Friday, 30 December 1988


Paul Anderson, review of Political and Social Writings, volumes 1 and 2 by Cornelius Castoriadis (edited by David Curtis), Tribune, 30 December 1988

A collection of Cornelius Castoriadis's political writings is long overdue in English. In Europe, he's a major figure in the world of political ideas, as serious as Jurgen Habermas and the brains (in a weird way) behind Dany Cohn-Bendit.

In the Anglophone  world, he has been taken up in Britain by iconoclastic libertarian socialists (the Solidarity group made him something of  a guru in the late sixties and seventies), and in America by academics and Lacanian shrinkophiles. (The latter half-know his seventies attacks on their master.)

All we have available of his written work in Britain up to now, outside academic journals, are a series of Solidarity pamphlets, a collection of brilliant political-philosophical essays published by Harvester a couple of years back as Crossroads in the Labyrinth, and his magnum opus, The Imaginary Institution of Society, put out late last year by Polity a full 12 years after its publication in France.

Castoriadis does not deserve guru stature; he is wrong on plenty, not least his economics – time and again in these essays, almost all from the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie between 1948 and 1965, he overestimates wildly the strength of the post-war Keynesian boom in the developed world – and the workerist conception of the socialist project that was central to him until at least the late sixties.

In many ways, too, the writings here are polemics from a bygone age –  when the Communist Party was a serious force in French politics, when substantial sections of the left really believed the Soviet Union to be "historically progressive", when Trotskyism and other deviant brands of Leninism could be taken seriously, when fundamentalist Marxist catastrophism was left common sense.

It's difficult to avoid feeling that you've read much of this before.  But that in itself is a sign of how far the sort of perspective Castoriadis adopted in the fifties and sixties has taken hold of the way the left thinks.

These essays are the work of a man who was, and remains, too much of a Marxist to be a Marxist: as he put it recently, were all Marxists now just as we're all Darwinians.

His early S ou B Marxist-true-believer demolitions of the socialist pretensions of the Soviet state (in English here for the first time) are unsurpassed in their genre; his later critiques of the irresolvable tensions in Marx's work between determinism and an understanding of active human agency are still apposite.

Most of all, his emphasis on the centrality of autonomous self-activity to any emancipatory project is as relevant as ever. Sadly, though, I fear that these volumes won't be read for any of this but because you can't understand French postmodernism unless you read Castoriadis (the Situationists, Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Francois Lyotard were all once disciples).

What a bloody world.

Friday, 14 October 1988


Paul Anderson, review of Into the 21st Century: An Agenda for Political Realignment by Felix Dodds (ed) (Greenprint, £4.99), Tribune 14 October 1988

Every British politician these days wants to jump onto the green bandwagon. The reason is simple: the opinion polls show that more and more people from all walks of life are concerned about the state of the environment, and there are votes to be had in that concern.

All the same, green issues are still much less addressed here than elsewhere in Europe, not least because green opinion is so poorly organised. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace attract substantial support and funds, but are unwilling to provide forums for political discussion.

The Green Party is tiny, with little prospect of parliamentary representation in the foreseeable future. Many who, in West Germany, would find themselves at home in die Grunen are active in the Labour Party, the Social and Liberal Democrats and the various social movements.

This collection of 16 essays brings together contributors from all these backgrounds to debate values and political strategies. It is very much a mixed bag. Some of the contributions are dull and predictable: the most disappointing are those of the SLD greens who dominate the book (seven of them are represented, which is surely over-doing it), most of whom do no more than assert the continuing relevance of traditional Liberalism The collection could also have done with some heavy editing: nearly every contributor starts off by explaining why green issues are important, which results in much unnecessary repetition.

Neverthelese, Into the 21st Century contains some well argued pieces too (I particularly liked those by Peter Hain, Hilary Wainwright and Peter Tatchell) and, as a whole, it gives a good impression of the state of the dqbate. There, is clearly much common ground here. Everyone agrees that the environmental crisis facing humanity is crucially important, and there is broad agreement on the necessity of many measures for example, radical decentralisation of political power, massive redistribution of wealth (both globally and within Britain), and non-nuclear defence and energy policies.

At the same time, however, there are major obstacles that stand in the way of anything, approaching a green realignment in British politics. The most important is the continuing strength of existing party political affiliations: the contributors share a sense of being on the libertarian left and of distrusting the traditional managerialist social democrats now firmly in charge of both Labour and the SLD, but there is no agreement about how to put it into effect.

There are also unresolved differences about how the environmental crisis should be understood and what should be done about it. Is "capitalism" or "industrialism" at the root of the problem? If the former, how can we explain the ecological disaster of "actually existing socialism"? If the latter, do we really believe that a "non-industrial" economic strategy can cope with poverty at home and in the Third World? To what extent can or should a class-based politics mesh with green concerns? And so on.

Into the 21st Century provides no answers to these questions but at least its contributors are not afraid to pose them explicitly. For that, it deseves a wide readership..

