Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Saving what’s Left: Mélenchon bucks the trend? (2022)

Mélenchon in Toulouse
From the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent Presidential ballots in France have ended as everyone predicted they would do: in the second round run-off Emmanuel Macron clearly defeated Marine Le Pen, the leader of the right-wing Rasssemblement Nationale (RN). Although Le Pen’s performance in the important pre-vote TV debate with Macron was not quite as bad as her efforts of five years ago, she remained incapable of countering Macron’s grasp of detail and his schoolboy enthusiasm for all things technical. The prior elimination of candidates representing what remains of the mainstream in French politics, made the electoral outcome horribly inevitable. Although Le Pen looked very confident about the effects of her rhetorical flourishes, her defeat represents the normal outcome of latter day Fifth Republican politics. Even if we take into account the seeming originality of Macron’s electoral majority formed around his République en March Party (LREM), it is still business as usual.

The LREM is a grouping of left and right politicians fleeing from the existing party structures; a kind of Blairite big-tent of perplexed opportunists and old sweats seeking a second youth. Its existence underlines the gradual shrinkage and fragmentation of the conventional republican centre right and a parallel demise of putatively socialist and communist parties. In reality, the supposedly left/right centre of Macronism only looks novel when contrasted with the continuing presence – indeed growth – of the party formerly led by Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen. Her father set up the openly racist Front National (FN) to give vent to his visceral hatred of Arab immigrants, blacks and Jews. The space he created for this putrid style of politics opened the way for the somewhat less vociferous RN. A recent dalliance with respectability means that the RN remains largely bankrupt both in terms of ideas and in strictly financial terms.

Contemporary French politics, in fact, boils down to how the centre have used this extreme right excrescence to their own advantage. For conventional parties, the fact that the FN/RN persistently falls at the last hurdle of the presidential run-off is all to the good: its existence creates a feedback loop which unfailingly returns the system to its original (centrist) point of departure. This is especially true when a particularly close result provides a frisson of excitement in an otherwise stagnant body politic. This strange situation is partly due to the fact that de Gaulle’s plebiscitary monarchy established in the 1950s was designed for stability. Under its umbrella voters are gently enjoined to vote for the least-worst candidate in the two-person run-off. To begin with, the perversity of the system was hardly visible: tailor-made for the grand Charles, it offered little scope for competitors. But with some tweaking it could be made to work for politicians who lacked the general’s post-war charisma. The needed refinement was introduced by Mitterrand who – working in cahoots with Chirac – introduced dodgy reforms to the electoral system in order to maintain the FN as a looming death-star aimed at the centre of the universe. So it is that with national service long gone, the militaristic superb of the General has given way to the charmless style of one Emmanuel Macron who came to power from the élite schools and the banking sector. He is hardly a hero of the resistance. But the message for conventional politicians is clear: cynics, nincompoops and technocrats can sneak into power simply on the back of the presence of an ageing cohort of scruffy xenophobes. What a system! But it is one which has been used equally by Chirac, Sarkozy and Francois Hollande.

The Le Pen clan then, father and daughter, have operated as scarecrows – répoussoirs – who make the centre position preferable. The result, over time, has been the creation of an inward-looking political caste of untouchable top-level functionaries and corporate tycoons linked at the hip by the spinning of the revolving door leading from public sector to financial opulence. The ‘Caste’ – the title of a recent book – try to hold both ends of the political spectrum. This creates a kind of see-saw arrangement where no one is really happy to make the first risky move away from the centre. The only perspective is found in the rear-view mirror: for example, wannabe presidential candidates like to imitate the distinctive gestures of the grand Charles in the hope of squatting the comfortable middle-ground. This was easy enough for Mitterrand (who famously once denounced the system as a permanent coup-d’état), easy for Chirac but far more difficult for the twitchy and corrupt Sarkozy who in another life was a slick corporate lawyer. Macron’s youth gave him something of a Kennedy style which he used to pull off this scam. But his later success is more of a homage to the working of the system than it is to his tactical perspicacity. In reality Macron is an accident-prone youngster who believes in his own propaganda (‘France, the start-up nation’ was one of his slogans).

