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The Euston Manifesto: covering up for colonialism

This article is over 17 years, 8 months old
Over the past few weeks much attention in the media and on the web has been devoted to a document called the Euston Manifesto, which was finally launched on Thursday of last week.
Issue 2003

Over the past few weeks much attention in the media and on the web has been devoted to a document called the Euston Manifesto, which was finally launched on Thursday of last week.

The manifesto proclaims “a new democratic progressive alliance”. Much of its content is unexceptionable. It is for democracy, human rights, equality, development for freedom, a new internationalism and so on.

But there are more puzzling bits. For example, one section, headed “Opposing Anti-Americanism”, declares: “The United States of America is a great country and nation. It is the home of a strong democracy with a noble tradition behind it and lasting constitutional and social achievements behind it.”

The manifesto furthermore repeatedly equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Thus: “Anti-Zionism has now developed to a point where supposed organisations of the left are willing to entertain openly anti-Semitic speakers and to form alliances with anti-Semitic organisations.”

The suspicion therefore grows that this is a pro-war programme. This suspicion is confirmed when one discovers that its main author is the

ex-Marxist philosopher Norman Geras, and that its signatories include the philosopher Michael Walzer and Observer journalist Nick Cohen – all of them well known apologists for the conquest of Iraq.

The manifesto nevertheless leaves the issue of the war open: “The founding authors of this statement took different views on the military intervention in Iraq, both for and against. We recognise that it was possible reasonably to disagree about the justification for the intervention, the manner in which it was carried through, the planning (or lack of it) for the aftermath, and the prospects for successful implementation of democratic change.”

But this generous concession is undermined by the lengthy denunciation that follows of everyone who insists on belly-aching about the bloody disaster George Bush and Tony Blair have inflicted on Iraq, instead of helping to establish a stable Western client regime in that country.

Real agenda

Geras confirms his real agenda in a Guardian article that is supposed to refute “the common misbelief that the Euston Manifesto is a ‘pro-war’ document”. He says that there is a problem with the anti-war movement, and he singles out the Socialist Workers Party and Respect.

This problem is shown by “the numbers on the left unwilling to allow, many indeed unable to comprehend, why others of us supported a regime change war… and, most seriously of all, in the perceptible lack of interest in initiatives of solidarity with the forces in Iraq battling for a democratic transformation of their country, part of a wider lack of enthusiasm for the success of this enterprise given its origins in a war led by George Bush”.

In other words, it’s OK to have opposed the war as long as you aren’t too nasty to those who supported it and accept Tony Blair’s injunction to “move on” and back the occupation.

This position is a reflection of how isolated apologists for the invasion of Iraq are. If Geras and his allies had the courage simply to say that they were right to support the war and that everything in Iraq is going splendidly, they would be laughed out of court.

So they have to muddy the issue by saying that the problem isn’t so much the war as the “values” of the large majority of the left that opposed the war.

If I allowed myself to think about it too much I could get very angry with people who accuse me of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism when I have spent my adult life fighting racism and fascism.

But anger is wasted on people of the moral calibre of Norman Geras. The intellectual dishonesty of the Euston Manifesto – its evasions over the war – is evidence of its authors’ political weakness.

Unintentionally they have confirmed the opposite of what they sought out to achieve. What the Bush administration now calls the “long war” is the central issue in world politics. We certainly need a new democratic and progressive left – but it will be founded on opposition to this war.

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