Friday, 8 December 1989


Paul Anderson, review  of Playing With Trains by Stephen Poliakoff (RSC), Tribune, 8 December 1989

Stephen Poliakoff has a theory about why Britain is in such an economic mess: we're good at inventing but bad at exploiting the commercial potential of our inventions.

This is a lament that has recurred in British politics since the end of the last century — since the beginning of Britain's decline as an imperial power, in fact — but to see Playing With Trains you would think that Poliakoff was the first to think of it. The play's didactic enthusiasm is at first refreshing but after a while becomes irritatingly unsubtle and repetitive.

The plot on which Poliakoff hangs his big idea is a simple one. Bill Galpin (Michael Pennington) is a single-minded engineer/inventor with two children (Lesley Sharp and Simon Russell Beale). We join them in 1967 as they prepare to move house after Bill has made a small fortune for inventing an automatic record player. From then on, it's rise and fall. Bill first becomes still richer through his inventions, then makes a mark as an outspoken campaigner for industrial and political backing for innovators, then finally is ruined by an unwise libel action.

Bill is no one-dimensional hero, and the domestic angle of his story — progressive estrangement from his offspring as he becomes more and more obsessive provides welcome dramatic relief from his confrontations with bureaucrats and his pubic speeches.
But in the end none of this amounts to much.

Poliakoff dealt with the theme of obsessive genius overlooking domestic commitment far better in his previous play for the RSC, Breaking the Silence (which also had the bonus of an exotic Russian revolutionary setting). And Britain's economic disaster simply doesn't have quite as much to do with frustated innovators as Poliakoff believes.

Friday, 1 December 1989


Paul Anderson, review of New Times by Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques (eds) (Lawrence and Wishart, £9.95), Tribune, 1 December 1989

The basic thrust of Marxism Today's "New Times" thesis – you've read the magazine articles and seen the manifesto, now read bits of both in a book – is simple. The organisation of production in the developed west has changed. The era of "Fordism", of production lines in giant factories turning out standardised products, is over. The revolution in information technology means that small-batch production and small factories, with more flexible specialised labour forces, are increasingly the norm.

In line with, and partly as a result of, these changes in production, other things have changed too. The composition of the working class has changed dramatically: it is now split into an affluent core of securely employed, skilled, full-time workers (disproportionately male and white), and a poor periphery (disproportionate female and black), where part-time and casual work and unemployment are the options.

With the decline in the traditional manual working class and the growth in importance of consumption in everyday life, people see themselves less and less as members of social classes, defining themselves increasingly as individual consumers and citizens, or as members of gender, sexual-preference and ethnic groups. Everything from philosophy to television reflects all this. Homogeneity is out. Diversity is in. The left must adapt by jettisoning most of the baggage acquired during the Fordist era – centralisd nationalisation in economic policy, Leninist "democratic centralism", class politics, admiration for "actually existing socialism" in the eastern bloc, and hostility to individualism and consumption.

The first thing to be said about all this is that, for all the claims to novelty, there isn't much that's very original about it. Borrowings from the Frankfurt school, the French post-modernists, liberal pluralist political theory and anarchism sit uneasily together.

And the heart of the argument – all the stuff about changes in the nature of production meaning the end of the Fordist era of the "mass worker" – is a sanitised version of mid-seventies Italian and French neo-Marxist theories of capitalist restructuring.

According to these thinkers, working-class insurgency was forcing capitalists to discover new ways of ensuring their control of production, by splitting up the workforce through decentralisation, replacing key workers with robots, moving production to Third World countries and so on. Our thoroughly post-modern communists remove the engine of class struggle from this rather interesting old jalopy, give the bodywork a quick respray job, and try to pass off the result as a spanking new model.

But this is by the way. What about the validity or otherwise of the "New Times" thesis? It certainly cannot be dismissed out of hand. The developed west has witnessed dramatic changes in the organisation of production in the past decade, and the era of the Fordist assembly line does seem to be coming to an end – at least in North America, Japan and western Europe. Traditional class identities are weaker than hitherto. Nationalisation and Leninism are dead-ends for the left. Many of the essays in this volume are succinct and serious contributions to our understanding of the world in which we live.

Nevertheless, there are weaknesses in the analysis too. First, it exaggerates the extent of "Post-Fordism" in production. In particular, even if the developed west is seeing the end of the Fordist factory, the rest of the world is not. None of the contributors to New Times, with the exception of Mike Rustin (who contributes a critique of the thesis) has anything to say about the new international division of labour.

Worse still, as Paul Hirst points out, the "New Times" thesis is essentially a crudely economic determinist one which exaggerates the impact in the wider world of changes in production.

Both these lines of criticism point to the conclusion that the changes of the past decade are rather less "epochal" than the "New Times" types would have us believe. Which in turn points to the real problem of the "New Times" thesis: its political function. Its central political argument is that Leninism, centralised nationalisation, class politics and admiration for eastern bloc "socialism" are dead-ends because the Fordist era is over.

That is implicitly to argue that all of them were fine and dandy while Fordism ruled the roost. To me, that seems simply to be a way that the dwindling band of Communist Party members can disown everything the party once stood for without ever subjecting its past to criticism. I suppose that's emotionally easier than admitting they were wrong all along, but the intellectual dishonesty is breathtaking.

Friday, 3 November 1989


Paul Anderson, review of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by August Wilson (National, Cottesloe), Tribune, 3 November 1989

In his native United States, the black playwright August Wilson is big. From Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the first of his works to be staged here, it's not hard to see why. Wilson's ear for the poetry of everyday language is extraordinary, his didactic purpose tempered by the unusual ability to create believable characters whose views are entirely at odds with his own.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is of a genre that British audiences will find familiar enough, a musical drama that uses the experience of black American entertainment stars — in this case, Ma Rainey, "the Mother of the Blues", and her band, who are recording in a Chicago studio in 1929 — as a means of exploring the whole system of racism in the United States. What sets it apart is its subtlety. Wilson refuses to see his black characters simply as put-upon heroes; all are complex, fully formed characters.

The play begins with the seedy, white recordingstudio owner (Tom Chadbon) and Ma's white manager (William Hoyland) preparing for the session. The band arrives, without Ma, and makes ready to rehearse In fact, precious little rehearsing happens. The four band-members bicker and joke, and from the start it's clear that there is tension between Levee (Hugh Quarshie), the flash, young cornet-player who wants a band of his own playing sophisticated dance music for whites, and the others, particularly Toledo (Clarke Peters), the pianist, who's something of an intellectual and an advocate of black self-reliance.

Eventually, Ma (Carol Woods-Coleman) arrives, and after further delays, the recording session takes place. In the meantime, the tension between Levee and the others mounts inexorably. Toledo's taunts that he's just a collaborator with the white man are rebuffed by Levee, who reveals that, as a boy, he was knifed by a gang of whites who were attempting to rape his mother, and that his father was lynched while trying to avenge her.

But any sympathy this generates among his fellows quickly disappears. Levee brags, offends religious sensibilities, loses his temper and rages after another band-member with a knife, plays his cornet too flamboyantly and, worst of all, refuses to accept Ma's authority. He is fired from the band after the sessions.

He doesn't care, but then the white studio-owner tells him that he is reneging on his promise of a band. Levee is devastated and, when Toledo treads on his shoe, he loses his temper , again and kills him.

The moral of this story – that blacks are exploited by whites and often, wrongly, turn their anger against their fellow blacks – is clear enough, but Wilson's script never descends to crude agitprop. With some excellent acting (Hugh Quarshire's Levee, Clarke Peters' Toledo and Carol Woods-Coleman's Ma in particular), some competent music (provided by the actors on stage) and an impressive set, Howard Davies's production is one of the most refreshing pieces currently on the London stage.


Paul Anderson, Tribune, 3 November 1989

Ewan MacColl, who died last week at the age of 74, was at the centre of two of the most significant developments in the arts in post-war Britain: the rise of a populist political theatre and the "folk revival".

From the vantage point of the late eighties, both phenomena seem past their peak. Indeed, folk music today is for the most part back underground, its place in the affections of young people long ago taken by commercial pop, most (at least until the current world music craze) of it rooted in black America.

Populist political theatre is rather more visible, but it has been severely curtailed by the financial rigours and political exhaustion of ten years of Thatcherism.

Still, both have been crucial in moulding the cultural landscape of our times, and neither would have been anything like as important had it not been for the contribution of Ewan MacColl.

