In 2005 the great left-wing intellectual Fred Halliday published a typically rich and fascinating essay about what he termed “The Three Dustbin Theory of History”, which, he argued, “rests on the claim that, despite the receding of the Cold War, we remain, in key respects, prisoners of its legacy and will.”
The last of Halliday’s Cold War hangovers – the “Third Dustbin” – was what he termed “the global protest movement”, which he described as consisting of:
[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.
The ideological “content” of the Third Dustbin was, he said, “familiar enough”:
[A] ritual incantation 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). This was a capitulation, that would have shocked their socialist forebears, to nationalist and religious bigots (as in the reception by the supposedly left-wing Mayor of London of Sheikh Yusif al-Qaradawi, the descendant of a line of Muslim fascist thinkers)…And all of this is mixed up with a shallow, repetitive critique of globalisation, in the name of what we are never sure, and a naive, uninformed, analysis of the US.
These are words I have found myself returning to many times in the past few years. Halliday distilled in those few paragraphs what was, and is, intellectually incoherent and morally dubious about certain habits of thought among the contemporary Left.
A decade on, Halliday’s analysis still holds, for what is Corbynmania, if not a Third Dustbin phenomenon?