Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialism and Racism

Socialism is an international question that concerns workers of all countries. One of the barriers to accepting socialism is race-prejudice, which sets groups of workers against each other on grounds of colour, religion, and so on. Before workers can really understand the need for class unity and political action as socialists, they must get rid of this false and harmful race-prejudice.

Recently there have been widespread demonstrations in the US over the murder by a policeman of an un-armed black man, George Floyd. Demonstrations in support of Floyd and calling for an end to police violence, took place in many other countries, notably Britain where death in police custody of ethnic minorities is common and disproportionate stop and search of blacks by the police in inner city areas is the norm. Racism exists in British capitalism just as it does in other countries.

Socialists are forced to deal with the question of "race", an unscientific concept, because it is based largely on ignorance and misunderstanding. However, in the hands of politicians like Oswald Mosley in the 1930s and even in the 1950s, and today with Boris Johnson, Katie Hopkins, Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson and the writers of such magazines as the Spectator, racism is much more often deliberate and calculated, used to divide the working class into "us" and "them".

The socialist position when dealing with question of racism is quite clear. The Socialist Party of Great Britain recognises only one fundamental social division in the modern world-the division that exists between the capitalist class on the one hand, and the working-class on the other. All other divisions, whether they are based on religion, nationality, language, sex, gender or "race", are incidental to this main division. Regarding our attitude to the problem of race-prejudice, let us state categorically so that nobody will misunderstand:

The interests of the whole working class, no matter where they live or come from, are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the capitalist class, irrespective of the ethnicity to which the members of the capitalist class belong.

The class division cuts directly across all others. All capitalists exploit the working class, a truth the capitalist left like to play down or tend to ignore.

Furthermore, it is essential to remember that racism is but one of the many social problems that spring directly from the contradictions of capitalist society itself. As such, racism must be kept in its proper perspective. To attempt to solve the problem of race prejudice separately from all the many other problems caused by capitalism, will meet with the same abject failure that has resulted from the efforts to end through reforms, the social problems of poverty and unemployment.

Workers of the world have to understand their class position under capitalism. It is only when workers understand and agree with the case for socialism that they will cease to be a prey to the hatreds and prejudices arising from fictional notions of "race". Only then will they be immune to the politicians that feed-off race hatred. It is only with the establishment of socialism that race-prejudice will finally disappear.

To believe that removing statues like that of the colonialist Cecil Rhodes or changing the names of streets, squares and buildings will remove racism from society is naive. To think that racial equality is possible in a class divided society in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned and controlled by a minority capitalist class is equally naive. And to believe we can have a harmonious and balanced society when the working class face the divisive consequences of the destructive economic laws of capitalism, including its wars is utterly foolish.

The economic and social problems of poor housing, unemployment, low wages, and inadequate health care will continue to generate racism, class disunity as well as boosting the careers and opportunism of parasitical politicians feeding off this social discontent. The problems facing the working class will remain while capitalism remains.

The only way to abolish racism is to abolish its cause. And that is to replace capitalism with socialism. And that has to be the work of a unified working class, without distinction of race and sex. Black live matter but so do the interests of the working class. There is no alternative but the formation of a global movement of socialists, with the singular object of establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

Iconoclasm and Changing History

The demonstrations throughout the world against the police murder of George Floyd in the United States took a life of their own. In Belgium a notable statue of the genocidal monarch Leopard II were toppled. His forces in the Congo killed millions of men, women and children at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Demonstrations also took place in the United Kingdom. Here, attention turned towards statues and memorials to slave traders and imperialists.

One action by Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Bristol was the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston, the 16th century slave trader who was a leading figure in the slave-trading Royal African Company. He shared responsibility for the transportation of an estimated 84,000 Africans, around 19,000 of whom are thought to have died at sea.

The defenders of Empire in the capitalist media were upset with the removal of the statue of Edward Colston. Jimmy Saville, the paedophile, can have his statue removed from Scotstoun Leisure Centre almost overnight to wide-spread applause but for the apologists of the slave trade, Colston the slave trader and mass murderer must be kept on his pedestal at all costs.

Historians trawling through history for forgotten black men and women, might consider the Cato Street Conspiracy, 200 years old this year. A useful commentary can be found in the late Malcolm Chase’s book 1820 (pp. 76-84). The conspiracy set out to kill the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool and his Cabinet and then start a revolution. One of the conspirators was the Afro-Caribbean, William Davidson, a cabinet-maker. The conspiracy failed.

The building in which the conspirators met is now marked by a Blue plaque. Is the plaque to commemorate the conspiracy and the conspirators or to the success of the ruling class who put the conspiracy down with the use of spies? Davidson went on to be publically executed on 1 May with four other conspirators. A lesson to be learnt by today’s workers who believe they can achieve their political objective by taking violent direct action. The machinery of government, including the armed forces, is stronger and more powerful today than it was in 1820.

The destruction of imagery is not new. Although it is associated with religion iconoclasm (literally "image breaking") it has a political meaning. Revolutions and changes of regime, whether through uprising of the local population, foreign invasion, or a combination of both, are often accompanied by the public destruction of statues and monuments identified with the previous regime.

Iconoclasm was prevalent during the English Civil War. At St Mary’s Church, Harrow-on-the Hill, A troop of soldiers from Cromwell’s army hacked away at effigies within the church. The sword marks are still apparent. During the American war of Independence, the Sons of Liberty pulled down a statue of George III on Bowling Green in New York City. No tears were shed as they were to be two hundred and forty years later by racists and white supremacists at the removal of statues of Confederates generals and politicians in Southern states..

Throughout Eastern Europe, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet Empire, statues of Marx and Engels were vandalised as though they had something to do with the Russian ruling class and state capitalism. The statue of Marx in Highgate cemetery is periodically vandalised. It is a peculiarly repulsive monumental bust, carried out in the very worst Stalinist, 'socialist-realism' style, or lack of it, and funded by the Kremlin.

The point about history and the past is no to celebrate curse it but to change it in a revolutionary way. And History can only be changed by the political actions of men and women. To make history - to establish socialism - requires a socialist majority united together with one aim. There can be no division, no disunity only the single-minded pursuit of replacing capitalism with socialism.

What will a future socialist society do about the names of the capitalist class associated with Oxbridge colleges, museums, concert halls, art galleries and so on? Will the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square be permanently entombed within a timber box with a suitable explanatory note of his misdeeds pinned on the outside?

However, there will be more important things for socialists to consider and act upon, like ending world poverty and dealing with the environmental problems bequeathed by capitalism to a socialist society. Removing statues and changing names is easy to change than ensuring the rapid implication of the socialist principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" that could be much harder.

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