Putting It Down

manifesto n (pl manifestos, manifestoes) a public written declaration of the intentions, opinions or motives of a leader, party, or body or of a sovereign.

The Chambers Dictionary

[Norm knows I wrote parts of the following essay a while back and didn't post them, but it has turned into a kind of companion piece to his most recent manifesto argument yesterday. You should read that as well because it's good.]

Since my post linking to the launch page I haven’t written at length here about the Euston Manifesto (EM); I’ve mostly just quoted its critics and let them fisk themselves. Having spent the journey home from the Euston Group’s Paul Berman meeting on Sunday in the excellent company of the documentary maker filming it, I thought I should write something about how the EM started. Even though my travelling companion hadn’t been to any of the Euston meetings, it turned out that he had had a clearer idea of the impact it was going to have before it was released into the wild than I had.

In the comments of one of my posts yesterday, a compulsive objector, Daniel Davies, accidentally said something illuminating. He claimed to have used the word “pooterish” in his criticism of the document. The comic character who gave rise to this word believed his trivial existence to be of unrecognized but great significance. This running gag from Diary Of A Nobody is neatly inverted by the running gag here at PooterGeek these past few weeks: that the manifesto’s reception and perceived significance have been surreally out of proportion with my original intentions and with my sorry excuse for a life. I now find myself giving my shopping basket to someone behind the perfumes counter in Boots so I can take an international call from a journalist out in the street where the reception’s better, tilting my head sideways to keep the rain off my mobile; or turning down an invitation to an early-morning interview on BBC Radio 5Live because I’ve been up late the night before.

[This is what led me to make the mistake of taking Daniel's most recent comment seriously: I credited him with too much sense to respond to my mentioning how unfunny he is by coming here to tell the same joke about me that I tell about myself every week, and tell it badly. But his pratfall is understandable given that he has "only the vaguest concept" of who I am.]

The manifesto phenomenon, as someone on Radio 4 called it, is more ridiculous than a PooterGeek parody. At the same time as failing to muster a single decent [no pun intended] joke at the manifesto’s expense, its opponents turn themselves into the single best joke about the manifesto. As tens of Lefties accuse us of setting up a field of straw men, tens of other Lefties put on their Worzel Gummidge heads and respond to the manifesto itself with precisely the crazed views their comrades declare to be figments of our imagination or confined to a tiny minority, crazed views that I have quoted verbatim here in post after post since the launch: that we (the allegedly “pro-war Left”) are a bunch of dirty Joos/Nazis, that 9/11 was a CIA plot, that the US is the biggest terrorist entity on the planet. At the same time as obscure opponents on the Web like Davies and Benjamin Mackie tell people how trivial and old hat the manifesto is, prominent opponents in the broadsheet newspapers flap their arms Kermit-the-Frog-style over its True Meaning. Are we imperialists in denial? Are we 60s casualties looking for a new set of ideals?

Huh?

Even as bores make the same jokes about how we met in a pub, other pros and antis around the planet suspect that the EM is the product of a vast new think tank with swish offices; tinfoil-hat wearers warn that our air-conditioning and Aeron chairs were paid for by US neocons or the CIA. (Unfettered by requirements of reason and evidence, it’s even more ironic that conspiracy theorists lack the imagination to invent new Dark Forces to blame instead of recycling the same old suspects.) Every day when I do a Google search more people pop up to explain to us what we really meant, who’s really behind us, and what our real plans are.

Writing in The Guardian, Martin Kettle told me that:

“[T]here are two things that you need to know as know as the debate on this latest leftwing prescription begins to move into the mainstream press. the first is that the authors’ main purpose is to rescue the left from an obsession with the Iraq invasion and American imperialism and to shake it out of apologising for violent Islamists. The second is that the document is a cry of pain.”

As one of the authors in question, even I don’t presume to know the minds of my fellows, except that, naturally, we are as one on every letter of the manifesto’s text. I can, however, outline how the document came into being.

At the first Euston Group meeting, when we weren’t so close to Euston and we weren’t a “Group”, individuals talked to us all, then individuals talked to each other, then we asked ourselves, “What next?” I suggested that we write what I referred to then as “a minimal manifesto”, a document declaring our essential shared values. I was an invitee, not a ringleader, but from what I knew of the diverse collection of Lefties in the room, I was worried that this would comprise three-points, the first one being: “That George Galloway, eh? What a…”

For the benefit of the people present at that meeting who witnessed my confident pronouncements, here are some of the things I was wrong about. I thought that if we wrote any more than two sides of A4 no one would read it. I thought that a simple statement of our core beliefs would make little more than a nice rallying point for a disparate collection of rational, Left-leaning blogs and the preface for a book collecting some essays. I thought that about a hundred bloggers would sign it and that a few thousand more might skim the text. I was clueless.

Perhaps only one person in the room that day, the chair of the meeting, Jane Ashworth, had an inkling of how big it would get. If you had told me that within a couple of months the Wall Street freakin’ Journal would print an editorial about the manifesto I’d have laughed. I’m still laughing. Having grown up in the town I find it particularly amusing that the entry in Wikipedia for the Euston Manifesto is several times longer than the entry for the founding document of the Conservative Party: the Tamworth Manifesto. Apparently, former Tory minister Michael Portillo introduced the journalist John Lloyd on TV yesterday as “a signatory of the Euston Manifesto”. I shall henceforth adopt this same designation on my headed notepaper!

