13th Carnival of Socialism

March 4, 2007 at 2:02 pm (voltairespriest)

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting It’s here at last folks!

After a couple of false starts, for which I apologise, here’s the 13th Carnival of Socialism, which invited contributions loosely based around the (partly provocative) question “Why is the left obsessed with the Middle East?”

This was a quite deliberately controversial choice on my part, as I think that better debates tend to come from questions where people directly disagree, rather than by inviting semi-consensual discussions around a theme. This did however seem to piss off some people, who were expecting something in a more “write me a post about socialism and art” type of format. Apologies for that, but I think you’ll see what I was trying to get at.

I was looking really for commentary on the left (from leftist and ex-leftist perspectives), as opposed to simply expositions of left-wing ideas. My intention with this theme was to try and solicit contributions from outside of the usual circle of left-wing bloggers, and introduce some newer perspectives. It’s in that light that I was delighted to receive a contribution from Marxist From Lebanon (don’t call him “Lebanese Marxist”), who will be new to many of you. In one amongst many arguments the course of a fascinating post, he posits that parts of the left have fallen into a kind of knee-jerk oppositionalism since 9/11:

“Ever since Bush opened his never ending “War on Terror”, the Middle East was more on the spot light than it used to be. Ariel Sharon compared the Palestinians ( without doing any difference to the civilians) to the Terrorists that Bush was fighting. The Marxists and the Leftists fell in the error of supporting in defecto any movement or rogue nation against the United States, unless if they were al-Qa’eda.”

Read it through – whether you come to agree with him or not, you’ll certainly find it both thoughtful and insightful.

Next up was the ringmaster himself, John Angliss, whose lighthearted contribution suggests that it’s because the Middle East gives the left an unusual opportunity to speak in terms that the general public find interesting and relevant. John, you may be jesting, but I rather think you might have a more serious point than you think.

On an intertwined subject, whilst flicking around a Google Blog Search, I came across this post by Louis Proyect, which I felt to be more than worthy of inclusion. It’s a discussion of socialist attitudes to Islam, and in particular attempts to discuss the SWP’s attitude to political-religious organisations like the MAB. This blog’s doughty SWP commenter, JohnG, engages Louis in a debate underneath.

I also came across a very thoughtful article on a similar issue from disillusioned leftist Josh Strawn, front man for band Blacklist, on his blog. He gives us, perhaps, an view into the psyche of some people on the left (and ex-left) who linger on issues like the Middle East and related areas. Similarly to our periodic commenter Paddy the Puritan, Josh confesses to initial feelings of elation on 9/11:

“I thought it was a victory for our side. I thought it was the beginning of the revolution. I even thought they were part of the whole anti-globalization movement. They had hit at the heart of it all, the symbol of U.S. economic hegemony.

But for him the elation was replaced quickly by revulsion at his own feelings, and a sense of shame which led him to question much of his former worldview. He actually became pro-war, and he chastises those of us who remain on the left for our practice of taking swipes at what he believes to be a liberatory project:

” And now the left chastises the action because rocking the boat is costing lives. Best to have left the wound (that we helped create) to fester, according to them. It costs nothing, save for the well-being of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans, and Palestinians. It lets the ‘radicals’ keep their hands clean. They can Bike Against Bush or whatever the nonsense-of-the-day might be and call it compassion.”

I think he’s badly wrong, but he certainly got me thinking.

On the other side of the equation, I also found this post by this blog’s friend Tom of Newer Labour, who finds himself in the not-very-comforable, and many would argue self-contradictory, position of being an anti-war signatory of the Euston Manifesto. Whether you think the lad’s confused or not, his article does give an insight into some of the agonising that left-reformists go through when trying to define their stances on the Middle East in the face of Trot “anti-imperialism” on the one side and neocon “pro-war leftism” on the other.

Finally, I have received a contribution from someone called Judeosphere which compares the left’s obsession with the Middle East to Evangelicals’ obsessing over the same subject. S/he is someone who I’m presuming isn’t technically on the left or indeed a disillusioned lefty type either. But I’m including the contribution anyway ‘cos it’s interesting. So go ahead and moan. See if I care.

Oh, and to the guy who sent me the poem, many thanks. I will use it, but it will need to go in a separate post if that’s ok, purely because it doesn’t relate to the topic at hand.

So there you have it. Not the usual contributors, and not a normal topic. I’ve no doubt some of it was inflammatory, and some of it will provoke debate. Good, it was meant to. Because that’s how we on the left keep ourselves relevant, our rhetoric sharp and our ideas fresh.



  1. Johnny Rook said,

    “I thought it was a victory for our side. I thought it was the beginning of the revolution. I even thought they were part of the whole anti-globalization movement. They had hit at the heart of it all, the symbol of U.S. economic hegemony.“

    Well he sounds like an idiot then

  2. Paddy the Puritan said,

    It so happens that the Mid East is where the main battles against imperialism and zionism happen to be taking place at the moment.
    From the 1960s-1990s we showed solidarity with those fighting imperialism in Southern Africa, Latin America, Ireland as well as Palestine and many other places.
    So I don’t really think its an obsession as such but its a reaction to the world situation at the moment.