Can Mélenchon Save the Left?
Now we are in the run up to the elections to the legislature. This is where things could get interesting. The novelty here is the presence of Jean Luc Mélenchon’s, France Insoumise Party: France Unbowed (what a horrible name!). JLM is a politician who started his political career in the early Mitterrand days when the left adopted reforms meant to be of benefit to ordinary people. These included the lowering of the retirement age to 60, longer holidays, the strengthening of protective labour law, a shortened working week and more statutory rights for part-time workers. In these years JLM was a senator, a professional politician unfazed by Mitterrand’s shift to the right. But he gradually moved away from the French Socialist Party as it adopted policies which put into question many of its more popular reforms. In the end, he established his own small grouping under various guises and enjoyed some moderate success as a gadfly working against a hostile political environment.

He owes his credibility on the left to his unflagging support for popular causes, his vocal anti-racism, and his genuine talent as an orator. He has correctly diagnosed the stagnation induced by the Fifth Republic and proposes a referendum to revive the legislature by switching away from the existing constitution. The constitution tends to favour the rubber-stamping of decisions made by technocrats and applied by presidential fiat. But he was narrowly defeated in the first round of the last two presidential elections partly because of his inability to handle a hostile media. Nonetheless he has a small active group in the Chambre de Deputés, support in the working-class suburbs and a growing influence outside the metropolis.

Things are now working in his favour. The mainstream Socialist Party’s presidential candidate Hidalgo harvested a catastrophically low score in the election (1.7%) and lost her deposit. Similarly low scores were recorded by the Communist Party. The unbelievably uncharismatic leader of the ecologists, Jadot, and other left parties, picked up a few crumbs. For ordinary voters, the left is weak and divided and the political centre of gravity is pulling towards the right. The Socialist Party is suffering from the legacy of weakness and a lengthening series of betrayals. Conventional politicians are now seriously working out how to the raise the retirement age back to 65 and legislation to weaken protective labour law has been adopted largely thanks to François Hollande’s government. So people are looking elsewhere.

At the time of writing, Mélenchon is trying to get the left to unite around a loose coalition under the clumsy acronym of NUPES. This means getting most of the left into his improbable and leaky lifeboat: a coalition of the communists, socialists, and ecologists. So far JLM has managed to neutralise the spoiling tactics of the various party leaders and complacent party hacks. The brutal fact is the left has nowhere else to go. The left coalition will be up against a macrocosm of centrist opportunists and neo-liberals, a deeply divided republican right and the inevitable presence of the spectre on the extreme right. It will be a bumpy ride but things could work out better for him this time. JLM is an unlikely candidate for the supreme office and one who openly dislikes this presidential system. But so far he has managed to pull off an impossible movement towards the union of the left in a very hostile environment. This should give the centre some reason to be afraid. For it could spell the end of the terrible legacy of de Gaulle. Whether Mélenchon is willing to shake off the darker side of Mitterrand’s legacy is another matter.

Obituary: Matt Culbert (2022)

Obituary from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with great sorrow that Edinburgh Branch has to report the passing of a long-time and active member of the Party, Matt Culbert.

Matt first joined the Party’s Glasgow Branch on the 12th June 1972 and soon became an avid attender of its lively outdoor meetings. Due to personal problems, Matt was lapsed but re-joined in 1995.

In many ways Matt was an archetypical member of the Party, busy promoting the case for socialism but also engaging in trade union activity as a shop steward representing predominantly women members, challenging the sexual discrimination and craft outlook of the engineering union with its demarcation lines. This perhaps was what led to him also participating for a time in the Industrial Workers of the World.

Matt left Glasgow to relocate in Livingston, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, transferring his enthusiasm and energy to re-building and bolstering the branch, as well as organising discussion meetings. Matt readily offered himself up as candidate for various Westminster and Holyrood elections, as well as attending innumerable political rallies to leaflet and sell the Socialist Standard.

When the internet replaced the forums of the street meetings, Matt eagerly launched himself into creating a Party web presence, using his self-taught computer skills to assist in the Internet and Blog Committees and more recently replying to questions pertaining to socialism posed on the Quora website.

In addition to his dedication to the Party, Matt had wider interests other than politics and was particularly devoted to reading poetry and listening to music despite hearing difficulties that led to him being a proficient lip-reader.

