Tear up racism by its roots
Racism has spattered the pages of modern history with the blood of hundreds of millions. Slavery, ethnic cleansing, cruel discrimination, the defamation of entire peoples, deportation and even outright extermination – these are the bitter fruits of racial hatreds which have been systematically created and reinforced by global capitalism.
Despite the hypocritical claims of Western liberals, racism is not dying out. On the contrary, it is on the rise. Black and Asian people, Latin American and eastern European immigrants and migrant workers, Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Jews, indigenous peoples and many other racial groups face routine discrimination and oppression across the globe. Indeed the list is almost endless. Lower pay, fewer job opportunities and unemployment, insecurity and uncertainty, police repression, routine imprisonment and deaths in custody, restriction of access to education and healthcare, denial of citizenship rights, travel restrictions and daily abuse mark the experience of millions. Racism pervades all spheres of life in modern societies.
Racism both creates the conditions for super-exploiting part of the international working class, and aids the capitalists in dividing the workers, weakening our resistance. That is why any struggle that aims to defeat the system of global capitalism must confront racism in all its forms.
Modern racism first arose with the expansion of capitalism from Northern Europe across the face of the globe. Capitalists enslaved millions of Africans from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The English and Dutch merchants and American plantation owners publicly upheld equality and the “rights of man” – so the Black African slaves whose families they destroyed and who they worked to death had to be defined as something less than human. This was modern racism in its earliest, “purest” and least disguised form.
Slavery was abolished by the mid-nineteenth century, but racism lived on. The onset of imperialism in the nineteenth century led to another surge of racism – this time arming itself with pseudo-scientific credentials. In the white settler colonies, indigenous peoples were driven off their land and exterminated. In the USA, segregation and loss of civil rights reversed progress made when slaves were freed after the Civil War. In “civilised” Europe, anti-semitism reached a scale of unimaginable cruelty, culminating in the Nazi Holocaust of 1943-45 in which millions of Jews, Roma and Slavs were annihilated.
In Russia, after the triumph of Stalinism, the bureaucracy used Great Russian chauvinism and anti-semitism to divide and rule, discrimination, abuse and outright persecution was visited not only on Jews but on the nationalities of the Caucasus, Central Asia and many other ethnic groups.
After the Second World War, colonial liberation struggles in Africa and the Black civil rights movement in the USA struck heavy blows at official racism. The downfall of Apartheid South Africa destroyed the last state explicitly based on the doctrine of white supremacy. But the oppression of black people continues the world over; Africa is still under the heel of imperialism. In the USA black people remain deeply oppressed – fewer jobs, lower pay and imprisoned in disproportionate numbers. In South Africa, even under the rule of the ANC, the black majority are still denied social and economic equality.
Today, racism is again rising dangerously in Europe and America, with an outburst of racist laws and demagogy from the state. In particular this scapegoating of immigrants and asylum seekers has also led to direct physical attacks from fascists and the far right. In central and eastern Europe, Roma people face police and fascist persecution and mass unemployment. In the cities and towns of Russia and the Ukraine, Chechens, Tatars, and members of other communities from the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Crimea are harassed by the state and attacked by racists and fascists. When Roma, and other oppressed peoples flee to the West, they face state racism including internment, harassment, deportation, and a horrific campaign of public vilification.
The Patriot Act in the USA and the ever stricter controls in Fortress Europe are subjecting immigrants and racial minorities to unprecedented levels of surveillance, restriction of movement and denial of legal rights. Conservatives, liberals and social democrats hypocritically point to the threat of the far right to justify “democratic” repression. Refugees from the wars and conflicts sponsored by imperialism and from the poverty global capital causes are denounced as “fraudulent” seekers of asylum and once again blamed for all society’s ills. But immigrants are not the cause of scarce jobs, declining healthcare, low pay and poor housing – they are the greatest victims of these ills. The working class must see through these racist lies and defend the victims of oppression, not side with their masters.
Global corporations want to export capital wherever they make the highest profit – but the capitalists refuse to grant free movement of labour. It is a lie that there is too little space and too few resources for people to be fed, clothed, housed, educated and to work wherever they choose to live. There is enough to go round – so long as it is allocated for need, not for profit. Therefore, we demand the abolition of all immigration controls and the closure of all detention camps for asylum seekers and refugees. We demand equal rights of citizenship for all, regardless of race, nationality or country of origin.
We demand the immediate scrapping of all racist laws and equal pay and conditions for all workers. Black people and all racial minorities have the right to self-defence against racist attacks. They should receive the fullest support for this from the working class movement. We call on all working class organisations to link up with movements of the oppressed and to build self-defence squads against racial attacks.
The official labour movements of the imperialist countries, led by class collaborators, all too often share the racism and chauvinism of the ruling class. Some scandalously suggest that the racially oppressed should remain passive, or patiently endure racism, in the interests of “unity”, until the mass of white workers and their organisations are gradually educated in anti-racism.
This is an unpardonable concession to racism and the privileges of whites. True fighting unity can only be achieved if the working class responds with militant struggle to all attempts to persecute and discriminate against the victims of racism. It is in the interest of the “native” working class to smash fascist and racist terror movements and to confront every manifestation of racism in education, the media, the workplace and the public services.
The racism of the white workers is a terrible Achilles’ heel. It can only be overcome by winning them to anti-racism now, not in the distant future. To do this, they will have to listen to and take a lead from black workers fighting their own oppression. None are so fit to break the chains of racism as those who wear them.
Wherever they feel their interests are ignored or underrepresented, racial minorities have the right to organise, to identify and confront racism and discrimination, including by establishing caucuses within the trade unions and working class parties. We must make it a priority to promote black and oppressed workers to take up positions of leadership. Fools believe that this will “divide the movement”. In reality it is the precondition for unity.
The roots of racism lie in global capitalism. Its overthrow will lay the foundations for a new society, one in which racism can – at last! – be consigned to the dustbin of history.