Letters - FRFI 243 February/March 2015

The impressionable Mr Clegg

I am not surprised to see Nick Clegg flaunting his recent visit to an acute mental health ward on Merseyside on his political blog, nor to see that the chief execs at Mersey Care NHS Trust are touting his visit as a major endorsement of the way they do business. However, as a lowly frontline member of NHS staff who happened to be working on the acute male in-patient ward that the deputy prime minister descended on that day, I can confidently state that Mr Clegg was afforded the least accurate picture of the state of mental health services in the Northwest imaginable. 

Members of staff who work long hours on the ward in question, week in week out, would have been hard-pressed to recognise it during Mr Clegg’s visit – under 15 minutes in length, although the road outside the building was cordoned off for at least eight hours and between 10 and 20 security officers accompanied Mr Clegg into the low secure mental health premises. All but five of the patients had been temporarily removed from the ward and taken to another department or spirited out on leave with staff, including all those likely to cause any offence to Mr Clegg with their swearing, unpredictable behaviour, illicit drug use or poor personal hygiene. Or to put it another way, any patients displaying the sort of symptoms likely to lead to their admission to an acute mental health ward.

Even with just five of our more well-mannered patients on the ward for Mr Clegg’s visit, there were at least twice as many staff present as there would usually be, or indeed as there were a scant few hours after his departure, when all of our less palatable service users had been returned to the ward and the all-singing all-dancing team of managers and executives had departed after their brief and painstaking rare appearance. 

A service user who was judged by management to be sufficiently non-abrasive to speak with Mr Clegg later told me he had felt embarrassed by the absence of patients and the abnormal glut of staff on the ward during the deputy PM’s visit. This member of staff shares in his mortification.

Clare

Merseyside


Socialist health care delivers

I enjoyed Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko at a film showing and discussion in Dundee. His comparison of the health systems of the United States and Cuba is powerful. Cuba’s recent achievement of the lowest infant mortality in the world at two per thousand in Oriente province and the deserved praise for its work against Ebola in Africa is more than proof that socialist health care delivers.

Meanwhile in Spain, thousands have marched to protest at the cutting back of medication for the treatment of Hepatitis C. NHS England has delayed the introduction of a highly effective but expensive drug that can save the lives of people infected with Hepatitis C. This is despite Sofosbuvir – which has been hailed internationally as a breakthrough – having the approval of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Capitalist health care is criminally negligent, internationally millions die for want of care and now the crisis means that while Hepatitis C affects 200 million people worldwide, the price tag means effective therapies are put beyond reach. There is no justification for this madness. Human beings not just can but actually have solved these problems through socialism. We must move forward.

Sean Malone

Dundee


Scottish independence: a Leninist analysis

One of the outstanding features of the RCG has been its persistent support for the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. Now that the RCG supports Scottish independence, an important question arises: why does the RCG – an organisation which is partly based in England – have branches in Scotland? A socialist organisation of an oppressor nation should not mobilise the oppressed of another nation; rather it should foster fraternal relations between the anti-imperialist organisations of both nations. The RCG has pursued this strategy successfully in the case of the Irish independence struggle.

If the RCG believes that Scotland is not an oppressed nation, why does it support the call for Scottish independence? Leninists are vehemently opposed to the right of oppressor nations to self-determination.

The RCG has repeatedly pointed to the existence of a deep and ongoing split in the British ruling class over its relationship with the EU and US. At the heart of this split, as David Yaffe and others have explained, is the issue of the City’s viability as an independent financial centre (see for example FRFI241, October/November 2014, p5). Is there any reason why the RCG has refrained from viewing the Scottish question in the light of this split, as a concrete manifestation of it?

While the RCG is correct to denounce the ‘unionists’ on the left as social chauvinists, it needs to bear in mind that Marxists never take sides in inter-imperialist disputes. This principle holds for intra-imperialist disputes as well.

