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The case against Columbus

The accusation is made against the 'anti-Columbus lobby' of being reactionary and believing that all historical change is necessarily bad (Paola Martos, 'Columbus: rediscovering America', March). The author goes on to claim that the arrival of colonialism and the white man's hegemony in the Americas was not a change for the worse because, after all, the native inhabitants were 'primitive civilisations' living lives of scarcity, superstition, degradation and ignorance. 'More valuable' were the 'science, reason and fulfilment' brought by the Europeans.

This is at best ignorant of Europocentrism, at worst outright racism. Is the author aware of the pre-Columbian history (yes, history - not all societies were 'prehistoric' as stated)? Of the diversity and varying stages of development of the many distinct groupings that made up the population of the Americas, from the hunter-gatherers of the Pacific north-west, to the urban South and Central American civilisation, from the huge, largely agricultural Iriquois Federation to the pueblos of the south-west? And where is the progress, the benefit to native American peoples, brought by the white man? Where is his positive influence, the change for the better? Progress is not exclusively found in the European tradition. After all, a congressional report on the persistence of tribal 'traditionals' (as opposed to the 'civilised' white-approved official tribal representatives) noted with horror that their way of life was 'actual, living communism in practice'!

Paul Thatcher London
What about the Welsh?

Your position on the recent revival of Scottish nationalism has to be unique ('What is not happening in Scotland', March). But will you allow me to raise one point that immediately occurred to me (being a Taffy and therefore of superior intelligence) upon reading your provocative rag? If Kirk Williams is correct to argue that there is no real enthusiasm behind Scottish nationalism because it just represents disenchantment with the whole British political system, why is it that no such albeit 'negative' phenomenon exists in Wales? Why aren't government ministers and their Labour shadows despatched on the next available plane/train to Cardiff and Aberystwyth as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh? After all, if the real problem is British identity, we should expect to see nationalist movements breaking out all over the place. What next? A passport to Pimlico?

Dave Jones Newport
Bloody Sunday: the facts

It may be 'an established fact that none [of the victims of Bloody Sunday] were armed' to Frank Cottrell-Boyce (March). He is obviously well acquainted with the history of Bloody Sunday. But his suggestion, that to question the victims' families about whether they were armed was pernicious, is rubbish.

I agree that 'good journalism is about establishing facts wherever possible'. Cottrell-Boyce should not assume that all the audience were aware of this fact. I discussed the programme with sixth form students; many had not even heard of Bloody Sunday before this Inside Story Special, so needless to say they were ignorant of this fact. Had the question not been put to the bereaved, Colonel Wilford's accusations would have been unchallenged and his view may have been read as the 'fact'. The unequivocal answers to the question reinforced the innocence of the 14 dead. It was necessary to underline this for those less experienced than Cottrell-Boyce.

Sally Bowmer Northumberland
End of Victorian values?

Despite the evidence put forward by Sara Hardy outlining the real position of women in Britain ('Still an Old Wives' Tale', March), there has been a marked shift in the attitudes put forward by the government on all aspects of women's status in society.

We have seen the issue of 'date' rape cross the channel, following the Cambridge University survey, which revealed one in five women had been raped by an acquaintance. From the change in the law on rape in marriage to the promotion of access to child care, the establishment is promoting a discussion which it is difficult to distinguish from that of the women's movement. Why has the moral crusade of the eighties been dropped? The issue of abortion in Ireland seems to have set the seal on the abandonment of Thatcher's Victorian values. What has forced the establishment to adopt this position, pressure from the women's movement or the failure of their own programme?

Dave Leeds
'Easy money' for HIV research

It's simplistic to assert that lack of funding is responsible for the slow advance in HIV research (Tessa Myer, 'The Truth about the Aids Panic', December 1991). In fact money (government and private) is relatively plentiful, and more is now known about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus than about most other infectious agents. With money so short elsewhere in British science, research workers have clamoured for the 'easy money' in HIV. Much of the work funded has been of dubious quality; and it may be that the main thrust of research, towards the development of a vaccine, is itself ill-founded, given HIV's high rate of mutation.

Science will eventually find a solution for HIV infection. In the meantime preventive measures will have to be used to slow the spread of infection. Given that you don't know if your partner is bisexual, has abused drugs, has slept around abroad, it seems sensible to use a condom or avoid penetration. Is this such a big deal? It seems that the plea made elsewhere in the magazine for sexual experimentation has not hit home, with Tessa Myer at least.

The safe sex campaign of five years ago was used by the right to promote moralism. A new safer sex moralism has arisen among some on the gay scene. The article failed comp-letely to examine the debate as it now is, in the changed political climate of today. Myer manages to sound mildly paranoid, something of a conspiracy theorist. There may be a coalescence of interests around the Aids crisis, but it's bland to tar them all with the same brush.

Stewart Leigh Norwich
Nazism then and now

Armin Grambart-Mertens is correct to point out that the romantic ring to the term Kristallnacht somewhat obscures the barbarity of the events (letters, March). But its real significance is clarified in the two articles to which Armin referred: 'Kristallnacht, when mobs of fascists destroyed Jewish shops and synagogues and murdered or deported 20 000 Jews' ('Nazis are not the problem', January) and in Rob Knight's 'Don't mention the war' it is described as 'systematic...terror'.

