Issue 207 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 1997 Copyright © Socialist Review

LETTERS


The real resistance

We want to send our congratulations to the comrades from the LSE's Socialist Worker Student Society which actively participated in a picket against Peru's President Fujimori's visit. It was the biggest demonstration against Fujimori outside Peru in several months.

We also want to make some remarks about Mike Gonzalez's article on Peru (February SR). We agree with its general line. However, we want to make some factual corrections and one suggestion.

The article claimed only 18 guerrilla Žghters occupied the Japanese embassy. In reality the MRTA commandos have between 20 and 30 combatants. And Fujimori was not re-elected in 1994, as the article claims, but in 1995.

The article concluded, 'It is important that the MRTA is seen to gain some kind of victory and that Fujimori's weaknesses are exposed. That might at least help to encourage the resurgence of a popular movement of resistance and struggle.'

The 'foquistas' always substituted mass mobilisation with their voluntaristic actions. They wanted to convince the workers to adopt a passive or subordinate role in relation to their 'exemplary' militaristic actions.

The MRTA aim is not to overthrow Fujimori but to make a 'peace deal' with him, in which they, like their comrades of the M-19 in Colombia, Alfaro Vive in Ecuador, the FMLN in El Salvador and the URNG in Guatemala, would become legal parties and even part of future cabinets. Fujimori and the MRTA are trying to work for a victorious outcome for both sides. The beginning of a legal reintegration of the MRTA into the system will give more respectability to the dictatorship. Already the MRTA declared that they are in favour of privatisation and accepting many IMF policies.

We unconditionally defend the MRTA guerrillas against repression, nevertheless, we need to be critical of the anti-imperialist petty bourgeoisie and their conciliatory strategies. Workers should use the opportunity to take the streets for their own demands. Already the construction workers have declared a general strike.

F Parra

Poder Obrero Lima


The road to power

The Žrst few days of the election campaign have shown beyond doubt that political power does not lie in parliament ('Where does Political Power Lie?' March SR). The cash for questions scandal shows that the Tories' Boundary Commission has created a new constituency called 'Harrods Boss'. Meanwhile union buster Rupert Murdoch sees a kindred spirit in Tony Blair which can only serve to heighten the disdain workers have for the honourable members who take their seats in the hallowed house.

The question posed, and quite thoroughly answered by Alex Callinicos, isn't just for the people who still feel that Tony Blair will, on 2 May, reveal himself to be the reincarnation of Karl Marx ­ or perhaps, for those a bit more realistic, John Smith. It's a question for all of us on the left who have been active in the unions and campaigns through the worst days of Thatcher.

When Alex quotes the SPD ministers who, in the throes of the profound crisis that sent Germany reeling towards the human tragedy that was the Holocaust, said, 'The basic problem is that we are unable to tell the people in a concrete manner how we will eliminate the crisis' ­ this is not just a problem Blair will face from 2 May ­ it's also the dilemma that confronts left wingers like Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill.

Both do approve and promote 'extra-parliamentary activity'. They have both been at the centre of big struggles. But the central plank of their strategy for changing society is winning hearts and minds at the ballot box.

But millions of hearts and minds change with every tilt in the balance of the 'extra-parliamentary activity' which is the class struggle. And relying on the passivity of millions making their cross on a ballot paper every Žve years means that the only winners are the ones picked by the Murdochs, the spin doctors and the captains of industry.

A good example of this is the Scargill's Socilaist Labour Party's conference decision to maintain some form of immigration controls. This is not only a concession to the myths, a) that you can have non-racist immigration controls and b) that workers fully accept immigration controls as a necessity, but it is also a major concession to the bosses' system that wants to use racism to set workers in competition with each other and control the global movement of labour in the drive for more proŽt.

Socialists need to know where political power lies and how our side can seize it.

We know that Blair won't touch the wealth of the rich or question the authority of the city bankers, multinational chiefs or army generals. The experience of reformist governments the world over shows us that it is the bankers, the generals and the corporates that tell the Blairs, Benns and Scargills what policies they will carry out ­ not the other way round.

We should remember the failure of the reformist government of Allende in Chile ­ which resulted in the deaths of thousands of working class people when the military took power.

But watching news of the Polish workers Žghting the Gdansk shipyard closure, Belgian car workers occupying their plant, and armed Albanian workers and peasants taking over air and naval bases shows the potential strength that there is to change society from below.

Watching Question Time recently I was reminded of the banality of the Tweedle dumb and Tweedle dumber politics that threatens to dominate the election. The question of political power, who's got it and who can take it off them, is not one that just applies to those workers in the world currently engaged in gloves off class warfare. It is central to how socialists organise today in preparation for the battles that will certainly explode.

Pat Carmody

East London


Digging into history

I read with great interest John Parrington's article Red Professors in March SR In his excellent article, I wish John had found space to mention a man whose contribution to his science equalled the contribution of those that John wrote about. I refer to V Gordon Childe, foremost archaeological theorist of his day, whose inžuence on the study of the past was and remains enormous, and who was an unashamed Marxist.

Childe invented many of the concepts at the heart of archaeology today. The 'three ages system' of stone, bronze and iron ages owes its modern meaning to him. Whereas it had been merely a chronological concept, Childe pointed out that 'as mere dates' stone, bronze and iron were hopelessly relative. Rather 'these criteria are no mere superŽcial phenomena but are organically bound up with the economy and structures of the societies to be classiŽed'.

