Lip service

by Chris Bertram on April 18, 2006

When someone says of their adversaries that they pay “lip-service” to something, they are trying to devalue some of the substance of what those people say. This may be a claim that their opponents are insincere, or simply that they lack a suitable degree of commitment. The suggestion is that someone is making a merely token acknowledgement of the importance of some matter or value but that it is merely incidental to their view of what matters, a view that is actually focused on other things. It is a charge that the authors of the “Euston Manifesto” have been happy to dish out:

We have no truck, either, with the tendency to pay lip service to these ends [Iraqi democracy], while devoting most of one’s energy to criticism of political opponents at home (supposedly responsible for every difficulty in Iraq), and observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi “insurgency”.

(Get the “silence or near silence” there! So if your opponent has actually said that beheading hostages or blowing-up civilians is a monstrous crime but hasn’t said it as often or as loudly as you think fit, you can still point the finger!)

Others can judge how much of the Eustonites’ energies have been devoted to criticism of political opponents at home and how much to the material promotion of Iraqi democracy (writing about it on your blog doesn’t really count, in my book). Anyway, here’s a list of the things that the Euston Manifesto pays “lip service to”, a charge I am as entitled to make, without supporting evidence, about them as they are about others:

  • “racism against people from Muslim countries and those descended from them, particularly under cover of the War on Terror.”
  • The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
  • “The violation of basic human rights standards at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of ‘rendition’, must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles, ….”
  • Pure lip service, if you ask me, since issues such are rarely mentioned on the blogs in question without some degree of contextualization, minimization, relativization, whatabouterry, and so on. (Of course torture is bad, they acknowledge, but the real outrage is committed by those torture critics who compare Guantanamo to the Gulag.) These are the same verbal manoeuvres that, when applied to acts of terror, are condemned by said blogs as amounting to de facto apology.

    Incidentally, it seemed odd to me for the Manifesto to include among the events that have made the democracy-and-human-rights package the heritage of us all, blah blah blah, the “anti-colonial transformations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries”. “Transformations” is a strangely euphemistic term to describe the various anti-colonial struggles of the last century. Still, I suppose it wouldn’t do to look too closely at the methods employed by the FLN, the Mau Mau, the NLF etc. just in case they resembled the “ugly forces” of the Iraqi insurgency rather more closely than would be comfortable. Some insurgents, it seems, have contributed to the great Enlightenment bundle, and some have not.

    { 76 comments }

    1

    Matthew 04.18.06 at 4:26 am

    This is similar to the point I was trying to say in my post. One can only assume that the paragraph:

    …the tendency to pay lip service to these ends while devoting most of one’s energy to criticism of political opponents at home

    was accidentally left in from the (long) pub session, ‘what valid criticisms can people make of us?’. It’s not just the lip service you correctly point out, but the rather unpleasant impression they give that all of these short-lived campaigns are merely another way to attack former colleagues of theirs in various left-wing groups. Obviously here the classic example is the disgraceful Unite Against Terror statements of many of them, which neither United or were Against Terror (Peter Tatchell has apologised but presumably Cohen stands by his rant), but also quite a few of the ‘why we signed’ of this week’s campaign.

    2

    Brendan 04.18.06 at 4:58 am

    There are four points worth making about this risible manifesto.

    1: As Chris pointed out, looking at the ‘decents’ and see how they present themselves, either on their websites or in the Euston Manifesto, it can clearly be seen that they devote the huge majority of their time to attacking ‘stoppers’ (far more than they ever did to attacking Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden. In fact this last figure is almost unmentioned and forgotten now, despite the fact that ‘everything changed after 9/11′). They advance no positive political programme that differs in any way from that of the Labour Party under Tony Blair (see point 4).

    2: They are cultural relativists. It’s just that their cultural relativism works the other way. Crimes by official enemies are condemned using ‘objectivist’ language (and rightly so). Motives and context are disregarded. It is seen (for our enemies) clearly and without sanctimonious rhetoric that torture and murder and torture and murder, and that no amount of mealy-mouthed ‘backstory’ can possibly justify these things.

    When it come to our crimes, on the other hand, things are rather different. Our crimes get nothing except justification and context. In fact the only exception is when we get outright denial. The anninhilation of Fallujah, and the sinister Orwellian state (complete with retina prints etc.) that has arised from its ruins is a classic case in point.

    3: When push comes to shove (and sometimes long before then) the ‘decents’ push a blatantly Eurocentric version of history and politics. Moreover it is one which is descended from the sort of rhetoric used to justify the British Empire. I.e. they argue that human rights are purely a Western invention, that democracy is purely a Western invention, that (therefore, implicitly) the West was right to ‘expand’ into the East and North and South America to spread these values, and so forth. Their justification for the Iraq war makes no sense without the use of other imperialist tropes (notably American exceptionalism).

    4: The most important point of all: this is a Blair-ite document. Its sole purpose is to justify the foreign policy of New Labour. Some of those (I believe) who signed it and wrote it are actually members of the Labour Party. The Eustonites are in NO sense ‘rebels’ or ‘individualists’ or whatever. Instead they support the party that has ruled the country since ’97. Or to put it another way, they support the state. They will attack each and every political grouping (the BNP, Respect, the SWP, the Greens, the Lib Dems, the Tories, even, on very rare occasions, the Republican party) EXCEPT the Labour party, and specifically that section of it associated with Tony Blair. They don’t point this out to make them seem less like the privileged assimilated conformists they are. But it’s no less true for all that.

    3

    Marc Mulholland 04.18.06 at 5:44 am

    Most of Euston is very agreeable, but there are problems. Some of it is a bit barmy in my opinion. For example, one is expected to “reject fear of modernity”. I wish I could, but it’s hard to be nonchalant regarding the prospect of catastrophic global warming. The record of modernity has been a rather mixed bag, scientific racism and social engineering as well as televisions and ‘green revolution’. I think the phrase underpins a certain cheerfully teleological streak shared both by neo-cons and (ex)- marxists.

    The problem, I reckon, is the very vague formulation of the concept of agency. Classic manifestos identify a historic force (class, nation, the free-born or whatever) and pledge allegiance to it. For ‘Euston’, the agency seems to be ‘actually existing’ pluralist democracies as projectors of state power and example. But there is no examination of why governments should be privileged over, say, national communities, market-orientated civil societies or class alliance configurations as carriers of the democratic ethos.

