Letters

Heroes and Villains

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Mike Gonzalez implies that the recent production of Channel 4's Shackleton gives the eponymous hero too much of a positive makeover when he should have been reviled for being just another ghastly member of the ruling class (February SR).

He also points out that the portrayal of the 'stroppy Scot' McNish who flirted with insubordination on numerous occasions was the voice of the working class raging against the ruling class, namely Shackleton.

The Struggle of Good against Evil

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John Molyneux's attempt to explain the popularity of Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' from a left perspective is, I think, a little dubious (Letters, February SR).

Firstly, it isn't necessary to seek out a left wing justification for why some on the left might enjoy a work of fiction. If a novel is well written, engages you with the characters and draws you into its story, then surely this is justification enough. Secondly, Molyneux's thesis of a critique of capitalism, arising from the contrast with a 'feudal communism', doesn't fit this novel. Tolkien's model is not feudalism as such, but the myths and stories of the Middle Ages, indulging in all the respect for heroic royalty which come with them.

Two Sides of the Story

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I was interested to read the review by Diana Swingler of Jane Jordan's biography of Josephine Butler (February SR).

The Contagious Diseases Acts have rightly become notorious for the regime of harassment and abuse which they introduced in the mid-19th century, not only for women working as prostitutes but for working class women in general. Certainly Josephine Butler was the key figure in the cross-class campaign which eventually led to their repeal. I wonder, however, whether Jane Jordan's biography has anything to say about what happened after their repeal?

Lessons to be Learnt

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In his review of Alfred Rosmer's book 'Trotsky and the Origins of Trotskyism' (February SR), John Molyneux says the argument about Zinoviev's role in the Comintern is 'obscure', and that Stalinism is explained by 'objective factors'.

Certainly the rise of Stalin was not just the defeat of 'good' individuals by 'bad'. But the isolation of Russia was not inevitable--it was caused by the failure of the Comintern, and here Zinoviev's role was important. There are two examples of this.

At the second congress (1920) there were a number of delegates from anarchist and syndicalist backgrounds. Lenin and Trotsky welcomed them, stressing unity in action. Zinoviev addressed them in terms that were patronising, sectarian and insulting. The debate is quite relevant to tactics in the anti-capitalist movement today.

The Strongest Link

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The launch of the European Network for Peace And Human Rights took place at the end of January in the European Parliament in Brussels.

There was wide representation of socialists from across Europe, with visitors from the Middle East and North America. Indeed, the thirst for information exchange and bridge building was clear from the large number of activists attending the 'linking the issues' workshop. The other two workshops were on the war on Afghanistan and its aftermath, and the US plans for National Missile Defence, 'Son of Star Wars'.

'People Think That Going on Strike is Fun'

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Chris Bambery's article about the revolt against Blair could not be more timely (February SR). Every day Blair's crisis gets deeper. His 'wreckers' speech unleashed enormous anger across the working class.

Another pointer is pay. Not since the 1970s have we seen the kind of strike activity breaking out among journalists as we have today. Four local newspaper chapels have now voted for strike ballots. This comes just two weeks after the pay victory at the Bradford Telegraph and Argus Group after only one half-day strike, and one of these chapels is not even recognised. The fight is being led by young, and in many cases trainee, journalists--just as it was in the 1970s when NUJ members were forced onto the picket lines.

Nostalgia in the Shires

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All the points made by China Miéville (January SR) about the reactionary outlook underpinning the imaginary world of Middle Earth are spot on, and 'The Lord of the Rings' is certainly not the greatest book of the 20th century.

Nevertheless, as it stands China's critique leaves a problem because it doesn't explain why this deeply conservative fantasy should have proved so enormously popular both with 60s hippies and many people on the left. I think it is because Tolkien's world view, like the feudal socialism described by Marx in 'The Communist Manifesto', does present a critique of capitalism--albeit a backward-looking one.

No Liberation Force

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With reference to the review of the book 'Rogue State' (January SR), it's high time someone did a British version.

Since 1945 the British state has behaved in a very similar way to the US--especially in the former colonies, but also in Greece where British troops turned their fire on the liberation forces as soon as the Germans had gone. The result was the installation of a right wing government including fascist supporters, all the handiwork of a Labour government.

Practice Makes Perfect

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The National Audit Office is investigating the transfer of services from Crawley Hospital to East Surrey.

About 18 months ago Alan Milburn, apparently at the instigation of our MP, called a delegation to his office asking us to put the case for a new hospital in Crawley and the retention of existing services at the old hospital in the meantime. As a result of this meeting he set up a review body to look into the matter of the health needs of the whole area. This body was set up towards the end of 2000, with instructions to report back by the end of 2001. It is in fact having its last meeting, at which, presumably, the report back will be made, on 31 January this year.

Tinseltown Tarnished

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I don't agree with Nigel Davey's review of David Lynch's new film, 'Mulholland Drive' (January SR).

This film is a savage attack on the Hollywood dream factory dressed up as a mystery thriller. It is 'Sunset Boulevard' seen from the opposite end of the casting couch.

What David Lynch depicts in this film 'montage'--like the Norma Desmond character in 'Sunset Boulevard'--is an actor suffocating in the vicious, corrupt atmosphere of the Hollywood system.

It is the story of a young hopeful, Betty, who arrives, childlike, in Tinseltown pumped up with dreams generated by the alluring monster Hollywood.

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