As an archaeologist, he lampooned the dominant attitude of the 'gentleman collector' as 'postage stamp archaeology'. And he sought to introduce a Marxist understanding of historical change. As he put it towards the end of his life, 'Since the means of production Žgure so conspicuously in the archaeological record, I suppose most pre-historians are inclined to be Marxists.'

Although led into Marxism by the logic of his discipline, Childe was profoundly inžuenced by, and active in, the society outside the lecture hall. He returned to his native Australia in 1916 and played an active part in the anti-conscription movement. He became private secretary to the leader of the New South Wales Labour Party, but returned to Britain disillusioned with reformism.

In 1923 he wrote a pamphlet for the Communist Party exposing the Australian Labour Party.

In the 1930s Childe became extremely concerned about the misuse of archaeology and anthropology by the Nazis. The Nazis used the theory of Aryan superiority as an explanation for historical change. Childe fought this in a series of books and papers, in which he warned of using the concept of 'race' in archaeology, pointing out that 'race' merely meant certain physical characteristics.

After the end of the Second World War, Childe began to criticise the propagandist nature of archaeology in Russia. However, he remained wedded overall to Stalinist theories in his discipline, and in his politics.

However, Childe's Marxism profoundly shaped today's archaeology and he remained committed to working class struggle.

Dave Pinnock

Oxford


Finally got the news

The Panorama programme on working mothers (March SR) showed how sensationalism is infecting even the so called quality end of the media. Participants complained that they had never known programme makers so obsessed with justifying their line.

From Sky News to the New Millennium Mirror, the trivialising of news journalism is gathering pace. Nowadays it is hard to Žnd a tabloid paper without a half naked woman on the cover. More and more the silly stories that used to end news bulletins seem to be hitting the headlines and it is not going to get any better. Channel 5 have proudly announced the fact that their news presenters will be young, good looking 'facilitators' rather than 'experts in every Želd'.

All this is a direct result of hugely increased market pressures in the media. First, competition has led to drastic newsroom staff cuts. The Express for instance has cut its journalistic staff by over two thirds since the 1960s. It is the same story in most other papers. More and more journalists don't have the time for investigation or research.

Since the decimation of the press unions, editors tend to rule by intimidation. One journalist recently compared the regime at the Mail to the army: 'strict hierarchy, no fraternisation'.

In television the proliferation of new channels could be used to extend and deepen current affairs coverage. But broadcast news, which used to be a loss leader, is now becoming a commodity in its own right, with dedicated news channels competing for advertising and 'viewer reach'. So there is pressure once again to cut costs and a perceived pressure for human interest and sensationalism, with a dread of anything that might offend commercial customers.

The idea that 'hard news' is a turn off is no more than prejudice. The Mirror proved that in the 1960s and 1970s by leading the tabloid market with hard hitting and committed journalism. But that's an expensive approach and a risky one. The spate of takeovers prompted by deregulation makes even the most powerful news companies politically timid. They don't want to offend any politicians who may have a part in legislating about cross-media ownership.

Tony Blair's attitude to the media has encouraged all this. While Blair has done everything possible to suck up to Murdoch and the other press moguls, his media spokesperson, Lewis Moonie, has talked warmly about the privatisation of the BBC. With little of substance to say, the Blairites are comfortable with 'infotainment'. Blair's press columns are full of mindless chatter and a new press release, '20 things you didn't know about Tony Blair', brings us insights like, 'Blair enjoys drinking copious cups of tea'. Policy matters are mentioned only once.

Chris Nineham

East London


Just say no

I'm currently a prisoner serving a five year stretch in one of her majesty's Žnest B and Bs. Due to new laws passed this year we are under mandatory drug testing (MDT) where refusal to give a urine sample results in heavy loss of remission, recreation and wages. Cons are outraged at this as it's not only an attack on our civil liberties but it also wastes large amounts of money ­ one test costs £35. These laws are forcing the cannabis user (hash lasts 28 days in your system) to switch to heroin ­ lasting one to two days. Cons see the prison service is creating and not solving drug addiction. Yet another Tory propaganda stunt.

A Prisoner

HMP Glenochill Scotland


In dubious battle

In her article on Gulf War syndrome (January SR) Sharon Smith rejects the idea that 'battlefield stress' could result 'from a ground war that lasted less than a week!' However, the development of combat related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is less a factor of length of time of exposure to war than it is to the intensity of exposure to war horrors. Nearly 50 percent of Gulf War soldiers in the graves registration unit (responsible for recovering and identifying dead remains) displayed symptoms of PTSD eight months after the war.

Because they inevitably involve exposure to traumatic events, even brief or circumscribed wars can result in PTSD. And PTSD is itself associated with increased rates of cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal and pain symptoms, as well as earlier death rates.

Ruling classes have always been reluctant to admit the true cost of war. Now that PTSD has become an accepted medical diagnosis (largely because of the activism of Vietnam War veterans) there remains a tendency to minimise this condition or to imply that it indicates moral weakness or malingering. It is important that socialists do not fall into the trap of denying the reality and severity of PTSD in our efforts to emphasise the importance of toxic chemical poisoning in the development of Gulf War syndrome.

Susan Rosenthal and Linda Page

Chicago

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