    The whole thing is rather intellectually and emotionally impoverished, leaving it with a negatively peevish tone particularly evident in the gratuitous dig at Amnesty International, as if they represent a signal threat to all we hold dear. There’s no sense of systematic strategic orientation, rather it’s a concatenation of tactical disputes and (often deserved) anathemas which will have little purchase beyond a few years or even months.

    It remains the case that straight-forward neo-cons do this kind of thing a lot more effectively. They propose a clear-sighted road-map in furtherance of their ideals. There’s nothing like that in Euston.

    4

    abb1 04.18.06 at 6:14 am

    Bummer. Sounds like The Euston won’t unite the human race, after all. Tsk. Oh, well…

    5

    John Quiggin 04.18.06 at 6:25 am

    One thing that struck me was the claim that some signatories opposed the Iraq war at the time. I couldn’t see any obvious examples – can anyone point some out.

    6

    richard 04.18.06 at 6:34 am

    Marc Cooper is anti-war (including before the war), but he’s the only anti war person I’ve spotted on the list.

    7

    soru 04.18.06 at 7:05 am

    .

    It certainly seems to be uniting rather a lot of people in a frantic search to find some not completely spurious grounds to disagree with what is, after all, a rather uncontroversial set of statements.

    Mostly, as here, this consists of talking about things that could have been added but weren’t, which does seem a pretty bizarre set of grounds to criticise something intended as a lowest common denominator of common agreement.

    Good luck in the search for a better argument, I’m sure, with half the blogosphere seemingly looking, one will be found soon.

    8

    Matthew 04.18.06 at 7:11 am

    “One thing that struck me was the claim that some signatories opposed the Iraq war at the time”

    “Decent Left” guru, Michael Walzer, did.

    9

    Brendan 04.18.06 at 7:14 am

    ‘It certainly seems to be uniting rather a lot of people in a frantic search to find some not completely spurious grounds to disagree with what is, after all, a rather uncontroversial set of statements.’

    Yes but it’s like the old saw, the EM is both original and good, but the bits that are good are not original and the bits that are original are not good.

    10

    abb1 04.18.06 at 7:31 am

    Maybe it’s time to dust off this little manifesto.

    There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

    11

    Brendan 04.18.06 at 7:48 am

    No I think it would have been better if it had begun: ‘We are writing this manifesto to show that you can perform contrary actions at the same time, in one single, fresh breath; we are against action; as for continual contradiction, and affirmation too, we are neither for nor against them, and we won’t explain ourselves because we hate common sense.’

    Altogether now: ‘The amusement of redbellies in the mills of empty skulls! ‘

    I would sign it.

    http://www.391.org/manifestos/tristantzara_dadamanifesto.htm

    12

    Phil Stein the Philistine 04.18.06 at 7:55 am

    ‘The most important point of all: this is a Blair-ite document. Its sole purpose is to justify the foreign policy of New Labour. Some of those (I believe) who signed it and wrote it are actually members of the Labour Party. The Eustonites are in NO sense ‘rebels’ or ‘individualists’ or whatever. Instead they support the party that has ruled the country since ‘97. Or to put it another way, they support the state.’

    Yes, the EM crowd is for something. It actually supports a policy conducted by a recognized institution with tangible powers. It’s a capital offence in your book, isn’t it.

    Would you radical crowd FOR ONCE suggest something else: an alternative policy, an opposing project, anything that this or future government would be able to implement.

    Until you do, some of us (less grandiosely: some of me) will go on suspecting that the core of your position is and always was resistance to any sort of policy decision whatsoever. You seem to deny the need to decide among options. Consequently, you condemn anyone who either makes decisions (‘the state’), or those who are prepared to support them.

    13

    Marc Mulholland 04.18.06 at 8:00 am

    “Mostly, as here, this consists of talking about things that could have been added but weren’t, which does seem a pretty bizarre set of grounds to criticise something intended as a lowest common denominator of common agreement.”

    It isn’t bizarre when common-denominators are alluded to in the manifesto which call for serious working-out: a manifesto should have a certain scope and shape determined by its inner logic.

    For example, pluralistic states (the USA par excellence) are identified as the democratic-revolutionary agent. This suggests an extension of the discussion to encompass real world problems. For example, why should we expect pluralist states to foster the spread of democratic government? How can we audit their contribution to this universal ideal? What mechanisms ensure the coincidence of state real politick and liberal internationalism?

    The neo-cons have answers to these questions, whether one finds them agreeable or not. Euston offers no comparable left-progressive perspective; indeed no perspective at all.

    Instead, demands are placed on the subscriber to excommunicate various shades of leftism. This is salutary in itself, no doubt, but it is of not a rigorous foundation for “fresh political alignment”. Prioritising small-change is the classic operating procedure of the sect.

    Here’s a modest proposal for a specifically left interventionist program which actually puts demands on the relevant agents:

    The manifesto’s ‘new internationalism’ proposes a “duty upon the international community of intervention and rescue”. To this might be added the rider that the intervening states undertake to bear the entire cost of ‘mission failure’. Most particularly, intervening states guarantee to receive and properly domicile all resulting refugees, relieving non-participating states of any responsibility to do so.

    This attaches a sufficient price tag to the new internationalism; only realistic costing will allow for properly cautious and appropriate risk-taking. Otherwise, ‘new internationalism’ is likely to be only a cover for the self-interested manoeuvres of the great powers.

    The Manifesto must aspire to some seriousness if it wishes to be taken seriously.

    14

    Chris Bertram 04.18.06 at 8:04 am

    Well well, the Eustonites are a broad church …

    The list of signatories is here:

    http://tinyurl.com/mycvx

    As well as self-described neo-cons, they include both people who are passionate in their defence of Bosnia and the Albanian Kosovars and others who are fully signed up to the whole Dhimmitude agenda and who, consequently, have a more “understanding” view of Slobo. A case in point is Colin Meade:

    http://cmeade.blogspot.com/2006/03/rights-and-wrongs-of-slobodan.html

    15

    Chris Brooke 04.18.06 at 8:15 am

    the core of your position is and always was resistance…

    Time for a revival of resistentialism!

    Les choses sont contre nous!

    16

    Seth Gordon 04.18.06 at 8:19 am

    Is there some reason why we on the, umm, indecent left should care about this manifesto? Are the signatories going to do anything other than pat one another on the back for their courageous support for this fifteen-point program?

    And why does a site with some loose association with the British Labour Party, giving a British telephone number as its contact, use a scan of the United States Constitution in its background graphics?

    17

    otto 04.18.06 at 8:28 am

    “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”.

    One should be more precise and explicitly recognise:
    1. The right of the arabs living in Israel not to be expelled, or put under threat of expulsion, from Israel.
    2. The right of the Palestinians living outside of Israel not to be colonised or ethnically cleansed.

    If you dont get more precise, you can give ammunition to the ambitions of many in Israel to ‘The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination’ by expelling the Israeli arabs from Israeli, keeping colonies in the West Bank, and calling the result a Palestinian state.

    18

    Uncle Kvetch 04.18.06 at 8:36 am

    Is there some reason why we on the, umm, indecent left should care about this manifesto? Are the signatories going to do anything other than pat one another on the back for their courageous support for this fifteen-point program?

    Well, we’re about to get another heaping helping of “decency” sometime in the next year or so, when the bombs start falling on Iran. And I imagine the signatories to the EM will be firmly in the “there is no alternative, you gotta break some eggs etc.” camp. So I guess anything that can be done to chip away at their intellectual credibility is salutary, in a way.

    Not that that’s going to change the course of things, mind you.

    19

    P O'Neill 04.18.06 at 8:46 am

    Still, I suppose it wouldn’t do to look too closely at the methods employed by the FLN, the Mau Mau

    Could you clarify why you included the Mau Mau in this list? Of all the insurgencies to mention as containing possibly dodgy tactics by the insurgents, I’m not sure what put this one over the top.

    20

    Louis Proyect 04.18.06 at 8:48 am

    21

    Chris Bertram 04.18.06 at 8:56 am

    Well I didn’t conduct a survey of anti-colonial movements to determine which ones were the most bloodthirsty, if that’s what you mean. There can be no doubt that the Mau Mau killed many African civilians they perceived as being pro-British as well as some settlers.

    22

    Mike 04.18.06 at 9:18 am

    Brendan, it’s total lies to say the Decents believe democracy and human rights are a western concept. You know full well that Blair’s big point is always precisely the opposite. Don’t tell porkies.

    Falluja was not “annihilated”, as you claim, either. Such a childish way of describing an operation to close down a major terror centre that was disrupting the lead up to the first election – supported by the majority of Iraqis – just shows up to be fundamentally unserious.

    As far as Chris’s point about paying lipservice to certain issues. I don’t think it’s impossible to remove all context away from any argument. If torture is worse in one place than another, it is really not worth highlighting this fact along with condemning it, to show that although it’s wrong it doesn’t detract from the rightness of a cause? You may simplistically, in a culturally relativist type way, want to pretend the Americans are always as bad as Saddam Hussein and therefore we know the war is wrong, but what if that really isn’t true? What the trouble with revealing that fact?

    23

    P O'Neill 04.18.06 at 9:37 am

    Fair enough Chris. I tend to notice Mau Mau usages given the frequent winger complaint about being “Mau Mau’d” in some respect, which is really laughable given the brutality of that war.

    24

    John I 04.18.06 at 9:39 am

    It’s definitely worth not ignoring this. The Project For a New American Century was all mapped out decades ago but no-one paid it any mind until it was actually put into practice. When the bombs have fallen on Iran (and the West begins to see incidents that make Madrid and 9/11 look like a walk in the park) it will be a little late to begin the refuting.

    25

    DC 04.18.06 at 9:44 am

    “it wouldn’t do to look too closely at the methods employed by the FLN, the Mau Mau, the NLF etc. just in case they resembled the “ugly forces” of the Iraqi insurgency”

    True enough, but on the other hand their opposition to the Iraqi insurgency is presumably not based on its methods alone – there are other respects in which it differs from the FLN etc., no?

    Still, imperialism is rather underplayed in the EM, not surprisingly since it seems to see itself as an imperialism-over-fascism charter.

    26

    aretino 04.18.06 at 10:05 am

    The funny thing is, the quotation Chris pulls from the EM is such a perfect fit for the Bush Administration.

    Consider.

    1. “lip service to … [Iraqi democracy]” — check. When your idea of “democracy” is installing a corrupt exile (Chalabi) in power at the point of a gun, you have the strongest possible claim to not taking democracy seriously.

    2. “while devoting most of one’s energy to criticism of political opponents at home (supposedly responsible for every difficulty in Iraq)” — double check. Speaks for itself.

    3. “observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi ‘insurgency’” — hat trick. Denying the very existence of the insurgency for years after it was perspicuous to every else really sets the standard for silence.

    27

    Louis Proyect 04.18.06 at 10:10 am

    Richard: “Marc Cooper is anti-war (including before the war), but he’s the only anti war person I’ve spotted on the list.”

    Michael Walzer and Mitchell Cohen of Dissent Magazine are also “antiwar” in the sense that Cooper is. Which really means adopting a pro forma position while spending most of your time and energy castigating those who actually go out and organize demonstrations.

    With the exception of Paul Berman, there are far fewer pro-war “leftists” in the USA than in Great Britain. Most of the people who would have an affinity with Norm Geras and company are reluctant to go the whole route and do a “Hitchens”. However, on most of the “talking points” that keep cropping up on Harry’s Place, you can find a Marc Cooper chiming in. This includes what a beast Hugo Chavez is, the need to promote the right of the National Endowment for Democracy to operate in Cuba, etc.

    28

    Clive 04.18.06 at 11:02 am

    “Some insurgents, it seems, have contributed to the great Enlightenment bundle, and some have not.”

    If this means some have been democratic, but others (including the current insurgency in Iraq) have not, why can’t it be a statement of truth?

    29

    abb1 04.18.06 at 11:11 am

    What makes you think the current insurgency in Iraq is not democratic? They seem to have well over 50% support in their communities. As opposed to, say, the 1980s ‘Contras’ insurgency in Nicaragua.

    30

    Uncle Kvetch 04.18.06 at 11:17 am

    You may simplistically, in a culturally relativist type way, want to pretend the Americans are always as bad as Saddam Hussein and therefore we know the war is wrong, but what if that really isn’t true?

    And you may want to erect laughable strawmen instead of engaging other people’s actual arguments, but don’t be surprised when you’re dismissed as “fundamentally unserious.”

    31

    roger 04.18.06 at 11:26 am

    The oddest thing about the criticism of that manifesto, to my mind, is how little both the left and the right (which is what the decent left is — a rightwing group that drops words like “comrade” into its enthusiastic encomiums of the killing fields) have absorbed what did happen in the Iraq invasion. Put simply, the Iraq invasion proves that foreign policy-making needs to become much more democratic in the old democracies. The cold war, which allowed the executive branch to usurp foreign policymaking at the expense of the old system of checks and balances, is gone, but the abuse has gotten much worse. The first order of business for anybody who seriously supports “humanitarian interventions” is to oppose that executive usurpation; to oppose trickery and deceit in the runup to any intervention; to oppose trickery and deceit in the operation of the intervention; to oppose the thrusting of fraudulent proxies upon the target states that are “intervened” upon; to oppose largescale looting of those states; to oppose imposing on those states changes in infrastructure that are solely to the interest of the occupying power; and to urge timeliness in turning the occupied state over to its people.