Born James Miller in Auchterander in 1915, MacColl joined the Young Communist League at the age of 14. In thirties' Manchester, as a member of a street-corner agitprop group, he was discovered by a young stage designer who was working at the local Gaiety Theatre with the exiled German playwright Ernst Toller. The young designer was Joan Littlewood, and the meeting was the start of a long and fruitful creative relationship that was to culminate in the creation of Theatre Workshop in 1946 which, after years of touring, settled in the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1953.

It is no exaggeration to say that Theatre Workshop revolutionised British theatre, introducing an exuberant style of ensemble playing, often involving song and dance, that was in its own way as deeply subversive of stuffy theatrical convention as Look Back in Anger or anything else put on by the Royal Court in the fifties. Its spirit lives on, not just in the populist radicalism that still informs the Theatre Royal and many other companies, but even in the mainstream. MacColl's contribution included the authorship of Theatre Workshop's biggest pre-Stratford hit, Uranium 235, an anti-bomb drama performed at the Edinburgh People's Festival (a precursor of the Fringe) in 1951.

The fifties saw MacColl increasingly making his mark as a folk musician, performing and recording the "lost" music of ordinary British people as well as songs by his own hand.
MacColl's discoveries came particularly from the urbanindustrial working class and from Scotland and Ireland: not for him the celebration of a mythical English rural idyll, His own compositions were songs of struggle — as often bleak and harsh as they were tender, and often intensely political. More than anyone else, MacColl was responsible for making folk the soundtrack of the Aldermaston generation.

The folk revival burned itself out by the late sixties, unable to compete with the pop music that the folkies hated so much. Increasingly, MacColl and his wife, Peggy Seeger, herself an accomplished musician, ploughed a lonely furrow, their work appreciated by an enthusiastic following (particularly on the left, for whose causes MacColl was such a great benefit performer to the very last) but never gaining the mass audience it undoubtedly deserved.

All that may be changing again now, as boredom with recycling of rhythm and blues prompts young musicians to look at other popular music styles and traditions. Most obviously, MacColl's work has been a major influence on the best band to have come out of Ireland in recent years, The Pogues, who had a hit a couple of years back with MacColl's "Dirty Old Town"; but there are plenty of others in his debt.

His death is a great loss for everyone on the left, and it is difficult to believe that we'll see his like again.

Friday, 27 October 1989


Paul Anderson, review of Negotiating the Rapids: Socialist Politics for the Nineties by the Socialist Society (£2.95), Tribune, 27 October 1989

And now, after all the military metaphors – the "forward march", the "war of position", the "fight back" – something that really fits eighties Britain.

Yes, we're canoeing. It's unclear whether this is some local government-funded youth-club scam or the real thing, self-managed by autonomous creative subjects, but the Socialist. Society is out for adventure in the mountains, paddling dynamically through the white water of our political predicament.

It certainly makes a change from the rooms filled with smoke and fat trade union fixers, and the pacifist in me cannot help but applaud the scrupulous avoidance of the left's traditional rhetoric.

The metaphor is telling none the less: canoeing down mountain streams is virtuoso stuff, and for most people something to be admired from the riverbank, even if the canoeist insists that it's easy really and everyone ought to join in. If the canoeist shows all the signs of being about to capsize or founder on rocks, of course, it's much worse than that.

Which is not to say that most of us could not do with a breath of invigorating libertaian fresh air, and there's plenty here: denunciations of "the exhausted traditions of the Second, Third and Fourth Internetionals"; assertions that socialism is "a process of collective self-emancipation, deferring to no established authority"; insistence that any future socialism ' must be green.

But the canoeist's approach to the hostile stream is unreliable. The dangers of deep right-wing social democratic currents are systematically overestimated: those of Leninist boulders are ignored unless than can be labelled "Stalinist". The possibility that "new-look" Labourism might have just a few features that make it significantly better than Wilson-Callaghanism (its policies on the environment, transport, health and decentralisation of power, for example) is not seriously considered. Nor is the possibility that it might just be worth continuing to keep up the libertarian left pressure on the Labour leadership from within the Labour Party.

Meanwhile the near-total failure of vanguardist politics in Britain – not just Arthur Scargill's handling of the miners' stirke, Militant in Liverpool and Ted Knight's Lambeth debacle, but also the way that the Trotskyist sects' hyper-activism and megalomania have turned off thousands from any sort of socialism – is simply overlooked.

I get the feeling that, if the Socialist Society were to succeed in its long-term aim of creating a green left party, it would be immediately swamped by the 57 varieties. Then again, given that a green left party could thrive only under proportional representation, and PR is at best unlikely in the foreseeable future, perhaps that's the sort of problem that need not exercise us overmuch.

So, although there is much sense in Negotiating the Rapids (and I've not mentioned some excellent critical passages on identity politics, environmentalism and Ireland), it finishes the course badly holed. The Socialist Society might be going in the right direction, but it still has a lot to sort out before its practice and its rhetoric of left renewal are fully integrated.

Friday, 13 October 1989


Paul Anderson, review of A Vain Conceit by D J Taylor (Bloomsbury, £4.99), Tribune, 13 October 1989

D J Taylor believes that British fiction is in a bad way. The big names — Margaret Drabble, Kingsley Amis, John. Fowles, Iris Murdoch — write books that ' fail to connect with the realities of our society. Their reputations are sustained by a literary establishment of obsequious, lazy, middlebrow, xenophobic, philistine publishers, reviewers and reviews editors. Meanwhile, iconoclastic, politically committed writers are ignored.

There's some truth in this thesis. Many of the big names of British fiction do produce tedious, cliched, polite, petty-bourgeois drivel. Most Fleet Street reviewers are insufferably servile. Coteries abound.

The problem is that there are enough exceptions to the rules for Taylor's argument to appear foolish. Many of Taylor's favoured authors — Martin Amis, Kazuro Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, Jeanette Winterson, Graham Swift — might be considered dangerously subversive by their stuffy elders, but they are hardly outsiders. All get serious money out of writing.

Nevertheless, in the course of his polemic, Taylor scores several direct hits. His withering critiques of Drabble and Amis senior are both amusing and apposite, and his account of the business of reviewing is, for the most part, depressingly accurate (though the nepotism is inexplicably underplayed). Taylor is suitably irreverent about the impact of structuralism and post-structuralism on both critics and novelists, and he does a wonderful demolition job on the populist anti-intellectual snobbery so widespread in Britain.

On the other hand, Taylor can't resist the unsubstantiated assertion. In particular, he makes much of "the futility of thinking that you can satisfactorily represent in fiction the complexities of life in modern Britain"; "writers have lost the ability to describe and define the society of which they are a part"; "any attempt at the panorama effect is bound to fetch up as a queerly narrow perspective". Really? And, if so, why?

Taylor also has little to say about the implications of the takeover of British publishing by conglomerates, and hardly mentions the growing tendency of publishers to concentrate advertising budgets solely on would-be best-sellers. Yet these changes in the publishing industry are crucially important reasons for the stagnation and exclusiveness that Taylor so deplores. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has missed a golden opportunity to blow the gaff.

Friday, 29 September 1989


Paul Anderson, review of Blueprint for a Green Economy by David Pearce et al (Earthscan, £9.99), Tribune, 29 September 1989

How much is a clean North Sea worth? What price would you put on the Brazilian rain forest? What is the cost of nuclear power in the light of Chernobyl? Such questions seem strange to us, even slightly mad. Indeed, to most people the idea of giving cash values to measures of environmental quality is not just unfamiliar but wrong. The quality of the environment is the kind of thing that money just can't buy.

Then again, there is plenty that we now habitually value in money terms that our forebears considered incapable of such treatment — most obviously work.

Many writers influenced by Marx's critique of commodity fetishism and alienation see the history of capitalism as a seemingly inexorable process of more and more things and activities in more and more places being treated as tradeable commodities. If they are right, it could be merely a matter of time before the idea of pricing the environment is. accepted "common sense".

Blueprint for a Green Economy, the "Pearce report" given so much publicity last month by Chris Patten, the environment minister, argues strongly that giving money values to costs of "environmental service?, in the context of a market economy, is the best way of ensuring "sustainable development".

"While there remains a. quite warranted suspicion that the process of money valuation is illicit in some contexts, the reality is that choices have to be made in contexts of scarce resources," the authors state blithely. "Money as a measuring rod is a satisfactory means of proceeding." With that minor obstacle cleared, the rest of the book is taken up with discussions of how environmental costs could be calculated and how they could be passed on to producers and consumers, in the form of tax incentives, to ensure that the preservation and enhancement of the environment is taken seriously into account in economic decision-making. The obvious alternative to such a market-based system of environmental regulation, the simple setting' and enforcing of environmental standards without the aid of market incentives, is given short shrift on grounds of its "inflexibility".

