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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

Queer subversion

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, pronounced.

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 1992).

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 on.

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 revived.

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



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