Before workers can use Britain’s ‘constitutional’ crisis to their advantage, they must understand its nature and origins, otherwise they will become the unwitting accomplices of one faction of imperialists against another. The tendency towards the break-up of the United Kingdom is the result of the crisis which British usury imperialism has been experiencing for a number of years. RCG members have written at length and convincingly about this crisis. They have also written outstanding articles on the question of Irish independence. These comrades must now bring their insights to bear favourably on a Leninist analysis of the Scottish question.

Alec Abbott

North London


Reply

Thanks, Alec, for your recognition of the RCG’s theoretical contributions to the struggle against British imperialism. These would of course mean nothing unless we also had a record of real practical effort to build a movement to that end. Understanding the relationship between theory and practice, ‘the flower and iron of the truth’, to quote Scots poet Hugh McDiarmid, is the essence of Leninism and the antidote to dogmatic phraseology and inaction.

So what then of this concrete situation today whereby the sustainability of British imperialism, already under critical economic pressure, was momentarily threatened by an overwhelmingly and massive working class expression of a democratic determination to secede from the United Kingdom? Suddenly the sun seemed to be about to set on British imperialism without too much of a bloody struggle. It occurred at a time when working class political consciousness, organisation and resistance was at an historically low level across Britain. What it did confirm was James Connolly’s point in Labour in Irish History, that ‘successful revolutions are not the product of our brains but of ripe material conditions.’ There is much work to be done.

This recent phenomenon and the points you make about the EU and splits in the ruling class do require serious analysis and engagement – all contributions are welcome, Alec. Leninism demands that the specific characteristics of each situation be examined. We have been at pains to point out that we do not regard Scotland as an oppressed nation and have described the formation of the alliance between the ruling classes of England and Scotland as the source of British imperialism’s formidable strength. The situation was therefore not analogous to Ireland’s struggle against British imperialism.

The mass of the Scottish working class saw the referendum as an opportunity to express their complete opposition to austerity and its supporters in Westminster who were also pro-Union. It was a sign of new and real political movement, and communists had to be there rather than sit on the sidelines speculating about intra-imperialist splits. A Yes victory would have resulted in a major political crisis for the British ruling class; equally importantly it would have shattered the grip of the reactionary British Labour movement over Scottish workers and created conditions which would allow a direct fight for socialism. Recognising the class content of a Yes vote, the British ruling class pulled out all the stops to defeat it. It very nearly failed.

Michael McGregor


Revolutionary new year greetings

Let me send revolutionary Red Season’s greetings to you all. Another year of struggle has come to an end. A new popular movement against government repression has arisen here in the US. So far it is sustaining and growing. Of course, the cops keep killing young men and boys – especially black people and other people of colour – so this is a very necessary and timely movement.

Keep doing the important and solid work you do. Many of us look forward to FRFI news and analysis. Keep checking out www.4strugglemag.org – we are beginning a new schedule. Only two hard copies a year, but more online material.

Jaan Laaman #10372-016

USP Tucson, PO Box 24550e,

MA 02071 Tucson, AZ85734, US


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 243 February/March 2015

Letters FRFI 242 Dec 2014/Jan 2015

Israel out of FIFA

On 1 November FRFI supporters were among those who travelled with the Football Against Apartheid (FAA) group from London to Paris to attend the Liberte Pour La Palestine festival, jointly organised by EuroPalestine, Abna Philistine and Union Associations Palestiniennes France, and attended by over 6,000 people. FRFI comrade Igor received loud applause when he addressed the crowd in the main hall, calling for the support of football fans across the world to press their national football associations to expel apartheid Israel from FIFA.

On 2 November FAA was invited to a meeting in the Library of Resistance in central Paris convened by EuroPalestine where representatives from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Belgium, Morocco, Germany, Australia, Israel and Britain discussed plans for the future.

The meeting discussed various boycott campaigns – in particular those against Veolia, Hewlett Packard, G4S, Intel, Soda Stream, Teva pharmaceuticals and the Israeli football team. We resolved to strive for effective, innovative and coordinated activism in order to further the cause of Palestine internationally, and to focus particularly on three priority targets during the coming year: the boycott of Teva; the cultural boycott; general awareness raising in order to encourage action to bring about disinvestment from Israeli companies.

FAA’s specific targets were:

  1. Long term – Get Israel expelled from FIFA, in line with the demand made by the Palestine Football Association
  2. Medium term – get a motion for expulsion moved by a National football association at the 2016 and/or 2017 FIFA Congress.
  3. Immediate – build grass roots support at as many football clubs in as many countries as possible. From zero in one year FAA groups have been started at nine English Premier League, one Scottish and two French clubs, with immediate plans to add two Belgian clubs.

The assembled group felt that FAA has adopted original and imagina­tive tactics to encourage football fans from rival clubs to line up behind their unique club banners in unity against Israeli apartheid, and to highlight their support for the Palestinian call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions, and for Israel to be expelled from FIFA. We agreed to help FAA develop in France through a demonstration of unity of Paris St Germain Fans Against Apartheid and Olympique de Marseille Fans Against Apartheid at their match on 9 November. We also agreed to help set up the campaign in Belgium, where the national team is scheduled to play against Israel both at home and in Tel Aviv. Looking ahead there will be a mobilisation in Wales, where the national team is scheduled to play against Israel twice in 2015.

John Tymon
North London

For further information about Football Against Apartheid see https://footballagainstapartheid.wordpress.com/


The last Straw?

So could Jack Straw at last, face trial for the rendition and torture of Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife? (‘Belhaj wins right to sue UK government for torture’, The Guardian 31 October 2014)

It was Straw who, in 2001 as Home Secretary, proscribed the PKK. He has always championed Turkey for EU membership using ‘every political skill, high and low’ (as he wrote in his memoirs) and in 2012 was awarded the Order of the Republic of Turkey for his services. He showed his tolerance for fascists when he helped Pinochet escape justice in 2000. In addition to his MP’s salary Straw was paid £150,070 for journalism, speaking and consultancy work. He contemptuously dismissed critics of this largesse as ‘the hair-shirt brigade’ (Lancashire Times, August 2012).

Blackburn is the fourth most deprived borough in England with the fifth worst infant mortality rate. Bailiffs were used 4,812 times to recover unpaid council tax. East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust will have to pay almost £1 billion in interest charges on PFI schemes by 2041. In the North West 13,081 houses are empty and boarded up. In Blackburn and Burnley 1 in 3 children live in poverty. Blackburn Food Bank has fed 10,300 people since it opened in 2012. Blackburn with Darwen Labour council has cut £70m since 2010 and will cut another £19m in 2015/16. (The Shuttle, September 2014).

This is Jacksy’s legacy. His prospective replacement, Kate Hollern, finds the situation ‘heart-breaking’, but her top priority is ‘social cohesion’ – ie no opposition.

Pete Lynch
Blackburn


Political ASBO

When ASBOs were first introduced by the last Labour government, activists knew that the notion of ‘anti-social behaviour’ would soon encompass political activity. Liverpool Rise for Palestine has now experienced it. Since July’s onslaught on Gaza, we have held almost weekly rolling pickets through Liverpool city centre, with frequent store invasions to demand the removal of Israeli goods or Caterpillar products from sale. On Saturday 15 November, cops produced an order under Sections 34 and 35 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2014. These provisions, which only came into force on 20 October, allow police to disperse people from a designated area if they feel there is a likelihood of ‘members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed’. Although they did not invoke the order during our protest, it is clear that they are attempting to limit or bring to an end our regular pickets. Liverpool Rise for Palestine will continue its protests, however, and will be responding to these new powers.

Robert Claridge
Liverpool


Students grill Grayling over prison deaths

During a flying visit to Greenhead College in Huddersfield on 14 November Justice Minister Chris Grayling was put on the spot by sixth-form students of Law and Politics on issues ranging from the power of the High Court to ECHR. Uncomfortable questions were lost in a fog of his own repetitive rhetoric and he responded only with information he wanted us to hear. We were not given the opportunity to reply with any debate; instead we had to settle for his answer being absolute.

Since he had recently apologised for listening to MPs’ phone calls from prisoners, I asked when he was planning on apologising to the mothers of those who have died in prison since he had been in office. In typical Grayling parlance, he expressed his deep regret for suicides in prison, stating: ‘I would say to any mother that I am really sorry about the suicides in prison, I don’t like it to happen, I don’t want it to happen and I don’t know why it’s happening.’

