Issue 201 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1996 Copyright Socialist Review


Keeping it in the family

In his article on Northern Ireland (September SR) Chris Bambery rightly urges caution against equating the populist rhetoric of the Loyalist fringe parties, in particular the Progressive Unionist Party, with socialist politics.

Certainly by comparison with the antics of the mainstream Unionist parties, the PUP's input into recent Northern Ireland politics has been a moderating one.

They describe themselves as `Labour oriented', say they want to break the link between Unionist politics and religion, and have incurred the wrath of mainstream Unionism for saying it has done nothing for the Protestant working class. All this has led some socialists in Ireland and Britain to embrace uncritically the politics of the PUP.

However, as Chris points out, there are severe limitations to their ideas. David Ervine's lament that Unionism `didn't look after the minority' and his hopes for a secular Unionism both fudge the nature of Unionist politics and trivialise the sectarian nature of the Northern Ireland state. The fact that successive Unionist administrations systematically discriminated against Catholics was not due to some aberration on their part but the result of a conscious policy of divide and rule. One of the effects is not just that Catholic workers have suffered but also that through the subjugation of Protestant working class interests to those of the `Unionist family' their standard of living and quality of life was also seriously affected. The result is that today Northern Ireland is characterised by, amongst other things, high unemployment and low wages for both Catholic and Protestant workers.

Although the Unionist bosses and their political allies have lost much of their clout over the last 25 years they are still ruthlessly determined to hang on to whatever is left. Hence the comments of Rev Roy Magee, a Protestant cleric who has been trying to end Loyalist paramilitary violence for the last ten years, that the ceasefire was being undermined by `shadow middle class elements' and the behaviour of David Trimble at Drumcree. It is their power and influence in Northern Ireland that is most intertwined with the existence of partition.

Any attempt to seriously build a socialist alternative, therefore, should at the very minimum pose the question of in whose class interest partition serves. Not surprisingly for a party that proclaims loyalty to the crown the PUP refuses to do this. In practice, for all its criticisms of mainstream Unionism, the PUP inevitably ends up tailing the likes of Trimble and Paisley every time the constitutional status of Northern Ireland is questioned. It also ends up defending the institutions of that state. Hence Billy Hutchinson's statement that calls for the disbandment of the RUC are `a distraction '.

Unfortunately for the Catholic communities who were on the receiving end of the 5,000 plus plastic bullets fired at them in the aftermath of Drumcree the issue has more urgency. The reality is that when the PUP talks about class it really means the Protestant working class. In that respect its communalism is a mirror image of Sinn Fein's. The danger with such communalist politics and its emphasis on `community empowerment' is that it can push deprived Protestant and Catholic working class communities into competition with each other over existing resources.

Ger Francis Peckham

It's an ill wind

Many a false argument starts out from a correct premise. Much of the picture that Ed Horton paints in his letter to last month's Review (September SR) is, of course, easily recognisable. The low strike figures (although they are beginning to move in the right direction), New Labour's relentless shift to the right, the prevailing pro-market consensus across the media, are all important parts of the political situation today.

But is Ed Horton right to draw the conclusion that the audience for socialists is small and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future? Here the difficulty is that to simply judge things from the level of industrial action and the ideological outlook of `official' society, including that among the leadership of the labour movement, is at best inadequate and in certain circumstances highly misleading.

What Ed appears to have missed is the extent to which Britain, like most other advanced capitalist countries, is seeing a dramatic increase in class polarisation as job security, living standards and welfare services are all eroded by the icy winds of the free market. It is the pervasive sense of bitterness at the bottom of society which this situation creates that is corroding established ideas and institutions. This is true of notions of a `classless' Britain, as well as faith in the police, courts, or the monarchy. Crucially, also, it leads to greater numbers of people questioning the ability of the Labour Party to provide an alternative.

All of this points to convulsions on a scale that may well put the battles of the 1970s in the shade_above all when we see that a Blair government will be set on a collision course with the unions. So while 20 years of defeats hold back the level of struggle today, the steady accumulation of anger and fustration will be explosive in the context of the raised, but betrayed, hopes a Labour government will surely bring.

The great danger facing socialists today is not of blind optimism but one of underestimating the prospects that exist to begin to really influence events.

Mark Thomas Brixton

Whose choice is it anyway?

After the recent controversy over abortion it is not difficult to see the hypocrisy of people, such as Ann Widdecombe, who call themselves `pro-lifers'. However I was stunned to read in Socialist Worker (24 August) that Jill Knight claims we now have `abortion on demand'. All this statement highlights are the privileged circles in which she moves, ie those of the ruling class who have the money to pay for as easy an abortion as is possible.

Having recently almost been through an abortion I realised just how little control or choice ordinary women have. While making almost undoubtedly the most traumatic decision of a woman's life, feeling completely alone and isolated, she then has to go through what feels like an interrogation by, not only her own doctor, but also a complete stranger and satisfy them that their decision is justified. They have the power to refuse her an abortion simply because of their personal opinion and force her, against her will, to carry on the pregnancy (as a private operation is not an option for working class women with low incomes).

