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December 19, 2006

Why I've Signed The Euston Manifesto

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Well it took me a while but my thoughts over the last few months have convinced me that the purposes and principles of the manifesto need to be spoken up for. Read the Euston Manifesto yourself here linktext

As one of the main aims of the manifesto is to create new debate i’d love to hear your submissions for or against the manifesto.

For those of you unfamiliar with the manifesto it was launched in May by a group of progressive British
journalists, academics and bloggers. It reaffirms the core values of the left against those who have tarnished and trangressed them. As the manifesto puts it we “reaffirm the ideas that inspired the great rallying calls of the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century: liberty, equality and solidarity; human rights; the pursuit of happiness” Some have criticised the manifesto as too general but it is precisely because of the disgraceful behaviour of some on the left that such core principles need to be reasserted. The manifesto is not a blueprint, nor the ideological statement for a new political party, but a starting point for renewed debate on the left and elsewhere.

One cannot be a neutral in the struggle between those on the left who support universal human rights and those who conveniently pick and choose according to narrow political interest. The last straw for me came with the SWP/Respect support for Hizbullah over the summer. I support the Palestinian cause for statehood and am no friend of the Israeli government. But i found it utterly contemptible that left-wingers could support a group which has targeted innocent civilians, does not support Israel’s existence, and wants to establish a fascist theocracy in pluralist Lebanon. Not a scintilla of criticism or reserve was placed in front of this rabid support. Add to this the record of the most prominent anti-war figure, George Galloway, fawning over Saddam and Bashar Al-Assad, (see previous post to this) and silence was no longer an option.

So here in summary are my main reasons for support:

- Support for universal human rights. Too often today we hear culturally relativist arguments made that fail to recognise the differences within and not just between cultures and show little awareness of the cultural progress that can be made. A century ago ‘western culture’ was one in which women and gays were explicitly treated as second-class citizens, but a few bold pioneers pushed for the changes that now form the consensus. We must support those pioneers worldwide who seek to achieve the same for their societies today and not condemn them to their countries dominant culture.

- Though a number of its authors were prominent supporters of the Iraq War the manifesto itself has no stance on the war, a war which i opposed. Nevertheless, i wholeheartedly support the manifesto’s argument that after the overthrow of the Ba’athist regime the priority of all on the left should have been solidarity with the peaceful democrats and progressives in Iraq struggling in the most difficult conditions. Those SWP/Respect figures, and other leftists who supported the murderous ‘resistance’ which has killed far many more Iraqis than ‘imperialists’ must be roundly condemned. They betray the principles of internationalism and solidarity.

-A two state solution for Israel and Palestine. This remains the most practical and ethical resolution of the conflict and must be stressed in opposition to those on the left who back a one state solution.

-Freedom of speech and ideas Threats to these are growing at the moment, particularly in light of a damaging religious resurgence (see my piece On Freedom of Speech And Religion) and we must stress that ‘offence’ can never be used as a marker to limit free debate. Religious ideas must be as subject to criticism as all others.

-Opposition to double standards. Too many on the left publicise and protest against the human rights violations of Israel and the US without doing the same for violations in other states. Human rights are universal and therefore breaches of them must be condemned universally. The fact that the US has breached human rights with Guantanamo Bay and ‘extraordinary rendition’ does nothing to lessen the charges against states such as Iran and Syria. Criticism can never be mutually exclusive on either side. But this does not preclude recongition that despite its abuses the US as a liberal democracy remains superior to dictatorships. The SWP and others are so vociferous in their critcism of the US and so muted in their criticism of states such as Iran, that they end up with a de facto acceptance of dictatorships as legitimate resistance to the ‘American Empire’. The slogan of the International Socialists, the forerunner to the SWP, was ‘Neither Washington, nor Moscow but International Socialism’. Today it is just a big no to the US.

Let us now champion the founding Enlightenment values of the left with the same force, persistence and convinction with which others have betrayed them.

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