Following on from the BBC4 programme about MR James and Lawrence Parker's review ('Comforting old haunts' December 5), I reread Oh whistle and I'll come to you, my lad, which I remembered as being pretty much the scariest thing ever written.
I think the Victorians must have had a completely different mindset from modern readers, as I found the prose incredibly 'clunky'. One had to wade through it to get to the essence of the story. I could not believe it was meant to be read out loud - the audience would have fallen asleep before the end of the first page!
I was itching to rewrite it in a more fluid, pared-down manner, to bring out the spine-chilling nature of the story's concept.
On January 1, thousands of outraged people in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk demonstrated on the streets against their appalling living conditions, against the suffering caused by the US-backed Iraqi government's failure to restore basic services and against a recent dramatic increase in the price of fuel.
Instead of responding by fulfilling the protesters' basic needs, the US occupying forces fired on the unarmed demonstration, killing two people. Then, on January 4, Iraqi police fired on a demonstration of the unemployed, killing four protesters and injuring 40 others. Mass protests of this sort are the result of the chaos and social breakdown caused by three years of occupation.
The Worker-communist Party of Iraq stands wholeheartedly with the workers' and people's demands for a decent standard of living, as well as an end to the occupation.
Therefore we call on all labour movement, social justice and anti-war activists to join our protest in London in front of US embassy, starting at 12 noon on January 13, or write letters of protest to the US government.
I appreciate that letters must be shortened because of space but my letter of December 15 regarding population was edited so as to give the impression that I believe that capitalism has an answer to population growth. I think nothing of the sort.
While population trends are certain to change with time, the point I was hoping to make was that such trends are the unintended effects of economic relations, not positive human desires. So we cannot tackle population growth (or decline) without taking on the mode of production. Second, while the USA produces a quarter of human carbon dioxide emissions, can the population question be reduced just to numbers?
Third, in Capital, Marx addressed the two main ecological problems of his time, when the world's population was much smaller: namely industry and agriculture. Despite numerous technological revolutions, they remain the principal villains. So the problem that capitalism poses in relation to the earth's finite resources is not tied to population size. Also, because of the way capital treats labour there is always "Malthusian" overpopulation. Poverty creates ecological problems of its own.
All in all, it is impossible to rationally discuss human population questions or other inter-related ecological matters outside the struggle to get rid of capitalism. Communism promises abundance. If abundance is interpreted as the material conditions for universal human freedom, rather than the existence of an unlimited amount of everything, then it should be possible to create a democratic programme that confronts the issue from a co-evolutionary position.
Is the Weekly Worker going to ask Roger Protz to become its new editor? At times it reads more like Camra's What's Brewing, edited by Protz, than a socialist newspaper.
You rightly state that "we want the working class to become a ruling class" ('Booze and moral panics' December 15). But it can't do this if its collective brains are addled with booze and drugs. The working class needs to politically educate itself and organise. It needs to develop the capacity for a protracted battle - including, if needs be, armed struggle - for power. It needs to set aside hedonism and self-destructive "pleasures" and develop the kind of iron discipline that motivated the Red Army from 1917 and the New Model Army in the civil war of the 16th century.
To state that the temperance movement was "an anti-working class campaign of social control" ignores vital areas of proletarian history. There were teetotal Chartists like Henry Hetherington of the Poorman's Guardian and Chartist temperance groups in a dozen towns. The East London Chartist Temperance Association advocated "the necessity of the working classes abstaining from all intoxicating drinks in order to assist themselves in obtaining their political rights". In Hull the Republican Club marched in temperance demonstrations with friendly societies, liberals and the Magna Carta Association, all of which had working class support.
Kier Hardie, the founder of the Independent Labour Party, was a Grand Worthy Chief in the Good Templars and the Socialist Prohibition Fellowship - one of the groups which formed the original CPGB. While many leading Tories were brewers and were rewarded with seats in the House of Lords, many socialists developed their skills as speakers and organisers in the temperance cause. They had experienced at first hand the horrors that drink inflicted on their class and wanted to end it.
Your position seems to indicate you care more about the criminals than the victims of crime. Socialists have to become the defenders of decent working class communities - the police are there to protect the property of the rich - against the criminals and lumpen thugs.
Vote for John
The SWP central committee's polemic against John Molyneux is a wonderful argument for putting him on this committee - its current members do not want John and that cannot be a bad thing ('A loyal rebel' January 5).
If anyone has a vote in the 'democratic' organisation that is the SWP, on behalf of us all, please vote Molyneux!
Vote for John
The Muslim Council of Britain's boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) reeks of prejudice and hypocrisy.
The MCB has announced it will not participate in HMD on January 26 because it is not sufficiently inclusive. It seems to have completely reversed its previous objections - five years ago, it argued that HMD was too inclusive. The only thing consistent about the MCB is its opposition to the human rights of lesbians and gay men.
In 2001, the MCB objected to the fact that gay victims of the Nazi death camps were remembered. It objected to the inclusion of the so-called gay genocide. The MCB seems to disparage the suffering of gay people under Nazism.
However, the MCB now says it would be honoured to participate in a national memorial day, providing that it clearly affirmed that the lives of all people, regardless of race or religion, are to be valued equally. But this clearly does not include gay people. Last week the leader of the MCB, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, condemned the gay community, stating that same-sex relationships were harmful, immoral and spread disease.
Given the prejudice and discrimination that muslim people have suffered, it is astonishing that the MCB happily advocates prejudice and discrimination against the gay community. It has actively opposed all the gay law reforms of the last decade and has openly supported the retention of discriminatory, homophobic legislation, such as section 28 and the unequal age of consent.
Instead of sowing division and stirring intolerance, the MCB should be working to secure a fair and just society, free from islamophobia and homophobia.
Having seen King Kong and read Jeremy Butler's review, I find many of the comments made justified - the story was spoilt by the sheer magnitude of effects crammed into three hours ('Special effects limitation' January 5). In fact, the scenes I most enjoyed were those in which there was very little dialogue and action.
I also felt that the effects went slightly too far, with the heroine, Ann, being dropped, caught and quite violently 'ape-handled' (which I am not sure was believable in terms of the severe bruising this would involve). The sheer variety of creatures used was not necessary to the story or for the feel of tension and danger that these creatures seemed to represent.
However, I feel that Jeremy has been somewhat too harsh. Despite the film's many flaws it is still enjoyable and the emotional rollercoaster is quite overwhelming (I spent much of the film in tears). I believe that the emotional elements ultimately shine through the dirge and you feel connected to what Ann is put through.
I also believe that director Peter Jackson did the original justice, bringing it up to date with the technology at his disposal, giving King Kong a more human element that was lacking in the first version.
Back on track
I do not want to get into a permanent dialogue with my old friend, Graham Bash, as I suspect he will only change his views on being part of the Labour Party when it finally kicks him out - Graham has, I am afraid, become institutionalised. However, I do want to correct Graham when he speaks about Scotland, of which I suspect he knows little (Weekly Worker January 5).
It is true the Scottish Socialist Party did badly at the general election last May. Indeed I was one of the candidates, so I know how frustrating it was to work hard and get only two percent of the vote. But there were reasons for this.
First, the SSP is perceived rightly as a Scottish party with no interest in Westminster. Second, Westminster elections are profoundly undemocratic and outside the special circumstances of Bethnal Green it is always going to be difficult to get socialist candidates elected. Can I remind Graham that the Labour Party was elected with 35% of the popular vote or 22% of the electorate? Third, the SSP has been going through a difficult period since Tommy Sheridan stepped down as convenor.
However, there are signs that we are getting things back on track and our real test comes in the 2007 Scottish parliament elections. These are organised on a democratic basis and at the last election almost half the electorate voted for parties to the left of Labour. Next time there is a real chance of a left coalition being elected that could also lead to Scottish independence.
That would pose the English left new problems, as it would remove 42 Labour MPs from Westminster and, with a resurgent Conservative Party, this would mean the end of Labour. However, as Graham admits, David Cameron is the direct inheritor of Blair's policies, so maybe they will not notice much difference.
Graham reveals a plan to elect Walter Wolfgang as an NEC member. To greet this as a major initiative suggests the bankruptcy of the comrades of Labour Briefing. Of course, in the wake of all his publicity he may well be elected, but the NEC does not matter any more - it meets only six times a year and is totally powerless.
By the way, I approve of Graham's holiday reading. Robert Fisk is a great journalist, but remember his message to tell the truth, even if it is uncomfortable. That includes the truth of being organised in a party that is sustaining the most pro-capitalist, anti-working class government in British history.
Back on track
Back on track
Effort spent on the Labour Party is a wasted effort.
The current trade union movement is severely weakened because of the anti-union laws, which New Labour will never repeal. Some minor concessions have been made, but it is very difficult for unions to operate effectively. Where unions are effective it is mostly in the public sector, where they benefit from good levels of historical organisation.
The policies of the TUC are in contradiction to those of government, one being privatisation. This collision between unions and government looks set to continue, with Blairites trying to keep the unions under control. But in the long term, if the unions cannot make life better for workers, then the workers will form other movements. Thus the Labour Party-trade union link is likely to become a myth.
