Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pathologies of Defection

There's a wonderful article by David Edgar in the Guardian Book Review today. Edgar surveys the current crop of 'defection literature' (Cohen, Hitchens, Arnove et al) produced by ex-leftists moving right (Decents) and is decidedly unimpressed. Employing the discourse of Enlightenment and Human Rights and so on, the defectors are in fact, Edgar argues "seeking to provide a vocabulary for the progressive intelligentsia to abandon the poor" - just as previous generations found high sounding reasons to provide cover for a headlong dash into reactionary blimpishness.

In relation to the 'unholy alliances' Hitchens and others point to (usually fabricated, exaggerated or otherwise distorted), Edgar has this to say:

"All of the great progressive movements of the 20th century in the west - solidarity with republican Spain, the building of welfare states, the civil rights movement in the southern United States, the war against apartheid in South Africa - were led by an alliance between progressive intellectuals and the victims of oppression. The civil rights movement in particular allied secular Jews (often with communist backgrounds) from the north with black Christians in the south. The difficulties of that relationship were demonstrated when - after victory was largely won - blacks asserted the need for an all-black leadership of one of the main civil rights groups. Later, feminists properly criticised the leaders of the Black Panthers for the sexism of both their political practice and personal behaviour. Despite all that, does anyone think the creation of the alliance which successfully desegregated the American south was a mistake?"

The one annoying thing in Edgar's bit is that, along with many other Guardian writers, he will keep referring to the Left as 'progressive liberalism'. Progressive liberals are on the left, of course, and I've got nothing in particular against them, but the term doesn't really fit the Left as a whole - most of the more radical sections of which do not think of themselves as liberals at all.


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