Sunday, February 12, 2006

On good, evil and "sides"

Former Communist Party of Great Britain activist Martin Kettle has a fascinating Grauniad column about British Communists' reaction to Kruschev's denunciation of Stalin. The last two paragraphs have a wider message.

But it shattered something else too. After 1956 it was no longer intellectually honest or true (if it had ever been) to use the cold-war syllogism that my enemy's enemy is my friend. Those who saw history as a long war between good (the left, socialism, the future, the Soviet Union) and evil (the right, capitalism, the old order, the United States) were no longer entitled to swallow their doubts. It was no longer sweet and noble to kill for the cause. A few, of course, still said it was. Even to this day one occasionally encounters the old lie that the Hungarian rising was a counter-revolution.

But the cold-war syllogism lives on today in a new guise. Too many haters of capitalism and the United States still cram everything into the frame of untruth and self-deception that says my enemy's enemy is still my friend because, even if he blows up my family on the tube, murders my colleagues on the bus or threatens to behead me for publishing a drawing, he is still at war with Bush, Blair and Berlusconi. It is 50 years this month since that simplistic view of the world lost whatever moral purchase it may once have had. It is time such thinking was, to choose a sadly appropriate word, purged. Too long, my brothers and my sisters, too long.

As Kettle points out, many on the left still need to learn this lesson. So too do an awful lot of those who take the opposite view to the old Bolsheviks. There are also people who see history as a struggle between good (the right, capitalism, "freedom", the United States) and evil (the left, Communism, Al-Quaeda, Saddam Hussein). These people supported "our sons of bitches", including mass murderers like General Pinochet. Now they support torture, arbitrary detention, and illegal spying on their own citizens.

Good and evil are real. Freedom is good. Torture and murder are evil. But they aren't - however you define them - two sides in a cosmic battle. Sometimes good people disagree. Sometimes (typically more often) evil people fight each other. Sometimes the same person can be both good and evil.

The enemy of my enemy may be my ally. When we choose our friends, we should be more discriminating. We do not torture, murder, or tolerate among us those who do.



  • At 11:21 am , Blogger Chris Palmer said...

    Incredible that the Guardian gives a voice to such people... but then the Labour party is full of Communists too, so the Guardian are hardly the only offenders. I don't see any of the papers giving a voice to Nick Griffin and the BNP (they're socialists too.)

    It's interesting to reflect that the "Left" has been a far more barbaric, destructive and murderous forces in world society than the "Right" has ever been.

  • At 3:28 pm , Blogger Tristan said...

    The communists in the Labour party (including some ministers) of course realised that 'new labour' was the vehicle to power.

    This lesson of allys and friends has also had to be learnt by the LibDems. The flirtation with Labour was dangerous and a mistake. True, they were against the Tories, but that never made them our friends which was the impression some gave.

    Today we don't do the same, the Tories, whilst out allies (although not firm) against ID cards and other measures, they certainly are not our friends.
    Whilst the far left were allies against the war, but they never ever stood any chance of being friends.

    The converse of this is the SDP were allies of the Liberals who became friends and then merged to form a single party which has progressed further than anyone expected.


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