The miners and the ballot
Re your comments on 'The pits' (November).
I played a very active part in the 1984 miners' dispute both as an individual
and because my brother spent the whole strike on strike. Scargill was right
not to ballot on strike action. If he had, the vote would have been 'no'.
He didn't lose the strike, his enemies and so-called allies won, if that's
the word. If the whole movement had backed the miners, they would have won
even without the scab Notts miners and their friends. What Scargill said
was right. He is now said to be not so militant. I would say he is wiser
now, not less militant.
Nothing has changed. Pits have closed, some privatised and even more than
planned will close before '93 is out. Communities will die - the Welsh valleys
have, garden festival or no. Social unrest will rise. For all Scargill's
and the NUM's faults in the past, this country needs them both, because
no single person or union can galvanise the country as he and his union
can. I remember my grandfather started work at 14 in the mine, walked over
two miles to work and back each 12-hour shift for 50 years, sometimes working
in seams no more than a foot high.
We as a movement need Scargill and the NUM (not the UDM who knew the score
in '84 and are now bleating that the Tories have done the dirty - what can
they expect?). I say more power to Scargill and the NUM. Without them there
would be no opposition to the three Tory parties we have in the House of
Commons. But let's have some more passion, confrontation and anger on marches.
Paul A Hinge Gwent
It is strange to still be reading 'if only...'s
after 13 years of Thatcherism. The contents page leader 'The pits' closes:
'if [the NUM executive] had called a ballot in Spring 1984, and let miners
campaign for a united national strike, they might not be in this mess today.'
This seems a 'might' hopeful.
Say there had been a ballot with a heavy vote for the strike nationally,
but little enthusiasm in Notts, would this have been enough to prevent a
breakaway? Would the TUC have delivered a general strike? Would Ramsay MacKinnock
have arrived to address the South Wales miners? Would liberal opinion have
turned out to be worth a toss? Would Norman Willis have - well, would Norman
Willis have done anything? I don't think so.
The miners' strike demonstrated the fatal flaws in the Labour Party and
labour movement. Seven years on, Living Marxism should stop denying
the logic of its own arguments about these bodies.
Paul Farmer Cornwall
Hugh Mitchell and Kayode Olafimihan declare that 'queer tactics serve only
to raise hostility and further isolate lesbians and gays' ('A
queer view', November 1992). This seems an extraordinarily conservative
point of view. Indeed, whether the authors intended it or not, their argument
can easily be interpreted as a plea for lesbians and gays to accommodate
to lifestyles judged acceptable by straight society.
The entire article was shot through with a tone both snide and superficial.
It is all very well to say that lesbian and gay identities are not enough
to change everything. But we have to start before we can finish. Queer politics
is our starting point, because it is a confrontational declaration of a
lifestyle which is outside the norms of the straight world; and by celebrating
the outside, we are subverting what's inside.
After a queer cinema all-niter, or a carnival like this year's Pride, I
feel confident and in control. I get the impression that Mitchell and Olafimihan
actually enjoy feeling powerless and dominated.
Gerry Clarke Hammersmith
The trouble with history
I agree with the three main points in Frank Füredi's article on 'Cleansing
the Holocaust' (October), about the rewriting of history, the cleansing
of the Holocaust, and the demonising of the third world. But this process
is risky for the establishment.
If the Holocaust does become a topic of discussion, it is possible that
capitalism's growth into fascism is exposed, not hidden. And there is a
danger in labelling every barbarism around as a holocaust and every bad
man as a Nazi. If Yugoslavia is a holocaust, what was Vietnam? Moreover
the establishment can come unstuck by misappropriating words and concepts,
which are so inapplicable that people question the authority of those who
deploy them. The left does not help by its own use of the word Nazi as a
swear-word. How long will it take for the Tories to be called Nazis and
mass unemployment to be called a holocaust?
It is a bit restricted of Füredi to talk of the rewriting of history
as peculiar to the present. Accurate history is a rarity, as he well knows.
The masses are ignored in much historical writing, which is largely about
generals, politicians and businessmen. I doubt that the process of rewriting
going on today is qualitatively different from long-established practice.
What is different is how much more today the establishment needs a cohering
moral and ideological platform.
I think Füredi is in error when he argues that liberal ideology after
1945 constituted a compromise by the right, which led to moral uncertainty.
It is more accurate to say that economic expansion after the war fostered
liberal ideas in the establishment and undercut the need for stringent authoritarianism.
Rather than a period of moral uncertainty it was a period of moral change.
The old ideas were no longer adequate to the new conditions.
Jon Proctor London
What's new in the Irish War?
Kenneth May (letters, November)
is quite right to criticise the knee-jerk, misty-eyed nationalism of James
Lynch (letters, October),
and to argue that 'times move on'. Unfortunately though, Ken's pitch for
democratic common sense repeats the same narrow focus upon the most superficial
aspects of the Irish conflict, but from the opposite end of the spectrum.
We 'must build on our present foundations', says Ken, rather than some imaginary
Gaelic past; quite so. Perhaps we should start with this year's Fair Employment
Commission report, which shows the labour force of Harland & Wolff as
94.3% Protestant, with 549 appointments in the previous year, 95% of whom
were Protestant. In other words, the sectarian bias became more, not less,
Or perhaps we should dwell on the Brian Nelson case, which highlighted the
fact that British security forces effectively run Loyalist death squads,
and have done for years. Colin Wallace, who is in a position to know, points
to numerous examples which confirm this, including the May 1974 bombs in
Dublin and Monaghan, which killed 33 (London Review of Books, 8 October
Such examples, and there are many, have one common factor. The British government
has a vested interest in propping up the rotten foundations of a state which
can only survive by granting marginal privileges to one section of the population
and oppressing the rest. This is the reality of the present foundations,
and it needs to be thoroughly excavated in order to allow for time to move
Steve Bowler Belfast
Reactions to race attacks
Andrew Calcutt's report on the hypocritical
condemnation of racial attacks by the establishment (November) stands in
marked contrast to the reaction of the authorities in the north east.
