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The Left Thinks Again By: Martin Walker
MonstersandCritics.com | Tuesday, September 26, 2006


PRAGUE, Czech Republic (UPI) -- Earlier this year, a group of 'small-l' liberals, left-wingers and progressives came together in Britain to produce a document called the Euston Manifesto. It was a statement of principles in support of democracy, freedom of speech and ideas, and firm opposition to terrorism, all forms of totalitarianism and all soft-headed apologies for it.

Now it has found an echo in the United States, where a number of leading academics and intellectuals have signed the Euston Manifesto, and issued their own statement on American liberalism that endorses it. The original British document was the work of a small group of mainly leftist academics, swiftly joined by members of Parliament, including former Minister for Europe Denis MacShane, journalists and trade unionists.

There are three interesting and significant features to this development. The first is that while the British group makes an absolute commitment to openness and free debate, it stresses that there are indeed enemies on the Left and that quislings and appeasers and apologists for terror should be called by their proper names.

'Drawing the lesson of the disastrous history of left apologetics over the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism, as well as more recent exercises in the same vein (some of the reaction to the crimes of 9/11, the excuse-making for suicide terrorism, the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the 'anti-war' movement with illiberal theocrats) we reject the notion that there are no opponents on the Left,' the manifesto says. 'We reject, similarly, the idea that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right.'

The Euston Manifesto seeks to make 'common cause with genuine democrats whether socialist or not....(and) drawing a line between the forces of the Left that remain true to its authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values.'

The American document echoes this commitment to openness, agreeing that its members often disagree, for example on the Bush administration`s decision to go to war on Saddam Hussein`s Iraq, and particularly on how to respond to radical Islamism.

It says: 'Some of us view this ideology and its political results as the third major form of totalitarian ideology of the last century, after fascism and Nazism, on the one hand, and communism on the other. Others regard it as having a history in the Arab and Islamic world that eludes the label of totalitarianism. We all agree however that it fosters dictatorship, terror, anti-Semitism and sexism of a most retrograde kind. We reject its subordination of politics to the dictates of religious fundamentalists and well as its contempt for the role of individual autonomy and rationality in politics.'

The second important new feature of the Euston group and their American cousins is not simply that it reflects the liberal-left thinking and taking ideas seriously again, but that their core principles include an utter rebuff of anti-Americanism and a parallel rejection of the currently almost fashionable form of anti-Semitism that lurks behind the label of 'anti-Zionism.'

It stands firmly behind the U.N.`s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, rejecting those who suggest some people and regions may not be ready for them. It accepts U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan`s principle of 'a responsibility to protect,' which means they support intervention on the internal affairs of a sovereign state if it tortures and slaughters its own people. And it supports the expansion of world trade that comes with globalization, so long as the benefits are distributed as widely as possible. In this sense, it is a deeply centrist document, anchored squarely in the mainstream of the Anglo-American political tradition. Indeed, the American document stresses that 'In World War Two and the Cold War, liberals, centrists and conservatives found moments of commonality. Indeed, if those efforts had been borne exclusively by the left or the right they very well might have failed. For us, part of the Euston Manifesto`s importance lies precisely in bringing this insight to bear on our current dilemma and in recalling the traditions of American liberal anti-fascism and anti-totalitarianism that remain important today.'

The third notable aspect of this Euston Manifesto and its American echo is that for many of the signatories, notably veteran American sociologist and progressive Daniel Bell, it carries a clear echo of the statements issued by European and American social democrats and left-liberals in the early years of the Cold War, when they drew a clear line separating themselves from Soviet Communism and Stalinism. Back in the late 1940s, and now again today, a return to clear and muscular thinking and an intelligent discrimination between free principles and their enemies was and is evident.

Then as now, this group of American liberals includes a hearty contingent from The New Republic magazine, including its editor-in-chief Marty Peretz. It also includes Ron Asmus, who managed the enlargement of NATO for the Clinton administration and Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute, the veteran political analyst and historian of terrorism Walter Laqueur, Yale`s Steven Smith, Harvard`s Dan Goldhagen and Georgetown`s Robert Lieber. One particularly interesting supporter is Michael Ledeen of the usually conservative American Enterprise Institute, who is usually identified as a fervent neo-conservative.

The American document is outspoken in its criticism of the Bush administration`s mistakes, citing Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as examples of errors 'that undermine the very values for which this war must be fought and won.' But at the same time its clearest call is to condemn those left-liberals who 'remain more focused on the misdeeds and errors of our own government in Iraq than on the terrorist outrages of Islamic extremists. Anger at the Bush administration, however justified, should not trump opposition to all aspects of jihadism.'

The American echo of the Euston Manifesto comes at a heated political moment, when Republicans seeking re-election and edging away from President Bush and when the Democratic party may have decided what it is against, but has yet to coalesce around a policy on Iraq and on the war on terror which it can whole-heartedly support. The British, as the Labour party faces the challenges of Prime Minister Tony Blair`s succession, are in a similar fix. So it is significant that centrists and left-liberals in both countries are going back to the bedrock era and principles of the 1940s that solidified the Anglo-American relationship. They worked then; maybe they could again.

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