Friday, 6 November 1987


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 6 November 1987

For some, the "lessons of October" are clear. Duncan Hallas, one of the leading lights of the Socialist Workers Party, writes in the most recent issue of Socialist Review that "the seizure of power is impossible unless a revolutionary party has been built in advance" which has "a cadre that is able to correct its own leadership", the ability to integrate young, fresh ultra-leftists into its ranks, and a sufficient national presence to appear as a real alternative "at least to a minority of workers".

Hallas sees the role of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the October revolution as the model for revolutionaries in a coming British revolution. Now is the time to prepare for the deluge. Recruit, instil correct ideas and revolutionary discipline, wait and agitate in the knowledge that the Glorious Day must come some time.

His message is echoed by almost all the leftist sects. Militant, every pretender to the bank account of the Workers' Revolutionary Party, every hard-line Stalinist faction, the few remaining Maoists - all are using the 70th anniversary of the Boshevik seizure of power to press the recalcitrant British proletariat to perform a version of the storming of the Winter Palace (under their leadership, of course).

There is one group of Leninists, however, that has taken a rather different line. The Communist Party of Great Britain, the grandfather of them all, has chosen to celebrate the anniversary not with a call for socialist emulation of the October revolution but with a discotheque (with videos) at a trendy London arts centre.

The current issue of the CP's magazine, Marxism Today, carries plenty of material on the Soviet Union today; and it milks for all it is worth the nightclubbers' taste for hammer-and-sickle T-shirts (already last year's thing according to the cognoscenti). But it refrains from talk of creating Soviets of workers, peasants and intellectuals; and it does not subject 1917 to the treatment  –  tedious rehashes of "the facts about the Russian revolution" – that all the other Leninist papers have given it.

Of all the parties claiming the mantle of 1917, the one that has the least enthusiastic public attitude to the key prescriptions of Lenin himself up to the revolution  – insurrectionism, conspiratorial underground organisation, intolerance of minority opinion  –  is the one with the closest connection with Lenin's successors in power in the Soviet Union.

Perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies, and leave it at that. But the CP's somewhat oblique approach to 1917 deserves more attention than this and more than the ritual denunciations that the other Leninists will give it.

For the CP's perspective is a baroque manifestation of something it realised many years ago, but still cannot admit openly: that the left in Britain, far from basking in the reflected glory of the Bolshevik revolution and claiming to be its true heir, must distance itself from October if it is to have any chance of success.

The truth in this position is not that revolutions are impossible in modern western capitalism: just remember the convulsions caused by Paris 1968 (only 20 years ago next year). Nor is it simply that the workers of the west have been so brainwashed by capitalist and cold-war propaganda that they will never be convinced by any Leninist party that dares to speak its name.

Rather, it is that the fate of 1917 and other revolutions led by Leninist parties has quite rightly made most people in Britain shrink in horror at Leninist methods and ethics. The very idea of the seizure of state power by a centralised party claiming to be the leadership of the working class has been discredited by the experience of Leninist parties in power. The same goes for the belief that the end of "socialism" excuses the use of almost any political means  –  secret police, suppression of all dissenting voices and democratic political forms, torture, lies  –  to keep such a party in power.

In other words, the only socialism that can possibly flourish today in Britain is one that is explicitly democratic and libertarian. However welcome and attractive Mikhail Gorbechev's reform programme and peace proposals, however spectacular the celebrations in Red Square, we must not forget that for the British left Leninism is, thankfully, a dead end.

Friday, 23 October 1987


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 23 October 1987

Every time I open the New Statesman or Marxism Today these days I am struck by the number of Fleet Street and broadcasting names, familiar and unfamiliar, that appear in their pages — Financial Times journalists and BBC researchers writing about what their main employers pay them to know.

Of course, there can be no objection to the left press giving space to people working in the mainstream. Left papers and magazines (including Tribune) have always done this, blowing gaffes that otherwise would not be blown, airing informed opinions that otherwise would not be aired. It is no crime to be a leftist working on a paper or programme that is not left-wing; and many mainstream journalists write very well, not least because practice makes perfect.

The problem is that the Statesman and MT have gone overboard. They very often publish what mainstream journalists are already having printed or broadcast. And it sometimes almost seems as if they are closing their pages to would-be contributors who are not already published elsewhere. The result, particularly when put into the context of the tedious centrist politics of both magazines' current regimes, is that both feel cliquish, stale and predictable.

