Issue 177 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review
I would like to add to your Briefing on censorship (June SR). As a regular listener to One FM, its absurd and anomalous approach to censorship never ceases to amaze me. Daily Telegraph readers would vehemently deny it, but the BBC is in fact paranoid and conservative.
Songs are no longer 'banned', they are 'not playlisted' in the same way that Reservoir Dogs is 'awaiting certification'. The BBC is keen to emphasis its commercial impartiality, but a place on its playlist can make or break a single. Those which are not put on its daytime playlist are very unlikely to enter the Top 40; these are usually independent record companies' singles but they refused to playlist 'Movin' On Special', Apache Indian's personal response to the election of Derek Beackon.
Overtly political songs are usually excluded. The BBC cannot be accused of right wing bias as there is nothing expressing the sentiment, 'Isn't Mrs Thatcher great?' Chumbawamba's second single 'We Are The World' was banned for commending direct action to build a socialist revolution. U2's 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' was too controversial. Leftfield and Lydon's 'Open Up', containing the lyric, 'Burn Hollywood, burn/Take down Tinseltown,' was not to be played near news bulletins after the Malibu fires. Matty Hanson of Credit to the Nation is a 'controversial' rapper because he told us that 'enough is enough' where racial violence and fascism are concerned; the line 'Big deal/I smoke spliff' from 'Teenage Sensation' was altered to omit the word 'spliff', making it sound ridiculous.
The BBC also fancies itself as an arbiter of 'taste'. The Smashing Pumpkins refused to change a line from 'Disarm': 'Cut that little child up inside of me,' and so were not allowed to play on Top Of The Pops. 'Come Baby Come' by K7 was on Top Of The Pops--although it was full of puerile unoriginal innuendo and grossly offensive to women. Reinforcing sexual stereotypes is clearly more 'tasteful' than allowing unusual artistic expression.
However, I always manage a smile when the BBC spectacularly gets it wrong. 'Rock Star' by Hole was played on Radio One at 7.30pm: Courtney Love screams 'REVOLUTION' and 'FUCK' (four times) as well as the line, 'Well I went to school in a fascist state,' about nice old Uncle Sam. Only last week the Top 40 show featured a Nine Inch Nails single with the lyric, 'I want to fuck you like an animal' (four times), played at 5.20pm. Taste, decency and respect--if they had any 'Nothing Has Been Proved' by the Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield about the Profumo affair would not have been played the day after Stephen Milligan's body was found. It is amusing but puts paid to their pretensions of decorum.
Colin Barker is a personal friend and I have always respected his steadfast political commitment without, of course, sharing all his views. It was therefore with dismay that I read his obituary of Ralph Miliband in your June issue.
Here was a man who died at the age of 70; throughout his whole adult life he had stood firm on his socialist principles. He was an independent socialist, never a Stalinist nor a Western-type Social Democrat. He lectured all over the world and the multitude of his students will bear witness to his dedication towards what used to be called The Good Old Cause. For Colin to write that 'to his credit' Miliband spoke strongly in favour of the student struggle in 1968 is unbearably patronising and ungenerous. What else would Ralph Miliband have done?
I will not enter into debate over Colin's assessment of Miliband's The State in Capitalist Society although I happen to regard it as probably his most important book. But Colin really must not write such silly sentences as, 'Here he set out to show that the state in the advanced countries was inherently capitalist'.
Colin links his critique with the comment that in 30 years the Socialist Register 'managed not to celebrate a single revolutionary struggle in the advanced world. It missed out on 1968, on Portugal, Iran, Poland'. Since I was co-editor of the Socialist Register for most of these 30 years I find this a somewhat extraordinary statement.
The Register was never intended to be an annual chronology but rather to provide serious analysis of socialist theory and political practices. On a quick content analysis of just five years, from 1969 to 1973, there were four articles on 1968, six on Africa, two on Chile, and one each on Northern Ireland, South-east Asia and Bangladesh and one on the workers' control experiments in Czechoslovakia 1945-48. On Portugal over the years there was an historical article on Portugal and colonialism, two articles on Guinea Bissau, and one each on Angola and Mozambique.
As for Iran I am not sure what we are to celebrate. Certainly the downfall of the Shah, but the return of Islamic fundamentalism? Analysis surely, but celebration? Miliband and I go back a long way as Marxists and our record is not exactly lacking in criticism or self criticism. Speaking now only for myself I have always assumed that socialism was fellowship and that whatever differences we have we can always recognise our comrades in the struggle. Miliband was always in the struggle.
Colin Barker was unnecessarily harsh in his obituary of Ralph Miliband. Miliband's legacy stretches far wider than his first book Parliamentary Socialism. His subsequent books continued to influence later generations of socialists.
Miliband wrote one of the best introductions to Marxism, Marxism and Politics, a lucid and well argued affirmation of Marxism. To argue that Miliband never had a 'concrete sense... of working people in struggle' is simply inaccurate. Indeed it was central to his work. He wrote at the end of Marxism and Politics how bourgeois democracy was 'the product of centuries of unremitting popular struggle'. Then he explained the task for Marxists: 'to defend these freedoms and to make possible their extension and enlargement by the removal of their class boundaries'. I know of no clearer statement of our task as socialists.
