Issue 216 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 1998 Copyright Socialist Review


A bitter pill

Special needs teacher Nick Catlin (January SR) describes the success and delight of teachers seeing students successfully included in mainstream schools, rather than being segregated in run down special schools. I share Nick's support of greater inclusion in schools, including those currently permanently excluded due to behaviour problems. However, in his reading of Labour's green paper proposals 'Excellence for all children - meeting special educational needs', Nick fails to reveal the hollowness of Labour's commitment to inclusion.

Labour is planning to run down special schools and cut by one third the money allocated to pupils currently receiving 'statements' of their special needs. The aim is to educate more pupils in mainstream schools but no extra money is to be provided. Instead the current crisis facing special needs provision will be solved by 'shifting [current] resources' as money becomes available due to cutbacks and closures. The implementation of these policies, without the necessary resources to make them work, could increase discrimination against such pupils, rather than address their needs.

We have seen the results of similar proposals in action in the health service. The Care In the Community programme used the progressive demand for the closure of long stay mental hospitals as a mask to hide cuts in provision. Patients were released from hospitals into a community denied the means to provide support, often with tragic and brutal results.

The green paper on special needs does not offer a 'fudge', as Nick says, but a sugar coated, bitter pill. The sugar has been taken from the hard work and commitment of teachers like Nick, who have worked hard to help those with the greatest needs and deliver a more inclusive education for pupils otherwise taught separately. Policy from the teachers' union, the NUT, was acknowledged by Labour ministers as contributing to drawing up the green paper proposals. However, there is a deepening distrust of New Labour by many of the teachers and support staff who are committed to greater inclusion. Recent attacks on lone parents and the disabled have increased the distrust in Labour's commitment to helping those in need.

Labour's real attitude to inclusion is exposed in its Education Bill currently going through parliament. The bill will maintain the existing separate structures of grammar, independent and grant maintained schools. These schools will not be including pupils with learning or behaviour difficulties into their classes - it might weaken their competitive position in the league tables. Blair and Harman don't want their kids taught alongside pupils they see as a 'problem'. It will be mainly the council run 'community schools' which have already shouldered the biggest cutbacks, which will be educating more pupils with special needs.

Last May millions voted for a better education for all our children. Young people with Down's syndrome, autism, epilepsy and cerebral palsy should be having extra resources thrown at them. Those with severe learning difficulties could be provided with the level of resources currently provided in private schools like Eton. A real increase in resources would enable pupils to be successfully integrated into mainstream schools. Labour, however, is proposing none of this.

Mark Krantz


Making sense of history

Chris Harman (January SR) is right to argue that Richard Evans' book In Defence of History, which is designed as an attack on postmodernism, in fact ends up giving ground to the postmodernists because Evans does not have a general theory of history, such as that which can be found in the writings of Marx and Engels.

Unfortunately Harman doesn't spot another, related, reason why Evans ends up being a less convincing opponent of postmodernism than he might be. For many historical episodes, particularly the more distant ones, most of the available facts are already known to historians. The issue then becomes - as Harman notes - of what to make of the evidence that there is. Where postmodernists have succeeded in drawing in historians like Evans is that they offer what appear to be novel ways of looking at evidence - deconstructing, revisiting and re-evaluating the historical episodes from, usually, a variety of eclectic standpoints.

The postmodernist appeal to some who are genuine historians is, then, that of a provocation or challenge about what historical evidence actually tells us. To this there are two answers. The first is, ask what historical method the postmodernists themselves have used to develop the point they are making. Usually it is exactly the same as ones used by conventional historians, which rather deflates their claim to historical novelty.

The second is to argue that no sense can really be made of history with an ad hoc and partial understanding of why people act in the way they do. A Marxist framework based on a materialist analysis of society and firmly grounded in the idea that there is progress in history provides the key to understanding historical evidence which both the postmodernists, and ultimately, Richard Evans, both lack.

Keith Flett


The new morality

Peter Smith's letter (January SR) expressed refreshment at a materialist history of Christianity yet then indulges in a Buddhist mystification of human experience.

Surely, if we accept a life as 'perpetual suffering' this has exactly the same effect as Paul's 'Slaves, obey your human masters'. In reality poverty, disease and misery are far from being noble or spiritual experiences. Of course, socialism would not remove human death or every disease. People would, on occasion, be sad. This is not the same as saying that our lives would be characterised by unrelenting pain.

Disease can be combated, conditions improved and lives enriched even under capitalism - what great strides could be achieved in a socialist society where 'the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all'? This development may have an intellectual, cultural, technological or even spiritual character but the mystification of organised religion, the violent oppression of class rule and the acceptance of life as suffering could not occur.