We haven’t hidden the fact that Norman Geras wrote most of the text, along with Alan Johnson, Shalom Lappin, and me. Those of you familiar with our contrasting prose styles might believe that there was some tension between Norm and me about the definition of the word “minimal” in the phrase “minimal manifesto”. I couldn’t possibly comment. But everyone in the twenty-plus Euston Manifesto Group helped to thrash out the text. Jane bashed heads together. Hak Mao created the graphics. Andrew Regan proposed the name. Richard Rogers designed our Pacific island headquarters, embedding in its structure witty allusions to the Pentagon, the Great Pyramid of Cheops, and the Death Star.

Being democrats, we conducted a lot of votes—about what we would call ourselves and what would go in the document and about other things. One thing we didn’t have a vote about was why we were writing the manifesto. We shared the hope that people would read it and that they would talk about it. We aren’t all bloggers or academics, but we all wanted to do what those sorts do: publish something and then talk about it.

In one sense Martin Kettle was right. Eustonians argued about everything from the definition of the word “liberal” to the font to use in the Webpage banner, but we didn’t argue about whether or not we should have supported military intervention in Iraq, not because we agreed on that question—quite the opposite is true—but because it wasn’t why we were writing the manifesto.

I only became fully acquainted with Alan and Shalom’s positions on the other side of the knife from Norm and me after the document was pretty much finished. In this light, what is so striking about so much of the response to the EM is how so many people have started from an assumption that it is “pro-war” (when its principal authors were exactly divided) and immediately attacked it for the things they think it says but doesn’t. The truth isn’t just that we were not and are not simply “pro-war”; the truth is that the war is not even the manifesto’s focus. This suits me. Personally, I argued here and elsewhere in favour of military intervention in Iraq (or, as I would have it, the escalation of our existing and long-term military intervention in that country on the grounds of ongoing breaches of a UN-brokered peace agreement), but I also argued that war in Iraq was a distraction from a still graver struggle.

At the risk of biting the hand that fed the manifesto, I have to say that it’s a strange world we live in when, for example, the most recent editors of The New Statesman are less faithful to traditional socialist values than City banker and Times columnist Oliver Kamm. But it’s been a strange world for a long time. I’d seen this kind of disconnect long before the Iraq war debate started.

When I was at school, an official in my local Labour Party told his daughter he’d disown her if she “took a darkie up the aisle”. (If you’re reading, mate, it’s okay: she and I never explored that sexual practice.) I knew then that there were those on the Left who allowed prejudice to trump principle. And when I went up to college and saw totalitarian iconography decorating the rooms of professed progressives I realised further that any so-called socialist, from the working to the upper classes, could identify with evil if it was fashionable enough. They would do so even as they denied such a thing existed in the world. They still do. I doubt the Euston Manifesto or anything else will ever change that. Then again, I doubted anyone would read the damned thing in the first place.

51 Comments

  1. Posted 13Jun06 at 15:02 | Permalink

    Nice, Damian. Thank you.

  2. Bob-B
    Posted 13Jun06 at 15:22 | Permalink

    Liked the bit about the Pacific island headquarters. I trust it includes a reproduction of the original Euston Arch, as seen here:

    http://www.geocities.com/londondestruction/arch.html

  3. dsquared
    Posted 13Jun06 at 18:18 | Permalink

    I don’t think I’ve ever said the EM was “trivial and old hat”; I’ve always been of the opinion that it was pompous, stupid and politically dangerous, and that its authors are being dishonest in claiming that it’s not a pro-war document. I’d appreciate a correction.

  4. Posted 13Jun06 at 18:53 | Permalink

    And (because I love linking to it so much) how anyone who could write this with a straight face and accuse anyone else of being “pompous” is beyond me.

  5. dsquared
    Posted 13Jun06 at 19:09 | Permalink

    Well yes; you are ineffectual windbags, and you are pushing the same pro-war line you were two years ago. But that isn’t a trivial thing to do, and nor is using Darfur as the punchline for a joke.

  6. Posted 13Jun06 at 19:24 | Permalink

    I used your article as the punchline for a joke. I wouldn’t presume to guess what purpose Darfur served for you.

  7. Posted 13Jun06 at 18:42 | Permalink

    dsquared:

    “I don’t think I’ve ever said the EM was ‘trivial and old hat’”

    dsquared:

    “”Surely he can’t be an ineffectual windbag!” they say down at my local bingo hall “he’s a Socialist”. People have been laughing at the left wing for these bloody manifesti since the days of Orwell, seemingly with no effect.”

    dsquared:

    The trouble with the EM is that it’s not exactly new material. It’s a load of boilerplate leftist platitudes, plus the liberal-interventionist case.”

    dsquared:

    Its “novelty value” is precisely nothing; as I said (and you didn’t respond), there is almost no new material in it compared to the Unite Against Terror manifesto plus Norman Geras’ blog.”

    dsquared:

    “I’d appreciate a correction.”

