Friday, 26 April 1991


Tribune leader, 26 April 1991

Michael Heseltine's scheme for local govern­ment finance has pleased his party, which is hardly surprising. Just about anything that was not poll tax and did not involve an explicit admission that Labour was right all along would have done nicely for the desperate Tories. A tax that can be portrayed as a means of ensuring smaller average bills must seem little less than a godsend.

The problem, however, as Bryan Gould said immediate­ly after the announcement of the new "council tax" on Tuesday, is that, by refusing to admit that Labour was right all along – in other words, by refusing to go back to the rates – the Tories have opted for a scheme that is not only impossible to introduce for several years but is also patently unfair. The "banding" system for Mr Heseltine's new tax and the reintroduction of 100 per cent rebates mark a belated admission that "ability to pay" has to be taken into account hi local taxation. But the way the "banding" has been set up means that the very richest will get off with disproportionately small bills.

Getting this message across in the last week of the local election campaign will be quite a challenge amid the clouds of sycophantic Tory hype in the newspapers. It is unlikely, however, that the Tories will reap too many benefits from Mr Heseltine's announcement. His coup de theatre cannot obliterate the popular sense that the poll tax fiasco has revealed the Tories as incompetent and pig-headed; still less can it conceal the extent of the economic crisis in which the Tories have landed us. Labour is still set to do well on May 2.

Germany moves Left

The extraordinary result in the Rhineland-Palatinate Land elections at the weekend, which saw the Social Democrats take 45 per cent of the vote, pushing Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union into a poor second place with 39 per cent, is cause for rejoicing for the Left not just in Germany but throughout Europe.

If the SPD can win hi Rhineland-Palatinate, it can sweep Germany. Its victory ends 44 years of CDU hege­mony in one of Germany's most prosperous states, just five months after Chancellor Kohl won a dramatic gener­al election victory on the back of his success in securing unification of the two Germanies.

Mr Kohl has now lost his majority in the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house, and his grip on power, so recently seemingly unassail­able, suddenly looks tenuous. Put simply, the West Germans recognise that Mr Kohl lied to them about the costs of unification, while the SPD told the truth. Mr Kohl's party is worn out ideologically, charmless and vulnerable.

These are early days, but the prospects for an SPD-dominated government hi Germany are now better than at any time since 1983. And that, given the central role of Germany in Europe, means that the prospects for a Europe dominated by social democracy are better than at any time in living memory.

The last thing Labour needs right now is to start working on the assumption that a future SPD general election victory will sort out all its problems: there was too much of that attitude in the late eighties, when Labour's belief in the inevitability of SPD victory took the place that should have been occupied by serious thought about European security policy. Nevertheless, the Rhine­land-Palatinate election result gives real cause for re­newed hope. It is now up to the SPD to sustain it.

Friday, 19 April 1991


Tribune, 19 April 1991

Paul Anderson takes a look at the policies that will be the basis for the party's election manifesto

The main surprise in the f Labour policy document launched this week is just how few surprises it contains.

Labour's Better Way for the 1990s, which will form the basis for the Labour election manifesto, was agreed by the party's National Executive Committee on Monday and publicly unveiled at a press conference on Tuesday. Neil Kinnock told journalists that the document reaffirmed the approach of Looking to the Future, taking "further account of changes in the condition of our country and our world". Indeed there is little in it that is not familiar from previous policy meats and speeches.

Nevertheless, there has been no clearer statement of. Labour's current "social democratic austerity" programme, particularly on the economy. The process of drawing up Labour's Better Way was closely supervised by Labour's Treasury team to exclude ambitious spending commitments, and the final document, drafted by Patricia Hewitt, is notable for its pro-Europe stance and its extreme caution about the role of the state except as the provider of "a stable national economic framework" for private enterprise and as the rectifier of the failure of the market."

Kinnock sets the tone in his preface, where he argues that "the old ideologies – command economy at one extreme, crude free market economics at the other – do not work". The priority of a Labour government would be. "the modernisation of Britain", he writes, "creating the conditions in which business can succeed – getting interest and inflation rates down to German and French levels and keeping them down, improving investment in science, research and development and new technologies as others do".

