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Letters

 

Some home truths for Labour

The election results on 4 May, particularly in London, are a resounding vote of no confidence in New Labour's control freakery, spin and Tory policies. Unless the Labour Party recognises this, then the huge numbers who have got the taste of voting other than Labour--and feeling good about it--will carry on, and Labour will head for defeat at the general election.

The London results were an utter disaster for New Labour:

  • In the mayor election New Labour and Lib Dems combined were still beaten by the Tories, proving a New Labour-Lib Dem project is doomed. Ken was miles ahead of them all.
  • Labour lost five seats in the GLA constituencies which it would have won on the 1997 results. In three of these the drop in Labour's share of the vote was over 15 percent, and these should have been Labour-held by any reasonable expectation.
  • Labour's drop in vote share ranged from 10 percent to 25 percent, and the LSA plus Green share ranged from 8 percent to 23 percent, with the most dramatic results being in North East (Labour 25 percent down, Green 15.6 percent, LSA 7.0 percent) and in Lambeth & Southwark (Labour 21 percent down, Green 13.1 percent, LSA 6.2 percent).

This shows that Labour voters stayed away from voting by about as much as other major parties, but when they did vote were prepared to vote to the left of Labour in large numbers. The left vote (Tatchell, SLP, CATP, CPB) if combined could have got one GLA seat. Now we insist Labour must recognise its mistakes, end anti-democratic diktats and stop the introduction of Tory policies. Specifically:

  1. Ken Livingstone must be reinstated into Labour quickly. There must be no expulsions or disciplinary actions against members for activity in the elections.
  2. Jim Fitzpatrick, chair of the London Labour 'Board', must take responsibility for this electoral debacle and resign forthwith.
  3. We call for an inquiry into police inaction on May Day which led to desecration of the Cenotaph and disgraceful gutter press attacks by New Labour against Ken Livingstone.
  4. The Labour group on the GLA must support Ken Livingstone, especially his opposition to any form of tube privatisation.
  5. All future selection of Labour candidates must be by Omov, and there must be no more appointments of candidates.
  6. There must be an end to Labour introducing whole or partial privatisation of the London Underground, council housing, air traffic control, education services and housing benefit services, and we urge support for the campaigns against these policies. Ask MPs to speak on these matters--eg air traffic control. Get speakers from Defend Council Housing , campaigns against privatisation of the air and tubes, etc.
  7. All ministers must be elected and accountable to the House of Commons. Appointed ministers must be rapidly replaced by MPs.

Piers Corbyn
South London



  • For those of us who campaigned for the LSA outside the polling stations on the day of the election it was clear that well over half of those who came to vote were unaware they had four votes--one for the mayor, with a second preference, and two votes for the Greater London Assembly. It was a disgrace that the government failed to sufficiently inform voters of the procedure and the choice on offer. Despite standing in all wards the LSA was denied an election broadcast. It was only through the hard campaigning by LSA supporters that we were able to get the message across. This largely explains the excellent vote for Cecilia Prosper in our ward.

    But what was also significant was the low turnout on the day. Despite all the media attention just over a third of Londoners bothered to vote. Part of the blame for this must lie with Ken Livingstone, who fought a low key campaign, particularly in the last week. But more significantly the size of the vote represents a deep disillusionment with establishment politics. Even at the polling station a number of people asked, 'What are they going to do for me?' This is another side of the anti-capitalist mood that is so prevalent at the moment--something which socialists and activists should draw encouragement from.
    Alexis Wearmouth
    Hackney

  • We welcome letters and contributions on all issues raised in Socialist Review. Please keep your contributions as short as possible, typed, double spaced if you can, and on one side of paper only.
    Send to: Socialist Review, PO Box 82, London E3 3LH
    Fax: 020 7538 0018 Phone: 020 7538 3308
    E-mail: sr@swp.org.uk


