Why Benn’s speech carried weight against the pacifism and hypocrisy of much of the left

December 4, 2015 at 4:33 pm (anti-fascism, internationalism, labour party, reformism, terror, war)

By Johnny Lewis

I think the reason Hilary Benn’s speech was so effective is not because he had anything to say to respond to Corbyn’s position put forward earlier that day,  but because he correctly identified Corbyn’s and much of the entire left’s political weakness over the last 25 years:

– its softness or even support (ie SWP, Counterfire, etc) for fascism and medievalist reaction as long as it comes in some anti western form.
– that even after the fall of the Soviet Union the same old apologist shit still remains strong on the left and particularly the Labour left and the people around the Morning Star: they’re against human rights abuses and “imperialism” except when it’s by Russia and its allies,  in which case they use all sorts of relativist arguments to support/excuse it.
– that via Stop The War’s popular front with the right, the left has adopted the old right’s isolationism: the idea that it has “nothing to do with us”.
– the much older Labour Pacifist tradition that Corbyn is steeped in. Despite some notable personal bravery in World War One and in the fight against nuclear weapons, this tradition rejects class struggle or anti-fascist struggle, in favour of impotent, pacifist saintliness.

So this meant even when Corbyn was making the better internationalist arguments against this specific bombing campaign, people knew his and the Stop The War/SWP (etc) left’s record with regard to groups like Daesh is poor.

We should be plain with people on the left that this debate should have been won. The right could play on peoples desire to do something to oppose Daesh and the better suggestions of the left to do this (support / arm the Kurds, end Assad’s bombing, stop the alliances with Turkey and Saudi) were not credible given the left’s history and the nature of some of our ‘comrades’ on the left opposition to bombing.

See also: Comrade Coatsey on the same subject, here


  1. Jim Denham said,

  2. Jim Denham said,

    I posted Johnny Lewis’s piece over at Left futures, and had this response:

    John Penney

    December 5, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    A very important set of points, I think, Jim. I am a “Corbynista” on most issues, but on the “selective pacifism” derived from the Stop the War, and Morning Star soviet era analysis of the struggle in the Middle East… nope. It’s sloganized gobbledegook – which sees only “US Imperialism” as the guilty party, and simply won’t recognise the dire role of the lesser imperialisms of Russia and Iran. Or indeed the fundamental clerico fascist nature of Daesh. A legacy of the appalling sucking up/ concession to Muslim Fundamentalism of sections of the radical Left in 1990’s onwards. Some , old neo-Stalinist, sections of the Left are also undoubtedly keen to re-embrace the murderous Assad dictatorship as a part of the “solution” to the crisis !

    I thought the really toe curling bit, and key political weakness in Jeremy’s otherwise quite good Commons peroration, was when he twice had opportunities to support the Kurdish People’s right to source vital air support from whomsoever they tactically thought appropriate, when faced with Daesh tank and artillery assaults. No such concession was allowed by Jeremy – who simply ignored the question – whilst stating his 30 year support for Kurdish freedom ! All too common a selective blindness on the Left today – for whom the previously longstanding support for Kurdish self determination, has been replaced by embarrassment that the Kurdish need for air support raises more complex issues about the tactics of the complex struggle in Syria/Iraq, than the grossly simplistic , unqualified ,”No to Bombing” mantra covers.

    That said , and apart from supporting the Kurdish right to secure arms and air support from whoever THEY choose – the current almost cosmetic very minor extension of the UK air assault to Syria – particularly Raqqa, and elsewhere ,is undoubtedly a useless diversion from the need to deal with Turkey’s (and the Gulf States’, major sponsorship , via arming, and oil purchases, of Daesh.

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