Tribune is back and in the nick of time. It was often said, even by those who may not have subscribed to Tribune’s democratic socialist vision of the world, that ‘we need you now more than ever.’ But truly, not since one of this publication’s greatest editors, Michael Foot, was the first to warn that ‘Hitler means war!’ in its pages, has Britain and the Left needed Tribune so much.
At a time of deepening crisis in world politics, we can say that throughout its proud history, Tribune has been internationalist. It campaigned for nuclear disarmament, against apartheid South Africa, and for the rights of the Palestinians and the downtrodden everywhere. In doing so, it provided space for those that the mainstream media did not. Most of the great campaigns for independence from British colonial rule found articulation in the pages of Tribune. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Hastings Banda, Cheddi Jagan, Jomo Kenyatta, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Walter Sisulu: all of these were published at a time when many sought their imprisonment or refused to acknowledge their calls for freedom.
Tribune has always had a civilised understanding of the arts, music, and literature. George Orwell was a former literary editor, whose pioneering ‘As I Please’ column has spawned many imitations, the best ones always remaining in Tribune. But it never retreated into cultural pursuits alone. Aneurin Bevan, perhaps the greatest of British Labour politicians, edited Tribune. For many years, the Tribune Group of MPs — successors to the Bevanite ‘Keep Left’ group — acted as the parliamentary voice of the Labour left .
The Tribune I joined as a young editor in 1993, was located in faded, peeling offices near King’s Cross station, in a building owned by what was then the Transport and General Workers’ Union and is now Unite. Tribune had strong ties to the trade union movement and in the early part of the 2000s was owned by trade unions determined to keep it alive. It was a struggle. But then it always had been. Everyone earned the same weekly wage and there was a constant battle to keep subscriptions up and maintain a hold in a news trade dominated by a monopoly distributor that wanted to shake itself free of small publications.
Tribune’s independence, its dissent from received wisdom, and its dislike of the herd mentality of much of the British media was both a source of strength and a weakness. It could not be ‘bought’ editorially, so had little interest for those who might want to buy influence. It would never be a political plaything.
Tribune has also been ahead of its time. It warned against the onset of neoliberalism, while most of the rest of the press were lauding it. It stood against the 1980s splitters of the breakaway Social Democratic Party (SDP), predicting its main impact would be to keep Labour out of power. It supported the miners in their historic 1984–85 strike. It was the first to warn against the fad that became a cult: triangulation, and saw through the Blair project while so many applauded. And, needless to say, Tribune was utterly opposed to the war in Iraq, the repreccussions of which are still being felt by millions of suffering people across the Middle East and North Africa.
The Tribune I joined and loved only had one Amstrad word processor. The linoleum on the floor was cracked and curled, the office carpet threadbare. The filing cabinets were overflowing with old speeches and articles by some of the Labour greats from Bevan to Attlee, Castle to Kinnock (Neil that is). We raffled George Orwell’s stapler and other trinkets and lived a hand-to-mouth existence.
Still, Tribune punched above its weight, its contributors wrote — and drew — largely for free. Tribune was the voice of the Left, it was for the grassroots. This bloodied infantry were on the retreat during the eighties, nineties, and in the early part of the millennium. Through this, Tribune fought on bravely under the editorship of Chris McLaughlin. But finally it succumbed. A light went out. But it is back on now, burning fiercely and with so much new promise.
That promise comes with its relationship to Jacobin, bringing the British left together with the new transatlantic promise of a rising left in America. Jacobin and Tribune understand this moment because they are part of it and helped to make it.
Tribune is needed more than ever as the forces of fascism, racism, and extreme nationalism are on the march again. It is needed more than ever, because what was once known as the ‘liberal left’ in Britain appears to have lost its way. It is needed because these organs, from the Guardian and Observer to the New Statesman, no longer speak for the Left, or to the people involved in its re-emerging movements. And it is needed because a new generation are hungry for ideas and change, want to learn from history, and need the tools in order to build a better world.
Welcome back Tribune. About time!