He went on to say ‘there seems to be no pattern to the suicides except to say that there’s a lot of mental health problems’, and ‘it’s something I want to really step up to in the way we provide support to people with mental health problems in prisons’. He did not seem at all concerned with prison being a totally inappropriate environment for those with mental health problems, although he did say that he wanted to ‘develop more specialist centres that are equipped to deal with mental health problems’ and agreed there are far too many people with mental health problems in prisons. He said ‘we have a system in place in police stations to divert people with mental health problems into the NHS rather than the criminal justice system’ yet this still does not explain the staggering number of mentally ill people detained in prison, some of them ironically ‘for their own safety’ rather than for committing any crime.

Linda Davidson’s 21-year-old son Steven, who hanged himself in HMP Glen Parva after being sent there ‘for his own safety’ following an attempt to cut his throat, is one example that comes to mind; he had no criminal record and serious mental health problems. Grayling went on to state that the majority of deaths in prison are of natural causes due to an ageing prison population, whitewashing over the disgraceful increase in non-natural deaths in prisons since he’s been in post. He made vague assurances to students he was making every effort to prevent prisoner deaths.

Grayling spent the whole session squirming his way out of questions he didn’t want to answer about prisoners’ votes and so on. I asked why he denied there was a crisis in prisons when there’s a catalogue of assaults, prisoner self-harm, staff shortages serious concerted acts of indiscipline etc. To all of these questions he offered no coherent answer.

And then I asked a general question, which he definitely didn’t want to answer! I said given the dominance of Etonians in Parliament, would you say that the class war is over and the ruling class has won?

Lily Green
Huddersfield

Letters / FRFI 241 Oct/Nov 2014

The power of collective organisation in prisons

Eric Allison’s excellent piece in FRFI240 (‘Prison overcrowding – squalid and dangerous’, August/September 2014) raised some extremely important questions regarding what actually determines the ‘quality’ of prison regimes as well as the balance of power between prisoners and gaolers. Eric correctly answers the fundamental question that what in reality determines the treatment of prisoners is their ability and willingness to organise, resist and fight back, just as it does the poor and disempowered in the wider class-divided society.

In prison (a brutal microcosm of social control), the only true weapon possessed by prisoners is their solidarity and willingness to collectively fight back; this determines the nature of the regimes under which they exist. Eric quoted from Shelley: ‘Ye are many – they are few’. Such is the obvious numerical and physical advantage that prisoners have over those who guard them, an advantage so potentially powerful that even just a peaceful, non-violent collective withdrawal of co-operation (for example, a mass refusal to work or participate in worthless offence-related courses and programmes) would definitely result in the total collapse of prison regimes and their replacement with straightforward lock-down measures, removing the veneer of ‘treatment’ or ‘rehabilitation’ and reducing the role of those who operate and run gaols to that of simple gaoler.

Locking down long-term prisoners indefinitely is not a strategy the prison system likes to employ – it represents an acknowledgement that control over prisoners is lost unless they are firmly locked down. And because it inevitably generates tension and hatred there are psychological consequences for those directly enforcing the lock-down. Obedient and compliant prisoners create a far more satisfying atmosphere for those ‘supervising’ them, whilst maintaining a relationship of power that is the direct causal reason for the degradation of prisoners.

Potentially, prisoners can be the final and definitive arbiter in how they’re treated and what sort of conditions and regimes they live under, providing of course that they recognise a common interest and shared struggle, and organise accordingly.

JOHN BOWDEN
HMP Shotts, Scotland ML7 4LE


Challenging bigotry and censorship at HMP Barlinnie

I am due to be released from HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow on 19 September. First of all I would like to thank you for sending me FRFI. It’s good being able to read about what’s going on, stuff the tabloids don’t tell us about, so I’m grateful.