Change is the only constant. Life is going to get much tougher for the working class. Violent aggression among the youth of Britain is being contained by drugs and booze. These rather than religion are the real opiates of the masses.
The British working class needs a revolutionary organisation. The Labour Party is no such thing, nor has it ever been that. Today, 'revolutionary' means simple things such as security for workers, decent pensions, decent healthcare, no tuition fees and an end to billions upon billions being spent on Trident and war.
Charles Kennedy is, of course, not a socialist. So what significance could his demise have for socialists, other than to prove that liberals can be just as vicious as anybody else?
Perhaps not much. On the other hand it might create some new polarisation in British politics that works its way through to us.
Why? Kennedy represented a political current decidedly to the left of the current Labour Party. It appears that he has been brought down by forces significantly to his right. This does not seem to be just about alcoholism. The leading figures among Kennedy's opponents are keen on free-market economics. They might not be as opposed to the Iraq war as the Kennedy group. They may not continue to be opposed to recent anti-immigration legislation.
This could leave a substantial body of Liberal Democrat members/supporters out in the cold - a group who will maybe want to oppose the Blair/Cameron consensus. They may be looking for new homes and might decide that they will not be able to find it in mainstream politics.
This is both an opportunity and a threat for us: an opportunity because there will be people who could be won to socialism; a threat because this current is not and has never been rooted in the working class. The danger is also that forces on the left will adapt to the left liberals rather than try to win them over to socialist politics. A competition for the spoils between the Green Party and Respect could send them both hurtling rightwards. Principles have never been their strong point.
John Percy has been ousted as national secretary of Democratic Socialist Perspective, the mainstay of Australia's beleaguered Socialist Alliance.
At its recent conference, debate centred on the DSP's attitude to what remains of the SA. Readers of my previous contributions will know that two main perspectives were proffered. Percy, the incumbent national secretary and co-founder of the DSP, favoured cutting the DSP's losses. The SA has been a failure as a vehicle to cohere the socialist left in Australia. While it has dealt various blows to the DSP's factional rivals in the SA, particularly the International Socialist Organisation, it has not prospered as the DSP genuinely would have liked. Percy wanted to face this reality and rebuild the DSP.
Percy held a minority position on the national committee in the lead-up to the conference. The majority around Peter Boyle favoured continuing the fiction of the SA. No doubt Percy regards this position as liquidationist. The DSP has had to foot the bill for the SA while at the same time seeing levels of discipline and politics among its cadre base wither. Numbers have also fallen, as have finances.
The DSP has not issued any statement on the conference as yet. However, I understand that the first day of the three-day conference ran hours over time amid fairly heated exchanges. It ended slightly earlier than expected on January 8.
The fallout, as expected, is a victory for Boyle's grouping over the John Percy and Doug Lorimer position. Percy has been replaced as national secretary by Peter Boyle and kicked upstairs to the position of national president.
While there is a degree of healthiness in the fact that John Percy has been voted out of his position without an immediate split, it will serve to merely paper over the increasingly acrimonious divisions in the DSP. Given that the DSP favours the cultish methods of James P Cannon, I expect very little light to emerge from the conference beyond bland majority statements. As ever, in such grouplets the minority is gagged from public expression.
What this means is that the DSP will continue to use the SA as its main public face for campaigns and electoral work. No-one in Australia is in any doubt that whatever is left of the SA is merely a front for the DSP.
I do not understand why the Weekly Worker has launched an assault against Fausto Bertinotti and Rifondazione Comunista over the question of women's rights (Church and state against women's rights January 5).
The PRC has consistently defended law 194 since the party's foundation in 1991, unlike the old PCI, whose vacillating line over abortion led its erstwhile front organisation, the UDI (Union of Italian Women), to break with it in 1978. The PRC's principled stand on the issue is in marked contrast to the twists and turns of the PDS/DS, whose leading figures, especially Massimo D'Alema, have frequently sought to ingratiate themselves with the catholic hierarchy. Rifondazione played a significant role in collecting signatures for the June 2005 referendum over issues related to in vitro fertilisation and reacted to the catholic church's call for abstention by mobilising its membership to vote - the much higher than average turnout in PRC strongholds like Livorno bears witness to this.
The PRC's equally intransigent stance on the question of gay rights was demonstrated last year in its successful nomination of Nichi Vendola, a PRC member and perhaps Italy's most famous gay activist, for the presidency of the southern region of Puglia, not an area traditionally renowned for progressive views about homosexuality.