As Henry Neuburger explained in his economic commentary (Tribune, September 1), this is not exactly a free-market position;: decisions about the standards to be encouraged by the market would be essentially political. Nevertheless, Pearce et al sail far too close to the market wind.

When the air we breathe becomes a commodity, something must be seriously amiss in our relationship to the world.


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 29 September 1989

The journalists in the bar at the Green Party conference in Wolverhampton last week, uneasy in their cheap suits and polished shoes, grumbled that the chaos made it impossible to report anything, and the weekend's papers were unanimous in bemoaning the Greens' lack of a "professional" hierarchical structure — but the Greens can afford to be just a little pleased with themselves this week.

With the exception of a procedural row that lost two hours of conference time on Thursday, nothing happened in the Wolverhampton Civic Hall to put the party in a particularly bad light. The Greens came across as somewhat anarchic and eccentric, but the rabid extremists warned about by right-wing leader-writers were nowhere to be seen.

The Greens applauded warmly when Sara Parkin, the party's number-one television star, warned that "parasites" might turn their attentions to the Greens; Jonathon Porritt, the nearest the Greens get to an intellectual figurehead, got a similar reception when he attacked those who accused the party of "authoritarianism".

The party's left, the Assocation of Socialist Greens, was routed in policy debates, and there was no sign of either right-wing romantics or hair-shirted Calvinists. The cleancut media professionals who believe the Greens to be "neither right or left but ahead" were in the driving seat, supported by members as reasonable, libertarian and middle class as the old Liberals.

The party's policies belie this refusal to be situated on the left-right continium. On most issues, the Greens are well to the left of Labour. The one area where the Greens do seem to have a good case for claiming to be "neither right nor left" is their opposition to industrialism; but so vague are the Greens' proposals that this is a matter less of policy than of attitude.

In the end, the Greens' insistence on not being "left" is a signal that they want neither to be associated with the grim realities of social democracy and Leninism in power — nor to be submerged by manipulative Trotskyist entrists.

It has worked so far. The Greens have reached parts of the affluent south that. other left parties cannot reach, and up to now Ms Parkin's "parasites" have steered clear. The party has an openness, enthusiasm and friendliness about it that few labour movement institutions can match, and there is none of the cloying deference before leaders that afflicts all the major parties.

The problem is what happens next. For the foreseeable future, the Greens have no hope, barring a by-election miracle, of winning seats, except in local government.

Labour will not offer them an electoral pact — which in any case the Greens decided at the weekend they did not want.

The media's cure for the Greens' ills is a "proper leader", but the evidence. of Wolverhampton is that having the party represented to the media by people with little or no executive power works perfectly well.

The Greens' problem is not their internal organisation, even if it could do with being tightened up, but the British electoral system – and there's nothing they can do to`change that. The Greens face a long, hard voyage and, although only a fool would write them off, the wrecked hulks of the Liberals and the SDP are a terrible warning.

Friday, 1 September 1989


Paul Anderson, Sanity column, September 1989

One of the three Czechoslovaks expelled from Britain for spying in May was Jan Sarkocy, a political secretary at the Czechoslovak em­bassy. The British authorities have not said ex­actly what he is supposed to have done. For all I know, he might be a top-level StB spook who has stolen Britain's most valuable secrets. I was hoping to ask him, but he called off a lunch date because he was busy packing. Somehow, though, I doubt he was much more than what he said he was – the junior diplomat responsi­ble for relations with peace movements in Bri­tain (and women, he would add sheepishly).

There was something about Sarkocy, despite his James Bond good looks, that made him an extremely improbable secret agent.

I first met him when I worked for European Nuclear Disarmament. He'd got in touch because he wanted to discuss a complaint END had made about treatment of Charter 77, the Czechoslovak dissident movement with which END had had a long and fruitful exchange of ideas. Because END had a policy of behaving in a civilised manner to the eastern European authorities – a policy not often reciprocated – a woman colleague invited Sarkocy to the office for a chat.

After that he kept inviting himself back. He didn't try to blackmail or extract information. In fact, his conversation was decidedly minimal. When he wasn't blushing and studying his shoes – they must run a blushing and shoe-studying course at the Czech diplomatic school – he just gazed starry-eyed at my col­league's long blond hair, wearing an inane grin.

Although the rest of the END staff found it very funny, she tired of it after a while and fobbed Sarkocy off on me.

By this time I was working at Tribune. Sarkocy came to see me five or six times in all, for the most part asking stupid questions about the peace movement that a cursory reading of its press would have answered. I responded politely, taking care never to tell him anything important. I wondered why on earth he was go­ing through the routine, which would always end in my saying that I didn't think that much of the way his government treated its dissi­dents and his blushing and studying his shoes.

Once, though, proceedings got a little hotter. Last summer, a Tribune contributor rang me in
a state of great excitement to say he'd just been thrown out of Czechoslovakia, along with other western peace movement activists. Their meeting with Charter 77 in Prague had been broken up by leather-jacketed secret police. I arranged that he should come round for lunch. Then, around 1 o'clock, Sarkocy walked through the door. I'd forgotten that I'd agreed to meet him. I hastily rang the contributor to put him off but he'd already left. So there was nothing for it  but to tell Sarkocy that I'd made a mess of arrangements and that if stayed he would no doubt be in for a verbal pasting.

“Ha! Ha!said Sarkocy, putting on his best in­ane grin, “We must talk about these problems.” But when the contributor arrived, there wasn't much of a chance for Sarkocy to get a word in edgeways. He just blushed and studied his shoes as the tirade went on and on: “What kind of government expels peace activists for hav­ing meetings with its citizens? A bloody dic­tatorship, that's the sort of government! Are you proud of the way your colleagues behave? Aren't you ashamed to serve such a govern­ment? I guess you're a secret policeman yourself, aren't you?”

Eventually, this was too much even for Sarkocy, who left, mumbling about in­vestigating complaints and sorting out pro­blems. I saw him only once after that, the day after Mikhail Gorbachev's speech to the United Nations. “The first we heard of it was on the television news,” he said disconsolately. “The Soviets don't tell us anything any more.”


Sanity, September 1989

All is not as rosy as it appears for Britain's environmentalist movement. It might be growing fast – but both the Green Party and the environmental pressure groups face hard political choices, writes Paul Anderson

Its over-rising concern is the environmental crisis threatening the globe – but the immediate problem faced by the British Green Party is the first-past-the-post electoral system.

Even if the Greens maintain or improve their current nine per cent standing in the opinion polls at the next general election, it is improbable that they will win even the small number of parliamentary seats that centre and nationalist parties have won on similarly small shares of the total vote. Unlike those parties, the Greens' support is fairly evenly spread throughout the country.

What the Greens need to stand a chance of parliamentary representation at the next election is at least one exceptional showing in a by-election during this parliament. This is by no means impossible. The electorate is as volatile and as disillusioned with the two major parties as it was in the early eighties, when the centre parties surged in the opinion polls and won a string of by-elections: and the centre parties appear to be in terminal crisis.

But the centre parties in the early eighties benefited both from their centrism and from a significant existing parliamentary base even before the creation of the SDP by defectors from the Labour right. The leading figures in the Liberal Party and SDP, for all their rhetoric of 'breaking the mould', were all safe, familiar politicians who had been at, or close to, the heart of government in the late seventies. And they had plenty of cash and powerful supporters in the media.

Their Ideology was essentially that of the post-war consensus that dominated British politics until the late seventies, which they believed had been abandoned by Labour and the Tories. The centre parties were advocates of the mixed economy, with state intervention to secure low unemployment and constant high growth, supporters of the welfare state, pro-American in defence policy and in favour of the European Community.

The Greens have none of these characteristics. They are not already in parliament, their politicians are not familiar, and their policies are anything but the stuff of the post-war consensus. They don't have much money, nor (today's support in the European elections notwithstanding) the sort of media support that the centre parties enjoyed.

Perhaps most important, the Greens are not quite sure of their political identity. The dominant group in the party is keen to avoid accusations of being left-wing, and emphasises that the Greens are "neither left nor right but ahead". It points, with justification, to the unpopularity of the hard left, to the environmental catastrophe of "actually existing socialism" in the Soviet bloc, and to the differences between Western social democracy and the Greens on industrial growth. The "Green Greens" believe they should be aiming to pick up votes from the centre and from hitherto apolitical "Green consumers", mostly middle-class; and they are anxious not to attract the attentions of far-left groups as the German Greens have done.

