Dec 03 2002

Official Anti Racism – sanitised and useless

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:38 pm

As the Scottish Executive launches its official anti-racism poster campaign, Mary Ward provides an alternative, but more effective, way to beat racism.

Scotland one nation many cultures! the official message is emblazoned on billboards across Scotland in the attempt to convince the chattering classes that the Scottish Executive is tackling racism. We can hide behind this glossy veneer and pretend that racism is something which is a problem in England and that Yildiz Dag, Surgit Chokaar and Dungavel detention centre for asylum seekers are mere blips in a happy picture that would not be out of place on the cover of Watchtower. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2002 came into effect on 30th November 2002. This is quite a significant piece of legislation which could have an effect on local authority workplaces, particularly to our practice in schools (if anybody bothers to put it into practice) and Jack McConnell Scotland’s First Minister has proposed the introduction of a law to make religious hatred an aggravated offence.

The Scottish Executive is convinced they are playing their part in eradicating racism in Scotland.

The annual STUC anti-racist rally took place on 30th November 2002 in Glasgow and although the numbers were down on the previous year, the platform was adorned by Margaret Curren (Scottish Justice Minister), Bill Speirs (STUC General Secretary) and Shona Robison (SNP MSP) showing that the rally continues to have the support from the highest levels within the Scottish political establishment. There is probably more going on in raising the questions of racism and sectarianism than there has been for many years in Scotland.

Capitalism: the true cause of racism

Yet there is something rotten at the very core of this official anti racism. It is the result of years of safe, white, liberal multiculturalism. It is complacent misguided and ultimately useless. Of course I would agree that racism needs to be tackled at a multitude of levels: in the streets, workplaces, communities and schools but we are in the process of seeing the buck being passed – racism is portrayed as the fault of the poor, working class and needs only to be tackled at that level. There is no real understanding of institutional racism and even when that is acknowledged, the solutions are based around sorting out individuals concerned.

The true cause is clearly the result of the capitalist system which rejoices in dividing the working class along ethnic and religious lines. Its real roots lie in the heart of the establishment itself. The ‘officials’ refuse to consider that government legislation and rhetoric on asylum seekers fosters racism. They refused, at the anti-racist rally, to discuss Dungavel detention centre for asylum seekers or to recognise that the justice system under Labour has failed the Chokaar family and many more victims of the system.

Across Britain, black deaths in police custody are swept under the carpet and families are left broken-hearted looking for answers and justice. Black people are eight times more likely to be stopped by the police than non black people and meanwhile the killers of Stephen Lawrence, and Surgit Chokaar walk the streets taunting the bereaved families.

We need to look at how we, on the revolutionary left work to defeat, not just the racists, but also the official non-racists who disarm the movement.

Just over one year ago, (December 2001) the report into the race riots in Burnley, Oldham and Bradford was produced. The report was an indictment of multiculturalism which did not encompass anti-racism. Far from communities being assimilated into a happy Christmas card melting pot, it was found that the communities operate on the basis of parallel lives. In other words separate development. In other words, apartheid Britain.

All official bodies from the police to local councils were slammed and in an effort to show the fair handed (or institutionally racist) nature of the report itself, so were the inward looking Asian communities. Blunkett’s response was incredible. He demanded that the Asian families learn to speak better English. He of course missed the point that these were British Asians in these conflicts. Their English was as good as yours or mine and they believed they were defending their communities against the fascist BNP.

This, however, must not be seen as Blunkett supporting racism. On the contrary, he is giving the only type of response available to these official anti-racists – blame the individuals and miss the culpability of the system in creating the problem.

The establishment cannot tackle these problems in other than a reactionary way. Hence we have this year the wide promotion of One Nation values and citizenship, which are at the heart of the new legislation, alluded to earlier. We see the attempt to establish forced multiculturalism and assimilation from above. Meanwhile the BNP continues to find electoral support not from neo Nazis but from working class women and men who turn on their neighbours because of the failures of official multiculturalism and endemic institutional racism and the failure of the state to address issues of poverty, poor housing and alienation.

Le Pen & the French presidential elections

The European situation last year added an interesting dimension to the problem with the defeat of Jean Marie Le Pen in the second round of France’s presidential elections. Millions of French people took to the streets to show their opposition to the ideology of the leader of the French National Front. The best the left could do with this anger and militancy was to secure the re election of Jaques Chirac, (the lesser of two evils approach?). Chirac of course would never be the prisoner of the left. On the contrary, he immediately began to appease the right through security measures relating to immigration controls. But at least he was officially anti-racist!