    You got one, honey.

  8. Posted 13Jun06 at 20:00 | Permalink

    You should rephrase that to say we are ineffectual windbags with over 2000 people behind us, groups springing up in other countries, and widespread media coverage which is dictating the arguments of our opponents.

  9. Posted 13Jun06 at 20:15 | Permalink

    In what way are they ineffectual? As I understand it, the Euston guys decided to write out a list of their principles so that (a) they’d have a convenient shorthand way of telling people what they believe in these days when “socialist” or “left-wing” might mean anything, and (b) anyone else who agreed with them could sign it if they wanted to. And what have they achieved? Well, anyone who agrees with them can indeed sign the Euston Manifesto, obviously; and, while they thought they’d just have a convenient Web page to link to explain their beliefs, they’ve instead ended up with a manifesto so famous that they usually find people that people have already read it, making the task of explaining their beliefs even easier. Seems effective to me.

  10. bcubed
    Posted 13Jun06 at 20:25 | Permalink

    Gah ! Stop confusing me with facts.

  11. ME
    Posted 13Jun06 at 20:49 | Permalink

    As Norm promised, a good read indeed!

  12. ekmi
    Posted 13Jun06 at 21:13 | Permalink

    Anthony, given the widespread media coverage, I think that 2000 signatures is actually pretty poor. I wonder how 2000 compares to the number of distinct visitors to the manifesto page?

  13. Posted 13Jun06 at 21:31 | Permalink

    ekmi, can you show me a document of similar length/breadth/complexity that has, in just under two months, convinced *more* than 2044 human beings to sign up in support? That’s not even counting the many effusive statements, and offers of help from all around the world.

  14. ekmi
    Posted 13Jun06 at 23:28 | Permalink

    B4L, most manifestos don’t ask people to sign them so it’s a bit difficult to compare like-with-like, but anecdotal evidence suggests it’s not very difficult to get people to contribute to things on the Internet. The organisers of the Open Rights Group, who got far less mainstream publicity than the Eustonites, in two and a half months managed to get 1000 people to sign up for a £60 annual donation. You’re not asking for any commitment at all from signers and yet you’ve barely doubled that figure.

  15. Posted 13Jun06 at 23:29 | Permalink

    > given the widespread media coverage, I think that 2000 signatures is actually pretty poor.

    That is funny.

  16. ekmi
    Posted 13Jun06 at 23:37 | Permalink

    Damn, the ORG pledge actually ran for six months. Ignore that bit.

  17. RK
    Posted 14Jun06 at 00:15 | Permalink

    “Hak Mao designed the graphics.”
    You mean the heading to the page? The background of copperplate text? Ah, History! Manifesto! The condensed, emaciated heading—given a spurious three-dimensional shine. Kitsch.

  18. Posted 14Jun06 at 08:07 | Permalink

    As usual, a lot of people writing in to say that not a lot of people write in, saying they’ve read about it here and there but no one writes about it; saying it’s deeply anodyne then arguing with it; saying it says something they think the kind of folk they don’t like would say because they don’t like the folk who say it rather than pointing to specific things it actually says that they take exception to.

    It isn’t the specifics of Iraq that are at the heart of it, but the kind of rhetoric and politics that have grown up around it. I, for one, signed the manifesto because while I was against the war and continue to think it was a bad idea, perfectly well executed in conventional military terms but very badly thought through beyond that point, I didn’t think wanting it to fail once it had started was quite the same thing, nor did I think the fall of the hideous Saddam regime was to be regretted. I wasn’t against it because I wanted the USA to lose wars in general either. I do not prefer murderous theocracies to the the USA, to the UK or indeed to anything at all.

    I know that’s very touch logic for some, but it’s manageable if you try a little harder. I think it is possible to belong to a liberal left that isn’t venal, posturing, absolutist or absurd.

    It had better be possible.

  19. Posted 14Jun06 at 08:13 | Permalink

    er… for ‘touch, read ‘tough’…

  20. Matthew
    Posted 14Jun06 at 08:33 | Permalink

    “You should rephrase that to say we are ineffectual windbags with over 2000 people behind us”

    We don’t really know much about this 2000 figure as the organizers didn’t think to ask for addresses or any proof of identity. A cursory glance suggests some signatories seem to have got the completely wrong end of the stick – at least one believes 9/11 was staged by the US government – and more have views that are (assumedly) totally at odds with the organisers, such as official Euston blogger Andrew Ian Dodge, who is hoping that anti-war students get killed by terrorists. If they are behind you then I would walk facing backwards.

    Furthermore many bloggers have signed pseudynomously so we don’t know how many times they have signed.

  21. Posted 14Jun06 at 09:42 | Permalink

    > at least one believes 9/11 was staged by the US government

    Where? If we hadn’t routinely pruned out idiots, duplicates, and spams, we’d probably be on for 2500 by now.

