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Aids, lies and Africa

The recent bout of media scare stories surrounding the Birmingham Aids case is evidence of the impact of a government-sponsored Aids panic that has lost little of its momentum ('Aids panic in disarray', July). It has also highlighted the eagerness with which sections of the establishment will condemn the 'irresponsibility' and general 'amoralism' of sections of the working class - not only drug users, but the 'promiscuous' club-going youth of inner cities.

The state has a much broader agenda. This is to promote the moral values of the family and monogamy; a project which may sometimes require the systematic distortion and suppression of facts. However there are shortcomings with the strategy of a mere recital of statistics to 'expose the lies' of the state and its lackeys. It allows the moral campaigners to cite the containment of the spread as justification for the nature and 'success' of their campaigning. It can only encourage the scapegoating of particular sections of society in the context of a widely shared blame-the-victim ideology. This approach is based on the notion that the state itself has as its primary role the deception of the exploited sections of society into a belief in the legitimacy of class rule.

Although this propagandist approach is perhaps the only feasible one for an organisation of the RCP's size and influence, it sometimes encourages a shallow analysis of the actual forces and structures within society that condition the generation of particular kinds of ideology. By talking in terms of 'lies' it also denies the fact that all but the most cynical members of the ruling class tend to believe in their own ideology - not least politicians themselves.

Stephanie Pride Southampton

I agree with Dr Michael Fitzpatrick's assertions that the threat of Aids has been grossly overestimated and abused for moral propaganda, bureaucratic growth and general scientific fudge. I am slightly concerned about his ambiguous statements on the heterosexual spread of Aids in Africa. This cannot be adequately explained by lack of either contraception or education, as the lack of contraception use in the UK would have also led to 'rapid heterosexual spread facilitated by other sexually transmitted diseases and prostitution'.

Any real answers? The actual ways in which the disease is spread do not change in Asia or Africa. Even that bastion of radicalism the Sunday Times in the article by Neville Hodgkinson pointed out that the World Health Organisation's figures that there are six million HIV-positive Africans are not matched (thankfully) by an explosion of Aids. African people suffering from diseases usually associated with malnourishment are, according to Hodgkinson being rediagnosed as Aids victims 'because virus hunters can point to the presence of HIV'. Yet the connection between HIV and Aids is to say the least blurred.

RC Chirimuuta and RJ Chirimuuta pointed out extensively in their book Aids, Africa and Racism in 1987 how unsafe 'scientific assumptions' were in reference to African infection. A history involving a series of scientific studies to 'prove' that Aids originated in Africa, that it spread from rural areas to cities and that life in Africa is 'one endless orgy'. As they point out science can 'prove' that there 'are fairies in the bottom of the garden'. As we have clearly seen with the Aids panic in Britain. I would like more evidence placed before me before I can categorise sub-Saharan Africa as high-risk any more than Canterbury. If Dr Fitzpatrick has the facts, can we please be a party to them?

Kieron Smith Dorset
'Homophobia': myths and realities

I take Peter Ray's point about the use of 'homophobia' ('The Myth of homophobia', June). If used to explain the criminalisation of lesbians and gays it can be totally misleading. I believe that the lesbian and gay movement do not use 'homophobia' in the way Ray suggests. For example in a recent article in the Guardian, a spokesman from OutRage argued that 'the "new queer" politics is about public sex, it's about cruising, it's about orgiastic sex, it's about being seen by society as a threat'. In other words, sex outside of the 'norms' of heterosexuality, procreation and monogamous relations is not natural and therefore a threat. It is under this context that 'homophobia' is used.

I agree with Ray's argument that the issue of discrimination against lesbians and gays, if couched in terms of the individual would not fully address the underlying cause of this discrimination and would be apolitical. However I think it is dangerous to suggest, as Ray does implicity, that political change through legislation will automatically lead to decriminalisation. We only have to look at the Equal Pay Act for example to see that for most women this has no effect on their wage packet at the end of the day.

