Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The Henry Jackson Society: A reply to Neil Clark

neilclarkNeil Clark describes the Henry Jackson Society, of which I am European Neighbourhood Section Director, as ‘the ultra-hawkish Henry Jackson Society, an organisation founded at Peterhouse College Cambridge in 2005 and named after a warmongering US Senator who opposed détente with the Soviet Union.’

It’s not called ‘Peterhouse College’, dear boy; it’s just plain ‘Peterhouse’.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009 Posted by | Marko Attila Hoare, Neoconservatism | | Leave a comment

Greater Surbiton first birthday post


‘Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.’ – Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love

Greater Surbiton became one year old on 7 November. Some weeks before that, it passed the figure of 100,000 page-views. Many thanks to all my readers. Well, at least to some of them. As it has been a very busy academic term, I have not had the time until now to write a suitably self-indulgent birthday post. I apologise in advance for the rambling that follows.

I had two principal aims in mind when launching this blog: to discuss what progressive politics might mean in the twenty-first century, and to provide commentary on South East European affairs. The second of these has tended to predominate, partly because it has been such an eventful year in South East Europe, with the international recognition of Kosova, the failed nationalist assault on the liberal order in Serbia, the escalation of the conflicts between Greece and Macedonia and between Turkey and the PKK, the failed judicial putsch against the AKP government in Turkey, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and so on. Although the recognition of Kosova and the defeat of anti-democratic initiatives in Serbia and Turkey gives us reason for optimism about the region, all the indications are that events there will not cease to be ‘interesting’ in the forseeable future. Key struggles are either being decided now, or are simmering: for the international recognition of Kosova and its successful functioning as a state; for the defence of Macedonia’s name and nationhood; for the democratisation of Turkey; for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict; for the defence of Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity; and for the reintegration of Bosnia.

While I remain cautiously optimistic about at least some of these, reason for concern is provided by the direction in which EU policy is tending. This includes support for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s disgraceful six-point plan for Kosova, which will reinforce the country’s ‘partition lite’. It includes also support for a new partnership with Russia, in violation of the ceasefire agreement over Georgia (from which Russian forces have refused fully to withdraw) and at the expense of the military defence of the states of Eastern Europe. All this indicates a new appetite for appeasement, for which France, Germany, Italy and Spain are principally responsible. The big unknown, at the time of writing, is precisely what the Obama Administration’s policy toward the region will be. I am somewhat Obamaskeptic and have voiced my concern about this already, but we really won’t know what Obama will do until he assumes office. In the meantime, I am happy to note that our own, British ruling classes show no indication of going back down the road shamefully trodden by John Major’s government in the 1990s: David Miliband’s performance as Foreign Secretary with regard to South East Europe has on the whole been commendable, while David Cameron’s response to Russian aggression in Georgia was magnificent. Whichever party wins the next British general election, the UK is likely to act as a brake on some of the more ignoble impulses of our West European allies.

It is fortunate, indeed, that the only political parties likely to win the next general election are Labour and the Conservatives, both of them respectable parties of government, rather than some irrelevant fringe group. Such as the Liberal Democrats. I have written to my various MPs several times in the course of my life, and on a couple of occasions to other elected politicians. The only one who never wrote back was my current MP Ed Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, to whom I wrote to ask to support the campaign to provide asylum in the UK to Iraqi employees of the British armed forces. No doubt, as Mr Davey has assumed the immensely important job of Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, he will have even less time to waste on trivial matters such as writing to his constituents, and no doubt democracy would anyway potter along so much better if we all stopped pestering our MPs. And the fruits of Mr Davey’s labour are there for all to see – such as this empty, incoherent, waffling attack on ‘neo-Cons, from Dick Cheney to David Cameron’, for being too ‘macho’ over Georgia. One can always rely on a certain type of wishy-washy liberal to be infinitely more offended by resolute calls for action against aggression than they are by the aggression itself. The line isn’t to oppose aggression, comrades; the line is to oppose people who oppose aggression. The electoral contest here in Kingston and Surbiton is a straight fight between the Conservatives and the LibDems; readers may rest assured I won’t be voting for the LibDems.

