Friday, 14 December 1990


Tribune, 14 December 1990

The Communist Party of Great Britain decided not to disband last week. But, writes Paul Anderson, it seems merely to have postponed its collapse

The tiny Communist Party of Great Britain last weekend looked death in the face – and then averted its gaze.

A vast majority of the 300 dele­gates at its 42nd Congress at TUC Congress House in London rejected a proposal, put forward by Marxism Today supporters, to dissolve the 70-year-old party into a loose politi­cal association. A rather smaller majority rejected calls for "renewal" of the party on Leninist lines.

Instead, the CP will continue, putting a change of name and rules to next year's congress and encouraging the eventual emerg­ence of a "new political formation". But it is difficult to see how this fudge, backed by the party's executive committee, can possibly stem the CP's decline. It now claims 6,000 members (down from 30,000 in the sixties), some not paying their dues, most of them inactive and many of them retired.

More important, the formal deb­ate and informal discussion at the 42nd Congress showed clearly that the few comrades who remain are terminally disillusioned, with no coherent common political project. The party has survived merely be­cause Britain's communists are afraid of life without it.

Saturday morning's debate was supposed to discuss the general pol­itical situation in which the CP now finds itself, with an executive com­mittee document based on Marxism Today's analysis of "New Times" as its focus.

Instead, after an opening speech from the party's general secretary, Nina Temple, in which she declared that "1990 has seen the Bolshevik era end in disaster", the debate con­centrated on the legacy of 1917.

Delegates heard a string of sting­ing denunciations of the whole Leninist tradition. One speaker told the congress: "The crimes committ­ed in the name of communism can never be explained away." Another, attacking democratic centralist par­ty organisation, announced blithely that "Leninism helped to grease the skids for Stalinism".

Such sweeping dismissals of par­ty tradition were too much for some older delegates, who treated the congress to diatribes on the unchanging nature of imperialism, but resistance was weak. No one was prepared explicitly to defend the "actually existing socialism" that once inspired the CP, and at­tempts to prevent the party from disowning its past were voted down.

That left the afternoon's session to determine the way forward, but here proceedings almost ground to a halt. Everyone agreed that the CP was in crisis, and nearly everyone backed a pluralist politics of “broad progressive alliances", but no two speakers seemed to concur on what should happen next.

One man, supporting the executive commitee's proposal that the party be kept going for the time being, pinned his hopes on a Labour defeat at the next election, which would lead to a "fundamental re­view of left politics" in which Greens and Liberal Democrats would play a key role. Another, also backing temporary continuation, said that the CP could help Labour win.

Yet another thought that a "renewed" CP, the option favoured by (mainly London-based) Leninist hardliners, should throw in its lot with the Socialist Movement and the Labour hard left. A woman advocate of dissolving the party into a political association said that pol­itical parties were a thing of the past; a male colleague saw the pol­itical association as a means of pro­viding strategic thinking for Lab­our.

In the end on Sunday the con­gress supported the executive fudge by a large majority, but there was little enthusiasm among delegates for their own decision. Many among the Marxism Today faction who favoured dissolution voted for the compromise only to defeat the hard­line Leninist faction; many who didn't want change, particularly from the Scottish party, backed the compromise only to defeat the liquidationists.

Far from resolving the crisis, the outcome of the congress ensures that the argument over the CP's future will continue for another year, and many members, particu­larly those who believe that the par­ty should call it a day, have simply had enough. That means that fur­ther resignations are on the cards, which in turn means that the influ­ence of the Leninist hard-line block, which increased its representation on the executive in elections on Sunday, will grow still further.

As the CP's death agonies conti­nue, last weekend will almost certainly look like a missed opportunity for painless suicide.

Friday, 7 December 1990


Tribune, 7 December 1990

John Major's accession to the Tory leadership could make it more difficult for Labour to provide effective opposition, writes Paul Anderson

The Tories' choice of John Major as leader has already had a dramatic effect on Bri­tish politics.

Less than a month ago, it seemed most unlikely that the Conserva­tives could win the next election. The party was running consistently behind Labour in the opinion polls and was split down the middle on Europe. In Margaret Thatcher, the Tories had a leader who was an electoral liability but apparently impossible to replace without a spectacular bout of blood-letting. All Labour needed to do, it seemed, was to sit back and wait.

Today the picture has been com­pletely changed. Thatcher has gone. The Tories have united be­hind Major and leapt ahead in the opinion polls. The poll tax is to be reformed and a more conciliatoryline taken on Europe. The least popular figures of Thatcher's government have been eased out of the limelight. Cabinet government is to be restored.

Of course, public enthusiasm for Major might be just a passing fad. Unemployment is set to rise as the economy enters the deepest recession for a decade, yet it is unlikely that interest rates will come down significantly for several months.

If war breaks out in the Gulf, hea­vy British casualties would harm the government in the short term -and in the long term the effects of a Gulf war on the economy could be disastrous. In the even longer term, the ceasefire on European policy within the Tory party will break down if the rest of Europe forces the pace on monetary and political union.

But even a mere blip in the To­ries' popularity could last long enough to keep them in power for another term. If, in early January, the opinion polls still show a Tory lead, it is highly probable that Major will go to the country some time in the spring, perhaps as early as February - whatever he says now. Labour knows this, and is hurriedly gearing up its campaign­ing for a snap election.

This means that big changes in Labour's basic policy to counter the new-look Tories are virtually impossible: there simply isn't time for anything but minor adjust­ments.

It also means that, despite the speculation in the newspapers, Neil Kinnock's position as Labour leader is secure this side of a general elec­tion. The opinion polls show that Labour would do better with John Smith as leader, but the whole of the Labour leadership recognises that attempting to replace Kinnock involves greater risk than uniting behind him. Apart from anything else, the process of choos­ing a new leader would take longer than the minimum length of a gen­eral election campaign.

In the short term, Labour has no alternative but to force its way back into public view, emphasising the coherence of its package of policies and the competence of its leaders, doing all it can to ensure that Mr Major's honeymoon is over by the new year.

The danger for Labour is that Major's honeymoon will last until the general election, which he will then win by a comfortable margin. Major might be "the boring man with the glasses" to Spitting Image, but he has already persuaded most of Britain's quality newspaper col­umnists that he is a technocratic pro-European social liberal, com­mitted to the market as well as to the welfare state - rather like Da­vid Owen, in fact, and not that far removed from the modern Kinnock.

That is bad enough for Labour. But the party's nightmare is that Major will convince skilled workers who have shifted alleg­iance from Tory to Labour in the past couple of years that he will re­place the poll tax, get interest rates down and spend more money on education, health and transport, all without giving too much power to the unions, raising income tax or leaving the country defenceless.

The root of Labour's problem is that its political strategy over the past seven years has beer to appeal to the self-interest of affluent skill­ed workers while occupying the centre ground ideologically.

In the 1987-89 policy review and subsequently, Labour has adopted policies that have much in common with those of the centre parties and the pro-Europe left of the Con­servatives.

Labour has abandoned the last vestiges of Keynesianism to advoc­ate tight fiscal and monetary poli­cies. It no longer proposes nationalisation and is cautious about any form of intervention in industry. Labour is against high taxation and for home-ownership, and its enthusiasm for the EC and Nato is unrivalled.

This strategy certainly had its critics on the Labour left, but the alternatives on offer were electorally worse (particularly the hard left's "vision" of nationalisation and a siege economy). More importantly, the strategy worked while Thatcher was in office. But the result today is that Labour does not seem to be saying much that the Tories are not saying.

This is not to claim that there are not many policy differences between Labour and the Tories: it's just that the differences suddenly seem not matters of broad principle but questions of detail within a shared framework of assumptions. That makes the big issue of the next election the competence of Bri­tain's would-be rulers. Here the To­ries are vulnerable to Labour's at­tacks, particularly on the economy. Only a fool would dismiss Labour's chances. But it's hardly the election campaign that Kinnock was planning to fight, and it's not going to be easy.

Friday, 30 November 1990


Paul Anderson, review of Stick It Up Your Punter by Peter Chippindale and Chris Home (Heinemann, £14.99), Tribune, 30 November 1990

The Sun is the epitome of everything the left in Britain despises. It is xenophobic, racist, sexist, philistine and mendacious. It trivialises the news, perse­cutes gays, badgers the innocent, support the Tories. But it is also embarrassingly popular, particularly among the workers whom the left has always claimed to represent. Since 1978, it has been the biggest-selling daily newspaper in the country, from 1981 to 1989 shifting more than four million copies a day.