  3. Chris Baldwin said,

    “Well he sounds like an idiot then” – Johnny Rook


  4. voltaires_priest said,

    Funny thing is, Paddy would’ve liked that bit of the quote – it’s the guy’s later recantation that he would have disapproved of. 😉

  5. monkey6079 said,

    What? Someone sent a poem to the Carnival and it WASN’T me??? What’s going on here?

    Otherwise, looks like another fine edition. I am really warming up to this monthly theme idea. Good choice!

  6. Paddy the Puritan said,

    I sure do volty!

  7. Will said,

    Not a great success, the ‘discussion’ of this particular ‘carnival’ is it…

  8. voltaires_priest said,

    Again, it’s rather suffered from the non-moving of the haloscan comments, which removed the previous, rather more in-depth, discussion.

  9. voltaires_priest said,

    “Because that’s how we on the left keep ourselves relevant, our rhetoric sharp and our ideas fresh.”

    Thats a novel idea in some quarters

    Look forward to having a look at the posts and blogs that I didn’t know about.

    So no post from Mr Newman ?
    stroppybird | Homepage | 03.04.07 – 6:01 pm | #


    No, although I did consider his post about the SWP and Gilad Atzmon. However it seemed to me that Louis Proyect’s stuff on socialism and Islam was more relevant to the topic.
    voltaires_priest | Homepage | 03.04.07 – 7:05 pm | #


    Silencing dissent and controlling the debate, tutt tutt
    stroppybird | Homepage | 03.04.07 – 7:21 pm | #


    Well, more that I thought Proyect’s piece was interesting – particularly because the ever-reliable JohnG decided to debate it.

    If Andy had asked me to include that particular piece then obviously I would have.
    voltaires_priest | Homepage | 03.04.07 – 7:35 pm | #

  10. voltaires_priest said,

    (above are the most recent comments on this thread from Haloscan)

  11. Scott said,

    “Why is the left obsessed with the Middle East?” I guess because it’s a very intresting place and it’s in the news! The borders have been messed around with so much, the economic divide in places like Sadi are so huge (even compared to the west) there’s a good history of communist movements (only slightly tanted by starlinism), and it’s warmer than here.

    P.S. when I first read this I thorght it said “Why is the left obsessed with the Middle Earth?” (of tolkin fame) and I guess the answer to that would be similer.

  12. johng said,

    Perhaps there is after all a bit of a problem with a premiss that assumes this is something that needs a special explanation (in other words for many this is simply a no-brainer). I think a more pertinent question is why some people on the left really DON’T want to talk about it, regard it as an unwelcome distraction etc (here I’m not thinking of our own local controversies but some sections of the new social movements hostile to taking discussion beyond neo-liberalism and associated issues).

    On that though, I think there are wider divisions on the global left, which were sharpened by questions about the relationship between the anti-war movement and what might be described as the anti-neo-liberal movement.

    I would suggest that this split really has little to do (mostly) with controversies about Zionism, or even third world nationalism, and much more to do with a shift many made much earlier, away from a specifically political radicalism, and towards the kinds of ideas which saw the growing movements towards advocacy and human rights style activism, associated with the growth of a language around humanitarian issues (NGO’s, Medicine Sans Frontiers etc, etc) as an alternative to, rather then a supplement of, more specifically political kinds of activism. These kinds of position were compatible with, though not neccessarily reducible to, a re-vamped kind of liberal internationalism. Its important to emphasis that what many saw as a new style of politics was not monolithic politically, but it did create a new kind of terrain, a terrain which allows some to argue that we’ve moved beyond old fashioned kinds of arguments about imperialism (and which if truth be told probably provides the arguments if not the occassion for more parochial and politically insignificant excercises like the Euston Manifesto).

    This was very much the coming thing about a decade ago but the return of much more traditional kinds of explicitly political questions, were the new apolitical language doesn’t really quite work, have led in many quarters either to confusion or on the other hand increasing shrillness, what the more old fashioned and traditionalist amongst us would simply call a shift to the right (I have recently seen at first hand one representative of the progressive liberal internationalist camp become particularly hysterical at a seminar discussing these questions). I increasingly get the feeling that the shrillness of these discussions reflects a deep uneasiness amongst many for one of two reasons. Either such people really are shifting to the right. Or on the other hand they’re increasingly aware that it looks like they are, and their arguments are becoming increasingly threadbare.

    Of course amongst real activists in the global social forums etc, these have by now become explicitly political splits and most are now firmly (on the question of war anyway) in the ‘traditionalist camp’. But for others it really wasn’t supposed to be like this. I think they’re horrified. My argument would be that it was always a mistake to desert the terraine of politics, but equally, the problem my side has got is that the level of struggle is much higher then coherent actually existing political alternatives. But I increasingly feel that those voicing the new non-political politics are part of the problem not part of the solution. This is relevent because of course, not to see how vitally important the current conflict in the middle east is, is to be precisely part of the anti-politics machine.

  13. voltaires_priest said,

    Remind me again what the social forums actually do?

  14. johng said,

    Well, they tend to be made up of activists involved in various campaigns all over the world. The forum is supposed to be a space for those activists to meet up rather then an agenda.

  15. Now That’s A Carnival Of Socialism. « ModernityBlog said,

    […] Shiraz Socialist’s 13th Carnival of Socialism on “Why is the left obsessed with the Middle East?” was amusing and suitably provocative, that […]

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