The document itself emphatically rules out expansionary fiscal and monetary policies: "There will be no irresponsible dash for growth under Labour". Instead, it stresses the role of government working "in partnership with industry to meet clearly defined goals – improving skills, crossing new technological frontiers, encouraging long-term investment and securing balanced economic growth in every region".

The state should also ensure "that consumers are protected, monopolies restricted or dismantled and the environment protected". Government "has a particular responsibility for securing long-term investment in education, transport and regional development which the market, left to itself, has failed to provide".

Friday, 12 April 1991


Tribune, 12 April 1991

The left must face up to the fact that the traditional socialist programme has had its day, writes Paul Anderson

What does it mean to be a socialist in Britain today? For the first 60 or 70 years of this century, it was reason­ably easy to answer that question. Socialism, for the overwhelming majority of its adherents, meant state ownership of the means of production, state planning of the economy and a state welfare system "from cradle to grave".

There were, of course, other cur­rents which emphasised non-state forms of social ownership and plan­ning – the co-operative movement, the syndicalists of the second de­cade of the century and the guild socialists who took up many of their ideas. But they had limited influ­ence, particularly after the Bolshe­vik revolution had provided the world with an example of "nationalisation-and-planning" socialism that seemed to work economically, whatever its other faults. When socialists differed (and of course they disagreed about a lot) it was not usually over the core fea­tures of a socialist economy. The debate among socialists was about the means of achieving socialism and about what else socialism en­tailed apart from nationalisation and planning.

Most socialists were democrats and gradualists who believed the Labour Party was the vehicle for socialist change: it was the party of the working class and was at least nominally committed to socialism, even if its basic reason for existence was simply to pursue trade union interests in parliament and, from the thirties onwards, its economic theories owed more to John Maynard Keynes than to any social­ist economist. A sizeable minority, believing for a variety of reasons that Labour was incapable of introducing social­ism, opted for parties to its Left that were more thoroughly socialist and, more often than not, revolutionary in rhetoric if not in practice. It was not until the late fifties that the consensus about what con­stituted the core of socialism began to crack even a little.

The 1945-51 Labour govern­ments had introduced a wide range of measures that were in line with socialist thinking, notably nationa­lisation of key industries and a comprehensive welfare state. But, far from heralding the beginning of a new socialist age, the nationalised industries and the welfare state instead became key elements of a revitalised mixed economy capital­ism in which state planning played a major role. By the mid-fifties, revisionist in­tellectuals on the Labour right were arguing that Keynesianism allowed the state to control the economy without resort to further nationalisation. Progressive taxa­tion policy could take care of reduc­ing inequality, they said. Socialism was obsolete.

Most defenders of the socialist faith, particularly those in the Labour and Communist parties, countered that the revision­ists underestimated the task: nationalisation and planning had not been taken far enough, they argued, and Labour conference (though not the leadership) agreed. But a small number on the left began, cautiously at first, to raise questions about the model of nationalisation that the 1945-51 Labour government had adopted, in particular its lack of any concern for workers' control and its alienat­ing bureaucracy.

For a while, however, the social­ist consensus remained largely in­tact, with demands for workers' control (or at least participation) added to the end of the traditional programme. The 1964-70 Labour governments presided over econo­mic stagnation and increasing trade union wage militancy, and did little to shake the conviction of most socialists that the answer to Bri­tain's problems was more nationa­lisation and planning. After Labour lost office, it swung sharply to the left. Labour's Prog­ramme 1973, on which the party was returned to office in 1974, was a traditional socialist document, stat­ing Labour's aim as being "to bring about a fundamental and irreversi­ble shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families".

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. The 1974-79 Labour governments were plagued by eco­nomic crisis and a continuing fai­lure to cope with trade union wage militancy. The left, defeated in the 1975 referendum over membership of the Common Market, which it had denounced as a capitalist club, found itself increasingly marginal­ised. From 1976 onwards, after the International Monetary Fund step­ped in, Labour introduced a regime of economic austerity unpre­cedented in the post-war era.

Much of the left once again re­sponded by reasserting the old veri­ties of nationalisation and plan­ning, putting their faith in an alternative economic strategy, based on Labour's Programme 1973, which had at its centre the idea of regaining national sovereignty over the economy by imposing strict controls on imports and foreign exchange and leaving the Common Market. But the ground was less and less fertile.
Popular disillusionment with the unresponsiveness and inefficiency of public sector bureaucracies had, by the end of the seventies, critical­ly undermined support for the tradi­tional socialist programme even among the working class – a fact seized upon eagerly by the Tories' propagandists. When the Thatcher Governments of the eighties set about privatising nationalised industries and reduc­ing the role of the state as planner, they met little popular resistance.