We offer our deepest condolences to Matt’s partner.
Edinburgh Branch

The long and the short of it (2022)

From the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the great advances in the course of human history has been the increase in life expectancy. It may be argued that life was never quite as nasty, brutish and short as Thomas Hobbes once claimed, but the average human lifespan has clearly increased over the millennia and centuries, having more than doubled in the last two hundred years or so. Moreover, it is a matter of not just living longer but of doing so in a better condition too: people who reach the age of sixty now are likely to be healthier and fitter than their parents, and especially their grandparents, were at the same age. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be said about the determinants and limits on lifespans under capitalism.

Many figures could be cited to demonstrate the improvements. For instance, in 1820 life expectancy at birth was around 29 globally, and 36 in Europe. By 1970 the averages were up to 60 and over 70 respectively. The global chances of a child dying in their first five years are down from 18 percent in the 1960s to 4 percent now. Improved health care and sanitary conditions have clearly been one of the main reasons for these changes. The germ theory of disease led to big reductions in cholera, for instance, in the nineteenth century, when proper sewage systems also resulted in far fewer deaths from typhoid. Infectious diseases have in the ‘rich world’ become less important as causes of death, while chronic conditions such as heart disease and cancer have become more crucial. In some countries, the improvements have been more recent: life expectancy in India rose from 32 to 51 between 1950 and 1968, partly caused by decline in deaths from cholera (and the figure now is 70).

Yet things are not quite as bright and wonderful as is sometimes suggested. Life expectancy varies greatly across nations, and within countries on the basis of such characteristics as skin colour, education and poverty. In some cases, lifespans have been stagnating or even getting shorter. For instance, between 1990 and 2008, life expectancy for white US men without a college degree fell by three years. In general, better educational qualifications imply more years of life, and poverty of course shortens lives. In the US again, black people live on average fewer years than white people, though the gap is narrowing. Unemployment leads to earlier deaths, even when factors such as smoking and previous health conditions are taken into account.

However, in developed countries there is no simple correlation between life expectancy and average income. The US has a high average income but is near the bottom for life expectancy. People in Sweden are less well-off than those in Norway, but have slightly longer lifespans. In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that the determining factor is inequality, which is associated with lower life expectancy, lower birth-weights and higher rates of infant mortality: more unequal countries have worse outcomes in these (and many other) areas.

In 2006–08, life expectancy at birth was far higher in Kensington & Chelsea than in Glasgow: thirteen years in the case of men and eleven years for women. This figure is taken from Danny Dorling’s So You Think You Know About Britain? where it is suggested that premature death was in 2010 ‘the great measurer of the North-South divide’, which involved a line drawn from just north of the Wash to the Bristol Channel, with Grimsby on the northern side and Lincoln on the southern. Dorling argues that other contributory factors to a longer life include occupation, height, periods of unemployment, sleeping rough, eating fruit every day, amount of exercise, and weight. Personal lifestyle can make a difference, but a person’s social situation is clearly of great importance too.

Of course the largest differences in lifespan on a global scale do depend on how ‘developed’ a country is. According to worldometers.info, the two countries with the highest life expectancy are Hong Kong and Japan, with over 85 years each. Figures descend via the UK (over 81) and the US (over 79) to Afghanistan (just below 66), Haiti (just under 65) to the Central African Republic (54). Countries in Africa cluster towards the bottom of the list. It is hardly controversial to say that living standards, health care and access to adequate food are crucial here.

One point that applies in every country is that women on average live longer than men (just over three extra years in the UK). Quite why this should be the case is not clear. It did not hold in rich countries in the nineteenth century, and the difference in Russia is now a remarkable ten years. Various reasons have been suggested, but probably it is the combination of various factors. More men than women smoke; differences in child mortality between girls and boys may make a small contribution; biological factors can apply, such as men having more fat surrounding their organs, which increases the extent of cardiovascular disease. One interesting suggestion is that ‘women do not live longer than men only because they age more slowly, but also because they are more robust when they get sick at any age’: women spend more time in hospital than men but still live longer (article by Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Diana Beltekian at ourworldindata.org).

