Wednesday, August 10, 2005

How anti-americanism betrays the left

How anti-Americanism betrays the left

This is an outstanding article which again speaks of the old left which was decidedly anti-fascist...

The left has a long tradition of pacifism. Some of that was ethical or religious, and thus not confined to the left. More of it has come from the historic base of the movements of the left, created from those sections of the population who suffered most from modern wars: the poor who were bombed or shelled in greater numbers, and the poor who were conscripted and died in large numbers, and who had had little direct say in the decisions leading up to war's declaration.

But the dilemmas of modern war and terror are not so ideologically tidy. Individualism - more of a right wing cause than a left wing one - privileges choice and the enhancement of life. Making choices conflicts directly with obedience and honour, which have been the implicit bases of the armed forces. The mass can no longer be treated as a mass, and is not to be mobilised by mass appeals from either right or left.

The left has also had a stronger and more cherished tradition of anti-fascism. It was the left in Germany and in Italy which most fiercely opposed fascism (though it was also sections of the left which helped to create it). The left in Europe mobilised international resistance to the Nationalist forces in Spain during the civil war, and called for their states to intervene on the republican government's side.

These traditions - of pacifism, individualism and anti-fascism now meet another: anti-Americanism, not confined to the left in developed states, but most virulent on it. Inspired by powerful (among the young) prophets as Professor Noam Chomsky, sharpened by the anti-globalisation movement which tends to equate America with capitalism, the emotive force of opposition to the global superpower was gathering strength before September 11: and, ironically, has continued to gather force after it.

Some definitions are needed, particularly for those Americans who attend to European debates. Anti-Americanism is not criticism of the American government's policies, any more than criticism of the Israeli government's policies is anti-Semitism. But there is now a narrative of the left - complete in itself in the way such narratives are - which sees in the US an imperial predator whose actions - all actions - are conditioned by this aspect of its being.

This narrative has ceased to be critical, but become predestinarian: rather as predestinarians divided humanity into those whose actions could never be wrong and those whose actions could never be right, so this strain of left critique arrogates to itself the first and confers on the US the second. It is important not to confuse this grand, totalising critique with criticism, from left or right. The latter is essential for governments, most essential for governments with such awful power as the US commands. But the totalising critique is an intellectual construct, derived from the techniques of 19th century philosophy, which bends all facts to fit the ideological line.


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