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
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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