WORKERS' WEEKLY Vol. 29, No. 3, January 30, 1999

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Newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)

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Article Index

Bloody Sunday: The Reality of British Rule

March to Commemorate the Bloody Sunday Massacre

Preparing for the 3rd Congress: Is a Mass Communist Party on the Agenda?

US Imperialism Escalating Bombing of Iraq

Commentary: Vodafone/AirTouch – The Latest in “Merger Mania”

Key Theoretical and Political Issues: The Necessity for a Modern Constitution

January 1999 Edition of Progress Published

Letter to the Editor: International Community Condemns the Bombing of Iraq

Anglo-French Talks on Africa Aimed at Increasing Imperialist Interference in the African Continent

London Meeting Condemns Bombing of Iraq and Genocidal Sanctions

Culture : Robert Burns Honoured

Bloody Sunday:

The Reality of British Rule

THE ANNIVERSARY OF Bloody Sunday, that dark day of January 30, 1972 when British paratroopers massacred 14 unarmed Derry men, mostly teenagers, in their own streets, once again brings vividly to mind the brutal reality of British rule in the north of Ireland. And the fact that it has taken another 25 years to set up a Public Enquiry to review the conclusions of the Widgery Enquiry “whitewash”, as well as the fact that this new Enquiry is being blocked on all sides by the agencies of the British state, only underlines this reality.

Though the British government has recognised in words the sovereignty of the Irish in their own land, though the Peace Process has become a reality, yet still it is the case that it is the British state and its government which blocks progress. Whatever their protestations about the intransigence of the Republicans, the intransigence of the Unionists, or dozens upon dozens of other pretexts, facts show that it is still the British state and its government which impedes the Irish people achieving their basic freedoms. It is still the British state and its government which obscures the source of the problem, which refuses to put into deeds its words acknowledging the sovereignty of the Irish people and their right of self-determination.

There is no doubt that the Good Friday Agreement does open up possibilities for progress, the various parties being willing. But it cannot be ignored that it institutionalises British rule and the sectarian divisions which have resulted from it - the main source of the problem in the first place.

Whatever their claims about “justice” and an “ethical foreign policy”, nothing can disguise the reactionary way in which the New Labour government acts abroad. Tony Blair, Robin Cook and others stride about like some 19th century colonialists, extolling the virtues of the British Empire in a way even Margaret Thatcher would have hesitated to do, bombing one country here, interfering in another there. Their attitude to Ireland is no different.

In such circumstances the working class and all progressive people in Britain, shoulder to shoulder with the Irish resident here, can have only one main demand. Britain must immediately withdraw from Ireland and cease its interference in the affairs of its people.

Only this will truly open the way to progress, make possible equal and good neighbourly relations between Britain and Ireland, and bring to an end the long series of tragedies like Bloody Sunday.  

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March to Commemorate the Bloody Sunday Massacre

Demonstration Poster

Saturday, January 30, 1999

March from Victoria Embankment to Friends Meeting House

Assemble Victoria Embankment (opposite Temple tube station) at 12.00 noon, march at 1.00pm via Westminster, Downing Street and Trafalgar Square

Rally at Friends Meeting House, Euston 3.30pm

Invited speakers from Sinn Fein, SDLP, Bloody Sunday Relatives for Justice Campaign, Justice for Diarmuid O’Neill Campaign, Stephen Lawrence Family Campaign and the Labour Party

Organised by Bloody Sunday March Organising Committee, PO Box 10132, London SW2 3BZ, Tel 0181 442 8778 

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Is a Mass Communist Party on the Agenda?

IN THE PREPARATION WORK towards the Third Congress, it is natural that the issue of the Mass Communist Party should be raised, aspirations kindled that such a party be built, and questions formulated, such as: What is such a Party? What will its norms be? Are the conditions there to make a call for such a Party?

The National Consultative Conferences of RCPB(ML) of 1998 drew attention to this question. They did so in the sense that for the foundations of a mass communist party to be laid, it is necessary first of all to assess and develop in practice the criteria for a communist party based on modern definitions. Secondly, and at the same time, it is necessary to carry out the transforming work which will create the conditions for building the foundations of a mass communist party on this basis. The National Consultative Conferences raised that these are issues which must find their place on the agenda of the Congress.

