27 November 2011


I share the enthusiasm of many for the high-modernist experimentation in the arts that was part of the early phase of the Russian revolution, but the current exhibition at the Royal Academy,"Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935" (until 22 January) is a disappointment. They've got a marvellous attempt to construct a scaled-down version of Vladimir Tatlin's never-built wiry "Monument to the Third International" in the courtyard outside, but that's the best bit (and free). Inside it's (very good) photos of decaying 1920s and 1930s Futurist and Constructivist buildings taken over the past 20 years -- have any been restored? -- and lots of architects' plans. The full catalogue that goes with the exhibition explains it all, but the casual viewer can get little of the context from what's on show or from the bare notes made available on the walls. I don't think you can make sense of the avant-grade of the first decade of Soviet power without reference to what was happening elsewhere in Europe and in the United States at the time: here we get the bare minimum, and a very confused account of how the disgusting spectacle of Lenin's mausoleum came about. A wasted opportunity to put the Soviet architectural modernists up where they belong with Gropius and Le Corbusier.

24 November 2011


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 25 November 2011

Eurosceptics crowing about how they have been vindicated by the Eurozone crisis are beginning to drive me nuts. I don’t think they have been vindicated, but that’s for another column. What matters now is this:

1. Like it or not, a calm negotiated dissolution of the euro is not possible
It is true that currency unions have in the past been dismantled without catastrophic economic disruption. In recent years, Britain’s currency union with Ireland ended in 1979 when Ireland joined the European exchange rate mechanism; and Slovakia and the Czech Republic introduced separate currencies in 1993 after Czechoslovakia’s “velvet divorce”.

It is imaginable that at some time in the future the Eurozone could be broken up by mutual consent of its participants without precipitating disaster (whether that is a desirable outcome is another matter). This is, however, utterly implausible in the near future. The bond markets are in a state of panic and smell blood, and not even the smallest reduction in Eurozone membership – a Greek exit – could take place without triggering further panic that forced Italy, Portugal and Spain out too. The only plausible scenario for ending the euro as we know it in the foreseeable future is a chaotic collapse.

2. The collapse of the euro would be a disaster for Britain
Such a collapse would be ruinous for every country that was forced out. In the run-up to exit, they would experience catastrophic capital flight. Their banks would implode and credit would disappear. As businesses failed, unemployment would rocket – and people left in work would find their living standards and purchasing power slashed as a result of the devaluation that euro exit would inevitably bring.

The impact would be felt throughout the world. Germany and other countries still in the Eurozone would go into deep recession as their banks took the hit of defaults on loans to the leaver countries and as their exports to those countries slumped. Britain would take an economic hammering. The Eurozone is Britain’s biggest export market, responsible for nearly half of British export revenues, and British banks are massively exposed to Eurozone debt. The disintegration of the Eurozone, and the consequent wider economic downturn, would be a calamity for Britain.

3. The euro must be saved
It follows that it is in everyone’s interests, including Britain’s, for the euro to be rescued. The key question is how. This, of course, is what the European political class has been arguing about for months – without providing a credible answer, which in turn has exacerbated the crisis as the markets have factored in the possibility of meltdown.

The immediate priority is to end the bond market panic to allow the Eurozone debtors to borrow more at reasonable rates of interest. The problem is that this requires the Eurozone as a whole to underwrite their borrowing – which means Germany, as Europe’s biggest creditor nation, taking on responsibility for the debts of southern Europe, either directly or indirectly. Up to now, however, the Germans have refused to do so. The German economic policy establishment, horrified by the prospect of inflation above all else, considers that the priority is for the indebted countries to reduce their debts and has ruled out the European Central Bank acting as lender of last resort. German voters balk at their taxes bailing out what they see as profligate and lazy southern Europeans.

The most likely way out of this impasse is that a deal will be struck whereby the Germans relent on bankrolling the Eurozone, but only on condition that the debtor countries immediately implement draconian austerity budgets and accept tough, intrusive Eurozone-wide budget rules.