    AN AFFRONT TO US ALL

    The Tories say they will build detention centres for all asylum seekers. Labour says it has already got them. The Tories say they will deport more people more efficiently. Labour says it has sent more people 'back' than the Tories did. This is odious.
    'Modernising' the implementation of racist measures is no way to tackle racism. It only encourages it. Competing to escalate the language of xenophobia is an affront to all of us, black and white.
    This is a country where everyone is supposed to be presumed innocent until found guilty, and whose inhabitants are all descended from migrants of one kind or another. In an increasingly mobile, globalised world a rich country like ours should be welcoming people in need who flee here--at the same time as supporting those in need who are already here.
    Instead we are watching the removal of trial by jury, the extended powers of the state and police through 'anti-terror' laws, and the government leapfrogging its official opposition to the racist right. This must be stopped, now.
    John Nicholson
    Socialist Alliance
    Manchester


    LEAVE THE PARTY, NOT THE MOVEMENT

    Andrew Coates's defence of staying in the Labour Party (May SR) is a complete justification of exactly why Lindsey German was right to pose the question as 'life outside the Labour Party' in the first place. Andrew makes the classic mistake of confusing the Labour Party with the labour movement and thus believes that to leave the one is to abandon the other.
    Like him, I have been an active socialist for some time (albeit as a member of the SWP). Like him, I have worked on many campaigns and struggles with other socialists and activists, some from organisations and some as individuals. From this it has always been clear that the labour movement is bigger than any single organisation or, indeed, alliance of organisations. It is precisely because of this that the question of politics and political leadership within the labour movement has always been posed so sharply by the SWP.
    Andrew is quite right about the current crisis in the Labour Party, and the mood against Blair and his cronies amongst ordinary workers. The key question is what sort of politics are going to form the focus for an opposition which provides clear socialist answers to the questions that are raised.
    Let's take the example of immigration. The SWP (and its forerunner, the IS) has always held a principled socialist position that immigration controls are racist, and that the right of workers to move freely around the world must be defended, especially at times when the issue is being used to whip up racist scapegoating. Can Andrew say the same about the Labour Party?
    As Tony Blair makes it increasingly clear that he'd rather have the likes of John Cleese in the Labour Party than good, principled people like Andrew, it is surely time for these activists to take a hard look at the organisation they are in and make the break. Not only is there life outside Labour, there's a whole new fight to inspire you!
    Denis Wise
    Cardiff


    PRIVATISATION WAS THE END

    Recently I have been attending lectures given by my local branch of the SWP. Whilst I agreed with much of the discussions, I held back on joining the party as I felt that reformism was a far better option than revolution. No amount of argument could alter this position--not even the booklets and articles published by the party could influence my cosy liberal position.
    No more--I have just signed up to join the party. Our 'Labour' city council is planning to privatise care for the elderly so that the taxes paid by individuals towards their future welfare can be creamed off for private profit. I was genuinely shocked (although I am sure that no one else was) by the callous attitude of Labour councillors and the uncaring attitude they have shown to both overworked home help carers and the elderly residents of the city.
    Coupled with this, several of my friends have just lost their jobs at a call centre which shall remain nameless. As we are all employed through various agencies on temporary contracts, they do not need to give any notice--people are dismissed on a regular basis as, to quote the manager, it 'keeps people on their toes'.
    I have at last come to the conclusion that thousands have reached before me--a system this corrupt and callous cannot be reformed. Revolution is the only way. I am very pleased to say that I have joined the Socialist Workers Party.
    Martin Edmonds
    Plymouth


    BIGOTRY DRESSED UP AS SCIENCE

    Julie Waterson's review of Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer's A Natural History of Rape (April SR) is spot on. Thornhill and Palmer are acting as apologists for rapists. By claiming that wearing 'sexy' clothing makes rape more likely, they end up blaming women for being raped. Waterson is absolutely right to attack Thornhill and Palmer for the defence they offer of such bigotry.
    I would like to add a few further criticisms of the 'science' behind the bigotry. This is important, because the scientific evidence and arguments that Thornhill and Palmer offer are as misplaced as their politics. Writing in Nature (9 March), Jerry Coyne and Andrew Berry note that Thornhill and Palmer's evidence 'either fails to support their case, is presented in a misleading and/or biased way, or equally supports alternative explanations'. For example, rape, according to Thornhill and Palmer, is an adaptation--it was produced by evolution to increase the reproductive success of men who would otherwise have little 'sexual access to women'. But if rape is about reproduction, then:

    1. Why are pre-pubescent girls, that is, girls too young to 'reproduce', over-represented among rape victims by a factor of two?
    2. Why does same-sex rape happen when, again, there is no possibility of reproduction?
    3. Why do men who do have sexual access to women, for example those in relationships, still rape women?
    Consider another of Thornhill and Palmer's claims--that female rape victims of reproductive age are more traumatised by the experience than women who are either too old or too young to reproduce. Thornhill and Palmer claim that this is because women of reproductive age have most to lose--they could get pregnant or they could lose their partner, because 'rape lowers his paternity confidence' (New Scientist, 24 February). However, Coyne and Derry point out that the reference cited by Thornhill and Palmer differs critically in its conclusion from those in the book. The original study notes that there is no difference between the pain reported by rape victims of reproductive age and older women. The only difference is for girls under 12. However, the relative lack of reported trauma in the youngest age group may be unrelated to being able to reproduce. Rather, children may simply be less able to express their feelings, including their pain, than an adult.
    Not only is Thornhill and Palmer's account a handbook for bigotry, it is also the latest in a series of protracted sales pitches for evolutionary psychology, part of the second wave of sociobiology. Evolutionary psychology claims that human behaviour is the result of psychological mechanisms that were produced by natural selection over the last two million years because they benefited our ancestors. From the above consideration of rape we see that evolutionary psychology seeks to explain human behaviour not as the complex interplay of politics, economics and other societal factors along with our psychology and our biological make-up, but, rather by means of a 'jukebox theory' of human nature--that humans have psychological records which are played when environmental buttons are pushed. Thus when men see women wearing 'sexy' clothes an environmental button is pushed that plays the 'rape record'. In other words, evolutionary psychology claims that we are trapped in the psychological mind that evolution has selected for us--we are prisoners of our biology. The political implications are clear. There is no point in fighting for change because there is little we can do to alter human behaviour.
    Socialists should be clear that we reject this view of human nature as politically reactionary and, just as importantly, we reject the 'science' behind it as nothing more than bigotry in a lab coat.
    Terry Sullivan
    Wembley


    NOT IN OUR GENES

    Sean Hartnoll (May SR) is too kind to Richard Dawkins. The main theme of The Selfish Gene (and of his other books) is not cooperation in nature--it is Dawkins's view that all living organisms, including humans, are 'lumbering robots' which are purely 'survival machines' for their genes. This is a totally inadequate, one sided and reductionist view of any living organism, and especially of humans, as has been shown by scientists like Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin and Steven Rose.
    It is true that Dawkins tries to wriggle off the hook that he has got himself on by saying that we can override our genes. But this is a cop out, given everything else he writes. The other writers mentioned above give far better explanations of both competitive and cooperative behaviour.
    Whatever Dawkins's political views, his genetic determinism is used as ammunition by those who want to claim that the inequalities and competitiveness that spring from capitalist society are somewhat 'natural' and unchangeable.
    Phil Webster
    Lancashire


    JUST WIDE OF THE MARX

    Some remarks on Keith Flett's article 'The Birth of Karl Marx' (May SR):

    1. Trier was not 'taken back into Prussia' but became, for the first time in history, a Prussian territory as a result of the Napoleonic wars. Before Napoleon, Trier was part of the German medieval empire and ruled by a Catholic bishop.
    2. Marx's father and, some years later, the rest of the family-- including young Karl Marx--did not convert to Catholicism, which indeed predominated in Trier, but to the faith of the new Prussian rulers, the Lutheran or Protestant faith, which was regarded as more modern.
    3. Marx's father is usually not described as a businessman but as a lawyer who, according to a biographer of Marx, Saul K Padover, did own 'one or two small vineyards' around Trier.
    4. Karl Marx also had a mother, who was born Dutch and also of Jewish religion.
    5. It is doubtful whether Marx was still free to choose an academic career after Bruno Bauer, his older friend, supporter and assistant professor at Bonn, got fired by the Prussian king because of his atheistic opinions.
    Thomas Weiss
    Bonn