Not that the rest of the left press is having a particularly good time. In the six months since :I last wrote one of these columns, Robert Maxwell's excellent left-of-centre London Daily News has closed — as has Woman's Review. News on Sunday has struggled from crisis to crisis, avoiding closure only by being taken over by a millionaire. The paper still has not found a distinctive identity. Peace News appears to be on the verge of suspending publication. And the Labour Party has decided to close Labour Weekly and reduce expenditure on New Socialist to the bare minimum.

New Socialist is lucky to survive: the intention had been to close both titles, but it was rescued at the last minute by the National Executive Committee's acceptance of a plan for the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation to take over production costs in return for the revenue that New Socialist generates. Walworth Road will pick up the bill only for one full-time and one part-time salary, and the magazine will now come out once every two months. Let's hope Labour Weekly can put together• an equivalent package: with the much heralded policy review about to start, Labour Party News and a bi-monthly New Socialist are hardly enough as official organs for debate about Labour's future.

By contrast with these tales of disaster and near disaster — all of which should provoke serious thought by the left — New Society seems to have regained much of the vigour it had in the sixties. Just relaunched with a full-colour cover, it is now publishing some of the best and most original political features in the. British press. I don't like the political line of its editor, David Lipsey (apparently the main centre-right candidate to succeed John Lloyd as editor of the New Statesman); but Lipsey does not stifle the expression of opinions he considers heterodox. New Society has a feel for the texture of everyday life that is rare in left journalism today, and it is not afraid to venture into obscure by-ways now and again for its subject matter and contributors.

Above all, the magazine is a reminder that the best print journalism is not the product of expert interpretation of the big stories on the television news but the result of writers experiencing events and talking to people.

Saturday, 19 September 1987


Paul Anderson, review of The Far Left in British Politics by John Callaghan (Blackwell, £7.95), Tribune, 18 September 1987

John Callaghan has written an interesting but flawed left critique of one of the longest-running farces in British left politics: Leninism.

Callaghan begins with the sorry tale of British communism. He relates how, almost from its very beginning, the Communist Party of Great Britain was handicapped by its slavish subordination to the Mosrcow line. Until the Popular Front period of the thirties, Comintern dogma rendered it incapable of building a stable membership base; and the moderate successes of the Popular Front were soon dashed by the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939.

The CP rebuilt itself after 1941 on the back of a revived Popular Frontism based on the wartime alliance of Britain and the Soviet Union; but since 1945 its story has been one of slow, inexorable decline.

With the onset of the Cold War, Stalin tore the party away from the Popular Front tactic; then in 1956 the CP effectively collapsed in the wake of the Nikita Kruschev's "secret speech" at the 20th Soviet party congress and the "socialist" suppression of a workers' revolution in Hungary. After that, the party maintained an influence in some trade unions, but even this waned with the onset of recession in the seventies.

In the very recent past, the "Eurocommunists" around Marxism Today have gone a little way towards transcending the legacy of Leninism; but as Callaghan puts it: "The innovators may simply have become masters of a sinking ship." I can't help but think that I don't care if they have: Marxism Today's revisionism is too tepid to enthuse about. Not that any of the other currents of British Leninism deserve a better fate. The most important and influential of these is Trotskyism — "57 varieties, all unfit for human consumption", as the libertarians said in the sixties.

Callaghan gives a reasonably competent account of the split-ridden origins and history of four of the 57: the Healyites (otherwise known as the Socialist Labour League or Workers' Revolutionary Party, proprietor Gerry Healy); the Cliffites (otherwise known as the International Socialists or Socialist Workers' Party, proprietor Tony Cliff); the Grantites (otherwise known as the Revolutionary Socialist League or Militant, proprietor Ted Grant); and the group that started out as. the International Marxist Group and became the Socialist League (which, unlike the others, doesn't really have a proprietor).

There are other Trots, of course; and Callaghan really should have said a little more about the Workers' Socialist League (which split from the Healyites in 1974 and which, through Socialist Organiser, had a significant impact on Labour left politics in London and student circles) and the Revolutionary Communist Party (the product of a mid-seventies split in IS, with a peculiarly barmy hyper-activism that seems to be selling well today among disaffected university-educated proto-yuppies).

The near-absence of these two gangs from Callaghan's account, along with his failure to note the continued presence of an influential Healyite entrist presence in the Labour Party (most obviously on the pre-1985 Lambeth Council), makes this book less comprehensive than it could be.

A more serious fault is that Callaghan does not give any evidence of understanding the non-Leninist far Left (local, "alternative", libertarian, feminist, green and anti-militarist) that has initiated many of the fundamental changes that the British left political agenda has seen in the past 30 years.