Friday, 26 August 1988


Paul Anderson, review of Against the Bomb: The British Peace Movement 1958-1965 by Richard Taylor (Oxford, £32.50), Tribune, 26 August 1988

Insofar as it did not achieve any of the goals it set itself, the British peace movement of the late fifties and early sixties was a failure. Its rise and fall was, meteoric; it did not persuade or force the British state to give up its nuclear weapons; it did not even manage to keep Labour Party conference to a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Yet it effected some of the most profound changes in British political life of the post-war era. As Richard Taylor puts it in the conclusion to Against the Bomb:

"The movement was a part of the process that broke the post-war consensus and took politics and political concerns outside the exclusive confines of Westmins­ter and the professional politicians. For the first time since the thirties a mass extra-parliamentary movement emerged on to the political scene. And the rapidity of that growth, the size of the movement and the intensity of feeling on the issues involved was something quite new. This whole ethos of involvement and concern - and of ordinary people's right to be heard – has been a continuing theme in British politics ever since. In particular, the concepts and practices of non-violent direct action have become almost com­monplace techniques of protest."

The movement, he continues, "was centrally impor­tant in creating a 'culture of protest' which grew and flourished from the late sixties onwards". It was the direct precursor of the anti-Vietnam and student movements (and the subsequent growth of far-Left groups, both Leninist and libertarian); and its echoes can still be heard, particularly in the women's move­ment and in the revived peace movement of the eighties.

The central theme of Taylor's history is the tension between the "respectable" leadership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (which was primarily con­cerned with putting pressure on the Labour Party) and more radical elements – the direct actionists of the Direct Action Committee and Committee of 100; the far-left political parties; and the New Left that emerged from the wreckage of the Communist Party after 1956.

Taylor's sympathies lie with the New Left: he believes it came closest of all the tendencies in the fifties and sixties peace movement to developing a political strategy that was neither "Labourist" – Taylor's politics are very much of the Ralph Miliband school – nor hopelessly Utopian. Yet even the New Left sank eventually into the "Labourist" swamp. In the final analysis, Taylor argues, "the various political strategies of the movement were all inadequate. The apolitical moralism of a large section was unrealistic because it side-stepped the essentially political issues; the direct actionists had neither ultimate political coherence nor sufficient human and material re­sources for their ambitious objectives; and the extra-parliamentary left in all its guises proved too weak to harness the movement to its politics."

Has the eighties peace movement done much better in developing a political strategy? It has certainly been larger and lasted much longer, and so far Labour has not abandoned the non-nuclear defence policy it adopted when the movement was on the rise. The eighties movement has also proved itself much more able to contain disagreements among activists. Although there have been disputes throughout the eighties, notably over the Soviet Union, there has been nothing like the sixties split over direct action. On the whole, CND in the eighties has managed dissent within its ranks effectively enough to remain an umbrella organisation for almost all peace move­ment opinion – the wire-cutters as well as the lobbyists – although at the cost, occasionally, of adopting bland lowest-common-denominator political positions in the interests of unity.

Whether all this adds up to a solution to the problem of how a social movement with essentially non-negotiable demands should relate to a political party whose primary goal is the achievement of office is, however, a moot point. I hope it does – but we shall see over the next year or so. Meanwhile, Taylor's book deserves a wide peace movement and left readership.

Sunday, 24 July 1988


Paul Anderson, review of The War Broadcasts by George Orwell, edited by W.J. West (Penguin, £4.95) and The War Commentaries by George Orwell, edited by W.J. West (Penguin, £4.95), Tribune, 24 July 1988

From 1941 to 1943, George Orwell was employed by the Indian section of the BBC's Eastern Service. He wrote a weekly piece analysing the war as it happened, designed to counter Axis propaganda broadcasts to India; and he wrote and produced less regular talks and discussions, mainly on cultural themes. In 1984, the scripts of Orwell's programmes were unearthed by W. J. West, who edited them into two volumes, which are now published for the first time in paperback.

The weekly news programmes, most of which were not spoken by Orwell himself, are collected in The War Commentaries; The War Broadcasts contains the scripts of the talks and a large selection of (not particularly interesting) business correspondence between Orwell and his various contributors.

There is plenty of concise English prose in both volumes that any writer would profit from reading; but the main interest of both lies in the light they shed on British wartime propaganda and Orwell's love-hate relationship with his role as propagandist (which he eventually abandoned to write Animal Farm and become literary editor of Tribune).

Unfortunately, despite the editor's excellent introductory essays and intelligent footnotes, neither book sheds its light very directly: to get the most out of the Broadcasts and Commentaries, I found I had to refer constantly to the second volume of the Penguin Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, which covers the same period. Although the publication of the Broadcasts and Commentaries in paperback is welcome, their contents are unlikely to be appreciated as widely as they should be until they are integrated into a new edition of the Collected Essays.

