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The truth about Yugoslavia

It would appear that in her article ('A selective silence', March) Joan Phillips was attempting to bring the full truth of the war in Croatia to light. Unfortunately, the article turned out to be another dissection of the truth. Phillips only selected those truths (and some mistruths) which she wanted published, thereby showing that she is biased toward one side. Some statements she made deserve more scrutiny, especially in the light of the introduction to the article which states that 'Living Marxism takes no side in the Yugoslav conflict'.

Phillips takes exception to a recent news article about the discovery of a mass Croatian grave near Vukovar, saying that attention should be focused on 'what is happening to the Serbs in Krajina today' rather than 'focusing attention on what happened to Croats in Vukovar more than a year ago'. Apparently there is a double standard here, for the photos that go along with the article contain pictures of Croat Ustashe atrocities that took place over 40 years ago, as well as the massacre of Serbian civilians in Gospic in 1991 (a case that got plenty of coverage in the USA, where I was living when the story broke in January 1992). Phillips seems to be saying that if it is a matter of Serbians victimised by Croatians (or Muslims), it should be reported no matter when it happened. On the other hand, any atrocities committed by Serbs should basically be ignored.

Phillips insists that more attention should be given to the present plight of the Serbs in the Krajina region. Fair enough. But would she also insist that the plight of the Croatians and other non-Serbian residents of the Krajina regions should also be reported? For example, in Baranja, in Eastern Croatia, Croatians and Hungarians are being threatened, beaten up and sometimes killed to this day. This is an attempt by the Serbs to scare them out, which has been quite effective. Baranja's population before the war was two-thirds Croatian and Hungarian, and one-quarter Serbian. It is now almost exclusively Serbian.

Finally, I take exception to Phillips' implication that Serbian-run camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina are some sort of media fabrication. I find this quite insulting since I personally know people who were in these 'non-existent Serbian death camps' who have suffered beatings, torture and rape. Phillips' flippant and irresponsible comments are reminiscent of the anti-Semitic assertions that the Nazi death camps were conjured by some sort of international Jewish conspiracy.

Phillips concludes her article by stating that 'it is time to demand the truth'. Indeed it is. The whole truth.

Edo Bosnar Zagreb, Croatia
I have read your articles regarding the wars in former Yugoslavia with some frustration. Whilst I appreciate your attempts to 'break the selective silence' (by addressing the obvious anti-Serbia propaganda in the Western media), and to illustrate the exploitation and aggravation of the situation by recession-struck, enemy-seeking Western powers making play for hegemony, I feel that these arguments have become something of a 'mantra' and the casualty has been any deeper understanding of what is going on.

Whilst it is important to provide evidence on the nature of the anti-Serb propaganda campaign, this should not lead to the conclusion that the Serbs now commit 'supposed' crimes instead of real and horrible ones. Your consistent interspersing of editorial 'riders' suggesting that Living Marxism does not support the use of the military for territorial gain by any side does little to undermine the tone of the rest of the articles. Support for the vilified underdog is absolutely necessary, but not to the point that it blinds the discussion. That's reactionary.

Your oft-repeated argument that the West is entirely to blame for the outbreak of war, due to the recognition of Croatia by Germany and of Bosnia by the USA, for their own domestic and international ends, although obviously with truth and weight, is not explanation enough. It set off a power struggle, you say. Well, what is the nature of the power struggle? Who are the players? How is this revolting dogma of nationalism being flamed, that leads presumably ordinary citizens to burn each others' cities to the ground? Why has the West chosen Serbia to be the villains and not Croatia?

In the East they say that when you get beyond the mantra you find understanding, enlightenment. Enlighten me.

Evan English Vauxhall, London


In his article 'The resurrection of Malcolm X' (March), Emmanuel Oliver says 'there was nothing particularly exceptional about Malcolm X, either personally or in his politics'. As a black American I must disagree wholeheartedly. Although Malcolm never got any legislation passed or directly influenced American public policy as Martin Luther King did, we must remember that his work was cut short. Malcolm did not believe that working within the system would ever accomplish anything for the black man in America. Dr King was an accepted black leader in this country, whose message of peace was harmless to the establishment. Malcolm on the other hand was not willing to compromise with the powers that be. To quote from him directly, 'you don't take your case to the criminal, you take your criminal to court'.

During the last year of his life Malcolm made two trips to Africa and the Middle East to garner support for a UN resolution which would condemn America on its own soil for its abuse of the human rights of American blacks. Although this never came to pass, it does show that politically Malcolm X was a man who was years ahead of his time. The author was way off when he played down the significance of this great revolutionary.

Maxwell Pringle Vallejo, California

Professional bastards?

While the main point of Sharon Clarke's article ('The Great Jobs Fraud', April) was well made (this is not a yuppie slump), the defensiveness about architects, lawyers and other 'middle class professionals' should have been edited, or explained.

'Those bastards', like me, now find ourselves hard hit, if not the hardest-hit. Also most professionals I know are now totally disoriented politically.

The aim of Living Marxism should be to avoid such familiar lefty, workerist nonsense, to cut through the popular understanding of what it means to be working class. I trust Sharon Clarke does not mean that salaried professionals have escaped the need to sell their labour power. Or that a fancier house makes a capitalist. Most professionals do consider themselves above 'working class'. Who wouldn't? No-one this side of a revolution chooses to be working class, but it comes as a revelation to realise that you are.

