The bilious Fred Halliday


posted to on February 1, 2005


One thing that a number of high-profile self-described leftist enemies of "Islamofascism" have in common is that they were all once members of the editorial board of the New Left Review. What they also had in common was support for NATO's war in the Balkans, which implied a much different attitude toward imperialism than that found in classical Marxism.


Ex-editors Quentin Hoare and his wife Branka Magas spent most of the late 1990s writing article after article demonizing the Serbs and demanding that they be bombed into submission.


In October 2000, the NLR asked Marko Attila Hoare, the progeny of Quentin and Branka, to write an article on the anti-Milosevic revolt. However, editor Susan Watkins nixed the article since it implied political support for the forced absorption of Yugoslavia into Western European economic and political institutions. (Watkins is married to Tariq Ali and appears to be one of the more radical-minded of the editors there. Apparently--despite her husband--she hates the idea of the left voting for John Kerry.)


While not as visible on the frontlines as the Hoare and Magas, Norman Geras and Chris Bertram were also being seduced by the notion of Cruise missiles as agencies of Yugoslav democracy. For reasons that remain somewhat murky, Hoare, Magas, Geras and Bertram all resigned from the NLR in 1993. What is clear, however, is that they are for Woodrow Wilson style imperialist interventions as the need arises--a variant on the bastardized socialism that compelled Lenin to draft the Zimmerwald manifesto at the start of WWI.


Although I don't know if ex-NLR editor Fred Halliday left with this crowd back in 1993 and am not aware of any pronounced hostility toward the Serbs on his part, he certainly has emerged as a prominent supporter of military efforts to tame the unruly Moslem. Halliday's earlier work, like "The Making of the Second Cold War" in 1983, is written from a fairly conventional academic leftist standpoint but more recent work reflects a kind of creeping Thomas Friedman sensibility about the need to punish "bad" Islamists and reward good ones. So, this means supporting the war in Afghanistan while at the same time pressing for Turkey's admission to the European Union. You find a certain convergence between Halliday and the batty ex-radical and current Sufi neo-conservative Stephen Schwartz, whose latest book also makes the case for sorting out good Islam from bad. Needless to say, the bad Moslems are those who tend to attack Israeli or US interests.


Like others who have traveled this route, Halliday is developing a rather bilious personality that is rapidly encroaching on Christopher Hitchens' turf. I refer you in particular to an item in last Sunday's Observer penned by Halliday and titled "It's time to bin the past" (,6903,1401742,00.html). It rather shamelessly appropriates Leon Trotsky's verdict on the Mensheviks being consigned to the dustbin of history, since Halliday--an ex-Trotskyist--must surely be aware that Trotsky was attacking reformists just like him.


Halliday discusses three "dustbins" of history in his screed. The first two relate to the former Soviet Union and Washington and make rather obvious points about Putin and Bush. It is the third dustbin that gets Halliday into a proper lather:


"The Third Dustbin is that of the contemporary global protest movement, to a considerable degree a children's crusade of intellectual demagogues, recycled 1960s bunkeristas with their fellow travellers in literary circles, dreamers and political manipulators, of the old and new lefts, whose claim to moral and analytic superiority too often masks a set of unexamined, and themselves often recycled, platitudes from the Cold War period and, indeed, from the ideology of the communist world."


Which intellectual demagogues would Halliday be railing against here? Naomi Klein, the most prominent spokesperson of this global protest movement? Is she recycling ideology from the communist world? Sigh, if only this were the case. Halliday lurches ahead:


"Indeed the contents of this Third Dustbin are familiar enough: a ritual incantantion of 'no war' that avoids any substantive engagement with problems of international peace and security, or reflection on how positively to help peoples in zones of conflict; a set of vague, unthought out, uncosted and often dangerous utopian ideas about an alternative world; a pleasing but vapid invocation of global human values and internationalism that blithely ignores the misuses to which that term was put in the 20th century (for example by Stalin or Mao); a complacent attitude, innocent when not indulgent, towards political violence (witness the cult of Che Guevara, a cruel and dangerous man, and the invitees from Northern Ireland, Palestine and Iran, to name but three at the London Social Summit in October)."


One has to wonder if the editor assigned to Halliday's piece was drunk when he worked on it, since the above citation can barely stand on its own feet. Not only is it a 129 word sentence in clear violation of the Gunning fog factor, it also spells 'incantation' wrong.


With respect to the "cult of Che Guevara, a cruel and dangerous man," one can only wonder if Halliday must be upset by the hit film "Motorcycle Diaries," which inspired an over-the-top verbal assault from Christopher Hitchens on Slate. One supposes that Che gets people like Halliday and Hitchens all upset because he reminds them of their long frozen-over youthful idealism. And those invitees from Northern Ireland, Palestine and Iran. They should have known better than to be born in such places. Far better for them to have been born elsewhere or at least to have forsaken radical politics as Halliday did long ago. Our angry professor concludes:


"We can assess the outcome of discussions in Davos and Porto Alegre to see if thinking on the current crises of the world has moved on. Here ideas and policies should meet what I term the 'Vilanova Test', named after the flinty Spanish writer Pere Vilanova, who, on the basis of years of political engagement and debate in Spain and the Arab world, has argued consistently for pensamiento duro, 'tough thinking', in the contemporary world. We certainly have, and may again be treated to, plenty of the other."


What can I say, when I hear business about "tough thinking", Henry Kissinger's realpolitik comes to mind. This, after all, is what Halliday and his co-thinkers are about--reshaping the planet in pursuit of geopolitical goals. I don't mind if that's their agenda. The least they can do is can the leftish rhetoric.