    JUDGING STALIN'S CRIMES

    Out of the wide range of material presented in Socialist Review, I select Ian Birchall's review of The Road to Terror (May SR) and his question, 'Is there anything new to be said about Stalin's terror of the 1930s?'
    To those of us in the CPGB in the 1940s and 1950s who had just come out of the war in which Stalin and the USSR had been 'somewhat sanitised', we faced a devastated Europe and millions of displaced people. This was followed by the period of McCarthyism in the US and a deep political conflict on a global scale. Anyone who dissented in the west became labelled a 'red', while Stalin continued his ruthless dictatorship, even against the returning Soviet soldiers who had been prisoners of war.
    After Stalin's death there was a power struggle in the Kremlin hierarchy, which was followed by a period of some relaxation in the rigidity of the Soviet scene. But the outcome of the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU had a devastating effect on the world's Communist Parties.
    When Krushchev revealed the extent of Stalin's control, and the ruthlessness he had shown towards the CPSU and anyone who opposed him, approximately 50 percent of the CP membership in Britain resigned, including people like EP Thompson and many others who were well known.
    Those of us who remained seemed to be swayed by the concern of the continuation of the struggle in Britain and thus the need for a renewed party. In Let History Judge by Roy Medvedev, a detailed analysis of Stalin is provided and there are many other books on the subject which should be read, while the opened Soviet archives give weighty support. There are ex- or current members of the CPGB (CPB) (almost like those who doubt the Holocaust) who shut away portions of their memories rather than come to terms with their illusions.
    However, we should not minimise the good work done by people associated with the Communist Parties who have fought for working class rights globally. As Medvedev put it in Let History Judge, 'Communists/socialists cannot bury their heads in the sand, trying not to notice what was and is still bad in their political and social life.'
    For the growth of real grassroots socialism, we all need to become historians with all the education we can obtain. As Lenin once wrote, 'The cook must learn to rule the state,' and Marxists must rationally reveal the truth--not airbrush out unwelcome facts and people.
    Dave Davies
    South London


    SHOT IN COLD BLOOD

    An obscene farce took place at Kingston Crown Court in February--the inquest into the slaying of Diarmuid O'Neill by the police. Diarmuid was a young 27 year old Irishman shot and killed by police on 23 September 1996. He was born and bred in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, and was staying in a room in a hotel called The Lodge in Hammersmith.
    Everyone, including the police, agreed that the police operation had gone badly wrong following a three month surveillance operation on a suspected IRA cell following the bombing of Canary Wharf. But the Keystone Kops had nothing on the police armed unit involved. They had a duplicate key to the room where Diarmuid was staying but they could not open the door with it, because apparently they turned it the wrong way!
    Next they brought up one of those electronically operated battering rams to open the door, but instead of using it at or near the lock they made a hole in the panel of the door. They then fired no less than ten cartridges of concentrated powdered CS gas into the room so that they could not see Diarmuid properly, and many of the police themselves were affected by the gas.
    Then one police officer (codenamed 'Kilo') shot him six times. Diarmuid was unarmed and in his underpants. He was dragged down the steps of the hotel to the streets bleeding profusely. He was denied medical treatment for 25 minutes. In police briefings afterwards it was claimed that he died in a gun battle, yet no explosives were found at his address and he was unarmed.
    I have heard part of the tape, and the Justice for Diarmuid O'Neill campaign has produced a transcript.
    It starts off:

    Before the armed police went in they were briefed and shown a video of the aftermath of the Canary Wharf bombing. This probably inflamed their emotions in dealing with this situation. The police had listening devices on the room and heard a noise, which they were told at the briefing sounded like someone cocking a machine-gun. Later this was corrected and it was thought to have been a Coca-Cola can.
    Officer Kilo denied he shot Diarmuid out of panic. He said, 'Through the smoke I saw a figure by the door. I screamed, "Show me your hands." I didn't have good vision. The figure didn't move and said nothing. I couldn't see his hands... I feared for my life.' Yet contrast this to the tape recording above.
    We demand an inquiry into the death of Diarmuid O'Neill now, not when the mists of time have fallen over the events, in the hope of obtaining some justice for him and his family. The home secretary, Jack Straw, cannot be allowed to brush this case under the carpet.
    John Witzenfeld
    West London


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