The conclusion of the draft document There Is A Way Out of the Crisis released for discussion on March 19, 1994, reads: “Considering the above, our Party can only call on all communists, all progressive and democratic forces to come together to constitute one, mass Communist Party, which is based not on some nostalgia about the past but on modern definitions which fulfil the requirements of the present. All communists and progressive and democratic forces should give this proposal serious thought so that a new situation can be created by strengthening the Communist Party as the indispensable subjective force of proletarian revolution. At the same time, our Party must call upon the class conscious workers to join the Party in order to ensure that it is the working class which leads the way out of the crisis. Furthermore, our Party must join with all the people of Britain in their struggle for a modern constitution, a modern state based on voluntary and equal union and for people’s empowerment.

“Taken together, what the majority is aspiring to is a new society, a socialist society. What is wanted is not socialism in the old ‘British’ colours, but socialism in modern colours. It is a socialism which will open up a path for all people, not just the English. Our task, as communists and democrats and progressives, is to ensure – as was the case some 369 years ago when the old system began to be destroyed and a new system began to emerge – that the outcome of the present struggle is also the defeat of the dying system, the capitalist system, and its replacement with a new system, a modern socialist system.

“At this celebration of its 15th anniversary, our Party calls on all the communists, the progressive and democratic forces and all those who are aspiring to a modern society, to take up the task of building a mass Communist Party based on modern definitions, uniting all people in a storm against ‘the cuts’ and against a return to medievalism, and working together with all for the empowerment of the people and for the creation of a socialist society!”

This is RCPB(ML)’s general line on the task of building a Mass Communist Party, to be ratified at the Third Congress. It is clear that much work has to be done before such a programme can be taken up as the order of the day. The issue with placing such a discussion on the Congress agenda is that in the context of discussing the nature of a modern communist party, the issue of building the foundations for the Mass Communist Party begins to be considered.

What must be emphasised is that the questions which are being formulated about the Mass Communist Party cannot be answered in the abstract. Theoretical and ideological considerations must be formulated which inform the discussion. Equally crucial is that the work which advances the Party along its line of march according to its policy and plan must be taken up.

It is very necessary at this juncture to emphasise the role of the Party press in building the foundations of a mass communist party. Such a communist party is mass in the sense that it addresses the concerns of the masses of the people and puts their interests in the first place. It is also mass in the sense that the organising work of the Party involves organising the masses of the workers, women, youth and other sections to study, write for and disseminate Workers’ Weekly. The role of the Party press in this respect was highlighted at the National Consultative Conferences. It was pointed out at the November Conference: “The paper deals with the interests, the concerns and the problems of the working class and the mass of the working people; it does not deal with issues with the orientation that they are the peculiar concern of the Party or the communists and are of no interest to the working class and the people. So it deals with the issues in the paper with the full conviction that it is the development of the working class movement itself, the growth of working class consciousness and the building of the organisations of the working class to achieve its aims, that will actually give rise to the emancipation of the working class itself, to the defeat of the anti-social offensive, and for a pro-social programme which will provide the way forward for society out of the crisis and usher in a socialist society. So Workers’ Weekly does everything it can within the present conditions of the Party and society to assist in providing this consciousness and organisation necessary for the victory of that movement. So its scope, in this sense, is very broad, its concerns are not sectarian concerns, but they are the concerns of the movement as a whole.”  

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US Imperialism Escalating Bombing of Iraq

US missile which hit Abu Falous village near BasraUS jets are stepping up their criminal bombing of sites in Iraq. According to news reports, Sandy Berger, the US National Security Adviser, said that pilots enforcing no-fly zones have been operating under expanded rules of engagement since last month. US imperialism now considers the entire Iraqi air defence system, not just sources of attacks, as a legitimate target for response to so-called “violations of the no-fly zone”.

