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Apr 12, 2011 11:59 am


FRED HALLIDAY: A LEFTIST WITH EYES



Reading a review about an honest, clear eyed leftist, gives me hope. The opposite is true when confronted by the failure of Western universities to infuse their students with values. Even more depressing is the notion that the opposite is true. Clearly, LSE failed to make Gaddafi junior more humane but Gaddafi junior succeeded in making LSE blind to Libyan tyranny. The late Fred Halliday was an exception, writes John Lloyd of the FT:

His main affiliation was with the London School of Economics; one of his last acts was to strongly advise the School against accepting a donation organised by Saif Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator’s son who took a PhD there. Characteristically wise, but also undogmatic, he was for engagement with the regime, both to understand and attempt to enlighten it. But he was more alive than most to its cruelty. Even after it renounced weapons of mass destruction, he thought it best to distrust the Gaddafis; most of all when they brought gifts. . . .

. . . But it does run afoul of what became his ultimate bugbear: the sacrifice by leftists (and some liberals) of the secular, rationalist tradition for opportunist alliances with nationalists, sectarians and religious extremists. In one wonderful essay, “The age of the three dustbins”, he lambasts just this left-liberal irrationalism, variously accusing it of “an innocent when not indulgent attitude towards political violence” and “a capitulation to nationalist and religious bigots”. It is among a trenchant description of a trend which covers figures such as Ken Livingstone, and which still recruits the naive to the worship of Che Guevara (described here as simply “a cruel and dangerous man”).

Such views spring from Halliday’s main strength; knowing what he was talking about, deepened immeasurably by his intelligence and ability to understand his interlocutors. . . . Earlier than most, he understood that since the 1979 revolution, Iran and its allies had become the leader of the no-compromise faction in the Middle East.

More clearly than most, he understood the TV station al-Jazeera, at once a huge step forward for the Arab media and yet still an arm of the Qatari state with one large function: “to annoy Saudi Arabia”.

And through all this he charts the separation of the liberation movements in the Middle East from their earlier leftism, and the decay of the progressive parts of the Arab political tradition.

In 2005 he elaborated:

The Third Dustbin is that of the contemporary global protest movement, to a considerable degree a children's crusade of intellectual demagogues, recycled 1960s bunkeristas with their fellow travellers in literary circles, dreamers and political manipulators, of the old and new lefts, whose claim to moral and analytic superiority too often masks a set of unexamined, and themselves often recycled, platitudes from the Cold War period and, indeed, from the ideology of the communist world.

It is as if, having appeared to die in Moscow in 1991, the anti-capitalist world movement leapt from the coffin, like James Joyce's corpse Finegan at his Wake, at Seattle in 1999, having learnt nothing at all.

Indeed the contents of this Third Dustbin are familiar enough: a ritual incantantion of 'no war' that avoids any substantive engagement with problems of international peace and security, or reflection on how positively to help peoples in zones of conflict; a set of vague, unthought out, uncosted and often dangerous utopian ideas about an alternative world; a pleasing but vapid invocation of global human values and internationalism that blithely ignores the misuses to which that term was put in the 20th century (for example by Stalin or Mao); a complacent attitude, innocent when not indulgent, towards political violence (witness the cult of Che Guevara, a cruel and dangerous man, and the invitees from Northern Ireland, Palestine and Iran, to name but three at the London Social Summit in October).

This was a capitulation, that would have shocked their socialist forebears, to nationalist and religious bigots (as in the reception by the supposedly left-wing Mayor of London of Sheikh Yusif al-Qaradawi, the descendant of a line of Mus lim fascist thinkers). There is also a vapid and politically ineffective attitude to nature, forgetting, as the tsunami should have reminded all of us, that nature can also kill. And all of this is mixed up with a shallow, repetitive critique of globalisation, in the name of what we are never sure, and a naive, uninformed, analysis of the US.

Such a critique applies, in the first place, to the Western and affiliated Third World protest movement. But it applies with even greater force to the murderous vapidities promulgated by the most prominent alternative centre of resistance, that of radical Sunni jihadism, be it of Bin Laden or al-Zarqawi: these people are devoid of any substantive ideas about how to run a modern society, economy or political system.




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