A trivial illustration of this is that Callaghan describes the libertarian Marxist group Big Flame as "Trotskyist" (which it never was). More important, he ignores the influence of feminism and the gay movement except insofar as they caused ructions in the IMG and SWP (and were condemned by the WRP and Militant). He does little more than gesture towards the ways in which the non-Leninist far left contributed to the peace movement in the sixties and again in the eighties. He has nothing to say about the impact of the new left in the late fifties and early sixties, the alternative press of the sixties and seventies, the squatting movement, or the development of a radical ecological sensibility from the mid-seventies.

It is easy to explain these omissions: the non-Leninist far left is rather more difficult to follow than the Leninist sects simply because of its heterogeneity. To explain is not to excuse, however. The bizarre political turns of the Leninists make sense only when it is recognised that the CP and the 57 varieties were competing with other forms of (no-less-radical) political expression. Callaghan does give hints that he knows this, but hints are not enough. The history of the far left in Britain (and its quite astonishingly deep influence on the left as a whole) remains to be written.

Friday, 28 August 1987


Paul Anderson, review of Karl Kautsky by Dick Geary (Manchester, £16.50), Tribune, 28 August 1987

Karl Kautsky tried to explain almost everything using a crude and mechanistic Marxism. For a long time, he was Marxism, the chief theorist of German Social Democracy in the two decades before the first world war, when it exercised an unparalleled influence on the Left throughout the world. He was known as the "pope of Marxism", wielding an authority matched since only by Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

In the end, his "democratic-but-revolutionary" political programme was rather marginalised by events: the first world war, the Russian revolution and the German Social Democrats' eclipse by Nazism. Today, Kautsky is read mainly by Marxist academics (largely for his thoughts on The Agrarian Question).

Otherwise Kautsky is considered as the "renegade" of Lenin's polemic — though precisely how he "reneged" is generally unknown. Whatever it may be it is enough for most leftists to consider him "bad".

But Kautsky is worth a look. He is certainly for the most part dry and boring, but some of what he had to say about left political strategy (if not tactics) is accessible and still interesting, in particular his critique of Leninist putschism.

Dick Geary has written a handy critical "history of ideas" introduction to Kautsky's thought. He concentrates on Kautsky's period of greatest influence — which means lots on the "revisionism" and "mass strike" controversies (and more on the nineteenth-century positivist, scientistic roots of Kautsky's worldview), but not so much on his assessment of the Bolshevik revolution.

This is a pity, because Kautsky's ideas about Bolshevism are fascinating.
Geary nevertheless manages well in his distillation and critique of acres of prose. His book is in many ways just as provocative as Massimo Salvadori's exhaustive Karl Kautsky and the Socialist Revolution, even though it is not really trying to compete. For its type — the Fontana Modern Masters extended essay model — it's really rather good, a reminder that a lot of current left controversies have been around a long time.

Friday, 17 July 1987


Paul Anderson, Tribune, 17 July 1987

According to all the political commentators in the "quality" press, Labour lost the election because of its defence policy.

For the pundits, whose ideas were formed at a time when it seemed that the "special relationship" might last for a thousand years, the idea of Britain opting out of being an "independent" nuclear power was nothing less than incoherent; and the idea that American nuclear bases should be removed was a threat to the Atlantic alliance, which of course had kept the peace for 40 years.

And there the case has rested. During the cam­paign, nobody apart from Denis Healey — in a cou­ple of low-key, deliber­ately unpublicised speeches - bothered to
take on the pundits and their "expert" informants with a coherent defence of Labour policy: the line from the public­ity boys at Walworth Road was simply "if anyone mentions de­fence, change the subject".

Labour's defence policy was treated merely as an embarrassment during the campaign - and since election day we have heard little to suggest that it will be treated any differently in future.

All this is little short of a scandal, because the reality is that Labour's defence policy is not a crazed ultra-left han­gover from the terrible days of insurgent Bennery, an inevitable vote-loser included in the manifesto only to keep the loonies from rebell­ing. It is actually a rational response to what is happening in the world today.

The superpowers are on the verge of wide-ranging arms control agreements, particularly on nuclear weapons in Europe: they are being held back by Margaret Thatcher and her right-wing West European allies.

The Americans are thinking increasingly of withdrawing their troops from Europe. NATO is less united than ever be­fore on a whole range of issues, from Star Wars to chemical weapons. There is a giant "window of opportunity" opening for radical change in trans­atlantic and east-west relations.

