Friday, October 22, 2004

The future of the left (Part 4)

Some unfinished business - the future of the left, otherwise known as the 'death of the left'. The previous parts were posted on Harry's Place, here : Part 1 (Posted August 24, 2004 01:55 PM ) , Part 2 (Posted August 24, 2004 01:57 PM ) , Part 3 (Posted August 26, 2004 01:17 PM). At least one person found it 'a useful contribution'.

So, to continue, and to try to answer ChrisB's question 'The how though, "the how"... ', all we can do is to continue to chip away at the truth. By 'we' I mean anyone who has any interest in the exchange of ideas. When you think about the particular nature of this moment in history, publishers, newspapers and broadcasting organisations, important though they are, are no longer the sole gatekeepers of the flow of information and debate. So much is available now, not restricted by physical proximity, permanently accessible and quotable. Of course this is used for the transmission of lies. But also for truth.

Something I wrote earlier, contra John Berger (Posted at August 26, 2004 02:42 PM) :

Propaganda could also serve the interests not just of an actual, existing  elite, but also of a putative elite (exercising its authority on behalf of the proletariat, of course). Propaganda is propaganda because it distorts the truth.
As it happens, Ian Buruma seems to have written along similar lines about Michael Moore's film ('Lights, Camera, Manifesto ', Financial Times, 9 Oct 2004). I missed the article, but from a letter in the following weekend's FT : 'Each work of propaganda mentioned refers ... to state propaganda ..., whereas Michael Moore's films... are criticism. He is aiming to demolish the official justifications or "ideology" forced on the public by the most powerful state in the world.'.  (Update : article and letter can be found here. Buruma does not so much make the same argument as me, as take it as assumed. Hence the letter's attack, along the same lines as Berger's.)

Can such propaganda be justified though ? After all, it has given the 'Left' some apparent victories. More prominence is given now to Tariq Ali, say, than in a long time. Books by people like John Pilger are probably selling more than ever. And of course their indignation against the US and its rampant capitalism fills the New Statesman (pieces by the likes of Aaronovitch or Nick Cohen provide a welcome leavening of opposition to the totalitarian 'left'). I suppose the NS has a circulation in the 10,000's (How many read Harry's Place, I wonder. I never thought I would say this, but I'm starting to miss those things you used to see on early websites, probably because it was in the 'Teach yourself Javascript' books : you are the 17,384th visitor to this site...). Even in The Guardian, one million people are quite frequently able to read a radical critique of US 'imperialism'.

There was one Pilger article in the New Statesman in August, about why Kerry would be no better than Bush. I did not read it with much attention - it was so entirely predictable - but one phrase stood out : 'James Rubin is a Zionist.' No supporting evidence, just the phrase. I know we would get the usual disclaimer of anti-semitism, but really he might just as well have said, 'James Rubin is a Jew.'

Surely it is possible to persuasively argue the case for a more just society without resorting to propaganda and dishonesty. What we have to do, I think, is try to 'think inside' our opponents heads. This is what Orwell did so brilliantly in 'The Road to Wigan Pier', for example, when he highlighted the attraction fascism might have for the petty-bourgeois.

In the US, but also in Western Europe, their former (white) colonies, Japan etc (what I will call the Rest of the West), without dismissing the problems of these societies completely, Norman Geras' 'minimum utopia' has largely been attained. In much of the rest of the world, in Africa, the Middle East and so on, it obviously remains very remote. This induces a sense of moral inadequacy, or to put it in old-fashioned terms, guilt. One way of resolving this tension, shuffling off the guilt, is to blame everything on the US. This is especially attractive if you happen not to live in that country and is the response of much of the 'left' in the Rest of the West.

The response of the 'right', on the other hand, is to erect barriers, to blame everything on immigrants or 'asylum-seekers'. Another example was this comment following the Beslan massacre :

The problem is not the various grievences, or poverty, or bad government, those exist everywhere and at all times. Wealth and good government are the exception not the rule. ... The only solution is to attack and destroy the ideology [Wahabbism] and the people who spread it.
Of course, the extremes of Right and Left often come within touching distance of each other. The resumption of the dark myths of medieval Europe into Arab propaganda and the far-Left's sympathy with that are well-enough known not to need dwelling upon. It is also worth noting though that some of the 11 Sept conspiracy theorists find analogies in the theories about Pearl Harbor, originally put about by the American 'old right', isolationist and bordering on pro-fascist.

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