Which Side Are You On?

Left and right, capital and labour, and our relationship to both may have been the best way to understand 20th Century politics and to chart solutions to problems. But those days are gone. Thatcher and Reagan changed the political landscape to make us all capitalists. Maybe we differ on exactly the extent of the role of the state, maybe we argue about the odd penny on income tax, or disagree about how tough to be on bankers – but those are not arguments of ideology any more.

Does that mean the big debates are finished? No. It just means that left and right are finished.

Tony Blair has an attractive alternative, using our attitude to globalisation as an organising framework. He sets it out in his memoirs…

It is what I call “open vs. closed.” Some right-wingers are free-traders, others aren’t. Likewise with the left. On both sides, some are pro-immigration, others anti-. Some favour an interventionist foreign policy; others don’t. Some see globalisation and the emergence of China, India and others as a threat; some as an opportunity. There is a common link to the free trade, pro-immigration (controlled, of course) interventionist and pro-globalisation political positions, but it is “open vs. closed,” not “left vs. right.” I believe progressives should be the champions of the open position, which is not only correct but also a winning position, as Bill Clinton showed conclusively.

Open or closed, that is the defining question today. And the revolutions sweeping North Africa and the Middle East are the perfect moment to decide which side you are on: do we recognise the interconnectedness of the world and use whatever economic and military power we have to help the spread of freedom and democracy, or do we turn away from the young men and women risking death to topple murderous regimes, using anachronistic arguments about sovereignty?

Last week, I stood with Libyan rebels outside Ajdabiya. Some had AK-47s. Others had World War One-era rifles. Some had machetes. Some were completely unarmed. Since then, they have surged forward to take advantage of French, American and British air strikes against Gaddafi ground forces. And since then they have been pushed back, unable to hold their gains with their pitiful collection of armaments.

Now, we have to stick to our “open” position and take the next step, arming the rebels and sending in advisers to train and advise the 3000-strong force on tackling Gaddafi’s bigger and better-equipped army.

The alternative is to turn our back on the brave people in Benghazi, and to ignore the reality of globalisation and our inter-connected world.

Forget accusations of “mission creep”. In passing Resolution 1973 the UN Security Council put itself on the progressive, open side of the argument. Now let’s take it to its logical conclusion.


2 thoughts on “Which Side Are You On?

  1. Tho only two-letter niggle I have with the quote from Blair is that it would have been better to write pro-migration rather than pro-immigration. We are travellers as well as hosts. Both the British worker on a Libyan oil field and the sub-Saharan African trying to transit Libya to Europe are modern migrants.

  2. I don’t understand why you use Blair’s categorisation of views instead of some qualified academics like, say, Prof. Joe Stiglitz. The crown achievement of Clinton’s “openness” was NAFTA, which has lead to some apalling poverty in South America. Another achievement of openness is the World Trade Organisation, which basically allows for first-world countries to break trade rules that third-world countries are forced to obey. And the IMF and World Bank, which force privatisation of essential services on countries that desperately need money, from which wealthy foreign investors profit and locals suffer. So Blair has it wrong, it’s not open vs closed, everyone would be happy with an open world if the rich didn’t benefit from it while the poor starved in increasingly large numbers. The categories are those who are happy with increasing the privileges of the already privileged vs those that aren’t. We’re back to right vs left, aren’t we? That’s why poor Blair didn’t understand why the suffering Egyptians got upset, “Mubarak has developed the economy so well, hasn’t he?”

    Regarding Libya, Blair’s open position was the one that it’s OK to arm and train Qaddafi’s army to ensure world safety from Islamists, and of course make money for rich British arms dealers. Now the open position apparently requires that we arm and train the revolutionaries. Yes, democracy might not come out of it at the end, in fact academic research shows that democracy results from foreign interventions less than 3% of the time. And yes, they’ve killed, gang raped and rounded up Africans randomly and Time reports that they searched Bin Jawad house to house for “traters” and even burned down one unfortunate suspect’s house, so human rights might not come out of it either. But at least the profits for the rich British arms dealers would, either paid for from future Libyan oil, or paid for by the struggling British poor. And ten years later when we’re still babysitting an Afghanistan-style civil war (which has spread a bit to surrounding African countries to kill those that might come and help Qaddafi), and the NHS has to be scrapped completely to pay for it, people like Blair would still go on about the merits of openness, after all, it’s the poor that will die of treatable illnesses, not him and his friends.

    Journalists who have big audiences should have pushed the early March initiatives by Hugo Chavez, the Bolivarian Alliance, Turkey, the African Union and the International Crisis group. By rejecting/ignoring all these, the revolutionaries and NATO backed themselves into this cornor. All those lives lost since the beginning of March could potentially have been saved. This cannot be done without negotiations and a political solution; the longer we take to realise it, the more people will die. And look, we cannot just proceed on whatever any given people think is open and progressive. For example, since Western Europe and the US brought down the whole world economic system through willfully stupid policies which they’re still refusing to change, starving millions through increasing food prices, most of Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe might just think the progressive thing is to use nuclear bombs to pulverise europe and the US so that the world economic system can start over without them.

    PS: Keep up the twitter feed, it’s valuable.

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