    > … totally at odds with the organisers, such as official Euston blogger Andrew Ian Dodge

    There is no such thing as an “official” Euston blogger, Andrew is a supporter with a blog. Moreover our Terms and Conditions page states “the Group can neither be held responsible for, nor to endorse, the content of supporting sites, their choice of links, or the content of sites so linked.” We only ask that signers agree with the Manifesto, not that they agree with our own individual politics.

    > Furthermore many bloggers have signed pseudynomously so we don’t know how many times they have signed.

    Possibly, but in general we don’t allow pseudonyms, and I can’t actually see any in the list. There’s no evidence at all of deliberate repeat-signing – which we would remove if it came to our attention – just a rather sad clutching at straws…

  22. Posted 14Jun06 at 10:15 | Permalink

    This whole thread, and all the others I’ve seen, are completely indicative of why EM was needed in the first place. Here we have a document which tries to force those demonstrating the intellectual flabbiness which passes for much commentary on the Left to take a long hard look at themselves. What do we get instead of engagement with the issues? Conspiracy theory, sneers about website design, and disputes about whether the people who have signed it are actually real or not. All a bit pathetic really.

  23. Matthew
    Posted 14Jun06 at 10:19 | Permalink

    1. Here for instance (‘false flag’ operation):

    Kerry Walter – We need a sea-change in America, or our great democracy will be mere history even within our lifetimes. She is already on life-support, and the religious right and neo-cons have become so powerful that I predict that the Bushies will not relinquish the White House even when their candidate loses. They will just devise another false-flag operation (see 911), and create pretense to place the U.S. under martial law, and then hang onto power indefinitely. The press will remain silent. The Democrats are spineless. God help us all…

    2. It says on the Euston Group website ‘Euston Manifesto Group Bloggers’ and then Andrew Ian Dodge’s blog is listed, so that seems to imply something more than a casual link.

  24. Posted 14Jun06 at 10:44 | Permalink

    I have to say I like the idea of touch logic. It could be like a cross between logic and rugby sevens.

  25. Posted 14Jun06 at 12:26 | Permalink

    The manifesto has certainly been a wild success in terms of sparking debate about some of the principles that the left, taken a whole, is supposed to believe—even those on the far left, such as me.

    No doubt, it is this success that so peeves some of its more maniacally fixated—though never usually very penetrating—’critics’; that, of course, and simple avidity.

    The at times almost palpable desperation of the ubiquitous Benjamin to play down the success of the document has only been matched, as far as I know, by that of a supercilious Young Churchill look-alike on The Guardian blog, who so admired his semi-descriptive cliché, “motherhood and apple pie”, that he appeared to repeat it everywhere he went over the next few days, including, I think, over at Crooked Tomb and that creepy Aaronovitch-stalking site, although they may all be fronts for the same group of humourless centre-right fanatics, who seem determined to believe that Mr Blair lied over the reasons for the invasion of Iraq, no matter how strong the evidence to the contrary.

  26. ekmi
    Posted 14Jun06 at 14:34 | Permalink

    humourless centre-right fanatics, who seem determined to believe that Mr Blair lied over the reasons for the invasion of Iraq, no matter how strong the evidence to the contrary

    What, so there were WMDs in Iraq? They’ve kept that quiet.

  27. Phomesy
    Posted 14Jun06 at 14:53 | Permalink

    Daniel Davies has finally gone off the deep end into pure narcissistic insanity.

    In other news…

  28. Phomesy
    Posted 14Jun06 at 14:54 | Permalink

    And Ekmi misses the point yet again.

    Jaysus… how dense are some people?

  29. Ali Baba
    Posted 14Jun06 at 17:33 | Permalink

    Thanks for that nostalgic look back at the failure of radical hopes. It confirms why the Islamists are the new “left.” Because the EM is kitsch, its signatories dilletantes, ingrates, and idiots.

  30. Cian
    Posted 14Jun06 at 18:44 | Permalink

    Wild success seems a little hyperbolic.

    2000 signees is not a bad number, but its not enormous (my guess is that the SWP probably has 4000+ active members – activity being rather more than signing a manifesto on the internet. Which given how the SWp treats its membership…). However, what does that commit signers to? There’s no organisation, no membership fees, no meetings, no commitment. So its quite a shallow response.

    Anyway, 2000 people who have agreed with your document. However what does that actually mean? As far as I can work out (and the manifesto doesn’t help, as its not particularly well written), agreement largely means the following:
    1) Supporting the US
    2) Supporting Israel
    3) A view of Islam which sees it as a regressive political/social force.
    4) Support for armed intervention in certain (poorly specified) situations
    5) The obligatory bit of rhetoric about reclaiming the left (everyone on the left thinks they represent the true left, so you could have left that bit out. Its a given)

    How does this translate into practical action? What does practical action even mean in these circumstances? How could you build any kind of movement based upon this? What does signing the document commit you to? Its meaningless. Play politics, or what passes for politics on blogs (and pubs) I guess. Griping.

    As for its impact in the world. Its made some impact, granted, in the British political blogosphere (including a tedious debate on the New Statesman one). But that’s a pretty small pond – with I suspect a negligable affect on the outside world. There’s been a little bit more debate in the MSM – but largely through people who are involved (Nick Cohen), or can be expected to be sympathetic (John Lloyd, for example).

