Issue 205 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 1997 Copyright Socialist Review


Missing the irony

I welcome Mick Walton's vow to stop laughing at Frank Skinner (letters, January SR). Asked in an interview for Loaded what type of women he liked, Skinner replied 'slags with big tits'. Commenting on radio on Paul Gascoigne's habit of knocking his wife, Sheryl, about, he said it was only a pity a few England players didn't display that sort of passion on the pitch. I don't find either of these remarks funny. Am I missing the irony?

David Miller informs us, as if we might think otherwise, that there is nothing wrong with straight men fancying women. Pat Stack (December SR) never suggested there was. His point was that New Lads use this tired old excuse for making women the butt of their jokes and depicting them as brainless bodies in magazines. According to David Miller, this is just straight men being healthy about their sexuality. This reminded me of a load of old tripe I once read in the Guardian which said much the same thing about Benny Hill. Apparently it was only miserable feminists and lefties who saw anything wrong with him.

What was wrong with him and what's wrong with New Lads is that sexuality is not completely divorced from class society. Our sexuality and emotional lives are distorted by capitalism, which treats our bodies particularly women's bodies as just another commodity. So, while we may understand why some individuals turn to pornography, socialists do not 'critically applaud it' we are against the objectification of human beings. For that reason we shouldn't defend gay pornography or pornography aimed at straight women either.

David Miller is right to point out that there is now a trend for women to treat men as sex objects, but wrong to think either that this is a step forward or that it mirrors exactly the way some men treat women. For instance, male strippers have become much more common but women watching male strippers doesn't have the same nasty connotations as men watching female strippers. The Girlie Show is supposed to be women's answer to New Laddism, but anyone who has seen it must surely realise that, here again, the joke is on women.

Pat Stack's article was certainly not 'ten years out of date' contrary to post-feminist nonsense, we still live in a world where women are oppressed.

Cathy Eastham


Time to grow up

I write in reply to David Miller's letter 'Lads have feelings too' (January SR) and his conclusion that New Laddism should be critically applauded. He claims that New Laddism's only crime is that in the magazines there are women in 'partial states of undress'.

In the February issue of Maxim women are portrayed naked, spread-eagled, with really offensive articles attached that either allude to or clearly state what the male reader would like to do with them.

January's issue of Loaded features an 'appraisal' of Patsy Kensit's career as an actress which is really attacking her for being sexually promiscuous and uses really vile sexual language and innuendo to do so. I cannot see the reason why any of this is not sexist. Perhaps I am missing the irony.

The idea that socialists should be embracing a strain of thought that accepts the way that men can feel good about their sexuality and their physical and emotional well-being is through drinking loads of lager, talking about football and making jokes about sex at the expense of women, is ridiculous.

It seems to me that New Laddism does nothing to address these issues, but almost turns the alienation into some sort of art form. I would think that under New Lad rules anyone caught talking about his feelings would probably be accused of behaving like a woman which would not do at all.

One of the most striking things about the representatives of New Laddism, Chris Evans, Frank Skinner and the like, is that they are not lads at all. They are all around 30 something and should bloody grow up.

New Laddism is homophobic and sexist, and socialists should challenge these ideas. We all celebrated the fact that during the miners' strike they got rid of the page 3 woman in their newspaper. This was because in the course of the struggle they stopped seeing women as objects and began to relate to them as equals who were fighting alongside them against a system that distorts all our relationships. The real crime of New Laddism is that with its attitude it would exclude women from this process.

Brenda Wheatle

East London

Put in the picture

I read with interest Chris Nineham' article on Picasso (January SR). The illustration accompanying Chris's article the massive canvas commemorating the bombing of Guernica by Nationalist and Fascist forces in April 1937 is particularly interesting regarding Picasso's political orientation and how its expression within his work reflected, and was affected by, the rapidly changing balance of forces in Spain.

Picasso altered his original idea for the Guernica canvas in several ways before it was finally completed. The bull figure, for example Picasso's symbol for Spain was originally shown as the main victim. In the finished canvas this is replaced by a human figure. The bull in the final canvas has become a distorted figure in the background, possibly predicting Spain's survival in spite of itself, albeit in some degenerated form.