It also became increasingly clear that the measures put forward in the alternative economic strategy would have been insufficient for the 1974-79 Labour Governments to have resisted the pressure from multinational capital to toe the austerity line. In France in the early eighties, Francois Mitter­rand's government was rapidly forced to retreat after it tried a very similar approach. Although the alternative econo­mic strategy made it into Labour's Programme 1982 (the basis for the 1983 election manifesto, the in­famous "longest suicide note in his­tory"), by the mid-eighties it was apparent that a medium-sized na­tion-state now had even less room for economic manoeuvre than the alternative economic strategy assumed. Capital was now multina­tional and mobile, and it could call many if not all of the shots in the formation of national economic poli­cy. If the international bankers and multinational corporations wanted austerity budgets, there was little that any national government could do but submit.

Meanwhile, the Soviet model for "nationalisation and planning" socialism was becoming increasingly economically unattractive (it had long before ceased to be politi­cally attractive to more than a handful of diehards.) In the early sixties, Nikita Khrushchev's boast that the Soviet Union would soon overtake the West economically was taken seriously even by con­servative Western politicians; by the mid-eighties, it was obvious to anyone who was awake that the Soviet Union and its satellites faced a gigantic economic crisis rooted in the profound irrationality of the planning system. By the end of the eighties, the crisis had become ter­minal.

Unsurprisingly, in the face of all this, the remains of the consensus among self-styled socialists about the core of socialism slowly dis­appeared as the eighties wore on. The influence of the alternative economic strategy waned rapidly, and nothing has really taken its place. Labour fought the 1987 elec­tion on a manifesto promising refla­tion and economic intervention, but without any hint of the siege mea­sures it had offered in 1983. Today, like all its West European sister parties, it stands for social democratic austerity. The party re­mains committed to redistributive taxation, but it embraces Europe more enthusiastically than the Tories and emphasises that its fis­cal and monetary policies are as tight as anyone's. It seems likely to limit it intervention to training, transport infrastructure, environ­mental controls and defence diversi­fication.

All of this would, of course, be an improvement on what we have now, but one cannot help but think that in today's Labour Party, the revisionists of the fifties and sixties would come across as irres­ponsibly profligate economic med­dlers.

So is British socialism dead? The right would like to believe so, but all that has ended is the hegemony of one conception of socialism – state socialism in one country. The arguments for social ownership and control of production remain as powerful as ever. Capitalism still means chaos, waste, exploitation, inequality and alienation; private ownership still denies us the power to influence the decisions that fun­damentally affect our everyday lives. The global ecological crisis and world poverty both demand urgent radical attention to curb the ravages of capitalism.

The challenge facing socialists today is two-fold. On one level, it is essential to develop feasible, attrac­tive, empowering, non-bureaucratic models of social ownership of pro­duction as alternatives to tradition­al nationalisation. At very least, socialists should be pushing Labour to adopt policies nationally that, without frightening away capital, actively encourage municipal enter­prise, producer co-operatives and other forms of self-management.

But that is the easy bit. Beyond this, it is also essential to develop the means of controlling democrati­cally the activities of multinational capital throughout the globe. So far, the institutions to do this simply do not exist and, so far, socialists have given the issue very little thought beyond gesturing at the potential of a democratised EC with greater powers. One of Tribune's priorities in the coming months will be to attempt to kick-start this crucial debate.


Tribune leader, 12 April 1991

The Labour leadership is right to give a qualified welcome to John Major's plan for a "safe haven" for Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq.

Mr Major's initiative deserves a welcome because a safe area to which the Kurds can escape, protected by the international community, is an urgent necessity. The Kurds cannot be left to Saddam Hussein's bombers, tanks, helicopter gunships and death squads, and Turkey and Iran cannot cope with the influx of refugees from Kurdistan. As Kurdish opposition spokesmen have said, a "safe haven" inside Iraq is the only option left.

