Writing at Comment is Free about the 'Euston moment', Alan Johnson repeats a usage from an earlier post of his at the same venue, referring to a section of the left as 'the post-left'. The implication of the prefix is, as you will see if you click back through one of Alan's links, that those characterized as being post-left are not really of the left at all. I want to express my dissent from this usage: it reproduces, albeit in a mild accent of indirection, one of the bad habits of some of the very people it seeks to label, trying to relocate them outside the left by a simple act of naming.
There are at least three reasons not to go along with this old habit.
First, commitment to the democracy of the left, as part of the more fundamental commitment to a pluralist democratic society overall, should serve as a caution against stipulatively narrowing the scope of the left by excluding from it large numbers of people - whole categories of them, in fact - just because they disagree with you. The left does have its boundaries, to be sure, but these have always been more far-flung and accommodating than the practice of issuing mutual anathemas has wanted to allow. Within some limits, therefore - but they must be limits of an expansive and generous kind - we should leave the business of departure from the left to those departing and not attempt to impose it on political opponents by a definitional act.
Second, there is an impulse of purification involved here which risks underwriting a historical falsehood. If we try to make 'the left' synonymous with 'the good left' (however that is conceived), then we look away from the fact that the left has never been entirely 'good'. In responding to Alan, that is not a point I will need to labour. But the history of the left, the real history of the real left, is replete with political blunders, self-delusion, moral criminality, and out-and-out human calamity. In these circumstances, to hope to clean up the concept so that it will no longer contain, say, some of the contemporary apologists for terrorism, is a vain endeavour. It is better to face the sorry reality: that they, too, are part of the left, and it's not that difficult to trace back a tradition within the left out of which they have come.
Third, ruling people out of the left by definitional act is too much like crying apostasy; it is too much like an act of excommunication. None of us has the authority for that, because no one, ever, legitimately has such authority within what aspires to be a democratic movement. None of us is able to lay claim to 'the truth' of what the left is, such that we may rule that all these and those others are not of it. We can argue against what they stand for, and that should be enough.
I am the more concerned to make these points, registering my dissent from the usage 'post-left', because Alan's latest deployment of the term links it, explicitly, with the aims of The Euston Manifesto, and so might be taken to commit others amongst its supporters. As the principal author of that document and one of the group that formed around it who attended all of the drafting meetings (and pretty well all of the meetings, period), I feel in a good position to say that that linkage was not there in the manifesto itself or in the thinking of at least some of those who produced it.