28 November 2004


Francis Beckett has a funny piece in yesterday's Independent (click here) on the leftist pasts of various Labour high-ups, following on from Jack Straw's wierd letter (click here). It's also largely accurate — apart, I'm afraid, for the sidebar, which places the New Labour comrades into rival "Stalinist" and "Trotskyite" camps as follows:

How red is the Labour Party?
Old Trots and old Stalinists now glower at each other across the Cabinet table, where they feel at home because Blairism demands the religious loyalty they are used to. They include:

The Stalinist wing
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary Former Broad Left president of the NUS; branded "a troublemaker" by the Foreign Office when, on an NUS trip to Chile, his "childish politicking" aimed at embarrassing his right-wing opponents, was "nearly disastrous" for Anglo-Chilean relations.

Charles Clarke, Secretary of State for Education Former Broad Left president of NUS; led demonstrations for higher student grants, and was, he admits, "a strong opponent of the foreign policy of the USA".

John Reid, Secretary of State for Health Former Communist and researcher for the Scottish Union of Students. Claimed he joined the CP because it was the only non-Trotskyist political group on campus when he was an undergraduate student at Stirling University.

Peter Mandelson, European Commissioner Former Communist and chairman of the British Youth Council. Led a BYC delegation to Cuba in the 1970s.

Trevor Phillips, chairman, Commission for Racial Equality Former Broad Left president of NUS, led sit-ins, went to Cuba with Mandelson's delegation.

Alan Johnson, Work and Pensions Secretary Says he was close to the Communist Party in his youth, and gets agitated if you suggest he might have been a Trot.

The Trotskyite wing
Gordon Brown, Chancellor Showed political colours by choosing to do his PhD thesis on James Maxton, the leader of the rebel Independent Labour Party in the 1920s and 1930s. The ILP was accused by Stalin of being a Trotskyist front.

Alan Milburn, Labour's election planner Before joining Labour Party in 1983, Milburn was the manager of a socialist bookshop in Newcastle, and a CND activist, described, by Roy Hattersley, as "incapable of writing an election manifesto without drawing the battle lines of the philosophical struggle".

Paul Boateng, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Former left-wing rebel. Once called on Labour Party to "have the guts to support workers who have the guts to fight Thatcher".

Denis MacShane, minister for Europe Former left-wing NUJ
leader, arrested on picket lines in the 1970s, once alongside Arthur Scargill. Led the NUJ's biggest strike.

David Blunkett, Home Secretary Former leader of Sheffield City Council, which was known as "the socialist republic of South Yorkshire".

Margaret Hodge, Minister for Children Former leader of Islington Council where she had a bust of Lenin installed in the town hall. During her tenure, it became known as the "Socialist Republic of north London".

Neither . . . nor . . .
Tony Blair, Prime Minister Not known to have believed in anything when young, except God.

Now I don't have a great deal to argue with in the case of the "Stalinists". But I can't quite work out how some of the "Trotskyists" managed to get into that camp. Gordon Brown, for example, was very much anti-Trot as a student (he took a line on the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders' work-in that was pretty close to the Communist Party's) and he was close to key Scottish CPers until the CP went under. And I've never come across any evidence that Denis MacShane, David Blunkett or Margaret Hodge were ever more than temporarily allied with Trots, in particular and long-forgotten circumstances. Of course, if anyone has the evidence, I'm quite happy to be enlightened. On the other hand, Ken Livingstone's associations with Trotskyists go back aeons and continue to this day . . . though I suppose he doesn't really count as New Labour.

26 November 2004


Neal Ascherson has a brilliant essay on Trotsky and his relevance today (or otherwise) not entirely camouflaged as a piece on Issac Deutscher's republished three-part Trotsky biography in the London Review of Books (click here). Jack Straw, who recommended the Deutscher trilogy along with Lenin's Left-Wing Communism in the bizarre letter he sent to the Independent last week (click here), should read it as a matter of urgency, as indeed should all defenders of the contemporary relevance of Leninism -- not least the crew at New Left Review, who republished the Deutscher trilogy but whose raison d'etre Ascherson pretty much destroys.

25 November 2004


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, November 26 2004

Say what you like about the government, the state of British football or the weather, it has been a marvellous couple of weeks for observers of the ludicrous antics of the British far left.

The biggest spectacle, of course, has been George Galloway’s libel action against the Telegraph in the High Court — unresolved as I write — which has been remarkable for the forthright way in which Gorgeous George explained his famous greeting to Saddam Hussein: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”

The MP for Glasgow Kelvin — and soon-to-be Respect Coalition (George Galloway) parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow in London’s East End — said he was merely conveying the solidarity of the Palestinian people, whom he’d just met, to the Iraqi people, who would be informed of his salutation by Saddam — aka "Sir". And the Telegraph’s headline, “Saddam’s little helper”, was, he told the court, losing his calm momentarily, nothing less than “a dagger, a sword right through the heart of my political life”. Ooo-er.

