A group of English socialists and liberals who have been generally supportive of the war have published a Manifesto staking out territory for the left that differs clearly and markedly from the anti war left we have heard from both inside and outside the US since 9/11. Norm Geras and Nick Cohen explain how the manifesto came into being – in a pub, naturally – here. The Euston Manifesto itself opens with:
We are democrats and progressives. We propose here a fresh political alignment. Many of us belong to the Left, but the principles that we set out are not exclusive. We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist Left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves 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. It involves making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not.
I did not know of the existence of such people until I read Norm Geras’ blog Normblog starting in 2003. I had given up on the left in disgust and decided that I must be a neo-conservative because I had not been able to find anyplace on the left that I could stomach. And indeed the self awareness of people holding this general orientation has emerged through the Internet. They continue:
The present initiative has its roots in and has found a constituency through the Internet, especially the ‘blogosphere’. It is our perception, however, that this constituency is under-represented elsewhere – in much of the media and the other forums of contemporary political life.
Indeed. Without Normblog and Norm himself who was in on the Manifesto from the beginning, I would think of myself as a Neoconservative – plain and simple. In many ways I am, but politically my origins are of the American anti-totalitarian left – FDR, Harry Truman, JFK. So it is no surprise that a movement that opens with a reaffirmation of democratic and progressive values would appeal to me – particularly one that is open to new ideas and seeks to make “common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not.”
The Manifesto is neither too short nor too long, consisting of the preamble and fifteen statements of principle , followed by a reasonably short set of elaborations and a very short conclusion. As I read through the statements of principle I find that it quite easy to tell where I agree and where I don’t. That the openness of the manifesto to ideas to the right of the traditional left is not superficial is backed up by the eleventh and twelfth statement of principle. The important element here is putting openness to new truth before ideology, which I believe is often prerequisite to progress. .
11) A critical openness. 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. We reject, similarly, the idea that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right. Leftists who make common cause with, or excuses for, anti-democratic forces should be criticised in clear and forthright terms. Conversely, we pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress.
12) Historical truth. In connecting to the original humanistic impulses of the movement for human progress, we emphasize the duty which genuine democrats must have to respect for the historical truth. Not only fascists, Holocaust-deniers and the like have tried to obscure the historical record. One of the tragedies of the Left is that its own reputation was massively compromised in this regard by the international Communist movement, and some have still not learned that lesson. Political honesty and straightforwardness are a primary obligation for us.
Yes, I think the world is at a critical time when many old concepts and assumptions have outlived their usefulness and that a major rethink is in order. So for me it is no accident that we now have a neo-left taking a position in the political spectrum perhaps filling a gap between neoconservatism and the traditional left.
A good manifesto is clear, not just in its positions but more deeply in its values, and what is most important for me in the Euston Manifesto is that now I have a definite benchmark from which to gauge my own opinion and values. I intend to do a series of posts based on the Manifesto in which I will explain where I agree and where I differ or wish to extend and elaborate certain ideas that are raised. For me, there is every possibility of dialog with this emerging neo-left and I intend to follow up on that opportunity and I thank its authors for it.