But there is a vocal minority of Greens arguing against this approach, even If they do not envisage a conventionally left-wing party. "Red Greens'", organised into the Association of Socialist Greens, point, also with justification, to the radical global redistributive measures at the heart of the Green programme, the Greens' necessary hostility to market capitalism and the party's leftist defence and foreign policies. They think that the Greens can best gain votes from disillusioned left-wing Labour voters. Many others in the party less committed to leftism (or indeed overtly hostile) are equally concerned that concentration on Green consumers runs the risk of diluting the fundamental Green message.

These groups can of course be reconciled in the short run by keeping everything vague. In the long term, however, the tension between green consumers and proponents of far-reaching political change are going to be hard to contain. Are the Greens simply a repository for the votes of rich muesli-eating professionals who don't want a Barratt estate in their village? Or are they a party that stand for massive tax increases to aid the Third World?

None of this means that the Greens have no hope of emulating the centre parties' early-eighties success; but it does mean that they face an uphill struggle. The tide of public opinion seems to be running in their favour. But in the absence of another Chernobyl or the defection to the Greens of disillusioned Liberal or Labour MPs, it could well be that the best the Greens can hope for is a steady increase in the Green vote both in parliamentary and local council elections, with a concomitant slow growth in membership and strengthening of organisation.

That could mean overtaking the centre parties' share of the vote at the next general election and a better chance of by-election upsets in the next parliament, and perhaps, in the very long run, the Greens emulating Labour's growth in the first 20 years of the century. But nothing can be guaranteed – and meanwhile the ecological crisis gets deeper. So what to do in the mean-time? One answer is to press for electoral reform to get Greens into parliament sooner rather than later. But to introduce proportional representation there has to be a majority in favour in the House of Commons. Barring an unlikely conversion to PR by the Labour Party, that won't happen.

It is thus hardly surprising that many environmentalists are not members of or even voters for the Greens, preferring instead to concentrate their efforts on the environmentalist pressure groups that are trying to influence the established opposition political parties, the government and the media. Indeed, it is the pressure groups, particularly Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, that have been largely responsible for the change in public perceptions of environmental issues that is behind the recent growth in the Green vote and the subsequent attempts of the established political parties to prove themselves environment-friendly.

Friday, 25 August 1989


Paul Anderson, review of A Commitment to Campaign: A Sociological Study of CND by John Mattausch (Manchester, £29.95), Tribune 25 August 1989

Back in the sixties, Frank Parkin did a study of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Middle Class Radicals, that is still on the reading lists of political sociology students in Britain's universities.

Parkin's line on the first "ban-the-bomb" movement, based largely on responses to questionnaires put out well after it had passed its peak, was that it was something of an emotional prop for its deviant, alienated, highly educated adherents. It is a measure of how far this analysis hurt that books are still being written to attack it.

Mattausch starts from methodological premises: Parkin was writing before ethnomethodology and phenomenology hit British sociology: overwhelmed by positivism, he never engaged in empathetic understanding of how his "middle class radicals" perceived their project in the context of their everyday lives. In other words, Parkin didn't spend hours and hours listening to what CNDers had to say and recording it in minute detail.

Mattausch has an important point: it is daft to make grand assumptions about what motivates people without talking to them, and in-depth interviews are undoubtedly the best way of finding out what people think.

But that's not the end of the story. Doing sociology this way has its own problems. Which people should be chosen for interview, and how should they be chosen? How can the chosen few be considered "typical" of those not interviewed? And what should the interviewees be asked?

Mattausch chose to talk to "grass-roots" CND members and elected officers in two groups, one in a Scottish city and another in the south of England, and interviewed them in most detail about their CND activities and employment, with general political beliefs and ideas about international affairs taking a back seat. Much that comes out of the interviews is interesting, not least the heterogeneity of the CNDers' broad political views and the disproportionate number of them who work as welfare professionals.

But the overall effect is rather frustrating. His samples are small, and are drawn from only two places, both with very particular political cultures, so it is difficult to draw many substantial general conclusions from his research. More important, the absence from his "interview schedule" of serious questions about attitudes to international affairs severely limits the value of the whole exercise.

Mattausch's book provides some useful insights into the peace movement, but much of the picture is missing.


Paul Anderson, review of A Flea in Her Ear by Georges Feydeau (Old Vic) , Tribune 25 August 1989

Georges Feydeau was a contemporary of Alfred Jerry and Sigmund Freud, and his work, like Jarry's and Freud's, was much admired by later surrealists and absurdists. Eugene Ionesco, for example, described Feydeau as "the true precursor of the Marx Brothers and other American comedians, in whose work everything starts with apparent casualness, only to end up in a state of precipitation — which may well be an accurate caricature of our own agitation, our gallop towards the abyss".

So why not go for an uncompromising modernist interpretation of A Flea in Her Ear? That is certainly what Richard Jones has tried with his Old Vic production, which goes out of its way to emphasise the serious modern core of Feydeau's farce.

Out go the stuffy interiors and costumes normally associated with fin de siecle French vaudeville; in come some exquisite sets from the Brothers Quay (an elegant office and the seediest brothel imaginable) and some gloriously improbable over-the-top outfits (at least for the women) by Sue Blanc. Instead of presenting believable characters in an improbable situation, as Feydeau intended, the play becomes the nightmare story of Victor Emmanuel Chandebise's fantasy of sexual impotence, peopled by ghoulish caricatures. The whole thing is taken at about half the normal farce pace.

All this works particularly well where the caricatures are particularly cruel — as with Kevin William's psychotic hot-blooded Carlos Homenides De Histangua, Phelim McDermott's ineffectual Camille Chandebise and Matthew Scurfield's sadistic brothel-keeper.

There are times when no amount of clowning can make up for the (deliberate) lack of characterisation in Feydeau's parts and times (remarkably few) when the play is simply too slow but, on the whole, Jones's unorthodox treatment is both instructive and hugely entertaining.

Friday, 4 August 1989


Paul Anderson, review of For Anarchism by David Goodway (ed) (Routledge, £12.95), Tribune, 4 August 1989

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, anarchism had significant influence in radical peasant and working-class movements throughout the world, particularly in southern Europe, Russia and Latin America. But that influence declined rapidly after the Bolshevik revolution. In Russia, the anarchists were the first victims of the Red terror; in Italy, they were eclipsed by fascism; in Spain, they were first skewered by the Comintern then roasted by Franco.

In France and most the rest of the world they slipped slowly into the political margins, unable to compete with the partisans of a "successful" revolution for the allegiance of workers, peasants and intellectuals who wanted more drastic change than that promised by reformist social democracy. By the fifties, although the flame was kept alive by small schismatic groups of intellectuals, anarchism seemed to be finished.

But then came an unexpected revival. From the late fifties, anarchism once again established itself as a current in the radical left — not this time among peasants and workers in societies just beginning to industrialise, but among the young of the developed world, disillusioned by the banal consumerism of the west and repelled by the police states of "actually existing socialism". In 1968, the anarchist black flag flew above the Sorbonne.

Even in Britain, anarchist groups and magazines blossomed through the sixties and seventies. Few lasted long, and the number of "self-confessed" anarchists at any one time was tiny, as it still is. Paris 1968 and the 1981 riots notwithstanding, revolution in Britain has not been on the cards for at least 60 years, and a revolutionary ideology without even the petty authoritarian organisation of the Leninist sects stands little chance of holding on to most of its adherents.

Nevertheless, libertarian ideas — about decentralisation and democratisation of power, direct action and autonomous self-organisation — have had a massive effect on the left and on wider social movements in the past 30 years. With Leninism appearing more and more bankrupt, libertarianism has been the obvious tradition to turn to for alternatives to orthodox social democracy. Even the Communist Party is saying things today that it would not have looked out of place in Anarchy in the early sixties.

The cover of For Anarchism, a book of essays from the History Workshop Anarchist Research Group, boasts that its contributors demonstrate that anarchism is a "vital, creative tradition which should once more be considered seriously", so I was looking forward to some analysis of the post-68 impact of libertarian ideas in its pages. But I was disappointed.

David Goodway provides an upbeat introduction on the fortunes of British "true-believer" anarchism in the'past 30 years, but fails to address the question of anarchism's broad influence; and although the book's historical studies of turn-of-the-century anarchist thought and practice and its contributions to contemporary political philosophy are interesting enough if you like that sort of thing, they fall far short of fulfilling the blurb's promise.