On a more populist level, the "special rela­tionship" between Bri­tain and America, long a sick joke for the cognos­centi, is becoming laugh­able for anyone who watches President Reagan and his merry band of soon-to-be-convicted criminal associ­ates on the television news. No one with a brain cell left in opera­tion sees a "special rela­tionship" with Reagan and his cronies as re­motely credible.

Still closer to home, Tory over-spending on the military budget is soon to result in massive, almost random cuts in defence provision.

Perhaps even more im­portant, Britain is no lon­ger a world power - it is a medium-sized European power - and it is well past time for giving up the delusions of imperial grandeur that the British "independent deterrent" represents.

Making a decisive break with the idiocies of Tory defence policy is, in short, perfectly sensible, indeed necessary.

Yet the Labour lead­ership decided to play the "more-Atlanticist-and-more-patriotic-than-thou" card against Thatcher. Labour tried to portray itself as the great friend of America, even after Reagan intervened in the election campaign to support the Tories. (It was left to Edward Heath, of all people, to condemn that particular intervention: the Labour front bench released much hot air in an attempt to explain that Reagan could not have really meant what he said.)

The Labour campaign, insofar as it had any­thing to say about defence policy, emphasised that increasing conven­tional arms expenditure was just what nice Presi­dent Reagan wanted, that British commitment to NATO was uncon­ditional, that Labour would be even better at hamming the Battle of Britain than the Tories.

Perhaps that was the best way of limit­ing the damage in the light of the low-key pre-election defence cam­paign mounted by the party. But why was the pre-­election campaign so low-key? After all, the 1985 Labour conference called for a defence cam­paign and Walworth Road promised for ages that a real effort would be made to put the par­ty's viewpoint to the peo­ple.

Yet all that happened at the end of last year was the distribution of a handful of glossy packs to journalists and other spe­cialists, while a film on the horror of nuclear war was shown as a party political broadcast, all in the space of about two weeks.

The party policy docu­ment on foreign affairs, essential to make any sense of the defence poli­cy, was given such a half-­hearted launch that it was difficult not to be­lieve that someone, somewhere had decided that it would have been better had it never ex­isted.

The point is this: after 1983, nobody expected that Labour could sail to power with a radical de­fence policy. But many party members expected that, with Neil Kinnock as leader and the old right marginalised or converted, the powers-that-be in the party would make sure that Labour did its bit to persuade the electo­rate that its defence poli­cy was credible (which indeed it is).

That did not happen. The defence campaign mounted by Walworth Road in late 1986 was too little and too late. Throughout the last par­liament, the defence front bench team was too incoherent, too low pro­file, and too little in con­trol of the defence policy agenda to have any im­pact.

Labour told people that the international situa­tion was still the same as in 1949, but that we would defend Britain with only conventional weapons. Voters natural­ly felt that if the threat to the country had not changed, there was little reason to change the basis of defence policy.

In short, we cocked up. Next time, we've got to get it right. And that means starting now - not by abandoning the anti-nuclear stance, however much the Labour right would like to, but by making a priority of put­ting the case for a non-nuclear defence policy, in the context of a changing international situation, coherently and convin­cingly to the electorate.

Friday, 24 April 1987


Paul Anderson, review of Selections from Cultural Writings by Antonio Gramsci (Lawrence and Wishart, £6.95), Tribune, 24 April 1987

Antonio Gramsci died 50 years ago at the age of 46, after more than a decade of imprisonment in fascist Italy. The "crime" for which he was imprisoned was communism. He was a founder of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1921, and its leader from 1924 to his arrest (and its near-complete suppression) in 1926.

By the time of his imprisonment he had established a reputation as one of the Italian left's most incisive thinkers. But his current intellectual standing is based largely on the contents of more than 30 school exercise books he filled with notes while in prison.

The major historical reason for interest in these Prison Notebooks is that an interpretation of some of their passages by Palmiro Togliatti, the post-war leader of the PCI, provided him with the intellectual justification for the parliamentary gradualist course on which he set the PCI — a course that would lead eventually to the "Eurocommunism" of Enrico Berlinguer's PCI in the seventies.

Togliatti rightly saw that the sudden insurrectionary seizure of power by the classical Leninist party was not on the agenda in Italy, but at the same time sought to make this partial abandonment of Leninism legitimate in Leninist terms. Gramsci posthumously provided the means.

Gramsci had been an exemplary communist intellectual (a martyr, no less) who had never uttered a public word of criticism of the Comintern's lines. And yet he had argued the heterodox position that, in the developed west, where the ruling class rules more by acquiescence or consent of the ruled than by force, communists should fight not a rapid "war of manoeuvre" to smash the bourgeois state apparatus (as in Russia in 1917) but a sustained "war of position" against the whole ideological basis of the ruling class's hegemony (rule by consent or acquiescence of the ruled) in civil society.