Friday, 22 July 1988


Paul Anderson, review of Something in the Wind: Politics After Chernobyl BY Louis Mackay and Mark Thompson (eds) (Pluto/European Nuclear Disarmament, £7.95), Tribune, 22 July 1988

On April 26 1986, the Number Four unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Ukraine ran out of control during a test of its electrical systems. After a series of errors by the men in the control room, the nuclear reactor exploded. For ten days, the wrecked plant poured radioactive material into the atmosphere. Wind carried the debris across Europe; the Soviet authorities evacuated thousands from the region around the power station and tried desperately to contain the radioactive emissions. Nobody knows how many have died as a result of the disaster; nobody knows how many are now dying.

This timely book is a collection of essays from non-aligned Left and peace movement perspectives examining the context of and political fallout from Chernobyl. Zhores Medvedev contributes a superb chapter detailing the history of Soviet nuclear power policy (a tale, unsurprisingly, of nationalist posturing, bureaucratic incompetence, cover-ups, technical mis­haps and military manoeuvring); Martin Ince lays bare the similar background to Britain's own nuclear power programme. Richard Erskine and Phil Webber examine the safety issues of nuclear power, showing convincingly that the nuclear industry's assessment of risks underestimate the likelihood and the possible seriousness of nuclear accidents.

But the most provocative chapters are those looking at the political implications of Chernobyl and discus­sing political alternatives to the nexus of bureaucracy, militarism and technology-fetishism that made Cher­nobyl possible.

Louis Mackay and Mark Thompson contribute two fascinating pieces on the post-Chernobyl growth of anti-nuclear and environmentalist movements and opinion, in the Third World and Eastern Europe respectively. Both argue that such developments pose challenges to the Left and peace and environmentalist movements in the developed West. Independent East­ern European responses to Chernobyl were moulded by outrage at the disinformation put out by the party-states' news monopolies, and East European environmentalism has been characterised by demands for democratisation and openness. In the Third World, Chernobyl has been a catalyst for movements that see nuclear power as the epitome of the inappropriate technologies foisted on undeveloped countries by the developed world (a position expressed elegantly in Praful Bidwai's essay in this volume).

Mackay and Thompson believe that radicals in the developed West can make common cause with such movements - but only if they change their ways. The left and the peace and environmentalist movements in the West need to broaden their perspectives, learning from one another and from the experiences of those living under "actually existing socialism" and in the Third World.

The sort of non-aligned green libertarian socialist political synthesis that such a process could yield is explored further in Kate Soper and Martin Ryle's concluding essay. For them, Chernobyl has "allowed anti-nuclearism to emerge as the central plank of a trans-bloc ecological platform of opposition to the pro-nuclear trans-bloc technocratist consensus": the problem now is to flesh out the platform and make it the common sense of the age.

They come up with no easy solutions - indeed, their main prescriptions are cautions against embracing market forces or withdrawing into an anarchist counter-cultural ghetto - but their sense of what the Left's priorities should be is invigorating. If only Labour's policy reviewers exhibited a small fraction of their imagination.

Friday, 17 June 1988


Tribune, 17 June 1988

Paul Anderson and Christina Koning talk to Edward Thompson about his new novel, The Sykaos Papers (Bloomsbury, £13.95)

You are known as an historian and political polemicist. What made you decide to write a novel?

I've always thought of myself as a writer first, an academic second. One or two bits of The Sykaos Papers go back to the early sixties. But I'm not exactly sure that that book is, in any recognised sense, a novel. One or two readers have made the error of supposing it is intended as science fiction. I know it certainly isn't that: most of the bits of space machinery are a send-up of science fiction. Maybe the book is three things: one part is entertainment or fable the reader is supposed to laugh; another part is satire; and a third part is imaginative exploration, in which differing modes of consciousness interrogate each other and, in the course of this, explore how human culture and even personality is constructed. However, let's call it a novel.

In that sense it is very much a utopian, or rather dystopian, noveL Which books in that tradition have most influenced you?

The one, obviously, that influenced me most is Gulliver's Travels. I’m not claiming I've written a Gulliver's Travels. But anyone who writes this kind of book has the shadow of Swift on his or her shoulder. There are several things one has to avoid because Swift did them so much better than one could ever hope to do today. What I had to watch particularly were the universal denunciations of the follies of the human species, which were done so beautifully by Swift.

But Oi Paz, the hero of the novel, who arrives on earth from the planet Oitar, does have a certain disgust for human beings, at least at the beginning.

Yes, but I hope I've, A managed to introduce an ambiguity to that disgust by making him have ludicrous misreadings of things. His is not a clear vision; he's very confused. What attracted you to this sort of fiction rather than realist narrative? I tried to write a realist novel after the war. I did the proper thing and went to an isolated cottage, sat down and wrote. The result was dreadful. I think I discovered then that I didn't have a natural talent for realist novels. I might possibly try my hand again some time.

Utopian and dystopian fiction has often been used to portray political alternatives. To what extent does The Sykaos Papers do this?

