Vol. 27 No. 21 · 3 November 2005

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Foot’s War Too

Bernard Porter’s review of the official history of the Falklands War sent me back to Tam Dalyell’s 1982 book One Man’s Falklands (LRB, 20 October). In Dalyell’s account, the path to war began when Nicholas Ridley returned from Argentina with a ‘lease-back’ deal. When he presented this to Parliament in December 1980 he was savaged by both Conservative colleagues and the Opposition. The Labour attack was led by Peter Shore, then shadow foreign secretary, who asserted that the islanders’ views should be ‘of paramount importance’ – a notion that Ridley had deliberately sidestepped. The Labour MPs, ignorant of South America in general and the Falklands in particular, followed Shore willingly because they sensed that if it came to a vote the government faced defeat (about a hundred Conservative MPs had been brought onside by the Falkland Islands Committee).

Ridley backed off, and there was no agreement with Argentina, but the episode left the impression that the UK government was not deeply committed to the preservation of the status quo in the South Atlantic. Dalyell, in 1982, reckoned this the moment when military conflict became inevitable. The 1980 debate was also crucial to Thatcher’s success in skewering Labour opposition when she came to demand support for the war in April 1982. The islanders’ ‘paramountcy’ was central to her case.

Dalyell’s book makes me wonder why Porter was so kind to those Labour MPs – he hardly mentions them – in his review. In hindsight, it seems to me that the Falklands War was almost as much Michael Foot’s war as Thatcher’s.

Jasper Tomlinson
London SE1

Bernard Porter underestimates the strategic and political significance of the Falkland Islands. It is worth bearing in mind, first of all, that Argentina and Britain continue to dispute ownership of the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Despite the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, Foreign Office ministers accepted arguments from officials that the loss of the Falklands would have important implications in terms of Britain’s capacity to remain in the Antarctic. The late Lord Shackleton understood this broader regional point only too well when he reported on the Falklands in 1976 and 1982. Second, the fate of the Falklands was keenly watched by supporters of Gibraltar, and Porter fails to take into account quite how important both colonies were to a cross-party constituency in Parliament in the 1960s and 1970s. Arguments pertaining to British prestige and ‘kith and kin’ were rapidly and effectively mobilised in order to prevent any profound change in their colonial status. Third, the use of the term ‘colonial’ in the context of the South Atlantic and Antarctic is only ever applied to Britain. As is well known, the Argentines colonised Patagonia in the late 19th century with dire consequences for indigenous populations. Perhaps Britain and Argentina should both be seen for what they are: colonising powers equally unwilling to give up their territories.

Klaus Dodds
Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey

Benefits of Diaspora

As Eric Hobsbawm points out (LRB, 20 October), Jewish emancipation and advancement were not the products of a single upwelling, but rather the result of a confluence of many factors. Among the more important was the switch by Christians from Latin (which was almost totally inaccessible to most Jews) to the local vernacular for correspondence between elites. Almost all Jews had working oral skills in the local vernacular and the language of the most recent occupying power. Acquiring written skills in the languages of political and scientific discourse was thus a relatively easy matter.

The Jews also came from a culture that valued not only education, but knowledge for its own sake. As soon as they were permitted to study in German universities, they grabbed the chance to study whatever was available, ‘useless’ as these subjects may have appeared to be. A disproportionate number studied law, for example, even though they were not permitted to practise.

The role of women in this process was not confined to the salons of the wealthy. For women living in large towns and cities in Eastern Europe, the movement towards secular education was given a major boost by a rabbinical decree in the early 19th century that forbade women to study the Torah. At the same time, women were required to find work to support their families since scholar-husbands did not earn a living. This, in turn, led inquisitive, intelligent women to study secular subjects and languages in order to improve their earning capacity.

Possibly the most important change, however, was the mid-18th-century German invention of the university as a research centre. Research requires money. Emancipating Jews excelled first in literature and politics because neither field required extensive funding. Until the late 19th century, research had been almost totally confined to members of the aristocracy and the Church, who had the leisure and the financial backing to undertake it. With increasingly open enrolment and new-found corporate and philanthropical financial backing for research, it became possible for Jews to engage in costly science.

Hobsbawm, like many others, has made one incorrect assumption: that Israelis are restricted from advancing because of their lack of contact with the gentile world. Since Israeli academics and professionals have access to modern communications and can spend their vacations and sabbaticals abroad, that hardly seems an adequate explanation. A better one is that Israelis have lived an almost unique existence since their state was founded, and have been preoccupied with finding solutions to problems not present in such quantity, variability and acuteness elsewhere.

Jim Lederman

My piece on the Jewish Emancipation went to press before the announcement of the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics. It’s worth pointing out that one of the winners is Robert Aumann, born in 1930 in Frankfurt, educated in the US, now working at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Eric Hobsbawm
London NW3

What to do?

