Issue 183 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review
Henry Maitles' article on how Western governments collaborated with the Nazis (January SR) demonstrated their vicious racism, but gave little explanation as to why. Undoubtedly, all the leading British participants--particularly Halifax and Henderson--couldn't have cared less about the Jews, but British policy wasn't determined by anti-Semitism. The main issue was one of national interest and the revitalisation of European capitalism.
Germany was considered to be the key country in the struggle for European economic stability and if the chaos of Weimar could be solved, markets, it was thought, might be restored. The Tories were drawn to supporting Hitler because Germany was prepared to take huge inflows of capital which might create these markets. There was also the secondary but important consideration that the National Government did not want capital utilised in Britain due to the policy of rationalisation (cartelisation) of what remained of British industry.
Credit was therefore limitless. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s many powerful British companies were up to their necks in German economic affairs.
By the time of Hitler, London banking houses were competing with other financial centres for the issuing of both national and state loans. The Bank of International Settlements--which dealt with reparations--itself renewed an $86 million loan.
Moreover, the governor of the Bank of England had regular meetings with his Nazi Reichsbank counterpart and according to the Times had 'prepared the way for a closer cooperation of the English and German credit institutions.'
The extent of this policy can be seen when we realise that the Nazis could have been financially toppled as early as 1934. Overburdened with huge public spending and a growing arms industry, they defaulted on external debt repayments.
The possibilities of previously invested capital going to the wall was not considered, irrespective of the obvious nature of the regime. Chamberlain even offered a deal, hoping that it would lead to both countries affirming their 'earnest desire that trade and financial arrangements... continue on a... most friendly basis, and that the volume of mutual trade should be maintained and as far as possible increased.'
In that sense, Britain bailed out the Nazis whilst the Tory press--as Henry rightly points out--tried to whip up the old Jewish conspiracy myth. The Times, of course, later simply ignored the brutality taking place as Hitler's troops marched through Europe.
Even by the time of the Evian and Bermuda Refugee Conferences, there was still an ardent hope within government circles that perhaps a deal with Hitler could be struck.
This explains the high-sounding public statements coming out of the conferences which sat unhappily with the behind-closed-doors stonewalling.
These were the central reasons for the appalling disinterest in the fate of the Jews. It is a reason that we still see today whether we examine Britain's refusal to condemn the fascists in the Italian government, or the West's silence over Yeltsin's murderous policy in Chechnya.
Profits matter. People don't.
I may have misunderstood Mike Rosen's article on The Lion King (December SR) but he seems to be implying that this and other Disney films are somehow progressive because they are opposed to middle class English culture. Mike sets up a convenient 'Aunt Sally' by asserting that well known works of children's literature, such as Alice in Wonderland or Winnie the Pooh, represent a uniform political and cultural entity, based upon a set of certainties that 'haven't changed in over 100 years'. The implication is that to expose children to literature of this kind will incline them to be uncritical of British capitalism and imperialism, whereas Disney films are somehow liberating.
The middle class and their cultural preferences are constantly changing. I should imagine, for instance, that the kind of people who currently run the stock exchange and sit on the Tory backbenches would be much more at home watching The Lion King than reading Alice in Wonderland. But more importantly I think it's a mistake for a widely respected educationalist like Mike Rosen to imply that one kind of capitalist culture is somehow better, from a socialist point of view, than another.
Trotsky argues, in Literature and Revolution, that the highest form of culture attainable under capitalism is bourgeois culture. The achievements of bourgeois culture are individuality, variety, pluralism, not the relative progressivism or conservatism of its message. Our job as educationalists is to help children to become critical readers and viewers of all bourgeois culture.
The political traditions of the British working class movement are extremely feeble; this expresses itself, among other things, in anti-intellectualism, a hostility to 'posh' culture. Socialists should resist the temptation to wax lyrical over cultural forms like Disney films or television soaps or pop music simply because we imagine they irritate Daily Telegraph readers.
I am writing this letter from my cell in prison. I am currently serving a four year prison sentence for a domestic incident. At this moment, the prison I was in previously, Everthorpe, is in its second night of rioting.
While there I made a number of complaints about the way heroin was so openly distributed in front of officers and other members of staff. At first I could not understand why this highly addictive drug seemed of little importance to the authorities and they did not seem to mind its presence. But after a while I realised this drug was keeping the inmates calm, thus making the authorities' job easier for them.
It became obvious to me that working class lives mean nothing to these people. In fact I would go as far as to say that 60 percent of the inmates at our prison were on heroin yet, in August 1994, the governor made a statement claiming that there was not a drug problem at his prison.
In October 1994 two inmates escaped from their cells and used a home-made ladder to scale the prison wall. Once over the wall the ladder was abandoned. It was claimed that the inmates had used knotted bed sheets to scale the wall.
Once the rioting started the governor made a statement to the media saying he received no warning of this present riot situation. He must walk about with his eyes and ears closed.