When you first sent me the paper back in March, I was told that I wasn’t allowed it. The excuse given by the officer was that ‘prisoners are only allowed to buy papers from the list in here, and it’s only papers that are bought with the prisoner’s own money, you are not allowed to have them sent in’. Soon after this I was also refused an Irish Republican newspaper called The Sovereign Nation, from the 32-County Sovereignty Movement, this time by a different officer, with the different reason that it was ‘sectarian’. A couple of days later I tried to take a book out of the library, called The Famine Plot by Tim Pat Coogan, about England’s role in Ireland’s greatest tragedy. The officer from the library told me it had been removed that morning as ‘it could encourage terrorism’.

When I pointed out that this was anti-Irish censorship, I was told by the officer to ‘hand in a complaint form’ – this said with a smirk on his face. So I did, along with an Equality and Diversity form, pointing out this was discrimination and censorship. The book was put back in the library and I was allowed both the Republican paper and FRFI. The governor replied to my complaint saying the officer had removed the book with what he thought was ‘legitimate cause’ and ‘we have confirmed with him that the Scottish Prison Service does not withhold or censor any books...we will ensure that we put in place a policy to ensure staff are aware of their role in the library.’

The head of security, who was dealing with my complaint, sat down with me after this and said the officer had an excuse that there had been complaints about the book. However the book was new to the library, and the excuse was never mentioned to me by the library officer, so it just appears as a clear attempt to brush the bigoted views of the man under the carpet. The head of security went on to suggest that perhaps I’d ‘taken things the wrong way in the heat of the moment’. It was clear he just wanted to drop my complaint and that nothing would be done about the officer’s suggestion that the Irish potato famine, which claimed over one million lives between 1845 and 1851 could encourage terrorism, and that the bigoted views of officers at HMP Barlinnie will just get covered up by their colleagues.

Kristopher Snowdon


Solidarity with DJ Taylor

I have heard from DJ Taylor in Connecticut. He is now out of the ‘medical unit’ unit he was on, having agreed to suspend his hunger strike following court intervention in order to open up negotiations about his transfer out of Northern Supermax and changes to Northern as a whole. It seems DJ will now re-enter the general prison population in late September, and he has given the court until then to address areas of contention.

DJ has felt let down by local media in his attempts to publicise conditions at Northern. ‘On the whole people couldn’t care less,’ he says. DJ again describes the hell of being force-fed.

He was delighted with the news regarding the release of Talha Ahsan and that Babar Ahmad will be released ‘this time next year’. He describes their imprisonment as ‘absolutely unjust’ and mentions the debates they had together which meant a lot to him. Again he expresses his appreciation for our solidarity.

GEORGE COOMBS
Brighton


Islamic State is also the enemy

Trevor Rayne’s article on the origins and consequences of the First World War (FRFI240) was excellent. It shows a clear link with the situation in the Middle East today and the advance of imperialism throughout the 20th century.

However, as communists, we should be raising our voices against the extreme religious movements that are on the march today in Syria and Iraq. Decapitating people and putting heads on spikes, just because they interpret the Koran slightly differently, are hardly the actions of a progressive movement.

We must be prepared to accept that my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.

JON KEMPSTER
East London


Censorship update

After months of fighting to receive a copy of FRFI 239, which carried an article about his harassment in prison, Rangzieb Ahmed writes from HMP Frankland:

‘The June/July edition of the paper which you sent me was previously withheld from me. Thanks to your support and letter to the governor I have now received it – but with the article removed.

Nothing new is happening with my case. My case in the European Court of Human Rights is on hold and my civil case in the UK will be heard in December. Thank you for all your help once again.’


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 241 October/November 2014

Letters / FRFI 240 Aug/Sep 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 240 August/September 2014

Prison censorship: stupid excuses, part 1

So HMP Whitemoor has banned FRFI again. I was originally told this was due to it being ‘a racist and anti-authority newspaper’, but after complaining about the stupidity of this claim, Governor Ruth Stephens, head of security, changed the excuse to the return address for FRFI being ‘a security risk’.

As I have no intention of returning my issue of the newspaper and definitely not prior to having read it, this new excuse is as ridiculous as the original one. It seems wherever I go, the attempts to restrict my access to FRFI are based on more and more desperate claims. Woodhill, Manchester and now here, all make up their own nonsense to achieve the same objective.