There is not a one-to-one political read-off of the metaphors in the novel. If there were,- why bother to write in such a complex way? I see it as an attempt to discover things that can't be said in other ways. Very few of these things ate directly political. I hope they bear upon the sub-rational level out of which political association and forms come. What is said in one place is often contradicted in another. Around about mid-way, the book gets hold of its own tail.

What has appeared as a satire going in one direction turns back on itself. In the first half you have Oi Paz's ultra-rational perspective upon the confusion and anarchy of human affairs, and from that perspective of sexless equality, the human race appears to be irrational in all kinds of ways, as well as unequal. But when you get to the second part, which is in a certain sense the deeper level of the satire, the critical absence of laughter in Oitarian society, the Oitarians' incapacity for articulating their emotional life and the emptiness that comes from their lack of bonding point to the falsity of the Oitarians' description of their society. This is a society in an advanced state of computer-dependency.

The book isn't there to provide answers but to challenge the imagination in ways which leave the reader to draw conclusions. Quite a lot of the book is an exploration of language as poetry and an exploration of laughter. It's an exploration of non-rational, either chaotic or creative, sources of energy. But I don't know what the conclusions are. In the past 40 years there's been a great rise in the amount of cerebration, including on the left: I don't blame anyone in particular for it, because it's part of our times. Look at New Left Review over the past 20 years: it may be admirable in its way but it's not a very creative journal, it’s a cerebral analytical journal. This contrasts with the thirties, which are quite rightly criticised for their lack of theoretical rigour but were a very creative time. I come from the very last years of the thirties: some of my older friends were thirties people, so I know something of the poets and artists and musicians of the time. In a sense you can say this book is anti-cerebral.

Many of the themes in the book reflect those in your nonfiction work – from your biography of William Morris to The Heavy Dancers. In particular, there is the critique of technocratic "rationality" you have just mentioned.

In different ways I've always been concerned – obsessed perhaps – with the blighting of human capacities and imagination by utilitarianism, the absurd abbreviated world it offers and the imprisonment it has imposed on working people. The Marxism of the Second and Third Internationals was also deeply penetrated by this view of the world. That doesn't mean I reject historical materialism, but it does mean that I qualify my acceptance of it. The work I am doing at the moment, some of which is quite advanced (in particular a work on Blake and another on the early years of Coleridge and Wordsworth) continues this critique of the whole nexus of utilitarianism.

For much of the past nine years, your name has been almost synonymous with the peace movement. But in The Sykaos Papers you present some rather muddle-headed peace activists, in contrast with sympathetic portrayal of a British Intelligence officer. How come?

Well, there isn't any one-to-one read-off of characters or metaphors, as I've said. This is a novel. But at the height of the cruise campaign, the peace movement did drift into a kind of moral self- righteousness, assuming that only the peace movement wanted to prevent nuclear war. This was, I think, pharasaical, a wrong frame of mind to get into. We all fell into it. As for my Astro-Intelligence officer, I have always thought that some politicians, corrupt media operators and "defence experts” are more dangerous than the military.

How, looking back, do you assess the influence of the peace movement?

It is very difficult to show precisely the lines of influence of the peace movement. But, in its raising of consciousness, its providing the kind of weather through which the politicians have had to steer, it has been extremely important – though I'm sure no official historian will ever admit it. The other thing is that there has been this profound change in the Eastern bloc. I don't think that's because of anything Western politicians or political parties have done. But it's just possible that the peace movement did provide some helpful influence.

The changes in the Soviet Union are a little unexpected to Western Leftists. We always expect struggle to be clearly coming from below, and the idea of significant and genuine moves from above is not in our main historical tradition. But it is there in the Russian political tradition. The fact that the reforms are so severely contested is testimony to the authenticity of some of them. The thought of reversing them is extremely alarming it could only be done by repressive measures. Any attempt to reverse them will lead to a military regime.

You have just returned to Britain after five months teaching in Canada. How do you find it?

Britain is getting to be an extremely nasty place. The strengthening of the security state, the move towards a highly centralised authoritarian state – it's incredible that the Tories can still get away with talking of "freedom" – is being countered by a lukewarm Labour Party rhetoric. I am worried by the way in which increasing numbers of people are getting into a naked celebration of success and money. Everything has moved three paces to the right. What always were the establishment institutions – the Church of England, the BBC, the House of Lords – suddenly become "left-of-centre", under attack from this totally cynical, totally amoral, mean-minded mercenary government. Virtually the only place where there seems to be some vitality in some of the old Labour traditions is in local government. In Worcester we've got a good Labour council which is genuinely popular: it's not so bad coming back here.

Saturday, 4 June 1988


Paul Anderson, review of A Place With the Pigs by Athol Fugard (National), Tribune, 4 June 1988

The South African playvvright Athol Fugard directs the National Theatre's production of his A Place With The Pigs with considerable verve. It is a tale, based on a true story, of a second world war Red Army deserter, Pavel Navrotsky (Jim Broadbent), who hides in his pigsty for 41 years after his desertion, fed by his wife Praskovya (Linda Basset).

