Why left and right should unite and fight

[Page 18] The war against Iraq will not be the war to end all wars. Three years ago, the same forces now planning "Shock and Awe" were dropping cluster bombs and depleted uranium on civilian targets in Yugoslavia. In 2001 it was the impoverished Afghans' turn to get the B-52 treatment. And in two years time we will no doubt be hearing of the danger Syria poses to world peace and how President Assad is the new Hitler. After that it will be the turn of Belarus, Turkmenistan and Libya. The neo-cons and their liberal imperialist allies appear unstoppable. They have hijacked the major parties on both sides of the Atlantic and have an entourage of journalists eager to peddle their propaganda.

Yet the overwhelming majority on both sides of the Atlantic oppose the policy of "endless war". The demonstrations against war in Iraq have been the biggest since Vietnam, attracting people from all walks of life – not just the usual peaceniks, trade unionists and women's groups, but soldiers, farmers and businessmen, too. After initial squeamishness, conservatives and socialists, right-wingers and Trotskyists have marched together. But, encouraging as all this is, it won't be enough. The anti-war alliance has to be put on a more permanent and formal footing. And that requires the left to take a bold and historic step. If we really want to "give peace a chance", we need to take off our beads, remove Joan Baez from the turntable and start to embrace warmly those at whom we have been hurling insults for the past 40 years.

I write as a committed, and totally unreconstructed, old leftist. Yet if Pat Buchanan announced he was standing for US president again, I would be on the next plane out to join his campaign team. But how many of my fellow socialists would join me? Until the left is ready in its hordes to linkup electorally with the "old" anti-war right, the brutal truth is that we have no chance of defeating the Bush/Blair axis. Buchanan himself has already called for such an alliance. With the 82nd Airborne about to take off for Baghdad, I believe it is now or never for the anti-war left to answer his call.

To make the Peace Party work, however, the left needs to jettison some baggage and spruce up its thinking. Since the 1960s we have picked up several false friends, who have done our cause no good at all. The first of these is political correctness. I was a card-carrying member of the Labour Party until Tony Blair came along and told us we had to stop worrying and love big business, Big Macs and big bombs. I continue to support the National Health Service, free school meals and state pensions. But I have never understood why a belief in the mixed economy, where transport, the utilities and the coal mines are publicly owned and run for the benefit of the whole community, also entails assenting to same-sex marriages, an open-door immigration policy and free abortion on demand. Social conservatism and socialism, far from being contradictory, complement each other. The most destructive, anti-conservative force in our societies is not old left socialism, but unbridled free-market capitalism, which destroys communities, the environment and traditional ways of living. Pete Seeger, the authentic voice of the old American left – a man once described as "so far left he has probably never been called a liberal" – said that he was more conservative than Barry Goldwater. Goldwater just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax; Seeger wanted to go back to "when people lived in villages and took care of one another". Political correctness, the biggest threat to free speech of our time, has plenty to do with neoliberalism, but precious little to do with socialism.

On globalisation, too, there is much muddled thinking. The anti-globalisers of the left rightly point out the destabilising effects of unregulated capital flows, and rail against parasitical currency speculators such as George Soros. Yet most also welcome the unrestricted movement of people, which can also destabilise societies, as well as leading to unemployment and lower wage rates among indigenous workers.

Next up, the left has to drop its traditional antipathy to organised religion, and in particular the Catholic Church. The Vatican has always been anti-Marxist, but has, at least in some teachings, been anti-capitalist, too. Pope Pius XI believed liberal capitalism and communism to be "united in their satanic optimism". The present Pope, in Riga in 1993, condemned "the international imperialism of money" and spoke of Marxism's "kernel of truth". Far from being an enemy, the Catholic Church is an ally of all who oppose the tyranny of neoliberal globalisation and the cult of materialism it engenders. It is also the ally of those who oppose war. The Vatican stands for peace now, as resolutely as it did 12 years ago in the first Gulf war and in 1999 over Yugoslavia.

Last, but certainly not least, the left needs loudly and unequivocally to declare support for the increasingly endangered concept of national sovereignty. We should defend national sovereignty not because we are nationalists, but because we are democrats. The essence of democracy is that decisions are taken as close as possible to those affected, and that those affected have a say in the decisions. This cannot happen when the decisions are imposed by supranational bodies such as the World Trade Organisation, World Bank, Nato and the EU. The War Party sees national sovereignty very differently. If there is one issue that demarcates who exactly the Peace Party's enemies are it is that of Kosovo. The "humanitarian" intervention, in which a sovereign state that threatened no other was bombed for 78 days and nights for prosecuting its own "war against terrorism", exposed all the neo-cons and liberal imperialists in broad daylight. And what a sight it was – the Clintons, the Bushes, Madeleine Albright and James Rubin, Al Gore, Joseph Lieberman and Bob Dole, Tony Blair and William Hague, Baroness Thatcher and, last but not least, the "young contrarian" Christopher Hitchens, all clamouring for B-52s to bomb Belgrade back to the Stone Age.

The very same people are as dismissive of Iraqi sovereignty today as they were of Yugoslavia's four years ago. For the War Party, national sovereignty is a tiresome, outdated and disposable notion that gets in the way of its plan to globalise the entire world and, in the name of democracy and human rights, eliminate all known dangers to the freedom of operation of Goldman Sachs.