    It is so obvious that, even if you support ‘intervention’ — and I don’t — it is not politically possible if the means to achieve it are fraudulent. To make it politically possible, the interventionists have become necessarily become vehicles of disinformation, shoring up an original fraud in which they contrived because the ‘end’ was good. Sorry, the only way this works is to curtail democracy — which is how you end up with the advocates of ‘international’ democracy supporting anti-democratic procedures (extension of executive power, lying, misinformatin) in the democracies they live in. This is what happens when your politics aren’t rooted in legitimacy.

    32

    Brett Bellmore 04.18.06 at 11:44 am

    “What makes you think the current insurgency in Iraq is not democratic? They seem to have well over 50% support in their communities. As opposed to, say, the 1980s ‘Contras’ insurgency in Nicaragua.”

    Well, trying to stop people from running for office or voting, for one? Which is certainly a contrast with the Contras, to say the least.

    And if you put that as “well over 50% aquiescence”, I might buy it. People with a record of shooting folks who don’t cheer DO tend to get cheered, but it doesn’t mean they’re liked.

    33

    Brendan 04.18.06 at 11:51 am

    ‘Yes, the EM crowd is for something. It actually supports a policy conducted by a recognized institution with tangible powers. It’s a capital offence in your book, isn’t it.’

    No I have no problems with Harry’s Place being Blair-ite blog. My problem is that they are not honest about it. The farcical gibberish about the Euston Manifesto is a case in point. In fact there already is a manifesto that contains all the Eustonites’ stuff…it’s called the Labour Party Manifesto.

    I have no problems with white middle class assimilated conformists. What I can’t stand is when they are disingenuous and try to pretend that they are far more rebellious than they actually are (i.e. not rebellious at all).

    34

    Brendan 04.18.06 at 12:13 pm

    ‘Brendan, it’s total lies to say the Decents believe democracy and human rights are a western concept. You know full well that Blair’s big point is always precisely the opposite. Don’t tell porkies.’

    Actually I know the opposite full well. Blair’s point has always been that these concepts are Western concepts TO WHICH THE REST OF THE WORLD ARE ENTITLED. Which is a rather different point.

    The salient point about the ‘decents’ is that they dislike, or hate might be a better word, indigenous movements towards democracy, freedom and so forth. Instead they always and in all cases argue that Western values must be brought to the rest of the world…via force, if necessary.

    Incidentally, this para: ‘Falluja was not “annihilated”, as you claim, either. Such a childish way of describing an operation to close down a major terror centre that was disrupting the lead up to the first election – supported by the majority of Iraqis – just shows up to be fundamentally unserious.’ is cultural relativism in its purest form. I’m not going to do it (it would bring howls of derision on my head) but imagine someone describing 9/11 in similar terms: as reasoned, considered retaliation for American sponsorship of Israeli imperialism. And yet we know perfectly well that that is how Osama Bin Laden saw it.

    35

    otto 04.18.06 at 12:20 pm

    There’s a debate to be had about exactly what would constitute “reasoned, considered [and politically effective] retaliation for American sponsorship of Israeli imperialism”. ‘Please don’t colonise and ethnically cleanse the Palestinians’ has not worked very well. But maybe that’s for another thread.

    36

    abb1 04.18.06 at 12:20 pm

    They weren’t trying to stop people from running for office or voting. And this link here says that fully 70% of Anbar province approves of attacking Americans. If that’s not democratic, then I don’t know what is.

    37

    Brendan 04.18.06 at 12:33 pm

    And incidentally in case you want to see what ‘the betrayal of the Enlightenment Project’ and ‘cultural relativism’ looks like: it looks like this:

    http://thinkprogress.org/2006/04/18/rices-good-friend-a-brutal-oil-rich-dictator/

    (via Atrios).

    38

    Jim Harrison 04.18.06 at 1:08 pm

    The word democracy doesn’t have much stable meaning left, and we should probably stop using it now that it doesn’t have anything to do with the will of the people. At the very least, we ought to qualify the term with an adjective. The sort of democracy desired in Iraq is of the Breshnevian variety, i.e., a state in which people have the right, indeed the duty, to freely elect the candidates permitted by the occupying power. Or maybe the right adjective is Schmittian since elections–and not only in Bagdad!–are merely plebicites to create an illusion of legitimacy and to implicate the people at large so they can be blamed when the policies of the elites lead to catastrophe.

    39

    neil 04.18.06 at 4:03 pm

    from brendan –

    “The salient point about the ‘decents’ is that they dislike, or hate might be a better word, indigenous movements towards democracy, freedom and so forth. Instead they always and in all cases argue that Western values must be brought to the rest of the world…via force, if necessary.”

    And as for abb1′s notion that the insurgents in Iraq are some sort of democratic resistance movement.

    Little wonder the EM gets support.

    40

    DC 04.18.06 at 5:45 pm

    There’s a difference between popular resistance (which is probably a fair description of attacks on US troops in many parts of Iraq) and democratic resistance in the sense of a movement with democratic goals.

    Given that what we’re referring to as resistance is emanating chiefly from the section of Iraq’s population that was (again chiefly) the sociological base of its deposed dictatorship (not that Sunni Arabs didn’t suffer under Saddam, nor that any community can be held “collectively responsible”) I’d say the burden of proof is on those who want to argue that the resistance is more FLN than OAS, to take the Algerian analogy.

    (Apologies for convolued sentance, I’m sure you followed.)

    41

    DC 04.18.06 at 5:47 pm

    Convoluted.

    42

    Randy Paul 04.18.06 at 7:18 pm

    (Of course torture is bad, they acknowledge, but the real outrage is committed by those torture critics who compare Guantanamo to the Gulag.)

    Yes, clearly abuse of metaphor is far worse than physical abuse of detainees.

    If torture is worse in one place than another, it is really not worth highlighting this fact along with condemning it, to show that although it’s wrong it doesn’t detract from the rightness of a cause?

    I feel compelled to write this yet again, but if you’re going to start with “We’re better than Saddam,” you’re certainly setting the bar very low.