Fugard concentrates on the dramatic moments of this extraordinary story: Pavel's failure (despite initial intentions) to turn himself in during the 1954 ceremony to unveil the local memorial to the fallen of the Great Patriotic War (on which his name appears); his frenzied killing of a pig (some years later) because the pig has eaten a butterfly that has found its way into the sty; and his eventual decision, as an old man, to set the pigs free and go to the authorities.

At first sight, all this appears to be far removed from the explicit exploration of the South African nightmare for which Fugard is famed the world over even if the dramatic examination of the predicament of just two characters in the bleakest of circumstances echoes much of his previous work.

Immediately beneath the surface, though, there are parallels between Pavel's state of exile in his own country and Fugard's own relationship to South Africa; and Pavel's isolation from the outside world and his increasingly brutal treatment of the pigs are metaphors for the pariah status of South Africa and the apartheid state's growing viciousness towards the country's black majority. It is no accident that Fugard subtitles the play A Personal Parable. But it is more than this too – a play that raises universal ethical and political questions about cowardice, war, patriotism and responsibility, without ever sacrificing dramatic power.

Tim Broadbent is on stage for the full 100 minutes of the National's production, and he plays a difficult part with consumate skill, convincingly portraying Pavel's fall and final (ambiguous) redemption, Linda Basset is also superb, mixing an earthy peasant piety with an unnerving sense of despairing resignation.

Douglas Heap's set is excellent, and the sound – essential for the ever-present noise of the pigs –  exemplary. See this play if you can.

Friday, 26 February 1988


Triibune's response to the Labour policy review by Phil Kelly and Paul Anderson

Britain and the world are changing fast. Some people in the Labour Party want us to ignore this change, and go back to the sort of right-wing policies operated by previous Labour governments. Things were certainly better under Wilson and Callaghan than under Thatcher, but the disillusion caused by Labour's failures in office led to the Labour Party adopting its most radical policy agenda ever.

The image of incompetence lives on: constant media distortion of the actions of the Labour Party, the unions and Labour councils has been fed by the Labour right. They accept the media's agenda, which believes that all Labour's problems are caused by the left. In their anxiety to marginalise the left, and return to the Croslamd/Gaitskell era, they feed a debate which is only about how best to bash the left. They have made the major contribution to Labour's appearance as a divided party.

The right have seized on the inability of some of Labour's left, and the unwillingness of a tiny handful, to make socialist ideas relevant. But they want to throw the collectivist baby out with the dogmatic bathwater.

The right doesn't like activists, and wants them occupied doing other things while they put the clock back. The soft left wants activists to campaign outside the party, which reflects the level of frustration about a choice between the resurgent right and the risibly rigid hard left. The hard left don't want their theories cluttered up with facts, so they aren't playing.

Behind Labour Listens, it's business as usual for most party members. This is a pity, since such a campaign, properly organised to involve them rather than to reform them, could be a real strength.

The main purpose, however, is to improve the party's media image. The policy review groups have titles with vague, advertising-agency-invented names which correspond neither to existing government departments (where the policies will have to be implemented) nor to the way ordinary people think about their world.

The points and questions suggested by the party for discussion at Labour Listens meetings read more like a sales brochure than a vision of what Labour could do to transform Britain. Many constituency parties will no doubt want to mount genuine, rather than PR, Labour Listens events. PAUL ANDERSON and PHIL KELLY, with help from other Tribune staff members, have prepared an alternative set of discussion points which deal with the awkward questions missed out by the official version.

Tribune would be interested to have reports of local Labour Listens events, and copies of suggestions and ideas sent to the policy review groups; and if you're not sure that you're getting through to them, at least you can get your experiences across to other members of the party through Tribune.


• North Sea oil has kept Britain going for the past few years, but now it is running out. Thatcherite policies have led to a run-down of Britain's manufacturing industries and to failure to adapt to developments in information technologies. How should Labour re-establish British manufacturing industry and increase British competitivity in world markets?

• British research and development policy has been a disaster. Britain spends less than other industrial nations on research and development, and most of what it does spend is on military projects, which have few benefits for the economy as a whole. How should Labour transfer resources from military to civilian research and increase overall research expenditure?

• The interests of workers and companies can never coincide completely under capitalism. But the balance of power between labour and capital can be changed. What should Labour do to empower workers and their representatives at workplace, company and national levels?

• How can Labour extend democratic control over the economy and limit the damage done by "market forces"? How large should be the increase of social ownership? What are the best ways of avoiding the undemocratic structures of traditional nationalisation? Is the solution a radical extension of the co-operative sector? What could local councils do to create jobs, providing services and making things that people really need?


