Friday, December 31, 2004

Defend Naomi Klein from sectarian dogmatists

I've just noticed a letter to The Guardian, 'Anti-war groups must stay focused' (Dec 29th), taking issue with a Naomi Klein article published the previous day.

I'm still annoyed about a bizarre and completely unjustified attack on Klein by Alex Callinicos in Socialist Review from ages ago - 'War under Attack' (April 2003) in which he accused her of being in the 'Don't Mention the War' tendency. The evidence he quoted at the time was tendentious at best and, in all fairness to the good Professor, quite distorted. It really let down an article which did have a valuable critique of Bernard Cassen and good points against Michael Hardt. Ever since then I've been edgy about sectarian attacks on Naomi Klein.

This time she is accused of pouring scorn on the anti-war movement and being myopic. This is off course completely parochial - as The Guardian made clear Klein's article was a version of something appearing in the US liberal-left magazine The Nation under the title 'You Pay for it, Break it' . You can also find it on the Z-Net site. Klein is arguing against those liberal pro-occupation arguments that can be called the 'Pottery Barn' argument about the war and occupation. It's an argument that says the US should stay in Iraq to help restore the damage of war. It's clearly a bad argument, but is pretty pervasive in the US. Check out the interview between M.Junaid Alam from Left Hook and campus anti-war activists from the Campus Antiwar Network that is carried on Z-Net. To quote Monique Dols from Columbia University of the Campus Anti-War Network (CAN):
'.. the surrendering of the antiwar movement to the Kerry campaign had a devastating impact on the student antiwar movement.'
'This surrendering has not just held back the antiwar movement but it has brought it backwards. The politicians and the corporate, pro-war media set the terms of the debate around the war.'

'You can see the effect that this has had ideologically as well. When the antiwar movement was at its height people would say that the war was wrong because it was all about conquest and oil. Today on campuses you hear the argument that it was wrong because it was a diversion from the real war on terror.'
Well that sounds like 'stalled' to me. It doesn't mean it can't do things in the future - and the activists from CAN are planning to do what they can for the anti-Bush inauguration protests on January 20th. It's odd that someone like Chris Harman can point out that the movement, like the anti-Vietnam War has ups and downs; but woe betide anyone who says that the movement is in a down! I don't think the antiwar movement in Britain is in anything like as poor a state as the American, but at the same time the British movement, despite all its achievements and importance is simply not as important as what happens in the US!

The author of the letter, Ged Peck, says that in the movement there are millions of ideas, so we need to keep things simple 'in order to obtain the widest possible involvement'. The actual implication is that these ideas shouldn't be expressed, discussed and debated. And that carries the real danger of being divisive. What's more, I will say we aren't in 2003 anymore. There is going to have to be a lot of hard work if the demonstration on March 19th is going to be as large as possible, let alone the equivalent of Feb 15th 2003 that some seem to imagine. The idea that 'thousands of people who previously would have supported Blair's criminal government are now organising opposition through Respect' seems to me - sadly - to be an exaggeration. What's more, the occupation makes things more complicated and our response needs to be more nuanced. Naomi Klein still makes a valuable discussion to the debate - and gets knocked by the pro-war/pro-occupation side for her pains. Don't knock her just because she's not on the narrow dogmatic message!


Blogger badmatthew said...

Another letter ('The fight for Iraqi rights') has come into The Guardian (Jan 3rd 2005)to take issue with Ged Peck on Naomi Klein. Janice MacDonald wants us to maintain solidarity with Iraqi groups upholding the rights of ordinary Iraqis and to force our government to pay reparations. Stop the War is presented as sloganeering and slogans that amount to bringing 'our boys' home to secure their safety. No mention of the armed resistance, but I'd guess a hostility to it.

3 January 2005 at 14:41  

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