-right spectrum - an entirely natural state of affairs at the moment I reckon.

A more recent discovery is Matrix Essays - which is, as the title suggests, a collection of musings on the intellectual qualities of the Matrix films. I'm not a huge sci-fi fan but I was fascinated by the first Matrix and I am looking forward to the second film. I reckon it has far more potential for intellectual masturbation than Star Trek as this blog proves superbly.

posted by BA on 1:52 PM link
Now this really is a test of whether you still belong to the good old British old left:

Chris Binding in the Guardian reports enthusiastically about a political/cultural event called 'Left Field'.

Groups of like-minded people gathering to drink beer and debate the great issues of the day are nothing new. Since the earliest days, dreamers, radicals and revolutionaries alike have gathered and plotted how to change their world. Some even have. And where better than to air radical thoughts in the 21st century than the Glastonbury festival?

Ah yes, the mud, the piss, the hippies. Erm, I can think of a few better places Chris. Tuscany perhaps? A Greek island? Baghdad? Burnley?

Enter LeftField. The initiative made its debut at last year's festival in a modest way. The LeftField tent provided a place for debate, education and even enlightenment, where people could discuss a range of ideas, and form a voice of protest against unfairness of all kinds.

Ok maybe that still has some sort of appeal, although I must say I prefer my response to unfairness of all kinds to be dressed up a bit more in terms of solutions than 'forming a voice of protest' but let's see who is going to be 'educating' and even 'enlightening' us in the beer tent.......

Plans for the weekend include a special Joe Strummer tribute session with guest musicians and Clash footage, including previously unseen film of Joe's last gig, comedy sets will include appearances from Mark Thomas and Mark Steel, and there will be a special appearance by festival favourite Billy Bragg.

I see. Well I like Billy Bragg but I think I certainly can live without a video-tribute to a dead public schoolboy-turned-psuedo-anarcho-punk and as for the SWP's in-house 'comedians', well the only thing Mark Steel has enlightened me about is how sad his audience are if they manage to whoop and cheer at his ultra-left Jim Davidson routine. I think the combination of alcohol and Trot comedy is best not experimented with. But yes, indeed, what about the alcohol?

A separate tent will house a bar serving fairly-traded beer from the Workers Beer Company (happy hour is 6pm-8pm), but if you fancy something rather more exotic, there are radical cocktails available with names like Che Guevara and Lefthook.

Sorry, what decade are we living in? Che Guevara cocktails? I'm sure there will be one with strawberry and vodka called 'Red Revolution', and can you guess what ingredients you need to make a 'Gorgeous George'? And what is fairly-traded beer? Its one pound and forty pence a pint at my working mens club which I find very fair - I bet they can't beat that at Glastonbury and I doubt they will have pork scratchings either.

But the star of the weekend for many young people will be Tony Benn, whose debut at LeftField last year attracted 2,000 people. The veteran MP has amassed a huge following among young people who have tuned in to his passionate beliefs and commitment to left of centre causes.

Well he is a former MP for a start Chris. He left parliament to "concentrate on politics" which sadly has consisted of slandering Iraqi opposition groups and doing a made-for-tv, soft focus, 'grandad-to-grandad' interview with Saddam. But hey, if that makes you hip with the kids.....

Except that the man himself has a different interpretation of why he has struck a chord with the young. "I've got Ali G to thank for that," he said.

Of course, that great moment in television history when a Jewish comedian pretending to be a stereotyped black 'yoof' tv presenter duped an ageing former politician into an embarassing fake interview about 'bitches' - public service television apparently.

"When I saw the video I realised how hilarious the whole thing was. I think I became sort of cool then."

Oh dear, Tony, we might have liked your politics once upon a time but politicians really never are 'cool'. Never. Remember Kinnock in that Tracey Ullman video? But go on then, what is on offer from Comrade Wedgewood-Benn in the beer tent?

Tony Benn will be appearing with his musical partner Roy Bailey in a performance called Writings On The Wall. "I'll be reading passages from a book I edited containing radical sayings from the last 500 years, and Roy brings in some politically-based songs. I don't sing myself, you'll be glad to know." Last year the pair were given the Best Live Act award by the BBC.

