Comment is free: Nothing left of Nick
Cohen's misfortune is that his book has appeared at the very moment when the arguments of the real left - the anti-war left, the only left worth the name - the left that mobilised hundreds of thousands of Americans to demonstrate against their government in Washington last weekend (an event I was honoured to be able to participate in) in favour of national independence, international law and against imperial aggression are being spectacularly vindicated - a vindication that is mainly of value as a call to further action against war and injustice.
I'm still trying to get ahold of this book--everyone else seems to have a copy and the reviews are coming thick and fast. It seems dishonest to comment before I actually read it but I do think I get the drift. Besides, this is my blog and I can speculate if I want to.
When I was in Kenya, after crossing the equator to the Southern Hemisphere, the first thing I did was run to the nearest bathroom to see if the water really spun down the drain in the opposite direction. The drain, like most things in Kenya, didn't work very well and, as far as I could see, the water just went straight down very slowly with a good deal of burping, gurgling and hiccoughing. I put this down to it's being so close to the equator that there was no clear result.
Politically, things don't spin in the same direction that they do in the UK on this side of the Atlantic and that may be why Cohen's book and the criticism it's gotten seem peculiar to me. "The anti-war left, the only left worth the name" is especially puzzling to me as an American because here in the US there's so much more for the Left to do.
We don't have any social safety nets to speak of in the US. You use up your unemployment or go beyond the the 5 year lifetime cap on welfare, now known as "Temporary Aid to Families" and your own other option is begging--if you're lucky, from family members, if not at the entrance to your local supermarket. Your social worker may be able to get you on Disability, which pays minimally if you can produce documentation to show that you have some chronic mental or physical illness but otherwise you're on your own. The Salvation Army may help out. We don't have the National Health. If you aren't insured, you go to the nearest hospital emergency room for routine doctor's visits--they can't turn you away. If you have some income, they'll arrange a payment scheme, if not they'll just pass the cost of your visit--many times more than it would have been if you'd just gone to a doctor (which you can't afford) on to paying customers, that is to say, on to their insurance companies.
We have a huge growing gap between the rich and the poor and the world's biggest gap between the pay of corporate CEOs and hourly workers. Of course it depends on which CEOs you're looking at and which hourly workers but whichever groups you choose to compare the difference between the gap in US and other countries is huge. In one study, adopting one set of criteria, American CEOs were paid 532 times the salary of average hourly workers in their firms whereas, by the same criteria, the figure in Japan was 11 times. No other country went beyond double digits.
The US, never particularly generous, turned hard right in 1980, when Reagan was elected and has been going further right on bread-and-butter issues ever since. Apart from the demolition of New Deal programs virtually all the policies intended to counteract the affects of discrimination against women and minorities have been taken down. School bussing to achieve racial balance went early on and schools have become increasingly segregated. Affirmative action is almost gone and anti-discrimination regulations are rarely enforced.
I'm stuck here because of my job. If I were an engineer or a nurse or had any skills that would get me a job somewhere else I wouldn't live in the US. The US is, by my criteria, a hellhole. These social policies are contrary to my deepest moral convictions. The essence of Left as I understand it is the commitment to establishing a cradle-to-grave welfare state. Everything else is peripheral and non-priority, so I am not going to get excited about one war more or less.
I do, of course, oppose the Iraq war. I demonstrated against it at the sabre-rattling stage, and would have joined the demonstrators in D.C. if it were feasible. To repeat--because I don't think anyone will notice what I just said unless I repeat it again and again or shout: I OPPOSE THE WAR IN IRAQ!!! I oppose the current regime's assinine, ham-fisted, idiotic, destructive foreign policy.
I'm not all that upset about imperialism as such though. What matters is the establishment of a welfare state. If an imperial power takes over and establishes one, in the US or elsewhere, I think that would be a good thing. Better a benevolent foreign despot treating colonial subjects to bread and circuses than a democratically elected regime under which people are begging in the streets. So, if the EU were to raise an army, invade the US and establish social democracy I would throw roses at the tanks. What matters is quality of life--not who runs the show.
I suppose once you have the National Health and social safety nets, once you know you aren't going to be begging at the freeway entrance or bankrupted by major illness you can afford to gas on about the evils of colonialism. Having forgotten what it's like to live in a hellhole like the US, to work without a net, you might imagine that the anti-war left is the only left worth the name. It's easy to forget what it was like to live like this, the overwhelming risk and chronic insecurity for those of us who are lucky and the pure misery for those of us who aren't. But anyone in the US should recognize that there's plenty for a left that's worth the name to do here besides worry about war, imperialism or, more generally, about foreign policy.