Even if they agree to the abortion she is still given little input in the process ­ she is told what will happen to her. Not only that but she is given little or even wrong information. I was informed by the hospital that I would have to be conscious during the operation and induced ­something which I decided I couldn't go through. However, I was told by a friend's father, also a doctor, that this was wrong and that I could still have had an abortion while being unconscious.

Due to one simple mistake I have now given up university to bring up a child on my own on benefit. Before people like Jill Knight condemn abortions carried out for `social reasons' they should have to see what these reasons are. It is not an option for working class women either to have an easier, private abortion or hire 24 hour nannies. The decision for a ruling class woman may simply be down to whether she wants a child or not. But for a working class woman it is whether or not she can struggle to bring the child up below the poverty line, as well as disrupt her own life.

P Davies Liverpool

Man of the people?

Since he donated £1 million to Labour, becoming the party's biggest ever individual donor, Matthew Harding, owner of Chelsea football club has been called the `£150 million man of the people'. Had this `man of the people' decided that £150 million was too much for any individual in a country where one in four officially live in poverty? Or does he think that Labour stands for taking wealth from the few and returning it to the many?

No. Just how much of a `man of the people' Harding is was revealed in his explanation of his `generosity': `I have never believed that being wealthy means being Tory and I think New Labour has a far greater understanding of the enterprise economy than many people in the Tory Party do.' Of course the Conservatives receive untold amounts from anonymous donors, but this reflects the nature of the party_the party of the capitalists, people not renowned for openness and honesty.

It is quite a different case with Labour, which is the party of the organised working class. The majority of its funds come from political levies in the trade unions and many of its best activists are union members. This is why socialists see Labour as different to, say, the Liberal Democrats or the US Democrats, and call for a vote for Labour.

For the likes of Harding, however, support for Labour represents a kind of electoral insurance policy on the part of a section of the capitalist class_they can see that the right wing policies of New Labour do not threaten the wealthy. They would like to wean Labour off union funding and make it dependent on the `generosity' of the multimillionaires, who would then be in a position to demand a full blooded pro-business agenda from Labour. Meanwhile, Blair, Mandelson et al point to donations such as these as proof of their policies' `success'. Now, how far the Labour leadership can go depends not just on the multimillionaires, but also on the party and union rank and file, the level of struggle and pressure from below. There is also a limit to the willingness of some Labour MPs and union bureaucrats not to rock the Blair boat.

While Labour retains its working class links and is seen by workers as representing their interests, we continue to call for a Labour vote and build the revolutionary party. But Harding's donation and his stated reasons for making it are a disturbing signal of where New Labour is heading.

Paul Thatcher Portsmouth

Keep up the good work!

Replying to the `Letter to our readers' (September SR) I welcome the desire to open up the magazine to an even wider audience. Since receiving it in the post for some time I find it possible to read it more thoroughly.

I also welcome the arts review on the Poetry in Motion. While a political magazine has to beware of becoming a poetry book, we should recognise the hundreds of poetry groups in Britain and the hundreds of working class poets. Having written, for years, verse on political and peace themes, I know it is an important medium in the permanent struggle for peace and socialism.

Congratulations on the publication up to date and good luck to a bigger circulation.

Dave Davies South London

Appealing for justice

I have been writing to David Stoker on Death Row in Texas since reading a letter from him in 1994 (October SR). His letters are always light hearted and positive although he has been on death row for eight years for a crime he did not commit. David was married but he has never seen his son. He likes reading, listening to music and sport. He is currently hoping to get his conviction overturned and to this end he would like to take a para-legal course through the Blackstone School of Law.

May I, through Socialist Review, appeal for readers to send David messages of support, and if possible donations to enable him to combat the justice system. He cannot do it alone.

Write to David Stoker, No. 892, TDCJ, Ellis No 1 Unit, Huntsville, Texas 77343, USA.
Send donations (US$) to Danny Stoker, HCR 1, Box 71, Plainview, Texas 77343, USA.

Jo Gibbs East Ham

Light enough to see the tent, the woodpile,
The oil drum's heart throbbing and bleeding into 
The huge hungry belly of a chill dawn.

A few stand lonely, hands in jacket pockets,
Waiting for our numbers and voices ­
More fortifying to them than warmth and light.

Hundreds now, our banners red as fires, 
Our chants like blasts of heat. But others too,
Unwanted, dregs of night pressing us back.

The scabs are faceless ­ or to most of us ­
Rushed past in vans ­ white vans like slabs of ice 
Borne on the flood of greed. Our rage sweeps at them.

The factory fence is green, a mouldy lint
Inflaming wounds endured for many lives,
Wounds made by the few fattening on our strength.

Closer to us a barrier of bodies
Silent and blue as death; they steal a comrade
Whose spirit stays with us, quickening our chants.

What magnet draws us here? It is our power,
Earthed now as we stand shoulder to shoulder ­
The pulsing coil in the world's cold rusting engine.
Brin Price York

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