10 February 2007


OK, let's get serious again. I've now read just about every review of Nick Cohen's What's Left? and I'm astonished at how few of them get what the book is about.

It's not a defence of his position on the war in Iraq, and it's not an assault on the whole of the left by a renegade. Nor does it pretend to be a piece of cutting-edge original research or scholarship, contrary to Stuart A's fisking.

It's a polemic by a democratic leftist who watched in mounting frustration and disbelief as the democratic left around him screwed up by tolerating the intolerable and excusing the inexcusable.

What started him off was the refusal of a large section of the democratic left to dissociate itself publicly from (mainly Leninist) apologists for the intolerable and the inexcusable in the wake of 9/11 – lest we forget, indiscriminate mass murder in New York and Washington DC. He then found much the same phenomenon in the anti-war movement of 2002-03, in the left's response to 7/7 and in the left's continuing obsession – on the whole – with banging on about whether invading Iraq was right, oblivious to the actual situation in Iraq. And, boy, do his leftist critics prove him right.

1. Not one left critical review of Cohen has admitted that he's got a point when it comes to the disgraceful excuses for Islamist terror put out in the wake of 9/11 and 7/7 by the New Statesman, the Guardian and others.

2. Not one has accepted that it was at best moronic for anti-war democratic leftists to acquiesce in the Socialist Workers Party, George Galloway and a reactionary Islamist pressure group – all of them de facto revolutionary defeatists when it came to the war, and thus not anti-war but protagonists of Saddam – appointing themselves as the leadership of the anti-war movement in 2002-03.

3. And not one has even engaged seriously with Cohen's argument that, regardless of what you thought about the rights and wrongs of the war, what should matter for the left now, with Saddam overthrown and Iraq on the verge of civil war, is how to prevent a sectarian bloodbath there – not continuing a self-indulgent debate about the rights and wrongs of the decision to invade.

As I've said before, though the caveat means less and less as time goes by, I disagree with Cohen about the war. But the left consensus – not just the Stalinists and Trotskyists and Islamist apologists – is as putrid as he describes it, if not worse.

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