Farewell to 1848
I was relieved to find Mick Hume ('The return of Marx (& Spencer)', March) absenting himself from the celebrations over the 150th anniversary of The Communist Manifesto. Now that it is being re-published by Verso as 'a must-have for the sybaritic classes', it sounds like the sort of coffee-table book you would not want to be seen dead with.
Furthermore, when 'all that's solid melts into air' is the most over-used phrase in the English language (except that it was written in German), and Martin Jacques (ex-Marxism Yesterday) appears on Radio Four saying that now we have got rid of all the awkward stuff about historical agency, we can get right to the best bit of Marx - the analysis of capital - you are well out of it. Marxism has become a plaything of the intellectually-complacent, just as the working class is now a safe and sanitised aspect of the heritage industry.
I saw on TV recently that Sheffield City Council has started a tour of the locations used in The Full Monty, a film about redundant steelworkers being denuded of their labour movement tradition and turning themselves into strippers. Now must be the right time to set myself up as a tour guide for 'Marx's London'. It would be a fitting use for the old boy and I bet it would attract some big tippers.
Des Grant Greenwich
I can understand your insistence that Marxism is not a set of eternal verities. However, in your haste to declare that everything has changed, I fear that you have lost sight of the features that constantly recur under capitalism, albeit in ever-changing forms.
As it is presently constituted, this society cannot rid itself of poverty, inequality, or oppression. As recent events have shown, it cannot inure itself from financial crises and the looming possibility of economic slump. On the other hand, these very features of capitalism continue to present both the possibility and the necessity of transformation.
Social conflict rarely takes a class form nowadays, but this inherent aspect cannot be obscured forever; and even in these dark days, membership of unions has been climbing slowly upwards again. Take care that you are not caught napping when the tide of history sweeps back towards Marxism. It would be a shame if you were so fixated on lifestyle politics and private concerns that you miss the moment you have spent your life waiting for.
Ann Crowther Manchester
Hunting and horseshit
Ceri Dingle's account of a day out with the Beaufort hunt ('Fox hunting is fun', March) was so vivid you could almost smell the horseshit. Perhaps she was disoriented by the noxious fumes, but in any case she forgot to mention that hunting is not primarily about horsemanship or the thrill of the chase. It is yet another place where 'top' people get together to make contacts and pursue their vested interests. It is the equivalent of a debutante ball except that everyone is prancing around on four legs instead of two. And if Ceri Dingle harbours fond childhood memories about being allowed to tag on the end of such an exclusive club, more fool her. Because she will never be 'one of us'.
Gerald Cranston Wiltshire
I agree entirely with Dr Michael Fitzpatrick ('Exterminate the filthy smokers', March). However, the good doctor forgot to include the filthiest of filthy - the car drivers who emit millions of tonnes of pollutants into the atmosphere every year. And the over-consumers. And all the others who do not think like me and are not as perfect as me. It is their fault and they deserve all they get. More oppressive laws, please!
Paul Addison Hamburg
After perusing some back issues, in particular the writings of John Gillott, it is apparent that LM tends to use the concept of 'science' in unchallenging ways. Marxists invariably view other 'sacred cows' such as morality, religion, the family and patriotism as entirely the products of social forces and power struggles in society - why do you not do so with science?
In 'Time for science to get on the soapbox' (May 1997), Gillott bluntly states 'society once believed in the value of science', and even alluded speculatively to the validity of research into the relationship between IQ and genetic inheritance. Before the Second World War, most of Western European 'science' believed in the existence of the 'hereditarily degenerate', but this was set against the backdrop of imperial competition and free market economics. An ideology which would willingly adopt eugenic policies was in the ascendancy.
More recently HJ Eysenck and the New Right geneticists have taken an entirely subjective concept, IQ (a simple, quantifiable definition of intelligence based on the logic and cognitive ability required by modern capitalism), elevated it to the level of objective 'fact', and called for disturbing public policy changes.
It is highly simplistic to speak of 'scientific progress'. Whose 'progress'? It must be recognised that scientists exist in a society driven by competing ideologies. The distribution of research grants according to sectional interests will dictate that certain findings will become 'facts' whilst others will remain unknown to the public. If environmentalists are linked to a reactionary, scare-mongering world-view, surely Gillott must accept that he has his own political agenda, and will accept or reject the findings of 'science' accordingly.
Philip Seddon Luton
What about Kosovo?
The disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, which was set in motion by the US, German and (reluctant) British support for the secession of Croatia and Bosnia, now seems to be entering its death throes with the crisis in Kosovo.
It is ironic to watch the Western leaders dithering over the problem they helped to create. They condemn the Serbian regime for its repression of the Albanians in Kosovo, but are careful not to go too far in backing the separatists for fear that Serbia might finally fall apart under the pressure - which, for all their anti-Milosevic rhetoric, is the last thing the American or British governments want.
