26 July 2003


I am grateful for the following from thepolitburo.com (click here) on dear old Charlie Chaplin:

"When H G Wells criticised Stalin’s reign of terror, Chaplin, the unswerving party loyalist, upbraided him for selling out the cause. According to Chaplin’s own account, published long after Stalin's criminal record entered the public domain, he reproached Wells for harboring traitorous thoughts: 'When H G Wells visited me in 1935 in California, I took him to task about his criticism of Russia. I had read his disparaging reports, so I wanted a first-hand account and was surprised to find him almost bitter about it. "But is it not too early to judge?" I argued. "They have had a difficult task, opposition and conspiracy from within and from without. Surely in time good results should follow?" . . . He seemed especially critical of Stalin, whom he had interviewed, and said that under his rule Russia had become a tyrannical dictatorship.'

Once again, Orwell was right . . .


I was browsing through various websites campaigning to revoke the Pulitzer Prize awarded in 1932 to Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow correspondent who notoriously falsified his accounts of Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture to give the impression that it was a massive success with few victims, when I came across a real gem: a site devoted to a young British journalist, Gareth Jones, who – in parallel with Malcolm Muggeridge – exposed the reality of the 1932-33 famine in the Ukraine in a variety of British and American newspapers (and was attacked by Duranty for his pains). One page on the site (click here), which has been put together by Jones’s niece Margaret Siriol Colley, includes not only a selection of Jones’s pieces on the Soviet Union but also some of Muggeridge’s for the Manchester Guardian and the Morning Post.

24 July 2003


Alan Wald has - I think definitively - knocked on the head the notion that the current US neo-con mob has anything serious to do with Trotskyism. Click here for his piece.

14 July 2003


These are excerpts from notes for a speech by Mike Marqusee to a Signs of the Times seminar that will be published at greater length on the Signs of the Times website.


The SWP is the only organised force on the left that can mount a serious national initiative. Because of its internal discipline and access to resources, it was able to move quickly to establish the Stop the War Coalition and then to go on to build the big national demonstrations (though certainly not without the essential collaboration of much wider forces). The SWP should be given credit for its work in this regard: without a single, nation-wide organising centre, a clear public focus, the anti-war movement would not have been able to make the mark that it did - which is not to say that there aren't many serious criticisms of the SWP's handling of the Stop the War Coalition.

For the most part, independent leftists have failed to organise and failed to focus; in critical moments - like the run-up to war - we are unable to act collectively, to take and shape initiatives. So criticism of the SWP must be accompanied by self-criticism. This is partly a problem of our making, a reflection of our inadequacies over many years.

The answer to the frustrations many of us have felt with the SWP is not to demonise them. Many individual SWP members all over the country make real contributions to numerous struggles for social justice. We should beware of SWP-bashing and reverse sectarianism, and of any form of red-baiting - the organised far left has a right to contribute and take part; we should not dismiss initiatives simply because they come from the SWP - in fact, those who stayed away from the Stop the War Coalition in its early days because of the SWP's prominence within it merely helped ensure the SWP's ultimate domination of it.

Most importantly, we mustn't dismiss the classical Marxist tradition with which the far left groups are associated. In my view that tradition is incomplete, but we need to know about it and engage with it and respect its struggles. If we walk away from that heritage, there is a danger that too much time will be spent reinventing the wheel.

We should also remember that the foibles we associate with the SWP - the control freakery, the intellectual dishonesty, the casual attitude towards democracy - are not confined to that group - in various measures they are shared by other far left groups, and by much of the Labour and trade union left, and the independent and anarchist left is not untainted by them.

And we should also remember that the two political initiatives often cited as relative successes by critics of the SWP - the Scottish Socialist Party and the PRC in Italy - both emerged out of groups spawned by the Leninist tradition.

Finally, the desire for unity in action is strong. Without that unity people can never fully realise their own potential power. That unity is a goal for which it's worth making sacrifices, gritting your teeth, working with people you distrust - though it must stop short at silence and complicity with what you believe to be wrong.