Were they? Does Andrew Sullivan know?

I don't know about you but I think I've failed the test. Joe Strummer, Mark Steel, Che Guevara cocktails, Fair Workers' Flat Southern Beer and Tony Benn being cool - I don't think its going to work for me.

Perhaps it is time for an alternative social event for former members of the old left? LeftOut anyone?

We could have a great line up - Alexi Sayle could do the comedy, the CEO of Unilever could provide the nosh, Shakin Stevens and Scritti Politti could do the 'sounds', Charlie Whelen and John Reid could do the politics and that's just with former Communist Party members. Oh yes, we can all play at this eighties nostalgia thing.

posted by BA on 6:39 AM link

For those of you who have been used to Harry's Place being a one man operation and were startled by my initial post I should introduce myself.

Like Harry my political roots are in the left though this does not stop me from despairing at the recent sheep-like state of thinking on the left which I intend to challenge on this site where neccessary. I haven't been active politically for over a decade because (a) I was busy working as a corporate litigation lawyer in the City, and (b) the left has lost much sense of strategic and ideological direction over recent decades. At the risk of stating the obvious I consider the two most important events in recent political history are the collapse of the socialist regimes in Europe and the 9/11 attacks on the US.

Where the fall-out from these two events will lead us is still not clear. When asked, in the 1950's about the political consequences of the French Revolution, Zhou en Lai the Chinese Prime Minister said "It's too early to tell". I have some sympathy for his position but don't believe we have the luxury of such a delayed response. What I do know is that sizable sections of the British Left are acting as if neither event happened. This has to change or the Left will go the way of the great auk.

I don't claim to have hard and fast answers to anything but hope joining the debate here at Harry's Place will be the start of something interesting. I share similar views to Harry on certain questions but will try and bring my own particular experience and views to world politics as they unfold.

posted by marcus on 3:25 AM link

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

As someone who could, until earlier this year, have been persuaded either way about the legitimacy and desirability of the recent Iraq war I decided to explore the "tests for a just war " which certain anti-war protestors raised before the war actually began. George Monbiot, the apocalyptic Guardian columnist, listed the conditions he would want to see satisfied before he could support an intervention in this article published in November 2002.

In the article he wrote "it is not difficult to conceive of a just war against Iraq" and listed the following five tests which needed to be satisfied before he could give his blessing to such a war:

1. If the purpose of the attack was to replace Saddam with a democratic government

2. If less violent means of doing so had been exhausted

3. If it was legal

4. If the attacker was a nation with no recent record of expansionism and foreign aggression with no special interest in Iraq's resources

5. If the political class of the aggressor was not talking of a "new imperium"

With the benefit of hindsight we can state that the first condition is well on the way to being satisfied despite the fact that "regime change" was not the most important official rationale for the war (or even an officially sanctioned rationale).

As far as the second test is concerned less violent methods of overthrowing Saddam are an obvious non starter because free and fair elections have never been a feature of Iraq's recent history. Regime change in Iraq has always involved violence.

The "legality" of the war is certainly debatable but Monbiot appears naive when he quotes without comment the "unequivecol" opinion of a lawyer instructed by CND at Matrix Chambers that the war would be illegal without a further UN resolution. As someone who has instructed barristers over the last five years I should state that "they would say that". Lawyer's make a living by advocating their client's cases. If the UK government had instructed rival chambers for an opinion on the legality of a war the liklihood is that they would have got a very different result. Indeed I understand that Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, did come to a different conclusion. I have seen arguments for and against the legality of the war and neither are without their own particular weaknesses.

That being the case with our learned friends, what about the realpolitik angle ? Monbiot would only support a war if the aggressor had "no special interests in Iraq's resources". This would tend to rule out any potential candidate as we all have an interest in the smooth running of the world economy. Perhaps even the potential aggressors of the Nelson Mandela Rainbow Liberation Alliance would have to admit that they wanted the minimum disruption to oil production as much for the sake of the ordinary Iraqi as any of the rest of us. I'm not sure what Monbiot means when he states that the potential aggressor against Iraq should not have any recent "form" as regards expansionism. As far as I'm aware neither the US, Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland or Australia have been expanding recently but perhaps George could clarify that particular point. "Foreign aggression" is a movable feast and could be argued to rule out all the countries who participated in Kosovo. One gets the feeling that this particular test was designed specifically to exclude any country with armed forces with any possibility of defeating the Iraqi army. Just how keen would Switzerland be to take on the Republican Guard if all the other candidates for the job were eliminated because they were too rough ?

