Issue 187 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review
In her article on DNA identification technology (May SR), after a few relevant comments on the National DNA Database, Sue Caldwell asks, 'But what about the science?'
She later concludes that socialists should not argue about the statistics but 'demonstrate that the whole idea of DNA fingerprinting is scientifically unsound and an attack on our rights.'
Does this mean that she rejects the use of these methods which has eliminated numerous individuals wrongly suspected of crimes and in fact has resulted in the release of many wrongly imprisoned individuals, some of whom were on death row? I doubt very much if she would go that far. However, to accept the validity of the science in these cases must mean that our only objections to the making of a positive match are on the basis of statistics and the fact that the predominant control of this technology is in the hands of the state and the ruling class.
It is certainly true that excluding a person from a 'match' is far easier and more sound than an exclusionary 'match' but this is due to the difference in statistical analysis, not a defect in the scientific basis of the testing. The criticisms of Richard Lewontin and Daniel Hard are valid but as Sue Caldwell's article points out, additional population data could address these deficiencies. While we should strongly object to the state using unsound statistics to prosecute anyone, we should also be aware that inclusionary 'matching' has been used to prevent the deportation of immigrants under attack by the state. Could we really reject the conviction of rapists--whose victims are predominantly working class women--if scientifically sound evidence is used?
Just because Socialist Review is an inappropriate place for a complex discussion about statistics does not mean we should take the simplistic attitude of 'reject the science'. As with all genuine science, the correct and simple approach is that the social value is not an intrinsic property of the science itself but determined by which class controls it and how it is used.
The original Labour Party (ie that which existed before 29 April) had a divine right to win elections. The principles which distinguished it from other parties made greater pledges than simply complete state ownership; the principles laid out in the 1918 constitution committed Labour to transforming society. Labour was pledged by its constitution to democratically revolutionise society so that wealth benefited all rather than some, and labour was to be extracted from each for the benefit of all. Such a commitment cut across race, gender, sexuality, religion, creed and even class. Community was a fundamental aspect of that formula, as was trade unionism.
With the commitments that the party held, the vast majority of British people were bound to benefit by it. 'But', you'll be asking, 'if we had a divine right to win elections, why did we not consistently do so?' The answer to this question is simple. It wasn't because our principles were wrong, but because we didn't live up to them. Had we done so, had we been bold from the first and made it plain what we intended to do, and had we the intelligence and vigour to pursue our commitments to their logical end, we would be a more popular party today, and Britain (if not the world) would be a better place to live in.
The ransacking of Labour's principles at the special conference of 29 April has seen a transformation of the party's aims. We are now expected to strive to improve capitalism. In other words we, as a party, are going to treat the symptoms of the disease without attempting to cure it. This notion is ridiculous. We are not more electable because we have changed our principles. We would have been more electable had we had the courage to live up to our original vision. Since 1918 society has changed in detail but not in nature. Individualism, conservatism, greed and exploitation still rule the day. Under the new Clause Four that state of affairs will remain. The Conservatives are overjoyed. The Liberal Democrats feel usurped. The socialists feel buried.
I can only hope this Clause Four has a much shorter existence than the last. If not, those who orchestrated the change have many poor, suffering, depressed and miserable people to account for. The old Clause Four was built on morality. I wonder, does New Labour know what morality means?
I read the letter from Brian Roberson on Death Row in Texas (April SR). I wrote to him and received a reply from him in which he stated his position and his attempts to secure his release and clear his name. He is trying to get $800 together to buy a word processor. He can't afford a lawyer and has to handle a mountain of legal paperwork by himself. He has managed to get a stay of execution until 1 September but his position is desperate. If anyone could help with donations please send care of Socialist Review. Every penny will help save Brian's life.
John Chilvers and comrades
In the April issue of Socialist Review you printed a column from Brian Roberson in Texas. He was the Afro-American who had been sentenced and detained for execution for nine years.
I wrote to him and received a reply on 1 May--what better day for a bit of practical internationalism? He was grateful for a letter of support in his struggle to stay alive and he is very politically aware of his racial position in the US in 1995. He is trying to get a word processor to help fight his cause, so if a few of us get together we could 'raise a few bucks'. But in any case write to him and perhaps send a pageful of supportive news items.
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