    43

    abb1 04.19.06 at 1:54 am

    Somehow I suspect that popular resistance has nothing to with suffering or not suffering under Saddam (especially now, in 2006). Popular resistance exists in all places where foreigners are trying to exercise power over local people, including Shia slums of Baghdad; that’s all there is to it.

    Also, both ‘popular’ and ‘democratic’ refer to exactly the same concept, one from Latin, the other from Greek.

    44

    Brendan 04.19.06 at 2:18 am

    ‘Little wonder the EM gets support.’

    The EMers run the country, in both the US and the UK. If you want to support the foreign policy of the Bush and Blair administrations please feel free, but stop wasting our time in pretending that the EM is some form of revolutionary, autonomous new political movement that is boldly standing up and…er…supporting the status quo.

    45

    Phil 04.19.06 at 2:31 am

    If torture is worse in one place than another, it is really not worth highlighting this fact along with condemning it, to show that although it’s wrong it doesn’t detract from the rightness of a cause?

    Lord, but this is confused. Firstly, if a cause is right it remains right irrespective of what’s done in its name; I think the word you’re looking for is more like ‘doctrine’ or ‘strategy’. The conflation of the two ideas is telling. For the record, I believe that the values represented by the British and US Constitutions are greatly superior to the values in whose name Saddam Hussein ruled. This is not inconsistent with opposing the war.

    Secondly, a political strategy (or doctrine) may be discredited by what’s done in its name. But in this case the appropriate point of reference is internal, not external: the point is not that following this strategy makes us the worst in the world, but that it makes us do things that are inconsistent with our stated values. If this weren’t the case, any criticism of anything done by the US or Britain could be parried by saying Did you realise that China executed over 1,000 people last year alone? We’re hardly in that league, are we?

    46

    Elliott Oti 04.19.06 at 6:09 am

    Mike says

    If torture is worse in one place than another, it is really not worth highlighting this fact along with condemning it, to show that although it’s wrong it doesn’t detract from the rightness of a cause?

    That’s a cheap and transparent attempt to deflect criticism. Worse than that, it’s an attempt to remove any form of democratic accountability.

    When there’s a fly in my soup, I’m not required to write multiple op eds on global famine before complaining to the waiter, trivial though the fly may be.

    Similarly, there is absolutely no point in denouncing Saddam, Castro and who-have-you instead of complaining about your own governments misdeeds. I don’t live in Cuba; Castro is not listening to anything I say and should he by some freak accident happen to hear me complain about him it will not affect his behaviour one iota.

    No-one with an ounce of common sense would insist I first denounce the evils of Iran’s regime before complaining to my local council that this morning’s garbage hasn’t been collected. How on earth criticism over my government’s participation in a pre-emptive and misleading war suddenly warrants ritual whining about far-off and wholly uninterested dictatorships is completely beyond me.

    This is, by the way, one of the very methods Arab dictatorships ably put to use to prevent any form of accountability: insist that their citizens denounce the evils of Israel against Palestinians instead of criticising the here-and-now actions of their own governments.

    Public criticism in a sphere where the possibility that criticism can effect some change exists, is meaningful. Ritual denouncements of uninterested, unengaged, and unresponsive governments far away is pointless at best, and downright dishonest at worst.

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    DC 04.19.06 at 9:26 am

    Abb 1,

    “‘popular’ and ‘democratic’ refer to exactly the same concept, one from Latin, the other from Greek.”

    They share an etymology perhaps, but the modern meanings are distinct. A ‘popular dictator’ is not an oxymoron, a ‘democratic’ one is. In any case goals are different from means – a popular resistance might not aim at democracy. It might, as the resistance to the Shah in Iran did, aim at quai-democratic theocracy, or whatever.

    ‘Popular resistance exists in all places where foreigners are trying to exercise power over local people…’ That may, in the log run, be more or less true. ‘…that’s all there is to it.’ That definitely isn’t.

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    abb1 04.19.06 at 10:20 am

    All right, fair enough. Peace, man.

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    abb1 04.19.06 at 3:20 pm

    On the second read – nah, your “resistance that aims at democracy” doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Resistance ames at only one thing – getting rid of whatever it’s resisting against. Resistance unites various groups that have different ideas about democracy and everything else: right and left, nationalists, communists, religious nuts and pissed off totally apolitical people – they are all together in the resistance. They don’t necessarily have anything else in common. But if they have popular support, that’s democratic, that’s for the people and of the people.

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    Jason S. 04.19.06 at 3:34 pm

    Regarding the DISSENT editorial board, Mitchell Cohen and Paul Berman supported the war. Michael Walzer opposed it but without much fervor. Marshall Berman, Bogdan Denitch, James Rule and Ann Snitow were all loudly opposed (this is what I remember reading in 2003, anyway). Just for the sake of accuracy.

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    DC 04.19.06 at 6:03 pm

    “if they have popular support, that’s democratic, that’s for the people and of the people.”

    To take this back to the concrete case of Iraq, I suppose what might then be in question is “what is popular support?” I mean: violent resistance to the US presence may be very popular in Anbar and beyond; this doesn’t mean it doesn’t aim at restoring the Shia and Kurdish populations to subordinate positions, which isn’t very democratic, and presumably isn’t very popular in those communities.

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    Jim Harrison 04.19.06 at 6:12 pm

    Bush et. al. dream of a permanent American presence in Iraq, hence the enormous bases we’re building, not to mention the world’s largest embassy. It isn’t just the Sunnis who object to this occupation. The Shias want us out as soon as possible, and the Kurds don’t like us that much either. It may be that U.S. troops will leave Iraq because the military and political costs are just too high, but we aren’t going to leave unless we’re pushed.

    I’m sure there are people for whom the Wilsonian idealism bit is sincere. For the most part, however, the notion that democratizing Mesopotamia is the reason we’re staying put is nothing but a highly distilled grade of hypocrisy. Which is why, for example, you don’t hear very many liberal hawks proposing that we promise to leave Iraq as soon as a stable government is established. They want the oil too.

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    abb1 04.20.06 at 2:27 am

    Why, what’s your evidence that an average fallujah shopkeeper risking his life planting a bomb on a road is dreaming of restoring the Shia and Kurdish populations to subordinate positions?

    Had he ever controlled Shia and Kurdish populations personally?

    As far as the Kurdish population is concerned, there’s been no subordinate position there since 1991, why wasn’t this fallujah shopkeeper shooting his RPG before 2003?