These restrictions always begin once I am mentioned in the publication, but strangely enough I have never once heard of any other newspaper being banned even though most of them have run stories about me on their front pages. Maybe if FRFI printed fantasy like the tabloids it would be deemed a respectable enough paper to enter prisons without so much difficulty.

KEVAN THAKRAR
HMP Whitemoor


 Frankland: stupid excuses, part 2

Meanwhile, at HMP Frankland Rangzieb Ahmed has once again had his copy of FRFI withheld, after issue 239 carried an article highlighting the harassment he has been subject to at the prison, including, ironically, having FRFI withheld. Following an FRFI supporter's complaint to the prison, including a copy of a recent prison ombudsman ruling that prisons should normally simply remove the offending article rather than withhold an entire publication, we have received the following from the security department at Frankland.

‘Thank you for your letter... The decision was taken to withhold the publication due to the possible issues it may cause at HMP Frankland. Mr Ahmed is will [sic] within his rights to submit an application to have the publication with the article removed.’


Support for US prisoner on hunger strike

Prisoner DJ Taylor is in the same US supermax prison as Babar Ahmed and, until recently Talha Ahsan. DJ is presently on hunger strike in order to draw attention to the corruption and brutality in the prison. When he began the strike, DJ was moved to the prison psychiatric unit and placed in an observation cell, where the 24-hour lighting meant he was deprived of sleep. At first he was naked, and has only recently been allowed underwear. After eight days without food or fluids a naso-gastric tube was inserted and he was force-fed while shackled to a trolley. Having worked as a nurse some years ago, I can well believe that this was horrendously distressing, especially given his severe state of dehydration. DJ passed out, sustaining a massive black eye.

DJ sends greetings to comrades and says our support means so much to him. His brutal maltreatment at the hands of the US, the 'global policeman' with whom Britain shares its 'special relationship' is truly shocking. I have written to assure DJ of our ongoing solidarity and concern. Please write to him: DJ Taylor #179983, Northern Supermax, 287 Bilton Road, PO Box 665, Somers, CT 06071.

GEORGE COOMBS
Brighton


 WHO praises Cuba

In July, Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organisation said: ‘Cuba is the only country I have seen which has a health care system closely linked to closed-loop research and development… I keep a special place in my heart for Cuba and recognize the efforts of the Cuban government to establish health as an essential pillar of development.’

She and the director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), were attending the inauguration of a new medical development centre in Cuba. PAHO director Clarisse Etienne stressed: ‘we’re here to celebrate the genius, creativity, tenacity and perseverance of the Cuban people and the concretisation of a visionary leadership.’

Under socialism, Cuba has fostered a cutting edge bio-technology sector, developing the only advanced lung cancer vaccination in the world, alongside vaccines against meningitis B, pneumonia, diphtheria, pertussis and dengue. This year Cuba achieved the historically low infant mortality rate of 4.2 per 1,000 live births, one of the best rates in the world. Cuba has sent 135,000 health care professionals to 154 countries, and trains for free thousands of medical students from developing countries at the Latin American Medical School in Havana. Socialist Cuba continues to shine as a beacon of hope for human development.

SAM MCGILL
Newcastle

Letters /FRFI! 239 Jun/Jul 2014

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

Syria and the fight against imperialism

I’ve been fortunate to find FRFI and to feel welcomed by a community of likeminded comrades an ocean away from my cage. That being said, I found the recent article by Toby Harbertson (FRFI 238) antithetical to my socialist ideology.

Comrade Harbertson rightly identifies the Syrian ‘rebels’ as being primarily supported by the very imperialists to whom I will forever be opposed. I also agree that any true socialist/communist should work in any way possible to support and defend Brothers and Sisters of the Kurdish PYG.