The role of communists in this "war of position" was to be the "organic intellectuals" of the struggle, raising "national popular" demands to create and lead broad alliances against the ruling class's hegemony in every walk of life. The politics of culture was every bit as important as the achievement of state power.

There were two roots to Gramsci's heterodoxy: first, a Hegelian-humanist (and in many ways anti-Leninist) western Marxism (which, outside Italy, had, fallen victim to Comintern intellectual police action in the early twenties); and second, a deep concern with specifically Italian problems, particularly the political and cultural legacy of the nineteenth-century creation of an Italian state.

Unsurprisingly, neither the PCI nor its admirers in the Eurocommununist wing of the British Communist Party and elsewhere have been particularly keen to acknowledge the tensions between Gramsci's Leninism and his western Marxism – the Bolshevik revolution remains the communist parties' raison d'etre even today – and opening up a debate that might eventually undermine that raison d'etre is simply not in their interests. On the other hand, the PCI has made much of Gramsci's concern for the "national popular" in Italian culture, a theme that hitherto has had little influence on the PCI's British acolytes. Perhaps, though, now that Selections from Cultural Writings is available in paperback, this will change.

Selections from Cultural Writings, most of which consists of extracts from the Prison Notebooks, cotains much that is very much specific to Italy. Anyone looking for a ready-made general Marxist theory of culture will be disappointed by this collection, and anyone unfamiliar and uninterested by Italian intellectual history will find it heavy going.

Nevertheless, the book does give a fascinating insight into Gramsci's way of interpreting the world; and the admirable editing of David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith makes manageable the task of putting into context Gramsci's often elliptical and parochial polemics.

The Prison Notebooks extracts in Selections from Cultural Writings are ordered thematically: there's a chapter on journalism, one on the culture of Italian Catholic reaction, another on popular fiction, and so on. At times, the thematic ordering of the material is jarring: but until an edition of the complete Prison Notebooks appears in English, we'll just have to put up with that. This book is a reminder that Gramsci deserves more than being mythologised as a secular saint by fans of the modern PCI: he really ought to be read as well.


Paul Anderson, review of Antony and Cleopatra (National Theatre), Tribune, 24 April 1987

Judi Dench plays a superb, sensuous Cleopatra in the National's Antony and Cleopatra; so say all the critics, and, for a change, they're right in their unanimity. They also like Michael Bryant's worldweary Enobarbus and Tim Piggott-Smith's icy, mean Octavius — and they're right there too.

Anthony Hopkins' Antony, by contrast, has had a mixed press. Some love him; others hate him. For my taste, he is more suited to the part than he is to Lear(whom he's playing in the same theatre), but is so consistently boisterous that he becomes tedious. I wouldn't go for him if I were Cleopatra — which of course I'm not.

But don't let that put you off. Peter Hall's is an excellent production that should not be missed. It seems almost a no-nonsense staging of the play: it doesn't feel like dry-ice-plus-incredible-stage-machinery Shakespeare, even though it makes liberal use of dry ice and has large mobile crumbling colonnades that trundle across the stage at the end of every scene.

Pride of place is given to the narrative thrust of the story (it's played at lightning speed) and to the actors' interpretation of the words Shakespeare gives to his characters. Even the costumes are designed not to jar: they're a twentieth-century version of late renaissance, easing the audience into putting the play into the historical context in which it was written.

The absence of half-thought-out affectations gives a commonsense feel to the production — no doubt one reason for the sympathetic reviews it has received.

Friday, 10 April 1987


Paul Anderson, review of Sylvia Pankhurst: Porait of a Radical by Patricia Romero (Yale, £17.50), Tribune, 10 April 1987

Patricia Romero first came across Sylvia Pank­hurst as a name on an impressive tomb in Addis Ababa. Romero writes that "as a feminist" she was enthralled by Pankhurst's enthusiasm for the Ethio­pian monarchy in the period from the thirties to her death in 1960. She decided to write a monograph on Pankhurst's years in Ethiopia - but found that she couldn't do that without understanding Pankhurst's earlier lives: "the anti-fascist of the early thirties, the communist of the early twenties, and the suffragette and socialist of the nineteen-tens". Hence this biography.