There can be no doubt that capitalism impacts people’s lives in one of the most fundamental ways, namely how long you will live for. From impoverished countries with short lifespans to places where poverty and living conditions affect a person’s likely years of life, capitalism is simply bad for you. We cannot predict what will happen to life expectancy in socialism, or just what the consequences would be of increasing numbers of elderly people. But we can say that the massive global inequalities will, after a while, cease to exist. Society will be concerned to ensure that everyone leads as long, healthy and rewarding a life as possible.
Paul Bennett

Blogger's Notes:
  • Danny Dorling’s So You Think You Know About Britain? was reviewed in the August 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard.
  • Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Inner Level was reviewed in the October 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Marx was right (2022)

Book Review from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Unlearning Marx. Why the Soviet Failure was a Triumph for Marx. By Steve Paxton, Zero Books, 2021. 165pp.

The thesis of this interesting book is that the failure of the Bolsheviks to establish a socialist society in Russia following the 1917 revolution shows the correctness of Marx’s contention that such a society can only arise from advanced capitalism. And since Russia was not an advanced capitalist society in 1917, it could not ‘jump’ the capitalist stage and go straight to socialism. This is not of course a new argument. In fact, it’s one of the arguments against Bolshevism posing as socialism that appeared in the Socialist Standard in the period immediately following the Russian revolution. Those early members of the Socialist Party were clear that, whatever was happening in Russia, it wasn’t and couldn’t be socialism. But this book has the merit of going to extensively researched lengths to prove beyond any conceivable doubt not only that Russia was massively backward in terms of capitalist development in 1917 but probably more so than has previously been thought. To do this it goes into enormous detail on economic developments in Russia throughout the 19th century and right up to the revolution, often comparing these to what was happening in Western Europe and in particular in the motor of capitalist development that was England. Such detail is used to demonstrate conclusively ‘the failure of capitalist production to penetrate the lives of the mass of ordinary Russian producers’ and so the inevitably premature nature of the seizure of power by Lenin and the Bolsheviks ‘in the name of the proletariat’.

The author follows this by discussion, again highly detailed and documented, of how the Russian economy was built up by the Bolsheviks after the post-revolution period of ‘War Communism’ (1917-22), first under Lenin and then under Stalin, often of course with unbridled violence and brutality inflicted on much of the population. And far from being the development of ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ as the regime presented it, he sees this period as representing the transition stage from feudalism to capitalism that Western Europe had undergone earlier and much more gradually over a period of several centuries. He rejects too the idea that what Russia had during this period was ‘state capitalism’, on the grounds that capitalism was not sufficiently developed there for that name to be attached to it (more like ‘state feudalism’ at least at the beginning, he suggests). And indeed he argues that capitalism didn’t in fact come to Russia until the end of the Soviet Union in 1989 when the Soviet system reached peak ‘stagnation’. This is debatable as before then Russia had all the typical features of capitalism – a money economy, wage labour, capital investment, buying and selling, a small privileged class in control (in this case Party bosses and bureaucrats) and in effect ownership of the means of production, and a large mass of workers with no control over the means of living.

His book also presents the opportunity for the author to effectively put to bed common misrepresentations of Marx and his ideas. He does this, in the sections that focus on it, in a highly readable and credible way. So, far from the collapse of the Soviet Union being ‘a fatal blow to important Marxian theses’, he makes it clear that ‘Marx specifically predicted that projects like the Soviet Union would fail’ and that such an outcome does not in any way mean that ‘socialism has been tried and found wanting’. A further merit of this book is the nuanced discussion of class to be found in the section entitled ‘Deeper into Marx’ which recognises that a relatively small number of exceptions to the Marxian model of the class divide between those who own and control the means of production and those who have to work for a wage or salary to survive may blur the overall picture, but at the same time makes short shrift of the idea of a large number of classes in capitalist society and correctly sees the key to class not in whether someone actually works for a wage or salary but the ‘economic pressure’ on that person, i.e. whether that person has to work in order to survive or can choose not to if they want.