    Imagine that foreigners invaded your country, bombed your town, killed your nephew and you are now planting a bomb on the road. Are you doing this to restore Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders to their subordinate positions?

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    DC 04.20.06 at 5:45 am

    My country is Ireland, not the United States, so the example doesn’t quite apply to me! Then again many IRA members in Northern Ireland may well have been motivated to join by negative experiences (from harassment to a killed nephew) with the British Army. Still, the objective of the IRA was to get Northern Ireland out of the UK (against the will of the majority of its people). In any case I doubt the resistance is driven mostly by personal traumas like the one you suggest.

    “why wasn’t this fallujah shopkeeper shooting his RPG before 2003?”

    Actually that’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask myself: if the resistance has the almost unpolitical, revenge-based character your Fallujah shopkeeper example suggests, then why wasn’t there such resistance prior to 2003, when there was undoubtedly much reason to rebel?

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    abb1 04.20.06 at 6:28 am

    It’s not so much revenge-based as nationalism-based; people don’t like to be controlled by foreigners, especially foreigners with different language, culture, religion. For example, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, killed a bunch of people there and got kicked out eventually. And that was the end of it, Afghans didn’t follow them to the USSR to inflict revenge.

    In Northern Ireland, wasn’t there at least two IRAs, both separatist, both militant but with totally different ideologies, ames, strategies; not to mention a bunch of other various splinter groups. I got an impression that the ‘Officials’, at least, prefered a democratic solution.

    Who were they supposed to resist in Fallujah before 2003? The Shia Arabs in Iraq, I understand, were banned by secular Baathist government from practicing their religious rituals, so they did resist on account of that (not because of being in a ‘subordinate position’ as you said), but the Fallujah people for some reason didn’t have that problem. Maybe they aren’t that religious, I don’t know.

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    sjb 04.20.06 at 7:56 am

    Abb1 writes:

    “The Shia Arabs in Iraq, I understand, were banned by secular Baathist government from practicing their religious rituals, so they did resist on account of that (not because of being in a ‘subordinate position’ as you said), but the Fallujah people for some reason didn’t have that problem. Maybe they aren’t that religious, I don’t know.”

    I would have thought that not being able to freely practice one’s religious rituals meant, in part, that one was in a ‘subordinate position’, when compared to the Sunni Arab population(some of which are residents of Fallujah, supposedly) that suffered no such restriction. How else might we have characterised their position?

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    Brendan 04.20.06 at 8:19 am

    ‘Still, the objective of the IRA was to get Northern Ireland out of the UK (against the will of the majority of its people).’

    Ah yes but this is a fundamental problem of democracy isn’t it? Democracy involves the will of the ‘majority’ of the people but this begs the question, majority of WHAT? The IRA would undoubtedly have counter-argued that Northern Ireland simply did not exist: it was colonists creation. In a unified vote of all of Ireland then the majority of people would have voted for a united ireland (the Unionist’s counter-argument that the majority of the UK would not have wanted Northern Ireland to be joined with Ireland won’t wash as, I think, the majority of British people have always been in favour of troops withdrawal and if necessary a united ireland).

    Ipso fact, the Sunnis would undoubtedly counter-argue that Iraq is a colonists creation and that a vote amongst SUNNIS would unquestionably show a majority in favour of the insurgency.

    This is the problem of modern democracy: it presupposes relatively homogenous nation states, which is what (in Europe) we now have. But in places where these don’t exist, democratic thinking breaks down.

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    Tim 04.20.06 at 10:26 am

    ‘Ipso fact, the Sunnis would undoubtedly counter-argue that Iraq is a colonists creation and that a vote amongst SUNNIS would unquestionably show a majority in favour of the insurgency.’

    Is that really so? I bow to those who have followed the situation more closely than I, but my vague impression was that the Sunni Arabs are among the few people who have a particularly strong commitment to the survival of an Iraqi state – them and Moqtada al-Sadr’s people, who do make Iraqi nationalist noises and oppose federalism. This may partly be due to economic reasons – most of the oil is in the Kurdish-dominated North and the Shia-dominated South. If Iraq really were to break up, the Sunni Arabs of the central provinces would be left with very little.

    ‘Imagine that foreigners invaded your country, bombed your town, killed your nephew and you are now planting a bomb on the road. Are you doing this to restore Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders to their subordinate positions?’

    if you really want to pursue that analogy, then the Shi’a and Kurds constitute a large majority in Iraq, whereas the residents of those island groups aren’t a majority of the US population. Any democratic process in Iraq was bound to lead to more power for the Shi’a and Kurds. If someone invaded the US and put Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders in most of the leading positions, then that would be unlikely to have happened by a democratic process. Which means, for me, that resisting such a settlement would appear to be more legitimate. Hope that’s clear.

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    DC 04.20.06 at 10:28 am

    Yep the Provisionals (now ususally known simply as “the IRA”) split in 1970 from the Officials who wanted to take a more political, rather than military, approach based on Marxist theory. So the Officials mostly stuck to peaceful methods.

    It’s quite true that the Sunni Arab resistance is based to a large degree on nationalism. Nationalism can entail some fairly nasty aspects relating to domination of others though. I see no reason to suppose that to be less true of (variants of) Iraqi nationalism than is generally the case.

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    abb1 04.20.06 at 11:21 am

    But the residents of Anbar province are not fighting against any democratic process, they seem to be all right with that, they voted in the last elections.

    They are fighting against the occupation forces and they are fighting inside their own province. The resistance inside Anbar is popular (democratic) inside Anbar. Resistance inside some Kurdish province may very well be un-popular (un-democratic) inside that province, in which case it will be crushed quickly.

    The Paris Commune, for example, was popular and democratic inside Paris; if it wasn’t supported in the provinces, so what.

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    Tim 04.20.06 at 12:32 pm

    ‘The resistance inside Anbar is popular (democratic) inside Anbar.’

    With respect, I’m not sure you’ve proved that. Earlier you posted a figure that 70% of the province’s population supports attacks upon American troops. That may very well be so, but alas, as we know perfectly well, that’s not all the “resistance” does, it also targets mosques, shrines, crowds of civilians etc.

    ‘The Paris Commune, for example, was popular and democratic inside Paris; if it wasn’t supported in the provinces, so what.’

