Issue 267 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review



Utopia: dreams and nightmares

I agree with Mike Gonzalez that corporations are colonising bits of the world through tourism (September SR). However, it seems to me that he then goes on to place some of the blame with the actual holidaymaker for choosing certain types of holiday.

In asking, 'How many Ayia Napa visitors see the rest of Cyprus?' Mike is falling in line with the view of many independent travel guides that the independent traveller is an innately superior being to the ordinary package tourist, who will almost always be portrayed as a working class yob devoid of any cultural appreciation.

According to Unison, workers in Britain work longer hours and have shorter holidays than in any other country in Europe. Most people, particularly families, have to save for months to get abroad for one or two weeks. We do this in the hope that for that short period of time we will escape the drudgery of work and the routine of everyday life. So for that period of time, yes, we do want the beaches, the palm trees and the blue sea. We're trying to escape reality.

Of course you can't escape reality on a two-week package to Greece, but neither can you escape it on a gap year travelling around India or South America. Yes, it's brilliant to see more of a country, and it's a fantastic luxury to have the time and money to do that even on a budget, but whether you are on a package holiday to Benidorm or travelling independently up the Amazon, you are still a tourist.

You can have a look at how the working people in another country live, sometimes you can even live with them for a while, but at the end of the day you have chosen to be there and they have not. Independent travellers are also capable of behaving as loutishly as the most inebriated package holidaymaker.

People travel on holiday because they are alienated and exploited in their everyday lives, and have a glimmer of hope that life might be better somewhere else. The holiday companies have seized on this--there is a huge industry devoted to repackaging our dreams and selling them back to us in whatever form we will buy.

They have little regard for the people who live in the usually impoverished countries they develop for tourism. There are even travel companies currently offering tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are also companies that offer ethical or eco-friendly tours, but these are well beyond the price range of most people.

With holidays, as with the rest of life, we have very little real choice under capitalism, but as people feel more and more squeezed by the system we rely on that little bit of holiday escapism to keep sane. Hopefully under socialism holidays won't be some desperate scrabble for breathing space, and we'll be able to travel the world and meet many other people as equals instead of as tourists.
Sue Jones

  • Steve Smith's otherwise interesting article on dystopia in film (September SR) was ruined by his casual definition of dystopia.

    The use of dystopia has a very specific place within art--to comment on modern society in an entirely different context.

    Artists extrapolate the worst aspects of their present day society to create a future totalitarian state, such as in George Orwell's 1984, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We or the film The Matrix, where things cannot get much worse. The likelihood of even challenging the system is seen as remote, and beating it almost impossible.

    Steve categorises films like Kes, Brassed Off and Billy Elliot as modern day dystopias. To me this is a limiting of art. These films are realistic--based on the recognisable existence of ordinary people struggling to survive within the system. They may face repression from the state, as the miners in Billy Elliot do for example, or pressure from authoritarian figures, but they still have the freedom to struggle and resist that does not exist in the totalitarianism of a dystopia.

    If we took Steve's definitions, films, novels and TV programmes showing an extreme view of modern society, like Eastenders or the recent TV drama Stretford Wives, would be dystopias along with the films Metropolis and AI. Art should not be categorised with so little regard to the nature and the purpose of a genre.
    Matthew Cookson

  • 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.
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    While watching the jingoistic posturing of Bush and his poodle Blair, am I alone in remembering that in my teenage years the US still practised apartheid? Can this be the nation that lays claim to leadership of the 'free world'? I know a decorated US army officer whose career was ruined, following investigation by the FBI, for believing he was free to remark in a bar that had Christ been alive today he would have been a Communist. The mother of democracy?

    The sabre rattling over Iraq is just more US imperialism--economic imperialism having failed, the only way left is to promote US hegemony at bayonet point. What is Britain doing associating itself with this sick policy? We are told that we must take action against Saddam--he's in breach of UN resolutions and is suspected of having biological and chemical weapons. How different from Israel, who are in breach of twice as many UN resolutions and who are known to have chemical, biological and nuclear weapons! Admittedly Israel is not led by an 'evil madman'--just by a war criminal! But anyone drawing attention to this is described as anti-Semitic.