Only Tom Cahill, with a piece on co-operatives, and Murray Bookchin, putting the case for eco-anarchism as the basis for any future left, really leave the academic anarchist ghetto to engage with the concerns of the wider world. Neither, however, gets much further than clearing his throat. Give me Colin Ward any day.

Friday, 21 July 1989


Paul Anderson, review of Fallen Angel and the Devil Concubine (Graduate Theatre Company, Almeida), Tribune, 21 July 1989

The Jamaican Graduate Theatre Company's offering for the London International Festival of Theatre tells the story of two destitute women, one white and one black, thrown together in a tumbledown, one-time colonial mansion in Kingston of which each claims to be the rightful owner. Lettie (Carol Lewis), the black woman, says she was left the house by the woman for whom she worked for 43 years; Katie (Honor Ford. Smith) says that the house was left her by her father.

As the play progresses, with both actresses putting in excellent performances, it becomes increasingly clear that both Lettie and Katie are hiding something. And in the final act each discovers the other's secret.

Lettie was disgraced after mothering an illegitimate child; Katie was disowned by her family because she eloped with a black man. Both have constructed myths about their pasts to protect themselves against a hostile world. Neither has a convincing legal claim to the house.
This is a didactic piece, pointing to the common experiences of womanhood and poverty that transcend racial and other prejudices, but it is not dire agitprop.

The characters are subtly observed and the dialogue (much of it in patois) fast and funny. And, like nearly everything else in LIFT, it's very different from anything now being done in the British theatre. Well worth catching.

Friday, 14 July 1989


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 14 July 1989

Peter Tatchell (Tribune, July 7) suggests a Labour-Green electoral pact "to establish a radical consensus rather than a centrist one" in British politics. "Both parties should consider an electoral agreement involving a single Labour or Green candidate, fighting on apolitical programme of environmental protection and social justice, plus proportional representation," he writes.

His proposal is almost certain to be dismissed by the powers-that-be in the Labour Party and, in the end, I suppose I agree with them. The massive Green vote in the European elections does not necessarily prove that the Green Party has arrived as a major force in British politics: 15 per cent in the Euroelections is not the same thing as a string of by-election victories.

And even if the Greens are here to stay, there are good reasons against a pact. Most important, there is no evidence to suggest that any sort of electoral pact actually works in a first-past-the-post electoral system – while there are good grounds for believing that Green voters would not vote Labour and that Labour voters would not vote Green if either were deprived of their first-choice candidate.

But I must admit that I've had to force myself to remember these arguments, because a pact with the Greens does look very attractive. Indeed there have been times in the past few weeks when I've even considered joining the Greens. That is not just because I've spent a great deal of the past decade working in the peace movement and now find the Labour policy review position on defence and foreign policy to be an opportunist mess. My disillusionment is not a matter of a "single issue". It has as much to do with the whole tenor of the programme that has emerged from the policy review.

Despite a few concessions to the radical democratic environmentalist politics that have been central to the libertarian left inside and outside the Labour Party for more than a decade, it is for the most part a restatement of the sort of centrist technocratic social democratic values and policies that characterised the Wilson and Callaghan governments. The declining faith of the British electorate in the wonders of every aspect of economic "progress", increasingly shared by ordinary Labour Party members, seems largely to have passed the Labour leadership by.

Labour is now promising a plethora of environmental regulations to control pollution and food safety, measures to conserve energy and encouragement for public transport. But the greening visible in the policy review report is only a small  qualification to its enthusiastic embrace of the "white heat of technological revolution" and its implicit acceptance that nothing need be done about Britain's permanent state.

Nuclear power generation will continue into the foreseeable future; there are no serious plans for reducing dependence on the private motor car; developing renewable energy sources will not be a priority. "Sustainable growth" doesn't get a mention in either economic or foreign policy. There's little on solving the housing crisis or rejuvenating the inner cities.

Decentralisation of democratic power and proportional representation are not on the agenda. With unilateralism gone, there's nothing that challenges the unaccountable power of the militaryrindustrial complex.

And so I could go on. I'm no hard leftist. I've no nostalgic yearning for the "nationalise everything" paternalist centralism of the Fabians and Stalinists of the thirties. Nor have I any sympathy with the Leninist workerist politics peddled by the 57 varieties of Trot or the Campaign Group's idea that all we need is a Labour government "with socialist policies" and plenty of will-power.

Forced to choose, I'd rather have centrist technocratic social  democracy than a Leninist dictatorship, "Tony Benn in Number 10" or five more years of Margaret Thatcher.

The problem is that I don't want that to be the choice, but increasingly feel powerless to temper the dominant trend in Labour politics. The intention of the leadership is clearly to push the policy review unamended through party conference this autumn, and opposition is likely to be muted, largely because a big row at this stage would do serious damage to Labour's chances of being elected to government.

Plenty of other people in the Labour Party feel the same way. Some will remain Labour Party members but put their energies into one of the environmental pressure groups. Others will undoubtedly jump ship to the Greens. I'm not joining them, and will be arguing (albeit unenthusiastically) for staying with Labour. Apart from the purely electoralist argument against joining the Greens or even voting for them, there's much in their programme (not least their advocacy of a negative-growth siege economy) that is unappealing and unrealistic, even if on balance their stance is a lot more attractive than Labour's policy review. Nevertheless, if the Labour leadership doesn't wake up on Green politics, I've got a feeling that the argument for staying with Labour will be a lot less persuasive.

Friday, 30 June 1989


Paul Anderson, review of A Rational Advance for the Labour Party by John Lloyd (Chatto, £2.99), Tribune, 30 June 1989

Written before the publication of Labour's policy review, John Lloyd's pamphlet, for Chatto's inaptly named and over-priced CounterBlasts series, has a curiously dated feel to it. It is an eloquent plea for Labour's leadership to do much that it has already done or signalled its intention to do in the battle for the centre ground: endorse "enterprise" and the market, drop the idea that public ownership is a matter of principle rather than expediency, abandon unilateral nuclear disarmament and antipathy to the European Community, weaken links with the trade unions, and adopt policies to make welfare bureaucracies more "transparent" and accountable — in short, turn Labour into a modern consumer-friendly social democratic party.

There are places where:Lloyd differs from the policy review. He embraces the rhetoric of °democratisation" much more enthusiastically and is much keener on constitutional reform, proposing proportional representation, an elected second chamber and a reduced role for the monarchy. He wants much swifter action to end the block vote than any Labour leader would dare suggest. And he is more open to electoral pacts with the centre parties than are most of the Labour right — at least in public.

Nevertheless, Lloyd must be well pleased. Labour has gone a long way to meeting his demands: only sentimentality now stops Labour from describing itself as social democratic. The right of the party is everywhere triumphant, and the left is marginalised.

But that doesn't mean that Lloyd's arguments are very convincing.

Most obviously, on defence and foreign policy, he displays the naive optimism of one who hasn't yet realised that George Bush is President of the United States: oblivious to the increasingly apparent deadlock in super-power diplomacy, he trots out all the tired old stuff about drifting with the tide of international relations and acting responsibly in international forums to encourage detente, disarmament and development.

But the main problems with his argument are to do with domestic policy. He's right in some rather trivial ways. Labour should be distinguishing its programme from "free-market neo-liberalism which allocates no place to democratic politics beyond periodic electoral contests" and from "extreme visions or realities of socialism which put politics in charge of everything and allow little or no choice". But only a few nutters believe otherwise. The key question dividing left and right in the Labour Party is not (and has never been) whether markets should have some role: it is how far markets should be left to their own devices and how far they should be over-ruled.

The Labour left wants democratic politics in firmer control of more markets than does the Labour right. It's a difference in degree rather than, as Lloyd pretends, a difference in kind, and it's a difference that has to be argued out market-by-market and control-by-control. Lloyd, however, is effusive about the wonders of markets in general. Markets mean "prosperity" and "choice", he believes: Labour should be trying to appeal to the beneficiaries of Thatcherism on Thatcherism's own terms. He seems to have forgotten that markets also mean insecurity, exclusion from prosperity and choice, economic instability, concentration of power and damage to the environment.

Indeed, the environment is the loose thread that threatens to unravel Lloyd's whole case. Firstly, his assumption that Labour's priority is to chase "never had it so good" Tory voters into the political centre with promises of more of much-the-same is seriously undermined by the willingness of 15 per cent of the electorate to vote Green in the European elections earlier this month. That shows that a significant proportion of the well-off are beginning to have doubts about the supreme value of ever-increasing consumption.

