Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1971

A richer democracy than parliament? (Pic: John McLoughlin)

A richer democracy than parliament? (Pic: John McLoughlin)

Democracy and change

Colin LittleJohn (Letters, 1 October) argues that the 1945 Labour government brought about the socialist transformation of British society. So, what kind of socialism was it?

Certainly gains were made by the working class. The NHS was established and there was a massive extension of the welfare state. The key is these reforms came out of workers’ struggle. The Labour victory was not just part of a wider movement for transformation — it was driven by that movement and a reflection of it.

There was full employment in Britain and world capitalism had entered a period of unprecedented boom. The government was in a position to make concessions to the working class and this was necessary to abate any class struggle that might threaten the running of British capitalism.

New Labour has operated in a very different political arena. A squeeze on profits internationally has pushed the government down the path to neo-liberalism. A labour movement weakened by Thatcherism has been unwilling to put too much pressure on the government because what they see as the alternative (Tory rule) is supposedly so much worse.

Real socialist transformation goes beyond an expansion of the state or nationalisation. It is the complete transformation of democracy and people’s ability to participate in the decisions that are made within society — a condition that cannot be realised through parliamentary democracy or under capitalism.

Rose Gruber, South London

I have some sympathy with Colin Littlejohn’s view that the only way we can hope for change in Britain is through parliament.

But I do not believe that this means the Labour Party is the way forward for the future.

Respect enshrines the very best traditions of the 1945 Labour government without the degeneration that has happened subsequently.

At the same time, Respect clearly stands for change through elections and the democracy that people are familiar with. It is not for “one party states” or anything of that sort.

Respect wishes to make our democracy a reality, not destroy it. Please support it.

Ayan Farah, East London

Parliament has existed since feudal times, but its role was transformed by the English revolution of the seventeenth century. The revolution resulted in a state in which the monarch ruled only with the agreement of the capitalist class expressed though parliament.

It took a further three centuries of struggle before the mass of the population had any say in who sat in the House of Commons.

Our rulers feared that universal suffrage would lead to the expropriation of their ill-gotten gains by the working class. They learned that by a combination of carrot and stick, and ideological hegemony, they could concede the appearance of democracy while denying its substance.

Tony Phillips, East London

We don't live in much of a democracy. Look at how everyone talks of what “they” are doing — meaning those in power — and at how everyone feels their voice doesn’t count, over the Iraq war or privatisation.

Eddie McDonnell, Manchester

Be fair to the Greens

Neil Williams (Letters, 1 October) denounces green politics as a “dead end”, due to the rightwards shift of Die Grunen (the German Green Party).

A similar argument could be used to dismiss any engagement in parliamentary politics.

The programme of Labour in 1945 or 1983 is scarcely recognisable in the degenerated form of New Labour in 2005, but I doubt most readers of Socialist Worker would accept that this makes any socialist electoral efforts pointless — and certainly those involved in Respect would have to disagree!

Any group that engages with the electoral process has to do so with extreme caution, making sure to preserve its principles.

I certainly don’t agree with much of what the German Greens have done in the last decade, but tarring Greens in Britain with the same brush is just lazy generalisation.

One only needs to look at the fantastic work done by our Green MEPs and London assembly members in opposing racism, standing up for public services, and speaking out for peace, to understand that “green politics” does not have to be a dead end.

It only becomes so, like all other parliamentary efforts, when we forget the principles that drove us to stand for election in the first place.

Councillor Matt Sellwood, Oxford City Council Green group and national executive Green Party of England and Wales

Some are on the left

I don't think that the Green parties across Europe represent the solution to all our problems, but the truth is that most green activists are generally left and can be relied on to support struggles outside specifically green issues.

The pressure of the left rank and file in the German Green Party was what made sure the leadership refused to go into coalition with the conservative CDU and free market liberals.

Greg Wilton, Hamburg, Germany

Rose Gentle takes the battle to George Bush

The reception I received in America on my anti-war tour was amazing, and very warm. When I went to the anti-war camp to see Military Families Speak Out I saw all the crosses for the US troops, and there was one there for my son Gordon.

I think I cried the whole time I was there, with people telling me how they had lost loved ones — and not just directly in Iraq. Some had killed themselves because they could not handle slaughtering Iraqi people.

I sat at Gordon’s cross, and told him I loved and missed him, and would not give up fighting Tony Blair.

