These are truly desperate days. “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?” As the world’s greatest democracy prepares to unleash the full might of its military power on the people of Iraq, Mahatma Gandhi’s words have special relevance.
One thing is for sure. The war against Iraq will not be the war to end all wars. It will be followed by others, all fuelled by the insatiable appetite for profits and power. Three years ago, the same forces now planning Shock and Awe were dropping cluster bombs and depleted uranium on civilian targets in Yugoslavia. In 2001, it was the impoverished Afghans’ turn to get the B-52 treatment, with over 5,000 dying in the process.
And two years from now we will no doubt be reading in the Wall Street Journal of the danger Syria poses to world peace and how President Assad is the New Hitler. After that it will be turn of Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Libya.
The neocons and their liberal imperialist allies appear unstoppable. They have hijacked the major parties on both sides of the Atlantic. Large sections of the free world’s media are in their hands, and they have a whole entourage of journalists, eager and ready to peddle their lies, acting, in the words of John Pilger, as “handmaidens of a murderous power.”
Yet despite all the propaganda, sound bites, and outright lies, the overwhelming majority on both sides of the Atlantic oppose the endless war policy of their mainstream political parties. The demonstrations against war in Iraq have been the biggest since Vietnam. In the U.S. and Europe, antiwar marches have attracted people from all walks of life, not just the usual peaceniks, trade unionists, and women’s groups, but soldiers, farmers, and businessmen too. After some initial squeamishness, conservatives and socialists, right-wingers and Trotskyists, have been marching together, united in their desire for peace. But encouraging as all of this is, it will not be enough. To stop the War Party much more is needed. The antiwar alliance has to be put on a more permanent and formal footing. And that means the Left making a bold and historic step. If we really do want to “give peace a chance‚” we need to take off our beads, remove Joan Baez from our turntables, and start to embrace warmly those at whom we have been hurling insults for the last forty years.
I write as a committed, and totally unreconstructed, Old Leftist. Yet if Pat Buchanan announced he was standing for president again, I would be on the next plane out to join his campaign team. But how many of my fellow socialists would join me? Until the Left is ready in its hordes to link up electorally with the old antiwar Right, the brutal truth is that we have no chance of defeating the Bush/Blair axis. With the 82nd Airborne about to take off for Baghdad, I believe it is now or never for the antiwar Left to answer the call.
In order to do so, and to make the “Peace Party” work, the Left needs to jettison some baggage and spruce up some of its thinking.
Since the 1960s, we have picked up several false friends who have done our cause no good at all, lost us immeasurable support, and prevented us from making the alliances it was in our interest to make. The first of these is political correctness. I was a card-carrying member of the British Labour Party until Blair came along in 1994 and told us we had to stop worrying and love Big Business, Big Macs, and Big Bombs. I supported, and continue to support the notions of a national health service, free school meals, and state pensions. But I have never understood why a belief in the mixed economy, where transport, the utilities, and the coal mines are publicly owned and run for the benefit of the whole community also entails assenting to same-sex marriages, an open-door immigration policy, and free abortion on demand. The most destructive, anti-conservative force in our societies is not Old Left socialism, but unbridled free market capitalism, which destroys communities, the environment, and traditional ways of living. Pete Seeger, the authentic voice of the old American Left, a man once described as “so far Left he has probably never been called a liberal,” got it spot on when he said that he was more conservative than Barry Goldwater. Goldwater just wanted to turn back the clock to when there was no income tax; Seeger meanwhile wanted to turn the clock back to “when people lived in villages and took care of one another.” Political correctness, the biggest threat to free speech of our time, has plenty to do with neoliberalism, but precious little to do with socialism. It is time once and for all to end what Eugene Genovese has referred to as “the irrational embrace by the Left of a liberal program of personal liberation” and for the Left to stress, as Seeger did forty years ago, its positive conservatism.
On the key issue of globalization, there is much muddled thinking too. The anti-globalizers of the Left correctly point out the destabilizing effects of unregulated capital flows and rail against the nefarious activities of parasitical currency speculators like George Soros. Yet at the same time, most also welcome the unrestricted movement of people, which too can destabilize societies as well as lead to the unemployment and lowering of wage rates of indigenous workers. Naomi Klein is right about most things in her critique of globalization, but in her attack on the immigration policy of “Fortress Europe” and “Fortress USA,” she is surely missing the point. For far too long the Left has got away with shouting “racist” at anyone brave enough to challenge their assertion that turning each country in the developed world into a melting pot helps build social cohesion, when all the available evidence suggests that sadly it does not.
Next up, the Left has to drop its traditional antipathy to organized religion and, in particular, to the Catholic Church. The Vatican has always been anti-Marxist-socialist, but it has, at least in some teachings, been anti-capitalist too. Pope Pius XI believed liberal capitalism and communism to be “united in their satanic optimism.” Under the present Pope, the Catholic social teaching has again been pushed to the fore, and the Vatican’s criticism of hedonistic international capitalism has intensified. The significance of the Pope’s speech in Riga in 1993, where he condemned “the international imperialism of money” and spoke of Marxism’s “kernel of truth” was, I believe, missed by many on the Left. Far from being an enemy, the Catholic Church is an ally of all those who oppose the tyranny of neoliberal globalization and the cult of materialism it engenders. It is also on the side of those who oppose war. The Vatican stands for peace now as resolutely as it did twelve years ago in the first Gulf War and in 1999 in the war against Yugoslavia.
