Mick Kennedy's desire ('Bomb warnings', December) for the IRA to blow up
more agreeable targets and for Gerry Adams to talk tough to the faithful
is a little wide of the mark.
Surely, uncritical support flows from the fact that there exists a context
in which any assertion of the right of the Irish to self-determination will
necessarily be at odds with the objective interest of the British state,
no matter what form that assertion takes. Nationalism of course, on its
own merits, will always be a woefully inadequate vehicle with which to articulate
the social interests of the Irish or any other masses, and is inherently
unstable, but we already know this, don't we?
A better way of understanding the current situation would be to present
a detailed outline of the strategy of the British state as pursued since
the hunger-strikes, and who it is aimed at. This spawned the Hillsborough
accord and the more recent 'talks', as part of a package of bringing the
Republic 'on side', boosting the Catholic middle-class, pacifying the Americans,
and pouring oil on the turbulent waters of the evangelical Protestant fringe,
while simul-taneously maintaining the low-intensity operations of the Brian
Nelson kind. Sinn Fein's current impasse reflects the success of this strategy
in the light of the brittle, narrow confines of their own politics.
The logic of Kennedy's article is that criticism can now be levelled at
the republican movement due to the low level of anti-Irish chauvinism, and
that the reason for this low ebb lies in the slide to compromise that is
evident in Sinn Fein and most other national liberation struggles. But this
is to turn unconditional support on its head, as the shortcomings of republicanism
are posited as the axis around which this conditionality revolves.
The low ebb of anti-Irish chauvinism surely reflects the low ebb of just
about everything else of substance in contemporary politics, as well as
the subtle but significant strategy that has contained the conflict within
parameters which are now confidently determined by Whitehall. To be sure,
we need to be able to comprehend the often bizarre tactics of a movement
which has caused the establishment such a headache throughout the twentieth
century, but not in the way Kennedy does.
Steve Bowler Belfast
The criticism made by S Davies (letters,
January) of Mick Kennedy's article on the IRA bombing campaign was that
'the campaign's problems merely reflect the broader difficulties of the
[republican] movement' and that Kennedy should have taken as his starting
point the republican movement's political strategy.
I am glad Davies appreciates that the bombing campaign is a reflection of
the republican movement's political direction. The point of the article
was precisely to take that 'reflection' as the starting point for a discussion
with a British audience about the problems of the political strategy.
The muted response to the IRA's campaign is a reflection of a broader shift
in British politics. That is why it is nowadays possible to shift the balance
from putting all of our energy into countering anti-Irish hysteria, into
a discussion about the dangers facing the liberation struggle. This brings
me on to Justin O'Hagan's letter.
He suggests people on the left should be critical of the IRA/Sinn Fein because
they have no mandate, and because their acts of violence have led to nothing
but misery. But people on the left in Britain have a duty to challenge existing
prejudices and clarify the real issues. This still means pointing out that
Britain started the Irish War, and that it keeps the violence going through
the maintenance of a sectarian state.
The fact that the IRA are engaged in a conflict with a colonial power which
is denying self-determination to the Irish nation gives the struggle a democratic
content. In such a conflict it is essential to take sides, rather than to
waste time deploring the violent consequences. The criticism that we should
make is against any tendency to degrade the liberation struggle.
Stuart Sharp London
Given an IRA presence in Britain, it's hardly
surprising that many British people would be critical of IRA strategy. Many
Irish people feel the same about the British military presence on their
soil. It's pointless to debate whether or not a particular response to bombs
and bullets is appropriate.
It's also true to say that most British people are unable to participate
in any meaningful debate on the Anglo-Irish conflict, simply because they
don't know enough to talk sensibly on the subject for any length of time.
We desperately need more information, articles and interviews from the people
at the sharp end of the war, the voices of the people and politicians who
are marginalised and ignored by most sections of the British media. In the
past, Living Marxism has broken through the wall of censorship and
silence, and published some excellent, informative articles from the front
line. Let's have more of this and less of the abstract debate.
Pauline Hadaway Newcastle upon Tyne
US terror in Somalia
I received a copy of Living Marxism's statement on Somalia the day
that US troops began their invasion. Anybody seeing the news that evening
could not help but reach the conclusion that the reason for the presence
of the US troops had little to do with a 'humanitarian' mission and a lot
to do with the US flexing its military muscle.
US troops began as they mean to continue - by terrorising the Somalis. Four
Somali airport workers were forced, at gunpoint, to lay on the ground. One
brave US marine broke one of the workers' arms in the process. The four
were then handcuffed and abused by a large group of marines until the commander
of the Pakistani UN contingent was forced to cut the workers loose.
What is noticeable about all this is the confidence which the US establishment
is exuding. In Vietnam the US suffered its greatest embarrassment partly
as a result of the media exposing the barbarity of the US forces. In Somalia,
US troops can act like braggarts in front of the whole world and expect
to get away with it. With the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the end of
the Cold War, Western imperialism is facing no opposition. More than anything,
this shows the urgency for building an anti-imperialist movement.
Although all the hype is focusing on US aggression it must be borne in mind
that Europe is also trying to get in on the action. On the same day 180
French foreign legionnaires were landed in Mogadishu to prepare for an invasion
by 2100 French troops.
We can no longer be taken in by the 'White Man's burden' argument. The 'humanitarian'
excuse that is being put about by Western imperialists and their apologists
is, in essence, no different from the 'humanitarianism' of saving the despot
regime in Kuwait and reducing Iraq to rubble, or saving South Vietnam from
the 'tyranny' of the North.