Rather like Margaret Thatcher's ability to win elec­tions, the Sun's success enthralled much of the left for most of the eighties. Some of those under its spell tried unsuccessfully to muzzle the paper; others attempted, even more unsuccessfully, to emulate it. Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie were once emula­tors: they both worked on News On Sunday. And, although the experience cured them of the desire to "do a left-wing Sun" (their last book, Disaster!, was a brilliant expose of the whole News On Sunday fiasco), they are still fascinated by everything about the Sun. In a way, Stick It Up Your Punter is an extended left-wing exercise in what Wendy Henry, the pruri­ent ex-Trotskyist Sun feature editor, dubbed "yuck journalism" the publication of stories chosen deliberately for their titillating tastelessness.

This is not to say that it isn't a compulsive read, just like Henry's most disgusting "scoops". As Chippindale and Horrie tell it, the Sun story is one of monomaniac populist psycopaths running amok, perpetrating slea­zy crime after sleazy crime. Kelvin Mackenzie, the paper's editor since 1981, comes across as little less than a rabid fiend, and many of his staff appear al­most as dangerous. The litany of journalistic felony is sickening (the lies and jingoism about the Falklands, the hounding of Peter Tatchell, Russell Harty and Elton John, the anti-French and anti-German cam­paigns, the lies about the Hillsborough stadium disaster) but it's so racy you can't put it down.

Chippindale and Horrie believe that the Sun is now past its peak of circulation and vindictiveness, the victim of its own excess as public opinion has turned against its distortions and invasions of priva­cy. I'm not so sure. The basic Sun formula – het­erosexual sex, television, get-rich-quick escapism, hatred for symbols of authority mixed with the most abject deference towards real power – remains potent and popular, and the left seems to have no real alternative to counter it: the Mirror is giving the Sun a run for its money now only by playing a toned-down version of the same game. Nevertheless, this book is one of the best written on the contemporary British press, and it deserves a wide readership.

Friday, 23 November 1990


Paul Anderson, review of Words As Weapons by Paul Foot (Verso, £9.95), Tribune, 23 November 1990

“For many years," writes Paul Foot in the introduction to Words As Weapons, "I have castigated friends and relations (including my revered uncle Michael) who have published volumes of journalistic excerpts. Journalism, my argument ran, is by its nature ephemeral. Then Robin Blackburn of Verso wrote to me asking if I would be willing to publish a volume of excerpts from my own journalism. At once, I began to see the argument in an entirely different light..."

It's a good job he did. The argument that journalism doesn't bear collection is weak - what about George Orwell or James Cameron? - and Foot's journalism deserves to be put between covers if anyone's does. His weekly page in the Daily Mirror is a model of popular campaigning journalism, and his polemical column in Socialist Worker has long been the only good reason to buy the paper. His extended review articles for the London Review of Books, usually on some unsung scandal or another, have shone even in the dis­tinguished company they keep.

Nearly everything in Words As Weapons comes from the eighties, and most of it is from Socialist Worker and the LRB, with a sprinkling from the Mir­ror, the New Statesman and elsewhere. All the pieces are worth reading for their style and construction (the' book would make an excellent text for trainee journa­lists), but it is the longer articles from the LRB that really stand out.

Foot is a great teller of complex stories, and the 2,000-words-plus that the LRB's editor, Karl Miller, allows his writers has been used by Foot to great effect. Virtually everything here from the LRB, but particularly the articles on the Westland affair and the long-running saga of communist infiltration of Britain's security services, is as fresh as when it was written.

Foot is at his weakest when writing from the left on the Labour Party. He is often quite rightly damn­ing about the prospects of parliamentary reformism, and he's delightfully rude about Labour and trade union leaders. But he doesn't really have anything to offer as an alternative. He is, of course, a member of the Socialist Workers' Party, and is certainly its most effective speaker. Yet, although there are plenty of rhetorical calls for "socialism" and "revolution", Foot gives few clues about what he wants or how it could come about. There is certainly nothing here to con­vince anyone that his own tiny authoritarian Leninist sect could organise much more than a piss-up in the top room of a real-ale pub.

But perhaps that doesn't matter. As Robert Max­well has found, it's possible to get a lot out of Foot even if you treat his Trotskyist politics as harmless.

Friday, 9 November 1990


Tribune, 9 November 1990

Nuclear disarmament might not be headline news today, writes Paul Anderson, but it could easily become a big issue for a Labour government

The end of the cold war has taken the urgency out of the issue of nuclear disarmament in Britain. The fear of nuclear holo­caust that swept the country in the early eighties is long forgotten. Arms control negotiations have been relegated to inside pages in the papers.

The Campaign for Nuclear Dis­armament, meeting in Coventry this weekend for its annual confer­ence, is these days almost as much a general anti-militarist movement - opposing war in the Gulf, discussing new security systems for Europe and lobbying for the "peace divi­dend"  - as it is a campaign against nuclear arms.

Both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party have abandoned unilateral nuclear disarmament against only the smallest wimpers of dissent, and both are doing their best to play down their defence poli­cies as the next general election approaches. Today, only the Greens and the Welsh and Scottish nationalists stand by unequivocally anti-nuclear defence policies.

But nuclear disarmament has not gone away forever as a mainstream political issue. Public apathy about nuclear arms rests on a sense that progress is being made in arms reduction talks - and that could easily evaporate.

Inside the Labour Party, acquiescence in the leadership's line has more to do with wanting to win the next general election that with any real conviction. Although most Labour Party members believe that the chances for negotiated disarmament are good there are widespread worries, even among "Kinnock loyalist" MPs, that Labour will not be able to deliver even on its much reduced promises.

These worries are focussed part­icularly on Labour's proposals on the British "independent deterr­ent". Because it would be too expensive to cancel the whole Tri­dent nuclear missile submarine pro­ject at this late stage, party leaders say, Labour would build three of the four submarines currently planned. But it would attempt to get Trident and its Polaris predecessor included in the second round of the strategic arms reduction talks (START-2), and it would drop Tory plans to re­place Britain's ageing WE-177 free-fall nuclear bombs with new air-to-surface missiles, either bought from the United States or developed jointly with France.

But is it true that Trident would be more expensive to cancel than to build? The Atomic Weapons Re­search Establishment at Aldermaston is having serious problems with producing the warheads for British Trident missiles. There is a real possibility that the American Tri­dent programme, on which the Bri­tish programme relies for rocketry and guidance systems, will be can­celled. An incoming Labour government could find either that it cannot build warheads without substantial extra funding or that an alternative to the Trident missile system needs to be found if the submarines are to have nuclear arms.

In the latter case, it is unlikely that Labour would go ahead (though there is always the possibil­ity of adapting Trident submarines to carry French missiles); but if it is simply a matter of letting Aldermaston have more money, there is the potential for a fierce argument.

There are also concerns that no one has given very much thought to how Britain could get in on START-2. Labour's front-bench defence spo­kesman, Martin O'Neill, told Tri­bune in an interview published on September 28 that the opening of START-2 could coincide with the election of a Labour government and that the party leadership was "hopeful that we would be able to start talking with the Chinese and French as well as the Russians and the Americans".
It may not be so easy. According to French diplomatic sources, the French Government will not even consider putting the force de frappe into disarmament negotiations un­til Soviet nuclear capabilities are reduced to the same level as the French - which will not happen un­til the late nineties at the very earliest.
The Chinese also show no signs of eagerness to enter into negotiations on their nuclear weapons. If Labour's commitment to negotiated disarmament depends on START-2 bringing in all five nuclear weapons states, it is at best a recipe for very slow progress.

Labour might settle for Britain alone joining the Soviet Union and the United States in START-2. But there is considerable resistance in the British military and in the Fo­reign Office to allowing France to become the only West European nuclear power, the obvious result if British nuclear weapons are negotiated away.

But would there even be room for Britain in START-2? An argument is raging between the Soviet Union and the United States over its scope, with the Soviet Union press­ing hard for inclusion of sea-launched cruise missiles and America resisting (partly, it seems, as a means of gaining time while the crisis in the Soviet Union deve­lops). Soviet spokesmen have also said that progress in START could be held back unless the force de frappe and the British "independent deterrent" (which the Soviet Union rightly sees as an integral part of Nato's nuclear capacity) are included in negotiations. Most commentators believe, how­ever, that the Soviet line on British and French nuclear forces is a bargaining position, which would be modified or dropped in return for American agreement to negotia­tions on sea-launched cruise.

By the time Labour enters government, in other words, the United States and the Soviet Union could have carved up an arms con­trol agenda that does not include British nuclear weapons until the late nineties.

Even if Britain manages to join START-2 at an early stage, there are worries about what a Labour government would do next. Would it negotiate away all Britain's nuclear forces in return for the So­viet Union cutting the same numb­er of warheads? And if not, what would it do?

Labour's leaders, facing Tory claims that their new policy is really unilateralism in disguise, are unwilling to disclose whether they have formulated a detailed negotiating position, let alone what it might be.
Just about the only indication of intentions has been Martin O'Neill's insistence in his Tribune interview that progress on negotiating nuclear disarmament would be swift. What he bases his optimism upon is not at all obvious. Nor is it clear how widely his views are shar­ed among his colleagues.

