The far Left exposed itself this week in a series of meetings and rallies and encounters about Ukraine, for a tyrant bombing civilians will get a fair hearing from them if he is not a member of Nato.
Putin needs a buffer in Ukraine, said one on Twitter. Would you be a buffer, was one reply, and the tweet was duly taken down. The far Left’s most pleasing character trait is its cowardice. It collapses easily. Nato expansion is de rigueur in eastern Europe for countries seeking to join the EU, said a woman at a Stop the War meeting, as if national sovereignty — which she is blessed to have — is something trivial for those defending it in Ukraine.
Stop the War says we shouldn’t arm Ukraine or impose sanctions: it will only encourage Putin. Such is their determination, a man with a Ukrainian flag was escorted from a meeting this weekend as he cried, “Shame!” I would have listened to him but that is not part of their culture: not when they are met with opposition, which they do not like, and to hear them now praise “diplomacy” — as they did — is bizarre because it involves listening. During the meeting they congratulated themselves on their courage for speaking as they do, among friends — the media were barred for immorality even as independent media is fleeing Russia — and inside a liberal democracy. Such is their toxicity now, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell pulled out of a Stop the War rally.
They may be a pottage of vanity, self-deception, and rage, but they have been clear on Ukraine, even before the hammer and the sickle appeared at a rally in London this week. “In [the] game of great power politics, if we have to pick a side over Crimea let it be Russia,” they said in 2014, when Jeremy Corbyn was their chair. “Some of us have never supported Putin,” he says now, a coward among cowards.
The willingness to understand Putin was obvious, again in 2014, when Corbyn’s spin doctor Seumas Milne, a rich Communist sympathiser, appeared with Putin at PR junket alongside leaders of the European far Right. A surprising number of far Left leaders are rich as if they, who don’t really need politics, can afford uniquely unserious ones. If you are rich, it doesn’t matter if the Socialist Utopia never comes. Dreaming, to steal their language, is a privilege.
For George Galloway, an original sponsor of Stop the War, closeness to tyranny seems to be a soothing and instinctive need. His address to Saddam Hussein in 1994 is infamous: “I still meet families who are calling their newborn sons Saddam. Sir, I salute your courage, your strength and your indefatigability and I want you to know that we are with you until victory, until victory in Jerusalem.” Another sponsor was Andrew Murray, a rich Communist sympathiser; yet another is Jeremy Corbyn himself. Plenty of them failed to oppose Bashar al-Assad, even as Muslim activists begged them to. They didn’t support aid convoys to Aleppo — too imperialist — or the White Helmets pulling bodies out of Russian-bombed rubble in Syria. They are only anti-war when the West is the aggressor. There are no just wars when the West fights them is their reasoning, if we are calling it that; but every war against the West is, if not just, then at least understandable.
But this isn’t pacifism, however they may brand it. It is Occidentalism: hatred of the West, and, with that comes hatred of parliamentary democracy too, because it is disappointing and hard work.
What real — rather than self-serving and performative — sympathy do they have for those beyond themselves? Who have they really helped beyond themselves? I often wonder what would happen if they threw themselves behind moderate Labour with all their fury as an experiment in real politics — if they acknowledged, for instance, that a Socialist Utopia is unlikely in a country that is also a monarchy. But this kind of self-reflection and generosity is not in their nature.
Consider their brutal anti-Semitism. Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t know he is an anti-Semite, but that doesn’t make him any less of one. Much can be laid at the door of their idiocy; like idiots, their world is binary. They do not think the West can be saved, and they will not help others save it.
I sensed the anti-democratic tendencies of the far Left when I first met Corbyn’s Labour Party in 2015. It was obvious in the way they spoke about their enemies, which they define as anyone who has ever disagreed with them. Tory Right or soft Left: to the far Left there is no difference. Every day they say so on social media: Liberals and Centrists are bemused to find themselves called far Right. It’s poison on the doorstep. It made former miners vote Tory in 2019 because if soft Left is far Right, why not? The violence of their language offered a creeping kind of dehumanisation of the enemy who is also — crucially — a voter: someone to be seduced by a serious politician is, for them, only someone to be despised.
Violence was always acceptable if it was against your enemy: the rhetoric itself made it necessary. I heard many far Left cheerleaders call the throwing of milkshakes and eggs acceptable if they landed on the wrong kind of politician, and what comes after that? Quite recently a far Left journalist celebrated a policewoman being knocked off her horse. I saw a journalist attacked at a far Left meeting last autumn; they applauded when the victim left the room. At the last campaign rally in 2019, a Jew was physically attacked for carrying an anti-Corbyn banner. I concluded that they do not believe in parliamentary democracy, because they do not believe in the legitimacy of opposition. It’s a defect that makes a nonsense of any good within them. It isn’t a whimsical thing. It’s a structural fault.
So, their kindness to Putin this last week — their willingness to see the world from his point of view, even as he destabilises it — is no accident. It is, consciously or not, a recognition of similar desires.