Their countryside and ours

Finally, as from February 18, hunting and killing mammals with hounds became illegal. Drag hunting using a pre-prepared scent remains legal, as does selective shooting. But the ugly sight of a hound pack savaging a live fox should - in theory at least - no longer be with us. Communists, for one, will not be mourning the passing of this 'sport', which dehumanises those involved and inflicts needless levels of cruelty and suffering on the animal. Frankly, the sooner foxhunting goes the way of bear-baiting, cock-fighting, dog-fighting, etc, the better. The Protection of Wild Mammals Bill was a modest but welcome step which had to be critically defended in the face of a seven-year counter-assault by the forces of reactionary Britain. Thus we had rumbling ermined sedition, which saw repeated attempts by the House of Lords to sabotage the bill. Then we had the second line of attack - extra-parliamentary resistance, direct action and civil disobedience. Notoriously, this led to a plummy mob violently protesting in Parliament Square, and members of the 'Ledbury set' breaking onto the floor of the House of Commons, turning the 'dashing' 21-year-old Otis Ferry into a rightwing pin-up. Eventually though, the government invoked the rarely used Parliament Act to force through the bill and call time on foxhunting. In other words, the battle over foxhunting was self-evidently part of a long war about who runs Britain. Is it the elected government and the House of Commons or aristocratic privilege and the House of Lords? The old aristocracy and the parvenus who ape them and their bloodthirsty ways, bile-belching reactionary journos, the Tory Party's front bench and backwoodsmen, along with a rag tag army of retainers, hangers-on and village idiots, took to the proverbial barricades in rebellion against townies, democracy and the 21st century. Charging over fields on horseback, dressing in tribal pinks, hooraying and trumpeting their right to kill foxes and see them torn to pieces by specially bred packs of dogs - foxhunting was a potent symbol. After all, every hunt or 'chase' was an act of class war in and of itself, a triumphalist confirmation of the 'natural order' which has the rich and landed expropriators at the top and the smallholders, tradesmen and working classes firmly in their place at the bottom. For the upholders of privilege, the new legislation challenges their god-given right to do as they will in the countryside. No wonder Lord Mancroft, a former master of the Beaufort Hunt, confessed that he "blubbed like a baby at the thought that we might never hunt again". No doubt Mancroft's reactionary lament is shared by Charles Windsor and his new fiancée, Camilla Parker-Bowles, both past riders of the Beaufort Hunt. Not that the battle is over, of course. From the mouths of the aristocratic and land-owning elite, and their plebeian and rightwing middle class allies, we now hear that the new law is "unenforceable" and "unjust". Indeed, according to the insufferable Jeremy Irons, the ban on hunting with hounds is "prejudiced and bigoted", while Ferry moans about feeling "persecuted" at the hands of "the urban people", who "hate us deeply". Many of the defenders of foxhunting have talked openly about defying the law, using the language of 'equal rights', and have even compared their campaigns to the ones led by Martin Luther King, Nelson Manuela or Emily Pankhurst. What monstrous hypocrisy. As if these reactionaries lifted a finger in solidarity with the democratic campaigns of the past. Quite the contrary - the likes of King, Mandela, Pankhurst, etc were almost invariably viewed as red troublemakers. Even more to the point, these are the very same people who never hesitated to denounce the 'violence' of the picket line or striking workers. During the miners' Great Strike of 1984-85, for instance, you could not find more ardent supporters of 'law and order' than today's potential lawbreakers. But when it comes to defending their minority privilege, of course, the rules of the game are different - 'by whatever means necessary' now becomes the credo. Communists say that we should take their threats seriously. These reactionary malcontents are fanatically inclined, well organised and, of course, armed, unlike the working class. Clearly, when we examine the pro-foxhunting forces, we see a future anticipation, or outline, of what the vanguard of counterrevolution would look like under British conditions. So, cheered on by the rightwing press, more than 270 hunts gathered at the weekend - and legally killed 91 foxes (it is claimed they were shot, not killed by the dogs) amongst much gloating. The Daily Telegraph featured a front-page picture of a huntsman holding aloft a dead fox under the headline, "So much for your hunt ban, Mr Blair" (February 19). However, there were no violent confrontations with the police. So far, so peaceful. But it would be a mistake to fall into complacency. For example, at the Crawley and Horsham chase, pro-hunters in a four-by-four rammed a van full of protesters off the road, one of whom had to be dragged out unconscious. This has not been an uncommon occurrence in the past and there is no reason to believe that such incidences will not happen again. We have also read that 24-hour special branch protection has been given to Alun Michael, minister for rural affairs, Ben Bradshaw, minister for nature preservation, and Peter Hain, leader of the Commons. Figures for the Real Countryside Alliance, described as the 'Hezbollah wing' of