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Letters

Class War

Dear Editors

I read the review of Ian Bone’s Bash the Rich (March Socialist Standard) with interest as a few years back I had a couple of pints with the author in a pub in Bristol. And until recently he could be found selling the excellent community news-and-scandal sheet The Bristolian in that same fair city.

Indeed, one of the most interesting sections in his “confessions” deals with his involvement in a similar publication in Swansea during the late 1970s called Alarm. Populist, pro-working class publications are evidently what he does best, and the mother of them all of course turned out to be Class War.

Here’s my “confession” . . . I always had a bit of a soft spot for CW. Their political positions (such as they were) were always closer to the Socialist Party’s than most anarchists and any lefties. And the paper in its heyday was something to behold. But - and it’s a big but - their avowed methods were, and are, different from ours in the extreme. Bone quotes a comrade of his criticising elitist violence (as opposed to political mob violence) by stating ‘petrol bombs are far more democratic than dynamite’. OK then, but isn’t democratic political action even more democratic still? And, of course, CW famously developed a veritable obsession with the “middle class” that they saw as standing between us and the ruling class.

As his memoirs end abruptly around 1985 we can presumably await further fond rememberings, no doubt featuring tales of the anti-Poll Tax conflict of the early 1990s. Until then, Ian, if you’re reading this, where on Earth did the bloody Bristolian vanish to?

BEN MALCOLM, Bath.

Capitalism

Dear Editors

Thanks for the review of my book Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction (March Socialist Standard), which I appreciate. I introduce the notion of a stage of managed capitalism largely in order to contrast the tendencies of the period (roughly speaking) 1850-1970s with what has happened since the 1970s. I agree that there are continuities across this watershed - the concentration of capital has, for example, steadily increased - but I think we need some notion of a different stage since the 1980s in order to make sense of Thatcherism and New Labour, their similarities and their difference from old Conservatism and old Labour.

While it appeared to many in the 1970s that capitalism was collapsing, and there was plenty of evidence they could draw upon - notably the global decline in rates of profit - capitalism did seem to get a new lease of life in the 1980s.

On the issue of whether the Soviet Union was a form of state capitalism, I would argue that the institutional differences between the Soviet system and the capitalist countries are sufficiently great to warrant the treatment of the Soviet system as fundamentally different, though I would agree that the Soviet Union was a part of the capitalist world economy rather than distinct from it and that it was another means by which labour was systematically exploited. If one treats the Soviet system as a form of state capitalism it is also more difficult to make sense of the 1990s transformation of Russia and its consequences, which flowed from the introduction of capitalist mechanisms.

Perhaps you are too pessimistic on the possibility of changing capitalism, since there have been many important institutional changes in many different countries at many different times. By change you mean change from rather than change of! Are there any signs that a change from is going to happen?

JAMES FULCHER

War

Dear Editors

I agree with Bob Dixon (book of poems reviewed in the March Socialist Standard) that the working class do not give much thought to wars. Some regard them as part of life. You can see this from the way they buy poppies and the way they attend ceremonies which glorify wars. Although many join the forces for adventure and to escape poverty. But we must try to change this culture of war by any means we can including by poems like Bob Dixon’s. If you join the forces you will be expected to kill and be killed. All wars are illegal and you will be expected to fight for the ruling class. Who will put poppies on your grave? You will become part of the poppy day parade. No sympathy. No comment. Just silence. Like the dead.

JOE BOUGHEY, Newton-le-willows.

Death penalty

Dear Editors

In his article (Socialist Standard, March) John Bissett explains some of the cruelties of the death penalty, and talks movingly of his own experience of trying to support someone on death row. As a constitutionally secular society that, ostensibly at least, champions the right of the individual, executions in America seem particularly perverse.

Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone reading this letter is likely to have any overly idealistic ideas about the American government (to say the least!) but couldn’t we at least hope for them to not engage in such a seemingly obvious contradiction of the values for which they claim to stand?

A real turning point for me, in my understanding of both the death penalty and my attitude towards it, came from reading the book ,Who Owns Death? Capital Punishment the American Conscience and the end of executions, by Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell. I really found this to be one of the cleverest and most illuminating books I’ve ever read. I was honestly bowled over by the skill with which the authors tackled this subject. Rather than dwelling exclusively on the point that executions aren’t terribly nice for the person getting killed in this manner, and then vilifying anyone who possessed the inhumanity to express even the slightest sympathy for it under any circumstances ever (as I might have been tempted to do) the authors adopt a diametrically different approach – seeking to understand, rather than pass judgment, on everyone in any way involved in the death penalty process or expressing an opinion on it.

The authors draw a distinction between personal emotions concerning violent crime, and government policy. As they put it: “we can well understand how a husband or sister of a murder victim might want to tear the killer limb from limb; we’d probably feel the same way, at least initially. Yet this does not provide a clear indication about what society should do with convicted killers.”

I’ve had a few conversations with people who regarded themselves as supporters of the death-penalty who I’ve managed to bring around to agreeing it wasn’t a good idea, by first expressing sympathy for their sense of indignation and wish for vengeance, and then gently asking them if they thought the death penalty would really help stop such things (i.e. violent murders) from happening.

The authors explain how the condemned man comes to serve a symbolic purpose - representing evil that needs to be purged, and, a “hard” attitude towards crime generally. This is of course relevant to other groups that can come to represent evil, and towards whom a similarly “hard” attitude is seen as appropriate, i.e. “Islamic terrorists”.

The death penalty is significant not just from the point of view of the suffering it causes to its victims (and everyone else involved in the death penalty process – a point explained by Lifton and Mitchell), but also because it is related to fundamental moral and psychological issues that are a part of everyone’s lives, to do with justice, vengeance, forgiveness, and the value we place on human life. By improving our understanding of these, and learning to ditch the attitude of considering people as “evil” in favour of recognizing them as flesh and blood humans like ourselves, erring and misguided though they may be, we can start to gain a recognition of our shared humanity that, when shared by enough of us, will help bring an end to all instances of inhumanity and neglect.

ADAM WATERHOUSE, Bristol