Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Turkish coffee in English

Before the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I was one of many people from a left-wing background who felt greatly alienated from ‘the Left’ as it had come to be: anti-progressive, nihilistic, callous toward the suffering and the struggles of foreign sisters and brothers, and obsessively anti-American. Only, I did not realise how far I was from being alone. Since the eve of the Iraq War, dissident and heretical leftists such as myself have coalesced into a current of opinion often referred to – not always satirically – as the ‘Decent Left’. For me, the essence of the Decent Left is its absolute commitment to democratic and Enlightenment values and to their universality; its insistence upon internationalism and solidarity with those abroad who are struggling for these values; its absolute rejection of any tolerance of or collaboration with fascists, fundamentalists, dictators or other ultra-reactionaries; and its refusal to compromise these principles in the name of ‘anti-imperialism’ or ‘left-wing unity’.

The Decent Left is a growing phenomenon, for the simple reason that progressive people all over the world are increasingly dissatisfied with the form that traditional left-wing politics is taking. We do not necessarily agree over what the answers are, but we broadly agree about the questions. In fact, ‘Decent’ left-wing discourse will remain fruitful only so long as there is plenty of debate and disagreement, and no restrictive new orthodoxy comes into being.

As a former-Yugoslav specialist, it has been an eye-opener for me to become acquainted with Sarah Franco and her blog Cafe Turco, now appearing in English. Sarah is a scholar with considerable first-hand experience of the former Yugoslavia, and has spent time recently in both Kosova and Serbia, where she was able to witness at first hand the former’s celebration of its independence and the consequent rioting in the latter. She brings an entirely original approach to commentary on the subject. One of the reasons that I welcome Cafe Turco is that it represents an informed, insider’s viewpoint on the former Yugoslavia from a genuinely independent progressive standpoint. And there aren’t that many of those around.

Another reason is that Cafe Turco is reevaluating issues relating to the Left in Sarah’s native Portugal, such as the legacy of the Portuguese Carnation Revolution. And if it has been a relief for me to discover in recent years that I am far from alone in feeling that there is a desperate need to reevaluate left-wing politics and to ask difficult questions about it, so it is an inspiration discovering those who are asking similar questions from outside the English-speaking world, particularly from a country such as Portugal, with such a proud left-wing heritage, but one that is too often neglected in our Anglocentric intellectual universe.

We may not all agree, but the more of us there are that are asking such questions and trying to provide answers, from as many perspectives and traditions as possible, the better. The revolution in left-wing intellectual thought, for which the wars in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq provided such a catalyst, is only going to spread.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Portugal, Serbia, The Left | 2 Comments