Indeed, as a point of principle, progressives can no longer automatically back the left-wing candidate against the right-wing candidate; we need to think hard before deciding whether to back Merkel or Schroeder; Sarkozy or Royal; Livingstone or Johnson; Obama or McCain; Cameron or Brown. Politicians and parties of the left or of the right may be a force for positive change, while both the parliamentary left and the right must move toward the centre if they want to win elections. Thus, the US presidential election was fought between two centrist candidates, lost by the one who waged the more divisive and partisan campaign, and won by the one who reconciled a message of change with a message of healing and reconciliation. About a billion commentators have pointed out the signficance of a black man being elected president of the US, yet it was the reviled George W. Bush who appointed the US’s first black Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in 2001, and first black woman Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in 2005, something to which even the Guardian’s Gary Younge pays tribute.

Only joking. In his article at the start of this month on how inspiring the possibility of a black president is for young black people in the US, Younge actually complained that Obama hadn’t been all good, because he had voted to confirm Rice as Secretary of State. A couple of years ago, Younge said: ‘Of course, on one level it’s important that black people have the right to fuck up and to be bad, but we have to separate progress of symbols and progress of substance. At a symbolic level, Condoleezza Rice does represent some kind of progress, but if that’s where we are going with this thing I’m getting off the train now.’ Has everyone got that ? The election or appointment of black politicians to senior posts in the US should only be celebrated as symbolic of positive change if they’re politically sympathetic in the eyes of Guardian journalists.

If there’s one blogging decision I took that I was initially unsure about, but now definitely do not regret, it was the decision not to have comments. I realise that this makes me a social outcast in the blogosphere – something equivalent to a leper during the Middle Ages. But do you know what, dear readers ? I really don’t care. Just as I don’t like dog turds, half-eaten kebabs and squashed bubble gum littering the parks and pavements where I walk, let alone on my doorstep, so I don’t want my nice clean blog littered with comments from the assorted riff-raff of the internet: Chetniks; Ustashas; national chauvinists; genocide-deniers; Stalinists; Nazis; ‘anti-imperialists’; ‘anti-Zionists’; Islamophobes; Islamofascists; BNP supporters; SWP supporters; Red-Brown elements; ultra-left sectarians; toilet-mouthed troglodytes; Jeremy Kyle fodder; ‘Comment is Free’ types; and others like them. And I particularly don’t want flippant, inane comments that take ten seconds to think up and write, by Benjis who don’t bother to read the post properly in the first place. Thank you very much.

Let’s face it, members of the above-listed categories generally comprise about half of all the people who comment on blogs dealing with my fields.

Of course, all credit to those bloggers who do succeed in managing comments in a way that keeps the debate lively and the trolls and trogs to a minimum.  But I see no reason why every article has to be followed by comments. While I applaud the democratisation of the means of communication that the blogging revolution represents, this democratisation has come at a price. The ubiquitous nature of online discussion and the generally inadequate level of comments moderation has resulted in a vulgarisation of public discourse. Where once the letters editor of a paper could be relied on to reject automatically semi-literate, abusive or otherwise bottom-quality letters for publication, now many, if not most, online discussions are filled with outright filth and rubbish. Well, I’m doing my bit for the online environment.

Related to this is the unfortunate fashion for blogging and commenting anonymously, which inevitably results in a ruder, nastier online atmosphere. I’m not going to judge any individual who chooses to remain anonymous – you may have a valid personal reason. But really, comrades, is all this anonymity necessary ? So long as you live in a democracy, and the secret police aren’t going to come round to visit you just because you express your opinion, then the default position should be to write under your real name.

Greater Surbiton has received plenty of intelligent criticism in the one year of its existence, and not a small amount of really stupid criticism. So, to round off this too-long post, I’m going to announce an award for Most Ill-Informed Attack on Something I Have Written. In this inaugural year, the award goes jointly to Hak Mao of the Drink-Soaked Troglodytes and to Daniel Davies of Aaronovitch Watch (unless you really have nothing better to do, you may want to stop reading at this point – it’s my time off and I’m having a bit of pointless fun with my sectarian chums).

Hak Mao, in response to my Normblog profile:

‘There you are, minding your own business and then you read this steaming pile of bollocks: The most important change of opinion I’ve ever had … was realizing that ‘anti-imperialism’ … was something highly negative and reactionary, rather than positive and progressive. Can’t spell Vietnam, Laos, Amritsar, Bay of Pigs or Salvador eh? You are welcome to compose your own list of atrocities committed in the name of the ‘West’. And one of those whose historical contribution to human emancipation I most appreciate [is] … Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The emancipation of Armenians was particularly heartwarming.’

This criticism is being made by someone who is a born-again Leninist and Trotskyist religious believer, whose favourite book is still Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’, who views Trotsky’s martyrdom the way Christians view the crucifixion, but who nevertheless writes for a pro-war, Christopher-Hitchens-worshipping website.