The book’s short concluding chapter which looks to the future is also encouraging. Using Marx’s theory of historical development (historical materialism) as a framework, as the writer has done throughout the book, it states tellingly of capitalism that ‘it has provided the means to produce more and better and faster’, that it has developed ‘technology to the point where we can produce the material abundance required by a free society’ and that ‘the level of technological development it has delivered means that we have now entered a post-scarcity world’. Yet, as he points out, ‘Twenty thousand people starve to death every day. Not because we don’t have the food to feed them – but because our current economic and social mechanisms don’t allow us to deliver that food to them.’ At the same time, he sees no virtue in violent revolution: ‘We are not going to progress past capitalism by seizing the means of production in armed conflict.’ Nothing here that socialists can disagree with, but this reader was left a little bemused by the remedy proposed, as a way of organising our ‘post scarcity world’, consisting as it does of ‘new approaches to the relationships between work and leisure, between work and reward, between possession and ownership and between private property and public value’ and not a democratic system of free access to all goods and services.
Howard Moss

Blogger's Note:
This same book was previously reviewed in the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard by another writer.

Racism and hostility (2022)

Book Review from the June 2022 issue of the Socialist Standard

Of Fear and Strangers: a History of Xenophobia. By George Makari. Yale University Press £20.

The word xenophobia may sound as if it is from Classical Greek, but in fact it is much more recent. It dates from the 1880s, as a psychiatric condition (pathological fear of strangers) and a term for irrational enmity towards other nations, with terms such as Francophobia found. But its real use for dislike of ‘foreigners’ dates from the 1900 Boxer Uprising in China, after invasions by various European colonial powers led to a resistance movement which included the slogan ‘destroy the foreigners’. It was thus employed to explain why people living in Asia or Africa might hate Western armies and colonialists.

A so-called racial science was developed, which inter alia claimed that ‘primitive races’ saw all outsiders and strangers as enemies. This licensed violence against those who evinced such hatred. But, as George Makari shows here, this position was gradually undermined. Reports such as Roger Casement’s on Belgian atrocities in the Congo, together with many other examples of colonial murders and forced labour, made it clear that Western behaviour and attitudes were to blame: ‘Their wild and primitive xenophobic rejection of us was actually our violent dehumanization of them.’ Immigrants to the West, such as Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia, encountered xenophobia from organisations like the British Brothers’ League, which at the start of the last century wanted to halt immigration by ‘destitute foreigners’.

In the 1930s there was a ‘general panic’ in Europe against migrants, and Nazi policies had been foreshadowed in many ways by earlier colonial conquest and domination. Their killings of Jews and others seemed to go beyond ‘just’ xenophobia, and the term genocide was coined in 1944 to describe the intent to destroy a human identity.

Makari provides a full and detailed account of how xenophobia and other racist views have been used to justify mass killings, slavery and so on. The second half of the book, which examines the ideas of psychologists and writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, is less interesting, but the final section has a useful discussion of the return of xenophobia, especially since 2016, as witness Brexit and Trump. It cannot be explained simply as due to economic problems or ‘cultural preservation’. Perhaps more extensive discussion of populist politics would have been helpful here.

It is sometimes argued that it is just part of human nature to distrust strangers or outsiders, who are not part of some in-group and so threaten ‘us’ and need to be driven off. But Makari cites the research of various writers who have argued that restraining aggression had advantages for survival and so led to bands of humans becoming larger, safer and not living in constant fear.
Paul Bennett

Voice From The Back: Cracks in the dynasty (1999)

The Voice From The Back Column from the June 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Cracks in the dynasty

When the gossip columnist Liz Smith announced the Murdochs’ separation in the New York Post last spring there was little sign of the storm to come . . . On the surface, the sticking point is money—whether Murdoch’s lawyers will agree to the rumoured $2 billion settlement Anna is seeking . . . Anna’s interest in the trust arrangement may have less to do with the size of the settlement than the issue of the succession. A director of News Corp since 1990, she was once viewed as a successor herself. And while Lachlan, who heads News Corp’s Australian publishing operations, is considered the front runner, Anna still holds a candle for her eldest child, Elisabeth, the head of BskyB. News Corp is already under fire for shielding profits through a series of complex financial arrangements involving off-shore tax havens—arrangements that have seen News Corp pay no net British corporation tax in 11 years, despite profits here of £1.4 billion. Observer, 28 March.


