Issue 276 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
David Aaronovitch spends much time attacking the left. So it's time we fought back, says Pat Stack
The National Union of Students has a lot to answer for. The New Labour benches are packed with former NUS executive members. There is minister of war Jack Straw. There is the blustering buffoon who is currently trying to wreck education, Charles Clarke. In Blair's early summer reshuffle two more former NUS types emerged into ministerial glory, Fiona MacTaggart and Phil Woolas, while on the backbenches we see Stephen Twigg, whose finest hour was beating Portillo, but who is now probably to the right of Portillo. Then there's Jim Murphy, a kind of Mr Fixit hatchetman of the Scottish Labour Party, and the incredible Lorna Fitzsimons, whose one visit to the headlines was to get pissed with tabloid journalists and discuss lack of shagging opportunities with them.
Not a single one of this motley crew voted against the war on Iraq. Why would they? Lacking original thought or principle, their political careers are all that have ever mattered to them. However, there is a figure of greater substance from the NUS past lurking around the media, most often found in the pages of the Observer and the Guardian--one David Aaronovitch.
In his student days during the 1970s Aaronovitch was a member of the Communist Party. This, it has to be said, was no way near as daring or extreme as it sounded. The party was gradually abandoning its fondness for Soviet tanks rolling over resistance in eastern Europe.
More importantly, the party was reshaping itself as a 'moderate', 'reasonable' voice on the left. When the anti Vietnam War movement exploded and student radicalism grew in the late 1960s the party again and again represented the voice of moderation against all this hotheaded stuff.
Nowhere was this truer than within the NUS. The party formed a bloc with Labour Students (the Broad Left) and sought to contain the influence of the far left to damp down the new radicalism. Labour gave the organisation respectability--however, Labour Students such as Clarke hadn't two ideas worthy of the name to rub together.
Here the CP came in--they were the ideas people, the intellectuals. Aaronovitch was a particularly robust, pompous and loud personification of this. The CP, though, was moving ever further to the right. The party developed a strategy designed to pacify Tory students. They voted for them in union elections, attempted to ditch the union's no platform policy for racists and fascists, and conceded ground on a wide variety of questions. The strategy ended in disaster. It took the broad left so far right that even Labour students had enough and broke away, smashing the CP in the process and taking control of the union on their own.
What of the Tories? Far from becoming integrated supporters of the union, they developed into an organisation sheltering skinhead thugs sporting 'Hang Nelson Mandela' badges, bug-eyed bigots who were so far off the scale that Thatcher and Tebbit disbanded their organisation!
Now you might think that a man who as president of the union had played such a catastrophic role in the demise of his own party would be slow to hand out advice. Aaronovitch, though, has re-emerged as a self appointed intellectual guru to the left. His articles are frequently headed with 'Message To The Left' and peppered with 'the left must learn', 'the left must stop' 'the left must' or 'the left mustn't'.
All of this would be rather touching if Aaronovitch actually liked the left, but he loathes it. Nowhere was this clearer than on the question of the war. Aaronovitch, from the outset, set out his stall in support of the war. He wrote articles deriding 'all these Johnny come lately demonstrators. Where were they when he was opposing the Vietnam War?' he asked (not born, a lot of them!).
He found knee-jerk anti-Americanism (by the left) depressing. 'The left view' that the war was about oil was trite (on the day he wrote it the Bush administration backed the multinational drugs corporations against Aids-ravaged Africa), the demonstrators simplistic, the BBC too anti-war (I'm not making this up).
Here is a man who campaigned against the US intervention in Vietnam, and presumably demanded of President Johnson, 'Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?' a legitimate question even to what was arguably the most socially liberal and reforming US regime of modern times.
Today, though, he finds it offensive that anyone should ask the demented Bush and his henchmen the same question. As many began to wake up to the full horror of the neo-conservatives and their 'project for a new American century' he instead attacked the left for seeing them as part of a 'world Jewish conspiracy'.
Of course the left believes no such thing. No matter, Aaronovitch prefers to ignore the warmongering madness of Perle, Rumsfeld, etc and instead conjures up supposed anti-Semitism to attack their opponents.
Similarly, as more and more people cotton on to the Bush/Blair con where weapons of mass destruction are concerned, Aaronovitch attacks those on the left who 'exaggerated the ransacking of Baghdad's museum!'
There may indeed have been exaggeration, but to what effect? Has it led to war? Death? Destruction? No, just to correction, not quite the same as WMD then!
Apparently he is pleasantly surprised by the success of Bush's 'road map to peace in the Middle East' (no, I'm still not making this up).
Oh, and Aaronovitch has never been a member of the Labour Party, but so inspired was he by Blair's war that he has opted to join!
In the light of his success as a young man in developing a strategy that destroyed his own political party, and in the light of all his recent hocus pocus, may I just respond on behalf of the left to all this helpful advice.
David, if you can do for Blair's Labour Party what you did to the Communist Party then I will personally request a song for you on the radio. How about Britney Spears, 'Oops I Did it Again'?