Later he wrote a book devoted to the class struggle, Divided Societies. He reasserted class conflict as being absolutely central in advanced capitalism. Miliband did this in the 1980s, when other so called Marxists were repudiating the class struggle.
After these omissions, Barker then suggests Miliband could have been a better Marxist if he had served time in the Communist Party. The class struggle was central to Miliband's politics and I would argue that it was because of this that he decided not to join the Communist Party, unlike so many others of his generation. It is because of this emphasis that Miliband will continue to inspire future socialists.
While I do not dissent from Colin Barker's obituary to Ralph Miliband in any point I think the central contradiction of his politics needs to be brought out more fully.
His two most influential books, Parliamentary Socialism and The State in Capitalist Society, can both be faulted from a Marxist perspective. But their enormous influence on two ideas about which all Marxists should be happy, the non-socialist nature of the Labour Party and the essentially capitalist nature of the state, should not be denied.
The real puzzle is where this led Miliband politically. It was not just a question of the Socialist Register which looking back seems ever more like a new left odyssey. I first came across Miliband when an undergraduate at Teesside where he had enormous influence, not just on the lecturers but also on some of the more left wing figures of the 1974-79 Labour government. Twenty years later I heard him speak in praise of Lenin's State and Revolution. It was this contradiction between theory and Labour politics which Miliband could never resolve. He despaired of the Labour Party but felt unable to help in the task of building an alternative to it.
Let readers go to their local war memorials to inspect the names of those killed in the First and Second World Wars. Then they will realise that Chris Lyneham (June SR) was writing nonsense on stilts when he says, 'Death and injury rates for those actually fighting in the two world wars were very similar, and the experience of the campaigns in Normandy, North Africa and the Pacific was every bit as traumatic as Passchenciaele and the Somme.'
In fact, the British general staff realised the British people would not tolerate Haig madness again, the squandering of human life on a limitless scale as had happened in the First World War.
Consequently, military tactics were modified accordingly. Whereas in 1916 on the first day of the battle of the Somme the British forces sustained 60,000 casualties, in 1942 at El Alamein, Britain's most costly encounter in the Second World War, there were 15,000 casualties suffered over a fortnight's fighting.
But, when considering casualties, two points are usually overlooked. The first is the arithmetic is done along imperialist and racist lines. As Professor John Dower states in his superb book, War Without Mercy, Orientals, Africans, and others are regarded as being not truly human.
And, second, whatever the figures given for war casualties, they have an air of unreality about them. The reason is that it is really impossible to disentangle the deaths caused by the fighting from those caused by accompanying phenomena. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse ride together: war is joined by fire, famine and the destruction of the social fabric. Together they spread death.
In China, for example, the Japanese wanted to flush out Chinese guerillas from the Kwangtung province. Therefore, they cut off their food supply. But, as a result of this Japanese pacification programme, ten million civilians died of starvation as well. Peasants became so desperate that women sold their new born babies to the butchers to be eaten as meat.
Likewise in India: the harvests in 1942-43 were better than average, yet two or three million people died of starvation. Why? Because the British authorities commandeered the transport customarily used to carry grain for military purposes. British imperialists were more concerned with the struggle against the Japanese--the protection of the jewel in the crown--than they were about the lives of the Indian people.
At that time, I remember seeing a cartoon in the New Leader, an anti-war socialist paper. It depicted an irate editor, angry because one of his staff had made a slip up. To illustrate an article about the horrors of the German concentration camps, instead of the photo showing the death and starving camp inmates, the hapless journalist had inserted one where the dead and starving were Indians instead. Unwittingly, British, not Nazi, oppression had been highlighted!
Concentration camp victims (six million Jews, probably the same number of Slavs and others, as well as the Chinese, Indians and the rest who died through starvation and neglect) are not included in world war casualty figures. Were they, it would show deaths were overwhelmingly civilians who were workers or peasants.
Chris Bambery's article (June SR) on building resistance to the Tories, the bosses, the Nazis and, in the process, building the SWP was excellent and very timely. But there was a small error which it is worthwhile pointing out.
Chris wrote: 'In Glasgow a dispute at the Royal Infirmary made headline news north of the border after porters and cleaners voted to strike against privatisation'. This was probably a slip of the pen as Chris must know that privatisation of these services went ahead a year ago. And if they remain in private hands this is not because the workers suffered an even partial defeat. Rather, it is because they limited their demands to a fight against vicious attacks on wages and conditions--winning a magnificent and massively popular victory.
On a paper sale the week after the GRI victory people signing a petition in support of another local hospital told me the only reason the GRI workers managed to maintain their wages and conditions was because an obscure piece of European legislation was uncovered.
If the bosses or their governments and courts want to pretend to themselves that they were not defeated by workers' struggle but only discovered that there were laws which prevented them doing what they intended, that is a matter for them. We however must explain to those workers who might have been fooled that it was class struggle.
Also, had the SWP and others not immediately built support for this struggle, vastly increasing the likelihood of solidarity action at other local hospitals, management would probably not have collapsed until the resolve of the workers was put to the test.
Without the substantial efforts of Socialist Worker supporters the impact of this victory would have been nothing like as great because far fewer people would have been given an opportunity to openly identify with these workers.
We welcome letters and contributions on all issues raised in Socialist Review. Please keep your contributions as short as possible, typed, double spaced if you can, and on one side of paper only.
Send to: Socialist Review, PO Box 82, London E3 3LH