More important, though, there's the question of dealing with the environmental crisis itself. Lloyd himself writes that this may "require a profound change in consumption levels and expectations if disasters for at least part of the globe — they are likely to be the already-poorest — are to be averted". If this is so, as more and more evidence suggests, the necessary changes cannot be managed unless politics is put firmly in command of markets. That doesn't mean emulating the Stalinist command economies, but it does mean measures as antipathetic to market forces as any advocated in the past 30 years by the Labour left. Lloyd's recycled centrism simply doesn't take Green politics seriously.

Friday, 16 June 1989


Tribune, 16 June 1989

The opinion polls suggest that when the Euro-election results are announced on Sunday, there will have been a massive surge in the Green Party's vote. Paul Anderson looks at the greening of British politics and talks to David Gee, shortly to become director of Britain's most important environmentalist pressure group, Friends of the Earth

The past six months have seen something unprecedented in British politics: all the major political parties trying to outdo one another in expressing their concern for the environment.

The reason is simple: opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that voters are turning environmentalist in ever-increasing numbers. Unless the major political parties can show that they share the voters' concerns, the tiny Green Party is set to steal votes in elections.

Last month, it took an average of 8.7 per cent of the poll in the seats it contested in the county council elec­tions; in parts of the south-west it took 14 per cent, and in much of south well over 10 per cent. An opinion poll in the Daily Telegraph last week put the Greens' support at 5.5 per cent nationally, above the Social Democrats and not far behind the Social and Liberal Democrats.

As Tribune went to press this week, British Greens were confident of getting 1 million votes in the Euro-elections, in which they were contesting every seat in Britain and Northern Ireland.

The first-past-the-post electoral system means that the Greens are not well placed to win seats at any Level. In the county council elections they won only one, in the Isle of Wight. But the major parties are worried in the short term about the impact of substantial Green votes in marginal constituencies, and in the longer run about the possibility of a breakthrough.

The British electorate has become increasingly volatile and unpre­dictable as the loyalty of voters to their" parties has weakened since the war, another Chernobyl or food poisoning scare, and who's to say that the Greens could not emulate the successes of the Social Democratic Party in the early eighties?

The growing electoral threat to the major parties posed by the Green Party is not, however, largely of its own doing. The Greens are growing fast, at a rate of .600 re­cruits a month. With 11,000 mem­bers the party now has more paid-up members than the Social Demo­crats or Communists. But it is still  not big enough to be more than an electoral machine riding on changes in public opinion for which it deserves little credit.

The greening of the British electorate upon which the Green Party's rise has depended has been the product of a gradual change in political culture in which non-party pressure groups have played the crucial role.

Of these, the two most important are Greenpeace, with 250,000 sup­porters, and Friends of the Earth, with just under 100,000. They share many objectives and campaign on many of the same issues; both are part of worldwide environmentalist organisations; both have highly re­garded teams of expert researchers; and both have grown dramatically in the past two years.

But they differ radically in their chosen political strategies. Greenpeace has adopted spectacular direct action as its central means of gaining publicity, while FoE has concentrated on a more traditional pressure group role, aiming, in the words of Jonathon Porritt, its cur­rent director, "to provide accessible, authoritative information; to target politicians and other decision-makers to bring about appropriate policy changes; and to promote posi­tive, sustainable alternatives to these policies which now so comprehensively threaten the environ­ment".

In the early days of the current environmentalist movement, when green issues were dismissed by the mainstream political parties and the media as the prerogative of sandal-wearing freaks, there can be little doubt that Greenpeace's "stunt poli­ties" had the greater impact on public opinion. Today, with the en­vironment at the top of the party-political agenda and never out of the headlines, it is FoE's strategy that is in the ascendant.

“It's fair to say that we're now setting the environmental agenda," says one FoE campaigner. "On a whole series of questions, from air pollution to the tropical rain forests, we've got journalists and politicians - and even some industrialists - queuing up for our opinions." On present trends FoE looks set to be one of the most influential Brit­ish pressure groups of the nineties.

In such circumstances, it is rather surprising that the media hardly noticed that the man chosen earlier this year to succeed Jonathon Por­ritt at its helm has a very different background from that usually associated with environmentalists.

David Gee, who takes over from Mr Porritt next year after a year working as campaigns co-ordinator and director designate, has spent most of the past IS years working as a trade union official, first for the TUC and then for the General and Municipal Workers' Union (now the GMB).

At the TUC, he was involved in launching the ten-day training scheme for workplace safety repre­sentatives in the wake of the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act At the GMWU, he continued to work on workplace safety issues.

"Occupational risk and environmentalism are next-door fields," he says.” Increasingly I found myself working on workplace issues that spilled out into the wider commun­ity.

"Perhaps the principal one was asbestos, where the union's mem­bers had long been involved in making asbestos and in sticking it into buildings and ships. We'd had an active campaign for years. But after 1982, when a television pro­gramme alerted the wider public to the hazards of asbestos, there was a lot of community action against asbestos. We produced a leaflet to hit that market, -Asbestos in the Community. We got rid of thous­ands and thousands. There was no other organisation producing that sort of information.

“Then we went on to things like radiation, pesticides and other tone chemicals, the dangers of explosions in chemical plants, the transport of hazardous chemicals and so on - all workplace issues that have an im­pact on the community.

“In the past six or seven years, the public has come to realise that it's in the firing tine from risks emanating from workplaces that somehow spill out. Bhopal is the classic example.''

His increasingly broad environ­mentalist campaigning did not go down too well with some of his colleagues, however, not least be­cause he was a thorn in the side of British Nuclear Fuels, which em­ploys many GMB members. He was given his cards after accompanying his wife to Australia in defiance of a union decision that he could not have unpaid leave to go.

He is unwilling to go into detail about the incident. "The only thing I'd say is that when you're in the business of reducing risk, whether it is occupational risk or environmen­tal risk, you do come up against some very powerful vested in­terests, people whose short-term in­terests at least in maintaining the status quo." He is nevertheless opti­mistic about the possibilities of greening the trade unions: “The trade unions need to take on environmental issues because they affect their members and affect communities. They've tended to ignore environmentalism in the past, and there are good objective reasons that environmentalism is difficult for unions because of their stake in the status quo. But there are ways of overcoming a lot of that.

"Simultaneously, green groups have tended to ignore the trade unions, with a few notable excep­tions such as the co-operation of' Greenpeace and the National Union of Seamen over dumping at sea.

“One of my first tasks at FoE has been to draw up a strategy document on green groups and the unions, outlining why they've found it difficult to embrace one another, then explaining how it is in the  interests of both to come  together and suggesting practical steps we can be taking.”

Mr Gee is a member of the Labour Party, though by no means an un­critical one: the party's policy re­view document is, he thinks, weak in many areas. He is also keen to emphasise the non-partisan nature of his new job:

"I'm happy to work with any political party as long as if s going down the right road," he says, There's a fundamental shift in poli­tics going on throughout the indus­trialised world, and it's going to continue for the foreseeable future.

"Labour is joining it rather late, with some outdated ideas. It hasn’t yet got to grips with some of the best and most radical thinking in the environmental movement, for ex­ample the United Nations Brandt-land report, Our Common Future, which talks about sustainable de­velopment and says that the way economies are growing in the indus­trialised west is just not on.

"We've got to replace the sterile debate of ‘growth’ versus ‘no growth’ by talking about how we can carry on improving our quality of life without consuming all the world's resources so that there's nothing left for the next generation.

"Labour's policy review document is particularly weak in its thinking about the international measures needed to protect the environment. There is hardly any mention of Europe, yet almost all regulatory progress on pollution in the next decade is going to have to come out of Europe. International regulation is clearly going to be necessary to ensure that recent protocols on ozone and global warming are actually adhered to - and that means some form of global inspecto­rate."

By contrast, FoE is currently planning to step up its efforts in Europe, possibly putting full-time staff into Brussels.

On nuclear power, which the policy review suggests will be kept well into the next century, Mr Gee is scathing. “Labour needs to face up to the economic reality of nuclear power. Its time is up, particularly given the fact that it is going to be privatised.

“Previously, it was cushioned from the commercial world. Now it will almost certainly go the same way as it has in America. Renewables are coming on stream and we know more and more about energy efficiency. The apparent need for nuclear power will simply disappear.

On the other hand, he believes that the left has much to gain from environmentalism. “The reason environmentalism is not now a fringe issue is that people are realising that environmentalism brings up the age-old political questions of distribution on power and resources. Unless those two political issues are addressed, you can’t be serious about environmentalism.”

This puts the Tories in a quandary. “The Tories realise that environmentalism is moving to the centre stage politically, and they want to give the impression of meaning business.”

