Friday, 29 June 1990


Tribune, 29 June 1990

Paul Anderson looks at next week's Nato summit in London and predicts public unity and private discord

The summit meeting of Nato heads of government in London next week will doubtless end with an anodyne communiqué declaring the unity of the alliance and its confidence in the future. Not for the first time, Nato's rhetoric will be a lie, concealing deep divisions and uncertainties.

Of course, there is a minimal consensus among the alliance's member governments. They agree that Nato should continue to exist, that a united Germany should be a member, that American and other allied forces should be stationed in Germany and that a "sensible mix of nuclear and conventional forces" should be deployed in Europe (as the British foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, put it so elegantly earlier this month).

They also agree that Nato should somehow become more of a "political" alliance, negotiating arms reductions and building security, and that its military strategy needs to be adapted to the new conditions in Europe.

Beyond this thin gruel, however, the alliance is in some disarray, particularly over the security implications of German unity.

Here, the problem is not so much that the Soviet Union is still insisting that a united Germany cannot join Nato unless it also joins the Warsaw Pact: it is accepted, even in the Kremlin, that Moscow will have to make concessions. But the Soviet Union is not in such a weak position that it cannot extract a good price for unification, especially given the anti-militarism of the German public.

Nato could yet find that the only way to secure united-German membership involves substantial steps towards the demilitarisation of Germany, including, critically, withdrawal of nuclear weapons from German territory.

This would make a mockery of Nato's current military strategy of "flexible response", according to which forward European deployments of "sub-strategic" American nuclear weapons deter attack from the Warsaw Pact by ensuring that any east-west war would be a step on a "ladder of escalation" ending in all-out assault by America's strategic nuclear weapons.

Nato's planners know that flexible response is threatened, and they have spent the past few months trying to cobble together an alternative — dubbed by its proponents "minimum deterrence" — which would preserve the essentials of Nato's strategic doctrine at the same time as satisfying demands for change.

At the core of this alternative is a restructuring of Nato forces in Germany into multinational units, with "purely defensive" forces stationed in what is now East Germany and along the Czechoslovak border. Behind these "defensive" deployments would be a corridor of bases for "quick reaction" forces, possibly with an "out-of-area" role (perhaps against Libya, Iraq or other Middle East "maverick" states), and behind these, in what is now western West Germany, "heavy manoeuvre" forces, including assault tank divisions. In short, the current East-West border moves 80 kilometres east for some purposes and 40 kilometres west for others.

Precisely what nuclear component there would be in this restructuring is unclear. At present, America's Nato nuclear deployments in West Germany consist of nuclear artillery, short-range Lance missiles, intermediate-range cruise and Pershing missiles, and aircraft armed with nuclear bombs.

But cruise and Pershing are being removed and destroyed under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, while Lance and the artillery are both approaching obsolescence and will not be replaced by more modern systems. Short-range ground-launched nuclear weapons are considered useless even by Nato planners these days. Their range is sufficient only to reach East German, Czechoslovak or Polish soil.

Nato's hopes for maintaining up-to-date nuclear forces in Germany thus rest on plans for replacing existing American nuclear bombs with American nuclear tactical air-to-surface missiles (TASMs).

The problem is that deployment of TASMs is opposed by the majority of West Germans (including the foreign minister, Hans Dietrich Genscher, and his Free Democrat Party).

One way out for Nato might be to base the TASMs elsewhere and fly them into Germany only for exercises or in times of crisis. But the options are limited. Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands have made it clear that they do not want them. At present, only the British government has shown any enthusiasm for taking the missiles and even Margaret Thatcher has added the rider that Britain must not be "singularised".

Of course, Thatcher's qualification does not necessarily amount to much. She might be prepared to take TASMs if Turkey did so too, for example, or if their homes bases were only in Britain but they were flown by a multinational. airforce (although what the British public would think of the Luftwaffe flying from Bentwaters or Upper Heyford, 50 years after the Battle of Britain, is a moot point).

Nevertheless, the controversy on TASM looks likely to provide some serious fireworks. Without the new missile, Nato's ability to adapt its traditional stance to the new Europe is seriously compromised. With it, its rhetoric of change is exposed as a fraud. In Britain, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has made opposition to TASMs a political priority. Meanwhile, the Labour Party keeps mum.

Friday, 8 June 1990


Paul Anderson, review of of Green Political Thought by Andrew Dobson (Unwin Hyman, £7.95), Tribune, 8 June 1990

At the core of Andy Dobson's lucid account of the political thinking of the Green movement is a distinction between environmentalism and ecologism. Environmentalists are "light 'Green": although enthusiastic about banning chlorofluorocarbon-emitting aerosols, encouraging bottle banks, taxing polluters and so forth, they believe that solving environmental problems doesn't require a particularly drastic change in the way society is organised. Ecologists. on the other hand. are "dark Green": although they normally support many of the policies and actions of environmentalists, they have a deeper critique, believing that only a truly radical transformation of industrial society can possibly save the planet from disaster.

