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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 19:06 GMT 20:06 UK
Internationalist manifesto causes a stir

By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

O'Neill's pub on Euston Road
Norman Geras found inspiration at O'Neill's
A pub on the Euston Road in London was the venue for a document that has caused quite a stir in political circles in Britain and the United States.

The document, called the Euston Manifesto, was drawn up in a series of meetings at O'Neill's, opposite the British Library and not far from Euston station.

It is set for a public launch on 25 May (not at the pub), but it has already been published and extensively discussed on the internet, where it had its origins.

It was drafted by a veteran left-wing academic, Norman Geras, professor emeritus in politics at Manchester University. Geras runs his own blogsite called normblog.

"We wanted to declare support for values that are being compromised," he told me.

"We did not want a socialist document but one which would appeal to others who are liberal and democrats.

"For example, it is quite regular to read about terrorism that 'Yes, putting bombs on buses is bad, but you need to understand it'.

"The word 'understand' has two meanings. It means to explain and to condone - and that 'but' often tends to condone the act."

'Clarion call'

The manifesto offers a way for "democrats and progressives" to navigate through the minefields of blanket anti-Americanism and anti-globalisation, to support democracy and oppose terrorism without having to join the ranks of American neo-conservatives.

Nevertheless, a leading American neo-con, Bill Kristol, has welcomed the manifesto and said: "We hope that this clarion call from overseas might contribute to a rebirth of political courage and moral clarity on the American left as well."

Is Norman Geras embarrassed at such support? It seems not.

Demonstrators in London on May Day
The authors say their manifesto is not just for socialists

"I am not troubled by what Kristol said. We are not tainted by this. He has a right as a democratic citizen to his view. This is not a left or right document," he said.

Christopher Hitchens, once on the far left of the British political scene, and now an ardent supporter in the US of the Iraq war and opposer of Islamic-inspired terrorism has said he might sign it.

"It prefers those who vote in Iraq and Afghanistan to those who put bombs in mosques and schools and hospitals," he has said.

'Against terror'

The manifesto has prompted a lively debate and, incidentally, shows the power of the internet as a new forum for ideas.

The Euston Manifesto declares that it is: "For a renewal of Progressive Politics."

"We propose here a fresh political alignment," it says.

Critics of the Bush administration should not be blithely accused of anti-Americanism
The New Statesman
The titles of its 15 paragraphs give an idea of the kind of re-alignment it seeks:

It is "for democracy", it offers "no apology for tyranny", it calls for the benefits of globalisation to be spread in "development for freedom", it "opposes anti-Americanism", wants a "two state solution" between Israel and Palestine, warns of anti-Semitism, and is "united against terror."

It condemns "terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology" as a "menace that has to be fought and not excused."

About the United States it says: "We reject without qualification the anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal (and some conservative) thinking."

Solidarity with Iraqis

In a list of "elaborations", it adds that the events of 11 September 2001 were not "America's deserved comeuppance, but an act of mass murder."

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are "roundly condemned" but it accuses "many on the left" of double standards by criticising democracies while keeping silent about worse abuses by others.

Screengrab of Euston Manifesto
The manifesto promises "a fresh political alignment"

It deals with Iraq by acknowledging that the founding supporters were divided about the invasion, but adds that the task now is to "put in place in Iraq a democratic political order".

Norman Geras said: "I supported the war and still do but others opposed it. But we should all now be in solidarity with the Iraqi people and those trying to create a democratic society.

"As for the United States, we identified a way of thinking among some that whatever America does must be wrong. That is their starting assumption. We don't see it that way."

I asked him if he thought this was basically a "Blairite" document (Bill Kristol declared that the manifesto showed that Tony Blair "is not alone").

Geras replied: "This is not an endorsement of New Labour or the third way."

Egalitarianism

Shalom Lappin, another of the key figures involved, wrote in one of a series of "platforms" justifying the manifesto: "I, like many other signatories, am a social democrat very much concerned to sustain the integrity of the public domain against the onslaught of privatisation and expropriation that have resulted from the dogmatic pursuit of neo-liberal ideas.

"The manifesto focuses on the core values of social egalitarianism and support for organised labour within free unions, but it does not commit its supporters to specific economic models."

However, the manifesto is coming in for criticism from hard and soft left sources. The New Statesman magazine praised some of its principles - democracy, free elections, etc - but attacked some of its practices.

"Critics of the Bush administration should not be blithely accused of anti-Americanism; similarly, condemnation of the often violent expansionism by a right-wing Israeli government should not be cheaply labelled anti-Semitism," it said.

And Guardian columnist Martin Kettle joined in: "America is not the problem; on that the manifesto is right. But the Bush administration unquestionably is.

"The pro-war school, both among the authors and in the British government, never properly acknowledges the historic rupture represented by Bush. But it would not have been like this if Al Gore had won in 2000."

Opening for Brown?

But Will Hutton of The Observer said that the manifesto was "proving a potentially important political event". And he looked ahead.

"Gordon Brown, pondering how he is going to square away an increasingly factional left and renew New Labour, has the advantage of a clean sheet.

"He can adopt the Euston group position, but apply it universally. He can and should condemn Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; he can dissociate himself from how the war was begun; but he can insist that the right policy now is unambiguously to support Iraqi democracy.

"He can also commit to the same principles at home - defending civil liberty and democratising the House of Lords. It's a strong position that integrates lots of disparate utopian visions. The Euston group could not get there itself. Its importance is that it points the way."

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


SEE ALSO:
Karl Marx's smoking gun
29 Nov 04 |  Magazine
Foot's message of hope to left
14 Jul 03 |  UK Politics
Is Blair a neo-Conservative?
02 Apr 03 |  UK Politics


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