Issue 210 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 1997 Copyright © Socialist Review


The blind spot

Chris Harman's article (June SR) convincingly demonstrates that Labour's victory was on the basis of a solid working class vote. The New Labour strategy of wooing so called 'Middle England' was irrelevant to the scale of Labour's victory.

This interpretation, however, is not the orthodoxy. For example, The Economist took it upon itself to tell Tony Blair 'what the voters really, really want' (3 May). Of course, this was not the wholesale rejection of the Tories that the election suggested, or more money spent on the NHS, a national minimum wage or the return of the privatised utilities to public ownership that the opinion polls suggest. Rather, 'the basic point about 1 May was that Labour won largely by adopting, or impersonating, the Conservatives' (ie Mrs Thatcher's) own policies.

Throughout the 1980s we were constantly told that Thatcher's victories were due to her success in winning the hearts and minds of the working class. Yet, when Labour wins, the working class is banished from any role whatsoever and 'middle class' voters become all important.

We should not be surprised that the ruling class and its hacks only recognise the existence of class when it is to their advantage. What is more important is that we challenge the myth in the labour movement that it was the changes associated with New Labour that won the election.

There will be thousands of Labour Party members, and ex-members like myself, who were disgusted at Labour's shift to the right. Right now many may see those changes as being vindicated. We need to show that New Labour was less about reflecting popular opinion, more about sending the right message to big business and that Labour could have won on a much more radical platform.

Michael Smith


A false freedom

Adam Buick's letter (June SR) states that we should defend the right of the BNP to have an election broadcast in order to be consistently against censorship. I think this attitude is completely wrong.

The campaign by the Anti Nazi League against the BNP's election broadcast was correct and necessary. Even though only Channel 4 did not show the broadcast, the resulting publicity showed up the BNP for the violent Nazi thugs they are.

Socialists have long stood for a strategy of No Platform for racists and fascists. Nazis and fascists are qualitatively different from the Tories and other right wingers; allowing them freedom of speech gives them the opportunity to deny that freedom to others.

No Platform has meant that whenever the Nazis have tried to build in Britain they have been actively opposed. The ANL and other anti-racists have been largely successful in keeping the Nazis on the margins of political life. Our success stands in stark contrast to what has happened in much of Europe. In France and Italy the liberal views put forward by Adam Buick hold sway over much of the left.

Fortunately in Britain the idea of No Platform has wide support in the labour movement. Following the campaign against Derek Beackon in 1994 my union branch put forward a rule change to Unison conference that would expel any known fascist from the union. This year at Unison conference this rule was passed unanimously.

If in future broadcasting workers pulled the plug on a Nazi election broadcast would Adam Buick be applauding their action or condemning their interference with freedom of speech?

Mike Gurney

Publicity officer Tower Hamlets Unison (personal capacity)

Computing the profit

What are we to make of the news that Gary Kasparov, arguably the greatest chess player in history, has been beaten by a computer? John Parrington makes some interesting points (June SR) but doesn't provide a complete answer.

Computers have certain obvious advantages over humans at chess (greater computational ability, better memory, lack of psychological distractions). It's inevitable that any human will sometimes lose to a strong computer. But leading grandmasters are still capable of beating the strongest computers by adapting their style of play and compensating for their weaknesses.

The challenge with Kasparov was a money making publicity stunt by the organisers, IBM. The brief six game match was not a true test of their computer's strength. It was, however, a great success for IBM, who had 4 million people visit their website on the internet during the match and who walked away with the bulk of the prize money. It's the same old story of big corporations competing with one another for the right to a monopoly shareholding in the advancement of human knowledge.

Nick Wall


A dead duck

Although I agree with Paul McGarr that Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade is a 'marvellous political play' (June SR), I am surprised by his uncritical assessment of this production which is a shallow interpretation of Weiss's text, turning it into a mere curiosity piece from the 1960s.

Corin Redgrave should be the perfect choice to play the asylum inmate playing the French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat. Unfortunately, not only is he practically inaudible for most of the time but, at the moments when his argument should be taking flight, it thuds to the ground like a dead duck.

The dialectic in Marat/Sade is initially loaded in Sade's favour, I think, for a reason. Revolutionaries in 1963, when Weiss wrote the play, would have been pitched against the dominant view­as represented by Sade­that the individual has greater value than the collective and that social change is impossible.

The play's construction seems intended to allow the development of Marat's counter-view in a powerful climax, indicating the possibilities of revolution winning against the odds, even if the ending is left open.

Instead, Redgrave's Marat starts off feebly, flutters around in the second half and then implodes at the end.

That probably explains why the Guardian's Michael Billington could reasonably conclude in his review that the play reaffirms the common-sense view that to be a revolutionary is to be a lunatic. Nothing changes so don't even bother. Peter Weiss must be spinning.

Anna Chen

South Woodford

Return to
Contents page: Return to Socialist Review Index Home page