dinsdag, april 26, 2005

Hitchens war-bothering bruschetta-muncher?

Christopher Hitchens is, unsurprisingly, for Tony Blair, and he has taken the occasion of his latest blimpish excrescence of a column for dull, dull, dull online magazine Slate to outline for his American readers why.

He starts off recounting his own pas de deux with the Labour Party (which, inexcusably, he or some national chauvinist copy-editor has spelt without a 'u'):

'I joined the British Labor Party as soon as I was old enough to be eligible, which was sometime in 1965. I was not long after that expelled from its ranks, along with the majority of the Labor students' organization, because of Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam. (I should have resigned, but I waited to be expelled instead.) Since then I have re-enlisted a few times, canvassed in a desultory way, off-and-on paid my dues, and hosted the odd Labor figure in Washington. It wouldn't have been thinkable for me to vote for any other party at election time, though in the 1979 election the Callaghan regime had become so corrupt and incompetent and reactionary that I didn't vote at all.'

Now, strangely, nowhere in this windy little self-fluffing autobiography, does he mention his own membership in the International Socialists, the precursor to today's Socialist Workers' Party of the UK, a membership that stretched across the not-unimportant year of 1968 and extended for some time afterward. Not only that, but by his own account in the pages of the London Review of Books (6 January 1994), he was for a time the 'features editor' of the Socialist Worker, no less. Although, in fairness, perhaps he just felt this was a dandelion seed of a piece of trivia far too unimportant to add in so short a column. After all, I had a subscription to Doctor Who Magazine when I was twelve, but I don't shout about it from the rooftops in every blog posting. But, then again, he does later on manage to find to time to attack George Galloway, of Respect, for being a bit of a Stalinist, and furthermore his backers in the aforementioned SWP, for being 'pseudo-Bolsheviks'. One would think in the interests of journalistic disclosure that he would at this point, well, let us at least know that he had been one of these very 'pseudo-Bolsheviks' himself for a number of years.

One of the odder pieces of analysis coming out of the UK pro-war 'left' of late has been the idea that it is only the 'dinnerpartyocracy', the middle-class 'bruschetta munchers', really, who care about the war, with New Labour even setting up an 'Operation Beardy Leftie' for the election to reach out to those disenchanted Granta readers and Fairport Convention fans who feel let down by Labour over the war, while the more salt of the earth types are supposed to be concerned about real issues like healthcare and education.

And yet here we have in the greasy-quiffed, 500-grand-a-year-salaried, most middling of middle class person of Christopher Hitchens a man who could attend dinner parties for England were the activity an Olympic sport and were he not in the process of becoming an American citizen, and what is he faffing about? The bloody war.

Of course, if this analysis were even remotely near the mark, then the 'real' provincial, lunch-pail toting, overalls-wearing, chiminey-sweep-twirling Dick Van Dyke 'workers' of David Aaronovitch and company's imagination, would still be saying 'dump Blair', not because of the war, but because of PFI, train disasters, growth in social inequality, league tables, cuts to welfare, tuition fees, the continued decimation of industry, and the rest of Blair's neo-liberal betrayals. In fact, the people who care most about the war seem to be the very bruschetta-munching BUT pro-war middle classes that natter on about how 'real people' don't care about the war. The reality is that the 'workers' are incandescently angry about both the war and PFI and the rest besides.

But, curiously, or perhaps not, Hitchens isn't particularly worried about PFI or tuition fees. He doesn't give a rat's bottom about attacks on pensions, deregulation, privatisation, homelessness, underemployment, precarity, the offloading of taxation from the wealthy and corporations to the workers and middle classes, the deprivations of inner-cities, the robber barons that control the trains and the buses, that the UK under New Labour is the standard bearer of structural adjustment in Europe, or any other of that 'meat and potatoes' socialism stuff that Aaronovitch says is what the electricians and miners and train drivers care about.

On the contrary, Hitch has somehow convinced himself that Blair's Britain is 'a sort of post-Keynesian full-employment and welfarist society.'

I knew the man was a drunkard, but I didn't realise his Johnny Walker Black Label was just a gateway drug to full-blown crack addiction. 'Post-Keynesian full employment'? 'Welfarist society'? The man has lost his bearings like a troop of visually impaired cub scouts gone orienteering without a map, compass or Akela.

'[Blair's] government makes at least the right noises about Kyoto, the U.N., Palestine, and the International Criminal Court.'

'Right noises'? Right noises? About the UN? What, like ignoring the initial legal opinion of his attorney general that without a second UN resolution, there were six areas of concern in which the impending war could be considered illegal?

And yet, and yet, while he criminally backed Clinton's bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, back then, he didn't let his support for the war diminish his opposition to Clinton's monetarist domestic economic policies. Indeed, while much of the rest of the left kept mum while Clinton gutted welfare, built prisons, expanded the federal death penalty, and cut funding to clinics thus objectively undermining abortion rights, Hitchens was near alone in writing about Clinton's triangulations. If he had the clarity of mind to distinguish his support for Clinton's war from support for Clinton, couldn't Hitchens support Blair's war but oppose, um, say, tuition fees?

He then goes on to elide that in 'the most interesting local campaign of this election' in Bethnal Green, where George Galloway is standing for Respect against the pro-war Blairite and all-around listless daisy of an MP, Oona King, Respect is somehow of a piece with the BNP and 'Muslim thugs' who pelted Ms. King with eggs at one campaign event. No, sorry, there's no elision in sight: he outright proclaims that Respect is in cahoots with neo-Nazis and Islamic fundamentalists:

'Thus, the most reactionary forces ['Muslim thugs', ' the local Nazi party', and 'Stalinist George Galloway… a personal friend of Saddam Hussein's and a loud advocate of Ba'ath Party rule'] in British society are fused in their admiration of the one-party state and the one-god movement.'

I'm not a fan of the indefatigable Galloway. I think Respect is a deeply problematic organisation born out of the SWP's unilateral euthanasia of the Socialist Alliance. I am uncomfortable with Respect's retreat on issues such as asylum, abortion, gay rights, republicanism and the principle of elected representatives taking a workers' wage upon election. I also think it is a tactical mistake for Respect to focus all of its energy on one constituency.

Nevertheless, people in Bethnal Green should vote Respect because a force to the left of New Labour must be built and Respect, however creakily constructed, offers the best prospect for that. Elsewhere, the SSP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, the single issue campaigns of people such as Reg Keys - the father of a soldier slain in Iraq, who is running directly against Blair in his Sedgefield constituency, or former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who is running against Jack Straw, and the rainbow of other left and left 'regroupment' projects deserve voters' support, as do anti-war left-wing Labour MPs. On rare, rare occasions, where there truly is no other option, the Lib Dems might be a sensible tactical decision, although I have yet to be shown a constituency where this is the case.

But, as ever, I believe the solution lies not in elections, but in our own organisation, in extra-parliamentary activity, in direct and mass action, in rank-and-file organising in the unions, in socialism above all - something that Christopher Hitchens used to believe himself.