On Thursday, January 28, four British Tornado aircraft were also scrambled along with the US jets. Ten US F-15 and six F-16 fighter-bombers, two escort “Prowler” radar-jamming aircraft and two AWACS radar and control aircraft as well as four tankers took off in the course of the morning. On Thursday, January 26, US warplanes based at Incirlik in Turkey attacked five targets in northern Iraq after they had been targeted by Iraqi anti-aircraft systems. The day before, a US missile had landed in a residential area of the southern city of Basra. According to Iraqi sources, 18 people were killed and 59 injured in the blast.  

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Vodafone/AirTouch – The Latest in “Merger Mania”

THE LATEST in a long line of what has been described this year as “merger mania” took place when UK Mobile phone operator Vodafone announced on January 18 that it had won a transatlantic bidding war to buy out US company AirTouch Communications for £40billion. The deal will create the world’s largest cellular phone company and according to reports is the biggest cross-border merger deal in history. The new company, Vodafone AirTouch will be the third largest company listed on the London stock market displacing BT as Britain’s largest telecommunications company with capitalisation of £74 billion and reaching nearly 1 billion people in 23 countries.

But what is behind this and other mergers? It is true that there is the extraordinary confidence of rich investors in the fast growth of the mobile phone market as well as other sectors. Rising share prices in telecommunications companies enabled Vodafone to use their high stocks to make such a high offer to rival AirTouch shareholders, but this does not explain what is behind the growing number of mergers, or indeed the trend towards “mega” mergers. Over the last two years, mergers and take-overs have reached record levels in the UK and throughout the world. It is already predicted that the number of mergers and take-overs could dwarf the figures on last year which were themselves a record both in the UK and globally. In 1998 a record 2,278 merger deals worth £90 billion were approved in the UK, according to the Acquisitions Monthly. The global figures also broke all records, with $2.4 trillion (£1.45 trillion) worth of deals world wide.

Today, such take-overs and mergers, of which Vodafone AirTouch is one of the latest, are not just affecting large companies but are “mega” mergers of “major players” particularly in oil, gas, financial services, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, cars and defence. So for example, from a situation where there have been seven major oil companies, the “seven sisters” (Exxon, Shell, Texaco, Mobil, Chevron, Gulf and BP) for decades, with companies as large as BP and Exxon merging last November it is likely that the seven will be reduced to three even larger monopolies leading to further devastation of the people’s livelihoods in terms of mass job losses and the predatory activities of these “mega” monopolies.

What this situation is revealing once again is that the drive towards monopolisation and global hegemony is still the most powerful drive under monopoly capitalism, with one monopoly killing another, and this has reached vast and almost obscene proportions. It shows that history is not ending, Britain PLC is not one happy family with pleasant mergers in which this UK monopoly merges with another or is taken over but there is virtual war going on between one monopoly and another, or among groups of monopolies. Huge economic blocs are lining up against each other for the sole purpose of bleeding the people dry, subjugating sovereign nations and peoples to their interest for maximum profits and paying the rich, using the most barbaric and brutal interference such as with the bombing of sovereign countries which is continuing on a daily basis against Iraq.

All the talk by New Labour politicians and others about capitalism having changed, or a new “ultra capitalism”, or that there is a “Third Way” and that the workers should rely on “social partnership” with such monopolies, is aimed at diverting the people. People must draw the necessary conclusion from these “mergers” which are taking place, together with the growth of the economic blocs such as the EU, and together with the increasing barbarity of their political representatives. The main conclusion that must be drawn is that the economy and society is over ripe for revolution, that the economy and society must be transformed from capitalism to socialism and that this is the future.  

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The Necessity for a Modern Constitution

IT COULD NOT BE more evident that a fundamental problem in society demanding resolution is the archaic character of the political institutions and processes in Britain. The fact that this country has no written constitution underlines just how archaic the political system is. The problem is not just that the political institutions and processes are out of date, but that their character is fundamentally at odds with the modern definition of democracy, that is, a political system where it is genuinely the people themselves who have political power, rather than political parties whose role it is to keep the people from power. The people must be empowered to govern themselves.

The demand of the working class is for the democratic renewal of the whole society from top to bottom. In this context, it raises the demand for a modern constitution, based on modern definitions, embodying a fundamental law and principles which have their source in the struggles of the people themselves and enshrine their sovereignty.