• Under Margaret Thatcher, Britain has become an increasingly polarised society. A majority of workers has done well since she came to power, but a growing minority has been condemned to "underclass" poverty — through unemployment or the growth of part-time and casual working. How should we tackle mass unemployment and redistribute wealth to eliminate low pay?

• The Tories' housing policy has been one of subsidising home-owners and home-buyers at the expense of tenants in the public and private sectors (who tend to be poorer). How should Labour redress the imbalance without penalising those who have bought homes?

• Women tend to be poorer than men, and black people poorer than white. What policies are needed to counter race discrimination in the labour market?

• The Tories have cut back on welfare benefits available to everyone in favour of insurance-based and private-sector provision, which tend to benefit the better-off. How should Labour re-establish the principle that we all have equal rights to decent health care, pensions, education and benefits?


• The welfare state is crumbling under the Tories. How can Labour rescue and then improve the health, education and social services? How can we give users more control over how the services?

• Private sector health and education are not open to all and their existence undermines the quality of public sector provision. Should Labour get rid of the tax privileges now enjoyed by private sector health and education?

• Some public services are best provided locally, but the Tories have slashed the role of local authorities. How should Labour re-establish democratic local control of public services? Should the NHS be brought under local control?

• Consumers are inadequately protected. How should Labour act to ensure that strict standards are enforced on everything from additives in food and drink to unsafe goods?


• How can rights at work, to belong to a trade union, to strike, to decent health and safety conditions, to holidays, to maternity leave and so on, be extended?

• The Tories have given individual union members new rights in their unions, but not against their employers. How should Labour redress the balance?

• How can Labour best encourage workers' self-management and reductions in working hours?

• How can Labour improve standards of management generally? How should we train people to manage public services so as to be responsive to their users?

• A Labour government would not want to control inflation by high unemployment as the Tories have done. Putting more people back to work will inevitably lead to greater spending and faster price rises. Should a Labour government let inflation rise, control prices and wages by law (and thus risk offending millions of workers) or seek some other way of doing it?


• Britain is a medium-sized European power, yet many aspects of its foreign and defence policies are based on the assumption that it is a great power — the so-called "independent nuclear deterrent", the cost and size of Britain's armed forces (particularly the Navy), the maintenance of a few far-flung colonies and so on. How can we best act to change the assumptions on which British foreign and defence policy is based?

• Relations between Europe and America are undergoing profound changes, and the North Atlantic alliance is suffering from extreme strain as the military and political consensus on which it was originally based evaporates. The military bloc system that divides Europe into two hostile camps is increasingly seen by the people of Europe as unnecessary. How should Britain change its "special relationship" with America and help to fashion a demilitarised, bloc-free Europe? Could the Soviet union regard an invasion of Western Europe as being in its own interests? If not, should we withdraw from NATO?

• The EEC is a bureaucratic nightmare and many of its policies are wasteful but some see it as a possible basis for radical change. Should Britain withdraw from the EEC? Should it retain the option to do so? What should our stance be on the growth of military co-operation among West European states?

• East Europe and the Soviet Union are in a state of flux. What Ostpolitik should Labour adopt to encourage detente and moves towards democratisation of the Soviet bloc?

• What should Labour be doing to encourage unification by consent of Ireland? Or should British troops be withdrawn anyway?

• How can Britain contribute to global disarmament? How can we best prevent arms sales by. British companies to warring and dictatorial countries?

• Apartheid in South Africa is a vicious and inhuman system, and British companies are some of the major investors there. How should a Labour government enforce and-apartheid sanctions and encourage the downfall of the racist regime?

• What should Labour do about commercial banks and international finance organisations which are forcing much of the Third World deeper and deeper into poverty?

• How should we respond to the crises in the Middle East (particularly over Palestine, where Britain must take some measure of responsibility for the current mess)?


• Nuclear power is an economically inefficient and environmentally dangerous way of meeting demand for energy. How quickly should Labour phase it out, and what alternative energysources should be promoted?

• Britain's record on industrial emissions is the worst in Europe. What controls should be introduced to reduce pollution?

• British governments have failed to adopt transport policies that encourage energy-efficient and environmentally sound movement of people and goods in cities and around the country. How do we encourage a shift away from the private motor car and the juggernaut towards safe and reliable buses, rail and water transport?

• Britain's inner cities are falling apart socially and physically. How should resources be redistributed from rich parts of the country to poor parts? How should the shortage of low-cost housing in the inner city — and the resulting homelessness and overcrowding — be rectified? How can we all best gain control of our housing and neighbourhoods? How can the urban planning disasters of the sixties and seventies be put right and avoided in future?


• Britain has an unelected upper legislative chamber and an unaccountable monarchy. The civil service, the police, the armed forces and the security services all escape adequate democratic scrutiny because of official secrecy. The security services, it is alleged, have even plotted against democratically elected governments. Are all these institutions necessary? Do we need a House of Lords or an MI5? And how do we make those institutions we do need answerable to the British people?

• How can Labour help people in Scotland and Wales, and in the English regions win more control over their affairs?