At the beginning of 1994 there was some unrest in the prison resulting in 200 MUFTI (Minimum Use of Force Tactical Intervention) squad being brought in. As a result of that, inmates were kept locked in their cells for three days. There have been too many incidents to recall in the months I spent in that prison. I think it is about time people like prison governors came clean to the people who pay their huge salaries.
Name and address supplied
Chris Nineham's review of 'Behind the Screens' (December SR), a compilation of essays exploring television in the 1990s, is disingenuous enough to demand a reply. Only Colin Sparks gets the thumbs up from Nineham, although one wonders if our intrepid reviewer bothered to read the other articles.
According to Nineham 'the motives behind ruling class broadcasting reforms of the last ten years' are not analysed. Can I point to Brian Winston's article which looks at the state's relationship to broadcasting, past and present. Winston argues, 'The state had seized [the BBC] just as the state had seized the press and the theatres centuries before; but this was a liberal state and therefore the nature of the seizure was complex and sophisticated.'
Unfortunately, associating culture with complexity seems (like much of the SWP's cultural analysis) to be the last thing on Nineham's mind. Yet the 1980s was a contradictory affair as far as television was concerned, with some real gains made for women and black people, both as cultural workers and audiences. The book attempted to address this, but presumably questions of gender and ethnicity are just more reformist grist to Nineham's revolutionary mill.
For Nineham the book smacks of 'tragically low' expectations. But at the first of two conferences out of which the book emerged, Colin Sparks claimed that the revolution could hardly be said to be imminent. Thus it is precisely on the Labour Party that pressure has to be applied. So there you have it Chris, the Big R does not hover on the even distant horizon and thus while it's all very well to dream about workers' power, this book was addressing the here and now.
Chris Bambery's article on the history of the Tory Party (January SR) does a great service to those on the left used to focusing on the crisis of the Labour Party. The Tory Party likes to present itself as a non-changing monolith. But as Bambery shows it has been forced to adapt its ruling class politics and with each adaptation comes uncertainty.
However, I think Chris rather misses the impact of the working class struggle on ruling class politics. The Liberal Party may have held sway from 1841 to 1874 as he suggests, but I doubt if 'Britain's trade unions loyally backed the Liberals'. Indeed the Liberal Party had to be relaunched in 1859 on a new basis, partly to take account of the pressure of newly organised sections of the working class.
Even so, working class support was not automatic. It was a Tory administration that passed the 1867 Reform Act, after an illegal mass workers' protest in Hyde Park on 6 May 1867. It was a Tory administration too which, in 1875, repealed the hated Master and Servant laws, again as a result of pressure from organised workers.
The point being that whether it is a ruling class party in office or a capitalist workers' party like Labour, independent working class action can force changes that were not previously on the agenda. And of course that is only the beginning.
It is easy to view Pulp Fiction as a visually imaginative, entertaining film that catches the flavour of contemporary life in the American inner city as critics of my review have said (January SR). However, any artist needs to balance empathy with and distance from their characters. The problem with the film is that Tarantino is so fascinated with current urban lowlife that he fails to establish critical distance from it.
I did acknowledge in my review that the film contains brilliant dialogue. But its sharp, crackling lines are, in a sense, part of the problem. Ian Goodyer says that Tarantino's 'hit men are articulate and witty'. Exactly. The fact that 'they kill with a sense of professional detachment', or as Tony and Chris Chilvers say, 'just doing their job, like any worker', means that their violence becomes abstracted from the rest of their personalities and from its roots in society. Our reaction to the murders becomes dulled precisely because the characters are as attractive as they are.
Even Vincent's heroin addiction is presented as something rather groovy. We see none of the pain that both leads to and results from heroin, in contrast actually to Tarantino's vivid depiction of physical pain. I disagree, therefore, with Mark Brown's claim that the film rejects 'the right wing idea of inherent evil'. On the contrary, violence portrayed in this abstract way leads to the conclusion: this is human nature.
Tarantino has called his film Pulp Fiction. But again it seems to me he is too absorbed in the culture he portrays to offer a radical critique of it. True, there is an amusing scene in a restaurant where the staff are made up to look like 1950s media idols. But the film is realistic in style. The dialogue and narrative are intended to portray real life. He ends up simply incorporating the stylistic features of crime novels and horror movies.
The alternative to Pulp Fiction is not Forrest Gump, as Tony and Chris Chilvers assert. Apart from Scorsese or Coppola, a black comedy such as Man Bites Dog is a brilliant satire both on current violence and media collusion with it. Because its style is caricature rather than realism, we both laugh at the violence and are shocked by it.
The right wing press in fact liked Pulp Fiction. The Daily Express gave it glowing praise, 'as dazzling a movie as Reservoir Dogs, only bigger and better', declaring that it was 'guaranteed to be a smash hit' (21 October 1994). The reason the establishment refused it a video release is because of a naive belief in a simple, direct link between violence in the media and in real life.
Mary Whitehouse wants the media to ignore the violence at the heart of capitalism, in favour of promoting traditional conservative values. As socialists, we don't ask film makers 'to tone their material down'. But we certainly can hope that in dealing with social decay, they do more than make entertaining films which catch the flavour of the time, that they explore in greater depth the social forces that create violence.
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