Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Election Round-Up: What Orwell Can Tell Us About the Troubles on the Left

Ian Slater, in Orwell: The Road to Airstrip One (1985), offers the following glimpse into Orwell's ambivalence about the state of socialism in 1930s-era Britain:

In addition to his complaints against middle-class socialists, Orwell deplored in markedly bitter attacks the "horrible -- really disquieting -- prevalence of cranks among socialists and the population in general. With magnetic force, he said the very word socialism, along with communism, seemed to attract "every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, 'Nature Cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England."


Because such people are so often associated with socialism, says Orwell, the ordinary man is driven away from the socialist cause in his belief the socialism is little more than a synonym for eccentricity. (p.101)
Well, Orwell pretty much nailed it. And the quotation from The Road to Wigan Pier (above in bold), could just as easily be an indictment of our own modern western socialists and their enablers and fellow travellers, as it is an indictment of those in his own time. Plus ca change; plus c'est la meme chose? Perhaps. [continued below ...]

I reread this passage from Slater's book in light of some of the more peculiar developments in the current Canadian election campaign. Embarrassing gaffes from within the Conservative campaign have certainly caused many mainstream media gums to flap and pens to perch -- and that's all fair enough. It is legitimately part of the narrative. However, the embarrassing gaffes are not exclusive to the incumbent government's side of the campaign stage.

In our age of "gotcha" politics, it is generally the mid-level apparatchiks and unseasoned local candidates who end up embarrassing a national campaign. And, with Orwell's lament in mind, the stumbles on the left make Orwell seem not only perceptive in his own time but prophetic of ours. Or maybe Orwell, an old-guard traditional socialist, just simply 'got it.'

Consider the following:

  1. Sun Media reports: "The NDP has fired one of its candidates in British Columbia after a video surfaced of him taking LSD, smoking more than 20 cannabis joints in a single go and driving while under the influence of drugs.

    Dana Larsen, a former editor of Cannabis Culture magazine and one time candidate for the marijuana party was running for the NDP in the riding of West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast."

  2. Also out of British Columbia, The Province reports: "Julian West got naked with some teenagers 12 years ago and yesterday he resigned as the Saanich-Gulf Island NDP candidate because he decided that kind of exposure wasn't helpful during a federal election campaign.

    West participated in naked body painting and skinny dipping in 1996 at a youth conference on Vancouver Island."

  3. Meanwhile, in cosmopolitan Montreal, the N.D.P.'s candidate in the riding of Montreal-Bourassa has raised some eyebrows for her senior-level participation in the Canadian Islamic Congress. Included among the raised eyebrow crowd is National Post columnist Barbara Kay who remarks: "Ms Laouni’s active participation in the leadership of the CIC is problematic. This organization has petitioned to have Hezbollah and Hamas removed from the government’s official terror list. CIC’s president, Mohamed Elmasry, has declared every adult Jew in Israel to be a legitimate target for murder.

    Ms Laouni’s name may be vaguely familiar to those who followed the Reasonable Accommodation hearings in Quebec. She was co-chair of the delegation that went to the famous town of Hérouxville to lecture its residents on “respect” and “tolerance.” "

  4. N.D.P. Leader Jack Layton opens the possibility of entering into a parliamentary coalition with Stephane Dion to prevent the cloven-hoofed and pointy-tailed Stephen Harper from continuing as Prime Minister. Initially, Dion fumbles. But within a day, he's ready for the question and comes back with his funniest line of the campaign (if not his entire parliamentary career): “Mr. Layton already has a coalition, I understand. He has a coalition with the nudist party [and] a coalition with the marijuana party.”

    Just for the sake of argument, if there were such a coalition would the new configuration be called the Liberal Democratic Party or the Dipperals?

  5. And while we're on the subject, the Liberals probably shouldn't be so quick to cast the first stone. It's a little difficult to posture the high road without also dealing with your own living monument to Godwin's Law, Brent Fullard (the Liberal candidate in Whitby-Oshawa). As the National Post reported: "No sooner did the Liberals announce Brent Fullard would be running as their candidate in the Ontario riding of Whitby-Oshawa than he was issuing a public apology for comparing Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, to Hitler. Mr. Fullard apologized in a statement yesterday "sincerely and without reservation" for sending mass e-mails in 2007 with the subject line "Heil mein Harper." " Of course, Fullard doesn't really fit the profile of Orwell's moonbat, granola and sandals, socialist wannabe. He's apparently running in the Finance Minister's riding in order to directly challenge Jim Flaherty over the government's decision to tax income trusts after 2011. But still, reductio ad Hitlerum is very much a moonbat mental habit.

  6. And how could we forget Simon Bedard? The Ottawa Citizen didn't: "Bedard, a former radio host, proposed at the time of the 1990 Oka crisis that the army use force to lift Mohawk Warrior barricades, even if that meant as many as 150 deaths. This week he told Quebec City's Le Soleil daily newspaper that, "maybe we should have done it because 17 years later, it's still the same.""

  7. But this survey could not be complete without a nod of honourable mention to Elizabeth May and the Green Party. Ms. May found herself in the position of likewise having to remove John Shavluk, Green candidate for Newton-North Delta and all-around "9/11 Troofer." As the National Post reported: "John Shavluk, a long-time activist for marijuana legalization, referred to the World Trade Center, demolished in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, as "shoddily built Jewish world bank headquarters" on an Internet chat room devoted to discussing decriminalizing cannabis in 2006. The comments began turning up on Internet blogs on Wednesday." It just goes to show you -- friends don't let friends toke and blog.

Gee, and we haven't even gotten to Gilles Duceppe's bizarre remarks about Opus Dei's incompatibility with Quebec values. The Da Vinci Code was a work of fiction, you idiot. But just in case, keep your eyes peeled for an albino behaving suspiciously.

So, back to Orwell and his type-list of cranks magnetically attracted to socialist (read left-of-centre) politics: "every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, 'Nature Cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England," he said. Well that's a pretty good list, and from observation of the Canadian scene, it's probably as true today as it was 70 years ago. But given the foregoing chronicle of the Left's dilemma over the past 2 1/2 weeks, we might add: "every pot smoker, hemp grower, exhibitionist, religio-political hardliner, confused Nazi-baiter, anti-Native bigot, conspiracy theorist, and "9/11 Troofer" nutjob."

What ever happened to the Left that I grew up with, the one that Orwell had a hand in shaping. You remember, the Left that still gave a damn about workers' rights, workers' families, workers' quality of life, workers' culture. The Left that Orwell beckoned in The Road to Wigan Pier. The Left that the Labour Party in Britain and the N.D.P. in Canada used to represent. That is, until they all got sidetracked by the peacenik/cultural relativist/moral relativist/identity politics/crypto-fascist/neo-Stalinist coalition of the New Left, in all of its bizarre machinations.

No comments: