Robin Yassin-Kassab

Three Political Principles

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Marine Le Pen leads France’s rebranded National Front (now it’s called ‘National Rally’), a far right-populist party rooted in fascist ideology. Here is her line on Ukraine: An embargo on Russian fuel would hurt French consumers. Sending weapons to Ukraine would lead to escalation. We need a rapprochement between Russia and the West.

Jeremy Corbyn is the leftist ex-leader of Britain’s Labour Party. He led Labour to its worst defeat since the 1930s and is no longer a Labour MP, but still leads the Stop the War Coalition and represents the perspective of quite a few British leftists. Here is his line on Ukraine: Sanctions on Russia won’t help. We shouldn’t arm Ukraine because it will lead to a long proxy war. We need a new security arrangement between Russia and the West.

Meanwhile, here is the latest directive from Noam Chomsky, the font of the ideology that calls itself ‘anti-imperialism’: Surrender to imperialism. It’s like a hurricane. It’s stupid to resist.

It’s problematic that political positions presented as opposites are so often identical (the hard left and the hard right meet on many other issues, from Syria to membership of the EU). It’s worse than deceptive that supposed anti-imperialists are actually pro-imperialist. This kind of politics robs language of its meaning as efficiently as Kremlin propaganda. People are deeply confused as a result. Young people with progressive urges end up following deeply reactionary leaders or advocating deeply reactionary programmes.

Archaic terms like ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ usually no longer illuminate. The problem is made much worse by the shallow self-advertisement encouraged by social media and by a postmodernity which favours signs over reality. So much of our politics, from Tariq Ali to Jacob Rees-Mogg, is a form of roleplaying, a recycling of old images.

It’s way past time to ditch the archaic labels and to start again from basic principles. I’ve quickly drawn up three principles which fit my politics. I would advise everyone else to think about their own principles and then, rather than practising loyalty to a leader, party or label, to work out who else you can work with, and in which contexts.

Here are my principles:

Number one: Radical Internationalism. This refers to the universality of human rights and the interconnection of all. If tyranny wins somewhere it wins everywhere else. It refers also to Freedom of Movement – something even more important in the future than in the past. Climate change means a coming mass movement of people unlike anything seen so far. The idea of ethnic majorities in nation states must die or it will be war of all against all. (This is a very unpopular position, not loved by left nor right. But – and for that reason – it’s a very good place to start.) Radical internationalism does not allow for binarism. Saudi crimes and Iranian crimes; Russian crimes and American crimes: these are all crimes. (You know, if torture isn’t good in Brooklyn, it isn’t good in Damascus either.)

Number two: Absolute Support for Democracy. The struggle should be to defend what democracy we already have, and then to improve, deepen and extend democracy wherever we can.

The democratic process requires a respect for truth, a culture of debate and cooperation, a free press, and so necessitates a constant battle to defend and develop these things, and against corporate, ideological and state propagandists.

Number three: Autonomy and Decentralisation. Individuals, households, communities, peoples should preserve – as much as possible – the right to make their own decisions. In ‘as much as possible’ is space for contextualised debate (your freedom runs out when it starts imposing on someone else’s), but the principle is clear, and extends from the right of women to wear what they like to the right of nations to resist coercion. This principle counters the potential ‘tyranny of the majority’ in democratic systems, and stands against the overbearing state. It also implies the need to limit corporate power, and to empower the economically disenfranchised.

“A society dominated by smallholders and shopkeepers comes closer to equality and to popular ownership of the means of production than any economic system yet devised.” – James C Scott

A possible fourth principle is environmentalism – the interconnection of all that is on earth. But this seems like common sense, and also something we’re going to be forced to put at the centre of our politics. We’ve left it far too late for a good outcome, and will be forced into a series of survival measures. It seems too big a category to include here. Perhaps the three principles are ways in which we should attempt to deal with the coming disaster, as well as our more habitual disasters.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 24, 2022 at 10:05 am

Posted in politics

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