Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2067

Young people need a future without poverty  (Pic: Jess Hurd/»  )

Young people need a future without poverty (Pic: Jess Hurd/ » )

Justification for crime?

We need calm sensible measures to curb violent crime, particularly among the young.

The “hang ’em and flog ’em” approach of most politicians and the media doesn’t seem to be working. But is constant hand-wringing and more or less justifying violent behaviour really going to stop the problem?

You say (» If young people aren’t valued, why would they value others?, 1 September) that young people are lashing out violently because they are poor, frustrated and angry. If every poor, frustrated and angry young person lashed out by shooting 11 year old boys dead, we would have a lot more bloodshed and more parents’ lives destroyed.

I am working class and I would struggle to feel sorry for any person who violently attacked a member of my family. I am in the same situation as them so what gives them the right to abuse me or my family?

Dan Factor, East London

You are right to emphasise the need to look at the causes for young people committing crime.

New Labour politicians are increasingly all too willing to take crime out of any context, scapegoating parents or blaming violent video games or music for influencing young people.

This is not new. For centuries the ruling class has demonised those at the bottom in a “divide and rule” type way – from the introduction of the word “hooligan” in the 1890s to the moral panic around mods and rockers in the 1960s.

It infuriates me when people argue that to attempt to explain youth crime is simply to excuse it. The shooting in Liverpool – like other recent shootings – was the kind of tragedy most of us could never even imagine.

Of course poverty and blatant inequality can lead to many different outcomes. Some turn to alcohol, drugs and isolation. Some turn to crime. Others simply continue to struggle in their everyday routine.

Like everything in life, people respond differently – but this response is always shaped by experience. Surely an experience of fully funded youth provision and an education system that wasn’t purely exam focused would engender a far more positive response?

Since 1997, New Labour seems to have confused its assault on the “causes” of crime with their actual assault on the “causers”.

During the recent hype around youth disorder the media have neglected to mention that Britain already has the highest number of young people in prison in Europe, yet also the highest reoffending rates – 82 percent of imprisoned 15-18 year olds reoffend within two years.

Clearly prison isn’t working, but still there have been calls this week to lower the age of criminal responsibility which, at ten, is already ludicrously low.

Unfortunately, until the way young people are treated and portrayed in society changes massively, youth crime will continue.

Estelle Cooch, Preston

Empire co-opts

I find Neil Davidson’s argument (» Tartan imperialism, 25 August) that the involvement of probably no more than a few hundred Scots in the colonisation of Malawi somehow proves Scotland not itself to be an “oppressed nation” naive and unconvincing.

A key element of imperialism and colonialism – perhaps that which most clearly defines it from mere occupation and oppression – is its need to recruit “client groups” from within colonised nations and societies to enable it to oppress others.

These “favoured” groups are encouraged to see themselves as having a vested interest in the survival of the status quo.

They may be particular ethnic, religious, linguistic, caste or class groups within a colonised nation, or may be such groups “transported” from one colony to another.

Examples of the latter range from Roman legionaries from one province used to control another, to the Asian communities settled by the British Empire in Africa and the Carribean to provide a “middle class” between the white colonialists and indigenous people.

The fact that the British Empire found a particular religious group from the Scottish lower middle class a useful tool of oppression in Malawi is actually quite persuasive evidence of Scotland being a colonised nation.

Huw Abertawe, by email

Nelson Mandela and imperialism

Was I the only person disappointed by Nelson Mandela’s decision to allow a statue of him to be placed in Parliament Square in London?

The leader of the South African anti-apartheid movement will now be admired alongside the war criminals, imperialists and oppressors of movements for democracy in Britain who are immortalised in stone outside parliament.

The British state is trying to disguise its horrific true nature by cuddling up to the most admired man in the world. Mandela should not have gone along with it.

It is a real shame.

Simone Murray, Carlisle

Victor Grayson and votes for women

I was surprised that in James Dean’s otherwise excellent biography of Victor Grayson (» Remembering an independent socialist MP, 25 August) he made no mention of Grayson’s support for votes for women.

This was one of the key issues of the day, but the record of the labour movement was very uneven. Grayson’s time in the Manchester Independent Labour Party – alongside the Pankhursts – helped to convince him of its importance.

He realised that socialists needed to actively support the campaign for an extension of the franchise to women on the same terms as men – many working class men were still disenfranchised – as a step towards universal suffrage.