Having registered those caveats, I have to say, on the basis of my experience in the Socialist Alliance and the Stop the War Coalition, that I believe the SWP is constitutionally incapable of working with others on an equal, honest and transparent basis. In the end, their aim is dominance, and anything that threatens or undermines that dominance will always, in their eyes, be suspect.

I've never agreed with the SWP's programme - or the programmes offered by any of the Leninist groups - but that's not the core of the problem. It's not about programme, it's about method.

Everyone here will have had the experience of attending a meeting ostensibly to discuss or organise an initiative or campaign only to find themselves faced with a block of SWP members who have arrived with a pre-determined line and set of priorities. The non-SWPers present may hold a variety of views or doubts, but these end up rotating around the axis established by the SWP. It's a lop-sided and ineffectual discussion because a key participant - the SWP - is playing by a different set of rules, and not engaging openly and fully with the debate as others see it.

More broadly it's my experience that the SWP leadership have an alarmingly contemptuous attitude towards democracy and a knee-jerk hostility to any challenge to their views or priorities. In particular, the concept of accountability seems virtually absent from the SWP's collective consciousness. SWP members who are officers of wider bodies tend to treat them like playthings, and rarely make an effort to account for their actions and decisions to the broader movement.

The SWP consider themselves THE vanguard and despite the lip-service to pluralism retain the conviction that they ALONE offer the movement proper leadership. They seem to be driven by a highly competitive dynamic: the group and its claims must be sustained at all costs. A premium is placed on having the answers and exercising leadership. Doubt or agnosticism have no place - indeed they are regarded as weaknesses. Truth is reified in the form of a jargon - and any nuance that cannot be expressed in that jargon is ruled out of consideration.

In the end, the SWP is imbued with an authoritarian ethic - most recently confirmed by their readiness to dub as "divisive" or "disruptive" anyone who voices political preferences contrary to theirs. We've seen this in the Socialist Alliance, where they have dumped dissenters from national officer positions and crudely packed a meeting in Birmingham in order to force out one of the few genuinely independent (and respected) trade union activists the SA could boast. We've also seen it in the Stop the War Coalition where decisions are taken by the SWP leadership and foist on the STWC with barely a semblance of democratic consultation, where SWP members appear on platforms as "STWC" spokespersons, though they have no links to any STWC structures, where the priorities of the SWP leadership (at the moment, campaigning for George Galloway), take precedence over the priorities of the wider movement (surely, at the moment, stepping up the pressure on Blair regarding the absent WMD and building a long-term campaign against the occupation of Iraq) - and where anyone who wanted a slightly greater emphasis on direct action, or a broader approach to the choice of speakers on the big demonstrations, or didn't totally buy into the crude construction of "the Muslims" as a homogenous (manipulable) entity was effectively excluded. And in both the SA and the STWC, on the rare occasions when initiatives not under the direct control of the SWP emerged from democratic discussion, they were either ignored or undermined by the SWP.

It's hardly new to note that blind loyalty to an organisation is a dangerous state of mind, and it saddens me that despite all the evidence of the left's past errors, the SWP by and large will not engage in critical examination of their own history or current analysis and practise. When events embarrass them, the error is buried in silence. There is a fear of looking harsh realities or awkward questions in the face and a reluctance to spend time addressing them. There seems to be an imperative to move on to the next campaign or issue or intervention without pausing to assess the success or otherwise of previous efforts. I suspect that some of the leaders fear that if the membership is not kept constantly distracted, they might begin to ask awkward questions.

The competitive dynamic that drives the SWP also leads to an air of unreality in its assessment of events and movements. Instead of sober assessment of our success and failures, strengths and weaknesses, we're offered empty boosterism - the numbers attending meetings or demos are routinely inflated, and the complexity of multi-faceted developments is unacknowledged. This habit was a problem for the SWP in the Socialist Alliance - where election results could not be inflated and the realities of public opinion could not be massaged away. And it is a problem in the STWC - where it is self-evident that, for all our achievements, we did not stop the war, and people are rightly asking now: how we can do better in the future? To which the SWP can answer only: let's do more of the same!

Large-scale demos and rallies top-heavy with speakers are the SWP's preferred type of activity because these activities lend themselves to top-down control and offer the best ponds in which to fish for new members.

