Socialism and the state
Maybe you should have asked, “How many angels can dance on a pin head?” Hair splitting does none of us socialists any good whatsoever.
In response to Adrian’s actual letter, I did not say that Britain after 1945 was a socialist paradise. There is no country on this earth that is a socialist paradise. I was rather accentuating the positive regarding the 1945 election result and British society thereafter.
What I said was that socialist transformation here in western Europe, has, does and must ensue from multi-party elections. One party states such as Cuba are not the English or the Scottish roads to socialism.
Regarding Heather Falconer’s letter (Letters, 24 September), I do not dispute for one moment that the Labour victory was part of the wider movement for transformation. Of course it was part of the British Labour movement, both inside and outside of parliament. My point was that socialist transformation in Britain was achieved without establishing a one party state or abolishing other political parties, both of which occurred in the USSR and Cuba.
Also, it is not the case that power “remains, whoever is elected, with the armed forces, the banks, the financial institutions and the media”.
If that was the case, there would have been no socialist transformation at all here in Britain. There was no Pinochet?style army coup after 1945 to overthrow the newly elected Labour government, which was the British Labour movement in power.
Finally, parliament is not “part of the capitalist system”. Parliament is part of the British democratic system. This system has evolved over centuries and is still with us today, unlike the aftermath of the 1917 revolution in Russia, the modern day result of which is virtually zero.
Colin Littlejohn, Glasgow
Respect is a hit among students
The University of Manchester freshers’ fair was a huge success for both the Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) and Respect.
Both societies recruited hundreds of new members to the movement. There was a real sense of enthusiasm shown by the students who were eager to express their anger over a number of issues.
These included the recent events in Basra, George Bush’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and the attacks on our civil liberties following the London bombings on 7 July.
The university’s first ever student Respect meeting attracted a large number of activists who were keen to be a part of the society and to play a major role in the anti-war movement on campus.
New members expressed their desire to campaign with Respect on all fronts, including issues such as climate change and justice in Palestine.
A new layer of students has become highly politicised following recent events — and Respect and SWSS are set to play a central role in student politics.
Laith Gibani, Manchester University SWSS and Respect
Clarke’s jail failure
Home secretary Charles Clarke, in his first keynote speech on penal policy at the Prison Reform Trust last week, refused to set targets for reducing inmate numbers.
The jail population has reached a record 77,000 and is widely expected to exceed 80,000 shortly. Clarke is wrong to have rejected the idea of prison capping.
The rising prison population is enormously expensive to the British public — it costs approximately £38,000 to keep one person in prison for a year.
No satisfactory explanation is forthcoming from the home office about why the prison population is rising unchecked.
Clarke will be well aware that overall crime is down by 44 percent since 1995, representing a “historically unprecedented” fall over the past decade.
It was also very amiss of the home secretary to make no comment on the large number of deaths in his prisons.
Two people a week on average take their own lives in prison in England and Wales — a national scandal.
Clarke will also be aware that parliament’s joint committee on human rights published a report on our prisons in December last year.
This concluded that so many prisoners are killing themselves in our jails that the state cannot be said to be maintaining its duty of care to its citizens.
The government is therefore violating the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to life. Clarke’s reticence on the subject is indefensible.
Our home secretary says that the prison system does not reflect Labour values.
Whatever these “Labour values” might be, a succession of seven different prisons ministers since Labour took office in 1997 have all given the impression that the government has lacked commitment when dealing with the problems in our jails.
Pauline Campbell, Malpas, Cheshire
Mother of Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 18, who died in the “care” of Styal Prison, 2003
Pensions battle goes beyond public sector
Kevin Ovenden’s article on the TUC pensions debate (Pensions: build up the pressure, 24 September) rightly noted that it was only the threat of concerted strike action that forced New Labour to back down over pensions in the run up to the election — and that only pressure from below will ensure that the existing unity among public sector unions is maintained.
But this issue goes further than those working in the public sector. Hundreds of thousands of workers in the former public utilities privatised by the Tories are still covered by pensions schemes based on the public sector model.
As workers in these former public utilities, it is crucial that we argue for and generate solidarity for the fight to maintain good public sector pensions within our own unions. If the public sector unions lose, we will no doubt be next.