• British law does not define rights — to freedom of belief, expression, organisation and assembly, to privacy and so on. The judiciary is socially unrepresentative, and democratically unaccountable. How should it be reformed? Do we need a Bill of Rights? What sort of freedom of information legislation do we need?

• How could Labour reduce the prison population and reform our prisons? How can the community stop young people from becoming persistent offenders?

• Black people are disadvantaged in employment, housing education and other services. How should Labour counter racism? What equal opportunities and immigration policies should we adopt?

• How could a Labour government expand women's rights and reduce sexual discrimination?

• Black people, the young and the poor have a less positive impression of the police than white people, older people and the better-off. How can Labour make the police respond to the wishes and priorities of the whole community? Which crimes are the most serious: those against people or those akainat property?

Friday, 29 January 1988


Paul Anderson, review of 1968: A Student Generation in Revolt by Ronald Fraser (Chatto, £14.95), Tribune, 29 January 1988

In 1968 I was an eight-year-old schoolboy in a provincial town. I watched television news pictures of rioting in Paris, which scared me, but otherwise the political turmoil of the year passed me by – at the time at least.

Twenty years on, however, 1968 seems politically one of the most important years of my life. I was introduced to Left political ideas by secondhand paperback editions of books produced in the wake of the 1968 explosion. My first experience of organised Left politics was in a far-Left group that would hardly have existed but for 1968. At university, my friends and I read the Situationists and attempted (complete­ly unsuccessfully) to convince our fellow students to act like their predecessors a decade earlier. More recently, I have worked for magazines and newspap­ers that would be rather short of contributors and readers were it not for the 1968 generation.

Of course, not everyone of my age and class now involved in left politics has a similar history, and, of those that have, few now consider that the way forward is to ape the radicals of 1968. Nevertheless, the influence of 1968 on the political culture of everyone who has grown up since is undeniable, and it has not been entirely for the worst.

True, some of the ideas it encouraged have hardly helped the left - the illusions that students could transform society on their own, that street-fighting could topple "the system", that "the real struggle" was in the Third World, that "bourgeois freedoms" were just a capitalist con-trick, or that the state and the traditional social democratic left were simply enemies of progress. 1968 led to a surge of Leninist vanguardism, often idiotically Third Worldist, the extreme of which was the terrorism of the Red Brigades and the Red Army Fraction; even the non-vanguardist ver­sions of "that revolution stuff' look pretty silly from the vantage point of 1988.

But other elements of the political culture of 1968 have been wholly beneficial. The radical democratic demand for self-management articulated by the stu­dent movements has reverberated through the left ever since; so too has the idea that sexuality and gender are political (though here 1968 was really just the beginning). Much of 1968's Third Worldism Was not knee-jerk; and the effect of 1968 in reinvigorating left intellectual life is still visible on the bookshop shelves (just). Without 1968 there would have been no West German Greens, no women's movement, no gay movement, and fewer good films and magazines.

Ronald Fraser has compiled a fascinating oral history of 1968, drawing on interviews with more than 200 participants in the late sixties student movements of France, America, Italy, Britain and Northern Ireland. The interviews were conducted in 1984 and 1985 by Fraser and a team of eight researchers.

Fraser laces together the anecdotes and analyses to form a set of superb racy journalistic accounts of the histories of the various movements. For the most part he avoids coming to definite conclusions about his­tory's "lessons", if indeed it has any, simply allowing the interviewees to express their (current) thoughts.

Inevitably, the result reflects the fact that most of the interviewees are one-time student activists whose subsequent fate has been to become left intellectuals: there's rather more celebration than critique, and too little from the now-disillusioned. And although the book's scope is rightly limited to the student move­ments, I would have liked more on the working-class movements, particularly in France and Italy, that accompanied or followed them.

But it would be wrong to carp. Fraser's is an excellent piece of work, quite as good as his oral history of the Spanish civil war, Blood of Spain. There are real human beings talking here, bringing events to life. Somebody needs to do the same for the left since 1968. Continuous le combat, ce n'est qu'un debut!, or words to that effect.

Friday, 22 January 1988


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 22 January 1988

Now is the time for all good comrades to come to the aid of Tribune. As things stand, Tribune is set to close after this issue unless we get help, to the tune of £16,000 in total, in the next few days.

This is serious. There is no sugar daddy to bail us out. The Greater London Council was abolished some time back, and the unions are broke. There is no Moscow gold or CIA funding here. Tribune really is reliant on its readers and supporters to give it enough at once to ensure its survival.

Of course, we all have our criticisms of Tribune. The paper has sometimes erred in its choice of targets; and often it has been too shrill or insufficiently radical.

Sometimes the fact that the paper is ridiculously under-staffed and over-worked means that we go wrong -- being less grateful than we should to everyone who does so much for us (for no payment) being the most common sin.

But for all its faults, Tribune has been a vital part of the British left's political culture — and as such a vital part of Britain's culture.

