Little Atoms, 7 April 2015

The Beijing Bookworm literary festival offers a chance to explore the limits to criticism in the People’s Republic, writes Paul Anderson

I’m just back in Britain from a whistle-stop tour of China, where I was speaking at the Bookworm Literary Festival, a fortnight-long talkfest organised by the leading independent English-language bookshop in China. I went with Anna Chen, who was one of the headline stars of the show – and it was one of the most stimulating foreign trips I’ve ever made. Continue reading


Unite general secretary Len McCluskey

Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 7 February 2014

Labour’s relationship with the trade unions has always been a problem.

The formalities of it date from 1918, when Labour was still, essentially, a means of getting working-class men (no girls allowed) elected to parliament – and when there was a vast number of trade unions, most of them either small or very decentralised. The party then drew up a new constitution (which also included the vague promise of socialism in Clause Four) giving the unions the defining role in the new structure at every level except electing the parliamentary leader. Continue reading


Tribune column, 10 January 2014

Scene in the local off-license, Ipswich, New Year’s Eve:

Old boy from Suffolk (white, about 75, slightly tipsy) Well, they’re coming over here…
Shopkeeper (brown, mid-50s, Punjabi) Yeah, they don’t wanna work, they just wanna nick stuff.
Old boy But it’s better now the scrap’s not cash. They can’t get the wire off the railway and flog it. Now they’ll just sign on.
Shopkeeper They’ve got to stop them coming. It’s out of control.

Continue reading


Tribune column, 29 November 2013

Maybe I’m a naïve libertarian, but I can’t be that bothered whether the Reverend Paul Flowers, the Methodist minister who was chairman of the Co-operative Bank, took illegal drugs and had sex with rent boys.

Not that I think that the Mail on Sunday should have been prevented from exposing him: it’s not good for people who run banks to be off their heads on crystal meth, just as it’s not good for airline pilots to be drunk, and religious leaders who preach against prostitution and hire prostitutes on the side are fair game. Continue reading


Tribune column, 1 November 2013

There’s one song every band can play. If the words don’t ring a bell:

Standing on a corner
Suitcase in my hand

the riff will do it for you. Da – da, da, di, da – da, da, di,da.

OK, maybe not. It’s “Sweet Jane”, and it was not a hit for the New York band that ripped off the lick and recorded it in 1970, the Velvet Underground. Continue reading


Tribune, 18 October 2013

The Daily Mail’s assertion that Ralph Miliband, father of Labour leader Ed, was a stooge of the Soviet Union who ‘hated Britain’ has created a massive storm. But it is only the latest in a long line of right-wing smears against the Labour left – with Tribune as a particular target – claiming it kow-towed to communist Russia … or worse. In an exclusive extract from their new book, Moscow Gold? The Soviet Union and the British left, Paul Anderson and Kevin Davey tell the grisly story of the lies of the 1960s and 1970s Continue reading


Tribune column, 4 October 2013

It’s taken long enough, but at last Ed Miliband seems to be finding a distinctive voice. His speech at Labour conference in Brighton was less than earth-shattering, but it was better than his previous efforts, not least because it contained some hints about what a Miliband Labour government would be like.

The most important, of course, was his promise of a two-year freeze on energy bills – a modest proposal but one sufficiently at odds with the free-market consensus to send the Tory press into a frenzy about how “Red Ed” was plotting a return to the extreme state socialism of the 1970s. Continue reading


Review of Robert Colls, George Orwell: English Rebel (Oxford University Press, £25), Tribune, 4 October 2013

I started Robert Colls’s new biography of George Orwell with some trepidation. Colls is a writer I like who has written intelligently and provocatively on working-class history and the creation of an English national identity – but I was wondering what a new biography could possibly add to the already massive literature on Orwell.

I was wrong to worry. Continue reading


Aaaargh! Press has just published Moscow Gold? The Soviet Union and the British left by me and Kevin Davey. Buy it!