The Bolshevik regime of Lenin and Trotsky armed and funded Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists. It signed a treaty ceding to Turkey territory that had been inhabited and claimed by the Armenians; the US president Woodrow Wilson had wanted the Armenians to receive much more territory than the Bolshevik-Turkish treaty gave them. The Turkish slaughter of Armenian civilians in Smyrna in 1922 was made possible by Bolshevik military and financial support for the Kemalists. The Bolshevik regime was therefore utterly complicit in Turkish-nationalist crimes against the Armenians.

Someone like Hak Mao, properly equipped with a Scientific Theory of Class Struggle, who is faithful to the Principles of Revolutionary Socialism and well versed in Marxist-Leninist Scripture, can simultaneously 1) revere Lenin and Trotsky, 2) ignore their support for Mustafa Kemal and their complicity in his crimes against the Armenians; 3) denounce bourgeois reactionaries like myself who write favourably about Mustafa Kemal; and 4) justify all this in ‘scientific’ Marxist terms. And of course, everyone knows that, were Lenin and Trotsky alive today, they would undoubtedly, as good anti-imperialists, have joined with Christopher Hitchens in endorsing George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, in welcoming the Bush dynasty to the campaign against Islamic terror, and in supporting Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And naturally they would still have denounced apostates and traitors to the cause of anti-imperialism, such as myself, in the strongest possible terms.

Anyone with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism can only reach this conclusion. If you do not reach this conclusion, it is because you do not have a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism. And anyone without a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism is an ignorant pleb whose views don’t count, and who should defer to a vanguard comprised of professional revolutionaries with a proper understanding of Dialectical Materialism.

Here’s a joke for the comrades:

Q. What do you call a racist, anti-Semitic, Great German nationalist supporter of capitalism, the free market, globalisation, Western imperialism and colonialism ?

A. Karl Marx

(NB I’m also pro-war over Iraq and Afghanistan, and I agree with Christopher Hitchens more often than not. But I don’t pretend to be an ‘anti-imperialist’.)

Daniel Davies, in response to my post ‘Weighing Obama versus McCain’:

I wrote:

‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban.’

Davies (‘Bruschettaboy’) replied:

‘call me a bad blogger, but I would shed very few tears and protest only halfheartedly at our terrible UK libel laws if it turned out that there were some sort of consequences for saying something like that.’

This is what Ahmed Rashid, one of the most eminent journalists of Afghanistan and the Taliban, writes in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia:

‘Between 1994 and 1996 the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia and pro-Western. The USA conveniently ignored the Taliban’s own Islamic fundamentalist agenda, its suppression of women and the consternation they created in Central Asia largely because Washington was not interested in the larger picture.’

Hopefully, Rashid will agree to be my defence witness in the event that Clinton follows Daniel’s advice and takes me to court.

As for Milosevic, Davies clearly has not heard of the Dayton Accord, but I assume everyone else who reads this blog has (certainly everyone who reads it as assiduously as Daniel does), so I’ll confine myself to posting this picture of Clinton’s man Richard Holbrooke, the architect of Dayton, carrying out Western imperialist aggression against the anti-imperialist Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic:


You see, comrades from the ‘Indecent Left’ like Daniel see their mission as defending the leaders of Western imperialism and their record over crises like Afghanistan or Bosnia, from condemnation coming from the ranks of the ‘Decent Left’, and they do so in the most strident and aggressive manner – even when the condemnation is totally justified. And there I was, thinking we were all part of the same left-wing extended family.

Honestly, what a bunch of splitters.

Update: Davies isn’t now trying to defend his previous claim that Clinton never collaborated with Milosevic or the Taliban, and that I deserve to be sued for saying so, but is taking refuge in the defence that he didn’t understand what I was saying, because I wasn’t expressing myself clearly.

What do you think, readers, is the sentence ‘Bill Clinton collaborated with Slobodan Milosevic and the Taliban’ at all difficult to understand ? Is the grammar or vocabulary at all complicated ? Perhaps I’m using opaque academic jargon that a non-specialist might find difficult ?

Or could it be that Daniel simply isn’t the sharpest tool in the box ?