I did a good meeting with George Galloway in Washington and then on the day of the anti-war demonstration there were around 200,000-300,000 people.

We gave Bush hell.

I met Cindy Sheehan and she hopes to come to Scotland to travel with me. I have never seen so many guns as there were carried by police outside the White House. I told the police they should be worrying about the killer in the big house, not us.

We will have to keep on fighting to make sure there are no more troops killed or wounded in Iraq, and no more psychologically damaged through humiliating, injuring or killing innocent Iraqi people.

Going to the US was not an easy trip for me, but I would do it again to carry on our campaign.

Rose Gentle, Glasgow

Proud history of tackling the Nazis

The new film on the history of Rock Against Racism (Who Shot the Sheriff?) brought back memories of the important role in fighting the Nazis in the 1970s played by Sheffield comrade Kevin Murphy. Kevin sadly died recently aged 44.

Kev had joined the SWP aged, I think, 15, and was a leading national figure in the youth organisation, Rebel.

It is apt that the new film has just been released. Kev, a committed anti-racist, was always ready to take on the National Front — the Nazi threat at the time — and helped to build the Anti Nazi League (ANL) across the city.

It was a time of picketing pubs and other venues wherever the Nazis raised their heads and of organising ANL events — even one aimed at winning away some of the young people attracted by bands espousing what was called Oi! music.

Kev’s dry wit and quiet sense of humour was much appreciated. It was with great sadness that I and many others were unable to attend a memorial meeting last Saturday as we were on the anti-war demonstration. We were marching, with Kev in mind, for a better world.

Phil Turner, Sheffield

Smiley sang before Fats

“Blue Monday” is indeed as classic song, as Curtis McNally points out (Letters, 24 September).

But Fats Domino’s version was a cover of an original by that other giant of New Orleans rhythm and blues, Smiley Lewis. It was of course Fats who had the big hit with it.

Fats enjoyed the advantage of a soft melodic voice that appealed to all ethnic groups, whereas Smiley’s more aggressive vocal style sounded too “black” to cross over to a 1950s white audience — and that was where the money was.

When Smiley died in poverty in 1966, Fats was a rich man living in a mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans. Their contrasting fates are to be explained not by differences in musical ability — Smiley’s recordings were equal if not superior to Fats’ — but by the racism of US society.

Robert Wilkins, North London

Thanks for Majer article

After reading her obituary of Majer Bogdanski (Obituary, 1 October) I want to thank Miriam Scharf for this moving and sensitive tribute not only to this remarkable man, but to a tradition the memory of which has been nearly effaced.

Warren Montag, Los Angeles

How many died in Iraq?

I think the estimate of 100,000 dead in Iraq (How Iraq’s dead were counted, 1 October) is necessarily an underestimate. It cannot include all of the war’s indirect casualties and those that result from the destruction of infrastructure.

They can never all be counted, but I feel the numbers are nearer a million.

Moira Hope, by email

Left Party has split the vote

I disagree that the Left Party in Germany is a model to follow.

Far from weakening the forces of conservatism, the Left Party (Linkspartei) has split people away from the social democrats and allowed the conservative CDU to win.

Had the Left Party not stood, a large number of people who voted for it would have backed the SPD or the Greens, thereby enabling them to maintain office.

This would not be great, but it would be better than a coalition headed by the Tories.

The Left Party has offered to join a coalition, but only on a basis that they know the SPD cannot accept.

I hope Respect will be careful not to go down the same path here.

Ann Fowler, Southampton

Missing issue at conference

I was surprised that, although Tony Blair was defeated over four important issues at the recent conference, there was no revolt over Iraq.

This is the one issue that would have surely sunk him.

I believe that some left wingers in the Labour Party decided not to prioritise the war because they thought it would be “divisive” and would create too much of a stir for the union leaders.

Joan Curren, Bury St Edmunds

Brighton was a turning point

I Am far more hopeful for the future after Labour’s conference — and Socialist Worker should be too.

The repeated defeats inflicted on Tony Blair by the unions, and the support from a big minority of constituency delegates shows that Blair has lost the Labour Party and that his polices are finished.

Tony Woodley, the T&G union leader, reflects members’ views more closely than Blair does.

Blairism is running into the sand. Whoever comes next will not introduce socialism.

But I am confident they will not be so zealous for the market or an alliance with George Bush.

Madeleine Harrison, Peterborough

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Sat 8 Oct 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1971
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