That would calm the bond markets, but at great cost:
  • Austerity would almost certainly strangle what little growth there is in southern Europe, with knock-on effects for everyone else.
  • Such a regime would place the burden of paying for the sovereign debt crisis – which, lest we forget, is the result of the global banking crisis of 2008 and the ensuing recession, not decades of state profligacy – almost entirely on the shoulders of the working class.
  • Handing over responsibility for overall economic policy to the Eurozone would mean that the key decisions on taxation and spending would no longer be taken by democratically elected governments – a dramatic erosion of national sovereignty.
So what should democratic socialists do? First, argue for a recasting of the role of the European Central Bank to include pursuit of growth as well as stability. Second, press for a fairer sharing of the pain of austerity by ensuring that the rich pay more, starting with a Tobin tax. And third, demand a massive increase in the powers of the European Parliament, the only Europe-wide democratic institution, to maximise accountability of the new economic policy regime.

It’s hardly a panacea, but it’s a lot better than crowing.

  • This paper from the Breugel think-tank is worth a look.

10 November 2011


The sociologist Frank Parkin, who has died at the age of 80, was my political sociology tutor at Oxford more than 30 years ago. I saw him for a couple of hours once a week for eight weeks in his room at Magdalen College and never got to know him socially, but he played a bigger role in shaping the way I think than any other teacher. He was a brilliant tutor: enthusiastic, sharp and above all extraordinarily rude about other sociologists. His Marxism and Class Theory: A Bourgeois Critique (1981) is the funniest book of sociological theory I have ever read, a no-holds-barred polemic that opened a generation of students' eyes to the stupidities of academic Marxism. He followed it with two novels, Krippendorf's Tribe and The Mind and Body Shop, that are brilliant satires on academic life. Krishnan Kumar has an obituary in the Guardian here.

3 November 2011


The following statement has just been published on the Tribune website:

Tribune fights on: co-op structure staves off closure

In a last-minute deal to stave off closure in its 75th year, staff, management and the National Union of Journalists have agreed a plan which switches ownership to a co-operative model from next week.

The move will allow continuity of publication and a different form of funding with more direct reader involvement. It follows talks in which owner Kevin McGrath agreed to release the title debt-free, granting Tribune a viability which had been threatened by the build up of historical debt, responsibility for the discharge of which has been accepted by Mr McGrath.

Terms for a transfer of ownership of the title were agreed during the tripartite talks after Tribune staff met with advisers on the creation and structure of co-operatives and agreed in principle this would be the best route to pursue, provided the right conditions applied to the transfer of ownership to the new company. Mr McGrath subsequently agreed to positively assist in giving the new venture a fresh start and successful future.

The change comes after a substantial cash injection failed to raise subscriptions and income to target levels and it was agreed by all parties that the title would stand a better chance under a co-operative model.

Final details of the model are being worked out in conjunction with Tribune’s advisers at Principle Six and Co-operatives UK but will involve readers as shareholders and democratic participants in future.

In the meantime, we are appealing for help with short-term funding to bridge the start- up gap until the new structure is up and running (cheques payable to Tribune at 218 Woodberry, Green Lanes, London N4 2HB). Donations will be registered as a formal interest under the new structure.

Mr McGrath said: “I am very pleased to be able to pass Tribune on to the staff in a workers co operative which I fully support and urge everyone in the labour and trade union movement to support the magazine under its new ownership. It has been an honour to have been involved in keeping Tribune going and I am delighted that the history and heritage of Tribune has been safeguarded in the digitising of the whole 75 year archive which is a proud achievement.

“Importantly, I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to the staff, our contributors and the readers for their continued and invaluable support over the past three years.”

The need for Tribune, with its mix of news, analysis, revelation and debate, has never been greater than under the present political climate. This is an exciting step, a co-operative is the right place for Tribune to be. It is a challenge, too, one which we hope you, the reader will join us in facing.