This said, the Major plan is not perfect. This is not for the reasons that the United States has put forward - that it involves an unwarranted interference in internal Iraqi affairs, and that a "safe haven" could be seen by Kurds as the nucleus of an independent Kurdish state, thus threa­tening the territorial integrity of Iraq and ultimately destabilising the whole region.

The world has a perfect right to interfere in the internal affairs of a state hi which a people is threatened with extermination by a brutal fascist dictator. Nor should the world community object if a safe haven is seen by the Kurds as a basis of a state of their own: the Kurds have as much right to their own state as anyone else. The status quo is not worth defending just because it is the status quo.

No, the main problem with Mr Major's initiative is that it is unclear. Mr Major has given few indications of the size of the proposed "safe haven", how it would be enforced against Iraqi opposition, possibly armed, how it would be administered and how long it would continue to exist. Of course, the urgent priority now is simply to provide sanctuary for the Curds - which means getting George Bush to agree to the plan hi principle. But the details are important. The last thing the Kurds need to wind up with after all their suffering is their own Gaza Strip.


The decision of the Football Association to create a breakaway 18-member Premier League in England is bad news for all except the biggest clubs, who already dominate the game to an unacceptable degree. It is perhaps true that, if fewer league games were played, the England team could field fresher players. But England play a handful of matches every year and it is absurd to reduce still further the already slim chance of most clubs to make the big time merely in order to give England managers an easier life.

The Football League as currently constituted works reasonably well, allowing good teams to move up the divisions quickly and letting poor teams sink fast. With just one team being relegated and replaced in the prop­osed Premier League, the excitement of English football will be significantly reduced.

The best that can be said for the FA's proposal is that it is not as bad as a completely exclusive 10-member or 12-member "superleague", which is what the big clubs really want. But that is not saying much.

Friday, 5 April 1991


Tribune leader, 5 April 1991

It should now be abundantly clear why so many on the left were sceptical of American claims that the war to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait marked a new concern for the rights of small nations to self-determination. In the past week, United States forces in southern Iraq have sat back and watched while the erstwhile foe ruthlessly suppressed popular uprisings which had been encouraged, if not inspired, by the rhetoric of the US President.

George Bush is not the main villain of this piece: it is Saddam who is directly responsible for the butchery of the Shia and Kurdish revolutionaries. But Bush must take some responsibility for the bloodshed. He did not make it clear to the Kurds that all the stuff about "national self-determination" during the crisis over Kuwait was largely for domestic consumption (and certainly did not apply to nations unlucky enough to be stateless).

He never declared publicly that an autonomous Kur­dish region in Iraq – which is all the Kurds realistically hoped to secure – was not hi the interests of the US and her allies, nor did he tell the Shias that the Americans would prefer virtually any government in Iraq to one politically close to Iran.

Instead, Bush gave the Kurds and Shias the impression that he backed uprisings against Saddam, then failed to provide even minimal support. Rarely can the democratic politician's need to sound good on television have had such tragic results.

The Americans have already claimed that their unwil­lingness to take action was based on the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. But there are circumstances in which this principle has to be over-ridden by other considerations. Apartheid is one such case; Pol Pot's barbarism in Cambodia was another. In the past fortnight, the very least the Americans should have done was to shoot down the helicopter gunships used by Saddam to destroy the Kurdish uprising.

This might appear to sit uneasily with Tribune's opposi­tion to the war in the Gulf and its calls, once the battle for Kuwait had commenced, for the fighting to be ended as soon as possible and for the limitation of the anti-Iraq coalitions war aims. But it is entirely consistent. Our opposition to the war was based not on outright pacifism nor on admiration of Saddam nor on a belief that the international community has no right to intervene in defence of national self-determination.

Rather, it was motivated by concern at the human and environmental costs of war to remove Iraq from Kuwait, and a conviction – right or wrong – that rigorously enforced sanctions would, given time, secure Iraqi withdrawal without resort to war. Once the fighting had started, we believed that the priority was to minimise suffering and loss of life. At the beginning of this week it became obvious that similar humanist considerations demanded at least some military action to protect the Kurds and Shias against Saddam's assault.

But nothing was done, and it now seems that it is too late to come to the Kurds' and Shias' aid militarily. Their brave revolts have been crushed, and the refugees are fleeing Saddam's bloody revenge. Our political masters should be hanging their heads in shame.