Moscow Gold? The Soviet Union and the British left by Paul Anderson and Kevin Davey is a fine little book you can read in a day – 168 pages for just £3.50 on Kindle. Anderson and Davey have taken advantage of the vast amount of research into communism since the end of the Cold War. They wear it lightly, and refreshingly, are open about their political position. As members of the democratic left, they believe that communism was a disaster for left wing politics. It tied the left to tyranny and the lies and disillusion that went with it. Leaving everything else aside, the far left burnt out activists. For generations, idealistic men and women joined the Communist Party, Militant and the SWP, and left disgusted, not just with Leninism, but with politics of any kind.’


Tribune column, 6 September 2013

The fall-out from last Thursday’s House of Commons defeat for David Cameron over military intervention in Syria has been spectacular. The newspapers and current affairs broadcasters have had a week of field days as the various political protagonists have laid into one another and pundits have tried to grasp the significance of the vote. Is Cameron finished? Is Ed Miliband an opportunist toe-rag? Is this the end of the special relationship?

Largely sidelined by the furore, however, has been any serious concern for the substantive issue supposedly at stake – what if anything the rest of the world should do about the civil war in Syria, in which some 100,000 people have died, 2 million have fled the country as refugees and 4 million have become displaced persons within its borders.

Of course, that’s not an easy question to answer. Although the internet is awash with images of atrocities, it is by no means clear exactly what is happening in Syria except that it’s bloody and unpleasant. There are conflicting reports about the strength and nature of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s regime: some say it’s still largely composed of moderate Sunnis who would be quite happy to live in harmony with everyone else, others that it is now dominated by murderous jihadists with strong al-Qa’ida connections. It’s not obvious how far Assad is now reliant on support from Iran and its Lebanese surrogate Hezbollah – rather more important regional players than his friends in Moscow, who have been grandstanding for all they are worth as well as supplying him with arms – and we don’t know how far the opposition is serving the interests of Riyadh, Doha and Ankara. As I write, it’s not even beyond question that it was the regime and not agents provocateurs that unleashed the nerve gas massacre that brought about last week’s call to action from Cameron (and I’ve not succumbed to conspiracy theory, honest).

It’s possible that the intelligence agencies of the world know a lot about the situation on the ground of which journalists are wholly unaware, but even if they do that’s not the end of the problem. The strong opposition of Russia and China to any sort of international intervention against Assad might well be more a matter of cynical self-interest than a statement of anti-imperialist principle, but it rules out the possibility of United Nations endorsement of even the most minimal “shots across the bow”. Israel is a wild card, utterly unpredictable because driven by hostility both to Assad and his enemies. Egypt is more-or-less under martial law after the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood; Iraq is out of the headlines but seething with sectarian tensions. And public opinion in the US and the UK is sceptical about the claims of the political class that intervention will work: memories are fresh of Afghanistan and Iraq, where successful regime-changing assaults were followed by years of bloody counter-insurgency operations. An invasion of Syria that learnt the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq – Germany 1945-style, with regime-change, forcible disarmament of the population, an occupation involving hundreds of thousands of troops, the securing of borders and all the rest – would probably work, but “boots on the ground” are the last thing any western politician could now sell to an electorate. Proper imperialism is not on the agenda.

Which means that the people of Syria will continue to suffer in agony as humanitarians and liberals in the west wring their hands. The most that Barack Obama will sanction, as things stand, is a no-fly zone, and that’s assuming Congress gives him its backing. It won’t work, and will lead to lots more innocent people being killed.

Last week in the House of Commons, MPs refused to back something even more minimal. I can understand why, though I have no sympathy with the Tory and Liberal isolationists who can’t be bothered with quarrels in faraway countries between people of whom they know nothing. And it matters, because it creates a crisis of authority for the British government and marks a change in Britain’s perception of its role in world affairs. It makes very little difference, however, to what happens in Syria. If I were a Syrian, I think I would probably have a lot to say about that.