Being part of some British political tradition does not, in itself, guarantee the usefulness of an institution: look at the House of Lords, the monarchy and much more besides. That Tribune has in the past had a role does not necessarily mean that it has one now. I believe it does have one, and that's not simply because my job is on the line.

Tribune is the only open forum for debate among supporters of the British Labour Party and the Labour-sympathetic left. All the arguments of the British democratic left take place in its pages. Unlike others, the paper is not afraid to give space to unfashionable opinion. On the assumption that a democratic, discursive movement of the left is necessary for the left to have any success, Tribune is utterly essential.

As this issue goes to press, the future remains in the balance. We've had an extraordinary surge of donations and messages of support: we did not know everyone cared so much, and we're grateful to you all.

But we're not there yet; we will go under unless we raise another £16,000 in one week. Bung us a fiver please everyone, and get all your friends to do the same. Really.

Friday, 15 January 1988


Paul Anderson, review of Werner Hulsberg, The German Greens (Verso, £9.95), Tribune, 15 January 1988

The West German Greens are, without a doubt, one of the most significant political phenomena of Europe in the eighties – on that everyone agrees.

But how should they be judged? Some commentators, both left and right, see them as either willing dupes of Moscow or a worrying reminder of the romantic German nationalism that played such a key role in Nazism. (Some French leftists see them as both, but that's another story.)

Other believe they are a temporary aberration in West German politics, an amalgam of single-issue campaigns owing its apparent strength to circumstances, particularly in international relations, that will soon pass. Still others see them as the prototype of a new type of politics that is destined to sweep the world.

Werner Hulsberg agrees with none of these propositions. The West German Greens is an engaged but critical attempt to show that the Greens are a movement of the left, internationally non-aligned and not easily imitable outside West Germany, with deep enough social roots to survive and prosper – if they sort out their political strategy.

The best bits of the book are its detailed analyses of the Greens' programmes and the social origins and beliefs of Green voters and members. Hulsberg shows convincingly that the Greens have very little in common with the movement that swept Hitler to power.

Supporters of the Greens are noticeably less nationalistic and authoritarian than supporters of all other West German parties; and the Greens' political programmes and practices are consistently leftist on every key issue. What's more, Green voters and, members come not from the traditional petty bourgeiosie but from highly educated skilled urban white collar employees, many in the service sector. (Hulsberg sees these people as the "proletariat of the 21st century", which begs a lot of questions – but you don't have to swallow his sometimes rather neanderthal Marxism to appreciate the data.)

Hulsberg backs up his sociological and textual analyses with a narrative account of the Greens' history. First, he describes the political stasis to which the Greens were a response and outlines the various cultural and political milieux from which they emerged in 1978-79 — the remnants of the far-left groupuscules from the sixties Anti-Parliamentary Opposition, the alternative culture, the "citizens' initiatives" of the seventies. ("Citizens' initiative" –  Burgerinitiativen – started out as the blanket West German term for the voluntary committees set up in any democracy to resist roadbuilding, demand more nursery school places and so on. In Germany, these multifarious examples of "do-it-yourself' politics, largely ignored by the left, consolidated their organisation and broadened their political perspectives. Initially hailed by the establishment as paragons of civic virtue, by the mid-seventies they came to embrace an environmentalist political outlook and mobilised widespread opposition to pollution and nuclear power station building.)

Hulsberg goes on to detail the left's defeat of the conservative-conservationist right of the new party in its first couple of years, then tracks the Greens' fortunes from their entry to the Bundestag (Federal Parliament) in 1983 until mid-1987.

His history is very good on the internal politics of the Greens – the arguments about coalition with the Social Democrats (Labour's West German sister party), the battles over manifestos and so forth. He rather over-simplifies factional differences, but then it is difficult to see how he could have avoided this without making his story unintelligible to the uninitiated. Less forgiveably, he is weak on the activities of Greens in the Bundestag and on the effect Greens have had in local and state governments where  they have held office; he says little on the Greens' foreign and defence policy initiatives; and he gives scant consideration to the movement's cultural and intellectual influence.

Much of the problem here stems from Hulsberg's underlying world-view. As you might expect from an author who quotes Trotsky and Ernest Mandel at most available opportunities, he sees questions of "correct lines" and political leadership as central; and although his Leninism is subtle enough to allow him some useful insights (particularly on the Greens' economic programme, their relationship with the SDP, and the impossibility of parties like the Greens making headway in countries that don't enjoy a West German electoral system) too much of what he says makes assumptions that should have been jettisoned years back.

Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly the most comprehensive analysis of the Greens in English, and it should be read by everyone concerned with the future of the left in Britain. Even if the British electoral system rules out the formation of a serious British Green party and the British left is stuck with Labour, we can still learn from the West German Greens' experience: to put it mildly, British left political culture could do with an injection of their imaginative, decentralist anti-authoritarianism, and the Labour Party needs something more than improving its public image if it is to cope with the modern world.