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Alan Johnson on Internationalism: Open Left


LONDON - APRIL 29:  Secretary of State for Hea...
Alan Johnson MP: Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Open Left yesterday published Alan Johnson’s thoughts based on Michael Waltzer’s preface to Global Politics After 9/11: The Democratiya Interviews (Foreign Policy Centre, 2007) on the Left debate. The best part I believe is what he says about internationalism it is brilliant and his words are like pure music from heaven, I am glad I am not alone, I agree with them totally. I think this means I’ll seriously consider him as the next Labour leader and the sooner the better. We need to distance ourselves from the reactionary left.

Alan Johnson: Internationalist

The left should learn from the antitotalitarian tradition of Leon Blum and George Orwell and stand up to a new reactionary left and the movements it coddles. Under the banner ‘Down with Us!’ this reactionary left wages a war of sorts on the western democracies. It has ideas and élan, and its high theory and low sensibility are important in the mass media, the arts, the academy and in what we might call graduate-popular-culture. It uses these institutions as a trelliswork to wrap the western democracies in thickets of occidentalism, cultural relativism, conspiratorial manias, and self-loathing. Many decent leftists have been cowed, wanting to take on the reactionary left, but, like St Augustine, just not yet.

Well, don’t wait too long. This reactionary left inverts the historic identity and imaginary of the social democratic left. We inherited the glorious promise of the 18th century ‘bourgeois,’ revolutions, and our goal was the realisation for everyone of the promise of those revolutions: equality, liberty and fraternity; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And yes, everyone meant everyone, even ’the poorest he’ as Rainsborough said at Putney (‘and she!’ as the Feminist movement made us understand).

We insisted, whether we were revolutionaries or reformists, that the liberal democratic revolution must be extended to the economic and social spheres at home (democracy must become ’social’, hence our name), and to the rest of the world (hence our claim to internationalism).

The reactionary left, by contrast, offers a toxic mix of anti-westernism (’Down with Us!’, ‘Who are we to lecture anyone?’) and a tolerance, or worse, for reactionary political forces who are redefined as ‘the resistance’ to ‘Empire’. (’My enemy’s enemy is my friend.’)

The social democratic left believed democratic internationalism would ‘unite the human race’. The reactionary left believes ‘We are all Hezbollah Now.’ Any future left worth the name would wage war on all of that.

But the left will also replace a breezy Emersonian internationalist rhetoric with a hard-headed (and fully-funded) democratic internationalism, committed to human security, genocide-prevention (which may involve military force) and long-term democracy assistance (which may not).

And enough of politicians refusing to speak plainly on Europe or immigration because they believe that the working class can’t be trusted on either subject. That has caused a slow divorce between the people and what is now viewed as a ‘political class’. A future left would seek to heal that breach and open up a new conversation.

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