Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dave Renton on the pro-war 'Left'

From a review of The Liberal Defence of Murder

Something appears to have overtaken those previously liberal British journalists who in recent years have supported so determinedly the Republican Falange around George Bush. You can think of writers such as Christopher Hitchens, who opened the David Horowitz Freedom Centre in 2006 by telling his listeners that it was a pleasure as well as a duty to kill Muslims; or Nick Cohen, who was invited to meet Paul Wolfowitz and declared him a politician committed to extending human freedom; or Martin Amis, who told The Times in 2006 that perhaps the Muslim community should be subject to deportation, and compelled to undergo strip searches in the street.

The interest in this generation lies not in the fact that its members have gone over to the side of causes that once they fought. (The history of ideas is just as full of apostates as it is of converts, of course.) The more interesting point is that they continue to insist that their exile is in full fidelity with their past principles. Hitchens it seems is incapable of making a public speech without running through a roll-call of his heroes – Orwell, Victor Serge, C L R James – writers, it must be said, who had the chance in their own lives and disdained the journey he has taken.

Richard Seymour has now written a polemic, tracing the emergence of this group of writers and criticising them for supporting military interventions. The enduring folly of the pro-war left, Seymour suggests, lies in a combination of experience and innocence. The experience was the civil war in Yugoslavia. Seeing the great crime of the destruction of Sarajevo, the writers concluded that this was a moment, like the 1930s, to take sides. I remember friends arguing with me at the time: the defence of Sarajevo requires the formation of a new International Brigade. In the absence of volunteers, military action was required, and the glow of existential goodness was then conferred on all Bosnian allies, including the US, which became the main focus of the hopes of this set of progressives, and has remained so through the following decade. The innocence was a naive belief in the capacity of American military power to bring good things to Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq.

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