Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 15 June 2012
I’m giving up university lecturing after 12 years and going properly freelance again – possibly a stupid act in the middle of a recession, but I’ve had enough of the mind-numbing tedium that has come to pervade academic life, of which more anon – so I’ve spent the past couple of weeks putting together an online archive of what I’ve written over the past 30 years in the hope that it might help get me a few commissions. (It’s at pandersonjournalist.blogspot.co.uk.)
Most of the articles have been stored away in a filing cabinet for years – and I’ve just re-read them for the first time in ages while correcting the scans before posting them. They are from a variety of left-wing periodicals but particularly Tribune (where I was reviews editor 1986-91 and editor 1991-93, and have written this column since 1998) and the New Statesman (where I was deputy editor 1993-96).
Anyway, it’s odd being confronted afresh with what you wrote a long time ago. There are, of course, the embarrassingly wrong predictions – but, as I’ve written before, they are so seared in the memory that they don’t exactly come as a shock when you unearth them from the pile of yellowing cuttings, however much they still make you squirm. You get much more of a surprise from the articles you’d forgotten or half-forgotten, both good and bad.
Many of these are of course about issues that were once burning but have long ceased even to smoulder: the big row over US nuclear arms in Europe after the INF treaty of 1987, the expulsion of Trotskyists from the Labour Party in 1990-91, the export of live animals from UK ports in 1995 (and so I could go on). I wonder what we worry about today that will look irredeemably quaint in 20 years’ time?
One thing I’m not tempted by after this exercise is political nostalgia for the 1980s, which my old pieces remind me were a mean, dispiriting decade for anyone on the democratic left in Britain. Not so the eight authors who reminisce about their experience of life in the Communist Party of Great Britain in its era of terminal decline in a new book, After the Party: Reflections on life since the CPGB, edited by Andy Croft and published by Lawrence and Wishart.
I was never in the Communist Party but knew a lot of people who were (Including a couple of the book’s contributors) and remember it well from the late 1970s for its poisonous internal feuding and its impotence. By then, it was torn between pro-Soviet “Tankies” based around the Morning Star and modernising “Eurocommunists” around Marxism Today, and its influence – never great even at its height in the 1940s – had been reduced to holding positions in a few unions and pressure groups. The acrimonious internal battle ended with the Euros routing the Tankies, who kept the Star and created the Communist Party of Britain. The whole farce came to an ignominious end when, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Euros turned the CPGB into a new organisation, Democratic Left, that hardly anyone joined (though much later I got very involved in its organ New Times.)
All in all, a pretty grim time, you’d think – but for the most part Croft and his contributors, all from the last cohort of CPGB members who joined during its death throes, now in their fifties and sixties, look back with some fondness and sense of loss. Well, I suppose there were some decent people in the CPGB, and Marxism Today had its moments, but reading this book gave me a rather sad picture of people desperately asserting that they hadn’t wasted a large part of their lives.
A much more upbeat read is the investigative journalist Greg Palast’s latest book, Vultures’ Picnic (Constable), a rip-roaring account of the crimes and misdemeanours of big oil corporations and their friends in high finance and government. It’s written in a first-person style that owes something to cheap crime thrillers and something to Hunter S Thompson, and is a breath of fresh air: I read it in a single sitting. Palast is doing a launch event in London next Thursday (26 June, 7pm at The Venue, ULU, Malet Street) that promises to be a great deal of fun.