D O'Donovan West London
Congratulations to Peter Ray for taking two pages to correctly point out a literal grammatical error that we make when using the word 'homophobia.' Yes, homophobia does mean 'fear of...' as my arachnophobia means I have an irrational fear of seeing/being near spiders (however big and butch or small and camp!). This article on homophobia would be more aptly placed in a literary magazine, as Peter offers us no political or social analysis whatever of 'anti-homosexual bigotry' (his phrase not mine) or heterosexism (mine, not his, but I stand to be corrected on the grammatical not political correctness of it!). It's nice to know that while some of us are fighting the prejudice, you still have the time and space to play English teacher.

Alison Groombridge Sheffield
After Los Angeles

I am glad to see you are incorporating American issues into your coverage but I found Linda Ryan's commentary on the Los Angeles riots ('Racism: the issue of our times', June) overly simplistic.

Ryan says that Americans 'no longer feel guilty about racism'. Poor, working class and so-called 'middle class' people who make up the bulk of the American population, are losing their jobs and homes in droves. They do not have the resources, let alone any idea, of what to do for blacks, beyond volunteer work. (The rich ruling minority, of course, don't care). Many whites feel guilty and try to do their best within the narrow scope of their abilities. I wonder if the writer is getting her ideas of how Americans live from watching Dallas and other execrable television exports. In any case, guilt is just a feeling, not an action.

If one hopeful truth came out of the LA riots, it is that the problem is of class as much as race. The riots are a clear sign that the present system is not working. The competing presidential candidates have no choice but to address this crisis. The loss of educational, day-care and work-training programs disbanded during the Reagan-Bush administrations most hurt those in the bottom strata of the economic pyramid - many of whom were black. But they hurt a lot of whites too. Reinstating such programs will benefit all.

For all my criticisms, I think you run an excellent publication. It is a joy to read a constant stream of well-written, intelligent articles without the intrusion of advertising. I am glad to hear you have begun publishing in the States, and will look out for your magazine on the newsstands.

Christina Gombar, New York

If you are dissatisfied with your position and place in society, you do something positive about it. Whether black or white it's of no importance. What matters is that the means to achieve it is not through a barrel of a gun, nor through chaos and destruction. The Los Angeles riots were instigated by those unscrupulous people who used the protest in order to further their own gains. The protest was supposed to be about values, injustices, inhumanity and social equality. Instead those who were supposedly crying out for mercy from a system they deem biased, were in fact contradicting themselves by warring on an even lesser minority, the Asians.

Talk about racism! If there is a nation who could be excused for rioting with tension and anger it is the Brazilians who dwell in favelas with no sanitation, no healthcare, no welfare even. Do they riot? Well no, because they have more dignity, more discipline. The riots in LA were a joke. Rodney King himself deplored the violence and he was the only victim. Violence is violence and the guilty should be treated as such.

Anne Owens Liverpool

Tyson v Kennedy-Smith

Ronald Kieve is wrong on several points when criticising Emmanuel Oliver's article 'The rape of black America' (letters, June). It is useful to compare the Kennedy-Smith trial to the Tyson one. The former was white, middle-class and well-connected. Tyson was from a poor family, a New York ghetto and black. No surprises as to who went down....That is racism.

Secondly even if Kennedy-Smith had been convicted, women would not be better off. Rape has nothing to do with men's lust and everything to do with women's secondary position in society. Rape is an expression of their lack of power. This is what needs challenging. No-one is upholding black rights over women's rights. What Emmanuel Oliver explained was the way the US establishment used feminist rhetoric as a way of criminalising black people. Ronald Kieve's letter shows that opposition to the US government has further fragmented into the particularisms of gender and ethnicity respectively.

