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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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