    I’m not aware that the Paris Communards made a habit of travelling into the French provinces and massacring large crowds of civilians. In fact, I seem to my recall from my leftist studenty days a figure that 60 people were killed in the Communard uprising, and 60,000 were killed by the French army in putting it down (though those figures may have been exaggerated for effect). I’m also not aware that France was a full democracy in 1870, with universal suffrage as exists in Iraq today. And would the crushing of the Commune have prompted a report like this one, from the Independent’s anti-war correspondent Patrick Cockburn:

    After six months of suicide bombings orchestrated from Fallujah against young army and police recruits, most Shia Muslims in Baghdad were delighted when the US Marines largely destroyed the city last November.

    Published on Tuesday, February 22, 2005

    ‘But the residents of Anbar province are not fighting against any democratic process, they seem to be all right with that, they voted in the last elections.’

    That may well be so. If so, it’s necessary to separate them in one’s mind from the foreign jihadis. Al-Zarqawi, for instance, was widely quoted as inveighing against the ‘evil principle’ of democracy.

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    DC 04.20.06 at 12:54 pm

    If you accept that there has been a democratic process in Iraq, then shouldn’t democrats accept the outcome of that process? The outcome, so far, has been a government that accepts the presence of foreign troops.

    Yet:

    “They are fighting against the occupation forces and they are fighting inside their own province. The resistance inside Anbar is popular (democratic) inside Anbar.”

    This would be fine if the insurgency were seperatist. In that case the support of the population of Anbar would be sufficient. But the insurgency appears to be the opposite of seperatist – in fact it seems very hostile to any movement towards federalism in Iraq. It seems to very much want to maintain a unitary republic centred in Baghdad. Thus the support of the population of Anbar is not sufficient to render the resistance democratic, not if Iraq as a whole is the relevant unit, as the resistance appears to think.

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    Donald Johnson 04.20.06 at 1:07 pm

    “With respect, I’m not sure you’ve proved that. Earlier you posted a figure that 70% of the province’s population supports attacks upon American troops. That may very well be so, but alas, as we know perfectly well, that’s not all the “resistance” does, it also targets mosques, shrines, crowds of civilians etc.”

    It’s been a truism on some parts of the left (and I’ve seen it sneaking into mainstream press circles in recent months) that much of the nationalist Sunni resistance hates the anti-civilian terrorist actions of the religious fanatics (supposedly foreign). I don’t know how clean the division is and I suspect that there have been some anti-Shiite atrocities by nationalist Sunnis as well, but there is probably some division nonetheless. Most of the attacks made by the Sunni resistance have been against the American forces–it’s just that the minority that are directed against “soft” civilian targets are likely to create a much bigger death toll and get much more attention in the press, for a couple of different reasons. (One, because it should. Attacks that kill more people should get more coverage. Two, because it’s been convenient until recently to claim that all the resistance forces are uniformly barbaric Sunni monsters. I noticed that storyline beginning to change in the NYT sometime last year, when I started reading about the US trying to sweet-talk the Sunnis and maybe reason with the nationalists. This also coincided with the period when the US started to openly criticize the Shiite torture centers and death squads, which have probably helped drive many Sunnis into supporting the resistance.)

    No references handy, so of course there’s no reason for you to take my word for it. But I’m feeling lazy, so you’ll have to do your own googling if you’re curious.

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    DC 04.20.06 at 2:04 pm

    Good points Abb1.

    I don’t have the references either, but I’ll admit to having been quite surprised a couple of months ago to have brought to my attention statistics released by the US military in Iraq to the effect that 75% of insurgency attacks were directed at coalition troops.

    Obviously one would expect them to have more accurate statistics for attacks on themselves than on Iraqi civilians, police etc., but still.

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    abb1 04.20.06 at 2:16 pm

    After six months of suicide bombings orchestrated from Fallujah against young army and police recruits, most Shia Muslims in Baghdad were delighted when the US Marines largely destroyed the city last November.

    Actually, I don’t think this is true at all. I distinctly remember press reports about Shia Muslims in Baghdad being shocked and disgusted and Mr. al-Sadr expressing solidarity on several occasions.

    I don’t have a link, but neither do you; and when you state something like this as a fact you should be able to prove it.

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    soru 04.20.06 at 2:58 pm

    I don’t have a link, but neither do you

    That was a link. Here’s another:

    http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/717/re2.htm
    Sunni leaders have already concluded that the silence of their Shia counterparts represents a tacit approval of the assault on the predominantly Sunni town.

    The difference in Shia reaction to the first and second assaults on Fallujah was pretty obvious to anyone paying attention.

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    Pithlord 04.20.06 at 5:34 pm

    The point is not that the Sunni “resistance” is democratic. The point is that very few of the anti-colonial movements of the twentieth century that the Eustonites retrospectively support were any more democratic. Certainly, the FLN wasn’t, while the Fourth Republic was.

    The old left line was always to support non-democratic anti-imperialists against democratic imperialists. Geras and co. are free to disagree with that line, but they can’t claim continuity with it.

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    DC 04.20.06 at 6:09 pm

    The FLN may not have established much of a democracy in Algeria, but they were fighting an authentic “war of national liberation”. I don’t think that’s really true of the Iraqi resistance, largely because of the different histories. Algeria was a classic colonial situation – invaded more than a hundred years before, annexed, settled, oppressed etc. The history of the dictatorship in Iraq complicates things for me.

    By your account the old left would support Al Qaeda on anti-imperialist grounds, no? In reality, of course, there’s often a thin line, or no line at all, between anti-imperialism and counter-imperialism c.f. Japanese nationalism.

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    abb1 04.20.06 at 6:16 pm

    Oh, yeah, that was a link, sorry. In this quote he is talking about Islamist groups, though, that’s a small minority. Of course it’s a part of the resistance too, but like I said: there are various groups there that may have nothing in common whatsoever.

    He also says: US military commanders are now dubious about the chances of winning an outright military victory over the Sunni rebels who have a firm core of supporters among the five million-strong Sunni Muslim community. That’s my point exactly, the community thing.

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    Pithlord 04.20.06 at 6:57 pm

    No, the old left would not have supported the attack on the twin towers, for example. Pure reactionary terrorism. And it would not have supported attacks on Shi’ite mosques. Pure sectarian violence (although a few groups, as I recall, rode the line in regard to the provos).

    But, yes, the old left would accept that most “wars of national liberation” are conducted by people with anti-democratic politics, and dubious tactics. If you leave aside the Soviet defensist tankies (among whom we can count Harry), the old left supported the “resistance” in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which was basically indistinguishable from the one in Iraq today.

    The Eustonites are picking up an earlier Marxist view that Engels expressed in relation to Algeria: namely, that it is the role of capitalist colonialism to bring the non-white countries into modernity and thereby make them ready for socialism. But looking back on the twentieth century, they claim to be anti-colonialist. Well, you can’t have it both ways. If it is right to support the cause of democratic imperialism against indigenous undemocrats in Iraq today, why not in Vietnam and Algeria in the past?