Come on Living Marxism, explain this better, expose the lies about self-employment, professional careers, and the defunct myth of a home-owning democracy which may be dead but not yet forgotten. I can accept that us bastards are a burden on the surplus value the employers cream off from the productive labour of the horny-handed producers, but don't tell me I have no role to play in shaping the future. Professionals can fall either side of the fence we are being knocked off. Help more jump your way.

Ian Adams Newcastle

Child Support Act

Regarding the article by Debra Warner on the new Child Support Act ('An irresponsible act', April). The act's main purpose is to reduce the government's social security bill. However, it has other uses, which might prove even more beneficial to the government in the long term.

The act enables the state to have greater surveillance of private life - and by private, I mean economic rather than sexual life. Both parents will have a vested interest in minimising their own income to the authorities, and maximising that of the other parent. A good deal of 'black economy' work and trading is likely to come to the attention of the authorities through the mutual 'shopping of each other' by the antagonistic parents, bearing in mind that those parents who were not antagonistic are likely to become so, by the very workings of the act.

I believe the 'surveillance' aspect is central to the act's purpose, hence the setting up of the quasi-political Child Support Agency - the very name reeks of Orwellian doublethink and doublespeak. For one thing is sure from this act, not one child will receive better support due to its provisions.

It is interesting how this government uses 'populist' commonsense attitudes to increase state social policing - in this case, the commonly held view that fathers should support their children; in the case of the mooted workfare proposals, that the unemployed are work-shy scroungers. Mrs Bottomley is even considering rationed resources in the health service to be allocated to the 'deserving' rather than the 'undeserving' ill.

Deborah Berns London
Debra Warner misses the crucial point about the new Child Support Act: it's not whether a single mother names the absent father, but whether she authorises the Child Support Agency to pursue him for maintenance. Without the mother's authorisation, the agency cannot legally pursue the man, even if they know his name and whereabouts. The woman may then face the £8.80 deduction, but she will have time to consider what to do, and has the right of appeal.

Some women have said they would rather make an arrangement with the father to make up the deduction in return for not authorising the agency - it would be much cheaper for the man, and potentially much less disruptive for the mother. There is no definitive list of what agency officers will accept as grounds for refusing to cooperate. A vital part of defending single mothers is to expand the definition of 'harm or undue distress', establishing precedents for a woman's right not to authorise and not to be docked either.

Your article also fails to mention that the act is a racist attack of the financial kind. One in five single mothers on income support is black.

Since February 1992 when we launched the Campaign Against the Child Support Act (CACSA), we have lobbied, picketed, published and protested in many ways, including by coordinating a movement of non-cooperation to defeat it. Over 60 organisations are now affiliated to CACSA, and numbers are growing.

Failing to tell your readers about CACSA, and to give accurate information about their rights, reinforces the terrorism the act promotes. Your defeatist argument implicitly follows Ros Hepplewhite's line that the payment of maintenance will become 'inevitable like income tax'. But there's nothing inevitable about it: building a successful movement can defeat it, just as the poll tax was defeated. What will Living Marxism do to help defeat it? Rhetoric is not enough - it's actions that count.

Wilmette Brown Campaign Against the Child Support Act, PO Box 287, London NW6 5QU

But it is art

When Carl Andre creates sculptures, he uses industrial materials such as brick, lead, steel or copper. Kenan Malik, ('The good, the bad and the avant-garde', April) writes that he would have detected no discernible difference had Andre used garden gnomes instead of bricks. But there is a difference.

If gnomes are icons of popular culture, bricks and steel might more accurately be described as common rather than popular. Andre's use of these materials raises issues which, contrary to Malik's observation, do not require 'external commentary'. The traditional metal for sculpture is bronze, a material eschewed by Andre because of its fine-art connotations. Choosing his found or prefabricated materials, Andre assembles them in a grid pattern which is not lacking in aesthetic grace; by placing this grid in a museum context, Andre reclaims a significant space for a radical reinterpretation of the sculptural tradition.

Malik stumbles over a Carl Andre floor piece made from magnesium tiles. Instead of thinking through the novel experience of walking across this artwork, Malik hunts for the opinion of an imaginary authority in a catalogue. Had Malik observed other visitors, he might have recorded an unusual range of behaviour. Some people walk over the piece, some around it, some hardly notice it, while others hesitate at its edge. The tiles occupy barely a centimetre of vertical space, but this is sufficient to disturb viewers' pre-formed expectations about sculpture.

Malik might have deduced this without recourse to a text. But written material on Andre can be illuminating. Andre worked as a brakeman and conductor on American freight trains. In his words, 'the railroads have all to do with linear masses and a railroad train is a mass of particles...I was continually shifting cars around and making new strings of materials'. Or how about, 'I'm not interested in reaching an ideal state with my works. As people walk on them, as the steel rusts, as the brick crumbles, as the materials weather, the work becomes its own record of everything that's happened to it'.

Rene Gimpel London

Bread and scam

In addition to Andrew Calcutt's guide to scamming (April), can I say that me and my flatmate nick and resell church candles and make and sell wine and jewellery outside the students unions of Nottingham. In any free time between work and signing on we sell recipes for 'fun food' to TV Quick and write baleful letters to Living Marxism - an activity that to date has promised no financial reward.

So there are plenty of ways to survive the slump without dropping your trousers, stopping your heart or being run down. Does this letter win £5?

Jem Brady Nottinghamshire

Indecent photograph

So Charlie Cross from Nuneaton doesn't like the 'Selective Silence' pictures (Letters, April). The government didn't ban the pictures because they are gross. If that was the reason, Living Marxism would have had to pull Toby Banks' mug-shot ages ago.

Paul Liverpool

Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 55, May 1993



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