The future of the "independent deterrent" is not the only nuclear issue that will face a Labour government in 1991 or 1992. There is also the question of Nato's nuclear role and the American "nuclear guarantee  to Europe." Here, there are several related contentious questions, starting with the fate of Nato's plans to replace its stocks of nuclear bombs with nuclear tactical air-to-surface mis­siles (TASMs) and ending with the future of Nato strategy and of the alliance itself.

The TASM plans are all that re­main from a grandiose scheme for short-range nuclear "modernisa­tion" which went to the top of the Nato agenda in the wake of the 1987 INF treaty. Although no form­al Nato decision to deploy TASMs has ever been made, the American Administration has given Boeing funds to develop a version of its SRAM-II short-range attack mis­sile, SRAM-T, and preparations have been made for SRAM-T to be deployed from the mid-nineties on F-lll, F-15E and Tornado strike aircraft, many of them stationed in. Britain.

Labour has taken the line that it is opposed to deployment of TASM but would accept a Nato decision to deploy. Now, however, the SRAM-T programme has hit techni­cal snags and its budget has been cut dramatically. Next year, Con­gress could decide to abandon the project altogether.

Meanwhile, several Nato governments, including Belgium and Holland, have voiced strong opposition to TASM, and it is likely that Germany will refuse to deploy any new nuclear weapons on its territory, as a prelude to complete "denuclearisation" from the Rhine to the Oder.

The TASM seems unlikely to go ahead, although it is still supported strongly by the Nato military and by several right-wing European Nato governments - particularly the British.

The whole Nato strategy of "flexible response", according to which a Warsaw Pact assault on Western Europe would be met by gradually escalating American nuclear retaliation, has been severely weakened by the removal of Cruise and Pershing missiles under the INF treaty and the abandonment of plans to modernise land-based short-range nuclear for­ces. If TASM is not deployed and nuclear weapons are removed from German soil, the strategy will be close to collapse.

That looks like a convenient out­come for Labour, which has long advocated a move away from flex­ible response and towards a more political role for Nato.

But it's not quite as simple as that. A version of flexible response could still be kept alive if the Americans continue to deploy nuclear-armed aircraft and sea-launched nuclear weapons in and around Europe. And, because this is just about the only way to preserve the American "nuclear guarantee" to Europe, it has the support of most European Nato governments.

In such circumstances most of the American nuclear forces stationed in Europe would of necessity be in Britain, which would alienate many supporters. The alternative is for a Labour, government effectively to argue for abandonment of the American "nuclear guarantee", which would bring into question Nato's very raison d'etre.

This is something the party lea­dership -has always been at pains to avoid, partly because it does not want to upset the status quo, but also because it sees American nuclear involvement in Europe as a lesser evil than the most likely oth­er option, a purely West European nuclear alliance dominated by the French.

Today, the debate on post-cold-war security structures for Europe has barely begun in the Labour Par­ty. But as it gains momentum, it will become increasingly clear that stark choices on the American nuclear presence in Britain cannot be ducked. Like Britain's "indepen­dent deterrent", this is hardly going to be a burning issue between now and the election. After that, how­ever, particularly if Labour wins, it is certain to race up the political agenda.

Friday, 26 October 1990


Tribune, 26 October 1990

Denis Healey, once Labour’s least popular chancellor of the exchequer, is now the darling of the party. He talks to Paul Anderson and Phil Kelly

When Denis Healey took the rostrum during the Gulf debate at Labour Party conference in Blackpool earlier this month, blowing kisses to the television cameras, he was given a hero's welcome – and at the end there was a standing ovation. It is difficult to think of anyone else in the party (except, perhaps, for Barbara Castle) so universally liked.

It was not always so. Indeed, from the late forties to the mid-eighties, Healey was disliked, even hated, by large sections of the party, particularly the left.

As Labour's international secretary from 1946 to 1951, he played a major backroom role in formulating a pro-American cold-war foreign policy for the Attlee government. In the late fifties and early sixties, he was stalwart of the Gaitskellite right in its fight against unilateralism, and as defence secretary in the 1966-70 Wilson government he failed to cancel Polaris or to distance Britain from the American intervention in Vietnam.

Between 1974 and 1979 he was chancellor of the exchequer, earning further opprobrium, particularly from the trade unions, for his strict austerity policies. To cap it all, it was Healey who turned back the left tide which swept the party after 1979 by beating Tony Benn for the deputy leadership of the party in 1981.

So what lies behind his rehabilitation? It is certainly not that he has disowned the past. Healey has just published two books (a paperback edition of his autobiography, The Time of My Life and a collection of essays on foreign affairs, When Shrimps Learn to Whistle) and in conversation he is keen to demonstrate how little he has to regret.

He even defends the earliest piece in the book of essays, Cards on the Table, written as a pamphlet in 1947 and now widely considered the key intellectual text justifying Labour's switch to a cold-war foreign policy.

It is a withering attack on proposals put forward by the Keep Left group (Michael Foot, Ian Mikardo, Richard Crossman, Woodrow Wyatt and others) for a "third way" foreign policy with Britain at the head of a European alliance that could mediate between Washington and Moscow.

"I made my first speech at conference in 1945 as a soldier in uniform," says Healey. "I thought we'd get a socialist revolution in Europe and that the alliance that we'd built in the war would be the basis for enduring peace. But I soon discovered as international secretary, which was the job I got when I left the army, that the communists treated the social democrats as their most dangerous enemies – and, incidentally, no newspaper made this point more strongly at the time than Tribune when Evelyn Anderson was the editor.

"It was rammed home to me when I tried to help the east European socialists, who were all destroyed by the Russians through the local communist parties they installed. So I became very anti-communist.

"Cards on the Table did not give full support for the Americans by any means. It was an attempt to hold out the possibility of a third way. But the bitter experience of trying to work with the Russians made it impossible." The idea of a "third way", he says, collapsed after the Soviet Union rejected Marshall Aid and forced its satellites to do likewise.

"From that time on," he says, "the idea of a third way died away and was replaced on the left by the philosophy of neutralism, which was really that you can't afford to take sides in the struggle (which was then of course being led by America rather than Britain), against the Soviet Union, and therefore you should opt out.

"I always thought that was a mistake, and with the invention and spread of nuclear weapons, the idea that you can escape from the nuclear holocaust by being neutral is nonsense."

Healey laid out his case against neutralism in a series of articles in the fifties, arguing that it made war more likely, by threatening the balance of power, and was based upon the unsustainable claim that there was nothing morally or politically to choose between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Nevertheless, he became an enthusiast for plans for disengagement in Europe from which Soviet and western troops would be withdrawn.

At the same time, he also got interested in the moral and political problems posed by nuclear weapons. In 1956, he was one of the co-authors of On Limiting Atomic War, one of the first attempts to put forward a theory of "graduated deterrence" – later adopted by Nato as "flexible response".

"We came to the conclusion that you could have a limited nuclear war. Henry Kissinger wrote a long book called Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy which was published at almost exactly the same time and came to the same conclusion. But within two years we'd both decided we were wrong.

"When we saw the result of exercises carried out in Germany, it was quite obvious you couldn't fight a tactical nuclear war like a naval battle which was the mistaken theory we had. I didn't really think nuclear weapons were usable after that."

So why had he been a supporter of flexible response as defence secretary in the sixties? "It was to try to bridge the gap between the Americans and the Germans. The Germans wanted massive retaliation and nothing else, the Americans wanted to get rid of their nuclear liability. But I never believed it would work, and now we know it can't work because the first nuclear explosions would produce electromagnetic pulses which would make the command and control of operations impossible.

"Even when I was defence secretary, when we started to discuss in the Nato Nuclear Planning Group how we might actually use nuclear weapons, we could never reach agreement."

All the same, Healey still thinks that nuclear weapons have had some uses. "Nuclear weapons are a very powerful deterrent. There is no doubt that the end of the cold war owes something to the fact that nuclear weapons exist."

Healey's time as defence secretary is best remembered for his decision to go ahead with the Polaris nuclear missile submarine (which Labour had promised to cancel in its 1964 election manifesto) and for his silence over American involvement in Vietnam.

The decision on Polaris, he now believes, was a mistake. "The problem with Polaris was that the first boat had been laid down. And the very day of the 1964 election two things happened: Khrushchev was deposed and the Chinese exploded their first nuclear bomb. None of us knew what would happen, and I thought on the whole that it was sensible to go ahead with the programme. It was pretty cheap.

"With hindsight it was the wrong decision. On the other hand, if I was again in the situation I was in then, knowing only what I knew then, I think I would have taken the same decision again. The definition of a minister is a chap who takes very important decisions without full knowledge of the facts."