Often Labour MPs and trade union leaders used rhetorical support for the latter as a cover for inaction on the former issue.

Grayson’s principled stand helped to win many working women to socialist ideas. The Mirror reported that one of the remarkable features of the Colne Valley election “was the great interest taken... by the young mill girls of the constituency. Not only made suffragettes by Mrs Pankhurst’s eloquence, many of them wore the socialist colours and helped the Labour candidate to win the seat.”

On this issue, if not on others, Grayson understood how socialists can build support for concrete demands while still battling wider injustices.

Andrew Stone, East London

Stone Roses’ hidden call for insurrection

Ian Brown’s excellent new anti-war single “Illegal Attacks” (» Reviews round-up, 25 August), is just the latest protest from a singer who has always stood firmly against the establishment.

The writer John Robb, in his history of Brown’s old band The Stone Roses And The Resurrection Of British Pop, describes how the song “Bye Bye Badman” was “a classic case of the Roses – soft on the surface and tough on the message.

“For many it was a love song, but it was actually about the 1968 student riots in Paris.”

Brown said of the song, “If you go home and listen to ‘Bye Bye Badman’ and then imagine it’s someone singing to a riot policeman on the barricades in Paris 1968, you’ll get a picture of what we’re about. The song is a call to insurrection.”

Robb also points out that the famous slices of lemon on the Stone Roses’ first album cover were a deliberate reference to “what the students on the barricades used to squirt in the air to negate the effects of the CS gas fired by the cops.

“There was something far more dangerous and political to the Roses than most people perceived.”

Michael McDonnell, Manchester

We need EU referendum

Your editorial “EU Constitution: A Neoliberal Treaty” was completely on target (» Editorial, 1 September).

Yes, we should oppose what’s on offer, but not out of a narrow nationalism.

We do need a referendum on the proposed constitution.

Democracy is more than just voting for a political party every five years.

We need to be able to give our opinion on this issue. It’s vital all socialists hold Gordon Brown to his promise of a referendum.

I think the European Union (EU) is a capitalist con trick. The left was right to criticise it in the past.

It has undermined democracy and jobs and delivered low rates of economic growth.

It is people like rich farmers and landowners who have gained from the EU through massive subsidies.

Workers have lost out.

Graeme Kemp, Wellington, Shropshire

‘Regime’ is a loaded term

I have a quibble with Alex Callinicos’ choice of phrase in his article on Iran (» This genie will not go back in its bottle, 25 August).

He refers to the Iranian government as a “regime”. This word carries negative connotations because it has been used by George Bush and co to denigrate governments they don’t like, such as the “former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein”.

We should avoid repeating the ideologically loaded phrases of the warmongers.

Jarvis Ryan, Canberra, Australia

Booze boss’s big bonus

You are right to point to the huge bonuses paid to City traders (» Editorial, 1 September).

But this is only part of a shocking picture of how the rich are getting richer in Britain under New Labour.

Giles Thorley, head of Punch Taverns, earns 1,148 times the average salary in his company.

He is just one of a number of bosses whose pay is far outstripping that of ordinary workers.

Profits are growing at the fastest rate in 13 years and average wages at the slowest rate since 2002.

Shamefully for Labour, inequality has grown since they have been in office. It’s easy to see who is paying for these City bonuses.

Sabiha Ghani, Manchester

Wrong on Mao and China

Jiben Kumar is wrong when he states that Mao Zedong, for all his failings, represented left, progressive forces during the Cultural Revolution (» Letters, 25 August).

This is a profound misunderstanding of the “revolution”, the motives of those senior Chinese Communist Party leaders who directed it and the nature of “Communist” China itself.

Rather than seeing the Cultural Revolution as a battle between left and right forces, it should be regarded as a mass purge.

It was very different in its dynamics and operation to the Russian purges of the 1930s, but it was a purge nevertheless.

Mao, Zhou Enlai and the odious Gang of Four were on one side, and Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping on the other.

But these sides should not be regarded as fundamentally opposed to each other in ideas or methods.

Both were committed to a state capitalist economic model and a Stalinist-type top down Communist Pparty.

The Cultural Revolution grew in a period when China was isolated from both the West and Russia, and it followed the disastrous Great Leap Forward.

There was genuine idealism among many of the early Red Guards.

But that idealism was manipulated for destructive purposes in sham battles.

Paul O’Keeffe, West London

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Tue 4 Sep 2007, 18:44 BST
Issue No. 2067
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