And on Booktalk this week: the obnoxious Nick Cohen, peddling his grubby little book, What’s Left?, which purports to be a devastating critique of the left. It is aimed at the American market, by the sounds of it; Cohen uses “liberal” in the US rather than the UK sense. The book comes with recommendations from such left-wing figures as Lord Bragg…
I have yet to read the book from cover to cover. I can’t seem to get a grip on it: Cohen’s scattergun approach neglects to build up any firm critique, nor back assertions with facts, or at least, elucidation.
Cohen is defending the “anti-fascist” left and does it spectacularly badly. He’s gradually turning into his chum Christopher Hitchens, an ex-Trot journalist, who appears to have sobered up a bit.
The “decent” left has published the Euston manifesto, which concerns the issues surrounding the Global War on Terror rather than a coherent analysis of the world situation. If you look at the people who swirl around this online document, you will see that there can be no firm ideological trend: the “decent” left is so diverse that the centre cannot hold, indeed most of them aren’t of the left, to put it lightly.
For Cohen, socialism is dead. Perhaps if he had been a middle-aged traitor during the Cold War he would have a better case as to the ominous threat facing the world. No, there’s no vast communist conspiracy. “Political” or “radical” Islam is the new threat, claim Cohen and co, following the crazed conspiracies put out by Bush and Blair. The sad thing is that they appear to believe it is the cause and not the symptom.
Though Anglo-American imperialism seems to have killed and be killing more people than the few Islamic fundamentalists it used to fund (see Afghanistan in the eighties!) Cohen believes that the real threat to the world is not imperialism, but “Islamo-fascism”.
A bit of background to the man: Cohen’s career as a leftish journalist went wonky around 2003 when he backed the “liberation” of Iraq by Anglo-American imperialism. If we take his word, the Empire wanted to free the Iraqis from a tyrant. Which is why they brought Saddam Hussein to power in the first place, bombed the country and imposed crippling economic sanctions, denying food and medicine to Iraq because of the actions of their government.
The Empire was also going to create a regime that respected the rights of women, workers, and gay people before all else. In fact, the first thing to be secured was the Iraqi Oil Ministry; they didn’t even bother trying to track down those WMDs that were supposedly going to hit us in 45 minutes. The US imperialists kept the anti-union laws on the books, backed sectarian death squads, failed to provide for the Iraqi population, illegally liberalised and privatised the economy, and so on. And on.
In a way, I feel sorry for Cohen. He has dug himself into a hole and can but dig. And dig. At least, with this new book, he can make a mint out of his old comrades. Of which, there is little evidence. Cohen was a lefty reporter, not a committed activist. Now that he has joined the ranks of the cruise missile left, the pro-capitalist commentariat, and doesn’t have to commit to anything. We can but wonder where he will end up, but if the Euston manifesto and Cohen’s glib dismissal of socialism are anything to go by, he has a lucrative career ahead of him repeating the same old shit.
Now, as you can tell I was pissed at watching Cohen get such an easy ride from the host, Mark D’Arcy. Perhaps D’Arcy is in agreement with Cohen, perhaps there wasn’t enough time. Cohen has been subjected to an unacceptable degree of anti-Semitic abuse, despite not the fact he is not Jewish, and abuse in general; he and his host made much of this. It is unfortunate that people have used racist abuse rather than attempting to criticise him calmly.
Cohen’s slander of the left is that it is supportive of the new fascism, displays a moral relativism with regards to human rights in the oppressed countries, all because the left no longer has anything to believe in or agitate for. Cohen is essentially saying that the left is no longer needed, it is reactionary in its crude anti-Americanism.
The short answer is that socialists must support those people resisting imperialism even if we don’t agree with reactionary views that they hold. We ask do not ask workers in an industrial dispute if they share our views on equal rights for minorities before we support their struggle. We support their struggle and try to argue our case on other matters.
I hear Cohen go on about Iraqi trade unionists. What about those killed by the death squads of the puppet regime in Iraq? Do these acts not reflect on imperialism, or is it that humanitarian intervention is to prevent workers from organising?
The Iraqi resistance does not just mean men with guns fighting the occupying armies, it means the massive street protests and strikes, involving women. The brave oil workers who are uniting to defend the wealth of their nation, are they not resisting imperialism? The left is supporting the will of the Iraqi people in their struggle against imperialism and also against the terrorists who can only thrive in Iraq because it is an occupied country.