But it seems to me that Kosovo creates problems for the rest of us, too. I know that LM has been caricatured by ITN and others as 'pro-Serb' over Bosnia. I understand that your magazine has really been seeking only to redress the balance in the (mis-) reporting of that war. In Kosovo, however, it seems more obvious that the Serb authorities are acting as the aggressors.
Clearly none of us has any sympathy for Milosevic's police, whether they were acting on his orders or not in killing several dozen ethnic Albanians at the start of March. But neither do I want to endorse the clamour for international intervention against the Serbs, which I saw do so much damage to any hope of a just and equitable peace in the Yugoslav civil war. So what is the answer?
John Wright London
The what's NOT on guide
MAPPLETHORPE MEMORIES: When West Midlands police raided a student's flat, confiscated a book of photo-graphs by the late Robert Mapplethorpe, referred the book to the director of public prosecutions and requested permission to destroy it under the terms of the Obscene Publications Act, the vice-chancellor of the University of Central England said he had 'never known anything like this in 30 years of academic life'. He must have forgotten about the furore which followed the opening of the Mapplethorpe retrospective at London's Hayward gallery in 1996, when ChildLine's Esther Rantzen described the portrait of a semi-clothed three-year old girl as an 'utterly horrific' example of 'child pornography'. Despite the protests of the original model, who was 22 years old and running a cafe in Notting Hill at the time, the Hayward chose not to exhibit the picture, along with another portrait of two men having sex. It seems that the provincial police are merely following in the footsteps of the metropolitan cognoscenti, although their foot-size and their methods are much less dainty.
POWDERED: Sony has pulled its advert for a computer game on a snowboarding theme after complaints that repeated references to 'powder' could be seen as drugs-related. The text which caused offence read: 'Powder, I need powder. My body yells, aches, screams for powder...when I'm on it I get a rush, a buzz, the blood coursing through my veins. I get really high.' Sony explained that 'the advert is written in snowboarding parlance' which reflects the 'adrenaline rush' associated with the sport. Insisting that no reference to drugs had been intended, the company dropped the advert anyway. Ridiculous; if they had been watching the gold-medallist-on-drugs debacle at the Winter Olympics back home in Japan, Sony execs would have known that snowboarders reach their highs on grass, not powder.
NAT-ED: The National Union of Teachers (NUT) objected to an advert for Virgin Lips soft drink which took the form of a notice from a fictitious organisation, the National Association of Teachers (NAT), announcing an 'auction of adult Swedish literature, rare adult videos, magazine and erotic paraphernalia. The staff room, Friday lunchtime (pupils welcome)'. The complaint against the advert was that it undermined teachers' efforts to promote good behaviour and 'would mislead readers, especially children, that the NUT or another major teaching organisation endorsed...the product'. If 'teachers' efforts' really were so insubstantial as to be ruined by a spoof advert for porn, it is hard to see how anything could further undermine them.
SMACKED: Responding to complaints against the advert for the Prodigy single 'Smack My Bitch Up', XL Recordings maintained that 'bitch' did not necessarily refer to a woman and pointed out that in an earlier song the band used the word to refer to a man. With a defence like this, it is hard to fathom how XL could have lost its case and the ASA upheld the complaints made against the advert.
PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE: Recognising that 'after the death of the Princess of Wales some people found any advertisement for alcohol, cars and even trips to Paris upsetting', the ASA recommends referring adverts to the CAP Copy Advice team which, admittedly, 'is not clairvoyant but their experience can be used to help companies using apparently innocent copy or images that might be seen in a different way when the advertisement reaches consumers'. So, even if you are sure your material is 'innocent', the advice is to get it checked by the ASA censors in case you might be sinning in some unforeseen way against non-existent public sensibilities which might become sensitised at some point in the future. That seems to cover just about everything.
KISS ME QUICKER: Worthies in Warrington have suggested that the forecourt of the local railway station should be divided into a kissing zone and a no-kissing area, where the smack of lips would be outlawed. The reason for the zoning plan is that the flow of commuter traffic on the platform is supposedly blocked by spouses who drive their partners to the station and spend too long bidding them goodbye.
TIME, GENTLEMEN, PLEASE: Lambeth council is proposing to ban drinking in public places in the Brixton area, prompted, perhaps, by the fact that most of the local street-drinkers seem to congregate near the town hall. But Brixton police are not keen on the proposed ban, since they are the ones who would have to go around calling time. As the summer nights approach, it remains to be seen whether the street-drinkers or the Bill lose their bottle(s) first.
Reproduced from LM issue 109, April 1998