Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Thursday, March 09, 2006

'Bruschetta orthodoxies'


Some Bruschetta, yesterday.

Blairites and other pro-war commentators often like to delude themselves into thinking that ordinary working class people in Britain don't really care about international political events like the war on Iraq, and it is only the 'chattering classes' who make the case against it at their 'dinner parties'. Just before last years General Election, for example, David Aaronovitch railed against the liberal 'dinner party set' for whom opposition to George Bush and Tony Blair were 'bruschetta orthodoxies'.

Leaving aside the merits of this argument (which I fear are not great), I thought I would just describe to you some snatches of conversation I overheard on train journey today. A group of six American women tourists - some middle aged, some a little older - boarded the train and sat down a few seats away from me. They proceeded to talk, discussing films and their accomodation etc. etc. They mentioned Josh Hartnett and Kevin Spacey. I got back to reading a book.

Then they got onto more interesting matters. These women - or at least the majority of them - were working class and all white. One of them mentioned her husband who had 'been in Iraq three times', had been in special forces for seventeen years and was now retired 'and I want to keep him retired'. They discussed how badly paid the National Guard and American troops in general were.

Then they got onto the war. 'I don't mind them going to war but this war is wrong' said the first woman. 'You don't go into somewhere without any idea of how you are going to get out. Afghanistan was one thing, we should have stayed there and finished there before starting somewhere else. You don't fight a war in one place when you are still fighting a war in some other place'.

Maybe this isn't quite verbatum, she mentioned Al Qaida as well but I didn't catch that bit, but that was the general drift of what she was saying. The others seemed pretty much agreed. The most elderly woman in the group chipped in, saying 'well, we have been here before' (I guess she was alluding to Vietnam). The first woman continued, attacking the Republicans and also mentioning someone she knew who was addicted to Fox TV. Fox TV - like the Republican Party in general - did not seem to impress these women. They commented on the joke made at Dick Cheney's expense at the Oscars ceremony, which was 'the best bit' of the Oscars.

Then they moved onto motives for the Iraq war. The first woman said, 'we all know why it started, it was about George going on where his father left off', a settling of family scores for the Bush family. Then one woman who had been previously silent challenged this. 'If one towel headed Arab [I presume she was referring to Saddam Hussein] had annoyed your father, wouldn't you want to go and fight him?' The first woman then came back on this immediately: 'Yes, George could go and fight him, he could send his daughters there, [but] why should he send our boys [to do his fighting for him]?'

This questioned remained unanswered as the train pulled into its destination, and after a period of silence, the conversation went back towards discussing the four day trip they had ahead of them.

My point I think is this. While the war might not generally come up spontaneously in conversation among British working class people in the same way, it is not because people in Britain are pro-war. I think it is just that the number of troops the US has and the high casualty rate it is experiencing makes the war a central issue for ordinary Americans in a way in which it is not here in Britain, the experience of military families against the war aside. However, it is clear that the longer the troops stay out in Iraq the more popular such 'bruschetta orthodoxies' will become. As Trotsky apparently once said, 'you might not be interested in war, but war is interested in you'.

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7 Comments:

At 11:35 am, Blogger Roobin said...

The important thing about the war is that it has embedded two things in people's consciousness (1) that it is possible to organise very big demonstrations to mobilise and express public opinion and (2) Tony Blair and his cotierie cannot be trusted, anyone who justfied the war and/or continues to justify the war is lying.

That's the handle. It's us and them again.

 
At 11:43 pm, Blogger Jim Jay said...

Hmm, Roobin the unfortunate thing is that the lesson a lot of people learned was "(1) that it is possible to organise very big demonstrations to mobilise and express public opinion" and it doesn't make a blind bit of difference to the outcome, so why bother again.

By ignoring the wishes of the majority of people in this country, and I think, the world, Blair has severely damaged the legitimacy of parliamentary democracy.

Now, possibly, in the long run this might be a good thing - but certainly the short term effects have been that although far more people oppose the war now than they did three years ago, far less people believe it is possible to change the world. Far less people ar mobilised.

I agree that people are pissed off and disenchanted with main stream politicians (and possibly all politics, I'm not nearly objective enough to accept that though) but translating anger into action is going to be a difficult task at the current time.

Sorry to be the voice of pessimism :( but we need to face upto to what the challenges are in order to overcome them.

 
At 4:51 am, Anonymous Nathaniel said...

Agree with you, but how did you know they were working class?

 
At 9:44 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Well I can't be sure - you are right. But I think the majority of them were - it was the bit where some of them talked about how family members of theirs couldn't survive on a National Guard salary and how the pay of the ordinary American soldier was so low - if they were middle class (or 'officer class') then I doubt they would have discussed this in the way they did.

But as I say, I wasn't listening in on their whole conversation - that would have been rude.

 
At 5:07 pm, Blogger Roobin said...

Well, sorry to be the voice of "optimism" but that's not the reaction most people have had to the demos. YES people are questioning the democratic legitimacy of parliament and government in wake of the government's "ignoring" of our demo(trust me, they do not ignore anti-war demos: for example, why did they park tanks on Heathrow's runways on Feb 14 2003, because 2 million people were about to hit the streets the following day: why has the government announced it is scaling down its involvement in Iraq this week, because hundreds of thousdands are about to do the same again, over the same issue)... However, you're assuming I'm a COMPLETE FUCKING MORON for not noticing this.

The fact is, though, numerous campaigns have been pulled up by StWC: the Camapaign Against Climate Change and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign both had their biggest demos in the last five years. Defend Council Housing campaign has become a very successful phenomenon, to a lesser extent the anti-academies and defend NHS movements as well. Respect would not exist without the anti-war movement.

The affix "money for war but no money for..." X has become a major galvanising factor. It is clear to very many people that the people kicking Iraq are the same people kicking us. The slogan "Pensions Not War" has become a key part of the drive for a two day public sector strike at the end of March, potentially involving 1.5 million working people. The strike has been overwhelmingly ratified. People want to hit this government.

Now, dry your eyes, mate. I know it's hard to take but it's not 1985 anymore.

 
At 5:09 pm, Blogger Roobin said...

Points (1) and (2) end up inextricably linked. The government is despised and, because of that, people can see its weaknesses and want to attack it.

 
At 5:12 pm, Blogger Roobin said...

Ha! Socialist Unity. If I'd known you were a full-time sadsack I'd wouldn't have bothered.

 

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