I’ve signed two public statements this year: the Euston Manifesto and, this week, the New Generation Network’s agenda. I may not agree with every last dot and comma and emphasis and omission, but they’re both near enough what I believe in to get my thumbs-up. And, even though somebody could perfectly well agree with one of them but not the other, I think they do have a certain common theme that marks them out, for me, as being important.
Each represents (among other things) an attempt to champion, from the left, the universal value of individuals regardless of groupings. Too many on the left have bought into the politics of identity groups, and have defined themselves primarily as being against those with the most (Western) power. This relativises liberty and betrays equality.
Those who adopt this view only really have a ‘left-wing’ position in the sense of their romanticised dogma of resistance. It may have many of the mannerisms and forms of the genuine left, but in reality it’s all about adopting groups – within society or on the world stage – who can be cast as victims of ‘us’, fêting their nominal leaders because they challenge the status quo, and excusing, ignoring or denying their moral shortcomings.
The EM argues that Western power is not the worst thing in the world, and that brutal, undemocratic regimes should not be sanctified because of their international legal sovereignty nor defended on grounds of anti-imperialism. The NGN argues that the UK Government and traditional white British culture are not the source of all social evils, and that self-appointed community leaders, too often reactionary and intolerant, should not be treated as legitimate representatives nor have their illiberal grandstanding excused on grounds of multiculturalism.
Very different issues, but for me both exemplify the fight against the double standards by which ‘our’ rights and freedoms needn’t apply to ‘others’, and against the related acceptance that the strong and the loud may dominate ‘their’ groups but ‘we’ may not campaign against this.
Thus, the EM rails against “left apologetics” such as “the excuse-making for suicide-terrorism, [and] the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the ‘anti-war’ movement with illiberal theocrats”. It says that human rights violations “are equally to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context”. Equally, the NGN bemoans the “political paralysis… when addressing cultural ills such as honour killings, homophobia and forced marriages”. It argues: “The true purpose of ‘multiculturalism’ should be to help people from differing cultural backgrounds to understand each other better and overlap productively. Instead it has come to mean increasing separation.” The so-called community leaders “have helped to polarise the debate on community cohesion by taking extreme positions and failing to reflect more progressive opinion from those they claim to represent”.
Human rights are – inescapably, universally – human rights; repression and bigotry are wrong, whatever the source or ‘context’.
So my solidarity is with individuals, not cultures or ethnicities or religions or nationalities. We are social beings, and we naturally form groups; but groups are valuable only for how they benefit their members. Participation must be consensual, leadership must be accountable, and internal differences must be tolerated and defended – from outside, if needed. If solidarity doesn’t cut across group boundaries, then it’s nothing more than moral apartheid in the cause of knee-jerk oppositionalism. And playing ‘our son of a bitch’ has no place in decent politics – most certainly not on the left.