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Tribune: the real is the rational

I was news editor at Tribune between 1992 and 1995, and it lived a hand to mouth existence even then. At a time when almost every other publication in Britain had switched to what journalists of the period called ‘the new technology’, I suddenly found myself thrown back into the era of manual typewriters. The one I was given, according to a standing office joke, used to belong to George Orwell himself.

As the magazine’s token Trotskyist, I was always somewhat at odds with the overall editorial line. But nevertheless various editors somehow found a place for my contributions, and I will always be proud to be associated with a title that – for much of its existence, anyway – instantiated the best aspects of the democratic socialist tradition in this country.

So I am sad to hear that barring miracles, this week’s edition will be the last. Apart from anything else, the closure will mean redundancy for some of my former workmates. But much as it pains me to say it, the decision is probably the right one.

The move results partly from economic pressures, of course. With everybody under 30 now surgically attached to their smartphone, small circulation periodicals – and even many newspapers with substantial readerships – simply are not viable anymore.

Tribune will apparently resurface as an unstaffed website aggregating leftwing content produced elsewhere, which may serve some useful function. But that is not why fellow traveller Labour MPs Sir Stafford Cripps and George Strauss set the damn thing up in 1937.

Tribune existed to articulate a political project, which was at first popular frontism. But in its postwar hey-day, it achieved a circulation of 40,000 a week as the voice of Bevanism, and broadly supported the leftist strand in Labourism right up until the Bennite period 30 or so years later. After that, it lost its way.

As Labour moved to the right, the newspaper, as it was then, struggled to find a renewed sense of purpose. Even during my stint on the staff, it tried too hard to be too broad. After 1994, the Blairites largely closed down the public expression of dissident opinion within the party. It is difficult to be a forum for debate when there is no genuine debate to be had.

I don’t usually quote Hegel favourably. But somehow his observation that the real is the rational and the rational is the real just about seems to sum the plight of Tribune up. It couldn’t keep on defying rationality forever.

One Comment

  1. Jenny Smith says:

    I have been having Tribune for some years. In the spring it changed from a magazine to a newspaper. I received these for 3 weeks and then did not get any copies magazine or other. I always had a standing order to pay for the yearly subscription which went through in October. I assumed that Tribune must be having problems in the Spring when all copies to me ceased. I have just renewed by yearly subscription but feel very suspicious. We are being told the only 1,700 people were subscribing. Was this because others like myself had somehow been erased off the books? Jenny Smith Bristol

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