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The truth about Yugoslavia

Edo Bosnar (letters, May) misses the point of what Joan Phillips has been trying to say. Serbian atrocities, real or imagined, are beamed into our homes by the media almost before they happen. We heard all too briefly about the Croats and Muslims shooting down three UN planes carrying humanitarian aid last year. Or that the majority of UN personnel have been killed by either Croatians or Bosnian Muslims so as to provoke Western intervention on their side. A blatant attempt is going on to co-opt us into supporting intervention. A position which most of the left seems happy to go along with.

The media claim that they are giving us the full picture about what's happening. As they claimed to be doing during the Basra highway Bar-B-Q called the Gulf War. It's no surprise to learn that we were lied to, then as now. All - note this Edo - all of the leaders in Yugoslavia are nationalist tub-thumpers with blood on their hands. Perish the thought that the Bosnian government's mouthpieces can take some time out from collecting their various awards, to start objectively reporting the conflict.

F King South-east London

Edo Bosnar's request for 'the whole truth' about former Yugoslavia sounds reasonable enough. But he should bear in mind that Living Marxism's coverage of events there is in response to the biased reporting in the Western media as well as to the events themselves.

Bosnar seems to suggest that Living Marxism should mark out a level-playing field in reporting the war. This would make sense if Living Marxism operated in a vacuum, with no one else commenting on the subject. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of voices clamouring to vilify the Serbs as a nation of Hannibal Lecters. When every other news outlet is packed with accounts of alleged Serbian atrocities, Living Marxism has a responsibility to tell the other side of the story, and to show how the official version of the war is heavily slanted to favour the interests of various Western states.

The Serbs are the target of a propaganda war waged by Western commentators. Hype, lies and insinuation are their chosen weapons in the character assassination of Serbian people. It seems to me that we need to counter-attack, not by duplicating these methods from the opposite perspective, but by challenging the most influential anti-Serbian myths - such as those about 'rape camps', 'death camps' and the equation of Serbs with Nazis. Joan Phillips' pursuit of this line of investigation seems just about right.

Greg Murray Bedford

Ban something

Mick Hume's 'Ban nothing' (May) is confused. Hume argues that censorship should be shunned because it is a ready instrument of state control. Given that state control is an evil, prior questions arise as to whether and how censorship may operate as an aspect of collective action independently of the state. These are large and important issues which Hume wholly fails to engage.

For another thing, Hume puts the classic Enlightenment value of freedom of expression on a pedestal, without offering us any justification. Arguably, freedom of expression is a profoundly important value, but one value among many. Is a tunnel-visioned pursuit of freedom of expression as a value exalted above all others really right? Or do other values need to be taken into account, such as the need for a community to be sensitive to the passions and deeply held beliefs of individuals. Hume blindly steamrollers intelligent concern about these questions; but he is right to draw attention to the grave dangers of endorsing censorship as it is. And he is right to draw attention to the obscenities of current censorship.

Paul Tappenden Leytonstone, London

So you don't mind women and children being mutilated, degraded and murdered in porn films, but you still seem to want to ban war? Now you've got me really confused.

Sarah Felstead London SW20

Crimes of our times

Tracey Lauder ('When were the good old days?', May) uses historical data to argue that the perception that we are suffering a crime wave of unprecedented proportions is unfounded. Moreover, Frank Füredi ('Prime time for crime panics', May) argues that the incipient conservatism of referring to some past golden age is really just a way of scapegoating society's powerless for the social crimes of the ruling class.

But don't 85 per cent of people who think crime has worsened in the last 20 years have a point? As you have argued, we are currently experiencing a slump qualitatively and quantitatively worse than any previous. If crime is related both to economic austerity and social disintegration then we should expect an increase in crime of most kinds.

I can see that a moral panic has been created over specific kinds of crime, eg, juven-ile and sex crimes, to political ends. But surely this represents the ruling class' recognition that their institutions cannot contain the effects of slump, that society is indeed disintegrating, authority has little meaning and crime has increased. As a teacher I am very conscious of the low esteem in which the state's institutions are now held by ruling and working class alike.

Perhaps restating the social origin of crime (and not just its economic aspect) in a historical context is not such a bad thing - as Marxists we do believe in learning from a historical perspective. While the ruling class may place its own moral interpretations on historical decline, we should not be nervous about the idea that capitalism and its institutions change for the worse. Why else look for social change?

Paul Morris Manchester

PS Give Frank Cottrell-Boyce a raise!

Anti-racist posturing

If I had a subscription to Living Marxism, I would cancel it. Craig Owen's article ('Anti-fascist backfire', May) berates anti- racists for trying to remove a racist fellow-worker by appealing to management, without himself suggesting any alternative or better strategy.

Tell me Living Marxism, please, what exactly do you mean when you say 'racism...is a serious problem we will have to sort out ourselves'? Real anti-racists are out and about now trying to combat racism, whereas the armchair anti-racists of Living Marxism just seem to observe other people and criticise them. I wouldn't mind so much if it was constructive criticism. You offer no ideas as to possible lines of action that could have been considered.