A class struggle is under way in society as to the nature of the constitutional reforms which are required. It has been said that 1999 could be considered to be the “year of the constitution”, a year in which the debate will not only become more intense but the Labour Party’s agenda for constitutional reform is being played out. The issue is whether constitutional reform will be used to bolster the status quo, or it will serve the aim of the electorate to empower themselves and gain control of their lives. This is the crux of the contradiction, the resolution of which will determine whether the door to the progress of society is opened or not.

The Labour Party election manifesto put constitutional reform on the parliamentary agenda. New Labour agreed a joint programme for constitutional reform with the Liberal Democrats before the election, and set up a Consultative Cabinet Committee with them after the election which began disussing constitutional issues. Jack Straw is now claiming that Britain is going through the “most intensive programme of constitutional change since 1689”. The White Paper on the reform of the House of Lords was published on January 20; on May 6, elections will take place to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly; the Northern Ireland Assembly has been set up; a mechanism for a Greater London Authority is to be set up with a Mayor for London; the Human Rights Act incorporating articles of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law has been passed. This is not to mention the constitutional implications of membership of the European Union for Britain. But these reforms do nothing to address the fundamental question of where political power comes from.

A fundamental struggle for political power took place in the 17th century in Britain. Britain’s “unwritten constitution”, because it is unwritten, does not spell out where this political power derives from. As it has evolved from the time of the beheading of Charles I and the English civil war, through the development of the constitutional monarchy as the bourgeoisie asserted its rights, it is now the monarch in parliament which is sovereign which, together with the royal prerogative, means that the cabinet has absolute power. This is a political system appropriate for defending the rights of men of property, not for a time of universal suffrage where every single member of the polity is supposed to have the right to elect and be elected. This state of affairs means that Blair and the Labour Party, or whatever government is in power, can put forward whatever laws they like. Take the Crime and Disorder Act. Because there is no fundamental law of the land, there is no authority which can say this must be struck out because it is a crime against humanity, it is against the fundamental interests of the people. There is no fundamental law which enshrines the rights of the people.

So a modern constitution must enshrine the rights the people are struggling for. It is the working class which must take the lead. It must win the battle for democracy by constituting itself as the nation and vesting sovereignty in the people. The struggle for a modern constitution is part of the class struggle against the continual attempts through “constitutional reform” and other means to deprive the people themselves of political power. It is a struggle which develops as part of the struggle for a pro-social programme of the working class and to give the people control over their lives.  

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January 1999 Edition of Progress Published

Workers’ Weekly has received from the African and Caribbean Progressive Study Group (ACPSG) the recently published Issue 7 of its newsletter Progress. Whilst the main readership and main target audience of Progress comprises Britain’s African and Caribbean communities, the political orientation points towards national minorities militating as equal members of the polity in participating in the political affairs of the country. The editorial policy of the newsletter sees opposition to racism, which has its source in the state itself, as a vital component of the struggle to renovate society, and fights against it on the basis that defence of the rights of national minorities is defence of the rights of all. It also encourages and defends the development of the culture and languages of the various African and Caribbean communities in Britain.

The newsletter’s coverage is varied. Contained in Issue 7 are articles which focus on the further camouflaging of the British state’s inherently racist character, typified by the police investigation and subsequent inquiry into the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence; the necessity of the people fighting for a pro-social agenda to defend their fundamental rights; a critique of Tony Blair’s theory of the “Third Way”; an item on the developing trade war between the United States and the European Union over the Latin American and Caribbean banana industries; an investigation of the impact of Eurocentrism on the identity of Caribbean and African people; and a condemnation of the militaristic offensive of US imperialism. This issue of Progress also contains a letters page, book reviews and an article on the Kwéyòl language of the Caribbean.

ACPSG informed Workers’ Weekly that it publishes Progress as part of its work to encourage people of African and Caribbean descent to end their social marginalisation and prevent further political ghettoisation. In calling for its supporters to read, discuss and disseminate the newsletter, ACPSG generates political discussion which advances African and Caribbean people’s participation in and their contribution to the movement against the anti-social offensive.