Mark Arnold Haringey, London

Post-revolutionary societies

Living Marxism's recognition that the post-World War Two world order is finished and that a fundamental reconstruction of revolutionary politics is therefore required (Editorial, July), is welcome for its realism and honesty. However assuming that a new revolutionary critique has been successfully put together, showing workers that capitalism is crap and should be sacked by force, how can we show that the system that will replace it will be better? Simply put, Living Marxism is not even beginning to address the question 'what will a post-revolutionary society look like?'.

It should for two reasons. Firstly there has been a tendency in much Marxist thought to neglect questions of the future and focus exclusively on building for revolution. There seems to be a naive faith in things sorting themselves out once the workers have assumed control over the means of production. Secondly, post-revolutionary societies are overwhelmingly associated in the popular consciousness with low material standards of living and political repression.

I'm not arguing for some utopian blueprint of the ideal Marxist society. It is merely my contention that addressing the problem of the post-revolutionary future constitutes an integral part of the reconstitution of revolutionary Marxism. Lest my concern be dismissed as distracting from the struggle, utopian or worse remember - a convincing better future for the working class under communism is the best propaganda revolutionary Marxists can have.

Steve Ely West Yorkshire

Socialists against Serbs

Three cheers for Living Marxism's courageous stand on Serbia. At last some proletarian internationalism has seen its way into print. Sadly it is not only in the official media that a totally distorted picture of the Yugoslavian conflict has been presented.

On the New Left Review editorial board Branka Magas and Quentin Hoare have been allowed to develop their own peculiar views. Scores of letters have appeared in the press by this unsavoury pair, all of them rabidly anti-Serbian. In demonising the Serbs these 'leftists' have slipped into the crude racism so popular among German intellectuals and French professional anti-communists such as Bernard Henri-Levy. It is a continual source of amazement on my part that these people are not driven away from any socialist platform.

Andrew Coates Suffolk

Capitalists and kings

The complaints from Ben Brack and Nick Underwood (letters, July) about Mick Hume's article on the monarchy miss the point. They say that the abolition of the monarchy 'does not necessarily lead to the clarification of class divisions'. Fair enough; but then, Living Marxism never said that it 'necessarily' did. The intervention (or not) of revolutionary politics is always decisive.

Brack and Underwood ignore the basic Marxist proposition that the more democratic and 'open' a system of government is, the more opportunities there are for revolutionaries to expose the inherently undemocratic and oppressive character of a society which remains dominated by the capitalist class. As the article indicates, it is in this spirit of demystification that communists support the abolition of the monarchy, along with universal suffrage and even proportional representation - even though none of these measures change anything important in themselves.

Brack and Underwood also underestimate the importance of what the article calls the 'culture of deference' towards the monarchy, not as the cause of stagnation and conservatism in Britain, but as a symbol of that problem in British politics. Their choice of Germany as a country which has been just as stable without a monarch is rather bizarre. After all, the fall of the Kaiser was followed in quick succession by three attempted working class revolutions, a failed fascist putsch, a national collapse, and Hitlerism.

The nub of Brack and Underwood's argument seems to be that Living Marxism should not have articles on things like the monarchy, but should stick to attacking 'the parasites in pinstripes'. The implication of that is that every front-page headline should say 'Smash capitalism', and that every article should say that the problem is the falling rate of profit. If that is what they want, I'm sure they can still find some brain-dead sect churning out such exciting material. I hope that Living Marxism will stick to its very different approach of dealing with the issues of the moment (such as the royals) from a revolutionary perspective. That seems to me to be the best way to make Marxism come alive today.

Pete Kearney London

It is right to suggest that current attention regarding royal disputes reflects wider disquiet with the monarchy ('Abolish the Monarchy', June). But the key factors in Britain's constitutional crisis have not resulted from socialist pressure, but rather from transformative dynamics within capitalism itself - something that obsessed Marx but has since been rather neglected.