On too many occasions we have sat back and let employers close final salary pension schemes to new entrants. But as the RMT rail workers’ union has shown, it is possible to fight and win against these attacks.
We need to use the momentum that will be generated by any public sector battle to campaign within our own workplaces. Workers will stand or fall together on this issue. The public sector pensions battle is our fight too.
Tom Machell, Connect union BT Committee (personal capacity)
We are not fooled by Sharon’s game
Thank you for your report from the Gaza Strip (Three amazing days of freedom in Gaza, 24 September). I am a Palestinian living in the West Bank, and we are happy every time we see the Israeli army pack up and leave, whether it is from the Gaza Strip or Lebanon.
This is an achievement of the intifada, of resistance, of the struggle against a cruel and ferocious occupation. After all the sacrifices, the killing, the prisons, the oppression, we feel we have achieved a victory.
But this is only a taste of freedom. Now the keys to our new prison have been handed over to the Palestinian police and Egyptian army.
No sooner had we liberated the Gaza Strip from the inside, than the door has closed from the outside. The settlers have gone, but we remain in a big prison.
While the Palestinians in Gaza have been enjoying a few days of freedom, the mood in the West Bank has darkened. The Israeli checkpoints have become more frequent.
The walls around us are becoming higher and more of our land is being seized. Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan in Gaza is a trick to seize more of our land. We are not fooled.
Ashraf, Ramallah, Palestine
When the soft left talks hard
Your article about the German election was really interesting (German result is a blow to neo-liberals, 24 September). When social democratic (Labour) parties are attacked from the right, they will respond by using left wing rhetoric.
But in the absence of criticism by neo-liberals, social democratic governments orient themselves towards the centre or right.
Next year Sweden will have a general election. Right wing parties have formed an alliance aimed at ending the current minority government of the Social Democrat Party (SAP), Greens and former Communists.
Earlier this year the SAP supported union action against employers’ use of unorganised labour on lower wages.
This happened at a time when the right wing parties and large parts of the media were promoting a change of government.
KT Hoegberg, Uppsala, Sweden
Greens show true colours
It was very interesting to note that the German Green Party has made it clear that it would enter into talks with the CDU, the German equivalent of the Tory party.
This says all you need to know about the nature of green politics. It’s a dead end. They were happy to agree to cuts under the former SPD government.
So well done to the new Left Party in Germany. Their result shows that Respect has all to play for, and that we can break the mould of British politics.
Neil Williams, Milton Keynes
Exploitation at call centres
Last week’s BBC2 documentary The Secret Life of an Office Cleaner was a disturbing insight into the exploitation of cleaners in London.
Similar exploitation is happening here in Teesside at Garlands Call Centres, the largest private employer in the region.
Garlands pays the minimum wage, gives no shift bonuses or sick pay, offers no pension provisions and does not allow trade union representation.
Meanwhile its chief executive Chey Garland has become very wealthy.
Simon Francis, Stockton-on-Tees
Respect and revolution
I was wondering if you might offer some explanation of the seeming ideological disparity between your exhortations to vote Respect and the weekly statement of “What The Socialist Workers Party Stands For”.
In it you write, “There is no parliamentary road... Only the mass action of the workers themselves can destroy the system.”
Do you think Respect is now merely a single issue party of protest, no more than a vehicle of “propaganda against the present system”?
D Jenkins, Respect member
Liar Blair is well aware
I must disagree with Sarah Ruiz’s statement “Blair must be the only person in Britain who doesn’t believe the invasion [of Iraq] has been the greatest recruiting tool for the terrorists” (Labour councillor joins Respect, 17 September).
I am sure he is perfectly aware that this is the case, but it is against his principles to ever tell the truth about anything.
Paul Daly, Luton
Tipping point nears in Iraq
A clear shift is taking place among significant sections of our rulers over what to do in Iraq.
On BBC2 last week we saw the spectacle of Ann Clwyd MP, Blair’s “humanitarian” mouthpiece, attacking General Sir Michael Rose for calling for an end to the occupation.
When senior establishment figures like General Rose call for withdrawal, we can be sure that the so called “tipping point” has been reached.
Michael Rose (no relation!)