Dobson's book is about ecologism, which he considers as a distinctive ideological current of the past 20 years ( although it draws on older ideologies, notably anarchism and other libertarian socialisms). It is characterised by its critique of Industrialism" and instrumental rationality, and by its assertion that there are natural limits to economic growth that make the creation of a "sustainable society" imperative.

"While most post-industrial futures revolve around high growth, high-technology, expanding services, greater leisure, and satisfaction conceived in material terms. ecologism's post-industrial society questions growth and technology, and suggests that the good life will involve more work and fewer objects."

Much of the Green Political Thought is taken up with exegesis of this world view, but there are also ,excellent passages on the relationships between ecologism and other radical ideologies, notably socialism and feminism. Dobson shows that, with very few exceptions. British encounters between ecologism and its rivals — particularly the red-green debate — have so far been disappointingly superficial and inconclusive.

On one hand, very few ecologists have recognised that much of their critique of modern society owes a lot to some sorts of socialism. More important, even fewer self-styled socialists have gone beyond accusing ecologists of lacking "class analysis". Economic growth is assumed to be an uncomplicatedly good thing by the overwhelming majority of socialists. Despite the current fashion for concern for the environment. ecologists' ideas still aren't taken seriously.

One reason for this. Dobson believes, is that ecologism is actually marginalised by the growth of environmentalism. Just as democratic socialists are torn between endorsing social democracy as a better evil than Leninism or unfettered capitalism and denouncing it as a means of propping up capitalism, so ecologists have the choice of working for environmentalist goals or denouncing environmentalists as a palliative for the cancer of industrialism. Most ecologists take the option of backing environmentalism, on the principle that small successes are better than none. But the result is that the voice of ecologism is submerged by the clatter of environmentalist tinkering.

So what can the ecologists do? Dobson doesn't say. But I have a feeling that a little study of the past hundred years of socialism might be a pretty good start — if only as a source of warnings of how not to proceed.


Paul Anderson, review of The Crucible by Arthur Miller (National), Tribune, 8 June 1990

Howard Davies’s National Theatre revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible is a delight. Some have said that the play, which uses a seventeenth century witchcraft panic in the Massachusetts village of Salem as an allegory of the anti-communist hysteria whipped up by Senator Joseph McCarthy in fifties America, hasn't worn well, but I can't agree.

This production, the first of several Miller revivals on the London stage to mark his 75th birthday, is gripping from beginning to end, with some extraordinarily energetic acting all round. Tom Wilkinson is particularly good as John Proctor, the honest farmer whose one-time lover, Abigail Williams (Clare Holman), starts the whole process of denunciations and trials; while Zoe Wanamaker puts in a sterling performance as his wife, Elizabeth.

William Dudley's sets are a little too fussy at times, and the West Country dialects of a few of the cast somewhat rocky, but these, I feel, are minor quibbles. Most of the other members of the audience on the second press night seem to have had no quibbles at all: I haven’t seen a standing ovation quite so enthusiastic for ages.

Friday, 1 June 1990


Paul Anderson, review of Political Thoughts and Polemics by Bernard Crick (Edinburgh, £25), Tribune, 1 June 1990

Richard Hoggart's foreword describes Bernard Crick as "a very British type of socialist; a liberal socialist for whom the state's first duty is to make us free, not to try to make us virtuous according to its own model", and that's pretty accurate.

 Crick's socialism is not of the statist kind — he has no time for Leninism or any other dirigiste fantasy — but is by no means anarchist. "Liberal socialist" suits him well.

This collection of his political essays and journalistic polemics from the past decade-and-a-half is immensely readable: like George Orwell, of whom he has written the so-far definitive biography, Crick has a remarkable capacity for plain speaking against the cant of the day, for saying what no one else says but plenty feel. Unlike many academics, he can write without recourse to jargon.

He is merciless with hypocrisy and sloppy thinking wherever he finds them, but is particularly hard on the left — usually with justification. A 1986 essay from The Irish Review complains: "All my adult life I have found that my fellow English left-wing intellectuals are suckers for anybody else's nationalism and contemptuous of their own. Instead of being critical friends of liberation movements, occasionally asking whether one-party states always make the best decisions, whether autocracy is always efficient, whether bombs are always the best persuaders and terror always the best answer to terror, they tend almost to revel in justifying other people's violence."