In late August, Asian pensioner Mr Khoaz Miah was brutally beaten to death
when walking the few yards from his home to pray at the Newcastle mosque.
The next day the local rag, the Evening Chronicle, headlined the
attack as 'City gangs clash'. The Asian 'gang' apparently referred to his
family and friends who came out of the house to care for him.
The police officer in charge denied there was any evidence of a racial motive
despite a spate of attacks on Asians in the area that evening. When the
police finally got to the scene, racist youths were taunting the family,
shouting 'is he dead yet?'. The police made one arrest of a young Bengali
for not leaving the area.
Far from expressing mock revulsion at the attack, the main concern of the
local media and dignitaries was the need for calm in the Asian community
which, the Chronicle editorial said, should 'not blow the matter
up out of all proportion'. In the north east there is hypocritical concern
for victims of racial attacks, but only if they are living in Germany. You
get short shrift if your assailants happen to be Geordies.
Dave Clark Newcastle
Rolling with the slump
If the economy is a roller-coaster, the unskilled section of the working
class have long realised that they have the front seat. The complacent climb
of consumerism is long past. The first terrifying drop into unemployment
and debt is a vague memory. Now, as the semi-skilled and professional sections
plummet off the top, there is nothing that the operator, the government
and the bosses, can do or say to stop the ride. Nor, sitting in the last
car, can they get off.
First they slashed wages. Many professionals have taken cuts of £2000
and more. Then they slashed jobs. One company of architects paid off 195
of its 200 staff. In desperate attempts to slow down the ride, contracts
have been quoted at a loss, builders are literally giving houses away, engineers
and surveyors are closing down the 'non-profitable' areas of their businesses.
To no avail. Private housing developments lie half-empty, building sites
sit half-completed and engineering firms merge, shedding half the jobs.
The quoted figure of 60 000 unemployed in the building trade, like the 2.9m
generally, does no justice to the reality.
As the fat cats console themselves with huge pay rises, the government consoles
itself with the belief that the lead car is on its way up again. Those in
the front are the only ones who know the truth. It's a long way down and
we ain't stopped yet. It's gratifying to know that the last car drops the
fastest and always offers the most terrifying ride.
A Paterson Glasgow
Alger Hiss and Horatio Alger
I find it difficult to accept Graham Bishop's argument that the Western
was an 'Alger Hiss story with a six-gun' ('How
the west was unmade', November). Hiss was a former state department
official and then president of the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace. He was named as a communist during the McCarthy witch-hunts and was
eventually convicted of perjury after conducting his legal defence. While
red-baiting and frame-ups played a large part in the class relations of
the 1880s, Alger Hiss' frontier connections are even less substantial than
George Bush's links to Texas.
One suspects Bishop was referring to Horatio Alger stories, morality tale
dime novels based on how clean living and thrift lead to the fulfilment
of the American Dream. The common factor among Alger's characters was their
instinctive restraint and hard work leading to upward mobility and a place
in the sun. The Alger legends today provide a cultural resource for racism
through invidious comparisons between Korean immigrants and the 'black underclass'.
Perhaps Graham Bishop should go gremlin-shooting with Clint Eastwood before
he next ventures out into the Living section.
G Barnfield Leicester
The use and abuse of science
John Gibson's article looks at the rationale behind the right's attack on
'scientism' as being an attack on reason as opposed to faith ('The
scapegoating of science', October). This is true; however 'scientism'
has played a more important role than just being the receptacle of reason.
Science is charged by the right as having strayed into areas to which it
is unqualified. They have a point. With the erosion of the authority of
postwar social institutions, it was fashionable to answer social questions,
not with political or moral answers, but to leave it to the 'objective'
authority of science. From social planning to morality, scientists and the
medical profession were called in where the politicians and clergy could
no longer comfortably go.
The same issue of Living Marxism contained an excellent example.
Ann Burton describes the 'clinical
and ethical decisions' a doctor makes in denying an abortion. The 1967 Act
recognised the insufficiency of the old religious/moral code and handed
authority to the doctor. Although the medical profession can still be relied
upon to restrict women's access to abortion, it does so in the name of scientific
ethics, rather than the holy scriptures.
The current project of the right is to revive respect for those discredited
institutions and attack past concessions. To do so, they turn history on
its head - the scientific veneer, covering up an authority vacuum, becomes
the 'expansionist power' of science. This is a dangerous game. Scientism
allowed establishment values to persist when the establishment's authority
was at an all-time low. There is no guarantee that their authority can be
Craig Barton Lewisham
Bob, Bill and Norman
Did anyone else notice the remarkable similarity between Bob Dylan's 'The
Times They Are A-Changin'' and one of the discs that Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf
shared with Sue Lawley on his Desert Island? Could this mean that the protest
songs which marked Dylan's entrance onto the music scene 30 years ago may
have failed to shake the pillars of the American establishment to their
foundations? Surely not. Or is it the case that first the Pentagon and now
the White House have been infiltrated by the sixties counter-culture? What
with a general who singsalongaBob and a president-elect who may have smoked
dope (but didn't inhale), Pat Buchanan's cultural warriors had better get
a move on, or the recipe for Mom's Apple Pie will be destroyed forever.
Richard Jeffries Harlow
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 50, December 1992