Whilst I would criticise the PRC's daily Liberazione for its softness in its obituary articles about pope John Paul II - an opportunist reaction during the final days of the spring 2005 regional election campaign - and I was rather saddened to read that Bertinotti no longer regards himself as an atheist, it is absolutely outrageous to implicitly equate Bertinotti with a catholic bigot like Galloway, or the PRC with an organisation like Respect, which regards gay rights as a mere 'shibboleth'. Moreover, unlike Galloway, Bertinotti is accountable to the party membership and in the extremely improbable event of his making some concession on women's rights his majority within the party would disappear overnight, based as it is on those who are most committed to a movimentista orientation rather than on the more traditionalist Area dell'Ernesto (who might conceivably regard issues relating to gender and sexuality as secondary to class ones).
Participation in L'Unione, which is only a loose electoral bloc against Berlusconi, not some attempt to liquidate the party, is a tactic whose merits can be debated, but there is no reason that it should imply an abandonment of principle on abortion any more than the PRC's participation in the Progressisti, another centre-left electoral bloc, in 1994 did so.
Paul Hampton's pessimistic and overwhelmingly negative appraisal of the Bolivarian revolution makes little attempt to understand the revolution in the context of Venezuela's social and political history ("Bonapartism or social democracy", January 5). Instead the reader is treated to rather dogmatic genuflection to Marxist orthodoxy - sadly all too prevalent in Trotskyist writing.
Hampton argues that the Venezuelan "regime" is "Bonapartist" because Chávez has "militarised politics" with the military "central to his rule". It"s true that Chávez has sought to revise the relationship between the population and the military and has argued that the military should play a useful function in society. However, Gregory Wilpert points out that this does not necessarily indicate that civilian society is become more militarised but could also suggest that the military is becoming more civilian.
I fail to see what a socialist could find objectionable about Plan Bolivar 2000, in which the military was used to improve the living standard of the poor, by, among other things, cleaning up streets and schools, improving the environment to fight endemic diseases and recovering the social infrastructure in both urban and rural areas.
Hampton argues that it is permissible for socialists to join social democratic parties because "Social democracy is in some sense of the labour movement. It is bound up with the trade union bureaucracy and with MPs." He cites Lula's Workers Party in Brazil as an example. He points out that the "Bonapartist" MVR does not fit this category and as such cannot command any support.
In practical terms this would have meant that in Venezuela socialists should have backed Acción Democrática (supported by the yellow CTV federation) against the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) in 1998. Not a wise idea, given that AD were complicit in the implementation of an aggressive IMF-imposed neoliberal package in the 1980s and the cold-blooded killing of hundreds of street demonstrators by security forces.
It's true that the MVR did not emerge as a union-based party, but at the time of its formation no such union movement existed in Venezuela. The main union federation at the time, the CTV, was clientelist and reactionary to the core - it hadn't represented its members in a meaningful sense since the 1970s. Its leaders supported the neoliberal assault on Venezuela and even sat on a tripartite commission with bosses and the government to draw up the cuts. It's been the democratic space created by the Bolivarian revolution (always placed in sneering quotation marks in Hampton's screed) that has allowed for real democratic and class struggle unionism to emerge.
Hampton warns that the social movements in Venezuela risk cooption by the "Bonapartist regime". Venezuelan-based academic Steve Ellner gives an opposite perspective. Ellner points out that due to decades of corruption in a country awash with oil money, there is great suspicion among many Venezuelans towards political parties. This has led to a situation, he says, where the MVR doesn't want to control social movements directly. He cites as an example a series of political meetings that he attended which saw a broad range of activists discuss ongoing events in the country. There was no MVR representative (Morning Star May 28 2005). Ellner even expresses the concern that as a result of consciously trying to give too much space to grassroots organisations the MVR runs the risk of becoming increasingly cut off and bureaucratic.
At the 'First Latin American Gathering of Worker-Recovered Factories' held in Caracas on October 27-29 2005 Chávez stressed that the National Workers Union (UNT) "is not and should never be an appendix of the government. It must be autonomous and free" from it. Numerous UNT official documents stress that the UNT is an autonomous democratic union.
In recent years Venezuela has made huge advances in social, economic and human rights. It has witnessed an explosion of grassroots political activity and an indigenous cultural revival. Illiteracy has been eradicated and access to free healthcare has been greatly expanded. Moreover Venezuela is part of an emerging leftwing bloc in Latin America that is asserting a challenge to neoliberalism and US political and cultural hegemony.
It is for these reasons that the labour and leftwing movement in the UK is overwhelmingly behind the Bolivarian revolution and urges international solidarity. Thank goodness that far-left sectarians like Hampton remain on the fringes of the movement.