On Vietnam, Healey is unrepentent. "We did stand up to the Americans. When I was defence secretary I was badgered again and again by Robert McNamara, and Harold Wilson was badgered even more by President Lyndon Johnson, to send troops to Vietnam as the Australians had. I said: 'Not on your nelly. We're sorry you got into this mess but it can only end in tears.'

"I've tried to describe in my books the tragic inevitability with which the Americans got sucked deeper into Vietnam, basically for what seemed to them to be good reasons. They thought peace was indivisible, that aggression was indivisible, that if you allowed communism, which they saw as absolutely evil, to triumph in one part of the world, dominoes would fall.

"I argued strongly against this with them at the time – of course in private, I couldn't do it in public."

From 1974 to 1979, Healey was chancellor and unable, he says, to take such a close interest in defence and foreign policy. Nevertheless, he considers it to have been a mistake not to have cancelled at an early stage the immensely costly Chevaline programme for a new Polaris warhead capable of penetrating Soviet anti-ballistic missile defences.

"When I became chancellor in 1974 it was the last thing I was thinking about and I never got the issue put to me. The first time I came across it was when it came up in this little special group set up by Jim Callaghan to discuss nuclear questions, particularly in relation to the grey areas, and then I discovered that the programme was running miles behind time and that the Russians were not developing general ABM systems.

"David Owen was very good on this. We said that we didn't believe it was necessary to be able to hit Moscow – for Christ's sake, the weapons we had were capable of destroying about 25 per cent of Soviet industry – and that we shouldn't go ahead with Chevaline without getting a paper on what we called the Moscow criterion. But by the time we got the paper, we were overloaded with a million other things.

"I blame myself because I should have put my foot down from my own knowledge, and once it was clear that the Russians weren't having a general ABM system, Chevaline was really a waste of money. I should have stopped it there and then."

Healey does not, however, own up to the Callaghan government having made a mistaken on the stationing of crusie and Pershing II missiles in Europe.

"This all arose out of Helmut Schmidt thinking aloud without thinking it through. He deeply distrusted President Jimmy Carter, and he thought that Carter would make a deal with Moscow which would rob Europe of protection.

"He raised the issue of Euromissiles in a speech in London in very general terms, and it was fed into the official defence mafia machine. I thought the whole thing was crap. I didn't think that it made sense to think of deterrence except for Nato as a whole. I argued very strongly – so did Owen actually – that a purely European deterrence would decouple the American deterrent.

"The last meeting we had on this that I was involved in was right in the middle of the winter of discontent when Dave Aron, who was Carter's expert on this, came back and told us that he's had a meeting and the Germans still didn't have a clue what they wanted.

"I heard later that, at the Nato High Level Group, Britain, presumably with Fred Mulley's endorsement because he was the defence minister, had agreed to proceed, but the decision as to what to do was not taken until six months after the election. I thought it was the wrong decision."

But couldn't it be argued that the deployment of cruise and Pershing led the Soviet Union to the negotiating table and ultimately to the end of the cold war?

"Just as the Soviet deployment of missiles in Cuba led to the Americans withdrawing their missiles from Britain and Turkey, there's no question that the Russians would have gone on with their deployments of SS-20 if they hadn't know we were planning to deploy cruise and Pershing. But I don't think it influenced Gorbachev's general view.

"He'd come to the conclusion that a nuclear war could never be won and should never be fought, and that there was a superfluity of Soviet weapons. So he made a deal which involved the Russians getting rid of far more weapons than we did. Incidentally, Thatcher and Kohl were strongly opposed to the agreement, but the Americans forced them to agree."

From 1980 to 1987, Healey was Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, a difficult role given his disagreement with the policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament adopted by the party in 1980: he still has nothing but contempt for the "Punch and Judy show" between unilateralism and multilateralism. But with the exception of a public tiff with Neil Kinnock in 1986 (when Healey said that Polaris would be negotiated away by a Labour government and Kinnock insisted that it would be withdrawn come what may) he kept his differences with party policy largely private.

He even managed to make friends with many of his erstwhile political opponents, particularly after he came out strongly against President Ronald Reagan's Star Wars programme and argued in his 1985 pamphlet, Labour and a World Society, that Nato should adopt a non-nuclear defence strategy.

He is often described as the best foreign secretary Labour never had. he says: "I would have liked the job very much but 1 was never offered it when I was defence secretary and I refused all other jobs, including Barbara Castle's job. I was offered the Department of Economic Affairs before Harold Wilson offered it to Barbara, but I liked defence – though I now feel I stayed there a few years too long.

"When I was chancellor, Jim thought I was indispensable, but he thought the time might come when he could put me at the Foreign Office, and he appointed Owen, warning Owen and the lobby that it might not be a very long-standing thing. By that time I had sweated my guts out to bring the economy round and I wanted to be there when we were gathering fruit, but unfortunately it was very bitter fruit in the end, the winter of discontent."

After his opposition to Star Wars, "I became a hero of the left," he says. "If I'd done that ten years earlier I could have defeated Michael Foot for the leadership.

"A lot of the left came to me and said: 'My God, if we'd known you were anything like this, we'd have supported you.' They all felt it was a mistake to have voted Michael in.

"People have never believed me when I've said that I didn't want to be prime minister, but I like a departmental job. On the other hand, I didn't want a shit to get the job, or somebody who was not capable.

"So I fought Michael but I didn't fight very hard and was criticised by a lot of my friends for that. But when I lost I said I'd be glad to serve Michael as his deputy and I was cheered to the echo – except by Tony Benn who sat there ashen-faced because he felt that he could be deputy and then replace Michael.

"Tony called the deputy leadership election a healing process. By Christ, it gave us a reputation for extremism which is still in people's minds, you know, the Trots and anarchists and the Posadists howling me down in Birmingham and Cardiff."

It showed that the electoral college system was nonsense, he says, "The Transport and General took their decision, and we still don't know quite how, on the floor of conference. John Silkin had been knocked out, and Alex Kitson thought the Transport and General Workers' Union was going to abstain – he told the lobby that. Although on their consultation I came top, they put Silkin in to block me. If they'd voted as their members wanted I would have had a majority of about 2,500,000 instead of about one.

"But Neil has shown the courage to tackle the problem of the block vote and union power. Gaitskell never got to grips with the constitution."

Whether he could have won the leadership in 1980 remains debatable. He was identified with massive public spending cuts and draconian wage controls aimed at reducing inflation.

Today he defends most of his actions, arguing that, by 1978, the economy had begun to turn round. The one big mistake, which led to the explosion of public sector strikes in the winter of discontent of 1978-79, was his endorsement of wage controls too harsh to sustain.

The "5 per cent norm" agreed by the cabinet in summer 1978 "was overloading the circuit", he says. "But Jim was absolutely obsessed then with the idea of getting to zero inflation – probably influenced I think by that stupid bugger, Peter Jay, his son-in-law at that time.

"He wanted a 3 per cent norm. We agreed on 5 per cent but I now think that if we'd said ‘we want settlements in single figures’, we would have come out with an average increase of about 12 per cent and we wouldn't have had the winter of discontent. It was a very bad mistake, in which the whole cabinet shared.

"Mind you, the unions were so irresponsible. After it was clear that it wasn't going to work. I had a series of meetings with the Neddy six and we reached agreement on a revision of the policy."

The "Neddy six" were the six trade union leaders on the National Economic Development Council, the tripartite body at the core of Labour's seventies corporatism.

"But when it went to the general council, Moss Evans of the TGWU had gone off on holiday to Malta. He hadn't instructed Marie Paterson and Harry Irwin [the other TGWU representatives] how to vote and they voted on opposite sides. The TUC split equally, and Tom Jackson, who was chairman, thought because it was a change in policy that he had to use his casting vote in favour of the status quo. It was like a Greek tragedy.

"I hope people have learnt from all that. We ought to get a system rather like the German one or the Swedish one, where the government sets the economic framework and the employers and the unions work out what's compatible with that in terms of pay increases.

"We have a confrontational relationship between unions and employers here which is almost unique in Europe. But the unions have changed for the better. It's very unlikely that we'll go back to the situation in the seventies, except in the public services. The public service unions, especially Nalgo  – not even in the bloody party and run by the Socialist Workers – could cause terrible damage."

What advice does the man who was Labour's most successful defence secretary have for Martin O'Neill, who seems likely within the next year or so to be Labour's next holder of the post?

"He's got to mug it up, and I think he's doing pretty well. I was lucky, I'd been in the army for six years and I spent ten years studying strategy, which was very unusual – I don't think any Tory minister has ever done anything like that. I could argue with the chiefs of staff on their own terms.

"If you can't do that, you've got to pick yourself a group of people who will support your objectives and know the scene. I did that when I set up the programme evaluating group. You need some sort of 'cabinet', people who report direct to you."

In foreign and defence policy, the challenges for Labour in government will be even greater, Healey believes. With the end of the cold war, a new security structure is an urgent necessity.