Last, but certainly not least, the Left needs loudly and unequivocally to declare its support for the increasingly endangered concept of national sovereignty. We must defend national sovereignty not because we are nationalists but because we are democrats. The very essence of democracy is that decisions are taken as closely as possible to those affected and that those affected have a say in the decision-making process. But this cannot be the case when the decisions are imposed by supranational bodies such as the WTO, World Bank, NATO, and the EU. The War Party of course sees national sovereignty very differently. If there is one issue that clearly demonstrates this and that demarcates who exactly the Peace Party’s enemies are, it is Kosovo. The “humanitarian” intervention, in which a sovereign state that threatened no other was bombed for 78 days and nights for the way in which it prosecuted its own “war against terrorism” brought all the imperialists out of the woodwork for us to see in broad daylight. And what a sight it was. The Clintons, the Bushes, Albright and Rubin, Gore, Lieberman, and Dole, Tony Blair and William Hague, Richard Cohen and William Cohen, Baroness Thatcher, and last but not least, the “contrarian” Christopher Hitchens, all clamoring to bomb Belgrade back to the Stone Age.
The very same people are as dismissive of Iraqi sovereignty today as they were of Yugoslavia’s four years ago. For the War Party, national sovereignty is a tiresome, outdated, and disposable notion that gets in the way of their plan to globalize the entire world and, in the name of democracy and human rights, eliminate all known dangers to the freedom of operation of Goldman Sachs.
The steps outlined above are ones I believe the Left must take if an alliance with the Old Right is to stick. At the same time, the Old Right needs to shift a little ground too. Its antiwar, anti-interventionist foreign policy stance is unimpeachable. But even something as splendid as isolationism has to know its limits. Ash-canning proposals for war crimes courts and the inequitable Kyoto agreement are one thing, but a knee-jerk rejection of all international agreements is another. Whether or not the U.S executes its murderers, denies transvestites the right to marry, or wishes to protect its domestic steel industry is its own concern and nobody else’s, but issues such as global warming, wildlife conservation, and a ban on the use of landmines can only be solved by international co-operation. Acknowledging this does not make one a Wilsonian liberal, nor does it undermine a principled defense of national sovereignty.
Linking up with the Old Left would not come cost-free to the Old Right. They would inevitably be labelled “statist” and “socialist” by the libertarian Right, but they should not let this worry them unduly. Libertarian activist L. Neil Smith has already labelled Pat Buchanan a socialist for standing up for U.S. workers whose livelihoods are threatened by the inequities of global free trade. The views of those whom, in the words of Stuart Reid, regard as socialist “any nation that provides a public health service and observes the major feasts of the Christian calendar” should not be treated with too much reverence.
Even if an Old Right and Old Left alliance can be forged, many differences of opinion will of course remain. Although a social conservative, I can only find myself agreeing with three of Russell Kirk’s “Six Canons of Conservative Thought.” My views on public ownership, health care, and redistributive taxation would, I expect, be anathema to many American Conservative readers. My instinct on passing any branch of McDonalds or Starbucks to search for the nearest brick, however, is one I believe many conservatives would share.
On the most important issues of the day though, the issues that really matter: globalization, war, the threats to national sovereignty, and the seemingly relentless march of transnational capitalism, the Old Right and Old Left are already, by and large, singing from the same hymn sheet. The world of 2003, with its globalized grunge, skinny lattes, and stealth bombers, is not the world any of us wanted.
Many believe that a move from the Left will never come. But there are already positive signs. In France, Jean-Claude Michea in his book‚ The Adam Smith Impasse‚ has called for socialism to be uncoupled from liberalism and instead to draw its strength from “the altruism of ordinary people.” The veteran British leftist Tariq Ali argues for a “campaigning coalition” that unites “all sections of society” to defend the public and its needs against the pirate politicians who serve the interests of global and local financial institutions. In Yugoslavia, a country that knows only too well to what lengths the War Party will go to to get its pound of flesh, the Old Left and patriotic Right are uniting to challenge the puppet government imposed by the international community‚ which has just decided to wipe the name of their country off the political map. And when Pravda reprints an antiwar article written by the editor of the American Conservative, something strange and wonderful is surely starting to happen.
By allying ourselves with the Old Right, the Old Left has nothing to lose and much to gain. Far from giving up our identity, we will, I believe, be reclaiming parts long lost to liberalism. We will be able to get back to basics and start to reiterate our core beliefs. Our opposition to the international rule of money power and the idolatry of market forces. Our unequivocal rejection of all forms of imperialism, whether they fly under a military, financial, or human rights banner. And above all, our denunciation of war as the primary method of solving international disputes.
For the moment, the imperialist bandwagon appears unstoppable. But if we on the Left can conjure up enough courage to step into the unknown and embrace an old enemy, then the days of the War Party will be numbered. What is lacking today is a permanent, populist, broad-based political force to challenge the worldview of the serial globalizers and the advocates of endless war. The Peace Party can be that force. The global crisis we face today makes the old Left-Right arguments over public ownership and tax rates irrelevant. Let’s have those debates later, but first let’s get rid of those who threaten us with Armageddon. If we fail to grasp this historic opportunity and allow political correctness and petty tribalism to hold us back, the prognosis is bleak.
In that case, they should start building plenty of air raid shelters in Damascus.
Neil Clark is a British freelance journalist and regular contributor to the New Statesman, the Spectator,and the Australian. His work has also appeared in the London Times and the Daily Telegraph, among other publications.