However, when it comes to Syria (as in most proxy wars) the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend as Comrade Harbertson suggests. Syria is, for all intents and purposes, a dynastic monarchy led by one generation to the next by the Assad family – what kind of revolutionary cheers for a monarch? And a Baathist monarch at that! Have you no sense of history? In the 1960s the largest Communist Party in the Arab world was the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). Within 20 years, leaders throughout the region – Hussein in Iraq, Nimeini in Sudan, Suharto in Indonesia and Assad (Sr) in Syria, would execute and imprison tens of thousands of communists in a purge of the ideology itself. Now, years later we as communists are supposed to feel joy because one group of imperialist oppressors is successfully killing another group of imperialist oppressors? And make no mistake Vladimir Putin is just as much an imperialist dog as Barack Obama. I fail to see the way in which a victory for either of these belligerent, militaristic empires does anything to further Our cause. I refuse to succumb to delusional nostalgia simply because the Hammer and Sickle once graced the flag of Russia (USSR). Stalinism (aka Putinism) is not communism and anyone who confuses the two has obviously never read Marx, Lenin or Engels.

In Syria I simply don’t see a side to cheer for. Do we cheer for Amerikkka, with its ever expanding military/economic empire? Do we cheer for Putin, who essentially runs Russia like a crime syndicate? Should we be happy when missiles from Russian helicopters blow the faces off of innocents or should we save our glee for the victims of western weaponry? I hope western ‘interests’ fail in Syria right alongside Putin’s interests. I wish there was a party of the people in Syria, but there isn’t and for Comrade Harbertson to pen such a biased article under the page heading ‘Fight imperialism’ is just surreal.

D J TAYLOR #179983

Northern Supermax,

287 Bilton Road,

PO Box 665, Somers, CT 06071, USA

P.S. After you published my letter in the April/May edition I received letters from some FRFI readers – these were most welcomed. Unfortunately I also received a few rejection notices from the pigs here at Northern because prisoners tried to write to me. I’m not allowed to receive letters which are recognisable as having come from other prisoners. I did receive one postcard from a prisoner named Charles Bronson @ HMP Wakefield but my attempt to respond was intercepted by staff. I don’t know if you are familiar with any of the prisoners who wrote to me but if so please extend my gratitude.


Reply from Toby Harbertson

Thanks to D J Taylor for his considered response to my article. Letters and contributions that raise important issues for socialists are always welcome in our newspaper.

Comrade Taylor argues that it is wrong for communists to take sides between US/British imperialism on the one hand and Russia’s oligarchy on the other. Essentially he argues that the correct standpoint is ‘a plague on both your houses’. While we appreciate all anti-imperialist sentiments, we argue that opposing imperialism in practice is a concrete question for each communist or socialist movement. We have no illusions about Russia’s determination to defend its own interests against the dominant imperialist powers above anything else. FRFI does not cheer for Assad but we recognise the right of Syria to defend itself against external aggression. How can we be most effective in opposition to imperialism and in solidarity with the working class internationally? The answer to this is by building a movement that strenuously opposes British and US imperialism in the ‘belly of the beast’. Building a movement against British imperialism is our most effective contribution in solidarity with the struggle of the oppressed in Syria. The defeat of imperialism in the Middle East will be concrete encouragement to anti-imperialist, socialist and communist forces everywhere.


Defend social housing activist!

On 16 May FRFI attended a picket of Highbury Magistrates Court in north London called by the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group in support of John Tymon. John is a supporter of Football against Apartheid and regularly attends the Victory to the Intifada demonstrations outside Marks & Spencer in London with his ‘Gooners against Apartheid’ banner.

John is also active in the defence of social housing rights and with others has successfully organised to prevent bailiffs from evicting local people. On 10 April John and others were protesting against the eviction of a vulnerable young man for whom Camden Council has a duty of care. No fewer than 40 police descended violently on the defenders; John was knocked unconscious and remained lying on the garden path for 20 minutes before being taken to hospital by ambulance. From there he was smuggled into a police van, taken to a police station and charged with ‘intentionally obstructing a High Court bailiff’. The case was postponed until October and there is hope that the illegality of the arrest is such that charges against John will be dropped. For more details see kilburnunemployed.blogspot.com.

Solidarity to all who are organising in defence of social housing and against social cleansing.