    Outside that, I haven’t come across one person who has actually heard of the thing. Do you expect that to change? If not, what is the point of the thing? To stir up debate in the labour party?

    Cian

  31. Posted 14Jun06 at 21:06 | Permalink

    > So its quite a shallow response [...] everyone on the left thinks they represent the true left …

    This sums up the moral void that is the very core of your comment, Cian, if you don’t mind me saying. If you really don’t care, aren’t prepared to take the Manifesto seriously, and really don’t believe in any universal principles, then I guess this must all seem like a frothy media campaign you can casually dismiss.

  32. Cian
    Posted 14Jun06 at 22:57 | Permalink

    Moral void at the core of my comment. Well gosh, aren’t you the cutest one. Tell me, what is the moral position on that ellipsis which completely distorts the meaning of my post? Maybe the moral centre of my comment lies somewhere in those three dots.

    There is very little commitment involved in signing a manifesto. It means they agree with you (or think they do, which isn’t necessarily the same thing), but it doesn’t mean they’re going to do anything about it. They might, but then again they might not. Its certainly not enough to build a political movement on. Hence “shallow” responses – its not just the quantity, quality counts too.

    And you seem to be confusing the response to the manifesto (which I wasn’t taking terribly seriously), with the manifesto itself. Many of those who support the manifesto talk as if the manifesto has made a big splash in the world. It hasn’t. And I suspect its appeal is probably fairly limited outside the rather incestuous blogosphere.

    “and really don’t believe in any universal principles”

    Or alternatively I don’t agree with you about what those universal principals might be. I mean sure the euston manifesto mentions human rights, equality and racism. But there are very few on the left who would disagree with them in principal (the disagreements tend to occur when these universal values conflict with each other, as tends to happen, and one has to try and choose the least bad option). But very little of the rest of the document can be considered a universal. More of the document seems to be focused either on criticising the left, or on stating what the signers do not believe in.

  33. Posted 15Jun06 at 07:45 | Permalink

    Ali Baba,

    “Because the EM is kitsch, its signatories dilletantes, ingrates, and idiots. ”

    Yes, occasionally all of those, guilty. Not however on signing EM. But “ingrate”? Ungrateful? For what? For your considerable and subtle argument? No, don’t bother to answer.

  34. Posted 15Jun06 at 09:08 | Permalink

    You know, considering that the Euston guys clearly intended to start a worldwide revolution that would lead to their becoming the heads of a new world government and then, yea, ruling the very stars in the sky, it’s all been a bit of a failure, hasn’t it?

  35. Douglas Clark
    Posted 15Jun06 at 09:27 | Permalink

    OK Damien, even I like most of the Manifesto. I do, however consider the following to be less than well thought out or presented:

    “The violation of basic human rights standards at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of ‘rendition’, must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles, for the establishment of which the democratic countries themselves, and in particular the United States of America, bear the greater part of the historical credit. But we reject the double standards by which too many on the Left today treat as the worst violations of human rights those perpetrated by the democracies, while being either silent or more muted about infractions that outstrip these by far. This tendency has reached the point that officials speaking for Amnesty International, an organization which commands enormous, worldwide respect because of its invaluable work over several decades, can now make grotesque public comparison of Guantanamo with the Gulag, can assert that the legislative measures taken by the US and other liberal democracies in the War on Terror constitute a greater attack on human rights principles and values than anything we have seen in the last 50 years, and be defended for doing so by certain left and liberal voices.”

    I for one, stand on the basic principle that torture is wrong, no matter who commits it. I also believe that democracies that allow their guardians to ‘look into the pit’ to paraphrase Nietche, take on aspects of their opponents. To reach a bit, I suspect there are as many people living in democracies who desire a career in the torture industry, or alternatively murdering innocent Brazilians, as there are in any other societies. It is frankly not right to attempt to ridicule Amnesty International for what is a given in most of Europe. The pictures of Gitmo said it all, they are treating people inhumanely. The scale may be different, but the comparison with Gulags is valid on an individual basis.

    Am I alone in thinking that this was a form of PR? ‘Look how tough we are, and we don’t even know if they did anything?” Then they use smart lawyers to justify an untenable position.

    Frankly, you and Harry and Shuggy have got it all wrong over this one. In absolutist terms there is nothing to chose between a democracy infringing human rights and a dictatorship doing the same. Or maybe there is. I expect more from the democracy than I do from the dictatorship.

    The double standards you refer to are those who have ignored this paragraph in the manifesto, or seen it as positive, when it is in fact an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. And went ahead and signed the manifesto anyway.

  36. Posted 15Jun06 at 09:34 | Permalink

    You’ve hit on something there, Squander:

    EUSTONIANS: “Here is a list of some reasonable things. Some of us were pro-war; some of us were anti-war.”

    CRITIC: [thinking: Damn! I can't criticise any of these reasonable things without revealing how unreasonable I am.]

    CRITIC: “Your reasonable things are just a front for all the unreasonable things that you really believe. You are all pro-war.”

    EUSTONIANS: Wouldn’t it be nice if some other people read our list of reasonable things and made some suggestions for ways we could improve it?