Instead of an individual morality where people are forced to find solace in a decaying and vicious society we could at last develop a social 'morality' which no longer requires superstitious dogma to comfort the oppressed, nor charity to soothe the consciences of the rich.

Jim Jepps


Nip it in the bud

During the last year and a half Spain has experienced a shift to the right under the governing right wing Partido Popular. Due to a complete failure to provide left wing opposition to the PP, a number of significant struggles and strikes have remained localised and isolated.

The ongoing Basque question continues to dominate the political arena. On this subject, the entire leadership of the reformist parties (PSOE and the slightly more radical Izquierda Unida) have fallen in behind the PP in their outright condemnation of ETA and its political wing, Herri Batasuna.

The logic of ETA's armed struggle - the assassination of elected town councillors of the governing party (the fourth PP councillor was killed yesterday) - is marginalising its own base of support. Following the imprisonment of the entire national leadership of Herri Batasuna, an act that clearly flies in the face of democracy and freedom of speech, a massive mobilisation coordinated by trade unions in the Basque Country in defence of HB was organised. The mobilisation promised to be one of the largest seen in the last decade in favour of HB. ETA's assassination of a PP councillor that same morning provoked the suspension of the demonstrations in favour of HB.

The disgraceful position of the leaders of the social democratic parties has left a wide open space to be dominated by the PP. Through huge media manipulation the PP have been able to mobilise massive anti-ETA demonstrations. The concurrent criminalisation of anyone who dares to oppose the PP's position has given the go ahead to the fascist organisations to mobilise on the streets and try to break up any attempt by the left to question these politics.

A public meeting organised in early January by Socialismo Internacional in Valencia under the title of 'Euskadi - repression is not the solution' had to be cancelled due to the presence of 30 or so Nazis who tore down the posters advertising the meeting, entered the bar where the meeting was to be held and intimidated those who had turned up. This situation, unthinkable as it may seem in England due to the existence of the Anti Nazi League, is only possible here for the same reasons that have allowed fascism to grow in Europe: confusion on the left on what fascism is and how to fight it.

We have been involved with other groups to the left of the reformist parties in organising against the fascists with some success. In June last year we humiliated a fascist demonstration held in an area with a high immigrant population by posing a counter-demonstration which mobilised around 1,000 people against the fascists' 60 or so. In November Socialismo Internacional, along with other youth organisations and left wing groups, organised a four day conference on fascism and how to fight it which attracted over 300 people. On the traditional day on which the fascists commemorate Franco's death (20 November) another counter-demonstration was organised which attracted 1,500 anti-fascists against the 200 or so fascists. Needless to say, on both demonstrations the police were there in force to protect the fascists.

The fascists are still small in Spain and if we build a movement now that stops them while they are still small, then we won't have to tolerate the unspeakable experience of having our right to free speech denied, or people attacked and intimidated in the streets.

Socialismo Internacional plans to reschedule the meeting on Euskadi in the university, calling for support from all those organisations and individuals involved in the above mentioned anti-fascist activity. In this way we are hoping to turn yesterday's victory for the Nazis around and open up the debate on who the real terrorists are.

Susie Craig

Socialismo Internacional, Valencia

Alien culture

I went to see the heavily hyped new film Starship Troopers, despite knowing that the book it was based on was near fascist. I was encouraged by comments from the director, Paul Verhoeven, saying that he had lived as a child in occupied Europe, and would expose the politics of the book. Instead, what he has produced has all the weaknesses of 'postmodern' ironic culture.

He has brought out the politics by making the government openly fascist, their uniforms based on those of Nazi Germany. They preach against the weakness of democracy and follow a brutal macho military creed. I watched the characters, all young and beautiful, like actors in an Australian or American soap drilled into the army, waiting for any criticism of the regime. But this seems to be a fascism without racism or sexism, without poverty or crisis, and without scapegoats. After all, the subhumans they are fighting really are mindless hordes of alien bugs, the government really is defending their culture from annihilation. None of the characters ever questions the ideology for a second.

Critics have praised the film as an action adventure and a special effects spectacular, but those who comment on the way Nazism is presented have laughed at the irony and the 'mad', 'wicked' humour. I think socialists have to say that this isn't good enough. Watch it without a knowledge of history or a distancing irony and it simply glories fascist imagery. At a time when Nazi groups across Europe are whitewashing the crimes of fascism, to make a film that fetishises fascist uniforms and attitudes is, to say the least, irresponsible.

Ken Olende


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