GEORGE ORWELL AND THE LEFT: BUT WHAT SORT OF DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST WAS HE?

Paul Anderson, George Orwell Studies, vol 2 no 1, 2017

George Orwell at work in the 1940s

No political writer of the 20th century has been subject to more analysis, controversy and speculation than George Orwell – and for good reason.

Many see Orwell as the greatest political writer in the English language of the past 200 years, a consummate stylist, always direct and provocative, and many of his big concerns have continuing resonance even though he died nearly 70 years ago.

He wrote a lot, and in a multitude of genres: fiction, criticism, reportage, poetry, polemical essays and columns. His conception of what is political was breathtakingly broad, he changed his mind over time (and in public), and there are innumerable tensions and contradictions in his life and work. Since his death in 1950, partisans of every political tendency, apart from fascists and Stalinist communists, have tried to claim Orwell as one of their own.

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DON’T ASK ME – I DON’T KNOW

Theresa May ponders Brexit in Brussels

Paul Anderson, Fleximize, 19 July 2017

With parliament shutting up shop for the summer holidays and the Brexit negotiations formally started, the dust is beginning to settle after Britain’s bizarre general election – but only a fool would pretend to know what happens next.

What was extraordinary about the election was that nearly everyone expected it to turn out differently. All but a couple of opinion polls, every columnist in the national newspapers, every TV pundit – and the word on the street from canvassers from all parties – pointed to a giant victory for Theresa May’s Tories and humiliation for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, campaigning on what everyone said was the most leftwing manifesto since 1983. Continue reading

MAJOR AND THE LABOUR PARTY

Paul Anderson, in Kevin Hickson and Ben Williams (eds), John Major: An Unsuccessful Prime Minister? (Biteback, 2017)

John Major’s governments of 1990-97 are not often discussed in terms of their impact on Labour – except insofar as Major’s travails with his party from summer 1992, particularly over Europe, provided the backdrop against which first John Smith and then Tony Blair built commanding opinion-poll leads for Labour, culminating in Blair’s general election victory of May 1997.

Even two decades after that triumph, protagonists, commentators and historians typically assign only a minor role to Major in the making of New Labour. As in the dog days of his administration and in Blair’s first years in office, he is still considered primarily as the inept grey man who happened to be at the helm of the doomed Tory ship as Labour rode a tide of popular enthusiasm to win an inevitable landslide. Continue reading

BREXIT TAKES LABOUR TO THE BRINK

Paul Anderson, New York Times, 28 June 2016

London – British voters’ rejection of European Union membership in last week’s referendum has set in motion the biggest political crisis Britain has faced since the second world war. The surprise is that the real storm has hit not the ruling Conservative party, but the opposition Labour party.

The immediate fallout was expected to be worst for the Tory leader, David Cameron, who had promised the referendum to pacify Eurosceptic rebels in his ranks. Having in effect staked his job as prime minister on winning for the Remain campaign, Cameron announced his resignation. In parliament on Monday, he conceded that a general election might soon follow a party leadership contest. Continue reading

DEAD CATS DON’T BOUNCE

The new conclusion to Moscow Gold? The Soviet Union and the British Left by Paul Anderson and Kevin Davey. Published by Little Atoms, 28 December 2015

By the end of the 1990s, to most observers of the British left, the Leninist era seemed to have come to an end. The Socialist Workers Party, quasi-Trotskyist and owner of a competent offset press in east London, still had some life about it, but not a lot.

The Scottish Socialist Party – essentially the renegade Glasgow office of the Trotskyist Militant Tendency, which had been expelled by Labour in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with SWP and independent barnacles hanging on – had some support in urban western Scotland. And the hardline Communist Party of Britain, the main Stalinist splinter from the ‘official’ Communist Party of Great Britain (which had given up the ghost in 1991, 70 years after its launch with a giant subvention from Moscow), was still influential in a few trade unions. The CPB still had a daily paper, the Morning Star, though hardly anyone read it any more. Continue reading

IN DEFENCE OF BERNARD CRICK

Paul Anderson, from Richard Keeble (ed), George Orwell Now! (Peter Lang, 2015)

George Orwell’s politics have always been contentious. In his lifetime, he was a notable intellectual contrarian whose antipathy to received wisdom of all kinds made him admirers and enemies across the political spectrum – and since his death the argument about where he stood politically has been vigorous. It shows no sign of ending soon. Of course, the polemics ebb and flow according to events in the real world and publishers’ schedules, and there has been little in the past quarter-century to match the vituperation of the cold-war battle for Orwell. Continue reading

FREE SPEECH IN BEIJING

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

LABOUR’S UNION PROBLEM

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

THEY CAN’T FLOG THE WIRE FROM THE RAILWAY

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.

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