In the next six months, he says, we can expect some token gestures – perhaps the sort of Environmental Protection Agency that's now being suggested by Hugh Rossi, the Conservative MP for Hornsey and Wood Green. After all, Margaret Thatcher is searching for international credi­bility following the recent ozone conference.

"But the Tories are in deep trou­ble on the environment. You cannot achieve environmental standards either domestically or international­ly without regulation. Even prog­ressive capital wants regulation to get 'a level playing field for all competitors'. You can't achieve that just with codes of practice.

"Even more fundamentally, the Tories are m trouble over their basic philosophy of who gets what in the division of resources. You can't get a sustainable world going without shifting a lot of resources to the Third World. The First World made the hole in the ozone layer. If we now want the Chinese and the Indians to give up certain chemicals because of the ozone layer and it's going to cost them a lot of money, then they'll want to be reimbursed.

"On the 'polluter pays* principle, the First World has got no case at all for not reimbursing them. That excites me as a socialist, because instead of aid to the Third World being a moral thing, it's suddenly in the First World's direct interests to transfer a lot of resources to the Third World so it can develop dif­ferently and not damage the en­vironment."

Unsurprisingly, Mr Gee is sceptic­al of the "Green consumerism" that some have hailed as the way for­ward for the environmentalist movement. Tin not against using endorsement of a particular com­pany's product as environmentally sound if it’s going to act as a lever for other companies to improve their standards,” he says. “But if ‘green  consumerism’ is just another marketing opportunity, which is largely what it is at the moment, it's not going to do much to alter the fundamental problems."

So what should FoE be doing? Mr Gee again mentions working with the unions and in Europe. "We've also got to go to the political parties in a more sustained way. We've got to be setting the agenda for two or three years hence.

"We're now in a position where people want solutions to problems. Drawing people's attention to prob­lems, whether through stunts or whatever, was the task of the past decade. We have got to come up with technically sound, economically sound, detailed policies that are the answers to the current environmen­tal crisis. That is a huge task. We've virtually got to create an environ­mental protection agency in exile to do it."


Paul Anderson,Tribune, 16 June 1989

C L R James, who died a fortnight ago in London at the age of 88, was one of the most important Anglophone left intellectuals of this century. He was born and educated in Trinidad, emigrating to Britain in 1932 and becoming cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian.

It is for his writing on cricket that he is probably best known in Britain: Beyond a Boundary, published in 1963, is a brilliant exploration of the game's relationship to class and colonialism that has yet to be surpassed.

But his most lasting work is undoubtedly his historical writing, particularly The Black Jacobins (first published in 1938 and just reissued by Allison and Busby at £5.99), his pioneering Marxist study of the 1791-1803 slave revolt in San Domingo led by Toussaint L'Ouverture.

He was not, however, just a great historian and cricket writer. All his life he was a passionate active opponent of colonialism.

His polemical writings and speeches inspired many of the first generation of post-colonial politicians, especially in the Carribean, though he was less than inspired by them, particularly after returning to Trinidad in the fifties.

Before that, in the late thirties and forties, he had been one of the leading figures of the Trotskyist movement in Britain and then the United States; in the early fifties, working closely with Raya Dunayevskaya after both had broken with Trotskyism over the nature of the Soviet Union and the role of the vanguard party, he had played a major role in establishing a humanist Marxist (though still residually Leninist) intellectual current that prefigured much of the sixties New Left (not least, according to critics, by fabricating "first-person" accounts of life on the factory floor).

James lived his last years In Brixton, in a flat above the offices of Race Today magazine, which under the editorship of Darcus Howe adopted James's workerism and his insistence on autonomous black organisation outside the established labour movement.

Never an easy man to get on with, James had plenty of detractors as well as fervent disciples. Many of his political judgments were to say the least questionable. But for all his faults, nobody can deny his intellectual stature: the world has lost a great man.

Friday, 26 May 1989


Tribune, 26 May 1989

The new defence policy that emerged from Labour's policy review has been hailed by the centrist media as a step towards political realism. But it's not at all realistic if nuclear disarmament is genuinely Labour's goal, writes Paul Anderson

And so, after months of deliberation, the Labour leadership has decided to jettison the party's policy of British unilateral nuclear disarmament. Labour's National Executive Committee has backed a policy review group document that drops the party's promises to abandon the British Independent nuclear deterrent" and remove American nuclear bases from Britain.

According to the new leadership position, a Labour government would adopt a policy of "no first use" of British nuclear weapons; would build three Trident submarines rather than the four now planned; and would somehow get Britain's Trident and Polaris submarines into the second round of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks.

If this failed, a Labour government would go for a bilateral deal with the Soviet Union to get rid of Trident and Polaris in return for Soviet concessions.

A Labour government would oppose NATO's plans to modernise its short-range nuclear forces, and would encourage the inclusion of such weapons in the Conventional Forces in Europe talks. And it would attempt to get NATO to abandon its current "flexible response" doctrine by adopting "no first use".

In the meantime, it would shelter under, the American nuclear umbrella and refuse to promise not to "press the button".

What is most striking about the new policy is that it simply has not been thought through. The shift in policy is justified by its proponents solely by vague gestures towards the popular sense that "things have improved since Mikhail Gorbachev took over". Nothing has been looked at dispassionately or in detail.

Most obviously, the idea of putting Trident and Polaris into START 2 is a breathtakingly stupid policy if disarmament really is Labour's goal.

START 1, which must be concluded before START 2 begins, has only just begun. It is bogged down in disputes over sea-launched cruise missiles, Star Wars and mobile missiles. These will be resolved only if both super-powers are prepared to compromise. But while Gorbachev is flexible, George Bush shows every sign of adopting a hardline war position - like that taken by Ronald Reagan until the Iran-Contra scandal forced him to engineer the foreign policy triumph of the Intermediate Nuclear Pones treaty. As things stand, START 1 might deliver an agreement made a couple of years; but the smart money says it won't.

If that smart money is right, saying that Trident and Polaris wffl be negotiated away in START 2 is obviously ridiculous. But even if START 1 is a runaway success, there is no guarantee that there will be a START 2, let alone that the Soviet desire to have all the nuclear powers represented in the second stage of START will be accepted by the Americans. And if the Americans do accept non-super-power participation in START 2, it is difficult to see the French, Israelis, South Africans, Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese rapidly coming to an agreement to reduce their strategic nuclear armouries. "Ah, but...," say some of the Labour Centre-Left, "multilateral talks are not the whole policy. Robin Cook got the NEC to agree that if multilateral negotiations were delayed and showing no sign of pro-ducing an agreement to remove Trident, a Labour government would go for a bilateral disarmament agreement with the Soviet Union towards the end of its first term. Surely that deals with the problem?" Unfortunately, it doesn't. Mr Cook’s amendment is a small dose of sanity in an otherwise barmy scenario, raising the question of why time should be wasted pursuing a course of multilateral negotiations that everyone knows would get nowhere (if they ever started). At worst, it is a recipe for prevarication. How long would a Labour government wait before deciding that multilateral talks were unlikely to open? And if they opened, how long would it take before making a decision as to their success or failure?

A week might be a long time in politics, but four or five years is a very short time in international diplomacy, particularly where arms negotiations are concerned.

If, as the review group report states, Britain's nuclear arsenal doesn't really constitute a deterrent, and if the Trident programme is "wasteful, unnecessary and provocative", why bother with the tedious business of building three Trident submarines (not enough, incidentally, to constitute a deterrent as defined by establishment military wisdom), then trying against the odds to get a multilateral START 2 process going, then trying against even bigger odds to secure a consensus among the nuclear powers for disarmament?

If disarmament is the goal, why not say either that Trident would be abandoned and the rest of Britain's nuclear arms (including the tactical weapons not mentioned in the policy review report) would be scrapped unilaterally or that the whole lot would go in return for Soviet arms reductions?

And if disarmament is not the goal, why bother with the rhetoric about the uselessness of the British deterrent?

By contrast with the "independent deterrent", American nuclear bases in Britain are not popular with the electorate - and at least some of them play an important strategic role, hosting F-lll nuclear bombers which are an essential component of the NATO flexible response doctrine. By the early nineties, there will be many more F-llls in Britain, armed (if all goes to plan) with new air-launched Cruise missiles (brought in to compensate for the ground-launched Cruise and Pershing missiles destroyed under the INF treaty) instead of free-fall bombs. Then the F-llls will be replaced by more modern aircraft, and their air-launched Cruise missiles upgraded.

