OxBlog

Sunday, September 10, 2006

# Posted 7:19 AM by Patrick Porter  

TWO QUICK ARGUMENTS from today's Observer.

First, Will Hutton claims that beleaguered Prime Minister Blair's
attachment to pre-emptive unilateralism meant that it became an apologist for American and Israeli might, the least progressive position of all.
The least progressive?

'Least' is a very strong word here. Surely the least 'progressive' would be speaking as an apologist for the one-party state (Chavez, Castro, North Korea, Iran, who variously have their apologists amongst George Galloway, Ken Livingstone, the Respect party, Tony Benn, etc), or medieval religious extremism (of the Islamist or Christianist variety), or selfish isolationism (opposition to NATO intervention in the Balkans to protect Muslims, for example).

This line, which I hope was a throwaway line, sums up a basic fault line within British progressive ranks about foreign policy today: on the one hand, those 'anti-imperialists' whose politics are shaped by a presumption against American power, on the other, those 'anti-fascists' with a presumption against dictatorship.

(To be sure, there are antifascists critical of America, and anti-imperialists with misgivings about dictatorship. But I'd still see this as a useful dichotomy).

Second, American neo-conservative Richard Perle laments the British habit of throwing out their best Prime Ministers:
the disposition of the British political establishment and, sometimes, British voters, is appalling ingratitude. What other words describe the defeat inflicted on Winston Churchill after he saved Great Britain, and much of the rest of the world, from the scourge of Nazi Germany?
But Churchill's party was not the only one to govern Britain in wartime. It was a National Government, in which the Labour Party led by Clement Attlee had also been at the helm. Indeed, it was one of Churchill's achievements to craft a coalition with the labour movement, so that it developed the legitimacy and credibility it needed to form the post-war labour administration.

Furthermore, an electoral defeat is not necessarily a manifestation of ingratitude. Attlee's party arguably had a more coherent plan and set of policies. There were probably many voters who were grateful for Churchill's leadership, but who also wanted a stronger welfare state. The war hadn't become reduced to a feel-good historical memory for people who faced rationing, demobilisation, post-war reconstruction, family loss and maybe unemployment.

Prime Ministerships and election victories are not just rewards for past greatness, but are based on a referendum about the future. If ever there was one, the 1945 election was a vote about the future.
(19) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
the one-party state (Chavez, Castro, North Korea, Iran

You're right about Cuba and North Korea. But in Venezuela, Chavez notably failed in his coup attempt in 1992 and succeeded in being elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000. And Iran has mullahs but it also has national elections. Both governments have popular support (and popular criticism).

Is Saudi Arabia a one party state?

Perhaps lumping Venezuela and Iran into the 'one party state' category oversimplifies.

I did like your Churchill analysis. Churchill is such a great figure that unfortunately people tend to have a cartoon picture of him. The details are even more interesting. Churchill had an American mother? Who knew?
 
"Churchill had an American mother? Who knew?"

Uh, pretty much everyone, both then and now.
 
Even in '45, the people's party didn't get 50% of the vote: always worth bearing in mind.
 
Hey anon,

Maybe I should have said 'authoritarian state' instead.

happy to concede that there are varying degrees of oppressiveness in authoritarian states. Although even on the most generous assessment, the elections in Iran are tightly controlled by the ruling cabal.

But the rulers of Iran and Venezuela do penalise, punish and criminalise dissent, even if they are popular.
 
Patrick

I don't think authoritarian state works either.

From the Oxford American,

authoritarian - favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, esp. that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.

democratic is given as an antonym.

The fact that Chavez and Ahmadinejad were elected establishes their democratic bona fides.

Arguably they are populists. Certainly both leaders enjoy strong popular support. Saddam by comparison was an authoritarian.
 
I suspect you'll find that Chavez and Ahmadinejad both enforce strict obedience to authority.

Locking people up for dissent is a good working giveaway of an authoritarian state, electoral popularity or otherwise.
 
Looking at the US tate Dept Venezuela info page:

In July 2000, following a long and controversial process, voters re-elected President Hugo Chavez of the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) in generally free and fair national and local elections.

In February 2003, opposition supporters coordinated a nationwide effort collecting 3.2 million signatures for possible recall referenda, including constitutional issues and a presidential recall.

That's a lot of dissent and a lot of support. It doesn't seem that Chavez is deriving his power from his authority.

The Iran info page is similar:

The Islamic Republican Party (IRP) was Iran's dominant political party until its dissolution in 1987; Iran now has a variety of parties and groups engaged in political activities, some oriented along ideological lines; others more akin to professional groupings engaging in political activities. The Iranian Government is opposed by a few armed political groups, including the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (People's Mojahedin of Iran), the People's Fedayeen, and the Kurdish Democratic Party.

To be sure, Iran is a conservative country that throws intellectuals into jail. But again, Ahmadinejad has popular support. I've had some profs I wouldn't mind seeing behind bars, so I take his point.

Chavez and Ahmadinejad are a couple of Willie Starks and not a couple of Saddam Husseins.
 
I might also add that Chavez's most recent re-election was certified as being free and fair by international observers including the Carter centre. And contrary to what you claim, there does not appear to be a generalised pattern of imprisoning dissidents : even including the plotters behind the recent attempted coup.


On your 1945 election point, its worth pointing out that many historians credit the Attlee government as being one of the most successful and effective in the 20th century with regard to fulfillment of its goals : a functioning NHS and a welfare state are not to be sneered at given the conditions in which they were set up. (and, 'dearieme' all but two of the governments of the 20th century were elected with less than 50% of the vote : it's what comes of living in a multiparty democracy).
 