The problem Romero found, as she more or less admits, was that the Sylvia Pankhurst she felt she had to understand wasn't half as interesting to her as she had hoped. Romero seems to have become first infuriated and then bored by her subject, and the result is a strangely unsympathetic and at times crass piece of work.

The crassness is nowhere more apparent than in the treatment of Pankhurst's "communist years" (roughly 1917-24). For most of this period, Pankhurst was the most prominent representative in Britain of a spontaneist, anti-parliamentarian, revolutionary council communism. Inspired by the Bolshevik revolution, Pankhurst was a prime mover in the creation of a British Communist Party and participated in several founding meetings of the Third International in Europe. She and her political allies nevertheless gave voice to beliefs deeply rooted in the strong working-class "rebel culture" that had grown up in Britain during the early years of the century through a whole series of political struggles (and which has been rediscovered by Shiela Rowbotham and others).

Perhaps because of this rootedness in domestic radicalism, Pankhurst's welcome for the Bolshevik revolution cooled rapidly as she became critical of the Russian communist leaders' imposition of political strategies and organisational structures on western communists operating in conditions quite unlike those faced by the Bolsheviks in pre-revolutionary Russia.

She was particularly critical of the way the Third International advocated parliamentarianism and affi­liation of the British communists to the Labour Party, and her paper Workers' Dreadnought increasingly became the English language mouthpiece for left communist critics of the International's "centrism" and "Bolshevisation", including Gyorgy Lukacs, Amadeo Bordiga, Herman Gorter and Anton Pannekoek.

For her pains, she was attacked by Lenin in Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, and even­tually expelled from the Communist Party for refusing to accept party discipline. She kept Workers' Dread­nought going for a while, and was involved in attempts to create a left-communist Fourth Interna­tional (which, contrary to Romero, had no­thing whatsoever to do with Trotsky), but in 1924 – broke, exhausted and disillusioned – she retired from the revolutionary left political scene.

Romero first of all fails to understand the British political context of Pankhurst's actions in this period, goes on to fail to understand the international context, and camouflages her failings with some sloppy pop psychology. She quite apparently feels intuitively that Pankhurst's left communism was wrong (which it may well have been) but has neither the inclination nor the expertise to get to grips with it, let alone give convincing reasons for her judgment.

Which is not to say that untangling the politics of the British revolutionary left in the period after the Great War is an easy task, or that the history of twenties left communism in Europe isn't complex. But secondary texts that fill in the necessary back­ground are available - Walter Kendall's The Revolutionary Left in Britain and Russell Jacoby's Dialectic of Defeat for starters – and it is scandalous that a professional historian has failed to consult them. Perhaps the moral is simbply that you shouldn't write lives of people you find rather tiresome.


Paul Anderson, review of Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Royal Shakespeare Company, Barbican), Tribune, 10 April 1987

There are moments when Adrian Noble's Macbeth comes alive, but they are few and far between in a pedestrian production.

Noble has decided to interpret the play as the story of the psychological dislocation caused to Macbeth by the frustration of his desire to have children (and thereby form a dynasty). He shifts the centre of the play's gravity away from the initial regicide to the murder of Lady Macduff and her babes, and makes much of the cooling of passion between Mr and Mrs Macbeth.

I got the idea that the pair would never have got themselves into this awful mess if they'd concentrated on sex instead of getting ambitions beyond their station. Or perhaps they could have benefited from the services of a surrogate mother.

Jonathan Pryce plays Macbeth as a little man dominated by the voices in his head, a suitable case for treatment rather than a lucid human agent wrestling unsuccessfully with the moral implications of his actions. What Pryce does he does well, but it doesn't really seem to be Macbeth: to turn Macbeth's need for authority into a matter of individual psychosis might be very twentieth century, but it's hardly what Shakespeare intended.

Apart from Pryce, the cast is mostly unremarkable. Sinead Cusack's Lady Macbeth complements Pryce's Macbeth (which is hardly a compliment); the witches (Dilys Laye, Susan Porrett and Anna Patrick) are weird and unconvincing; and Peter Guiness's Macduff is adequate. The set is impressive and the staging well done (with the seige of Dunsinane particularly spectacular). But that's not really enough to detract from the production's basic failings.

Friday, 6 March 1987


Paul Anderson, review of Where There's Will by Michael Heseltine (Hutchinson, £12.95), Tribune, 6 March 1987

Michael Heseltine resigned from his post as defence secretary in the Thatcher government a little more than a year ago, outraged at the dirty tricks campaign being waged by trade and industry secretary Leon Brittan (backed by Thatcher) against his attempt to have a European consortium take over the ailing Westland helicopter company.