Finally, what has disturbed me most in working with the SWP has been their flagrant ethical relativism. This is an ancient foible of the left - a conviction that the class struggle, or the building of the revolutionary party, or the sheer evil of the forces we find ourselves up against justifies any behaviour, no matter how dishonest, duplicitous, or destructive to others. In their competition with the rest of the left, in their drive to maintain control (including control of their own members), anything goes. Meetings can be packed, democratic decisions circumvented, dissenters smeared and threatened, cheques forged and money misappropriated.

Over many years on the left, it's my experience that mutual trust is far more important than detailed political agreement - and in my bitter and abundant experience, it is impossible to trust the SWP. They are too willing to sacrifice our common goals, values and principles for their own short-term advantage.

It's been obvious for years that this kind of practise on the left - from whatever source - puts people off in droves. It hampers honest discussion, distorts debate, obstructs participation, leads to tactical and strategic errors.

However, we should remember that all of this is a part of a much greater problem. We are all the products of the society we aim to challenge and overturn. In their hunger for status, their competitiveness, their reified perception of social realities, and their ethical relativism, the SWP mimic the dominant forces in the society they oppose.

So how can the deformed products of a deformed society overcome this dilemma? Part of the answer is democracy. We're all weak, were all fallible, and it is only when we work together within democratic, transparent, accountable, participatory structures that our weaknesses and fallibilities, our ego-driven errors and arrogant myopia, can be corrected and disciplined. It's argued that the Leninist party provides this correction and discipline but the evidence - quite overwhelming at this juncture in history - is that it actually institutionalises and reifies those weaknesses and fallibilities, cocoons them from the harsh winds of social reality, and insulates them from collective scrutiny.


Most comment on Anthony Glees's book on the operations of the Stasi in the UK, The Stasi Files, has concentrated on his case against John Roper, an obscure former Labour MP who defected to the SDP and is now a Liberal Democrat peer. During the 1980s, Roper was one of the big-wigs at Chatham House, the establishment foreign affairs think-tank. In this role, Glees says, on the basis of archival material from the now-closed Stasi archives, he employed a Stasi agent as a researcher and generally acted in an over-sympathetic way towards Erich Honecker's deeply unpleasant regime. Glees identifies Roper as an "agent of influence"; Roper says Glees is a right-wing axe-grinder; the rest of the world wonders what the fuss is about.

But there is material in Glees's book that is more interesting - at least to me. A substantial chunk of the book is taken up with an account of the Stasi's attempts to infiltrate and influence the British peace movement, in particular European Nuclear Disarmament, the small but influential group set up by Edward Thompson and others that campaigned against both Nato and Warsaw Pact nuclear arms in Europe and made a point of making common cause with Soviet-bloc dissidents.

Here I have to declare an interest. I was the deputy editor of END Journal, the group's magazine, from 1984 to 1987, and the people Glees is writing about were comrades and friends. I also have a walk-on role in the story, in that in early 1985 I went to East Berlin with my colleague Patrick Burke and met the dissident peace and human rights group there that the inaptly named German Democratic Republic was so keen to suppress. My report on that (extremely boozy and fun, but rather inconsequential) meeting was circulated to END in London - and it ended up in the Stasi's files because one of our supposed supporters was in fact a Stasi informant. The Stasi also had an agent at the meeting in East Berlin: he or she filed an account that survives. I remember plenty of black humour at the meeting about who was the stooge.

I've known about the Stasi informant in END for some time: my report was one of several documents the journalist David Rose turned up four years ago when he was trawling the Stasi files, with the help of Glees, for a TV documentary. What's new in Glees's book is that he identifies (it seems) the London ENDer who was passing on the not-very-hot poop to East Berlin - as well as fingering Vic Allen, the hardcore Stalinist CNDer, as a GDR embassy informant. There's also a mass of documentation that shows just how important the Stasi thought it was to target END.

