Letter: Lesson of Seattle

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I am the socialist academic whom David Aaronovitch denounced for "pontificating" about the Seattle protests on Newsnight last week (Comment, 3 December).

Aaronovitch claims that, "whether they know it or not, ... the Seattle demonstrators are, in effect, the militant wing of the Third Way". Clearly Aaronovitch has not forgotten all he learnt in the Communist Party, who would regularly denounce various causes as "objectively" progressive or reactionary - only now he seems to deploy this langue de bois on behalf of Millbank Tower rather than King Street.

Aaronovitch bases his argument on the surprising assertion that "the social-democratic governments of the West ... retain sufficient radicalism to want to re-engineer society, not merely to manage capitalism". One would like to see some evidence of this. Thus in the case of the World Trade Organisation, Clare Short, the supposedly radical International Development Secretary, has declined into a strident apologist for free trade, ignoring the devastating effects that the past two decades of unfettered capitalism have had on the environment, poverty, and inequality world- wide ("Protesters waging war against the poor, says Short", 30 November).

Aaronovitch dislikes the alternative to capitalism offered by the Socialist Workers Party (of which I am a member). Well, how you seek to change things will shape the eventual outcome. We have always believed that change will come democratically, through mass movements from below. Another respect in which Aaronovitch has not shed his youthful Communism is that he still views change as something to be managed from the top - hence that revealing reference to "re-engineering society", as if were a machine to be manipulated.

One of the most exciting things about the Seattle demonstrations is that they are one sign of a developing world-wide movement to challenge from below the official attempts by ex-radicals like Clare Short to impose neo-liberal capitalism from the top.


Department of Politics

University of York