Thursday, 20 February 2003


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 20 February 2003

There is no doubt that Tribune has plenty to crow about in its record on various wars, but — contrary to the leader in last week’s issue — that doesn’t really include the 1930s and the start of the second world war.

True, the paper backed the right side in the Spanish civil war, arguing for military aid for the Republic and condemning the British Government’s asinine policy of non-intervention, with its willful blindness towards the massive armed support being given to Franco’s insurgent Nationalists by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Tribune was also consistently critical of the Government’s policy of appeasement of Mussolini and Hitler, correctly warning that it only encouraged them in their expansionist ambitions.

But on the key question of what Britain should do instead of appeasing the dictators, Tribune — like nearly everyone else on the left in Britain — was badly caught out by the turn of events.

The paper had been set up by Stafford Cripps and others at the beginning of 1937 as the organ of the “Unity Campaign” to create a “United Front” of Labour and other left parties, most importantly the Communist Party, against fascism and appeasement. The CP had representatives on Tribune’s editorial board and played a crucial part in determining the paper’s editorial position.

The CP’s influence made sure that — despite protests from the Independent Labour Party and others — Tribune had nothing of substance to say either about the cynical way the Soviet Union sabotaged the Republican cause in Spain or about Stalin’s terror in the Soviet Union itself. The CP also played a role in ensuring that the paper opposed British rearmament against the threat posed by Nazi Germany (though in this almost the whole of the left was in agreement) and placed all its hopes in the creation of an anti-fascist international alliance of Britain, France and the other democracies of Europe with the Soviet Union. And when, in August 1939, the treacherous Stalin concluded an alliance with Hitler, Tribune was taken aback.

When Hitler subsequently invaded Poland, prompting Britain and France to declare war on Germany, the paper was left completely at sea. Should it embrace the British war effort as anti-fascist?

Or should it take the mendacious Moscow line and oppose the war as an inter-imperialist one?

For more than six months, to its shame, it opted for the latter course, following pretty much the defeatist position adopted at Moscow’s insistence by the Communist Party (despite the opposition of Harry Pollitt and other CP leaders). It was only after Aneurin Bevan and various other democratic socialists staged a boardroom coup in spring 1940 and ousted the Stalinists — including the editor, H J Hartshorn, who was replaced by Raymond Postgate — that Tribune abandoned its cringe before the Soviet Union’s betrayal of the left.

Now, you might be thinking, this is all very well, but it has nothing to do with what’s happening in the present. In 2003, who cares who was right in 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1940?

Well, I do, and I think everybody else ought to, not just because I think history matters in itself but because there are important lessons to be learned today from the mistakes of the left in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not agreeing here with those of the pro-war party who have spent the past year or more ranting on about how Saddam Hussein is the new Hitler and how those opposed to war are the modern equivalents of the appeasers. That line of invective was eloquently disposed of by Michael Foot in last week’s issue.

No, I’m talking about the way in which the outbreak of war profoundly changes political realities. Right up to the Hitler-Stalin pact, the idea that the world could be saved from war by an anti-fascist alliance between the democracies and the Soviet Union made a great deal of sense. Stalin was not the ideal ally — but the threat from Nazi Germany was such that desperate measures were necessary.

The pact, and the ensuing war, changed all that irrevocably. They were not what the left had wanted — any more than the Left today wants war against Saddam. But once the war had started, the left was forced into choosing between adapting to the new circumstances or railing impotently from the sidelines. We’re going to have to do the same if, as seems increasingly likely, the US launches the assault on Saddam we were marching against last Saturday.

Thursday, 6 February 2003


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 6 February 2003

Last week, David Mills used his Tribune column to point out that the anti-war left in Britain has given scant consideration to the possibility that war on Iraq will be a stunning military success (at least in its own terms), an outcome that will leave Tony Blair in an extraordinarily dominant position in British politics.

His point is a good one, but I’d go even further. The anti-war left hasn’t even thought about what happens if, as now seems increasingly likely, all the efforts of the opponents of war, in the UN Security Council or on the streets of the world’s cities, are in vain — and the US actually launches the attack on Iraq that it has been preparing for a year.

To put the issue simply, as soon as the fighting starts in earnest, the anti-war lobby will have to choose among three options: demanding that military action ends at once; supporting a swift victory by the US with minimal casualties; and hoping that the US gets bogged down, with the result that public opinion in the west turns against the senseless slaughter.

The last of these is, of course, at the core of the Leninists’ approach to the current crisis. For them, Trots as well as Stalinists, “revolutionary defeatism”, the belief that one should support the “other” side in any “imperialist” war and work to turn the conflict into civil war, is a matter of faith. But for anyone who opposes war on the grounds that killing people is wrong and the number of deaths should be minimised, it is morally untenable (though judging by the disappointment one could sense in many peaceniks’ voices after other recent interventionist wars failed to result in vast numbers of body bags being flown home, there might well be a surprising number of takers for it). The only defensible options are “Stop the killing now!” and “Get the war over as quickly as possible with minimal casualties”.

“Stop the killing now!” has its attractions, not least that it is consistent with what the anti-war Left has been arguing for ages — in other words, that war against Iraq is a bad thing and should not take place. In terms of Realpolitik, however, it is a non-starter, for the simple reason that, once the fighting starts, any cessation of hostilities by the US would be seen as (and would be) a massive victory for Saddam — the worst possible outcome to this crisis apart from a protracted war in which hundreds of thousands die.

So I’m afraid that, if the US does attack — and I still hoping against hope that it doesn’t — I’m going to be executing a rapid U-turn and praying that it makes it to Baghdad and overthrows Saddam Hussein in double-quick time, with minimal casualties on both sides. As that great moralist Macbeth put it:
If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly


Still on the subject of the Left and Iraq, I hope Tribune readers will not be too offended if I ask whether Tony Benn’s mission to Baghdad to interview Saddam did anything whatsoever to further the cause of peace.

Criticising Benn has in recent years once again become tanatamount to blasphemy on certain parts of the Left, so I expect a hostile postbag. But was anyone really convinced by Benn’s performance? His questions to Saddam — a brutal dictator, mass murderer and serial international agressor — could not have been less critical or his demeanour more reverential.

I know the analogy between Saddam and Hitler has been overdone, but on this occasion Benn really did put me in mind of George Lansbury after he was ousted as Labour leader in the mid-1930s, visiting Hitler and Mussolini and pronouncing them men of peace.


Finally, a word on the Lords. Most of the blame for Tuesday’s farce, in which every option for reforming the second chamber was defeated in the House Of Commons, has rightly fallen on Tony Blair, whose cynical decision to make known his support for a wholly appointed Lords appears to have swayed a sufficiently large number of New Labour carreerists to scupper a Commons majority for a wholly elected second chamber.
But he is not the only villain of the piece. Several Labour MPs who are anything but Blairites voted with the Prime Minister and his cronies against an elected second chamber on the grounds that they didn’t want any sort of upper house.

Yup, it’s good old bone-brained Old Labour cretino-Leftism on the march yet again, supporting the an indefensible status quo against the best realistically achievable in the interests of an unattainable utopia. Thanks to their dim-witted but oh-so-principled stance, we now appear to be stuck with an undemocratic travesty of a second chamber for the forseeable future. Well done comrades! It’s great to see that the spirit of the 1983 election campaign lives on!