Friday, 28 November 2008 Posted by | Afghanistan, Anti-Semitism, Armenians, Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Genocide, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Islam, Jews, Kosovo, Kurds, Macedonia, Middle East, NATO, Neoconservatism, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, SWP, The Left, Turkey | 1 Comment

It is no longer Left vs Right, but pro-Western vs anti-Western

ellipse3.jpgThe distinction between the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ in global politics is today increasingly redundant. The dialectic has given rise to, and been superceded by, a new dialectic: pro-Western vs anti-Western. The issues that traditionally divided the Left from the Right – redistribution of wealth, public vs private ownership, a planned economy vs the free market – have not ceased to be relevant, but they are not those that define the battle lines in global politics today. In domestic politics, the extent to which they continue to dominate political discourse varies between countries, but the trend is increasingly toward the middle ground, as represented by Western Europe: both capitalism and the welfare state are here to stay. We may disagree over just how much to tax the rich or whether certain utilities should be publicly or privately owned, but nobody is going to go to war over these issues. Nor are our divisions over them projected outwards onto the world stage. The Left-Right conflict has been essentially resolved through the establishment of a centrist model of welfare capitalism, one that takes a slightly different form in each country (the US model being somewhat to the right of the West European model). Those who continue to talk about abolishing either capitalism or the welfare state are the political equivalent of flat-earthers.

The triumph of the centrist political model has led to one section of the Left and one section of the Right breaking away from their respective comrades and joining up in opposition to this model: this ultimately takes the form of a Red-Brown coalition. Conversely, a second section of the Left and a second section of the Right have likewise broken away from the first sections and come together in support of extending this model globally. This, then, is the principal ideological division in global politics today: pro-Western vs anti-Western; globalist vs anti-globalist; the democratic centre vs the Red-Brown coalition.

This cannot necessarily be used to determine where any given individual or group may stand on a particular issue. Blairites and neoconservatives might find themselves aligned with Muslim fundamentalists against Christian fundamentalists in support of intervention in Kosova, and with Christian fundamentalists against Muslim fundamentalists in support of intervention in Iraq. George W. Bush might be close in many ways to the Christian fundamentalist right in the US, but he has nevertheless been ready to describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’, attempt the democratisation of two Muslim countries and recognise predominantly Muslim Kosova’s secession from predominantly Christian Serbia. A significant segment of hard-liberal opinion supported intervention in Kosova and Afghanistan but opposed it in Iraq. Pro-Western and anti-Western are not the same as ‘pro-war’ and ‘anti-war’. Nor can this division be projected back onto the Cold War division between the Western and Soviet blocs; the issues today are not the same as they were then; former Cold Warriors and Marxists can be found in both of today’s camps.

The essence of the division is that the pro-Westerners support the extension of the liberal-democratic order across the globe, through the politics of human rights, promotion of democracy, universal values and interventionism (not necessarily always military). The anti-Westerners oppose the liberal-democratic model, at least as a universal model; they admire or support movements or regimes that stand in opposition to the Western alliance or to Western values – all of which uphold religious fundamentalism or nativist nationalism, sometimes combined with a ‘socialist’ veneer, as an alternative to liberal democracy. Anti-Westerners may support military intervention for reasons of ‘national interest’ or religious sectarianism – whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or other – but never for the sake of liberty or ‘Western values’; never for the sake of halting genocide or overthrowing tyranny. They may masquerade as ‘anti-imperialists’, but what they oppose is ultimately not the domination of smaller nations by more powerful ones. Hence they refuse to show solidarity with the people of Tibet, Darfur, Bosnia, etc. By which I don’t simply mean they do nothing – few of us can boast that we’ve actively ‘shown solidarity’ with all the just causes in the world – but that they oppose the idea of such solidarity in principle.

Rather, the anti-Westerners’ ‘anti-imperialism’ means opposing the very ideas of ethical international intervention and of the global triumph of liberal-democratic values. Similarly, their support for ‘national sovereignty’ means supporting the sovereign right of dictators to reject pressure to respect human rights, not the sovereignty of democratically elected parliaments in Baghdad or Pristina. And their support for ‘international law’ never means abiding by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, or respecting the jurisdiction of war-crimes tribunals established by the UN Security Council, but essentially boils down to supporting the right of Moscow or Beijing to veto acts of intervention that might halt genocide or overthrow tyranny.

It is often said that ‘fascism’ is used too broadly to mean ‘anything I don’t like’. Lots of people on the Left get very uptight and precious about their own definition of ‘fascism’, insisting it is the only correct one and getting upset when anyone suggests a different one. So I’m going to be very clear how I define ‘fascism’: as ‘revolutionary anti-liberal chauvinism’; that is, the ideology and practice of mobilising chauvinism on a popular basis in order to assault liberal values, bring down a liberal order, cement in power an authoritarian regime and/or territorially expand. The regimes of Saudi Arabia and China are both extremely unpleasant; neither is fascist, but in the long run, each may have to choose between liberalisation or increasingly populist-chauvinist authoritarianism. In Russia, the regime has made its choice; in Serbia, the battle is raging.