The Americans, he says, are beginning to consider at least partial military withdrawal from Europe. "The Germans will want all foreign forces, not just nuclear weapons, to leave their territory when the Russians have gone, which is two years off. The Americans will probably want air bases here, so then there's the question of whether we think they're necessary and whether the uncertainty about control should be allowed to remain.

"I think Nato will be subsumed. It has a political role in attempting to co-ordinate the views of its members, but militarily it's an organ without a function. We should build up the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe as an institution. I'd like to see a European Community stretching from Brest to Brest inside a security community from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

"To give the UN the whole responsibility for world peace now is impossible. It doesn't have the structures. But we should try to build them up. We might be able to give it a responsibility in the Gulf if we can get through it without a war, but there's a strong case for regional organisations for peace keeping.

The old warrior cannot resist a final dig in both directions: "Even dafter than Tony Benn and the Militant Tendency is a man called Francis Fukuyama who thinks that the end of the cold war is the end of history, when it's history starting again.

"All the problems that have been dormant for 40 years are rearing their ugly heads."

Friday, 19 October 1990


Paul Anderson, review of Political Crumbs by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (Verso, £9.95), Tribune, 19 October 1990

Hans Magnus Enzensberger, the German poet, playwright and essayist, has enjoyed a cult repu­tation among the British libertarian left since the sixties, but in the past couple of years there has been a surge of interest in his work. Last year Radius, Hutchinson's radical imprint, published Europe, Europe, Enzensberger's extraordinary book of impressions of the continent, having already republished Dreamers of the Absolute, a collection of his sixties writings, in 1988. Now Verso brings us a volume of essays from the late seventies and early eighties.

The book is stuffed with gems. Enzensberger's intellectual range is breathtaking, and he is an inveterate controversialist, with an unerring eye for cant and absurdity. He also writes with unusual pre­cision and clarity, and his translator, Martin Chalm­ers, has rendered his work into English of a fluency rare in translations of political writing.

There are two essays in particular that stand out for their sharpness and continuing relevance. "Reluctant Eurocentrism: A Political Picture Puzzle" starts off as a ruminative piece on the history of anthropology and turns into a devastating critique of the "Third World-ism" still commonplace among Left intellectuals in Europe and North America. This attitude, Enzensberger rightly believes, has its roots in a yearning for the exotic. It takes no account of the aspirations of people in the so-called Third World (who desperately want to consume like us); and, through being adopted by European-educated Third World political leaders, has been the ideological underpinning for the Third World's most disastrous authoritarian political experiments. "It is time to take leave of such dreams," Enzensberger concludes. "It was always an illusion that liberation could be delegated to faraway others; today this self-deception has become a threadbare evasion. An exotic alterna­tive to industrial civilisation no longer exists. We are encircled and beseiged by our own imitations." Quite so, and it's doubly refreshing to hear this sentiment coming from the left.

"The Highest Stage of Underdevelopment: A Hypothesis About Really Existing Socialism" manages in 17 pages to say more about the reality of life in the countries of the "socialist bloc" than many book-length studies. The title is an accurate evocation of its contents. Enzensberger presents us with a series of vignettes of bureaucratic sclerosis, material short­ages, official mendacity and popular apathy, and asks whether he is describing conditions in a "socialist" country or the Third World. Of course, it is impossible to say, which leads Enzensberger into a telling ac­count of the ways that Leninist party-states have engendered economic and social collapse.

The theme running through this piece, as through the rest of the book, is the necessarily self-defeating nature of attempts to control society bureaucratically. Despite the pretentious of technocrats, politicians and intellectuals everywhere, it is the creativity of ordi­nary people that keeps the world going round. A simple argument, perhaps, but it is one that is not heard often enough these days, and Enzensberger advances it with exemplary wit, sophistication and force. This is an outstanding book, the most stimulat­ing political read I have had in ages.


Paul Anderson, review of After the Cold War: Building on the Alliances by Mike Gapes (Fabian Society, £3), Tribune, 19 October 1990

What role, if any, will Nato and the Warsaw Pact have in a post-cold war Europe? For most of the eighties, nearly everyone on the British left would have answered: "None". There was a widespread con­sensus that the military bloc division of Europe should be ended and the blocs mutually dissolved - a feeling that found its way into Labour policy.

However, for all but the last couple of months of the eighties, an end to the cold war seemed at best a very distant prospect and possibly a wildly Utopian dream. Hardly anyone had begun to think about how a post-cold war Europe might come about, let alone about what "mutual dissolution of the blocs" would mean in practice. The British left was unprepared for the col­lapse of "actually existing socialism" in eastern Eu­rope and the unification of Germany, and even now the debate about how to respond has barely begun.

In such circumstances, this pamphlet by the Labour Party's senior international officer is most welcome, if only as a means of stimulating discussion. Gapes ar­gues that a hew security system for Europe is a high priority, and that the best way of proceeding, in the short term at least, is to merge the military and politi­cal structures of Nato and the Warsaw Pact to create a new European Security Organisation.

Gapes justifies his rejection of simple "mutual dis­solution of the blocs" on three grounds. First, it is essential to have some sort of structure to prevent a resurgence of competing nation states in Europe, in particular to keep a united Germany well integrated with the rest of Europe. Second, the new security system must not exclude the super-powers, both of which will have a military presence in Europe for the foreseeable future, or the countries of eastern Europe. This rules out a central role for either the Western European Union, of which nine West European Nato states are members, or the European Community as currently constituted. Third, there is no existing non-exclusive structure that could adequately replace the blocs as the basis for a new security system. The 35-member Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe might eventually play a major part, but it "currently has no staff, no facilities, not even a tele­phone number".

Much of this makes good sense: there is indeed a need for a pan-European security structure, and it is imperative to resist calls to strengthen a purely Wes­tern European military alliance. But it is question­able whether Gapes's joint Nato-Warsaw Pact ESO is the best way forward. The Warsaw Pact is in a far more advanced state of decay than he admits, while Nato is thrashing about in confusion: at the same time as welcoming the end of the cold war, it has clung to its strategy of nuclear "flexible response" and is still planning modernisation of its air-launched nuclear forces. Even so, merging these two obsolete alliances would be a long and difficult task, and the process could all top easily produce a horribly bloated military organisation - all joint brigades and multi­national arms procurement projects - when what is needed is a means of ensuring demilitarisation of Eu­rope. Basing a new security system on the CSCE pro­cess from the start, with early negotiated disbandment of Nato and the Warsaw Pact, would be simpl­er and less likely to bring forth a monster.

Monday, 1 October 1990


Catalyst, autumn 1990

Paul Anderson examines reaction in Europe to the Middle East crisis

The response of west European governments to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait has been notable both for its incoherence and for its caution.

There is general support for sanctions against Iraq to secure its withdrawal from Kuwait and for military deployments to deter Saddam Hussein from moving into Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. Beyond this, however, the political and military establishments of Western Europe have little in com­mon apart from a vague unease at the prospect of being dragged into a bloody war by the United States.

Even Britain, which, desperate to revive the flagging 'special relationship', has offered almost unconditional rhetorical support for the Americans' military deployments and for their insistence that the Kuwaiti royal family be restored, was at first reluctant to send significant forces to the Gulf.

Margaret Thatcher might have grabbed headlines on 30 August by berating the rest of Europe (except France) for its “patchy and disappointing" response to the Gulf crisis, but for the first month or so after 2 August Britain's own military contribution was little more than symbolic.

It was only in early September, after the US Secretary of State, James Baker, started to complain publicly about the lack of solidarity shown by America's European allies, that the British Govern­ment agreed to send ground forces to the Gulf (much to the annoyance of the army). And even the tanks -ancient, unreliable and still in transit - hardly constitute a key element in anyone's military calculations.

The French response has been even more ambiguous. Initially, the French sent the carrier Clemenceau to their base in Djibouti (more than two days' sailing time away from the Gulf), 13 warships to monitor UN sanctions, and a helicopter reconnaissance squadron to Abu Dhabi - a significant force, but one carefully designed to reassure Arab opinion that France was not going to be bounced into over-hasty military action. It was only after the Iraqi seizure of four French citizens from the French embassy in Kuwait on 14 September that President Mitterrand decided to deploy ground forces on Saudi territory.

Today the French forces are, on paper, second only to the Americans in size and firepower. But serious doubts have emerged about the usefulness of the French deployments. French artillery and armour are incapable of taking on Iraqi heavy tanks, and the French have too few transport and tanker aircraft to keep their ground and air forces adequately supplied.

More embarrassingly, the Iraqis are equipped with French aircraft and missile systems, and many Iraqi pilots were trained in France on the same equipment that the French themselves are using, rendering French aircraft extremely vulnerable in combat.