To receive a copy or for further information, please e-mail ACPSG at: 

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International Community Condemns the Bombing of Iraq

We would like to state our view that the international community does not agree with the bombing of Iraq and such methods will not serve to resolve any problems between Iraq and its neighbours. The statement by Hugh Stephens from CASWI (Workers’ Weekly, Vol.29, No.2) clearly shows the flouting of international law by the US and Britain with regard to the “no fly” zones. US imperialism and Britain are out on a limb here, flying in the face of international law and opinion. Their real concern is not for democracy or good relations between Iraq and its neighbours, but for the fact that Iraq will not bow to the US dictate and that they cannot force a government that will be more amenable to the US imperialist plans for the area. Lots of people are opposed to the bombing but may be reticent to take a firm stand and attack the real enemies of the piece because of the weight of propaganda in the media giving the US and British stance and hardly mentioning the world-wide condemnation and opposition.

Birmingham Branch of RCPB(ML)  

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Anglo-French Talks on Africa Aimed at Increasing Imperialist Interference in the African Continent

Recently the Foreign Office Minister with Responsibility for Africa, Tony Lloyd, paid an official visit to Paris for “Anglo-French talks on African issues” with the minister and senior advisers with responsibility for Africa in the French government.

The talks were held in the context of British and French co-operation in Africa which was recently agreed at the summit between the two countries at St Malo last December. On that occasion the two governments agreed a series of measures to strengthen their co-operation in the African continent and sought to intensify their interference in the affairs of the African peoples. In particular they declared their intention to continue, under the sway of the monopolies, to impose on the African continent the conceptions of the EU on “human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance”. Such Eurocentrist values represent nothing more than the interests of the monopolies of Britain and France, and are a justification for continual neo-colonial interference in the affairs of the African continent, just as the so-called “civilising mission” and “white man’s burden” were the justification for the imposition of colonial rule and for other crimes in the past.

The working class and all progressive people in Britain must condemn the arrogance and chauvinism of the British government which believes that it can interfere wherever it wishes in the world. They must be conscious that such policies and such alliances only add to the rivalry between the major powers in their attempts to redivide the world and hasten the possibility of war. The people must oppose all such interference by Britain and the other big powers.  

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London Meeting Condemns Bombing of Iraq and Genocidal Sanctions

ON JANUARY 23, a packed meeting at the Conway Hall heard Denis Halliday condemn the bombing of Iraq and the catastrophic sanctions imposed on it.

Denis Halliday is former UN Assistant Secretary-General and Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq. He was until late last year in charge of the “Oil-for-Food” programme in Iraq. He resigned from the UN in September after 30 years service, calling the sanctions a “totally bankrupt concept”. He has just completed a speaking tour of Britain to lobby for an end to the UN sanctions, giving a public talk at the House of Commons on January 26, and had previously undertaken speaking tours in France and Italy. On January 20, he had spoken before the French National Assembly’s Franco-Iraq Study Group. “I don’t like the word genocide,” he is reported as saying after his remarks to the Study Group. “I think it’s perhaps too dramatic. But the fact is, can you find a better word to describe this sort of catastrophe?” France has proposed phasing out the UN ban on Iraqi oil sales, replacing obtrusive weapons inspections with a looser system of arms monitoring and continuing supervision of how Iraq spends the money it earns from oil exports.

In London, at the meeting organised by the Campaign Against Sanctions and War on Iraq (CASWI), Denis Halliday told an audience of over 500 that the bombing of Iraq in December was “an absolute tragedy for this country [Britain] and its leadership”, and called for an independent panel of jurists and international lawyers to monitor the legality of Security Council Resolutions. Speaking about the human rights record of the Iraq government, he said, “There are certainly human rights violations in Iraq. Why are we adding to these?” He said that while he had been criticised for using the word “genocide” in Paris with regard to the sanctions and air strikes, it was a fact that malnutrition as a result of the sanctions, especially among children, is not less than 30 per cent of the population. He said that the only solution would be to lift the sanctions and release oil without conditions. Denis Halliday also pointed out that 85 per cent of war weapons, many of mass destruction, are exported by America and Britain.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on January 24, he said that he had resigned from the UN last September to be free to speak out against the sanctions on Iraq, which he called “a form of warfare”.

