This article by Daniel Davies from 2008, which I somehow managed to miss, is worth a read. If I had heard criticisms like this of the Euston Manifesto, I probably would have felt a little bit better about the whole experience. Most of the criticisms I actually heard during this time were monosyllabic in nature and generally based on the theme that anyone who disagreed with the direction the Left was headed must be a warmongering undercover fascist with squooshy feelings about George W. Bush.
I was one of the people who signed the Euston Manifesto when it came out in 2006. I’m not particularly ashamed of having done so, though many others who signed that internet petition were certainly not people with whom I have a lot in common. This was, in fact, the main problem with Euston. People were allowed to sign and to comment when they signed. Most commented about how they wanted the Left not to remain silent in the face of theocratic regimes, radical fundamentalism and human rights crushing nationalist and pan-nationalist dictatorships. But some took the opportunity to say delightfully unhelpful things like that George W. Bush was doing a wonderful job in Iraq and that really they were Conservatives or Republicans, not people who considered the egalitarian and social justice tradition of the Left to have any merit.
Those signatures should have been deleted from the petition – it was supposed to be about creating a more decent Left, not capitulating to the Right. The fact that those signatures were retained gave people who personified everything we were trying to criticise big sticks to hit us with. And they did.
But those who did rarely did it with any kind of eloquence. This article is, in that sense, an outlier. The usual response was more Tarzan-like – along the lines of “me, love peace, you, love war, kiss Bush’s shoes, giant Blair-bot”. (In that respect it was similar to a lot of discourse today.)
These same individuals often consider it beside the point when some opinion they have is expressed by the editor of a neo-Stalinist discussion zine. After all, that’s guilt by association, right? But my name on the same website as some pro-Bush screed means I’m guilty, guilty, guilty. You get the idea.
Anyway, what I would have given to have an actual discussion with someone like Davies over the merits (or lack thereof) of Euston. This bit from the article particularly delights me: “But when you asked them how many troops they thought it would take, then – well, excuse my language – but they looked at you as if you had a dick growing out of your forehead.” Phallic references notwithstanding, I’m sure Davies is aware that in Kosovo and in Libya, that question had an answer. The amount of troops actually used was the amount it took, because those were successful humanitarian interventions. (Oh, oh, wait, who now is getting that look? Seriously. Do I get a response to _that_ observation?)
The reason the past anti-Euston critics (if they ever deserved that title) never raised a point like that is because they were all too aware that emotive discourse works better for them than making rational points would. “Bad man, loves war, hates freedom!” Much better to go with that.
Anyway, I’ve always been quite happy to tell the pro-Bush brigade associated with Euston to get lost. When will left-wingers like Davies, who can clearly form complete sentences, be willing to do that with their George Galloway supporters?
Oh, I’m sorry, did I use too many words? Maybe “Bad man, loves theocracy, hates freedom!” would be better?
Hopefully not. A real discussion is always better.