Issue 203 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1996 Copyright Socialist Review


Morality and reality

I write in reply to `Is society becoming more violent?' (November SR). To write off rape as a negligible percentage of all crime is to confuse the question. I was raped when I was 17. I was too scared to report it to the police. I have spent two years trying to make sense of my experience. This is an issue which deserves closer analysis.

The organisation Rape Crisis estimates that 90 percent of rape goes unreported. Of cases reported in 1994, only 9 percent of attackers were convicted some only cautioned. A survey by the teenage magazine 19 revealed 25 percent of readers had been raped. Therefore, 99 percent of rapists get away with it many will reoffend. This statistic potentially affects every woman.

The media select the most horrific cases, perpetuating the picture of `men in raincoats jumping out of the shadows'. Contrast the inhuman interrogation of women who knew their attacker even vaguely, accounting for 70 percent of reported rape, probably a greater percentage of the true figure. This portrayal obscures its definition; one woman told me, `I didn't know it was called rape.'

As ever, moral panic hides the real problems. Violent relationships, poverty and insecure housing affect many working class women. The commodification of sex reduces human sexual relationships to a mere money relation Sharon Stone's films showing exploitative sex and making massive profits are a classic example. Conversely, Tori Amos's cathartic album Little Earthquakes about her experience of rape had her denounced as a madwoman by the press and the Antichrist by religious groups.

The idea of rape as a crime of sexual frustration exonerates capitalism. Alienation divorces us from control over our own lives. For some men the only perceived power is that of physical strength and the consequent ability to humiliate and hurt women.

Without this analysis rape victims can only see all men as the enemy or blame themselves. The result is severe psychological damage. Religious ideas, especially the characteristic cult of virginity, encourage intense self loathing. Witness the case of the Catholic nun raped by a Serbian soldier and ostracised by her order.

Women do not report rape because they know what to expect. Judges hold workers in obvious contempt, whilst the public schools they are products of are built upon sexism and privilege. Michael Howard preaches tougher sentences for rapists the words of a man running a system that gives 99 percent no sentence at all. Talk of exposing women who make `false accusations' is obscene.

In Simon Armitage's poem `Judge Chutney's Final Summary', Chutney declares himself guilty in a moment of sanity. This is certainly not a verdict they would want their servants to reach. This is not a random and senseless crime. I hope that by writing this I can inspire other women in my position to fight rape by fighting capitalism.

Name and address supplied

Guns at our heads

I was inspired if that is the right word to write about the government's decision to ban 80 percent of guns, following the publicity surrounding the Dunblane massacre. What makes me choke is the hypocrisy in which it is considered so terrible that 16 little kiddies and a schoolteacher should die like this (and of course it is), but that if the same thing were to happen during a war, and those children and their schoolteacher were considered `the enemy', they would be considered `acceptable losses'. Even worse, the likes of us would be expected to take up guns and kill people. Does that make us all into potential Thomas Hamiltons?

It also makes me think that maybe our illustrious leaders don't care as much for a few Scottish school kids as they would like us to believe, and that the parents who have started the Snowdrop Campaign haven't realised that guns manufactured solely for the purpose of killing people only exist at all because the ruling classes can find a use, even for the Thomas Hamiltons of our society, in the right circumstances.

Perhaps if people could realise that the system we live under is capable of producing people like Thomas Hamilton and Michael Ryan the Hungerford gunman and that they are not just some inexplicable aberration, we, who want a better world for everyone to live in, can start to get somewhere. If people could start to realise why, perhaps they can be goaded into doing something positive to stop such monstrosities happening in the future namely, to tackle the root causes of what turns people into such sick, despised individuals.

A system that forces people to compete one against another, that labels those who don't have money or prestige as failures, makes for feelings of inadequacy and bitterness. This is true not just of people like Thomas Hamilton, but in men who feel compelled to rape, who beat up their wives and children, who feel compelled to put on a display of machismo lest they be thought `queer', who feel compelled to work themselves into an early grave to get a decent wage to live on, and because they are afraid that if they are not seen as `committed' enough to the job they will be top of the list for redundancies. We need a world in which everyone feels valued and feels that they have a place, a world in which Thomas Hamilton might have grown up a better adjusted and happier person.

We need to get rid of the system that produces the circumstances that produce such sickness. Unfortunately, until the bulk of the working classes can realise that their misery is caused by far wider issues than low wages and nasty, greedy bosses, and lose their fear of retribution, it looks like we're stuck with it.

Laurel Wingfield


Theory and practice

I am puzzled by Cyril Smith's letter in September's edition of Socialist Review. Smith had taken exception to Alex Callinicos's review of his book Marx at the Millennium and in the course of his argument insisted that 'Marx wasn't engaged in "analysis of economic structure" at all, that he had no "theory of history", no "theory of value", no "theory of state", in fact, no theory of anything.' Now is this true? Is Marxism essentially a `revolutionary critique of other people's theories and analysis' as Smith claims? I am not the scholar Smith is, but I don't think it is.

