Issue 225 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1998 Copyright Socialist Review

LETTERS

No two tier learning

The November issue of Socialist Review highlighted just who really is suffering in the global crisis sweeping through our lovely deregulated, so called 'free' market system - the working class.
The evidence of class inequalities crops up on an almost daily basis, it seems. Education is one such area. Consider this fact: a recent report from the University of Warwick demonstrated that graduates who had been to a private or public school would earn 2.5 percent more than someone who had been to a state school. This is all the more interesting when you realise that comprehensive pupils are 33 percent more likely to get a first class degree than private school pupils according to another study by Cardiff and Aberdeen universities.
We know that private schools are mainly or disproportionately middle class, and that most working class kids go to state comprehensives. This makes the above figures all the more startling. The answer to this is to educate all pupils, regardless of class, in genuine comprehensive schools. This means ending selection on grounds of wealth or 'ability', whether it is by private or grammar schools. The middle classes colonise grammar schools too well.
Socialist Review readers should think about getting involved in the 'Say no to selection' campaign launched by the Campaign for State Education. The launch meeting was covered in a recent issue of Socialist Worker. I attended the meeting and it was very persuasive in arguing against grammar schools.
These views are not lack of knowledge on my own part. Between 1977 and 1983 I attended one of the old direct grant grammar schools in Portsmouth. It was good, but I still remember the debates over whether the school should go comprehensive or become independent. Sadly, it took the latter path.
Inequality affects education. Let's fight it.
Graeme Kemp
Surrey


How they see us

Kevin Ovenden's article, 'Europe turns red?' (November SR) points out how 'the seismic shift in the composition of Europe's governments has confounded those who argued in the late 1980s and early 1990s that Tory parties were destined to be in power for a generation because workers had accepted the core of the free market ideology'.
This was underlined very clearly in a recent article of the European magazine. The European, flagged up as Europe's business weekly, carried a front cover picture of Che Guevara in a suit and tie, with the startling headline, 'Now in Power - 60s radicals take over Europe's chancellories.'
In many ways the article is as amusing as the front cover. Few people would make the link between Che Guevara and Gordon Brown. The paranoia of the right wing ideologues makes for a limited analysis of exactly what the left and centre-left governments across Europe really represent in terms of economic policy. Sun style biographies are given of people like Massimo D'Alema, the leader of the Democratic Party of the Left in Italy, who now leads the Italian government. His activities as a 12 year young Communist are given as proof positive of the hidden agenda of Europe's left led governments.
Even New Labour politicians came in for the same treatment. Blair's government is stuffed full of 1960s radicals according to the European, and even Peter Mandelson is suspect because of his 'old fashioned student style instincts' in welcoming the arrest of Pinochet. Nevertheless, what comes across most clearly is a picture of how conscious and fearful they are of free market ideology being increasingly marginalised.
The article comments, 'The irreversible move to the right, so firmly believed in by conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic, turns out not to have been so irreversible after all... Basking in self satisfied somnolence after their bourgeois triumphalism of the 1980s, right wingers across Europe made a fatal mistake. They began to believe their own publicity: that the curbing of trade union power, successful market reforms and the end of the Cold War meant that the version of history pedalled by the left intelligentsia had come to an end.'
The author warns about the forces coming onto the stage of European politics such as. the French school students' strikes.
But the greatest concern is reserved for the return of unthinkable ideas such as 'the control and rational planning of societies' which are commonly asserted again. The article anguishes that 'the very idea that such rules governing any society, let alone the planet, can be consciously planned in advance is incompatible with the conservative conviction that unwritten rules are best - that is, the unplanned free market economy.
Their fear of the unthinkable becoming again the thinkable across Europe was thoroughly enjoyable to read. Their worry that the Lafontaines, Gordon Browns and D'Alemas will implement the unthinkable is groundless. However, revolutionaries should be as conscious as they are that there exist real opportunities to turn their nightmares into realities.
Suzanne Jeffery
Liverpool


A second Stonewall

The murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old gay student, has led to the largest expression of outrage against homophobia in the US since the 1960s. The recent events in the US could be as significant for gay politics as the Stonewall riots.
On 6 October Matthew Shepard was approached by two men, claiming to be gay, while he was drinking in a student bar in Wyoming. They convinced him to go for a ride with them in their truck. But once in the truck they told him they weren't gay and proceeded to beat him up. They took him out of town and tied him spreadeagle to a fence where they continued to beat and burn him. The police said that a blunt instrument had fractured his skull and that this was one of the most vicious hate crimes they had ever seen. Matthew remained tied to the fence for up to 18 hours in near freezing weather before a passing biker notified the police. Matthew died in hospital six days later, having never regained consciousness.
Some 250 people turned up to the funeral including a group of 15 anti-gay protesters holding placards saying 'God Hates Fags' and 'Fag Matt In Hell'.
In response to this horrific murder, gay groups around the country called vigils and marches against gay hate attacks, with thousands marching in many of the US's big cities. In New York a march of over 5,000 turned into a full scale riot against the NYPD and there were over 120 arrests. The riot has already been nicknamed 'Stonewall II'.
The evening began with 200 people gathering outside the Plaza Hotel holding candles. The protest grew as it travelled down Fifth Avenue with people holding placards saying 'Where's Your Rage?' and 'Matthew Shepard - Killed By Homophobia'. The police called in 1,600 officers in riot gear. They penned in the protest, leaving it nowhere to go, then began attacking people with billy clubs and pepper spray. The protesters hit back with rocks and bottles chanting, 'Racist, sexist, anti-gay-NYPD go away'.
The police beat up and arrested the organisers of the march first, then beat up and arrested the legal observers who were documenting the events. Organisers say they have videotape evidence of police brutality. Those arrested were held in jail overnight, were not given food, water or legal advice for many hours and suffered anti-gay verbal abuse. Men with Aids had their much needed medication confiscated. One spoke to the New York Times while being given fluids from a drip to compensate for the dehydration suffered while in jail.
Since these events have occurred there have been calls for two more demonstrations on 1 December and 6 January. Also a new organisation called the Gay Defence League has been set up to fight homophobia 'by any means necessary'.
I think these events are important enough to warrant an article in Socialist Review and I am disappointed that they has not already been given coverage.
Sandy Timewell
Lesbian Liberation Secretary
Manchester University