ANN ELIOT

North London


No evictions, no JSA sanctions

An unemployed man in his sixties faces eviction from his Southwark home after his benefits were sanctioned for nearly a year. In March 2013. Mark Roberts was turned away from a job interview day at the local supermarket, on the basis that there were too many applicants. His local Peckham Jobcentre Plus then stopped his benefits because he had not ‘secured a job interview’. Peckham jobcentre imposes the highest rate of JSA sanctions in London.

Mark wasn’t told he needed to re-apply for housing benefit, or told he could be entitled to a discretionary hardship payment. He spent ten months on sanctions, dependent on friends for food, and fell into massive arrears on his rent as well as fuel bills. He still has £400 rent arrears.

Because of this his housing association, Wandle Housing, is seeking his eviction and Mark will be appearing at Lambeth County Court on 30 May. South London RCG will be joining other local social justice activists to demonstrate against the massive injustice being perpetrated not just against Mark but against thousands of other claimants.

Please join us to show your solidarity from 9.30-11am, Friday 30 May, Lambeth County Court House, Cleaver St, London SE11 4DZ (5-10 minutes walk from Kennington tube).

CAT ALLISON

South London


Grim reality behind the glitz of the Glasgow Games

This summer sees Glasgow hosting the Commonwealth Games, with an athletes’ village being built in the east end of the city. As the red carpet is rolled out, Glasgow’s Labour council will do its best to sweep the city’s poverty under it, with thousands facing welfare sanctions, work capability assessments, or bedroom tax arrears, while the cream of the British Empire descends upon the city for the spectacle that is the Games. Dalmarnock, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Glasgow, was wiped off the map to make way for the athletes’ village and the multimillion-pound Velodrome, with the claim that the village will remain as housing for the public, the supposed legacy of the games. However with prices starting at £95,000 none of the former residents of Dalmarnock can afford one of these ‘legacy’ homes. The finest example of the ironic juxtaposition of the Games is in Glasgow Central station where, under the clock counting down to the start of the Games, there is a food bank.

SCOTT

Glasgow


 

Resist ATOS trauma

I recently underwent an ATOS assessment as part of my eligibility for sickness benefit – I have suffered from severe depression since I was a child. My depression is part of a recurring medical condition. Last time I was employed, I had a mental breakdown. This is a pattern.

My appointment was at 11 am. I arrived with my father about 20 minutes early, having a panic attack. I was instructed to sit in a waiting room without being given a time for when I would be seen. By this point, I was crying and hyperventilating. I was kept waiting for an hour and a half. Another man in the waiting room had been there nearly two hours.

The assessment itself is disturbingly bureaucratic. The doctor read questions from a screen mechanically. At points I was reduced to tears. The doctor never paused, but simply asked the question again. Many of the questions were rephrased in order to catch me out. The entire assessment, from entry to the building until its conclusion, is designed as a form of trauma. I await results.

Not one party has said that they will do away with these assessments, or the profit creamed from them. Capita looks set to take the contract from ATOS, but the formula will not change. However, there is anger, bubbling just under the surface. While I was waiting, every conversation I overheard was furious and indignant. We are not passive victims and we will resist. The first soviet in Ireland was the Monaghan asylum in 1919. Here’s hoping.

JAMES

Newcastle


 

Life means life in Germany

I write to you from the deepest dungeon in Germany and wish to thank all the comrades who make it possible for prisoners to read the inspiring issues of FRFI.

Today I want to inform readers about a new judgment in Germany: at the end of March the local high court in Karlsruhe decided that Mr N, who was arrested in January 1962, has no right to be freed.

Back then, he shot two people dead. He has now been behind bars for over 52 years. It looks like he is going to become the longest serving prisoner in Europe. The inhuman and degrading system will not temper justice with mercy.

Mr N and I have spent a lot of time together on the prison exercise yard; he is an old but still lively man who loves life. It is a terrible shame that he will not be allowed to die a free man.

THOMAS MEYER-FALK

c/o JVA (SV), Hermann Herder Strasse 8, 79104 Freiburg, Germany

www.freedom-for-thomas.de