Monarchies are essentially not institutions of capitalism but rather of feudalism. In the age of Western Europe's empires they survived because they acted as figureheads for establishing new markets that were vital to capitalism's progress. Now in the context of falling long-term profit rates, 'big business' views the monarchy as something hindering the establishment of a truly free European market, something that encourages petty British nationalism which is no longer backed by Britain's economic abilities.

The return to 'real' free market capitalism during the 1980s took the economy out of the control of the established state bureaucracy and placed it in the hands of the capitalist upper middle class. These knights of Thatcherism wanted to run everything like a business (which is what they were used to doing) whether it was a civil service department, the health service, a bus route or the water supply. For them there are no sacred cows, not even the monarchy: profit alone determines survival. This type of middle class 'revolution' against the monarchy is not without precedent - look no further than 1789. What is unique is the simultaneous collapse of public confidence in the judiciary and the territorial 'integrity' of the United Kingdom.

Simon Kyte Berkshire

Don't exaggerate French racism

Kenan Malik's article 'Is France going fascist?' (May) correctly identifies the trend here towards a racist consensus embracing all the major political parties. Nevertheless, he is considerably overstating the case when he maintains that almost every one of the measures in Le Pen's anti-immigrant charter of last November has already been advocated or implemented by mainstream politicians. The examples he cites in substantiation of this claim tend to be either of a localised character (a few racist mayors acting largely on their own initiative) or of a demagogic nature with little practical consequence (Cresson's charter planes, Giscard's 'blood rather than birth' criterion for French nationality).

It is notable that one recent law brought in by the Socialist government which really did correspond to a measure in the FN's 50 point anti-immigrant programme - the setting up of 'transit zones' for possible illegal immigrants - had to be overturned by the Constitutional Council, under pressure from anti-racist street protests. It is thus a considerable exaggeration to suggest that the French ruling class is either willing or able to implement, on a substantial scale, the kind of measures which Le Pen has been advocating.

Voices have been raised within the FN itself against the 50 point programme. The leading Moonie representative in the FN has criticised the programme as a vote loser while others have expressed concern at the way in which their movement has been cordoned off from the political mainstream.

It is true that racism is a powerful and growing factor in French politics. However the kind of systematic racism which Kenan Malik's article suggests as being already the reality in France could not be implemented without rehabilitating the pioneers of this approach, namely Pétain and the Vichy state. But that is a skeleton which the French establishment is not too eager to exhume.

Louis Ryan Paris

Essex is no worse than Glasgow

Joe M Kane (letters, July) makes the serious accusation that Living Marxism's articles on Scotland 'are deliberately distorted in order to apologise for your beloved "Essex Man", to excuse his reactionary tendencies to vote Tory'. He also claims it is strange that Living Marxism should support a united Ireland, when the Irish Republic is so conservative, 'yet reject the idea of an independent Scotland which would certainly be strongly socialist'. That is all tosh.

If there is distortion being done it's by those who claim that Scotland is a fortress of socialism besieged by the right-wing English. Living in Essex doesn't make you any more right-wing (or left-wing, come to that) than living in Glasgow. Certainly, there are some prevalent 'reactionary tendencies' down here, especially where immigrants and black people are concerned. Just as there are strong 'reactionary tendencies' in Scotland: Orange sectarianism, racism, attempts to stop women getting abortions, etc.

So far as the election goes, why should voting for Neil Kinnock's Labour Party or Alex Salmond's SNP be thought of as any better than supporting John Major's Tory Party? Certainly many Scots seem to have concluded that it would make no difference, since both Labour and the SNP fell back on election day.

As for the Irish/Scottish comparisons which often seem to appear in letters to Living Marxism, so far as I can see the creed of Irish nationalism is just as narrow-minded as the Scottish version. They are both weighed down by the same parochial, backward-looking politics and culture. I would not want to live under the Catholic constitution of the Irish Republic any more than the Presbyterian pettiness of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

There is a difference, however, in the relationship of Irish and Scottish nationalism to the British government. Irish nationalists endure military occupation by a foreign power, Britain, and the denial of every basic right. The struggle against that oppression is one that should be supported. The 'struggle' to open a branch office of parliament in Edinburgh is not quite the same thing.

