Issue 204 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 1997 Copyright Socialist Review

LETTERS


Lads have feelings too

Your back page article `Men Behaving Badly' (December SR) seemed ten years out of date.

New Laddism is not a reactionary and `sexist' phenomenon in essence, as the article suggests, but an attempt by straight men to come to terms with their new position in the world, with the second wave of feminism and the undermining of traditional forms of masculine gender identity, such as jobs in basic industry and full employment.

Pat Stack says New Lads are `not violent, nor racist' but `like a pint, like their sport, and find women sexually attractive'. Excuse me, but that sounds like a typical male SWP member to me (okay, perhaps not the sport bit). Unless you hold the view that male heterosexuality is inherently sexist and reactionary, there is nothing wrong with straight men fancying women.

The danger with New Laddism, according to Pat, is that it reminds him of Bernard Manning. `Scratch a New Lad,' says Pat in effect, `and a deeply racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic misogynist' is found underneath. Yet where is the evidence that New Lads are essentially racist or homophobic or anti-semitic?

The only `crime' of New Laddism that has any weight is that in New Lad magazines there are women in partial states of undress. And yes, there are jokes about breasts. Have you seen a copy of Company lately, or 19, Cosmopolitan, For Women, Marie Claire, (the lesbian magazine) Diva, Gay Times or (the gay male mag) Attitude? They are full of breasts, naked torsos and penises and jokes about them all. Or are you saying it is okay for men to look at topless pictures of men, for women to look and read about lesbian sex, for women to look at and read about straight sex, but that men who fancy women cannot look and fantasise and make jokes (in short, be healthy) about their sexuality?

You see, for me it isn't too difficult. As a gay identified bi male I can buy gay magazines, gay pornography, make jokes about dicks. If I had a female partner it would be okay for her (presumably) to buy lesbian and straight women's magazines. On the other hand (Pat seems to say) straight men are not allowed any of this. And when straight men really try to come to grips with their concerns, fears, worries, and yes, express their sexuality as well, they only get criticism by Pat Stack.

No, New Laddism is not reactionary or racist. It is straight men trying to deal with the very real problems of men: their appalling health record, alcohol and drug abuse, personal violence, homophobia, sexual identity, sexual guilt, feelings of worthlessness, emotional illiteracy.

Instead of carping about New Laddism, we should be critically applauding it. The more straight men feel good about their sexuality, discuss their emotions and problems, the better it will be for everyone.

David Miller

Cambridge


No New Lads = no fun?

After reading Stack's attack on 'lads' (December SR) I vow to change my ways:

1. Throw away my Sheffield United season ticket and never play or coach football again.
2. Give up drinking beer.
3. Stop laughing at Frank Skinner in fact stop laughing full stop.
4. Stop being attracted to women.

When friends accuse socialists of being miserable and 'weird', I won't show them Stack's article.

Socialist 'England fan'

Mick Walton

Sheffield


The good old days?

One of the advantages of getting old is that one's memories become history. Yet when folk assert that times used to be less violent than they are today, I am puzzled. It doesn't sound remotely like the world I knew!

My mother told me that when she was at school the headmaster once caned a boy until he fainted. The same martinet had the charming habit of picking up boys by their ears. Nothing was ever done about it, because in those so called halcyon days, such things were often accepted.

Children could be thrashed unmercifully, wives also, but rarely did the law intervene. Men got drunk and brawled regularly every Saturday night. This was tolerated in acknowledgement that because many of them had such awful jobs they had to `let off steam' sometimes.

Incest, child molestation and `queer bashing' were just as prevalent then as now, only more covert. Then, as now, the family often closed ranks. At that time, however, greater store was set on appearing to be `decent' and `respectable'.

My childhood was spent partly in a town and partly in the country and I saw some sort of violence every day. Bullying at school, work, in the army and at home was the norm. It was, in fact, supposed to `build character', so for protection most children formed or belonged to some sort of a gang.

Then there was judicial violence. The `cat-o'-nine-tails' and the birch were used as a `deterrent'. There compulsory sterilisation of the mentally ill and the ultimate penalty hanging.

But wait, weren't houses often left unlocked in these times when nobody dreamt of stealing from his neighbour? Maybe. I only know that when I used to collect Labour Party subscriptions once every fortnight, if the husband and wife weren't in, a daughter was left to `mind the house'. It is nearer the truth to say that houses were rarely left empty and unattended.

But at least children respected their teachers and their `elders' then. Perhaps. Though was it `respect' or fear, I wonder? Certainly you held open the gate for the squire, because he was your dad's employer. You tried not to get caught poaching, as the magistrate was also a local worthy with the power to stop you from ever getting a job in the area again!

Granted there is a difference in the type of violence today, for our culture has changed. The present population is much more mobile than previously, people work a considerable distance from their homes, so their houses are left empty all day. Often they haven't even had time, either, to get to know the few neighbours there are about. The car attracts and accounts for much crime.

Unfortunately isolation and the media coverage of acts of violence tempt folks especially the elderly into being afraid. Their fear is often of young people, yet most I meet are jolly and helpful, especially if appealed to, instead of being frowned upon. So can anyone tell me when this time of non-violence was? It isn't recognisable to me, and after all, to quote a Welsh comedian, `I was there!'