    The 'war on terrorism' has been a cover for the greatest erosion of human rights in 50 years--let's not allow these postures to write future history in blood to further US ends.
    John Higgins
    HMP Edinburgh


    Sabby Sagall (September SR) makes important points about the tradition of international solidarity of British workers, but a key point needs to be underlined--the taking of industrial action in solidarity with struggles abroad.

    This strand continued well into the post-1945 era with action against apartheid South Africa and Pinochet's Chile. Indeed, it was the horror of the tradition of political industrial action which motivated many of the Thatcherite attacks on unions. In the 1980s and 1990s the tradition waned but, as Sabby suggests, with union support for the Palestinian struggle and opposition to war it is back on the agenda. Walkouts if there is war with Iraq could revive the Tories' worst nightmares and give New Labour some new ones.
    Keith Flett


    Can I congratulate you on publishing Sabby Sagall's article 'Solidarity Forever' (September SR). This piece addresses something that many trade union stewards, myself included, often encounter--communicating the significance of internationalism to many of our 'less active' union associates who have difficulty looking beyond their own immediate needs. Hence the reason for my writing and asking if it would be possible to have an electronic copy of the article that might be sent to selected Scottish Unison branches for inclusion in their magazines/newsletters.

    I await a favourable response.
    Gerry McGarvey


    The useful pensions article by Solomon Hughes (September SR) contrasted 'pay as you go' and pre-funded (savings) pension systems, but it omitted a crucial economic point. All methods of supporting pensioners are in reality 'pay as you go', or more accurately 'consume as you produce', and all are in fact based on 'intergenerational solidarity', ie today's workers providing goods and services for today's pensioners. This is concealed by the great con that is the money system, which also of course conceals the 'inter-class robbery' by which the ruling class get very generous goods and services out of us.

    When we save for our old age we are obviously not piling up potatoes, televisions, clean water, operations and so on which we will consume years later when we retire. We are piling up money. Money in this case is just a promise to supply real goods and services at a later date. So when we spend this money after retirement, the workers who are then producing the potatoes and so on are keeping the 'promise', ie showing intergenerational solidarity, just as we who work now provide the goods and services for currently retired people.

    Of course, when there is a capitalist slump this all goes wrong, as millions are thrown on the dole and production collapses. Governments then slash pensions, or hyperinflation makes them worthless. Either way, the precious promise becomes worth little or nothing as the real world of collapsing production bursts through the sham.

    Everything consumed now is produced by those who work now. It doesn't mystically appear by someone spending money they saved long ago. That is also why the 'ageing population crisis' is baloney. The point is that there is plenty of wealth being produced--the fight is over how it is distributed. Robin Blackburn's book may be good, but his proposed 'worthy' pre-funded pension scheme just puts a liberal gloss on the great money scam underlying all savings-type pensions.
    Pablo Stern


    Being an avid reader of Socialist Review, imagine my dismay on turning to the back page, which is the first one I read (Pat's hilarious column), to hear him wailing on the demise of football (September SR).

    Shame on you Pat--if ever anything should fail it is football, with its racist chanting, hooliganism, money grabbing directors, primadonna players--in fact words fail me.

    So Pat, I am afraid I will have to condemn you and the above-mentioned to Room 101.

    PS: I will still read your page.
    Ann Rose


    Ninety percent of Spain's parliament and Spanish judge Garzon have decided to ban Batasuna the Basque nationalist party. Meanwhile the majority of the Basque people have rejected such action. The point is, who dictates what is democratic to whom? Political conflicts will end when democratic sense allows people to choose their own future (read Kashmir, Palestine, Sahara, Corsica, Northern Ireland, etc).

    Following the imperialist tradition, the universal right of self determination is not allowed in the Spanish state. Spanish judges and politicians can ban political parties, close down newspapers and radios, and jail citizens. They can ban the use of the most ancient language in Europe and national symbols, and in so doing attempt to rewrite history. But the people's legitimate aims will remain, and their democratic aspirations will not be annihilated. If in any doubt remember what Franco said: either you were with the terrorists or you were with him? Let's unite to fight international fascism!
    Unai Pascual

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