Brittan was forced to resign soon after Heseltine, and Thatcher herself began to look vulnerable. This time last year, there were plenty of political commentators in the bar-rooms of Westmister prepared to stake a fiver on Thatcher not being Prime Minster by the time of the next general election — and Heseltine was definitely the favourite to succeed her.

Such a scenario seems rather incredible today: barring a car-crash or a terrorist bomb, Thatcher will be PM at the time of the next election (whenever that may be). Heseltine stands a chance of succeeding her only if the Tories suffer an ignominous electoral defeat — or if the Alliance makes his leadership of the Tory party a condition of forming a centre-right coalition in the event of a hung parliament.

Perhaps it is the prospect of the latter that has made him write such a tediously balanced book. Where There's a Will tells no damaging anecdotes about the Thatcher government. Still less does it give Heseltine's version of the Westland affair. What it does contain is a lot about Heseltine the scourge of bureaucratic inefficiency and champion of free enterprise; a little about Heseltine the enthusiast for state intervention (but not nationalisation) to help industrial investment; and a smidgin of Heseltine the Great European (who nevertheless wants to be nice to the Americans).

It's all tepid stuff, a rehearsal of the arguments made familiar by the Tory wets who got out (or were pushed) while Heseltine was building his glorious ministerial career — which consisted (lest it be forgotten) largely of forcing various bureaucracies to cut jobs, running smear campaigns against the peace movement, and being photographed in a variety of costumes.

All the big questions about Heseltine, particularly those concerning his period in the Ministry of Defence, are left unanswered. Why were Sarah Tindall and Clive Ponting proseeuted, while Cathy Massiter was let off? What lay behind Heseltine's turnaround on Star Wars just before his resignation, when he signed a memorandum of understanding on British participation in SDI research without getting any of the guarantees he had held out for in nearly nine months of negotiation? Why didn't HeseItine instigate a full-scale review of Britain's military budget? And what does Heseltine really think about the major international issues of the day — the growing rift between Europe and America, arms control, Gorbachev? Heseltine's lack of candour combines with the predictability of his opinions on almost everything to make this an extremely disappointing book.


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 6 March 1987

The new Robert Maxwell London paper, the Daily News, has come as a pleasant surprise. Unlike Maxwell's other tabloids, it actually contains some serious popular journalism - and, unlike its rival, the Standard, it's not rabidly right-wing. The first week's editions broke several important stories. The paper didn't join the dirty campaign against Labour's candi­date in the Greenwich by-election, Deirdre Wood. And its coverage of domestic and foreign news is exem­plary. The sports section is lively; the columnists are a fair cross-section of London political personali­ties (including Ken Livingstone); and the entertain­ments listings and reviews are superb.

Time will tell whether the first week's standards will be maintained. I suspect the paper will not be publishing quite the number of pages, let alone the number of editions, once things have settled down. But I hope that Maxwell - who's a shrewd follower of market demand if nothing else - realises that London­ers do not find the pap the Standard serves up to them particularly satisfying, and that he'll allow a large degree of editorial autonomy to the Daily News.

In the meantime, Lord Rothermere, owner of the Standard, must be getting just a little nervous. The Daily News is, quite simply, bigger and better than the Standard, and he must be thinking that it's only a matter of time before the Daily News establishes itself at a much larger circulation, threatening the Stan­dard's advertising revenue.

It's very difficult to feel any sympathy for Rothermere: the Standard ranks with The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Sunday Telegraph for reactionary bigot­ry, and it has failed time and time again to break stories that it should have broken. Its columnists are (with the exception of Sam White in Paris) a rag-bag of drunks and incompetents, its regular cartoonist the worst in the land, and its foreign coverage (when not taken straight from the wire service) execrable.

But the Standard isn't the only publication likely to be hit by the Daily News. The morning national tabloids, particularly those at the upper end of the market (the ailing Daily Express, the appalling Daily Mail and the anodine Today) stand to lose out to the Daily News's morning edition, whether or not Max­well decides to turn the Daily News into a national paper (which he could be well-placed to do). And the quality of the Daily News entertainments guide could undermine sales of the London weekly listings maga­zines, particularly the increasingly tame and tepid Time Out. (City Limits, with its more "alternative" readership, seems relatively safe.)

If the Daily News does turn out to be a great success in its current form, it should do a lot to dispel the myth that serious popular journalism married to a left-of-centre editorial line won't sell - which in turn should give encouragement to everyone at News on Sunday, the soon-to-be-launched independent Manchester-based Left popular newspaper.

