Friday, 23 March 2007
Last night was Nick Cohen's talk on his controversial book What's Left. It's one of the most talked-about books on the Left for ages for all the right reasons. He basically holds a mirror up to a lot of the recent thinking/positioning/posturing on the Left and pretty it isn't. His main question is why people who supposedly champion left/liberal values ally themselves to a greater or lesser extent with movements and organsations that oppose them, simply because these movements are in opposition to 'the West'.
It was a very interesting talk, perhaps slightly let down by the lack of dissenting voices from the floor. A bit surprising given the level of hostility the book has generated from bits of the Left. There was a good contribution from an Iranian bloke though. And there were leaflets handed out by an organisation called Third Camp who say they oppose both US militarism and Islamic terrorism. I'd be interested to hear if anyone knows anything about them and if they are worth supporting.
Back to the talk, I think one of Nick Cohen's more interesting arguments is that the sort of ingrained 'oppositional' thinking prevalent on the Left is actually a very easy option, it's opting out. 'Not In My Name' is almost like 'I'm washing my hands'. In contrast, he argued last night, solidarity is hard work.
John Gray (whose piece on the talk is here) asked a good question about how seriously we should take the Far Left. Nick's response was, if I remember rightly, that although they may be small in number their type of arguments are influential beyond their (tiny) membership, and as such they need to be challenged. We are all Hizbollah now? Not in my name!
Two final points. First, the Iraq war hardly featured at all in the talk. Which rather undermines one of the arguments doing the rounds that the book is somehow a giant defence of his pro-war stance. Secondly, it is also worth stating that he is still very much a lefty. I have heard Trotty types try and claim that somehow he is right-wing because of his stance on the war. This is patently not true if you listen to the sorts of people he argues the Left should be supporting overseas. In any case it comes to something if someone's politics are defined solely by their position on a solitary, albeit very important, issue. I opposed the Iraq war but there are numerous people I know who are very active and committed lefties who supported it. If they suddenly overnight become right-wing because of the stance on the war how come they aren't out canvassing for the Tories? or Respect?
Finally, an interesting attendee at the meeting was Pensions Minister James Purnell. He kindly took this photo of Nick, John and I, which is frankly rather poor in quality. John diplomatically blames the camera, I say it is symptomatic of Blairism and would not have occured if Labour was still committed to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Or something.