The problem, however, is that Glees has looked only cursorily at the evidence at the Brit peacenik end that shows the Stasi's efforts were laughably ineffective, and he consistently exaggerates their impact. Glees has it that the END GDR working group collapsed after one of its members, Barbara Einhorn, was arrested in East Germany in late 1983. Not so: the working group was not even set up until after she was released, and it beavered away, with a regular newsletter, until 1989. There are also some passages where Glees's interpretations of ENDers' motives are little short of libellous - he comes close to accusing John Sandford, the Reading University academic who was one of the mainstays of the group, of being at least a useful idiot for the GDR regime, which he most certainly was not.

This is an important story. The actions of the Soviet Union and its surrogates against the non-aligned 1980s peace movement in western Europe were not on the level of their assault on the non-Stalinist left in Spain in the 1930s, but they were the some of the last of that vile police-state system's great betrayals of the left. The tale deserves a better chronicler.

10 July 2003


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, July 11 2003

I spent an afternoon this week poring over the report of the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee on the decision to go to war with Iraq, and I agree with those commentators who dismissed it as an inconclusive document that does nothing apart from guarantee that the row over government dossiers on weapons of mass destruction will rumble on well into the summer.

There are still four possible scenarios for what will happen next, just as there have been since the row began (which as I remember was pretty much on the day of publication of the first dossier last September, which was widely criticised at the time for being old hat).

The first, which seems to be to remain perfectly plausible even though most people I know greet it with loud guffaws every time it is suggested, is that evidence soon emerges -- in the shape either of the weapons themselves, of production facilities or of a credible witness from the very top of Saddam Hussein's regime -- that Iraq really did have ready-to-use WMD at the time the dossiers were compiled.

In this case, both the government and the intelligence services will be off the hook, though there will doubtless be claims that the evidence is inadequate or even forged, and there will remain the suspicion that the evidence available to the government at the time it decided to go to war was flimsy in the extreme.

(There will also remain the strong argument that a country’s possession of weapons of mass destruction is not in itself an adequate reason for other countries to invade it, but that’s another question.)

The second scenario is that it turns out that the intelligence services told the government they were pretty certain that Saddam Hussein had ready-to-use WMD and the government acted in good faith on that advice - but, er, actually, ahem, whoops, Saddam didn't have WMD or at least didn't have them in a usable condition. In this case, the story is one of intelligence failure, and heads should roll in MI6 and GCHQ, though the chances are they won't.

The third scenario is the real killer for Tony Blair - that it transpires that the intelligence services told the government that they couldn't really be sure about Saddam's WMD capacity but the government decided it needed cover to invade Iraq so sexed up the evidence. In this case, heads not only should but would roll in government, and it’s difficult to see how Blair himself could survive.

The final possibility is that nothing very conclusive emerges from the whole affair, at least in the near future. Nothing much in the way of Iraqi WMD, no credible Deep Throats from Saddam’s inner circle, the funnies or Number Ten, no smoking-gun memos – just an ever-growing pile of circumstantial evidence, single-sourced gossip and inspired conjecture that turns the start of the war against Iraq into one of those stories that never dies, the assassination of JFK de nos jours.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s worth putting a small bet on scenario four. My guess is that the sequence of events in the run-up to war went something like this:

First, the Bush administration made it clear to the Brits by the beginning of 2002 at the latest that it was going to take out Saddam come what may for a whole string of reasons – his connections with terrorists, his military capacity, his continued defiance of the west.

Second, the Blair government, having at first been sceptical about this policy, came round to the idea of removing Saddam – but only if it were not done either unilaterally or without a credible and legal casus belli.

Third, the British and US governments decided on the basis of (largely accurate) intelligence reports that the hardy old issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was still the best way to broaden international support for an ultimatum to Saddam.

Fourth, as US rhetoric and military deployments became increasingly bellicose during 2002, Saddam dismantled his WMD factories and stocks, with the result that neither the readmitted UN inspectors nor the spooks managed to find anything.

Fifth, the rest of the world announced it was unconvinced by the argument that WMD provided a good reason for urgent action against Iraq and refused to back a second UN resolution.

Sixth, the US and Britain – faced with the alternative of stepping down and ceding Saddam a major victory -- went ahead regardless and invaded.