    CRITIC: Ha! Your dastardly plan to recruit a global army of blindly loyal beserker warriors and “liberate” the little brown people of Rumbabwe and Fiskistan has failed! Failed! Ha ha ha ha ha! FAILED!

    PSYCHIATRIC NURSE: It’s alright. We’re here to help. [gently trying to remove CRITIC's forearms from keyboard they are wrapped around] If you’d like to accompany us to the ambulance outside everything will feel so much better soon.

  37. RK
    Posted 15Jun06 at 11:07 | Permalink

    With “kitsch”, I just meant the design of the heading to the EM home-page. It speaks of a weak and phoney attempt to grasp at history.

    If you want a point of comparison, look at the simple and strong design of, let’s say, Norman Geras’s blog.

    I happen to agree with most of what the EM says, and have been arguing and acting for much the same cause for years. Pity it chose to go under such a weak banner.

  38. Cian
    Posted 15Jun06 at 13:15 | Permalink

    EUSTONIANS: “Here is a list of some reasonable things. Some of us were pro-war; some of us were anti-war.”

    Well obviously you think they’re reasonable, as you helped create the thing. And people who disagree with some of the things on the list, probably don’t think they are reasonable. And while some of the supporters may have been anti-war, the document itself is firmly supportive of a particular kind of war. So either they’ve changed their minds, or they’re inconsistent.

    CRITIC: “Your reasonable things are just a front for all the unreasonable things that you really believe. You are all pro-war.”

    Hmm, for reasonable read vague and poorly defined things. I mean for example. Who wouldn’t be against anti-semitism – but whose definition of anti-semitism are we using here? I’ve seen plenty of things attacked for being anti-semitic, which I don’t think are (some of them by supporters and drafters of this manifesto). So without having a better definition as to what you mean by anti-semitism, how can I sign this? And if you’re not going to define anti-semitism reasonably clearly, then that clause is meaningless (“we are all against anti-semitism, even though we can’t agree on what that might be”. Well yeah).

    My guess is that anti-semitism here includes criticisms of israel that decents like norman disagree with – i.e. it is a front for some of the “unreasonable” (in my eyes) things you guys believe in. Certainly the manifesto as it stands doesn’t contradict that interpretation.

    The clause on anti-Americanism is incoherent. What anti-Americanism? Hating people because they’re American? You think that’s common in this country? Really? More common than hating the French, or Germans? Is it worse than hating Germans, or French people? If not, why single it out? And what is acceptible criticism? What’s wrong with singling out US foreign policy, given its the most powerful country in the world? What’s wrong with singling out American faults (of which there are many, lack of democracy being one of them), given that we hear a lot from the US about how great it is? What does this paragraph commit me to, if I sign it?

    EUSTONIANS: Wouldn’t it be nice if some other people read our list of reasonable things and made some suggestions for ways we could improve it?

    Well I doubt you’d like my personal manifesto, given that my political views and values are significantly different to yours. So this is rather disingenuous. However redrafting it so that the language is less amateurish would be a start (e.g. “We oppose this type of racism too, as should go without saying.” I thought Norm was supposed to be a professional writer). And removing sections like:
    “Development can bring growth in life-expectancy and in the enjoyment of life, easing burdensome labour and shortening the working day. It can bring freedom to youth, possibilities of exploration to those of middle years, and security to old age.” Well yes it can. And it can have the opposite effect. This is vapid – the kind of thing you’d expect from a second rate A-level candidate. For one thing it treats development as it happens in a depoliticised vaccuum.
    Or
    Development “enlarges horizons and the opportunities for travel, and helps make strangers into friends.” Which is just embarrassing. I’m surprised you didn’t talk about tweety birds, or the world being newly flat.

    Alternatively, you could start by removing the ambiguities. If you think its wrong to attack Israel, then say so rather than weasiling behind anti-racism. If you think America’s government shouldn’t be singled out then say so, justify it, rather than weasiling behind accusations of “anti-americanism”. If, as you seem to suggest, you support any intervention in states who have crossed “a certain threshold of humanity”, then say so. If you don’t mean this, then redraft it so its possible to work out what you do believe.

    Alternatively you could write a manifesto that was a bit more cohesive, and less about fighting the battles of the “decent left”.

    CRITIC: Ha! Your dastardly plan to recruit a global army of blindly loyal beserker warriors and “liberate” the little brown people of Rumbabwe and Fiskistan has failed! Failed! Ha ha ha ha ha! FAILED!

    Actually my question was what this was supposed to achieve. It claims to be a political document, so I assumed it must have some political purpose, otherwise what’s the point of it. So 2000 people signed it? And what does that achieve exactly? currently it looks like tokenistic politics.

  39. Ray
    Posted 15Jun06 at 15:33 | Permalink

    The interesting (to me) thing about the section on Guantanamo is that it has 50 words criticising Guantanamo and 150 words criticising people for the way they criticise Guantanamo. This ratio is not unusual. A quick google search on
    guantanamo site:normblog.typepad.com
    turns up a similar pattern. Some posts that criticise Guantanamo, rather more posts that criticise people for the way they criticise Guantanamo.