Quite so, and there are similarly knockabout passages on left attitudes to "bourgeois" freedoms of expression, structuralist Marxism and a whole lot more besides.

Crick has long been a sceptical supporter of the Labour Party, but his most recent writings show a growing impatience at the vacuity of its leaders and their failure to grasp the nettle of constitutional reform. This is how he reacts to the reheated undergraduate political theory served up by Roy Hattersley in Labour's 1988 Aims and Values statement:

"The document has no core: it is a series of surface compromises between democratic socialism and social democracy. It has no sense of history. The party apparently has no paternity, or, if so, no pride in it. There is not even an evocative list of the party's great achievements, thinkers and heroes."

Since writing that, Crick has thrown in his lot with Charter 88, and there's plenty of intelligent commentary here on constitutional issues, from Northern Ireland through parliamentary sovereignty to electoral systems. I'm convinced by parts of his case, unconvinced by others — but that's hardly the point.

Crick is a great controversialist, and his arguments are always worth reading. If there were a few more mavericks like him, British politics would be a lot less tedious than they are today.


Paul Anderson, Sanity column, June 1990

For a couple of weeks this spring, the liberal media were swamped by supporters of Charter 88, the constitutional reform pressure group. Clearly in better health than the magazine that spawned it, New Statesman & Society, Charter launched a prospectus outlining an ambitious programme for the nineties. The list of demands included a written constitution incorporating a bill of rights, a freedom of information act, proportional representation, reform of the House of Lords, parliaments for Scotland and Wales. Lord Scarman predicted a written constitution by the end of the decade; Salman Rushdie gave his blessing to Charter 88 in a Today interview, the first since he went into hiding. The Guardian ran a series of feature articles by big-name Charter 88 writers.

But not everyone was completely convinced. Notably, in a biting piece in the Sunday Correspondent, David Blake trashed Charter 88's prospectus as 'a reminder of the depths of despair and nonsense being plumbed by people who do not like Mrs Thatcher but who do not believe that the Labour Party can be made into a sensible party of government. The document could thus achieve cult status, the political equivalent of watching Baywatch on television and saying how dreadful it is.' He described the supporters of the Charter as 'an odd mishmash of people who were excited by the Alliance, and people around the fringes of the Labour left - what some might call a bloc of Rightists and Trotskyists'.

The echoes of Stalinist denunciation in Blake's turn of phrase are a particularly nice touch: Kinnock loyalism in today's Labour Party has a strong resemblance to the cult of the leader found in the old Comintern parties. He does, however, have a serious point. Charter 88's most prominent supporters are either members of the 'great and good' centre-left establishment or forty-somethings who were part of the far left of the sixties and seventies. And they do share an antipathy to boring old mainstream Labourism, one upshot of which is that they are unenthusiastic about (and peculiarly inept at) organising in the Labour Party and its milieu (unlike, for example, CND).

In return, the Labour leadership, along with many ordinary party members, sees Charter 88 as no more than a front for proportional representation in which the usual self-interested liberals, nationalists, greens and social democrats are joined by a group of madcap Leninist intellectuals who want to start a 'proper' electoral socialist party to the left of Labour but realise that it wouldn't stand a chance under the present system.

This is, of course, something of a malicious caricature. There are good democratic arguments for introducing proportional representation and for proliferation of parties, and there is a very strong case for freedom-of-information legislation, reform of the Lords and devolution of power. (The case for a written constitution which sets out our rights is much weaker - it could easily result in an increase in the power of the judiciary, God preserve us.) What's more, most of the far-leftists now hanging around Charter 88 have long renounced the sins of their Leninist pasts (at least in private). And nobody admits to having once supported the Social Democratic Party these days.

But the fact that so many of its leading lights are compromised in Labour leadership eyes by their past associations (however unfairly) puts Charter 88 in a near-impossible situation. On one hand, it doesn't have a hope of persuading Labour to adopt its programme this side of a general election. On the other hand, there is no chance of a government implementing its programme unless it converts Labour. In short, in the nasty world of realpolitik, Charter 88 would seem to be wasting its breath unless it is banking on a Tory victory in 1992, forcing Labour to rethink its position.

This doesn't mean that Charter 88 can't influence public opinion or that Labour is impossible to budge with patient work. But Charter 88's predicament does provide an important lesson for the peace movement and every other social movement that wants a government to legislate change. Devoting effort and resources to the slow, boring and often frustrating work of keeping up pressure within the Labour Party is not an optional extra, and it can't be abandoned when the going gets tough. It's absolutely essential, even when Labour seems intent on moving in precisely the wrong direction. Sticking two fingers up at the Labour Party – which has seemed very tempting for CNDers in the past year or so – solves nothing at all.