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.