By the late nineties, American nuclear forces based in Britain, augmented by American sea-launched Cruise nuclear missiles on submarines and surface ships in the North Sea and eastern Atlantic, will fulfil much the same military and political functions as Cruise and Pershing did pre-INF treaty, with the difference that they will be easier to fit into "deep-strike" strategies.

This is a rearmament programme, by far the strategically most important part of the grand NATO plan for nuclear modernisation to restore the capability lost under INF, which includes the already-controversial new deployments of short-range ground-launched missiles and artillery in West Germany. Accepting it means accepting that the "window of opportunity" opened by the INF treaty has been closed.

Labour is, of course, saying that it will not accept it; but it is not clear what its "opposition'' to modernisation means. On the least radical interpretation, the new Labour document could mean that a Labour government would simply register a protest vote in NATO about the new ground-launched systems in West Germany, attempt to change NATO strategy towards "no first use" and try to get short-range missiles negotiated away in multilateral negotiations - but otherwise do nothing.

That would be fine if there were a good chance of NATO dropping modernisation and changing its basic strategy. But the reality is that we're a long way from any such situation.

To be sure, the West German Government has been dragging its feet on the ground-launched systems planned for its territory, first getting NATO to agree to postpone a decision on deployment of the new weapons until after the forthcoming West German general election, and then breaking NATO ranks to demand early East-West negotiations on short-range nuclear forces in Europe. The West Germans now seem to have convinced the Americans that such negotiations should: take place after conventional arms cuts are successfully negotiated.

Bat it would be foolish to consider that this means that modernisation will not happen. There is no guarantee that all the relevant negotiations will be completed in time to stop deployment of new short-range ground-launched missiles in West Germany. Even if they are, that does not necessarily mean an end to modernisation. The West Germans are concerned only with one small part of the NATO programme: they don’t care about the possibility of new aircraft and air-launched weapons in Britain or sea-launched nuclear forces in the North Sea and the eastern Atlantic. In fact, most members of the current West German Government would rather like the new sea-launched and air-launched systems to be deployed: they are traditional Atlanticists, after all, and the new systems would be an excellent way of preserving the American nuclear guarantee to Europe and the basic NATO doctrine of flexible response without the embarrassment of over-visible ground-launched missiles right in the back yard.

A "third zero" on short-range ground-launched systems in Europe as a result of multilateral talks would, of course, be welcome; but it would hardly be the sort of deathblow to NATO's strategy that Margaret Thatcher’s rhetoric over the past few weeks has tended to suggest.

Most of the military functions performed by existing or planned short-range ground-launched nuclear systems could easily be per-formed by sea-launched and air-launched systems. And, given the extent of institutional support for flexible response in NATO, it is more than likely that they would be.

Not just the deployment and structure of Western armed forces but research, development, manufacture and procurement of arms flow from the strategy. The whole military-industrial complex has an interest in no change. Add to that the strategy's important political function of being the touchstone of loyalty to the Western Alliance, and changing NATO strategy begins to look like moving a mountain.

Rather than being faced with a situation where it can lie back and float with a disarming tide, there-fee, a British Labour government is (barring major political changes in continental Europe) more likely to be confronted with a scenario in which modernisation is racing ahead, flexible response is as secure as ever and the West Germans are quite happy with their lot.

In these circumstances, registering a protest vote in NATO meetings and negotiating to change NATO strategy would be hopeless gestures. The only interpretation of "opposition* to modernisation that would make a serious contribution to disarmament would involve refusal to allow port facilities for new sea-launched nuclear systems and refusal to let British forces in West Germany operate the new ground-launched systems.

But it is difficult to see how this could be put into effect without closing the American nuclear bases in Britain, or at very least subjecting American nuclear forces in Britain to a degree of scrutiny that the Americana would consider an unacceptable price to pay for remain-ing.

A Labour government would have to insist that not one extra F-lll or free-fall nuclear bomb arrived at an American airbase in Britain, not one air-launched Cruise missile was allowed into the country and not one ship or submarine armed with sea-launched Cruise missiles was allowed to dock.

That would mean precisely the intrusive monitoring of American armed forces that the Americans have always refused (for example in New Zealand).

And what if they were to refuse it in the case of Britain under a Labour government? If Labour were serious about its policy, would it have any alternative but to say: "Sorry, but you've got to go"? It might be objected that this is much too pessimistic a scenario. By the time Labour came to power hi Britain, a government dominated by the Social Democratic Party might be in place in West Germany. A centre-le3ft coalition might have replaced the current centre-right coalition in the Netherlands.

Add to that anti-nuclear governments in Norway, Spain, Greece, Denmark and Belgium, and assume that Italy and France would acquiesce, and surely there would be a good chance of a new pro-disarmament consensus among NATO's European members that not even the military establishment and the Americans could scupper? A dramatic swing to the Left across Western Europe is certainly a prospect to relish, and not just for defence policy reasons; but it is not a certainty. The West German SPD and the Dutch Labour Party are by no means guaranteed to come to office in their respective forthcoming elections. Even if they do, it is likely that their hands will be tied by the exigencies of coalition with centre or even right parties. Moreover, like any other national political party, the German and Dutch socialists are primarily con-cerned with their own national political agendas: although they might be in favour of changing NATO strategy and encouraging detente, they would not necessarily make such aims their priorities. In any case, Labour should not base its policies on hoping for the best. The question of what Labour would do in the event of the failure of its initial attempts multilaterally to negotiate away NATO short-range nuclear weapons and change NATO strategy needs to be addressed if the party is to have a credible disarmament policy.

The policy review report adopted by the NEC leaves this question open and recent pronouncements from Neil Kinnock, Gerald Kaufman and Martin O'Neill suggest that the reason is simply that the leadership wants nothing to do with anything except multilateralism.

Should it fail, Labour will accept, albeit reluctantly, the status quo. The strategy is almost certain to back-fire because voters don't trust politicians who abandon their convictions in desperate attempts to boost their electoral popularity - particularly when the new clothes they put on don't fit anyway.

Friday, 12 May 1989


Paul Anderson, review of Ghetto by Joshua Sobel (National, Olivier), Tribune, 12 May 1989

Joshua Sobol's Ghetto succeeds where Jim Allen's Perdition failed, using the theatre for a subtle and disturbing investigation of the impossible predicament of east European Jews confronted by the slowly tightening noose of Nazi genocide. Set in the Lithuanian city of Vilnius, which had 40,000 Jewish inhabitants in 1940 and only 600 in 1945, the play tells the story of the last months of the ghetto, focusing on the experience of the actors and musicians of the ghetto's Yiddish theatre.

Ghetto revolves around the corrupt relationships among four Jewish characters and one German. The most important of the Jews, Gens, the chief of the Jewish police (John Woodvine), is a Zionist. He justifies his collaboration with the Nazis on utilitarian grounds: his goal is the survival of the maximum number of Jews for emigration to Palestine, and it is even worth sending some to their deaths, he believes, if others are thereby saved. By contrast, Kruk, the ghetto librarian (Paul Jesson), is a secularist Bund socialist with links to the partisans. He detests Gens's nationalism and his collaboration with the Nazis; yet he has no obvious alternative to offer, and even he is sucked into unwilling co-operation with a Nazi "academic" who is cataloguing Jewish cultural artefacts before the race finally disappears.

Then there is the Jewish entrepreneur Weiskopf (Anthony O'Donnell), who seizes his opportunity to make money by getting his fellow Jews to work for the Germans mending uniforms. Gens tolerates him because his greed has the side-effect of keeping Jews in "useful" work (and thus temporarily out of Nazi clutches); but in the end, Weiskopf's profit motive and Gens's aim of securing survival of the greatest number are incompatible. Finally, there is Hannah (Maria Friedman), the star singer of the theatre, in her twenties. Her growing hatred of the Germans leads eventually to a heroic decision to flee the ghetto to join the partisans — yet it is her absence that finally gives the Nazis the excuse to liquidate the ghetto.

Against the Jews, Sobol pits Kittel (Alex Jennings), a vicious sadist who happens to love music and theatre. He delights in the slow elimination of his prey, enjoying every moral dilemma faced by the Jews in the certain knowledge that he will inevitably prevail. He rules by dividing, playing off Gens against Kruk, dispensing favours to the theatre company becuase he lusts after Hannah.

All the actors in this first English language production (translated from the Hebrew literally by Miriam Schlesinger and polished up by David Lan) are superb, with Jennings's public-school-bully rendition of Kittel particularly outstanding. Nicholas Hytner's direction is near-faultless.

Altogether, an extraordinary politico-moral drama. Catch it if you can.