Iraq, Yugoslavia, Somalia...the question is not 'where next' but 'what next?'.
Joe Daly Leeds
Another view of queer
Andrew Greenlees ('A different view
of queer', January) is wrong to criticise Hugh Mitchell and Kayode Olafimihan
('A queer view', November) for exposing queer as the nineties edition of
the same tired old navel-gazing identity politics that held sway over radicals
in the eighties. People need to know that, despite all the posturing, there
is nothing new here.
Greenlees is probably right to point out that the banality of 'gay politics'
was a consequence of the left's failings. But he fails to mention that Outrage
is itself lead by long-standing Labour left activist Peter Tatchell, and
that queer represents nothing other than the collapse of radical thinking
into a conservative resignation to the status quo.
Greenlees says that queer is an expression of the 'determination for change'.
This is nonsense. I cannot understand how celebrating the diversity of individuals'
'sexual identities' is supposed to help in the project of social change.
These identities already exist and are often the product of the rotten ghettoised
existence that anyone who fails to conform to the sexual 'norm' is forced
to endure. If anything the contemporary obsession with these identities
is both an expression of the problem of inequality and one of the obstacles
to solving it.
Queer has arisen out of the failure of the old left to bring about any change.
The only thing it challenges are the laughable attempts of Sir Ian McKellen
to be respectable. Andrew Greenlees understands that queer is nowhere near
what is needed, but it is symptomatic of the low horizons shared by many
that he feels the need to defend them as they retreat up the tedious cul-de-sac
of gay sensibility.
David Wright Manchester
The problem with modernism
The idea that there is a direct or even a mediated causal connection between
the formal self-absorbtion of modernism and the social elitism of the modernist
intelligentsia ('The fear of the masses', Marxist Review of Books, December)
in my view equates two entirely different phenomena by seeing them as expressions
of the same thing: the inherent limitations of bourgeois thought.
The relationship between the obscurity of modern art and any social elitism
of modern artists is generally, at most, a metaphorical one. As a general
rule 'fear of the masses' is not an adequate explanation of the failings
of modernism. Inability to relate meaningfully to the masses is a failing
of Marxist, Liberal and Conservative alike. The failure of modernism is
linked much more to the total inability of modern thought in general to
grasp the true nature, meaning and direction of modern social life, and
hence to find a place for itself in that life.
If the intelligentsia have ignored Marxism and the needs of the masses this
is as much the fault of the Marxists - and the apparent lack of any realistic
revolutionary alternative - as it is of the intelligentsia. Even this has
had as much to do with objective historical conditions as with any ideological
At the end of the day modern art failed to find any meaningful order in
modern life. And so to preserve itself from chaos and incoherence it cut
itself off and sought order within itself. Thus it denied itself any social
or human validity and so, paradoxically, became a symptom of that wider
lack of meaning and order anyway. This has had as much to do with the lack
of influence of the masses as it did with the liberal intelligentsia's fear
of them. The main thing was the decline of the world revolutionary movement
and the loss of all optimistic hope in the future.
Martin Hughes Sussex
Hands off Madonna
If Madonna is powerless as Kevin Reid makes out (letters,
January) because 'she finds it necessary...to present herself as a sex
object', then what's the point of attacking her? If she is more a victim
than part of the power that oppresses women, then going against her won't
help women who don't even have the choices that Madonna has. The inferior
position of women in society is not because of Madonna's 'powerlessness'.
Neither is it reinforced by it.
And if Madonna's presentation of herself as a sex object where 'it is the
body, not the brain, that matters' implicates 'all women' as Reid
says, then does it mean 'all women' are sex objects? This is definitely
the old stereotype he talks about. It's one that Madonna subverts. Hence
she says 'where is the rule you can't use your mind and your body
from start to finish?' ('Neurotica', December).
The fact is Madonna is in control, and this control doesn't create or reinforce
sexism as I see it. The difference between her and other 'sex objects' is
precisely because she does have complete authority over her artistic
output. Reid should remember, it's not pornography itself that oppresses
women, it's what it reflects; the social and economic subjugation of women
by capitalist society.
Even if you take away the 'rude bits', capitalism will still be there. However
if you positively change society, the nature of female pornography will
change with it. Society creates pornography not vice versa. So why the fuss?
We've got bigger problems.
As for Madonna representing 'a move in the right direction for those of
us interested in emancipation', few are that naive. We all know Madonna
doesn't go far enough. Women need more than just the choice over what to
do with their bodies.
Also in these conservative, reactionary times, I wouldn't criticise her
for posing naked on cans of lager. Besides being good for a laugh, it will
be one in the eye against moralism disguised as feminism.
Theodore Odeluga South London
So Toby Banks thinks, about Down's Syndrome, that it's 'sick' to say that
a society which contained only normal children would be an impoverished
one ('Some more sick ideas', January).
I don't know whether he's ever met one, but I'll bet he can't tell us for
sure what the difference is between him or me or someone with Down's Syndrome.
Some of them can read and do sums, some can't. Some can do gymnastics, some
can't. Some can hold down simple jobs, some can't. So what?
I'm a committed Marxist, but I can't see how having people like this around
gets in my way or anyone else's. I don't think it's abnormal to be illiterate,
or clumsy, or unemployed. But I know some people in the Tory Party and further
to the right who do.
I suspect our jovial Toby is really a bit uptight - he's probably scared
that having Down's Syndrome means you're the sort who are liable to grab
hold of him and pull his underpants down in public. Come on son, loosen
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 52, February 1993