Part 1 > In the current issue of the New Statesman (intermittent access to non-subscribers) John Pilger has a piece on the upcoming US presidential election. Readers may be interested to note that Pilger, who not long ago was telling us how safe he once felt travelling in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, has evidently felt rather less safe from another quarter. For in this latest piece he speaks in passing of...
... those of us who marvel at our luck in reaching mature years without having been blown to bits by the warlords of Americanism...They may also be surprised to find Pilger leaning towards the view that George Bush might be the 'lesser evil' in the upcoming presidential election:
The multilateralism or "muscular internationalism" that Kerry offers in contrast to Bush's unilateralism is seen as hopeful by the terminally naive; in truth, it beckons even greater dangers. Having given the American elite its greatest disaster since Vietnam, writes the historian Gabriel Kolko, Bush "is much more likely to continue the destruction of the alliance system that is so crucial to American power. One does not have to believe the worse the better, but we have to consider candidly the foreign policy consequences of a renewal of Bush's mandate . . . As dangerous as it is, Bush's re-election may be a lesser evil." With Nato back in train under President Kerry, and the French and Germans compliant, American ambitions will proceed without the Napoleonic hindrances of the Bush gang.So far as the present post is concerned these points are merely by the way and I pass no further comment on them. The thing which interests me here is the overall attitude displayed by John Pilger towards US and, more generally, Western democracy. He it is, remember, who has been happy to express his support - more or less uncritically as far as I'm aware - for those opposing the Coalition forces in Iraq, killing Iraqi and other civilians without scruple, and doing all they can to obstruct the transition to democratically-based civilian rule. 'We cannot afford to be choosy', Pilger told an interviewer, it being imperative to stop the 'Bush gang'; and even now he refers to the insurgents in Iraq as, without reservation or qualification, 'nationalists defending their homeland'. On the other hand, with regard to US democracy, or democracy in the UK and other Western countries, this is the language Pilger speaks:
As in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, Americans are denied a modicum of understanding of what Norman Mailer has called "a pre-fascist climate". The fears of the rest of us are of no consequence.In an earlier piece, which I commented on here, Pilger wrote:
The real debate is neither Bush nor Kerry, but the system they exemplify; it is the decline of true democracy and the rise of the American "national security state" in Britain and other countries claiming to be democracies, in which people are sent to prison and the key thrown away and whose leaders commit capital crimes in faraway places...
The truth is that Clinton was little different from Bush, a crypto-fascist.The hysterical and, frankly, delusionary 'pre-fascist' and 'crypto-fascist' here, as well as the phrase 'claiming to be democracies', coming from someone who avails himself of all the benefits of the fact that these polities are indeed democracies, makes a striking contrast with Pilger's indulgent attitude towards political forces whose democratic credentials are rather dubious, to put it no more strongly than that.
Part 2 > Returning from his hols yesterday, Harry wasted no time in posing a couple of tough questions:
1. Why is it that the organised activist left is dominated by anti-democrats and those who no longer even pay lip-service to international solidarity?I don't claim to have adequate answers to these questions, but here anyway are a few observations on them. The left - and this goes beyond the 'organized activist left', though it doesn't apply to the entirety of the left, not even to all of the organized activist bit - has not yet truly thrown off the political errors and the moral shortcomings of the past of the left, most acutely concentrated in the calamity and criminality that were Stalinism, but whose roots go back before Stalinism. This circumstance, of not having comprehensively thrown off, or learned from, that past, though it was obviously there before September 11 2001, has been highlighted and aggravated by the events of that day and what has transpired since, as have all the tendencies of which it consists.
2. Can that situation be changed and how?
The belittling of the strengths and virtues of the political democracies which exist, along with a willingness to recognize as democratic, or at least supportable, political movements that wear it on their face that they are not; a readiness to contemplate political alliances or, short of that, broader alignments of moral solidarity in which common cause is made with movements which do not feel bound by democratic or related standards; a willingness to make apology for, or mutter evasively or remain silent about, means of political struggle which are morally criminal, and to overlook that there are norms of both ethics and law constraining what is permissible even in pursuit of a just cause; the displaying, consequently, of a light-minded disregard for what are now universally applicable human rights requirements, except when they are invoked to criticize Western governments - all of these tendencies indicate that, despite the terrible experiences of the twentieth century, for a significant sector of the left the commitment to democracy is skin-deep; this part of the left has still not assimilated one of the primary lessons of those experiences, that without a foundational and consistent attachment to the norms of democracy and human rights the left is lost.
What accounts for the failure to assimilate that elementary lesson? Once again, I don't pretend to offer an overall answer. Impressionistically, however, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that part of the reason is a kind of anti-imperialist reductionism. This is the battle, the enemy, of the left: imperialism, as embodied first and last in the US; and as supposedly embodied today in George W. Bush. Every other question, every principle, becomes subordinate to the need to oppose it and him - to the sacrifice of the credibility, reputation and sometimes moral standing of those so governed.