Understanding war

Some years ago I heard a respected British politician or journalist (I forget who) describe fascists as those who are strident nationalists, do not believe in bourgeois democracy, do not respect the rule of law and share a seminal belief in violence as the great arbiter.
Billy Bragg said recently on Radio 4's Loose Ends that it was Thatcher and the Falklands War which made him actively political. The jingoism of my family, friends and colleagues at work, plus the flag waving crowds seeing off the task force, had the same effect on me. I am no pacifist but I never thought we would see such sights in my lifetime after the educational experience of Vietnam. I could not understand the sinking of the Belgrano and the Falklands War.
In the light of recent public comments in support of Pinochet and against Argentinian President Menem's visit and expression of regret, and when you consider the imposition of the poll tax and illegal gerrymandering in Westminster council, I do now understand. Given two fascist regimes with something to squabble over, war is almost inevitable - unless one of the bullies is frightened, as was the case with Hong Kong.
Also, Tony Benn is correct when he says the Falklands War was really about oil and fishing resources; it was certainly not about a few hundred farmers without social connections. After all, the lives of millions have been ruined since 1979 due to the ideologies of the political right in Britain alone.
Alan Crabtree
Isle of Man


The doubts remain

Dave Renton's piece on Dona Torr (November SR) has two tremendous virtues. Firstly it rescues from obscurity the work of an important Marxist historian. Secondly, it looks at the historical work that Torr actually did, rather than just labelling her as a 'Stalinist' and writing her off at that.
However, as Renton admits, Torr could not avoid the influence of Stalinism on her work, which meant that like so many other members of the Communist Party Historians Group she focused on British history, rather than, say, post-1917 Russia. It also meant, as Renton also notes, a certain little Englandism in her work.
Her work on Tom Mann has not been bettered, and still repays reading today. But since she died before many historians quit the CP after the crushing of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, we can't really know whether she would have put any consideration of mechanical Marxism behind her or not. That is not to sit in judgement of Torr but to understand that her work cannot be unequivocally reclaimed for a revolutionary socialist tradition.
Keith Flett
Tottenham


Appeal for justice

Many readers will be aware of the plight of Brian Roberson who has spent over 12 years on death row in Huntsville, Texas, in what he calls 'AmeriKKKa'. Several of his letters to the socialist press have been printed over the past few years, outlining the details of his case and highlighting the extent of racism and brutality in what is regarded as the harshest penal system in the US. Since Clinton came to office and declared that the system which holds over 3,000 prisoners on death row must speed up 'the process', the state of Texas has started to clear the backlog with obscene haste, executing sometimes four prisoners a month.
As a 23 year old African - American Roberson was arrested on 31 August 1986 and charged with the murder of a white couple, after the vehicle in which he was travelling home after a night out with a friend was seen two blocks away from the scene of the crime. His companion died the next day in police custody and Brian had to face the charges alone. After 14 hours of continuous interrogation Brian signed a confession.
Without the financial resources to hire a lawyer, he was inadequately defended by a state appointed representative who had no previous experience of murder cases, and was found guilty by an all white, all male, middle aged jury and sentenced to death, in spite of the fact that there was no forensic or any other conclusive evidence against him. This was a racist conviction, and his mother, Bettie Roberson, is bewildered by the system that gave a 13 year prison sentence to the white man who murdered her husband and the death penalty to her son, who had committed no crime.
The US legal structure is extremely complex, and it has taken 12 years to reach the point of appeal where an investigation 'might' culminate in a retrial. This marks the most critical stage since his original conviction. While the investigation is taking place no further execution date will be set, but if at the end of this time he is denied a retrial, a final execution date will be given, against which there will be no further appeal - in which case Brian Roberson will become just another statistic, another innocent African-American murdered by lethal injection at Huntsville Prison.
Brian desperately needs financial assistance in order to mount a viable defence. It really is a matter of life and death, and time is rapidly running out for him.
Send any contributions and requests for information to The Administrator at the address below.
Brian Roberson Defence Fund
Brian Roberson Defence Fund, PO Box 24219, London SE9 57Q. Cheques payable to the Brian Roberson Defence Fund.


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