The last test is the most silly. George was obviously running out of valid tests by this point. It doesn't matter what someone says, it matters what they do. Just because some member of the US administration misuses Latin in a throwaway and innapropriate remark doesn't mean the US army is going to emulate Julius Ceaser and turn up at the white cliffs of Dover. If history is any judge the US likes to effect regime change and then get the hell out of a country as soon as is feasible (see Germany and Japan which weren't forced into joining the Imperial Federation of Expansionist Amerika or whatever the conspiract theorists want to call it). The Americans don't historically like sending their men out to "foreign" fights - witness how long it took to get them in the first and second world wars and consider also that the default policy of Republican administrations is "a humble foreign policy".

The Humble Foreign Policy however has been put on hold and everyone knows this is a direct result of the attacks on the US on 9/11. These attacks marked a very important turning-point in world history, one that I am keen to explore further on this website in the future. Before I do so I want to know if George Monbiot has changed his mind about the war in light of the above facts.

posted by marcus on 2:47 PM link
How did it take so long for this point to be made about Dalyell's recent comments?

As it happens, George Bush's cabinet is the first in decades not to include a single Jewish member. The result is that those bent on sniffing out Jewish influence have to go to the second, third and fourth rungs of the administration to find it. Among the neocons the heavyweights are not Jewish: they are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Some other good points made by Jonathan Freedland in his Guardian article, particularly in reference to the now wide-spread use of 'zionist' as a codeword for Jew.

But it's worth wondering if that distinction cuts much ice at street level - where anti-Jewish incidents in Britain have gone up by 75% compared with the equivalent period last year. If Zionists are constantly accused of having dual loyalties, of wielding untold power, of pursuing a secret agenda to reshape the world, all classic charges long hurled at the Jews, then one has to wonder whether one is hearing the same racist slur now voiced by Tam Dalyell - just expressed less openly.

There have been a few voices on the left, such as Workers Liberty , who have been willing to condemn the rise of a new form of anti-semitism, dressed up as 'anti-zionism' and loudly proclaimed by the likes of the (British) Socialist Workers Party. Dalyell is proof that such thinking is much more widespread than people might like to think.

posted by BA on 2:24 AM link

The East German 'people's car' might have a future yet.

posted by BA on 2:17 AM link

Tuesday, May 06, 2003


What better way to brighten up a blog than to bring in a new blogger? You'll meet him here soon and I hope you find his comments and reading suggestions to be stimulating.

I think it is fairer to let him do his own introduction, suffice to say that the new voice on Harry's Place is an old friend who I frequently discuss politics with. That doesn't mean of course that I am going to agree with everything he says here (wouldn't that be a bit dull?) but I am confident he will bring much to the debate on this weblog and hopefully to cross-blog discussions.

I'll leave the rest to him.............

posted by BA on 3:40 PM link

Chris Bertram asks what pro-war lefties like myself have to say about the lack of WMD's found yet in Iraq. I'm late in responding to his question but in short my reply is this - it is simply too soon to say they don't exist. I broadly agree with the comments Stephen Pollard makes to Chris on the issue.

posted by BA on 3:18 PM link

George Galloway has been suspended from the Labour Party. He was believed to be the king of hearts on Tony Blair's playing card collection of rebel MP's.

Anyone know what Tam Dalyell's ranking is?

posted by BA on 3:08 PM link

British Spin
Tom Watson
Stephen Pollard
Nick Barlow
Paul Anderson
Matthew Turner
Jeff Jarvis

Vox Politics
Conservative Commentary
Slugger O'Toole
Public Interest
Emily Jones
Edge of England's Sword
Au Currant
Natalie Solent
Brendan O'Neill
Look Back in Anger
Cinderella Bloggerfeller
Matt Welch