More interesting, however, is the absence in the final canvas of two specifically revolutionary symbols the clenched fist and the hammer and sickle. There are several possible reasons for their omission. One, that pressure was brought to bear upon Picasso by the commissioning Popular Front government, which, along with the Stalinists, wanted to 'postpone' the revolution. Two, that Picasso himself had shifted from a specifically revolutionary line with regard to the future course of the struggle, to a more moderate republican nationalist position.

The third possibility is that Picasso, having witnessed the destruction of the Poum supporters by Stalinists in Catalonia, was loath to include such symbols, associated as they were with the Soviet Union and Stalinism.

Glyn Powell

North London

Armed and dangerous

In his review of Conor Kostick's Revolution in Ireland (December SR) Chris Bambery suggests that it would have been possible for the IRA to have continued the military struggle in 1921 'until Britain was removed from Ireland completely'. Given that the IRA had less than 5,000 men under arms, and those poorly equipped, lacking heavy guns, ammunition, transport etc, this seems unlikely. Most importantly such an attempt would almost certainly have been resisted by the majority of Ulster Protestants who would have regarded it as the imposition of a Catholic dictatorship.

The only hope of winning large scale support in the North East for Irish independence was class politics. Chris suggests that elements of the IRA leadership could have been pulled towards socialism. Perhaps, but that would have required a clear break with Republicanism to independent working class organisation, not just the adoption of left wing rhetoric.

In fact the vast majority of Sinn Fein and IRA leaders were clear in their class politics. They wanted an independent capitalist Ireland. Both pro and anti-treaty forces used troops to break up strikes and factory occupations.

The 'historical hook' that Michael Collins was caught on, is the one anticipated by Leon Trotsky in his theory of permanent revolution. For bourgeois (or in this case, would-be bourgeois) revolutionaries, the steps needed to complete the national revolution threaten their own class position. That is why Marxists insist on the need for independent working class organisation in national struggles, rather than looking to the progressive left wing elements of nationalist movements.

Finn Brennan

North London

Men in white coats

In response to John Parrington's review of Richard Webster's book Why Freud was Wrong (December SR) and subsequent letters, I would like to make the following points.

The dismissal of Freud's work as having no scientific basis appears to be based on an outdated and incorrect view of what science is. Since the 1950s philosophers of science have successfully demolished the myth of science as an activity whereby white-coated technicians gather neutral facts which can undergo processes of neutral observation in order to generate self evident theories (inductivism). Rather, science is a creative problem-solving activity structured around deductive logic (deductivism). When scientific work is properly understood in this way, both Marxism and Freudianism can be classified as scientific theories.

Freudian psychoanalytical theory addressed human alienation and the symptoms and suffering it causes. In this enlightenment concern, Freud and Marx stand side by side, both developing new but different areas of scientific study (the repressed unconscious and the mode of production).

Prior to Freud, the term 'unconscious' was used only as an adjective to denote mental processes that are not the subject of conscious attention. What is most original in Freud's work is the insistence that the unconscious is not only not conscious, but that it has important structuring effects upon consciousness, rendering consciousness alienated, partial and distorted.

Freud's theories enabled him to develop a new form of intervention into human pain based not on drugs, surgery, education, suggestions or adaptation, but on a progressive revelation of the subject's unconscious knowledge. Put simply, Freud was the first clinician to allow his patients to speak. The challenge to Marxists is to locate these valuable insights into a more historical analysis.

Peter Dyson (psychoanalyst)


Pleasure and pain

Phil Webster and Paul Jakubovik ask what's so revolutionary or insightful about Freud (January SR).

1. That sexuality is not natural and biologically determined but socially constructed.

2. 'Normal sexuality' is the creation of a difficult and long and fraught social process ie, is in fact very abnormal.

3. Behind obvious facts of character and motivations lie hidden but explainable processes of mental development.

4. Infants and children are sexual beings whose starting point is an all embracing sexual pleasure which society then moulds and shapes or tries to. In other words society begins, and is based on, oppression.