At the same time as making these military deploy­ments, the French Government has been at pains to emphasise its diplomatic distance from the Americans - most clearly on 24 September, when Mitterrand outlined a four-point peace plan to the UN General Assembly. He declared that 'everything would become possible' if Iraq announced it would withdraw from Kuwait and free hostages, distancing himself from the US both by omitting reference to restoration of the Kuwaiti royal family, and by suggesting that there should be an international conference on the Middle East to resolve all international disputes in the region.

It is the Germans, however, who have incurred most American wrath during the Gulf crisis. Not only have they failed to send forces to the region (a simple matter of being barred by their constitution from out-of-area military operations, but that seems beside the point in Washington), they were extremely unwilling to part with cash to pay for the military operation and to compensate the other Middle East countries hit by anti-Iraq sanctions. It was only after much huffing and puffing from Congress that Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed in early September to cough up 3,300 million Marks-worth of aid and announced that he wanted the constitution amended after all-German elections in December to allow German participation in a UN contingent in the Gulf.

Given the differences among Britain, France and Germany, it is perhaps unsurprising that attempts to secure a united West European response to the Gulf crisis have not got very far. But there are other factors too - not least the absence of any adequate institutional framework for co-ordinating West European policy on the Gulf. NATO is limited by its charter to take military action only within its area; the European Community has no security role.

That leaves only the nine-nation West European Union, a relic of the 50s' attempts to create a West European defence community, which has been revived to provide a forum for some co-ordination of efforts, particularly in calling in late September for an air embargo against Iraq.

Nevertheless, the WEU's role has been well short of breath-taking. Despite the grandiose scheme of the Italian foreign minister, Gianni De Michelis, for the EC to take over the WEU and make it responsible for security matters, it is too soon to say whether the WEU is now set to play a major role in West European defence policj. Its last revival, in the mid-eighties during the controversy over President Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative, was no less vigorous than today's, yet it fizzled out in no time. What happens next depends on whether the current stalemate erupts into war, and, if it does, how it erupts into war. At present, the governments of western Europe are lined up behind the Americans (though even now their support is not unqualified). If Saddam makes the first military move, it is unlikely that this will change. But if the Americans decide to attempt to shoot Saddam out of Kuwait - at present an unlikely prospect, but the whole situation could change after the 6 November Congressional elections - western Europe will be in a quandary.

Many current supporters of American policy (including many in government and nearly all the social democratic opposition parties) would back a first move by the US only if diplomatic efforts had come to nought, sanctions had proved ineffective and military victory could be guaranteed quickly and with minimal loss of life. It is almost inconceivable that these conditions could be fulfilled - particularly the last. If the body bags start coming home, the current west European consensus backing America on the Gulf will evaporate. But that is a scenario almost too horrible to contemplate.

Friday, 28 September 1990


Tribune, 28 September 1990

Paul Anderson talks to Labour's defence spokesman about Saddam Hussein, the future of Europe and the possibilities of a compromise on policy at Labour Party conference

King Hussein of Jordan may fear that the Gulf crisis is leading inexorably to a Middle East  war,  but Labour's defence spokesman, Martin O'Neill, will have none of it.

"The period when war seemed inevitable within a couple of days has passed," he says emphatically. "I don't think unilateral American action is likely. The American Con­gressional elections take place on November 6, and I don't think there's much possibility .of any change in the American position until after that. Then there are the more practical logistic concerns. Military deployment will probably not be completed until well into November. The Americans are com­mitted to an economic blockade, and it will take some time to bite."

He seems equally sum that Sad­dam Hussein will not make the first move by attacking Saudi Arabia,
“though he might decide to divert attention from domestic difficulties by having an external adventure, as dictators often do". Instead of wor­rying about when war will break out, he says, "we ought to be prepar­ing the British public and the Brit­ish troops for several months of sitting it out. I hope that this will be sufficient for the economic sanctions to take effect."

So what would justify use of mili­tary force against Iraq? "It would depend on the circumstances in which fighting started. To speculate at this time is very dangerous. We've taken the view that the troops are there at the express request of the United Nations as a consequence of Saudi and Kuwaiti appeals. The safety of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait would be the major condition, but there may be other factors."

But does the UN position justify the anti-Iraqi forces making the first military moves in any circums­tances? "I don't think that that is envisaged by the present agree­ments at the UN, but circumstances may change. I'm not saying this because I want to offer an excuse, but it is a possibility."

I put it to Mr O'Neill that any war would result in civilian casualties almost too horrific to contemplate. On one hand, Iraq has a massive chemical armoury and has shown that it is not ashamed to use it. On the other, Iraqi troops are entren­ched in the built-up areas of Kuwait city and cannot be easily dislodged. Does the American military take such considerations at alt seriously?

"I don't think that anyone is una­ware of the horrendous consequences of warfare in the Gulf. The efforts that the American adminis­tration has made to secure support in the Security Council, and thus sacking of Air Force General Michael Dugan, indicate that it is not prepared to give the military the lead rote. There is still a strong commitment to sanctions as the means of securing the removal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.”

Nevertheless, Mr O’Neill does not think that too much should be made of the likely casualties if war breaks out. "If Saddam's firepower becomes the issue, it could result in the legitimising of his taking of Kuwait," he says.

He is similarly emphatic about his backing for the Government's agreement to send ground troops to the Gulf — a decision about which he had at first seemed to have serious doubts. “The Americans took a rough and ready view of what was required at the beginning of the crisis. Since then, they’ve concluded that more forces were necessary. There are a number of countries that are unwilling or unable to reinforce the Gulf, but we’re in a position where we have the capability – you might argue because it’s surplus to requirements on the central front. And it isn’t just that Britain is putting the tanks in: undertakings have been given by the Egyptians and the Syrians to increase their presence. The deployment of British ground troops is significant but not massive, and I don’t think it’s upping the ante a great deal.”

Nevertheless, he is critical of Tory arguments that the Gulf crisis shows that Britain should be moving towards a greater “out of area” military role now that the cold war is over. “We discount any formal out-of-area role for Britain, although there has to be a capability to protect British interests if they're under threat.". He also dis­misses arguments that NATO, the West European Union or the Euro­pean Community should create multinational "global policeman" rapid deployment forces.

Which is not to say that he is' against the development of rapid' deployment capabilities in principle.  By the mid-nineties, he 'says, NATO's much scaled-down deploy­ment in Germany will almost cer­tainly be far more mobile than its current forces, "but under the auspices of NATO such forces would not have a role outside Europe."

Another Conservative argument has been that the Gulf crisis effectively scuppers hopes for large cuts in military, expenditure. Once again, Mr O'Neill disagrees. "The peace dividend would, be limited in its earlier stages,, Obviously, the  Gulf crisis will mean short-term over-runs in the defence budget which will have to be met out of contingency reserves.. But in the longer term I don’t see that this should impose a significant extra burden on the defence budget or impede the achievement of the kinds of savings in military expend­iture that were envisaged before the Gulf blew up."

Nor does the Gulf crisis show that Britain needs to retain its nuclear weaponry to deter third world mili­tary adventurers. "The idea that you can deter a Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons is perhaps the worst argument for nuclear weapons. You cannot deter a fanatic with weapons of any kind," As for
countering third world nuclear pow­ers, "the nuclear capabilities that countries like Iraq may acquire will be extremely primitive. They won't have the delivery systems to pose a threat to the United Kingdom or north-west Europe. Anyway, the way of dealing with nuclear pro­liferation in the third world is through arms control negotiations.”

The Gulf crisis is not, of course, the only defence question of any importance, even if it has domin­ated the media for the past two months. The collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe has brought the cold war to an end after 40 years. The two Germanics become one next Wednesday, and  massive reductions in conventional forces are imminent as a result of the Conventional Forces in Europe negotiations. A bloc-free, substan­tially demilitarised Europe, which seemed a distant dream only a year ago, is now within reach.

Yet NATO seems to be dragging its feet. In July, the NATO summit in London issued a declaration holding put the prospect of a trans­formation of NATO into a more political alliance committed to nego­tiating arms reductions.

But it restated the nuclear strate­gic, doctrines of "flexible response" and "forward defence". The declara­tion pointedly did not announce cancellation of NATO's plans to deploy a new nuclear tactical air-to-surface missile (TASM) to replace Cruise and Pershing missiles removed from Europe under the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty.

Mr O'Neill gave a cautious wel­come to the declaration in July and still.stands by his judgment. There were things in the declaration that were good, but there was inconsis­tency between the agreement not to proceed with short-range ground launched nuclear forces and the retention of the ideas of 'flexible response* and forward defence'." He also, rebuffs criticism of Labour's position on TASM. "Deployment of TASM would be against the spirit of the INF treaty. The Dutch and the Belgians have continued to press this point, and the German coali­tion is not completely unified on the issue. The Americans are very sen­sitive to this. While they're proceed­ing with the deployment of TASM, no formal decisions have been taken about deployment. Labour is' oppo­sed to TASM and we would fight within the alliance to have it stop­ped."