Tony Stokes Essex
Ancient Basques and angry Scots

I would like you to cancel my subscription to Living Marxism as I have just realised how dreadful it is. Andy Clarkson states in his article on the Basque group Eta ('Eta is not Spain's IRA', July) that they claim 'the Basque people have a long history'. Well in fact Andy they do have a long history and it goes a lot further back than 1882 (which you may have decided would spoil your article). The Basque language, to quote a source, 'predates the migrations from the East which brought the Indo-European languages into Europe some 3000 years ago'. The Basques enter written records with the arrival of the Romans.

As for the Scots nationalist groups 'inventing their own mythology' - another typical swipe at the Scots for having the guts to do something about the present system. The Scots were on the streets, protesting, paying no poll tax and throwing out a Tory minority for a fourth consecutive time. So while we're up here inventing our own myths, you just keep on with the utopian rhetoric. I don't support Eta but at least I take the time to check up a few facts. Pity Andy Clarkson couldn't do the same.

Vincent Hunter Glasgow

I shall leave it to others to object to Andy Clarkson's wild generalisation that nationalist groups 'from Scotland to the Ukraine' have invented a mythical national past.

I will, however, protest strongly at his bald assertion that the Basques are not, and have never been oppressed by Spain. Mr Clarkson evidently researched his article using a tourist guide published in Madrid. Without doubt, he has never been to the Basque Country or talked to a Basque. If he had, he would know that as late as the 1970's, seven-year old school children, whose only language was Euskera were routinely beaten by teachers who insisted they speak in Spanish, and that it was forbidden to write in Euskera, or even speak it in the street. There is a story, perhaps apocryphal but nevertheless illustrative, of two Czechs who were beaten up by Bilbao police who mistakenly thought they were speaking in Basque. Expressions of Basque culture were stamped out, and discrimination by the Guardia Civil was commonplace.

Mr Clarkson also mentions the role of the Basque police, the Ertzantza: this force is detested by many Basques­p;not only nationalists­p;for its brutality and because it is seen as being in the pocket of the central government.

No, Mr Clarkson has not been to the Basque Country, and I do not advise him to go there. The Basques are a warm and friendly people, but they would not take kindly to such a level of wilful ignorance.

John R MacWilliam Edinburgh

Francis: saving his Bacon

Josie from Essex writes that 'by painting nudes in the unflattering light cast by an electric lightbulb, Bacon captures alienating social conditions' (letters, July). This is all fair enough, but what is really interesting in artistic terms is the way in which Bacon, despite all his butchery and special effects, succeeds much less in capturing alienating social conditions and gets much less close to the bone than a much more normative artist such as Lucian Freud.

I think that far from capturing alienating social conditions, Bacon was captivated by them. Since the turn of the century, a fundamental problem has been overlooked: the problem of creating a method of formalisation capable of embodying all the attributes of modern life and which could claim to represent reality as a whole.

If we look at Bacon's pictures the most noticeable thing is the gulf that exists between his figures (all dynamism) and their surroundings (purely static). The fact that he makes absolutely no attempt to resolve this pictorial paradox is indicative of his surrender to objective conditions and his abandonment to his own purely subjective reflexes. Bacon has failed as an artist and as a man to face up to the fundamental challenge of his age. Faced with so much inhumanity he lost all sense of his own. He surrendered to bourgeois social reality. He gave up the ghost.

M Hughes Essex

Is Ann Bradley Bob Geldof?

Ann Bradley rightly points out (July) that 'public attitudes to terms, words and phrases simply reflect the way society views what they describe'. In her view, the use of the term 'the South' by concerned Londoners as an attempt at admitting a common humanity with people in the third world is 'ridiculous and reactionary'.