National or religious chauvinism is the weapon with which opponents of liberal-democratic values seek to defeat them. And ever since the late nineteenth-century, elements of the Left, consumed with hatred for the liberal-democratic order but aware that they were too weak to overthrow it by themselves, have chosen to ally with the nationalist far right against it. The brilliant historian of fascism, Zeev Sternhell, has this to say of the early twentieth century French radical socialists whose hatred of liberalism led them to ally with the nationalist, anti-liberal right in the aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair, when moderate socialists had come to the defence of the liberal order against this same nationalist, anti-liberal right:

Once again, the proletariat had become the bourgeoisie’s watchdog. Once again, in the name of liberty and the Republic, democracy and secularism, it had been cheated by its political leaders, who had persuaded it to save its own exploiters, its own oppressors. The conclusion, then, was simple: since democracy and the bourgeoisie are inseparable and since democracy is the most effective offensive weapon the bourgeoisie has invented, democracy has to be overthrown in order to destroy bourgeois society. Lagardelle, Sorel, Berth and Herve all agreed that not only did democracy not serve the interests of socialism, as Jaures believed, but it was its mortal enemy. In a parallel manner, Maurras and Valois believed that democracy brought the nation to the verge of extinction. Socialism and nationalism thus discovered their common enemy, whose elimination was necessary to their own existence.

Zeev Sternhell, ‘Neither Right nor Left: Fascist ideology in France’, Princeton University Press, 1986, p. 19


The wish to break with the liberal order was the connecting link between the Boulangist rebellion of the Blanquists, the former Communards, and the extreme left-wing radicals and the fascistically inclined or already fully fascist revolt of the neosocialists, the frontists, and the PPF [Parti Populaire Francais]. For both of these groups what really mattered was not the nature of the revolution but the very fact of the revolution. For both of these groups the nature of the regime that succeeded liberal democracy mattered much less than ending liberal democracy. This total rejection of the established order motivated one of the most important factors in the rise of fascist ideology: the transition from left to right.

Ibid., p. 15

Somthing similar is happening today, but with one significant difference: our contemporary left-right alliance against liberal democracy is attacking not primarily on the domestic front, but internationally: they are seeking to defeat, or to prevent the spread of, liberal democacy in Iraq, in the Balkans, in Russia and Belarus, in Zimbabwe and in Afghanistan. They are ready to undermine our struggle and support our deadly enemies in all these places. The right-wingers among them fear that globalisation, immigration and Euro-Atlantic integration will dilute the ‘nation’ as they understand it. The left-wingers among them fear the final, definite triumph of capitalism globally. Theirs is the rearguard action of declining political traditions, motivated by fear and hatred of the world that is emerging. They have no creative potential; their politics is wholly obstructive and destructive.

Facing them, we have a left-right alliance of our own: the alliance of all honourable socialists, liberals and conservatives in defence of liberal-democratic values and our fellow democrats abroad. We may have our internal differences over taxation or public ownership, as does the other side, but in each case, these are differences within the family. It is the struggle between the supporters of liberal democracy on the one side and the Red-Brown coalition on the other that is the principal struggle of our age. Those who occupy the middle ground are either vacillating between the two sides, or have opted out of the struggle and are standing on the sidelines.

Saturday, 29 March 2008 Posted by | Neoconservatism, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | 1 Comment

Join Facebook and support the Revolution

I was getting a bit fed up with Facebook. The ‘social networking’ side to it seems to be completely drowned out by the junk mail, the time-wasting gadgets, the relentless infantilism, the virtual presents and other silliness. I don’t like the way it constantly manipulates you to challenge friends to quizzes or bombard them with spam or otherwise harass them; the way it tells you that you have a ‘message’, but when you try to access the alleged ‘message’, you’re suddenly told to install yet another unwanted application. Or the fact that genuine messages get lost between the Inbox, the Funwall, the Superwall and the ordinary Wall. Or whatever. I’ve largely been driven off Facebook by the sheer weight of fripperies.

However, now that I’ve learned that Facebook is really a sinister, global neoconservative conspiracy, it appears in a much more positive light…

Hat tip: Neil Clark.

Friday, 18 January 2008 Posted by | Neoconservatism | Leave a comment