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    Brendan 04.21.06 at 2:59 am

    ‘Is that really so? I bow to those who have followed the situation more closely than I, but my vague impression was that the Sunni Arabs are among the few people who have a particularly strong commitment to the survival of an Iraqi state – them and Moqtada al-Sadr’s people, who do make Iraqi nationalist noises and oppose federalism. This may partly be due to economic reasons – most of the oil is in the Kurdish-dominated North and the Shia-dominated South. If Iraq really were to break up, the Sunni Arabs of the central provinces would be left with very little.’

    No you are quite right. The Sunnis do indeed want the survival of a relatively strong state, mainly as you say, because they don’t have any oil in their part of Iraq.

    However, my deeper point remains. I wonder how many Iraqis REALLY see themselves as being Iraqis and not Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Turkmen etc, who happen to have found themselves in Iraq.

    One last point that should be made. According to the ‘decents’…actually I don’t need to go on do I? Everyone knows what they think.

    Anyway you won’t be surprised to hear that this is not how people in Iraq see things. According to the decents there is a ‘baathist-jihadist’ alliance and yada yada yada.

    It is very unlikely that this bears any relationship to the truth. On the contrary, Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda terrorists have been widely despised by the native insurgency.

    And contrary to the canards about ‘neo-baathism’ etc. (it should be noted that the decents have never at any point produced any statement from any insurgent or insurgency linked political movement to back this up but ‘facts are funny things’ arent they?)….it is unlikely that the Sunni insurgents actually want to bring back Saddam. Instead they see themselves as being predominantly secular (NOT JIHADIST) insurgents fighting against IRANIAN IMPERIALISM. Sunni (racist?) views of Shias have always viewed them as being a bunch of crazed religious fundamentalists, and the Sunnis justify what they are doing by saying that, rather than fighting for theocracy, they are fighting against it, and that the Americans have helped to bring an Iranian theocracy to power. Hence the sudden volte face of some Sunnis, thinking that actually if the Americans stay they might bolster the insurgents in their fight against the Shia/Iranian government.

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    Brendan 04.21.06 at 5:29 am

    Sorry I wrote that post first thing in the morning and the thematic link with earlier posts wasn’t as clear as i would have liked.

    My basic point was that it’s not so easy to distinguish between ‘democratic’ and ‘anti-democratic’ insurgency movements avant le chose. Some resistance movements which seemed quite innocent have turned out to be psychotic monsters when they gained power. On the other hand, resistance movements which seemed ferocious have sometimes turned out to be quite pragmatic (even ‘liberal’) in practice.

    (cf Zimbabwe and South Africa….who could have predicted the two different outcomes?).

    So in practice it’s very difficult to sort out ‘objectively’ resistance movements into ‘democratic’ and ‘anti-democratic’ before they achieve power

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    Louis Proyect 04.21.06 at 7:45 am

    Pithlord: “The Eustonites are picking up an earlier Marxist view that Engels expressed in relation to Algeria: namely, that it is the role of capitalist colonialism to bring the non-white countries into modernity and thereby make them ready for socialism.”

    While Engels expressed this view in 1848, he reversed 9 years later and opposed French colonialism. Marx went through a similar evolution. He started out writing articles for the Herald claiming that India was on a civilizing mission in India, but eventually condemned its presence as based on larceny.

    For an excellent historical analysis of British “leftist” imperialist apologetics of the sort that finds its latest expression in Geras, Harry’s Place, Nick Cohen et al, see:

    http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2006/04/peculiarities-of-pro-war-left.html

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    Tim 04.21.06 at 10:48 am

    Pithlord -

    My feeling is that Vietnam is complicated by the fact that it was a situation of incomplete decolonisation. The US was supporting a regime in the South which for much of the time was undemocratic. And Eisenhower once said that if the whole Vietnamese people had the chance to vote, 80% of them would choose Ho Chi Minh. Algeria (and Kenya too) were complicated by the presence of large numbers of European settlers.

    ‘So in practice it’s very difficult to sort out ‘objectively’ resistance movements into ‘democratic’ and ‘anti-democratic’ before they achieve power’

    Maybe one indicator is the way these movements run the areas in which they take control. Iraqi journalists working for Reuters and the Guardian visited some towns where the Sunni Arab ‘resistance’ had taken control, and found such measures as the execution of adulterous women. See http://www.furl.net/item.jsp?id=4284419 for details.

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    Pithlord 04.21.06 at 12:34 pm

    tim,

    I have no trouble agreeing that a democratic anti-imperialist movement (say the Indian National Congress) is preferable to an authoritarian one. But the fact is that the vast majority of anti-imperialist movements have been nationalist-authoritarian, whether with a leftist or rightist cast.

    It was perfectly obvious from how North Vietnam was run, for example, that the Viet Cong’s victory would mean a Stalinist hellhole. The fact that lots of good people didn’t want to face up to this reality doesn’t mean the facts weren’t available.

    OTOH, countries which are domestically democratic have not acted very differently from ones that are domestically authoritarian when they occupy overseas colonies. Probably the worst in the classical era of European colonialism was democratic Belgium’s treatment of the Congo. That’s because the logic of occupation and the logic of democracy are the opposite. Imperialism is never democratic for the imperialized, although the folks in the metropolis may enjoy human rights and liberal democracy, just as South African whites under apartheid essentially did.

    So the old left view — that anti-imperial movements should be critically supported regardless of their domestic politics — wasn’t as stupid as all that. It is basically the Red Dawn “because we live here” point. National self-determination is a necessary, albeit obviously not sufficient, condition for democratic self-determination. So the project of liberal imperialism is contradictory from the outset.

    Not that I support the Iraqi Sunni “resistance.” I think, in the end, you have to make a judgment call about whether a particular movement is dominantly sectarian or dominantly anti-imperialist. But the “decents” go to the other extreme and support the occupation, presumably on the basis that it will ultimately bring about a more democratic Iraqi order, which I think was always delusional. Only Iraqis can bring about a democratic Iraqi order.

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    james 04.21.06 at 12:41 pm

    Vietnam was complicated by the fact that the United States was effectively trading Vietnam for Western Europe. France was trying to maintain colonial control over the region and was in effect demanding US support in trade for France’s support against the Soviet Union. The irony is that France, Ho Chi Min, and the Soviet Union where all allies of the US during World War II.

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