Terry Glavin has a superb essay up at Z Word about the anti-Zionism of the Canadian left. It is an essential read. His analysis has much to inform a wider audience. I particularly liked his take on the contemporary ‘peace movement’ as reflecting a counter-cultural rather than a social-justice tradition.
He sees anti-war campaigners emerging from the mobilisations of the anti-globalisation movement and quotes Moishe Postone that these “did not express any sort of movement for progressive change”. I haven’t read Postone, but if that judgement is applied to the anti-globalisation movement as a whole it is harsh, certainly for a section of the movement. However, is easy to see how it could be seen in that way.
Firstly, the most visible face of the movement was presented by the decidedly counter-cultural methods of tactical frivolity. However amusing it is to see someone on stilts dressed as a giant pink fairy confronting baton-wielding riot police, it doesn’t inspire confidence in analytic rigour.
Secondly, the movement was partially a defensive one against a specific model of global capitalism that was not based on free markets, as often stated, but on markets fixed and governed by powerful multi-lateral institutions, which were rapidly transforming societies and destroying communities. In such a situation a movement against change is a progressive one.
Finally, the alternative political economy that the movement offered was disparate and inchoate, ranging from anarchist inspired localism to the more conventional left social democracy of those such as Susan George.
The anti-globalisation movement was always trying to shake off that label in favour of being known as the global justice movement and its heart was not the young activist, but the coalition of trade unions, landless peasants, small farmers, indigenous peoples, worker co-operatives, leftists and environmentalists. And this is where Terry’s essay really hits home. As the global justice movement morphed into the anti-war movement, where did this coalition go? It vanished to be replaced by groups of activists with a simplistic anti-Western sentiment. There was always a struggle by political activists to try and wrest control of such an iconic movement. The events following 9/11 allowed an unrepresentative section of the left, informed by “cultural codes” and “ideational packages”, as identified by Shulamit Volkov, rather than the real interests of the global poor, to take control and build an explicitly political anti-Western coalition.
It was a disaster, Islamists were embraced and the landless jettisoned. Iraqi trade unionists faced a barrage of abuse. The left flirted with anti-Semitism and conspiracy theory. It divorced itself from reality in a rather convenient way. There was no need for any great sacrifice for the 'struggle', just for the constant expression of the requisite anger. But we should not feel too smug. There is a parallel with some in the anti-totalitarian left. So when Marco Attila Hoare recently wrote that "the principal ideological division in global politics today" is "pro-Western vs anti-Western" I think that he too was oversimplifying. For the left, it is not about being reflexively pro or anti-Western. It is about standing with the poor, the oppressed and the exploited. It is about being consistently pro-social justice.
This is where Terry's piece is devastating. He writes that the left's obsession with anti-Zionism at the expense of social justice has meant that:
They have preempted the possibility of a legitimately robust international peace movement that might have found a way to intervene on behalf of ordinary Israelis, Palestinians, and Lebanese during the bloody crises of this century's first decade. And they have given courage and comfort to antisemitic fanatics and anti-modernist zealots from the crowded tenements of Gaza to the scorched opium fields of Kandahar.
In Canada, they have effectively infantilized important Canadian debates about the Afghanistan mission, upending these debates into a lurid discourse about American imperialism.
They have undermined labor-movement solidarity campaigns on behalf of the persecuted trade unionists of Iran. They have "problematized" the potential for Canadian leadership in a multilateral intervention on behalf of the suffering people of Darfur.
Reading Terry's article makes it perfectly clear that a left that simply defines itself purely in terms of its position vis a vis the West is not just a left that has lost its way, but one that has abandoned judgement and, thereby, integrity.