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?
'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
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
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!
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
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
--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
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