the Countryside Alliance, have vowed to "hound" these ministers, and others, "until they go to their grave" - and have also muttered about plans to infiltrate and storm a series of government buildings in the weeks before the general election, which in all likelihood is only a couple of months away. Naturally, organisations like the CA and RCA are backed, to one degree or another, by rightwing media outlets. However, even the liberal and supposedly more progressive newspaper, The Observer, issued an editorial expressing its sympathy with the pro-hunters, admitting to "delight" in the fact "that the law is clearly unenforceable" (February 20). In response, Michael has promised that the ban will be "effectively enforced", and vigorously rebutted claims that the legislation is riddled with loopholes, or that the police will not make prosecutions for violating the hunt ban a high priority: "From now on, if people set out to hunt a wild mammal with dogs, whether it be a fox, a mink, a hare or a deer, they will be breaking the law," Michael stated. Communists are the most militant and intransigent fighters for democracy - or should be, if they want to claim the mantle of Marx, Engels or VI Lenin. The campaign to ban hunting with hounds had clear majority support in both urban and rural areas. The prattle from the CA, or the likes of Irons or Ferry, about the ban representing the vengeful action of a envious metropolitan "liberal elite", or intolerant townies, is just pseudo-libertarian claptrap. Those who want to restore the 'old regime' in the countryside are part of the minority rural aristocracy and bourgeoisie, not a downtrodden or silent majority. It is indicative of the current state of the left that the whole issue of foxhunting has barely featured on the pages of Socialist Worker, The Socialist, Solidarity, etc. Perhaps our comrades sympathise with the asinine neo-conservatism of ex-Revolutionary Communist Party stalwart Mick Hume, who argues on the Spiked website: "Who could give a fox about hunting with hounds now? The slightly strange hunting fraternity care, obviously, but their minority sport does not affect the rest of society any more than golf does. The anti-hunting zealots care too, but then they live in a world of their own where, in the words of one Oxford academic, hunting foxes is the moral equivalent of torturing children (go tell it to the Russians, professor). However, when most of us think about the priority issues that need addressing, foxhunting ranks slightly below terrorism, transport, health, education, speed cameras and the TV licence fee" (www.spi-ked-online.com/Articles/0000000- CA6C9.htm). What ignorant nonsense. For many centuries most of England was classified as "the chase" - ie, one big, merry hunting ground for the Anglo-Norman nobility. State-backed robbery then dispossessed the peasant farmer in the 16th and 17th centuries and massive tracts of land were forcibly cleared of rural labourers and crofters in the 19th century, for sheep or just so the rich could hunt and kill wildlife, more often than not to the point of extinction. Undeniably, the same class of people who form the core of today's foxhunters and grouse-shooters owe their lifestyle, privileges, invented traditions, etc precisely to this series of historic injustices. Now, we are supposed to forget - like Mick Hume obviously has - that the aristos and capitalist farmers have presided over the ruination of the countryside, using it for profit and 'sport', or that they have fought tooth and nail to keep out the broad mass of the population. That is what their 'rural values' amount to, that is what they want to 'conserve' and that is what their snarling hatred of the new legislation is all about. What really concerns us, though, is not a half-ban on foxhunting. Nor do we yearn for a return to medieval peasant agriculture. Communists envisage a social revolution and the progressive transformation of all existing conditions. As an integral part of that we want the greening of cities and the humanising of the countryside. That would entail ending overpopulation and underpopulation, a rational redistribution of people, much better housing, many more parks, free urban public transport, curbing car use in towns and cities and massively lowering air and river pollution. Instead of fenced off green belts we want forests around every city with free access. Instead of John Prescott's plan to extend London deep into Essex along the Thames gateway, the City of London should be taken over for people. Today it has no more than a few thousand permanent residents; it could easily house a million. Turn the office blocks into beautiful living spaces. The banks, insurance companies, stock markets, commodity traders, ad agencies, etc, who at present occupy almost every inch of the square mile are irrelevant to actual human need. The workers' revolution will consign them all to the dustbin of history. The countryside too must be put under democratic control. All big farms and landed estates will be nationalised and run for human need, not heavily subsidised profit. Our prime concern is the quality of food. The inexorable spread of rural deserts and monoculture must be ended. Nature must be allowed to return. By designating whole tracts of land as wilderness areas, forests, marshes, glades and woods could be made or re-established and species driven to extinction - wolves, bears, bison, wild pigs, etc - reintroduced. This would be for the benefit of nature and the enjoyment of people. Eddie Ford