  40. Posted 15Jun06 at 22:57 | Permalink

    Gosh, people really are determined to find out our deep dark hearts. There was I sat round round a table talking about human rights and universal principles with a bunch of left-wingers, when in fact it appears I was in fact were running around shouting “Go USA”, taking calls from the CIA and arguing for the torture of foreign nationals.

    If you want to know what the Euston Manifesto is about, then read it. It is that simple. It was not written to hide something, but to illuminate something.

    Cian,

    I don’t give a G2 supplement if you consider it a failure or not. I’m done with pessimism, life’s too short. It’s done far better than I ever imagined it would, and it is the politics of hope. We are attempting to give a counterview to the nilihistic crap that passes as leftist politics these days.

    If the only people who signed the manifesto had been the people who wrote it, then I would have signed it and been proud to have done so.

  41. Posted 15Jun06 at 22:58 | Permalink

    The word-count’s not all that relevant. It’s possible to absolutely and unreservedly condemn Guantanamo (or anything else) using very few words. To point out what’s wrong with someone’s opinions by analysing their words (on any subject) takes more. So what? You may as well say that someone who claims “I’m against all antisemitism” and “I’m against all war” really cares a lot more about antisemitism than war because the first sentence is longer.

    One of the funny things about antisemitism is that people who oppose it know what it is.

  42. Ray
    Posted 16Jun06 at 08:44 | Permalink

    The word count on its own wouldn’t be enough, but the similar post count is revealing. It suggests that the priority is not the fight for universal rights, but attacking the rest of the left.
    I mean really, why do you even need to mention Amnesty in this manifesto? Why does a simple statement of core beliefs spend so much time seeking out and attacking ‘anti-Americanism’?

  43. Cian
    Posted 16Jun06 at 14:04 | Permalink

    Anthony: Dark CIA what? If the only way that you can respond to criticism is by pretending your critics are conspiracy theorists, then that’s very sad.

    I read the Euston Manifesto. It is confused, rambling, ambiguous and poorly written. An unkind critic might read it and conclude that this is because when you remove the attacks on the “left”, all that’s left of the decent left’s views are banal generalities. A kinder critic would conclude that it should probably have been redrafted a few times before being published.

    “it is the politics of hope.”

    Apple Pie and Motherhood. Or as we like to call it down my manor – the politics of cliche.

    “We are attempting to give a counterview to the nilihistic crap that passes as leftist politics these days.”

    I’m sorry. What is nihilistic about the anti-capitalists, the more militant unions, the resurgent left in S. America? For that matter none of the opposition to the war in Iraq was nihilistic. You don’t oppose wars because you think life is meaningless. Maybe you’re mistaking pragmatism for nihilism.

  44. Cian
    Posted 16Jun06 at 14:09 | Permalink

    “One of the funny things about antisemitism is that people who oppose it know what it is.”

    Bullshit.

  45. Douglas Clark
    Posted 21Jun06 at 00:58 | Permalink

    So Damien’

    You couldn’t reply, could you? You have made mincemeat of most of your critics of the Euston Manifesto, but when it comes down to a simple question, are you for or against torture, you wimp out, don’t you?

    The point is that there is no reason or excuse for torture. Try to make a mockery of that.

    Oh, the USA is innocent of rendition and Gitmo! Even you don’t think that, do you?

    Try replying with the wit and widom that you seemed to have when the anti-Eustonistas were easy targets.

    Or at least try replying. That would be good.

    Where do you stand Pooter Geek? Are you for or against torture?

  46. Posted 21Jun06 at 01:11 | Permalink

    “You couldn’t reply, could you?”

    I didn’t reply because your question was asked in the following context:

    that in the manifesto we “attempt to ridicule Amnesty”—we do no such thing

    that the comparison between Gitmo and the Gulag is valid “on an individual basis”, whatever that means—it is not

    that we treat torture by agents of the United States differently from torture perpetrated by agents of any other country—we do not (though you yourself admit that you hold democracies to higher standards)

    “Where do you stand Pooter Geek? Are you for or against torture?”

    If you can’t see from reading it that the manifesto implicitly and explicitly opposes torture then my re-stating my own opposition is pointless. It’s certainly already redundant.

  47. Douglas Clark
    Posted 21Jun06 at 07:08 | Permalink

    Damien,

    Thanks for finally replying

    OK, so you don’t think this is an attempt to ridicule Amnesty International then, do you?:

    “This tendency has reached the point that officials speaking for Amnesty International, an organization which commands enormous, worldwide respect because of its invaluable work over several decades, can now make grotesque public comparison of Guantanamo with the Gulag, can assert that the legislative measures taken by the US and other liberal democracies in the War on Terror constitute a greater attack on human rights principles and values than anything we have seen in the last 50 years, and be defended for doing so by certain left and liberal voices.”

    What precicely is grotesque about saying that the West is falling into the same trap as the communists? What exactly is grotesque about saying that the extra judicial actions of the US are an appalling undermining of what the West is supposed to stand for? Do you think rendition, and more to the point, actions based on tortured ‘confessions’ gained in this way have the slightest validity? If so, you are some sort of faux realist who has watched far too much 24.