Two out of every five children are born into poverty and are likely to die poor unless urgent action is taken to tackle the effects of Britain’s growing inequalities of wealth, according to a landmark Treasury report. The study, the most in-depth by the government so far, makes clear the way chronic poverty can be passed on from generation to generation, emphasising unemployment as a root cause. It shows the number of people living in relative poverty has trebled since 1979. One of its most striking findings suggests four million children, one third of the total, live in low-income households. The report also confirmed that the gap between rich and poor widened substantially under the Tories, a development that makes the UK almost unique among developed countries in seeing an increase in inequality. Only New Zealand has seen a similar increase. Inequalities in Canada, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany and Holland have been reduced or remained stable. The Herald, 30 March.

John Browne’s bodies 

[F]or the cigar-puffing Browne [chief executive of BP], who gained his knighthood last year, the difficult part is just beginning. To justify Arco’s purchase he has to find savings of more than £625 million from the deal over the next two years, slashing 2000 jobs as he goes. At the same time he has to maintain morale at Arco’s Los Angeles headquarters to keep the middle management talent that is crucial to his vision of a lean, mean multinational giant. Financial Mail on Sunday, 4 April.

Cheap wars?

The markets and Mr Milosevic seem to have been making the same calculation, that however much Nato governments huff and puff, at heart they care more about the budget than the Balkans. Before too much money has been dropped out of the sky, the markets seem to have reasoned, Nato will want to declare that it has ‘achieved its aims’ and send the bombers home. The stock market’s indifference also reflects recent experience of short, relatively cheap wars. In 1990-91, the Gulf war added about £1 billion to Britain’s defence [sic] spending, and the defence budget rose sharply in the next couple of years as hardware was replaced and plans revised. But virtually all Britain’s direct costs of war were met by Middle Eastern governments. Financial Mail on Sunday, 4 April.

The new slavery

[T]he International Monetary Fund extracted $1 billion from Africa in the last two years. The IMF received $390 million more in loan repayments from the continent in 1998 than it provided in new finance . . . the figure in 1997 was $643 million . . . international financial institutions and western governments were paid back $13 by developing countries for every $1 they distributed in grants in 1998, up from $9 in 1996 . . . Despite borrowing less than they paid back in 1998, total debt in developing countries rose again—by $150 billion to a new total of almost $2.5 trillion because of the backlog of interest payments. Guardian, 8 April.

Dirty Tricks? 

An investigation into the left-wing political extremists who have infiltrated an 18,000-strong Birmingham Council union branch is being hampered by death threats to witnesses, it was revealed today. Dozens of terrified council employees—mostly women—have told the leaders of Unison, Britain’s biggest union, that they are not prepared to give evidence unless they are given protection. Other council officials who have complained about bullying and intimidation by a group of militant activists with warnings that their homes would be “damaged” if they testified . . . As well as harassment complaints, he [Phil Lenton, national secretary of Unison] is looking into complaints that thousands of pounds of branch funds have been wasted booking the International Convention Centre of illegal meetings and subsidising the Socialist Workers Party. Evening Mail, 14 April.

Letters: Legal war? (1999)

Letters to the Editors from the June 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Legal war?

Dear Editors,

I am horrified to watch that NATO are waging war on Yugoslavia without declaring war, in fact, no UN Resolution was passed by the Security Council permitting NATO’s barbaric bombing of Serbia.

I do not condone ethnic cleansing anywhere on this planet, equally I cannot condone Anglo-American-led NATO International Gangsterism in the Third World, getting one country or religion against another and promoting proxy wars for hegemonistic goals.

The Western alliance which arrogantly describes itself as the “International Community” has now embarked on a multi-faceted aggressive campaign to bring Iraq, Yugoslavia and other Third World countries to their knees.

Curiously, Russia and China, permanent members of the Security Council of the UN, are not being consulted; on the contrary they are being rebuffed. China is more interested in her world-wide economic interest and as such China is not challenging the Anglo-American aggressive designs anywhere. The US has become the UN and Kofi Annan its General Secretary, is reduced to an American stooge.

I often ask myself: what have we done to deserve this. “New World Order” or more appropriately “New World Disorder”, especially after the ending of the Cold War.