The SWP suffers from this distorted logic in its front organisation the ANL. Julie Waterstone, full timer in the SWP famously, at a series of ANL meetings, showed how united fronts must guard against popular frontism. She told the meetings of an incident where people joined an ANL protest even though they were against asylum seekers because they hated Nazis more. Julie saw this as a positive development. The ANL logic is vote for anyone as long as they can defeat the BNP. The same logic, which defeated Le Pen and put back Chirac.

The idea that this will lead to the defeat of racist ideas is patent nonsense just as Blunkett’s English speaking classes are nonsense, just as the one nation approach is nonsense. The ANL is useful in mobilising, particularly young people, to confront organised Nazis but it provides no political agenda which can take working class people forward. The ANL has a great appeal for anyone with a genuine desire never to see the rise of fascism again but it is a mistake to think that if we get rid of these nasty people in jack boots then we’ll all be sorted. Generally, where the neo Nazis have raised their heads in Scotland they have been met by working class direct action – not always led by the ANL! Communities in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen have taken on this scum (whether it appeared in bovver boots or suits) and sent them packing.

But with another BNP councillor elected in Yorkshire in January 2003, what about the working class people who are voting for them? As capitalism fails the working class, Blair cannot deliver anything better than the Tories did before him. Where does the independent working class revolutionary alternative come from? Certainly not from the cross class collaboration of the ANL.

The hysteria surrounding asylum seekers in Glasgow threw up an endemic racism which has nothing to do with Nazis and requires a different way of fighting. Racists in Britain are seldom stereotypes of Hitler or even Nick Griffin. In fact, many people with racist ideas would have nothing to do with Nazis in any form.

The hard thing to come to terms with, particularly on the left, is that racism is found in us, our friends and family and our workmates. To think it is confined to a small group of boneheads is a very dangerous illusion. Even the Scottish Executive recognises this!

The truth about asylum and race is not being taught in our schools and certainly does not permeate even our officially anti-racist media.

Establishing a culture of fear

Having watched Michael Moore’s powerful and analytical film, Bowling for Columbine, it becomes clear how the sustained permeation of a society by a culture of fear, can create a truly terrifying result. The monster created via the effects of television, newspaper, film and all official state apparatus, including schools, allows not just a few but many to become xenophobic, racist and violent. The imminent war with Iraq is just another manifestation of this only on a global scale as Gulf War I, Nicaragua, and Vietnam were before it. In fact such a culture at home is a necessary prerequisite for making war abroad. We surely have to believe that we ourselves are about to die if we are to be prepared to sacrifice the lives of others.

When we look at how asylum seekers are being linked to terrorism in Britain at this time, we can see the horrible prospect of creating a climate where anyone who is Asian or Muslim is a potential target for racism and for a denial of their civil rights.

Already cries can be heard for any suspects to be deported before the result of their asylum application is known. Opinion polls consistently show that people across Britain think there is a problem with asylum seekers entering this country. And a media which consistently show foreigners as criminals or a potential physical threat which casts a shadow of suspicion on anyone who appears foreign.

No amount of ANL Nazi bashing will halt this. And Scotland is not immune despite its glossy spin on multiculturalism. Our ethnic communities are at risk – right here, right now. Not from fascists but from frightened communities who are being prepared for their country attacking and killing men women and children in Iraq. There seems to be reluctance on the part of the SWP to participate in broad based, anti-racist campaigns, which involve a bit more than instant confrontation and hunt the Nazi.

Where do we go from here? On the one hand official anti-racism which denies the right of any confrontation in favour of being nice and official anti-Nazism which cannot survive unless the BNP continue to exist?

Effective anti-racism

When it comes to fighting racism, we should not settle for liberal multiculturalism, but demand effective anti-racist education at all levels in society. A couple of hours of racism awareness in workplaces is seen by many workers as tokenistic and irrelevant. Such is the quality of much of the training.

Meaningful anti-racism means telling the truth about Britain’s colonial past. We must face up to Britain’s role in the subjugation ofother nations and cultures. The way we built an empire, our use of slavery and how we continue to create situations worldwide that require people either to fight for their lives or flee, all need explored. We need only think of Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq to get the ball rolling. As our population and skill base declines, we should publicly be making a case for economic migrants to come to Scotland – End all immigration controls! We must work to turn the slogan Asylum seekers welcome here! from a forlorn wish to a statement of fact. For this to happen, political and economic problems need to be clarified so black and white can fight on a class basis not on the basis of ethnicity.

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