‘A poised version … thoroughly resettled in English’, Matthew Reynolds says of Jamie McKendrick’s translation of a poem by Sandro Penna (LRB, 6 October). But what is a ‘fresh urinal’? Freshly enamelled? Recently sprayed with air-freshener? In the context of a poem all about heat, I think the word the translator needed was ‘cool’, which is the most common meaning of fresco in Italian. On the other hand, ‘a cool urinal’ would impose even more heavily the pronunciation u-rye-nal rather than you-ri-nal, so maybe it is not an improvement after all.

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
London N19

Property Not Theft

Willie Thompson says that Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) ridiculed the notion ‘coined by Proudhon’ that ‘property is theft’ (Letters, 6 October). But in 1865 Marx still regarded Proudhon’s 1840 tract Qu’est-ce que la propriété? as ‘an epoch-making book’, praising its ‘provoking audacity’ and the ‘powerful revolutionary impulse’ it gave on its appearance. It’s true that Marx did not endorse Proudhon’s analysis of bourgeois property relations; he also noted that the slogan ‘property is theft’ had been coined not by Proudhon, but by the bourgeois revolutionary Brissot de Warville in 1782, and stressed the ‘petty bourgeois’ character of Proudhon’s socialism. The Poverty of Philosophy was written in response to another of Proudhon’s works, Système des contradictions économiques, ou Philosophie de la Misère (1846), and certainly ridiculed him – but for having belatedly adopted a Utopian interpretation of Ricardo’s theory of value, following a group of writers who are now known as the ‘Ricardian Socialists’.

Giancarlo de Vivo

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Readers may be interested to know, in the light of Christopher Turner’s review of Freud’s Free Clinics (LRB, 6 October), that the London Clinic of Psychoanalysis is still alive and well. Since its beginnings in 1926, it has moved house a few times and is now to be found in Maida Vale, offering psychoanalytic consultations on a sliding scale according to means, and some places in psychoanalysis for a low fee for those unable to pay the full rate. The Clinic is part of the Institute of Psychoanalysis, the administrative wing of the British Psychoanalytical Society established in 1913 by Ernest Jones and counting among its members over the years many important psychoanalysts.

Penelope Crick
London W9

Dirty Money

Alex Smith ignores my key point on offshore finance, which is that for all the efforts of the Financial Action Task Force and others, the flow of dirty money continues to increase, and that this increase is facilitated by tax havens, half of which are linked to Britain (Letters, 20 October). According to one estimate, from a Swiss banker quoted in Capitalism’s Achilles Heel, the failure rate for detection of dirty money flowing through that country is 99.99 per cent. Dirty money is money that is obtained, transferred or used illegally. It is useful to distinguish between proceeds from crime, proceeds from corruption, and proceeds from illicit commercial activities (transfer mis-pricing, reinvoicing and similar profit-laundering transactions). The latter, according to Capitalism’s Achilles Heel, accounts for 40 per cent of the $500 billion of annual illicit capital flows from developing countries.

Smith asks what was implied by my reference to the ‘real intentions’ of the World Bank, the IMF and the UK government? Perhaps I might quote Grover Norquist, straight-talking president of Americans for Tax Reform and a leading neo-conservative, who said earlier this year that ‘the Tax Justice Network agenda is a direct threat to America’s economic interests. The US is a tax haven, and this policy has helped attract trillions of dollars of job-creating capital to America’s economy.’ No matter that a substantial proportion of this capital consists of dirty money: funding the current account deficit takes priority. The IMF and the US and UK governments have pursued financial deregulation policies for ideological reasons, without paying sufficient attention to the problem of dirty money, and the situation has deteriorated markedly.

Of course some ‘special purpose vehicles’ (SPVs) have legitimate commercial purposes, but most of those I have encountered were linked to charitable trusts set up for the purpose of tax avoidance. Enron used hundreds of SPVs to conceal loss-making assets, and hid approximately $14 billion of ‘off balance sheet’ debt in structured finance deals using SPVs in Cayman and other offshore finance centres. Readers will find this issue explored in greater depth in William Brittain-Catlin’s Offshore: The Dark Side of the Global Economy.

The figures used in my review came from a number of sources, including Capitalism’s Achilles Heel, the Tax Justice Network research paper ‘The Price of Offshore’, and the Boston Consulting Group’s Global Wealth Report. Readers wanting to know more about the regulatory inadequacies of the Jersey Financial Services Department prior to its replacement by an independent commission are referred to the Association for Accountancy and Business Affairs monograph No Accounting for Tax Havens (available as a free download from the AABA website; typing ‘Offshore Watch’ into Google will take you straight there). The far from clear cut distinction between tax evasion and tax avoidance is considered in our guide to tax justice, downloadable from www.taxjustice.net.

John Christensen
London SE1

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