Marxism isn't just a merciless critique of capitalism and its intellectual apologists as Smith seems to be saying. Marxism is also the theory of the working class's resistance to capitalism, it is a guide in our struggle against capitalism and it is the theory of the victory of the working class over capitalism.

As Marx himself put it,

`Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of (the) class struggle and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular phases in the development, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and a classless society.'

Despite Smith's claims Marxism is the theory of the international proletarian revolution whose purpose is not just to interpret the world, or just criticise it, but to change it.

Sasha Simic

High Wycombe

In an ideal world

Regarding `The Making of Marx' by Sabby Sagall (September SR), Marxists believe that the historical process is governed by economic laws. Rosa Luxemburg spoke of the `granite foundation of objective historical necessity' on which Marxism has built the socialist creed in contrast to the `fog of pre-Marxism systems and schools of thought which wanted to derive socialism merely from the injustice and wickedness of the present world' commonly referred to by Marxists as utopian socialism.

Marxism does not contend that ideas exercise no influence on history. Ideas from a Marxist perspective can be very important. Mankind is not exclusively motivated by naked self interest. Altruism, religious devotion or other idealistic feelings are themselves products of economic conditions.

What is problematic about the economic interpretation of history is the ambiguity of `economic change'. At a perfunctory glance it would appear to be true that the economic causes of all ideological and institutional development can be found. However, many economic facts are just as much effects as they are causes of change within the `superstructure'. In reality a maze of mutual causal relationships result, and cause and effect become difficult to distinguish.

One glaring weakness in the economic interpretation of history is that in 1996 we think in a particular way because of the age we live in, for example regarding technology. We also think the way we do because the dominant ideas of 1996 were preceded by ideas which had exhausted their relevance. Renaissance man followed medieval man not only because of improved shipping, the opening of new sea lanes, and soon, but very importantly, because man had found the limitations of medieval thinking.

It can be argued that the materialist conception of history is flawed as it denies that man's intellectual and spiritual growth possesses any autonomy.

However, this is not to deny that the thoughts of Marxists have in fact enriched the social sciences by their attention to technological progress as the cause of important cultural and institutional developments.

The battle of ideas is ongoing. However, as Victor Hugo said, `nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.' Marxism in 1996 needs to be developed as Marx advocated, as a tool of analysis and not as an incantational dogma. The classical working class of 1848 has changed as a result of new patterns of urbanisation and post-industrial economics. In my opinion the term Marxism is beyond redemption.

However, Marxist thought will manifest itself, as William Morris said a century ago. `I pondered all these things and how people lose the fight and lose the battle, and the thing they fought for comes in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out to be not what they meant, and others have to fight for what they meant under another name.' The Marxists who do not learn from history are the alchemists of revolution destined to await the curtain call of history. Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto saw the proletariat as the `gravediggers of capitalism'. However, Marx in the 1859 preface conceived of a growth in the forces of production with increasing automation resulting in a decreasing involvement of people at the point of production.

Socialism cannot be claimed just on behalf of workers, but must become the property of society as a whole. Anything falling short of this will display an obvious inability to learn the lessons of recent history. So long as the proletariat, as Marx wrote, experience `universal suffering' and `unqualified wrongs perpetrated on it' there will be the fight for socialism.

Marc Deith


Talking Blues

Weyman Bennett's article on black American author Walter Mosley (November SR) captured the appeal of his writing. The Easy Rawlins series of crime novels grab you by the throat and reflect the uncertainty, the fears and the hopes of the dispossessed. Call me soft, but I can never put them down!

But Weyman missed out perhaps Mosley's most extraordinary novel. It is certainly very different. RL's Dream digs deep into the raw pain and bitterness created by decades of racism, violence and poverty.

In contemporary New York, a dying old bluesman, Soupspoon Wise, harks back to the most important event in his life his musical encounter with the legendary Robert `RL' Johnson back in the drinking dens of the Mississippi Delta of his youth. Soupspoon tells his memorable and haunting stories to a young white working class woman who has taken it upon herself to look after him.

The novel lays bare a whole lifetime of a black man up against racism and shows beautifully that, far from benefiting, Soupspoon's young friend is suffering too. But above all, the writing is brilliant. The rhythm and soul of the blues are etched into every line.

Weyman was right to point out that the Easy Rawlins novels tend to blunt a serious critique of class society. RL's Dream does not bring out a notion of collective resistance but it is a powerful condemnation of racism and a wonderful celebration of the blues the heart of a heartless world indeed.

Simon Hester

North London

Facts of life

We would like to correct a few inaccuracies that crept into our feature on the Middle East in last month's Socialist Review. Since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, it is the number of Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories, not settlements, that has increased by nearly half. Excluding East Jerusalem, the number rose from 104,000 to nearly 150,000. And there are perhaps another 150,000 living on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem.

On the question of foreign aid received by the new Palestine Authority, it has so far received $800 million out of $2.4 billion pledged over five years. This is about half the amount it should have received by now.

Finally, in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, houses do have basic electricity, though they are subject to frequent power cuts. Most homes have running water, but usually just a single tap, without baths or showers.

Clare Fermont

Sabby Sagall

North London

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