Living Marxism is affiliated to an organisation called Workers Against Racism. I live in Birmingham and the closest that I've ever got to WAR is seeing their stickers plastered around the city centre; if this is anti-racism then I'm an Englishman (which I'm not).

Lev Davidovich Bronstein Handsworth, Birmingham

The kids are not alright

Whilst agreeing with your editorial statement that incidents such as the James Bulger murder are rare ('Frightening the life out of us', April), I would argue that a general malady is afflicting the nation with the result that a large and increasing number of crimes go unreported. So although government figures suggest juvenile crime is falling, it is actually rising.

Instead of attacking the conscience of the public (the very public whose support we need), you should be highlighting the enforced hardships suffered by today's youth, and showing the public how tomorrow's hopes are being smashed.

As you rightly say, the slump has pulled the rug from under people's lives, but you don't acknowledge the particular impact this has on young people, who are often denied all benefits and significantly more exploited than their elders in the employment market.

It saddens me that organs of good knowledge and opinion such as yours continually overlook the value of young people and their problems. Socialism, after all, is concerned with the well-being of everybody. The future may be more enticing if the government were forced to U-turn on its steady dismantling of the Youth Service and the National Children's Play and Recreation Unit.

Let's not just 'get on with life', let's fight for a better future.

John Bradshaw Leeds

Wrong role models

I was very disappointed by the letters on Malcolm X in recent issues of Living Marxism. What PJ Coles and Maxwell Pringle fail to see, is that there never has been, nor are there now, any effective role models that could be recommended to black youth in the US to emulate.

When I was younger, it was always impressed upon me to have role models, so as to better myself in particular and the black 'community' in general. The 'role models' generally came in either of two varieties.

The first and the most common was the wealthy liberal patriotic type, the kind of people who identify themselves with the red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes at every given opportunity, and who tell us to obey the law, work hard, and we'll make it in the end. The other role model was of the 'radical' nationalist type, generally calling for some sort of separ-atism, either within America or outside of it.

So the only role models we were offered were political reactionaries, either American patriots or nationalists.

If Coles and Pringle want role models for American youth, they had better start getting busy and do something now to inspire a new generation. Reactionary and exclusivist politics are not the way - we have to expose the inadequacies of such politics, which Emmanuel Oliver made a start with in his article ('The resurrection of Malcolm X', March). Let's have more exposures of backward ideas, their consequences, and the airing of newer alternative arguments.

Theo West Midlands

It is art

Like Kenan Malik ('The good, the bad and the avant-garde', April), I too heard a ghostly rattling whilst walking stupefied through the galleries of the Tate - only to look down and find to my amusement that I was standing smack bang in the middle of the sculpture '144 Magnesium square'. I too have trouble appreciating the point of such art, but the fact is that it is art.

Seen within the context of a gallery such utterly mundane objects can (to the initiated) acquire a meaning above and beyond their existence as material things. Abstract art, unlike much representational art, cannot contain within itself the image of its inspiration. For this reason, a great deal of abstract art, if seen out of context, is open to complete misinterpretation (even to the extent of failing to recognise it as art).

The infamous pile of bricks raises this issue of context and makes it the subject of a work of art. The ensuing debate shows just how pertinent a comment this was. Like it or hate it (I personally don't know what to make of it), there is no doubt that the 'Tate bricks' does represent a potent intervention and also a lo-gical step in late modernism's discovery of its own essential emptiness, and as such it has acquired an additional, almost tragi-comic poignancy.

Rather than get involved in a senseless debate as to whether or not such things constitute art, it is much more constructive to ask the question: is this the most fruitful avenue for art to explore, given the changing historical scene? I personally believe that art can only continue to survive by reaffirming its commitment to life and to lived experience.

M Hughes Sussex

Calling all Chartists

Anyone interested in the development of the Chartist movement and the study of working class history, could they send a stamped, addressed envelope to the address below?

George Mitchell Hollingworth House, Tydd St Giles, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire PE13 5LE

PC is OK

Political correctness should have the support of the left. In capitalist society language is used to actively denigrate women and peoples of colour. The power of such language offends, hurts and oppresses people, and is used as a tool in legitimating the status quo.

The right-wing fight against PC is a fight against the inclusion of peoples who are presently left out. The opposition to PC is logically an opposition to genuine democracy and decency. It also opposes the aspirations of women and peoples of colour for dignity and respect.

Marc Deith London

Scousers are no joke

The final paragraph of Alan Renehan's article ('Liverpool lament', May) reads like the script to a 'Scousers' sketch by Harry Enfield. Perhaps Renehan is trying to make his name as a co-median. The fact is that this city has been hit harder than any other by the Tory government. That experience has reinforced our positive local identity which Renehan has no right to make fun of.

Raymond Ainsworth Liverpool

Relegation issues

Isn't Toby Banks' deep sociological analysis of the Bobby Moore tributes (April) simply his resentment of the fact that as a Crystal Palace supporter, his team have never produced a player of similar ability or standing in the game?

Richard Ryan Edgware
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 56, June 1993



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