5. Madness is not a biological or physical illness but a mental illness. Curing it is not by giving the patient drugs or physical shocks or imprisonment, but by talking to them, treating them as communicating humans in order to reveal the hidden causes.

You can see why the right have disliked Freud, he undermined one of their favourite institutions the family and thus why he had to flee the Nazis. It is true that he himself was conservative and full of the prejudices of his class and time. If you wish to compare him to other thinkers he is more akin to Darwin or Ricardo than he is to Marx.

Noel Halifax

East London

Kept in the dark

Paul Jakubovic (January SR) argues that, since the concept of the unconscious can be traced back to the 'mystic Greek philosopher', Plotinus, psychoanalysis is simply 'mysticism'. He omits to say that precisely the same charge can be made against Marx: Lenin traced dialectics back to Heraclitus. Phil Webster claims that, unlike Marx and Darwin, Freud's theories 'have no scientific basis whatsoever'.

What we have here is not revolutionary Marxism, but the undialectical trust of official knowledge characteristic of the reformist Second International and Stalinism. Marxism is a critique of bourgeois scientific categories, not merely their champion; it understands why bourgeois 'science' is unable to deal with history, economics or the psyche because it lacks dialectical consideration of the class position of the supposedly 'objective' scientist. The distinction revolutionaries make is between materialism and idealism, not science and mysticism.

It is naive for comrades to applaud current attacks on Freud: they come from the same postmodernist hatred of 'grand narratives' (or 'ideas you can act on') as slurs on Marx and Lenin. In demonising sadomasochists and paedophiles, and repressing the facts of infant sexuality, the tabloids' defence of the family returns sexology to the dark ages of pre-Freud: the idealist tribunal of eternal morals and demagogic witch hunts. Revolutionaries need Freud's insights if they are to develop a materialist understanding of sexuality.

Unlike psychiatry, Freud did not propose an understanding of the mind that bypasses the conscious enlightenment of the subject in this his ideas are remarkably like Marx's view of economics and history.

Revolutionaries should not trust professors of psychiatry any more than professors of sociology. If readers of Socialist Review are unsure where they stand in this debate, I would advise them to read Freud's famous case history, 'Little Hans'. Far more accessible than the voluminous intricacies of Freud scholarship (for or against), it describes the logic behind a child's nightmares. It rings truer in a materialist, non-mystical sense than anything to be found in the mazes and statistics of clinical psychiatry.

Ben Watson


Doing it on the cheap

Paul Jakubovic and Phil Webster (Letters, January SR) agree with Richard Webster's book Why Freud was Wrong that Freud's ideas have no worth and that Freud was a mystic and charlatan.

This ignores the progressive role Freud played in the early 20th century. Compared with Victorian prudery, Freud's ideas about sex including that it formed an important part of everyone's mental life, and should be discussed rationally were a great step forward. Freud partly based his ideas about homosexuality, for example, on those of gay campaigners of his time. He wrote that being gay 'is nothing to be ashamed of... It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime.'

Freud's therapeutic technique was benign compared with others used on similar patients at the time mentally ill people were often isolated from friends and family, and denied all stimulation. Today most mentally ill people are 'treated' with drugs because they make them manageable as opposed to well cheaply. 'Talking cures' like Freud's are seldom available because they take staff time and so cost more.

Webster's case is far too often based on selective quotation, rhetorical devices and bizarre personal attacks. He describes Freud, for example, as a prudish old man who made sex central to his thinking as an excuse to listen to his patients talking dirty, and so get sexually excited. At times Webster's argument is simply absurd, as when he claims that German people's enthusiasm for mathematics led to the rise of Nazism.

Webster's overall motivation is explicitly political. He seeks to deny that any 'grand theory' that of Freud say, or Marx can give an overall explanation of society. Belief in such a theory, he argues, is really a disguised religious faith which leads to the persecution of unbelievers and worship of a saviour (he cites Lenin, Trotsky and Hitler among other examples).