Now it could be that I’ve got this completely wrong. The point, though, is that it’s one of several plausible narratives in which (a) every one of the UK players can claim to have acted in good faith throughout; and (b) every one of them can be accused by any other of consistent incompetence and procrastination. Which is a recipe for this one to run and run.

1 July 2003


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, June 27 2003

The other day, while I was looking through my files for something else, I turned up a clipping from the Oxford Mail in 1980. It was a news story about a demonstration by the Oxford Anarchist Group (of which I was then a member) on the occassion of the Soviet ambassador’s visit to speak at the Oxford Union, accompanied by a photograph of the dozen or so demonstrators.

Normally when I find things like this my first reaction is to sigh nostalgically. Weren’t we young — and wasn’t X a real stunner? How the hell did she end up marrying that chump who got that flash job in the City?

But this time I winced with embarrassment — and it wasn’t because of the haircuts or the clothes but because the slogans on our hand-painted placards were so asinine. One in particular stood out: “H-blocks, Gulag — Spot the difference, smash the lot!” (For younger readers, the H-blocks were the prison buildings in Long Kesh gaol just outside Belfast where IRA and other Northern Irish terrorist and paramilitary prisoners were held.)

We were protesting against a vile police-state, which was and is an entirely honourable thing to do. But we gave the impression that we were doing so because we thought that conditions in that vile police state were just as bad as here — rather than far, far worse. The British state’s policies in Northern Ireland at the time certainly deserved criticism, but to claim that the H-blocks were indistinguishable from the slave-labour system of Stalin’s Soviet Union was simply barmy. In our enthusiasm to make a point about our own society and its failings, we’d lost all sense of political perspective.

Ah well, you might think, that’s anarchists for you — and I’d agree insofar as anarchism’s blanket anti-statism does mean that many anarchists are peculiarly incapable of distinguishing among states. But anarchists are not the only leftists who are so keen to attack developed western capitalist democracy that they lose any sense of how much worse things are and have been elsewhere.

Indeed, cringe-making “spot-the-difference” comparisons of the “H-blocks, Gulag” type crop up time and again in leftist discourse. In the 1930s and again in the 1960s, the fashion was to describe anyone even vaguely right-wing as “fascist”. Since the 1980s, it has been the vogue in some leftist circles to describe the Labour Party’s internal regime as “Stalinist” — not because members are periodically rounded up, tortured into confessing crimes they have not committed and then shot, but because Trotskyists have been non-violently expelled from the party and outspoken critics of the party leadership have not been given plum jobs in government.

But “H-blocks, Gulag” thinking has been most noticeable of late in the post-September 11 anti-war movement. Time and again, in attacking the United States’s aggressive “war on terror”, Leftist writers and speakers have made preposterous claims about the supposed likeness of the Bush administration and al-Qaida, the Taliban in Afghanistan or Saddam’s regime in Iraq. Which is not to argue that the US is right or that it should not be criticised. It’s just that crass stupidity can undermine even the most righteous cause.

On a different matter entirely, the Guardian deserves congratulation for finding and publishing the infamous list of Soviet sympathisers that George Orwell handed over to the Information Research Department, a Foriegn Office propaganda unit, just before his death. The Guardian did rather sex up the news angle on the story, asking whether Orwell handed over the list because he fancied Celia Kirwan, a young woman friend who had just started working for the IRD — its front-page headline ran: “Blair’s babe: Did Orwell’s love for this woman turn him into a government stooge?”

But on the assumption that the list is genuine (and it appears to be), its publication should lay to rest the myth that Orwell was doing anything more sinister with it than advising the IRD that it should not hire certain people to write its anti-communist propaganda.

The 38 names on the list are all, with the exception of Charlie Chaplin and Michael Redgrave, authors or journalists; and all those with whom I’m familiar (which is not all of them) had publicly expressed pro-Soviet opinions in print at some point.

There remains the question of whether Orwell was right to hand over a list to a secret state agency not knowing whether it might be put to a use different from that for which it was prepared. But the claim that he produced some sort of “hit list” of targets for a British McCarthyism just isn’t true.