To be honest, though, more heat than light emerged from the Galloway-Telegraph show — and for much of the past fortnight it has been almost eclipsed by the shenanigans surrounding another Scottish charmer of the left, Tommy Sheridan, member of the Scottish Parliament and perma-tanned figurehead of the Scottish Socialist Party, which Galloway refused to join after being expelled by Labour.

The story that did the rounds was that Galloway refused to accept the SSP policy of parliamentary representatives taking only an average worker’s wage from their salary: I am happy to report that Galloway says this was down to Sheridan misunderstanding a joke.

Anyway, Sheridan hit the headlines for resigning from the SSP leadership amid tabloid allegations that he had engaged in rumpy-pumpy with a woman other than his wife, Gail, who is pregnant. Sheridan, who came to prominence as the public face in Scotland of the Trotskyist Militant Tendency’s anti-poll-tax campaign in the late 1980s, denied the scurrilous allegations, said he simply wanted to spend more time with his family-to-be and promised he’d sue.

It seemed like end of story. But then it emerged that the SSP executive had forced him to resign for reasons that were at least in part related to his personal life — if not the story that had been splashed over the Sunday newspaper — and there were reports that he had been stitched up by his enemies in the SSP, who had not only conspired to evict him but had also fed the bourgeois media with various sex-romp claims. All the contenders for Mr Sheridan’s coveted position as leader of the SSP are, incidentally, former members of the Militant Tendency.

Phew! And that was before the return of the Redgraves, glory be, to the political fray, with two members of the famous acting family, Vanessa and Corin, announcing a new political party, Peace and Progress (click here), to fight the next general election.

Younger readers of Tribune might think that Vanessa and Corin Redgrave are no more than distinguished thespians with vaguely leftist views — that’s certainly the picture you’d get from the fawning pieces on their new initiiative in the Guardian (click here) and the Observer (click here) — but in fact it ain’t so.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the pair were leading lights in the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, a mad Trostskyist cult, led by the psychopathic Gerry Healy, that was revealed in the mid-1980s to have solicited and taken substantial sums of cash from Arab nationalist dictatorships, including Muammar al-Gaddafi’s Libya and, yup, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in return for favours that included grassing up exiles to their secret police forces (click here, here and here).

The scandal of the WRP’s Middle East pimping came to light after Healy’s sexual abuse of young women members of the WRP was exposed — and it destroyed the party. Yet the Redgraves remained loyal to their leader even after his disgrace. However inspiring they are on the stage, they have a record of political lunacy matched by no one else alive. There is no evidence whatsoever that they regret anything they have ever done.

And the moral of the story? Sorry, but it’s very simple. These people are at best comedians and at worst mountebanks of the worst kind. There is no credible left challenge to Labour at the next election anywhere in Britain. Vote tactically for the Lib Dems, for sure, but don’t waste your time on the candidates of the far left. They are, without exception, a very bad joke.

19 November 2004


The world of the Scottish far-left has been rocked to its foundations by the departure of Tommy Sheridan from the leadership of the Scottish Socialist Party. By all accounts, including thsoe here, the boy had lost it with his comrades -- the SSP executive demanded that he went -- though he says he's resigning voluntarily to spend more time with his family-to-be: his missus Gail is expecting. (He's also suing the Sunday paper that last weekend published what puported to be another woman's revelation that he had had an affair with her.) Whatever, the favourites to succeed him as leader of the SSP are, I'm told, MSPs Colin Fox, Frances Curran and Carolyn Leckie -- each one them a former member of the Militant Tendency. All together now: "Eh Jimmy! Er, we've got to nationalise, er, the top 200, er, monopolies, er, under workers' control!"

16 November 2004


Our esteemed foreign secretary has a joky letter in the Independent today denying that he was ever a Trotskyist (as Robert Fisk had erroneously claimed). "Whatever other frailties I may have (many)," he writes, "I have been consistent in my opposition to Trotskyism and the false consciousness it engenders. (I was first taught to spot a Trot at 50 yards in 1965 by Mr Bert Ramelson, Yorkshire industrial organiser of the Communist Party.)" And indeed, as a student politico Straw was very much part of the "Broad Left" of Labour leftists and CPers.

What's strange about the letter, however, is that Straw appends a postscript recommending Lenin's Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder as "a prescient warning about Trotskyist adventurism".

In fact, it's nothing of the sort. The target of Lenin's polemic was not Trotskyists — at the time the pamphlet was written in 1920, there were no Trotskyists and Trotsky himself was commissar of war in Lenin's government.

