Issue 277 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review



On socialism and journalism

It was extremely satisfying to see the coverage of the George Orwell centenary (July/August SR). Those of us who go back a few years will remember condemnation of the writer by Stalinists and right wingers alike, but it was the IS tradition that re-evaluated the man and his work. I was fortunate to see the 1954 BBC production of 1984 recently, with Peter Cushing as Winston Smith. It may have have been murky, black and white with Crossroads-type rickety sets and cartoon graphics, but it was gripping and chilling. It is a high point of British television which deserves to be repeated. Chris Langham's recent portrait of Orwell was fascinating, as is Alan Plater's drama from the 1980s The Crystal Spirit--Orwell on Jura. It is interesting that a man who always seemed to avoid the camera has been so well portrayed by it.

A perfect starting point to appreciate Orwell's Politics. He effectively defends Orwell's Politics. He effectively defends Orwell, and places his more exotic and reactionary views in some sort of perspective rather than indulging in finger-pointing moralism. Orwell was a writer moving to a real socialist view of the world, but terribly isolated, buffeted by Stalinism on one hand and reformism on the other. There was only a handful of Trotskyists in London at the time. A leading British Trotskyist, Reg Groves, missed working with Orwell at the Hampstead bookshop by a matter of days--one of the great 'what-ifs' of the British left.

The knives were sharpened again when news broke recently that Orwell was informing on the comrades. Obviously no socialist would defend his decision to spy on others or call Auden a pansy but he was worn out and terminally ill. It appears now that his 'spying' was a list of one-liners probably cobbled together over a pint and a fag. I wonder how many of Orwell's critics would have been willing to volunteer to fight in Spain and cop a bullet?
Phil Windeatt

  • I read John Newsinger's review of the recent biographies of Orwell (July/August SR) with a smile, as it seemed to bear out my contention that 'Orwell' is primarily used today as a political weapon to bash opponents rather than as the basis for a discussion of socialism.

    While the claim that I have launched 'the traditional Stalinist attack on Orwell, but with the Stalinism left out' will amuse colleagues and family who weren't aware of my sympathies for the long-lost Soviet Union, it does little for debate.

    My contention, with which Newsinger chooses not to engage, is that Orwell's 'socialism' was based on a superficial appeal to 'common sense' rather than a developed programme of economic, political and social theory. The pity is that Orwell, from The Road to Wigan Pier to his death, chose to attack other socialists who were pursuing their own theories and programmes.

    This doesn't make socialists 'right' and Orwell 'wrong'. It merely highlights, as Newsinger inadvertently does, that diatribe does not substitute for discussion.
    Scott Lucas

  • As co-editor of the rank and file paper for firefighters, Red Watch--and, indeed, a member of the Labour Party--I can assure Martin Wicks that our publication is not an SWP front (Letters, July/August SR).

    Red Watch was created by firefighters from stations in central London, who were campaigning for exemption from the congestion charge. With the birth of the national pay campaign, the paper took on a different dimension and is now a respected journal, read by FBU members nationwide.

    It has a democratically elected editorial board--only one of whom is an SWP member (shock, horror!)--and has carried articles representing many different strands of opinion on the left (one, dare I say, arguing for retention of the link with Labour).

    Of course, the SWP is a driving force behind many rank and file organisations--and long may it continue to be so. But FBU members and activists do possess the intelligence to think for ourselves, and the SWP the nous to allow us to do so.
    Paul Embery
    Co-editor, Red Watch

  • 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


    In her article (July/August SR) Elaheh Rostami Povey provides a general picture of recent protests in Iran. However, it is important to make some specific points clear. The article suggests that next in line in Iran is regime change, but it is not clear how this is going to be possible.

    The struggle has taken momentum because the so called revolutionary regime and its later reformist leaders such as President Khatami have failed to deliver what they promised when they gained power. The polarisation between rich and poor not only did not disappear as promised during the revolution, it has in fact widened--20 percent of the population are now earning over 45 percent of total income.

    There are different currents within the movements in Iran, ranging from radical reformist Islamists to secular reformists who have interests and a social base different to that of the working class. Other opposition groups such as monarchists, the Communist Party of Iran and the People's Mujahadeen Organisation (PMOI) are mainly outside Iran with a very narrow social base. There is no viable organisation which can effectively organise and lead the working class.

    However, confidence has grown in recent years as the struggle has developed, and it is through this process that radicalisation has taken shape among whole layers of society. Struggle against the regime is taking various forms--strikes for higher wages by teachers and oil workers are only a highlight of what has been happening. The recent protests have not only included students--according to one Iranian MP, students have made up a fraction of the whole protests in Tehran and elsewhere.

    While socialists defend the rights of journalists, students and women who are arrested and imprisoned by the regime, they should try to develop an independent organisational framework for the working class which defends and supports their interests. This is extremely important at the present time in Iran in order to lead the movement in a positive direction.