    The point about standards, which I made in my original post is that if democracies are about anything it is about upholding higher standards than the questionable ethics of boil in a bag dictatorships. When the USA, and to a lesser extent the UK, fall into the trap of listening to the voices in their heads that say that the only way to beat fire is with fire, then they become no better than their enemies. Which point about Gitmo or rendition do you have a blind spot on? Perhaps I could help. Torture is largely a one on one abomination. What your glorious little friends in the CIA have managed to do is market it as a product that democracies, or at least Eustonistas are happy to subscribe to, or perhaps export. Which is nonsense. Evil is evil Damien. And it doesn’t matter who perpetrates it. What does matter is that good people, and I certainly include you in that, should not apologise for it.

    You make a strong point that the Euston Manifesto is against torture. And in a sense you are right. But it allows American exceptionalism, much as the USA would wish, and that, frankly is rubbish. Which syllable of Universal do you and your friends fail to understand?

    Sorry, you and your friends really need to rethink this. It is mince.

  48. Douglas Clark
    Posted 23Jun06 at 00:31 | Permalink

    Damien,

    No reply again. Go on use that brain thing. Answer the question. why does the US have a right to exceptionalism when it comes to torture? Surely you and I agree that torture is wrong? Either you foolishly believe that the USA is completely innocent of such a charge, or you are an apologist for their exceptionalism, which is quite mind blowing, frankly. Sure, other regiemes ought to be called to account, but that does not let the USA off any sort of moral hook.

    A rethink of that completely forgiving, post modernist clap-trap would be good. I’m not holding my breath.

  49. Posted 23Jun06 at 08:16 | Permalink

    Your interpretation of the text of the manifesto is wilfully wrong. It’s pointless my discussing it with you if you refuse to take plain English at face value.

    “No reply again.”

    I’ve already answered the question.

    “Answer the question.”

    I’ve already answered the question.

    “why does the US have a right to exceptionalism when it comes to torture?”

    I’ve already answered the question.

    “Surely you and I agree that torture is wrong?”

    I’ve already answered the question.

    We make no exceptions.

    One of the main themes of the manifesto is moral consistency, is to call for an end to “post modernist clap-trap”.

    Torture is wrong.

    How many times and in how many ways do we have to say it?

    Now you are torturing me.

    (And it’s “Damian” with an ‘a’.)

    Please go away.

  50. Douglas Clark
    Posted 24Jun06 at 04:21 | Permalink

    Damian,

    Apologies for spelling your name wrongly. And I will go away, if that is what you really want.

    The point I am trying to make, probably very badly, is that the sentiments that you express here, specifically a horror at torture, are not reflected in the text of the Euston Manifesto. It cannot be just me that sees:

    “…Amnesty International, an organization which commands enormous, worldwide respect because of its invaluable work over several decades, can now make grotesque public comparison of Guantanamo with the Gulag, …”

    as a cry for exceptionalism. Which words, exactly do support? There is nothing grotesque about the comparison, the treatment of political prisoners in Gitmo and the Gulags is at least in the same frame.

    You are presumeably trying to get allies in a cause. I subscribe to most of it. But I will not let the US off the hook on what is, in all fairness, something not much different from the Gulags, or concentration camps. Indeed rendition breaks the status quo.

    BTW, I thought the Euston Manifesto was supposed to be open for criticism. That it was only a draft. Subject to improvement. Instead you tell me to ‘go away’. Nuff said.

    douglas

  51. unaha-closp
    Posted 27Jun06 at 14:22 | Permalink

    Hello,

    The Manifesto sets forth the ideals of left wing democratic policy, looks very worthy and you are to be congratulated for writing some part of it. I am particularly happy to see #12 – Historical Truth.

    My question is – how is it all going to be implemented? These very ideals are contradictory to all of todays non-democratic regimes and political entities. How should these challengers be overcome and which ideals (if any) need to be compromised in the interim so this Manifesto can eventually be realised?

    Regards Angus

3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Socialist friend of Jackie (there aren’t many of them, people) Damian Counsell: When I was at school, an official in my local Labour Party told his daughter he’d disown her if she “took a darkie up the aisle”. (If you’re reading, mate, it’s okay: she and I never explored that sexual practice.) I knew then that there were those on the Left who allowed prejudice to trump principle. And when I went up to college and saw totalitarian iconography decorating the rooms of professed progressives I realised further that any so-called socialist, from the working to the upper classes, could identify with evil if it was fashionable enough. They would do so even as they denied such a thing existed in the world. They still do. [...]

  2. By Jackie Danicki » On Ché on 10Oct07 at 02:35

    [...] many self-described “progressives” worship a gay-hating, anti-Semitic mass murderer. As Damian Counsell wrote last year: [W]hen I went up to college and saw totalitarian iconography decorating the rooms [...]

  3. By Animals Or Savages – PooterGeek on 03Apr11 at 14:21

    [...] Even as one group of our critics accused us of making this stuff up, other critics actually generated still more of it in a response to the manifesto itself. [...]

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