Thursday, May 02, 2024

An old character is revived...

Marchers for Palestine in London bearing a big banner sporting the mug of Joe Stalin: a reminder, if we needed one, that the terms of this mocked up, make-believe confrontation with imperialism were laid down in an era of sly Soviet propaganda. 


Left wing extremists and right wing extremists have slightly different ways of getting their message to the mainstream. The right, knowing its core demographics, either comes out and says exactly what it means, or dog whistles a ‘low alcohol’ version to its older adherents who think it, but won’t say it, at least not in public.

Something similar occurs on the left on a lower setting, but what really gets them on the move is a Trojan Horse issue. In my teens this was nuclear disarmament. Today it is ‘Palestine’. These mobs carry symbolic identifiers up front pertaining to the ‘big issue’, but zoom in a bit into the peloton and you will find the iconography of violence and revolution, often in greater density. In the midst of the CND marches of my youth, it was always the blood red banners of the Trots that stood out for me.

In 1984, appropriately, I made my first couple of journeys behind the Iron Curtain. Outside of a visit to a group of ‘Young Pioneers’ in Moscow, the most striking signs of radicalisation I came across that year were on the western side of that supposed ideological border, in Italy, as I prepared to venture into Yugoslavia and then Hungary. Italian cities then appeared polarised between well organised groups of left and right extremists. Banners everywhere. This was just after an extended period when political kidnappings and murders had been commonplace.

What tended to strike young Brits then was how something which was high viz on the continent — though more marginal on our own island — was conspicuous in its absence in the US. A year later I came across a small shop in Manhattan selling socialist insignia, and this felt about as mainstream as a Soho sex shop.

The country which had denied Graham Greene a visa because he had joined the Communist Party at Oxford for a laugh, had seemingly smothered its own seditious sparks for good.

Perhaps ‘Palestine’, has become the ultimate enabling issue for a new generation of American radicals. This may not actually be good news for some of the causes which were being trialled prior to October 7 last year, as this one may burn up a lot of their oxygen as it flares.

The trick seems to have been renaming revolution in the language of the oppressed other: intifada. That way it enjoys the protections offered by the doctrines of diversity, which even the educated metropolitan elites of the centre tend to experience as a form of inviolable orthodoxy.

Unlike the Trojan Horses of old this one comes with a face. This belongs to a minority that it has always been legitimate to associate with a privileged relationship with the hated 'system', domestically and internationally. A minority persistently perceived to be over-represented within the elites of wealth and power, and thus available for more or less open resentment and execration. Just call them 'Zionists', if you still need to keep your right-on conscience clear.

Transgender ideology has had embodied enemies too, but the most vociferous of these tended to be scientists and feminists, often card-carrying radicals too, and so less straightforwardly easy to vilify without some damaging blow back or internecine strife. And in that context, the middle ground could not be relied upon to stick its head in the sand to the same extent.

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