Britain’s self-styled “oldest democratic socialist publication” was relaunched at a Labour Party conference fringe event this week with new owners and a new editor.
Founded in 1937 and edited over the years by figures such as Raymond Postgate, Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot, Tribune was bought by Bhaskar Sunkara earlier this year after taking a “short break” since January to seek new sources of funding.
Sunkara is a US journalist and owner of the not-for-profit news outlet, Jacobin. The new Tribune will be published as a bimonthly magazine under the editorship of Ronan Burtenshaw.
Founded by Stafford Cripps and George Strauss as part of a left-wing united front against fascism, it was first edited by William Mellor while Michael Foot, Barbara Castle, Nye Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson and veteran ILPer HN Brailsford were among its earliest contributors.
Tribune became an organ of the left in the 1940s when George Orwell was its literary editor. It supported the Bennite left in the 1980s before becoming more closely associated with the so-called ‘soft left’ in the 1990s.
A fortnightly newspaper for most of its life, it transformed into a magazine and website in the early 2000s, but endured several financial crises and changes of ownership before its latest short death and re-birth in 2018.
Sunkara told the Guardian last month that the revival of the Labour left under Jeremy Corbyn meant the publication could now be self-sustaining.
“A publication like this can be sustainable and doesn’t have to rely on wealthy benefactors,” he said. “You can find 10,000 subscribers willing to pay for quality, critical journalism and long-form analysis. Our goal is to make money so that it’s self-sustaining.
“We’re self-funding it through Jacobin but there’s very little up front needed for this. I think there’s some benefit for incumbents because you don’t have to start from scratch.”
In his editorial for the first issue (dated November-December 2018), Burtenshaw wrote:
“We hope that the relaunch of Tribune can help the Left overcome [its] sense of disorientation, at a moment of historic opportunity for socialism. Despite decades of defeats recent years have demonstrated just how much of our analysis endures. Capitalism remains the world’s dominant social system, sustained as it is by the exploitation of those who work by those who own. As inequality deepens and the gains of the welfare state recede, it is clearer than ever that these are the battle lines of any struggle which might bring about its demise.
“If William Mellor or Stafford Cripps encountered the economy of today, they might be perplexed by the technology behind an Apple, an Amazon, a Facebook or a Google — but they would surely recognise their paths to monopoly, their punitive work practices and the extraordinary wealth of their owners. It wouldn’t take long, either, to explain a zero-hour contract to a day labourer working on the docks a century ago.
“Class politics, which have filled the pages of Tribune for more than eighty years, remain relevant because we have not moved beyond the circumstances that created them.”
Subscriptions cost £19.95 per year for six issues of the digital publication and £29.95 if you want print and digital versions.