Changing vocabulary is peripheral to the task of challenging racism and racist ideas. We could call it 'the night when Nazi scum butchered innocent Jews' but it wouldn't change much. At a time when the Western establishment is preoccupied with the project of historical revisionism, the left's response shouldn't be to enter the debate on their terms, but to ask 'why are they resurrecting the past?', in order to expose the reactionary content of their ideas.

This can't be accomplished by ignoring the centrality of nationalism to the promotion of racism. Certainly the world is 'economically, politically and culturally interrelated' but leaders deny the significance of this in order to sustain the appearance of a common and exclusive national interest. The left's concentration on the dangers of continental fascism complements British chauvinism (witness the importance of the Second World War to British identity) and ironically, allows upholders of immigration controls to claim an 'anti-racist' mantle.

The roles of anti-racists in Britain, Germany and elsewhere must indeed be complementary; we must all challenge nationalism in our respective countries through the recreation of a sense of working class internationalism. How this can be achieved in the present post-Cold War period is a critical issue.

Antoni Orgill Manchester
Well done, Armin Grambart-Mertens for correctly translating Kristallnacht! (letters, March). However Kristallnacht has come to represent not 'crystal night' but 'Night of the Shattering Glass' and the beginning of the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. You may want to call it pogromnacht or whatever - that's up to you. I leave the issue of defining politically correct words to crusty academics - I've got better things to do.

If there are indeed all these fascists, as you say there are, why did they not spring up say 10 years ago? The racist climate created by the state in Germany has given these racist minorities the confidence to speak. So while the left concentrates its efforts on the far right, the state can play on this and appear moderate. There is no effective anti-racist campaign in Britain so where is the logic in targeting fascists in another country when we can't even provide a unified anti-racist front in this country!

Steve London
Cow dung traditions

Marxists advocate proletarian revolution to overthrow the unsustainable relations of production of capitalist society; ergo we do propose sustainable economic development. This is the rational kernel of the Green argument, repeated ad nauseam on these letters pages, that Marxism shares the project of reactionary eco-politics.

So, Roger Clague (letters, February) has done Marxists a favour by arguing for sustainable development as 'ways to help third world countries promote and improve their traditional methods of production'. Another correspondent might wish to expose the chauvinist logic of this liberal paternalism; I will simply refer Clague to the Masai tribesmen of East Africa. Savannah-dwelling loincloth wearers, they traditionally build shacks from cow dung, and feed themselves on blood drained from the same cows - beasts fit only for the glue factory. Give me a McDonalds BSE burger any day.

John McLennan Glasgow
God save the seventies?

I agree with Andrew Calcutt that the 1970s are unsuitable for nostalgia because that's when rock got boring and retro ('Naff-naff nostalgia', February). But he forgets the decade's inner- city glories: funk and punk. Black music became confidently critical - check out Norman Whitfield, the ghetto-conscious O-Jays, the 'I Will Survive' of Gloria Gaynor, the eco-dance of Earth Wind and Fire - despite the disapproval of white critics who preferred singers moaning and groaning about 'when a man loves a woman'.

And while in the sixties hedonism and bolshiness had been restricted to a minority (oh yes it had), in the seventies the young working class black and white took off. They discoed, they came out on strike, they rioted in Notting Hill, they took grass and took up fucking, they came out as gay and bi and sexy, they alarmed Mary Whitehouse, they marched for Rock Against Racism and Troops Out of Ireland or just got down together and boogied. They weren't pop aristos hanging round the Peppermint Lounge with Jackie Kennedy.

Then came The Sex Pistols: rock that wasn't pretending to be American (like Tommy Steele and Mick Jagger). 'God Save the Queen' was a seventies record. The seventies were a terrible time for those who thought hippies like Richard Branson were the Revolution. It was a wonderful time for the rest of us. Do the hustle.

Mike Belbin London
Andrew Calcutt's article was painfully accurate. With everyone wired on E, jogging to the same record for 10 hours at a stretch, the reason for the decline in popular music is apparent
--people don't listen to music any more - they keep fit to it.

The only musicians taking risks now are guitar players such as Paul Rose and Allan Holdsworth. Being virtuosos, both have the confidence to go out on a limb and find their own sound. Rose especially, is able to create spontaneously, live, in a manner reminiscent of Hendrix himself.

Only when we demand this sort of approach to music will popular music have some life breathed back into it.

Jim Roberts London
A waste of space

While at school a friend and I would indulge in our favourite game of 'waste space' in our exercise books. My personal record was an entire maths jumbo jotter in six days. I can only assume your editor went to the same school.

Full-page photographs and half-page headlines seem to be the order of the day in recent Living Marxisms. If I wanted a book on cameras I'd buy Amateur Photography or even Hello! - at least they're in colour. Looking over my early LMs, much more was devoted to propaganda and news and it used to take me quite a few days to read it.

In the days of 'Midnight in the Century', is it assumed that the average reader has to have pictures to guide him through your (increasingly short) articles? Christ! Even your Marxist Review of Books has an obligatory two inches chopped off the top for no apparent reason. Oh for the days of the next step number one, when cameras were considered a bourgeois indulgence.

David Bailley Bradford
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 42, April 1992

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