Niall and anon,

Re: 1945 election - Niall I'm not sure whether I'm misinterpreting your comment, but I was actually crediting the Attlee Labour Party with putting forward a more coherent and persuasive set of policies, which was one of the reasons it was elected.

And I believe I noted the conditions in which they implemented their welfare policies. It seems we have nothing to argue about on that one.

On authoritarian states: you don't have to be as severe as Saddam to be an authoritarian. Its a little absurd to make a regime as extreme as his the measure of an authoritarian state.

And free elections and popularity do not make a state democratic. Creditable human rights organisations, like Human Rights Watch, report arbitrary arrests and torture, the deliberate erosion of press freedoms and laws which criminalise any media 'disrespect' towards government officials.

So I'm happy to call Chavez an authoritarian, popular or not, attempted coup or not.
 
Niall, my 50% point was aimed at remarks like "but are based on a referendum about the future". Without 50%, and with British elections being so tribal, rather than policy-oriented, it was very unlike a referendum. My own opinion is that Attlee's government did huge harm to Britain, but that's an opinion not a complaint, because he won his election fair-and-square, and carried out the programme he promised, without political cheating.
 
To Anon:

One can't call a country democratic simply because a ruler enjoys popular support. A democratic country respects the righst of minorities as well...if a country does not respect the civil and political rights of its minorities, it's simply a dictatorship of the majority.

That's what I believe Chavez rules over in Venezuela. While Ahmadinejad has some popular support, I'd like to see actual numbers on how much of the populace supports him. The mainstream media, which does not have much presence inside Iran, gives us the picture of a populist rallying his people against America and the world. There's likely some truth to that, but I believe the anti-regime sentiment popular among the 2/3 of the country which is under 25 reigns stronger.

My point is that you can't judge a country democratic just because it held elections, especially when, in the case of Iran, the candidates are vetted and selected by an unelected supreme elite body. You have to look at the broad range of civil and political liberties to see whether a country is democratic. With students, women, children still imprisoned and stoned for minor crimes, I hardly think Iran is such a country.
 
Patrick and Charlie

democracy is literally "rule by the people." It comes from the Greek demos for people and kratos for rule. And democracies aren't necessarily nice, fuzzy countries; the Greeks and the Romans certainly weren't.

Why am I making this distinction?

If you call Chavez and Ahmadinejad authoritarians then you're ignoring their popular support. True, you don't have to go as far as Saddam to be an authoritarian, but neither comes even close. By comparison, we generally view Turkey (an EU aspirant) as a democracy, but they just jailed an author for just talking about the Armenian genocide.

I do think the problem is more complex and that the solution is engagement and trade.
 
Venezuala has state control of the broadcast media, but not of the print media, and few if any political prisoners. An illiberal democracy? Putinism?

Iran, OTOH, has govt control over ALL media, numerous political prisoners. And the govt vets whose allowed to run for office on ideological grounds, ruling out a substantial amount of potential opinion. Iran allows choice WITHIN a relatively narrow set of parameters. Its not a democracy, and combining the Iranian case with Venezualas only confuses matters.
 
Venezuala has state control of the broadcast media. You should inform Gustavo Cisneros, one of the world's richest men (#64) and purveyor of the telenovela. He runs Venevisión, which has been a "vocal opponent of President Hugo Chávez."

Patrick was the one who put together the list of one-party states, not I.

Iran has state run media but with al Jazeera, BBC, VOA, the Internet, etc., they are not lacking in access to a free press. There is Internet censorship in Iran, but Great Britain has Internet censorship as well.

The mullahs do vet candidates, but it is probably better to ask Iranians if they feel that Iran is a functioning democracy. And ask Paul Hackett if the US vets candidates, even candidates that are vets. The mullah in that case was named Chuck Schumer. (yeah, a bit of a stretch, but I was pissed about Hackett.)

By the way, Ahmadinejad has a blog ??????? ??? ???? ????? ????, and his predecessor Mohammad Khatami is currently in the US on a speaking tour.
 
Venezuala has state control of the broadcast media. You should inform Gustavo Cisneros, one of the world's richest men (#64) and purveyor of the telenovela. He runs Venevisión, which has been a "vocal opponent of President Hugo Chávez."

Patrick was the one who put together the list of one-party states, not I.

Iran has state run media but with al Jazeera, BBC, VOA, the Internet, etc., they are not lacking in access to a free press. There is Internet censorship in Iran, but Great Britain has Internet censorship as well.

The mullahs do vet candidates, but it is probably better to ask Iranians if they feel that Iran is a functioning democracy. And ask Paul Hackett if the US vets candidates, even candidates that are vets. The mullah in that case was named Chuck Schumer. (yeah, a bit of a stretch, but I was pissed about Hackett.)

By the way, Ahmadinejad has a blog ??????? ??? ???? ????? ????, and his predecessor Mohammad Khatami is currently in the US on a speaking tour.
 
Hey all,

While continuing to think that Chavez's regime is authoritarian, I was hoping to have more of a discussion about Hutton's view that supporting America is the least progressive position to take.

I probably shouldn't have confused the issue by lumping together regimes of different badness, and I hadn't intended to provoke a debate about Venezuela, but that's blogging I guess.
 
Yes, the line was in all likelihood a throwaway line. And your dichotomy does work. But I don't really see it as a dichotomy. Orwell was strongly anti-fascist and strongly anti-imperialist.
 
Anon,

I agree that it antifascism and anti-imperialism are not intrinsically opposed, and Orwell is a fine example.

My point was, there are two different emphases -one which puts most stress on opposing American empire, one which puts most stress on opposing dictatorships. These two attitudes seem to be the major current alignment in progressive circles when it comes to foreign policy.
 
When I was over there, I sensed that the young English were reflexively anti-American and not particularly anti-imperialist. But you're on the ground there now, and I think your dichotomy works.
 
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