    Finally, revolutionary socialists should have no illusions, especially after Khatami, that the reformist path can respond to the difficulties that the Iranian working class is facing, such as unemployment (running at 25 percent), inflation (15 percent) and severe housing shortages. The slogans and demands have shifted as workers' confidence has grown in the last decade through the struggle from striking for minimum demands to women workers waving their scarves in the middle of the street during recent protests in Tehran. Nearly 25 years since the revolution, real opportunities are opening up. It is for socialists to put forward a socialist agenda which is different to that of the reformists and Islamists. This would be effective not only in challenging the regime but also to consistently fight US imperialism.
    Farhang Tabrizi


    Saying, as Nick Grant does (Letters, July/August SR), that all violence in films constitutes a drip-drip effect making us inured to the real violence inflicted on us every day by the ruling class is a rather weak argument. I'll provide some examples:

    These are just a very few examples of scenes which I think have something to say politically, but there are many others which manage to be violent and artistic at the same time, such as The Killer, and many other films from Hong Kong; Cemetery Man, and other Italian art-horror films; and the work of directors like Beat Takeshi and David Fincher.

    There are two ways of looking at this. Firstly, I actually agree with Nick that The Matrix Reloaded is empty, meaningless, cod-mystical computer-game garbage, but using a film like that to prove a point is like using the books of Barbara Cartland to say that fiction is not worth our time any more. I am not saying that all violent films are artistic or beautiful, but equally I don't think violence needs to be shown in a brutal, 'gritty' way for it to have an impact on a viewer.

    A lot of the films I've cited as examples are not films you're likely to find in your high-street video rental chain or in the local multiplex. Just as we would not recommend people buy all their books from Waterstone's, we should maybe look a little harder for good, involving films to watch. Something like Once Upon a Time in China has a good political viewpoint and is massively entertaining to watch.
    Mark Longden


    At the Marxism 2003 event anti-racist activist Asad Rehman talked, quite rightly, of the BNP's shift to focusing on northern England, largely as a result of the resistance the Nazis have faced every time they tried to rear their heads in east London. There are a number of examples today that point to the possibility of the Nazis being faced down in the same way in the north.

    In the Nazis' target area of the north west, the Barrow-in-Furness Anti Nazi League (ANL) campaign--stamping on the first sign of Nazi activity--led to what anti-fascist magazine Searchlight referred to as the biggest internal crisis within the BNP for years.

    Responding to exposure of the real fascist face of the BNP, Barrow Nazi candidate Charles Bickerstaffe tried to defend himself as non-racist by declaring his love for his mixed-race grandchildren. When this was printed in the Nazis' paper Freedom, some BNP branches burnt their copies, tore out the offending article, or refused to sell the issue. It also appears that many members left the BNP and that there were calls for Bickerstaffe's expulsion. This should be used to expose the BNP's lies of being a non-racist party.

    None of this would have happened without the routine ANL campaigning which set these events in motion. The Nazis retreated from their intention of standing in Barrow's election, and they have been defeated on many levels in the town. For example, for a considerable period, they were leaving their leaflets in telephone boxes here--at the time of writing, this has now dried up.

    Contrary to the criticisms we received--that we were 'drawing attention to them', 'giving them credence, etc--the approach of dealing with fascism at an early stage has been vindicated. And, far from being complacent, we are building on the campaign. All of which is an example that the Nazis can be beaten, not only in one north west town, but elsewhere too.
    Paul Jenkins


    Pat Stack's amusing attack on the guff-espousing excrement that is David Aaronovitch (July/August SR) is telling and engaging. It particularly illustrates the ability of student politics to breed spineless parasites.

    Stack rightly points out that many former Labour National Union of Students (NUS) moguls are now occupying government positions or enjoying their lavish days of being Blair's lobby fodder. The likes of Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, Stephen Twigg and Jim Murphy all spent time ensuring that Labour dominated the NUS. Unfortunately today it is very much the same.

    The current NUS leadership has given Charles Clarke and Blair an insultingly comfortable ride on top-up fees. This issue demands a powerful response. At present the leadership of NUS are probably too busy crafting their own paths into the New Labour hierarchy.

    The direction of the Blair government in relation to higher education is an attack on diversity and equality. The weakness of the NUS leadership (especially those carrying Labour Party cards) merely serves to give illegitimate credit to those on the right. Students deserve better. But then again they probably did when Aaronovitch, Clarke, Straw et al were 'playing' student politics.
    Rory Palmer


    The New Labour controlled Neath Port Talbot council, together with its PFI partner HLC recently succeeded in building a giant incinerator complex at Crymlyn Burrows on the Neath Swansea border despite a wave of protests from residents, environmentalists and the Stop the Incinerator Campaign, which was founded by SWP and Welsh Socialist Alliance activists.

    This incinerator scheme, which cost £32 million to build, is intended to burn huge quantities of household waste from Neath, Port Talbot, the upper Swansea valley and Bridgend. HLC also hoped to build a similar plant in Wrexham, north Wales, but was eventually refused planning permission there following a lengthy campaign by residents.

    The Crymlyn Burrows incinerator plant has already run into operational difficulties despite not being fully on stream. First it was shut down for two weeks by order of the usually ineffective Environment Agency for breaching safety regulations. More fundamentally, however, a massive fire broke out at the plant earlier this month which has left it with structural damage. This blaze lasted for over 24 hours and was fought by 70 firefighters from across south and mid Wales. Local residents, already complaining bitterly about the stink from the plant, have had to contend with smoke from the fire entering their homes.

    The incinerator has few friends left. Even the New Labour group of councillors who pushed for the plant to be built in the face of widespread opposition have barely uttered a word in its defence.

    The incinerator battle has been one of the most important environmental issues in south west Wales for a long time, involving safety and health concerns, democratic accountability and the notorious Private Finance Initiative. This particular story has some way to unfold but the intervention of determined campaigners could still put incineration into the dustbin of history.
    Huw Pudner

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