At the same time she herself falls into the Buerk/Geldof/media trap of equating underdevelopment with the images of starving Ethiopians used in the 1980s to elicit charitable responses. Moving away from this image (which sadly raised awareness but not understanding) holds the possibility of moving the debate forward. Perhaps the Brixtonian middle classes have a point in trying to move from economic disdain to more neutral ground. They might find it possible to have a useful dialogue on equal terms with say, a Ghanaian poet, a Nigerian academic or a Kenyan street sweeper (or even a 'starving Ethiopian') by refusing to be confined by Ms Bradley's narrow image of underdevelopment.

The future of all is threatened by the hubris of the west/north which not only refuses to allow the actual denizens of the third world a part in their own debate but also casts the whole of the third world, as A Bradley does, in the role of helpless victim. It is this attitude which reflects the way most people outside Brixton perceive the third world and is most accurately summed up by Kipling's ridiculous and reactionary old phrase: 'White Man's burden.' Plus ca change....

Maggy Hendry Kent

Experiment on humans?

Having read Ann Bradley's challenging article 'Origins of a speciesist' I started thinking to myself. I must logically accept that the human ability to deal with language, reason and abstract thought sets us apart from animals and we are therefore justified in using them to develop solutions to our problems. However I might point out that there are, in fact, some humans who cannot exercise a high level of consciousness. Due to a birth defect or subsequent brain damage, many individuals exist who will never progress beyond a mental age of two or less. Leaving sentiment aside, may I presume that Ann Bradley would therefore advocate their use in experiments, especially since a human body would be a more reliable specimen than a rat's where research purposes are concerned?

RM Robinson Tunbridge Wells

Behind the Lega Lombarda

I would agree with Alan Harding's assessment of the electoral success of the Lega Lombarda as representing a reactionary force within Italian politics, but only at the end of the day with several qualifications ('Viva Italia?', July).

The 'Lega' may be a racist and separatist movement calling for regional autonomy, but this phenomenon should not be explained away in the attempt to provide a neat macro-analysis of European politics and of the right-wing wind blowing over Europe as the result of economic recession. I believe that the wide support received by the 'Lega' was not simply the result of a reactionary ideology dogmatically endorsed. It was also the expression of a protest vote against government corruption, and a rejection of party politics along traditional ideological lines, from which Italian people have always felt excluded.

Of course, it would have been preferable if this protest vote had gone left. The fact that it didn't seems to indicate not only a dissatisfaction with the age-old quadripartito led by the Christian Democrats, and its affiliations with the church, but also with the statist, paternalistic, bureaucratic orientation of the left and its affiliations with the trade unions.

Perhaps it is because it is not just the right, but also the left, that has failed Italy, that people voted against both, in the hopeless attempt to locate themselves outside the ideological spectrum. It is this rejection of the old ideologies which, I believe, differentiates many 'Lega' voters from, let's say, Le Pen's followers in France.

Josie D'Oro Genoa

Darwin was a Christian

In reply to the article 'God and the Big Bang' (June) I would like to correct the idea that Darwinism still poses problems for theologians. It is a historical fact that just shortly before his death Darwin converted to Christianity and renounced the idea of evolution discrediting the Genesis account of special creation recorded in the Old Testament. He believed in fact that his ideas were purely speculative and that people had turned speculative theory into a religion or ideology itself.

What disturbs me most about this article was the fact that it appeared to be saying that belief in a personal creator is a sign of a degenerative society or person. Why not have the courage of your convictions and follow through the logical conclusions of your atheistic cosmology, ie, 'if there is no God then everything is permitted' (as the ex-Marxist revolutionary and convert to the Russian Orthodox faith Dostoyveski said). Such a nihilistic cosmology has no basis for morality or concepts of good and evil and therefore of economic justice.

Wayne John Brighton
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 46, August 1992

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