Marion Tennison

Hull


MacDonald's record

Dave Renton (December SR) presents the first Labour prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, as a right wing opportunist in hock to the Liberals the dominant `left' bourgeois party till the First World War from the start of his political career in the 1890s.

In fact, MacDonald was a serious right wing social democrat who sought to develop a coherent conception of history as a process of gradual, continuous, organic change from which class struggle was an aberration. Electorally, MacDonald's aim was to supplant the Liberals as the main parliamentary rival to the Tories by building up the Labour Party as an alliance of socialist activists in the Independent Labour Party (ILP), trade union bureaucrats and left wing Liberals.

In the years before the outbreak of war in August 1914, this meant striking a balance between making the electoral pacts with the Liberals needed to get Labour MPs elected and avoiding getting swallowed up by them altogether. While there certainly were discussions about Labour joining the Liberal government, there is, as far as I know, no evidence that MacDonald actually proposed, as Dave suggests, dissolving the party in exchange for a junior ministerial post. Contrary to Dave's claim that `by 1918 he was firmly on the side of right wing Liberals like Lloyd George', MacDonald and James Maxton of the ILP were instrumental in forcing Labour's break with the coalition in the general election of that year.

Dave seeks to explain away MacDonald's opposition to the First World War as a consequence of his secret contact with left wing Liberals. It is true his position reflected a traditional Radical-Liberal critique of secret diplomacy by unaccountable elites which he supported through his political career. But standing out against the war isolated MacDonald from his traditional allies in the trade union bureaucracy and forced him into alliance with his left wing critics in the ILP. It also cost him his parliamentary seat in the 1918 election. Nevertheless, although in the short term his antiwar stance hurt MacDonald's career, it also gave him the credibility on the left that allowed him to ride the wave of working class radicalisation at the end of the war. None of this is intended to play down the extent of MacDonald's betrayal in 1931. Nor did the National Government come out of the blue. Ideologically it reflected his long held belief that the `national interest' took priority over class interests. But to distort MacDonald's record in the way that Dave does at points is to obscure the contradictory nature of reformism.

Alex Callinicos

North London


Freud or fraud

John Parrington's review of Richard Webster's book (December SR) was somewhat disappointing. While John is quite correct that the book contains one of the most powerful critiques so far written of Freud's work he is equally wrong to complain that Webster is `oblivious to the significance of Freud's discovery of the unconscious'.

Webster himself points out that Freud neither discovered the idea nor provided a coherent account of its alleged causal powers. It is no longer news to Freud scholars that the idea of the `unconscious' dates back to the mystical Greek philosopher Plotinus, and it was employed by scores of philosophers and psychologists predating Freud.

Again, John is right to criticise the second part of the work. This half amounts to little more than self-important waffle. John, however, compounds the problem by allowing this lamentable section to distract him from Webster's earlier thorough demonstration of the completely charlatan nature of Freud's entire work. Far from Marxists `incorporating the more valuable insights of Freudianism', as John hopes, Marxists interested in a scientific account of humanity should have absolutely nothing to do with Freud's mysticism.

Paul Jakubovic

Farnborough


You must be dreaming

In his review of `Why Freud Was Wrong' by Richard Webster (no relation!) (December SR), John Parrington quite rightly agrees with the book's damning critique of Freudianism. But then John goes on to say that `there are still great revolutionary insights within Freudiansim.'

What exactly are these useful insights? John only mentions the `unconscious'. But although humans are obviously sometimes driven by unconscious motives, the usefulness of the concept is exaggerated. In any case, Freud did not discover the idea.

Freud claimed that dreams were a window into the unconscious. But anybody can invent any old fairy story to `explain' dreams to suggestible people and get away with it.

John seems to be following a commonly held view that although there was a lot wrong with Freud, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The problem with this is that once the dirty bathwater has been thrown away we find there was no baby in it!

Freud is often placed alongside Darwin and Marx as a great thinker, but Darwin and Marx were scientific in their theories of nature and society. Freud's theories have no scientific basis whatsoever.

Phil Webster

Blackburn


More than an idea

I am writing in reply to Marc Dieth's letter (Letters, December SR). Firstly, Marxists do not believe that the historical process is governed solely by economic laws. As Trotsky put it, `History is not an automatic process. Otherwise why leaders? Why parties? Why theoretical struggles?'. Ideas are not merely important, they are central to the struggle.

It is true that there is an interchange between ideas and production with one fuelling the other. James Watt, we are often told, created the Industrial Revolution by inventing the steam engine. However, it was the need for power for already existing machines that led Watt to develop the steam engine. Developments in the productive forces can appear to be the result of a single genius but are more often a development of already existing conditions. To understand the dynamic of a capitalist economy it is necessary to understand that capitalists compete and therefore have to constantly revolutionise the instruments of production.

A materialist analysis is necessary to understand the process which took place. If intellectual growth has no autonomy I would not now be a Marxist as `the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas'. It is clear that ideas do develop but not in a total vacuum. No one wakes up one morning and decides that they are a Marxist. It took a university occupation to challenge my ideas.

We cannot simply decide that a new society is needed and that if we wish hard enough it will appear. Fortunately we do not need to. Capitalism creates its own crises and its own gravediggers, without which revolution would not be possible. This process can only be understood on a materialist basis. However, unless there is a political party which can formulate a concrete way forward, learn from the past and lead the struggle the result will be barbarism.

Nick Savage

Norwich

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