Of course, News on Sunday doesn't have Maxwell's resources for promotion - nor is it being launched into a market in which one journalistic joke of a newspaper has a monopoly position. It has also had some impressive public editorial bust-ups to cope with before launch day.

Nevertheless, the Daily News augurs well for News on Sunday - and that in turn augurs well for all of us that dream of having the left press we deserve. Who knows: after News on Sunday, a British left daily to vie with Liberation, Tageszeitung or Il Manifesto, attacking the Guardian's market from the left? But perhaps that's just a little too far-fetched...

Friday, 30 January 1987


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 30 January 1987

The left and alternative press does not, of course, consist of just the magazines and newspapers you can pick up (if you're lucky) in major branches of W. H.
Smith and John Menzies — Tribune, the New Statesman, Marxism Today, New Socialist, the Morning Star, Spare Rib, Sanity and so on. There are also hundreds of left and alternative periodicals that never make it on to Smith's or Menzies' shelves.

The main reason they don't is that the aim of the big newsagents (who dominate the wholesale trade as well as retailing) is maximising profit. They're prepared to take left and alternative titles only if they believe they will sell enough to warrant giving them shelf space and doing all the paperwork — and they won't take even the tiniest risk of prosecution for libel or obscenity.

You can't really blame the big newsagents for acting like this: they're capitalist firms, after all. But the result of their (rational) behaviour is that many excellent publications can be bought only on subscription or from left bookshops, which have been dwindling in number for a decade. And this means that such publications sell far fewer than they could, which means less revenue from sales and advertising, which means less money to spend on promotion, which means fewer sales — a vicious circle that traps much of the left press on the brink of bankruptcy and impoverishes political debate.

Which is not to say that distribution is the only problem facing the left press: even titles that are widely available are typically short of cash, paying lousy rates to contributors (if they pay at all) and stuck for advertising revenue. Then there's the recurrent problem of bad management, and the fact that many left and alternative periodicals are too specialist for a general readership: excellent as they are, I can't see Labour Focus on Eastern Europe or Radical Philosopy selling 40,000 copies per issue in the near future.

Finally, much of the left and alternative press is so boring and badly written that sales would not improve even with distribution to every newsagent's shop in the country: most of the agitational papers produced by the Trotskyist sects fall into this category.

Nevertheless, distribution is a major obstacle for many left periodicals. And it's one that could be removed easily by an enlightened government — by legislating a right to distribution, whereby any periodical registered as political with a circulation of more than, say, 3,000 would be guaranteed availability in at least one shop in every town with a population of more than, say, 20,000.

Right to distribution schemes are not a new idea: they were instituted in many continental European countries after the war as a means of ensuring that the press would remain healthily pluralistic. They mean, of course, that some right-wing publications, including racist and fascist ones, benefit — which is one reason that right to distribution has not found much favour among the British left. In my view, however, that's a price worth paying for relaxing the censorship imposed by unmitiaged market forces and revitalising the ailing political public sphere. Any takers?

Friday, 16 January 1987


Paul Anderson, review of Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan by Olivier Roy (Cambridge, £9.95), Tribune, 16 January 1987

Olivier Roy's Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan is not an easy read. This is partly because of the complexity of its subject – the social roots and politics of the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But it is as much the result of some clumsy translation (from the French) and poor editing. The book is haphazardly structured and contains no maps, and its chronology of recent Afghan history is inadequate.

Nevertheless, the work Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan demands of the reader is worthwhile. The book can only help to de-mystify a movement that for too long has either been ignored or misunderstood in the west.

Roy puts the resistance into its many contexts: the cultural differences between town and country, the deep-rooted antagonism to the state felt by the Afghan peasantry, the importance of tribal allegiances, the arrogant incompetence and brutality of the communist reforms of the late 1970s, the complex and changing roles of Islam (not least as a system of common law) in everyday life. Against this complex background, he charts the fortunes of the different factions and parties of the resistance, examines the impact of the war on rural society, and discusses the military strengths and weaknesses of the resistance forces.

Roy's sympathies are clearly with the resistance fighters, with whom he has spent many months. Perhaps because of this, he skips lightly over the issue of aid to the resistance from the US and its allies: for Roy, the resistance is "organised by poor people in a war waged by poor people", and aid from outside Afghanistan has had only a negligible impact upon the equipment and training of the guerrilla fighters. He might be right – corruption, incompetence and the sheer difficulty of getting arms into Afghanistan could well have conspired to minimise the effect of US and other aid. I don't know. But whatever the truth in this particular matter, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan deserves a wide readership. It's a path-breaking study.