Rather he was attacking the left communists in Germany and Great Britain — Anton Pannekoek and Sylvia Pankhurst — who argued that communists should never participate in bourgeois parliaments or reformist trade unions. (Click here for the text of Left-Wing Communism.)

But none of this is what's really weird about Straw's recommendation of this particular Lenin tract. As well as ranting against the left communists, Left-Wing Communism is also excoriating about bourgeois parliaments, reformist trade unions and reformist socialist leaders in the west — "reactionaries and advocates of the worst kind of opportunism and social treachery".

Does Straw really mean to recommend this intemperate anti-democratic diatribe to readers of the Independent? Something tells me that his memory is failing — or that he has never actually read it. But you never know . . .

12 November 2004


I've been ridiculously busy this week: normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. For now, just a quick post to say that I was amused to get a name-check from Rob Griffiths, general secretary of the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain, writing in the Morning Star on Monday under the headline "Spectre of communism still haunts Europe". (The piece, in full here, was a belated puff for a meeting of Stalinist hacks at the European Social Forum.)

"The resurgence of the communists," he opined, "has intensified the anti-communism of the ruling classes and their mass media, assisted, as always, by fake 'left-wing' and pseudo-Marxist intellectuals. This is especially the case in Portugal, Sweden, Cyprus and Greece — but we have seen evidence of it in Britain too, where the CPB has expanded its influence in the trade union and peace movements . . . The resurgence of the international communist movement . . . is the most effective riposte to professional anti-communists like Denis MacShane, Nick Cohen and Tribune columnist Paul Anderson and to the amateur ones who constitute tiny left sects."

How elegantly put, comrade — but I'm afraid to relate that we professional anti-communists will not be deflected from our task by the ever-more-spectacular growth of the CPB, with its dozens of fearless militants working as trade union press officers and its hundreds of newspapers sold every day. You see, we're worried that if we don't keep up a barrage of fake "left-wing" anti-communist propaganda, our paymasters in the ruling classes will stop handing over the wheelbarrow-fulls of cash every week to which we have become accustomed. A truly materialist analysis would demonstrate that we have no choice but to fulfil the pseudo-Marxist role our bourgeois masters dictate.

What a simpleton.

4 November 2004


So it all came down to Ohio, and Bush won. I’m not pleased, but that’s democracy. What really gets me is that Oliver Kamm beat me to a variation on “It’s the Guardian wot lost it!” as the title for a post: Blogger was impossible to use most of today. OK, as usual, he didn’t quite get it right, but his post is here .


Oh dear — it seems that the Blessed Cristina didn’t resign from the New Statesman on a matter of principle after all: according to a profile in the Evening Standard by David Rowan, she got an offer of a better job and still thinks Peter Wilby is a great editor. So I’ll revert to thinking of her simply as a useless idiot.

2 November 2004


Well, well, well . . . Up to now I have not been an admirer of Cristina Odone. One, she's a lightweight, the upmarket Glenda Slagg de nos jours. Two, she's religious. And three, she's been handling stolen goods for several years – my old job as deputy editor of the New Statesman, from which I was separated by the vile Geoffrey Robinson's takeover in 1996. (Funny, I find that bitter is best drunk cold.)

But now the girl done good at last. She's quit the Statesman over the fatuous cover on the current issue that equates Tony Blair with Josef Stalin.

I was going to post on the Statesman cover anyway, to make the points that the British left (a) still hasn't grasped the enormity of Stalin's crimes and (b) is in the grip of a quite extraordinary hysteria against Blair.

For now, all I'll say is that no one who knows what Stalin did could possibly claim Blair is doing much the same thing – and the article to which the NS cover refers, a Robert Service puff-piece for his new biography of Stalin, doesn't do it. In fact, it makes it very clear that there isn't that much Blair has learned from Stalin. "Tony Blair has not made the cellars of Bellmarsh prison stream with the blood of innocent detainees," Service writes, very reasonably. "It would be entirely ludicrous to suggest that Blair and Stalin, as exercisers of the might of the state in pursuit of political and personal goals, are in the same category."

So why the treatment on the Statesman cover? Desperation is undoubtedly part of the story – anything to make Blair look bad next to Brown, anything to put the ABC figures up beyond a boring old plateau of 23,000, exactly where it was before Robinson sunk his millions. (Ooh, a cold bitter is good. Fancy a couple of pints?) But it's worse than that. The current regime at the Statesman has a view of the world that is as blinkered as Kingsley Martin's when he refused to publish George Orwell on the Spanish revolution. John Pilger speaks the truth. John Kampfner has the supporting details. Amanda Platell supplies the sophistication. Cretinism rules, with rare pieces from Nick Cohen and the odd review giving us all a taste of what might have been.

At least there's still the Economist.