Is this what is called the “Ethical Dimension” of foreign policy? The self-appointed “International Community” has become judge and jury and executioner.

In the political dictionary, the word “imperialism” is out of style but the barbaric bombing in Serbia, Yugoslavia tells us that “imperialism” is alive and kicking, bullying, intimidating, bombing and killing small nations of the third world.
Avtar Pabla, 

It is true that, unless they conform to the UN Charter, wars are technically illegal under international law. Yet even since it was adopted in 1946, wars have gone on in some part of the world, the biggest of which, the Korean War, was waged under the UN flag. This merely illustrates what Socialists have always argued, that peace treaties are merely worthless scraps of paper. We have never placed any confidence in the UN as a means of stopping war. As wars are caused by the rivalry between capitalist states over markets, trade routes, investment outlets and raw materials that is built into capitalism, only the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by the world-wide system of common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit can do that- Editors.  

Mistaken identity

Dear Editors,

I can’t work out your rationale on Serbia—Stop the bombing!!—Stop the bombing!! And? Then what? Count how many hundreds and thousands of Albanian Kosovan refugees have been forced out of their homes?

Count how many unmarked, mass, civilian Albanian Kosovan graves are currently being filled over by Serb tractors?

Count how many Albanian Kosovan women, young and old, have mysteriously “disappeared” into “Serb safekeeping”?

Count how many Albanian Kosovan houses, shops, workplaces, villages and small towns have been left in smoking ruins by the Serb military?

Count how many mines the Serb authorities are placing around all the Kosovo borders so that Albanian Kosovans “who have nothing to fear” can feel safe and wanted in their own country?

Is this the same SPGB who claim to be on the side of the oppressed and powerless? Supporting the demands of one of the most brutal, right-wing, authoritarian, unreconstructed, military regimes in Western Europe? With the Serbs’ proven track record in Bosnia and Croatia over the last 10 years?

Shame on you?
“Uncle Vladimir”, 
London N16

Although we are in favour of the immediate stopping of all wars, i.e. of the killing of innocent workers on both sides, the posters you have seen proclaiming “Stop the Bombing” have not been put up by us, but by some Trotskyist group which is no doubt supporting Serbia as the lesser evil in the current NATO-Serbia war. So your criticism is misdirected. Besides, of course, as V.I. Lenin you may be their uncle but you’re no relation of ours.

And just because we don’t support the NATO bombing campaign does not mean that we therefore support the Serbian army. We are against both sides, Serbian capitalism as well as NATO imperialism who are fighting over an issue—who should control the territories of the former Yugoslavia—which is not worth the sacrifice of a single worker’s life- Editors.  

“Socialism” or what?

Dear Editors,

Your pathetic reply to Paul Azzario’s letter (April Socialist Standard) illustrates quite convincingly the need to change the name of the party.

When the “S” word is propagated by Socialists, the bemused recipients will have mental pictures triggered of anything stretching from the Labour Party, the “Socialist” countries via Russia’s Soviet past. Surely, even you must admit that nearly 100 years of dedicated slog, has produced no discernible dent in the solid front of political ignorance.

Socialist propaganda goes in and out of the mind with the greatest of ease, because actual examples of Socialism in action are difficult to point to, thus the mind has nothing to work on.

Whatever Socialists do, life will be difficult, so I am suggesting that they try “Lateral Thinking” to assist in getting around part of the problem.

At the moment Socialists use “Direct Thinking”!, e.g. we are “Socialists”! and refuse to change our name no matter how great the confusion! It is the “Charge of the Light Brigade” mentality, the ruinous head-on clash! We count the few survivors and honour them but we are no nearer to Socialism.

Why not attack from the flank. Disarm the enemy by changing your name and use only meaningful words, where others cannot follow. E.g. “One World, Free Access to Everything Produced”. This is a bit of a mouthful, but it is pure Socialism, where no-one else can follow!

I am sure that a competent wordsmith can improve on such a heading, which cuts out all mistaken ideas associated with that “S” word. Supporters of Blair, Benn, Yeltsin, Castro, Trotsky and others will have the ground cut from beneath their feet and be forced to start thinking positively—for the first time.
Sam Levitt, 
London NW3