Mr O'Neill is optimistic that the talks in Vienna on conventional forces in Europe will result in early agreements on reductions. He is less sanguine about the possibilities of negotiating naval reductions in the North Atlantic. The situation with maritime disarmament is what I find most frustrating. We have got to get the Americans and the Soviets to reach an understanding on the North Atlantic. That is one of the major areas where a Labour government could make a contribu­tion. We are the biggest European contributor to NATO’s maritime forces. That has to be a lever which we can pull. We would not subscribe to the view that we can do without some kind of seaborne capability but it could be that we could bring it further south."

What, though, of Labour's posi­tion on the broader questions sur­rounding the structure of a post-cold war European security system? Is the mutual dissolution of NATO and the Warsaw Pact still Labour's long-term goal? Mr O'Neill laughs. “The mutual dissolution of the blocs was one of those policies that people supported because they didn't think it would happen. And you can't have the mutual dissolu­tion of the two blocs when one has already disintegrated. But the establishment of a new order is essential and frankly we never gave enough thought to that because it seemed so far off. We've got to secure the continuing engagement of the United States in Europe, but make the Americans recognise that this will be of a diminished signific­ance. We have to use the institu­tions that are available to us, and for the foreseeable future that means working through NATO and the Warsaw Pact."

The defence issue that dominates this year's party conference agenda is not, however, the future of Europe, but the peace dividend. Last year, against the advice of the leadership, conference voted by a two-thirds majority for Composite 47, which committed Labour "to reduce defence spending initially to equal the average level of other West European countries". This year, out of 56 resolutions to con­ference on defence and security issues, 35 were reaffirmations of Composite 47.

Mr O'Neill believes that a compromise can be reached. "We had seve­ral reasons for opposing acceptance of Composite 47," he says. "First, the use of the word 'initially' gave the impression that the cuts might have to be carried out in the first year of a Labour government. Secondly, it wasn't clear what the level of cut was. Thirdly, the notion of cutting to the ‘average West European level' of defence spending is very vague. Finally, it was not clear 12 months ago what the pros­pects were for negotiated disarma­ment.

"But the kind of reductions that were envisaged last year are as nothing compared with what could now be achieved. We are now talk­ing about far greater cuts, but over a somewhat longer period. I would like to see if it's possible to come to some sort of accommodation with the proponents of Composite 47. It doesn’t have to be a fudge, it doesn’t have to  it doesn't have to be a shabby compromise. At this stage, I'm not sure what form this understanding could take, but I would like to think that I will be able to come to the meeting Tribune and CND are having on Sunday night and say that we have arrived at an understanding."

Mr O'Neill sees the potential for savings mainly through reducing the size of the armed forces and the civil service, though retraining and redundancy costs will be substan­tial in the short term. A Labour government would not seek to achieve savings by slashing expen­sive procurement programmes. In particular, current plans to build a new battle tank would be scaled down but not cancelled; the Euro­pean Fighter Aircraft, now in the development stage, would not be dropped; and planned new frigates would go ahead, albeit with less high-tech equipment.

What, though, of Britain's "inde­pendent nuclear deterrent"? Are there no savings to be made there? Mr O'Neill nods. "We've said that we favour negotiated nuclear dis­armament, and it's incumbent on the next Labour government to prove that. I'm one of the people who chaffed in the sixties when we were betrayed by a Labour govern­ment. I know Neil Kinnock feels exactly the same. We feel it is incumbent on us to give it our best shot as early as possible."

The first stage of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks will soon be over, he says. "It could well be that the return of a Labour government coincides with the beginning of the START two talks. We are hopeful that we would be able to start talking with the Chinese and the French as well as the Russians and the Americans. Nuclear disarma­ment has to be high on the agenda."

Friday, 7 September 1990


Paul Anderson, review of How We Shall Bring About the Revolution by Emile Pataud and Emile Pouget (Pluto, £7.95) and Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker (Pluto, £7.95), Tribune, 7 September 1990

If you’re dissatisfied with the moderate reforms and pragmatism of social democracy, where do you turn politically? For perhaps 50 years after the Bolshevik revolution, in Britain as in most of the developed world, the obvious answer was to some form of Leninism. The political space to the left of social democracy was largely occupied by people who took their inspiration from 1917, even if, as time went by, more and more of them came to argue that the revolution had gone astray at some point.

In recent years, however, all that has changed. The Leninists are still with us, of course, but they no longer dominate the left. Revulsion at the brutal police states created by every "successful" Leninism and disgust at the manipulative tactics of the various domestic Leninist sects have taken their toll. People who want something more radical than social demo¬cracy no longer look to those squabbling over the legacy of 1917.

One result of this has been a dramatic growth of interest in the radical socialist traditions, mostly libertarian, that were shoved aside, swallowed or smashed by Leninism in the twenties and thirties — guild socialism, council communism, anarchism, syndicalism. Hence these two volumes, both reprints in Pluto's "Libertarian Classics" series.

Emile Pataud and Emile Pouget were two of the leading militants of the French trade union federation, the Confederation General du Travail, during its revolutionary syndicalist period in the early years of the century. How We Shall Bring About the Revolution, first published in French in 1909, is their account of a fictional revolution in which the working class takes power by means of a general strike, expropri¬ates the expropriators and sets up a self-managed stateless syndicalist society.

There are some obvious objections to Pataud and Pouget's scenario, not least that they are far too optimistic about the ease with which a revolution would overthrow capitalism. And, of course, the French syndicalists never did bring about the revolution. Their movement was already on the ebb at the start of the first world war, which split the CGT into rival factions, with the majority supporting the war.

The story was different in Spain, where the Confederation National del Trabajo, stiffened by a far stronger anarchist presence, remained true to its anti-party, anti-parliamentary origins right up to the outbreak of the civil war in 1936 and subsequently came close to realising the dreams of Pataud and Pouget. Rudolf Rocker wrote Anarcho-Syndicalism in 1937 to explain to an Anglophone readership the ideas of the CNT. It is a useful partisan summary of the history and aspirations of the syndicalist movement, and the circumstances of its writing just about make excusable its extraordinary optimism.

Both these books are fascinating historical documents; but do they have anything to contribute to a post-Leninist left? On the whole, I fear not. The syndicalists' emphases on self-management and the need for political means to be compatible with politi¬cal ends remain apposite. But the idea that trade unions could or should create a new stateless commonwealth seems rather quaint today. Revolutionary syndicalism was a phenomenon of societies far less complex than our own — societies that had yet to experience consumerism, the Keynesian-corporatist welfare state, transnational companies or information technology. And, like it or not, there's no turning the clock back.

Friday, 17 August 1990


Tribune leader, 17 August 1990

It would be a mistake to rush to condemn the unilateral decision of the United States President, George Bush, to send substantial American forces to the Gulf. Iraqi armour, having swept through Kuwait, was massing on the border of Saudi Arabia. If Saddam Hussein did not intend to invade, there was no way of telling. By the time a credible United Nations force could have been assembled, the Iraqis could easily have over-run Saudi Arabia and perhaps gone further. President Bush's action made it clear that Saddam's particu¬larly vicious police state would not be allowed to exercise power over any more territory than it already controlled. That is welcome, even though it is largely a by-product of the American's attempts to secure oil supplies.

Nevertheless, the current situation is fraught with danger. Having shifted so much military hardware so fast, the Amer¬icans and their allies now have a much more difficult task, which is to avoid using it. Although his forces are technically inferior, particularly in the air, Saddam Hussein is too heavily armed to be easily beaten by military means. He has large stocks of nerve gas, and has shown, both in the decade-long war with Iran and in his attempted genocide of the Kurds, that he is not ashamed to use it.

He also has the ballistic missiles to deliver conventional or chemical warheads over long range. If Iraq is attacked, Sad¬dam will retaliate — not just against soldiers, sailors and airmen, dehydrating but safe in their chemical warfare suits, but also against the unprotected civilians of Jerusalem, Damascus and Riyadh. In such an eventuality, it is not difficult to imagine that the Americans or the Israelis punishing Iraq with a nuclear strike. If Saddam moves first, the outcome will be no less disastrous.

Escalation of the current stand-off to full-scale war is, in short, almost too horrific to contemplate. The Americans and their allies, along with the rest of the world, must do every¬thing in their power to keep the pressure on Saddam without resorting to war. Given the reliance of the Iraqi economy on oil exports, a carefully enforced trade embargo will soon begin to bite. The danger is that what the US Navy sees as careful enforcement will be taken as provocation by Iraq.

Sitting tight and letting the sanctions do the work is not, however, enough. If the unilateral American intervention was necessary, it has also stirred up a hornets' nest in the Arab world. Arab opinion has been firmly anti-American for years — and with reason. Since it took from Britain the role of dominant imperial power in the region, America's Middle East policy has consisted of backing Israel through thick and thin, while propping up corrupt and despotic Arab allies and defending its oil interests.

