Unprofessional conduct

Thanks to
Socialist Standard

Blog post
July 4, 2008

They’re still doing it. Calling the FARC rebels in Colombia “Marxist terrorists”, that is. The BBC has just done in the news about the recent freeing of the hostage Ingrid Betancourt. The Guardian has been guilty too.

See this Blog The FARC “Marxist” farce.

Last time this happened, a few months ago, a Socialist Party member sent the following letter to the Grauniad:

“Apropos the contention of Mr Phil Gunson in a recent issue of the Guardian (6 March) that FARC nationalist guerrillas in Columbia are ‘Marxist terrorists’, the following may be of interest.

During the recent IRA campaign of terrorism in Northern Ireland it was not uncommon for some journalists to refer to this essentially Catholic-nationalist organisation as ‘Marxist terrorists’ – obviously exposing overt Marxists to considerable danger from loyalist terror gangs.

After many efforts to rebut this dangerous nonsense – most of which, despite the first four articles in the NUJ Code of Conduct, were suppressed – I wrote a long and detailed comparison of the views of Marx, who utterly rejected terrorism, and Lenin whose strategies were frequently pursued by ‘left-wing’ terrorists. The resultant document I mailed to some members of the journalistic fraternity on the assumption that it might prove an antidote for their dangerous political ignorance.

The Head of Programme Planning at Ulster Television responded to the document with the assurance that he had issued instructions to his staff to avoid reference to ‘Marxist terrorists’ in programmes within local control in the future. Dr Steven King, then an adviser to David Trimble and a Belfast Telegraph columnist, responded and accused himself of ‘sloppy writing’ and, generally, we local socialists felt that some improvement had been effected.

However, on 25 November 2006, referring to three alleged IRA men who had been arrested by the Colombian authorities and accused of giving technical help to FARC, the Security Correspondent of the Belfast Telegraph, Brian Rowan, described another Colombian terrorist group thus:

“ELN is a Marxist insurgent group formed in 1965”

We wrote the following personal letter to Mr Rowan:

Dear Mr Rowan,

According to your article in the Belfast Telegraph of the 25th November 2006: “ELN is a Marxist insurgent group formed in 1965”.

Readers of that newspaper could reasonably expect someone making such a definite pronouncement to be familiar not only with the political and economic philosophy of Karl Marx but with his attitude to the question of political terrorism.

Certainly your statement shows no evidence whatsoever of a knowledge, much less an understanding, of the writings of Marx and his co-worker, Engels. Marx during his lifetime was implacably opposed to political terrorism and fought a bitter battle with the anarchist, Michael Bakunin, which resulted in the expulsion of the latter from the International Workingmen’s Association.

Equally absurd is the implication in your suggestion that a group of Leninist nationalists fighting for land reform in a backward country are using terror tactics to bring about the objectives of Marx and the pioneers of scientific socialism.

Some years ago I prepared the document I enclose herewith to counter absurd statements like yours made by irresponsible commentators and I offered the sum of £1,000 pounds to any of its recipients who could show support for political terrorism or state capitalism in the writings of Marx. Only two – one a Belfast Telegraph contributor – were courageous enough to reply and both expressed apologies.

I look forward to your early advice and, incidentally, the £1,000 still stands.

Yours for a sane world



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