Tony Benn MP also addressed the CASWI meeting. He said that the present bombing had been entirely illegal under international law. He said later that the meeting had been a clear warning to the government.

Ahmed Ben Bella, first president of Algeria, also addressed the meeting. He pointed out that Arab public opinion is totally against the US and Britain. In Syria there had been the biggest demonstration ever seen in living memory.

Included in the meeting was a well-rehearsed and professional performance by a choir of Iraqi children born in Britain.

The meeting gave full support for a resolution calling for a national march from Speaker’s Corner to Trafalgar Square on April 10.

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Robert Burns Honoured

FRIENDS AND SUPPORTERS of RCPB(ML) in Birmingham recently organised a Burns’ Night to honour the life and work of Robert Burns (1759-1796).

In a speech some views were given on what it was that endeared Robert Burns to so many people both in Scotland and throughout the world, so much so that he is known as the People’s Poet. The speaker pointed out that Burns is celebrated not just for his poetry but for the sort of person he was and the positions he took culturally and politically in the context of his time.

Burns wrote about the things that are close to people’s hearts: love, friendship, joy in nature, the pain of emigration, love of one’s country and language amongst them. Some of his songs have endured through the centuries and are frequently sung today, e.g. “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose”, “Afton Water”, “Ae Fond Kiss” and of course that internationally famous song of friendship, “Auld Lang Syne”.

As well as a recognition of his own and others’ failings, an intense love of his fellow human beings shines through Burns’s poetry. One of his poems, “The Slave’s Lament”, (also written as a song) reveals Burns’s sentiments for people taken from their native land:

“It was in sweet Senegal that my foes did me enthrall
For the lands of Virginia-ginia O;
Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more,
And alas! I am weary, weary O!
The burden I must bear, while the cruel scourge I fear,
In the lands of Virginia-ginia O;
And I think on friends most dear with the bitter, bitter tear,
And alas! I am weary, weary O!”

Burns wrote many very humorous and sometimes bitter satires against the oppressive and inhuman practices of the church of his time and also against his so-called “superiors”. Whilst being a great admirer of English poetry, he upheld the use of Scots as the language of culture against the promotion of English which followed from the destruction of the Scottish Parliament in 1707. He also did important work on collecting and publishing traditional songs.

Politically he was a dissident, a radical and a republican. In several poems he bitterly opposes the sell-out by one section of Scotland’s rulers of the Scottish Parliament to England. In one well-known poem he says that Scotland had never been subdued by force or guile, but a “coward few” had brought Scotland’s downfall and he declares:

“We’re bought and sold for English gold,
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!”

His poetry is deeply egalitarian and in the spirit of his age (as in Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy” set to music by Beethoven), he wrote that

“The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd (gold) for a’ that”,

And finishes with a statement of faith in the eventual triumph of international fraternity:

“That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brothers be for a’ that”.

The speaker went on to give some views on Burns and his influence on Scottish culture and identity and how in many ways the ideas contained in his poetry have become part of a way of life and are deeply embedded in the culture in the same way that the deeds of Wallace, Bruce and others are. This led to discussion in particular on questions of English culture and identity, as well as the culture of the working class. Pointing out that the imperialist bourgeois policy is to negate all aspects of people’s lives, that its stock-in-trade is fragmentation and spiritual devastation and that it seeks to break the unity of the Scottish and English working class and people, the speaker suggested that the working class perspective would be to develop everything that is pro-social, positive and life-enhancing in every culture in order to strengthen the unity and fighting spirit of the working class and people of all origins.

The evening continued with many lively and wide-ranging discussions on cultural and political questions, including on traditional songs and music and their modern counterparts, the marginalisation of singers and groups who work with a wide range of instruments and traditions and give them modern expression, and how “culture” is manufactured and manipulated by the imperialist bourgeoisie to suit its own ends.

The participants listened to and discussed old and new songs and music from the Celtic/Scottish tradition. Two participants played guitar music and sang some popular songs to an appreciative audience.

As an initial step towards developing thinking and positions on culture in social form, culture and identity, and at the same time opposing all forms of chauvinism, the evening was considered to be a great success. 

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