Not so long ago, that meant supporting Iraq against Iran, doing as much business as possible with Iraq and ignoring both the brutality of Saddam's regime and his radical populist pan-Arabist rhetoric. Now Saddam is the gravest threat to Amer¬ican hegemony in the Middle East. Long viewed with indulg¬ence by the poor of the Arab world, not least for his support for the Palestinians, Saddam now appears to many Arabs as a saviour, the first leader in living memory with the guts to stand up to imperialism.

This will not really be changed by the Americans' success in getting Syria, Egypt and Morocco to send troops to Saudi Arabia — although moves to make the forces arrayed against Iraq genuinely multinational, preferably under the command of the United Nations, could defuse a little of the popular resentment at the Americans' action. The problem facing the Americans is much deeper. Until the Americans cease to shore up Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and until they stop backing corrupt plutocracies in the Arab world, the "man on horseback" will always find ready support among Arabs. Saddam Hussein might well be starved out within months but, unless America's Middle East policy changes, there will be plenty more Saddam Husseins in the future.

Friday, 3 August 1990


Tribune, 3 August 1990

Labour's National Executive Committee has decided to purge a second group of Trotskyists from the Labour Party – Socialist Organiser. Paul Anderson thinks it has taken a sledgehammer to crack some nuts

Last week's decision by the Labour Party's National Executive Committee to pros­cribe Socialist Organiser is one of the strangest it has made in years. Socialist Organiser is certainly, like Militant, a Leninist sect with its own rules and internal disci­pline.  But, unlike Militant, it is extremely small and insignificant, with nothing to match Militant's record of thuggery and corruption in Liverpool. The NEC seems to have taken a sledgehammer to crack some nuts.

Socialist Organiser has its origins in a small Trotskyist faction expelled from Tony Cliff's Interna­tional Socialists (now the Socialist Workers' Party) in 1971. This group was led by John O'Mahony, now the editor of Socialist Organiser newspaper, who also used, and continues to use, the Gaelic form of his name, Sean Matgamna.

After several years outside the Labour Party under various names, mostly spent in failed attempts to secure unity with other small Trot­skyist sects, the O'Mahony group, by now the International Commun­ist League, decided to join Labour. In 1978, along with several other small Trotskyist groups inside the Labour Party, it formed the Social­ist Campaign for Labour Victory. The Socialist Organiser newspaper was launched as the organ of the SCLV later the same year.

The SCLV (later the Socialist Organiser Alliance) acted as an effective hard-left front for a couple of years, playing a key role in the mobilising for reform of the Labour Party's constitution in 1980 and 1981. But it was an unstable coali­tion, constantly plagued by sec­tarian feuding, particularly over Left tactics and strategy in local government. It was soon reduced to two major constituents – O'Mahony's ICL and the Workers' Socialist League, run by Alan Thornett.

After Thornett and O'Mahony fell out in 1983, O'Mahony (who kept the Socialist Organiser name) seemed to go out of his way to isolate his group from others. Always an iconoclast, he now abandoned many of the core ortho­doxies of British Trotskyism. He dropped support for Irish Repub­licanism and Palestinian national­ism, criticised the bureaucratisation of the feminist movement, and, worst of all for the keepers of the Trotskyist flame, started to flirt with the ideas of Max Schactman, an American who broke with Trotskyism in the forties and became much more critical than orthodox Trotskyists of Soviet-style societies.

Meanwhile, Socialist Organiser lost its influence in local govern­ment and concentrated its efforts on the National Organisation of Labour Students, a handful of local Labour Parties and a few single-issue campaigns, the most success­ful of which has been the Campaign for Solidarity with Workers in the Eastern Bloc.

A Socialist Organiser front, Socialist Students in NOLS (SSiN), mounted a half-serious challenge for control of the National Union of Students in 1988 but proved incap­able of maintaining its momentum; today, Socialist Organiser has some 350 supporters nationwide (it claims 500), around half of whom are students, and an effective pre­sence in only two CLPs: Wallasey (which had a Socialist Organiser supporter, Lol Duffy, as a Parliamentary candidate in 1987 and submitted a Socialist Organiser model resolution to party confer­ence in 1989) and Nottingham East.

Socialist Organiser, in other words, is one of the smallest Trot­skyist groups in the Labour Party. It is also, by comparison with Mili­tant, well-behaved (there are no allegations of intimidation of other party members, for example) and relatively open. So why has the NEC decided to proscribe it?

The answer is simple. Wallasey, where Socialist Organiser is strong, is next door to Birkenhead, where the CLP earlier this year chose a local trade union official, Paul Davies, as its Parliamentary candi­date instead of the sitting MP, Frank Field.

Field, a darling of the media, refused to accept Davies's victory, complained that Militant and Socialist Organiser had interfered in the selection process, and threatened to resign to force a by-election on the issue of far-left infiltration into the Labour Party.

Under such pressure – and spurred on by memories of how Labour's poll ratings benefited from the attack on Militant in 1985 – the NEC decided to have a go at Socialist Organiser.

After a cursory investigation that seems to have produced as evidence only an anonymous two-page briefing prepared more than two years ago by NOLS activists in their battle against SSiN, Socialist Orga­niser appeared as an item on the agenda of the June NEC but was not discussed.

Subsequently, the NOLS briefing, which purported to document Socialist Organiser's practice as a democratic centralist sect and to identify the key figures in its lead­ership, was leaked to O'Mahony. He said that it was riddled with inaccuracies, some libellous (includ­ing a claim that he was a childhood member of the IRA); the NEC was presented with a "cleaned-up" ver­sion for its July meeting last week when it issued its ban.

O'Mahony argues that Socialist Organiser is "a democratic collec­tive, committed to rational demo­cratic working-class politics, not a cult with gurus and disciples". He complains, with reason, that the NEC gave Socialist Organiser no chance to put its case, and has announced that his group is "refus­ing to go quietly". This week Social­ist Organiser launched a campaign to defend its position in the Labour Party.

The irony of the NEC ban is that it has already had the effect of rallying many of Socialist Organ­iser's sworn enemies on the left behind the sect. The Trotskyist groups that have spurned O'Mahony for most of the past decade are now lining up with Tony Benn and most of the rest of the hard left to support him. Look out for some strange platform line-ups at this year's party conference.


Paul Anderson, review of The Alternative by Ben Pimlott, Anthony Wright and Tony Flower (eds) (W. H. Allen, £14.95), Tribune, 3 August 1990

The magazine Samizdat was started a couple of years ago by a small group of centre-left intellectuals with a large number of buddies on the journalistic-academic cocktail circuit, who were disappointed at their boy having missed the editorship of the New Statesman when Stuart Weir was appointed.

Samizdat's Big Idea was a "popular front of the mind" between centre and left. Although the centre parties were in the doldrums and Labour had moved some way towards the centre, Labour was still way behind in the opinion polls and would need an electoral pact or tactical voting to form a government, they thought. Worse, it still had all those awful working-class trade union chaps and loony Trots on board. And worst of all, Labour wasn't taking advice from the people (themselves) who had all the good ideas.

Unfortunately, less than six months after Samizdat was launched, Labour was well ahead of the Tories in the opinion polls, and since then it has looked likely to win the next election on its own. The centre, meanwhile, has more or less collapsed. Although Samizdat published several good articles (and a lot of dross), its raison d'etre became increasingly obscure. Its writers even started contributing to the New Statesman again once they realised that the Weir regime was not as hostile as they had feared. Indeed, the Statesman was just as sniffy as Samizdat about the Labour Party, just as keen on "popular fronts of the mind", and just as prone to the pretension that British left intellectuals whose advice had been spurned by Kinnock were in the same boat as dissidents in eastern Europe.

All this woud be comic were the product not so stale. A visitor from outer space would certainly gain substantial insights into British centre-left thinking by reading the pieces in The Alternative, the Samizdat reader "for the new millenium", but anyone who has read the liberal press in the past ten years will get a terrible sense of deja vu. Most of the longer pieces are the same old people — John Lloyd, David Marquand, Paul Hirst, Peter Hennessy, Christopher Huhne, Martin Jacques, Richard Holme, Raymond Plant, Michael Young, Julian Le Grand, Patricia Hewitt — trotting out the same old arguments (market forces, citizenship, proportional representation, reform of Whitehall, psephological trends, a touch of green) in the same old ponderous style.

Some do it better than others, and the longer contributions are interspersed with short pieces by Big Names from the World of Culture, some of which are not too bad, On the whole, however, The Alternative, far from offering "a stinging challenge to the Blandness Tendency, which has recently gained such an alarming influence on opposition politics", is little more than an encore by old bores who think they've a right to a job in the think-tank when Labour comes to power.