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.