Freud's attempt sometimes, we can all agree, seriously flawed to develop a coherent and scientific psychology is thus rejected because no rational attempt to understand the mind as a whole can succeed. Webster's book is typical of the pessimism which has overtaken many liberal intellectuals since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Any overall explanation of human life is to be rejected in favour of bits of ad hoc theorising. Any attempt to make anything greater than the smallest changes in society will inevitably lead to the gulag. As Marxists, we do believe that it is possible to understand and change the world as a totality. We should aim to build on the legacy of Freud in understanding the mind, and of Marx in fighting for socialism, not reject them.

Colin Wilson


In for the kill

John Parrington in his article (January SR) is quite right to stress the centrality of social labour in the development of humanity. However, there is a problem with the way Engels formulates the argument. It is far from clear why releasing hands for toolmaking should in itself create social labour. Clearly it may lead to greater interaction and the passing on of learned skills but we now know that apes teach substantial amounts of their behaviour, that Japanese monkeys have learned to wash rice in the sea and that the bonobo chimp preconceives and produces a tool kit of 20 different tools, all of which behaviour is taught to the young. Clearly manipulation, toolmaking, an ability to teach and learn some rudimentary language are preconditions for social labour, but they are not sufficient. The bonobo chimp is not human.

Social labour occurs within a system of production where the stages of production and consumption are separated by a process of exchange governed by social rules. The earliest known such rules are the 'own kill' rules by which the hunter(s) must present their kill to others in their clan before some of it may be returned to them. Such rules, or the remnants of them, are frequently evident in hunter gathering societies.

The additional element needed to explain the creation of social labour is the change to a sort of production which necessitates the organisation of the whole society. A shift to collective big game hunting somewhere between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago would bring about just such a change. The effectiveness of collective hunting would explain the displacement of the Neanderthals and it would explain the enormously rapid growth in human population, culture and its spread across the world after the millions of years of painfully slow accumulation of toolmaking skills.

Pete Wearden


Low pay is the only way

Dave Crouch said in his article, 'The Reform that Failed' (January SR), that hatred for the bankrupt and corrupt state apparatus grew among the Russian population. I think he is quite right to say so, but that's just one side of the coin. I worked for the Siberian branch of the Russian ministry for environmental protection. During the six months I spent in Russia I was astonished by how many people are desperately attached to their low paid jobs. Jobs in the apparatus are often the only way to get any money, especially as wide sections of industry have collapsed.

Today I would estimate that at least 50 percent of the workers have virtually nothing to do in the state offices, but throwing these people on the dole would result in mass action as we saw among the unpaid teachers and miners last year. I think that's an important reason why Yeltsin as well as Gorbachev left the bureaucracy, even its lower ranks, untouched.

Dirk Harmann

Ostbevern, Germany

The cost of unity

As Judith Orr notes (January SR), in order to meet the convergence criteria for monetary union and the single currency, governments across western Europe are attempting to force workers to shoulder an increasingly heavy burden.

However, if monetary union does occur the attacks on workers could prove to be far more drastic than they are at present. The reason for this lies in the way in which the governments can currently respond to different rates of inflation across national boundaries. When inflation is higher in one country than its neighbours (as in the case with Britain in relation to most of the other members of the EU), this encourages goods to be bought from its neighbours rather than from home. Since inflation is lower in the neighbouring states than in Britain, the demand for these foreign currencies, needed in order to buy the increased imports, will rise. Similarly the supply of foreign currencies, to buy fewer British exports, will fall. Consequently, higher inflation in Britain than elsewhere will lead to a fall in the exchange value of the pound.

The point is this: if monetary union becomes a fact, the emergence of a single currency and monetary and fiscal policy determined by the 'stability pact' (Guardian, 15/1/97), will mean that the offsetting of inflation by changes in the exchange rate will no longer be possible, with regard to the economies of other EU states. Instead the cost of inflation will have to be borne by the 'real' economy. This will mean not only attacks of a larger scale on public services but also attacks on jobs.

The reality is that the attacks workers across Europe are facing at the moment will be but a foretaste of what may come if monetary union succeeds. At the same time, however, the scale of opposition could reach even greater heights.

Terry Sullivan


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