Aug 20 2015

THE SECRET OF ITS WEAKNESS: RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN

We are posting this  review by Colin Barker (RS21) of Satnam Virdee‘s book Racism, Class and the Racialized Outsider. This book is an important contribution to the debates around race and class. It was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of rs21 magazine. It can also be seen at:– http://rs21.org.uk/2015/03/21/the-secret-of-its-weakness-racism-and-the-working-class-movement-in-britain/

 

THE SECRET OF ITS WEAKNESS:

RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN

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Satnam Virdee has written an important book. It is a history of working-class struggles to win economic and social gains, and to gain access to democracy in Britain, viewed through the prism of ‘race’.

From the start, English and then British capitalism was founded on imperial expansion, drawing under its control large parts of the world, and ‘importing’ into its territory large numbers of people from the lands it conquered, colonised and robbed. Yet many accounts of British working class development are silent on the presence and the impact of migrants, their sufferings and resistance, and the vital ‘racial politics’ that shaped both the major waves of popular resistance and the troughs between them.
Continue reading “THE SECRET OF ITS WEAKNESS: RACISM AND THE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT IN BRITAIN”

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May 01 2012

Socialism Militant, Socialism Triumphant: thoughts on communism and the workplace inspired by William Morris and the IWW

 

An important topic for discussion by the Left today is labor  organization as we know it under capitalism, and as it could be under socialism and communism. Below are statements from our radical history, and one that is an outgrowth of that history. Taken together, they offer guidance.

In the conclusion to his commentary on Socialism Triumphant (Commonweal, 1888), William Morris provides the context for such a discussion: namely, the goals, values, visionary perspective, and determination that motivate our actions as revolutionaries living and working within a reactionary and powerful capitalist system. In ’60’s  lingo, we keep our eyes on the prize.

Within a decade after Morris’s death in 1896, the IWW was founded on the same dictums, presented succinctly in the preamble to its constitution: stay true to the principles and lessons of class struggle, and carry on the fight until our class overthrows capitalism and takes control of production and the wealth we create, however long that may take. For both Morris and the IWW, this requires vision, education, organization, agitation, and perseverance.

Today, increasing numbers of people have arrived at the gateway of communist consciousness. Through the vast range of horrendous and joyous experiences of the 20th Century, up to the present day, most of us realize that global injustice and inequality run rampant. An example of this is the successful effort of a health care worker in the U.S. to make links between health care workers, health care center management, the state, mainstream media, the business unions, and global capitalism.

The writer’s analysis is put forward in an article written in response to an IWW discussion paper on the theory and practice of direct unionism, a statement from which is quoted below. In it, the writer calls for a definition of workplace organizing that includes the interpersonal, social, and cultural facets involved. This would not only reaffirm the beauty and certainty of the views of Morris and the IWW founders, but also deepen them. As now and in the past, workers in the future will no doubt have differences of opinion and find themselves in conflict, at times, over personal, political, and management issues. Workplaces, like families, are microcosms of society, and even when communism is achieved, certain personal and political matters will continue to get played-out there.

As we try to live our lives as socialist militants helping pave the way for the triumph of communism, we should give attention, as the IWW writer suggests, to replacing destructive and exploitative structures and systems simultaneously at our workplaces and within our families and communities– and by extension to, and between, our countries and regions. With an eye to a future communist society, and through collective effort, we should experiment with forms of social organization that assume people’s desire and capacity to support, show compassion toward, and get along with each other, while creating mechanisms designed to enable us to do so.

As in the past and the present, this process relies on education, solidarity networks, street actions, and the creation of alternative means of political and cultural expression and new forms of organization in our workplaces and homes– all springing from resistance to existing power structures and directives.

Capitalism has perfected and continually reinforces the compartmentalizing of our lives. By doing all we can to reintegrate ourselves as workers, family members, and carers of the community, we can come to appreciate how an injury to one part of ourselves and our lives is an injury to the entire organism- personal and social. In this way, we’ll be taking a big step from individual and social militancy toward collective triumph for our species and the earth.

 

From William Morris’s commentary Socialism Triumphant (Part 2), in the 19 May 1888 issue of Commonweal, the publication of the Socialist League

“We may be asked, since we have been putting forward the doctrine of evolution throughout these chapters, what Socialism in its turn will evolve. We can only answer that Socialism denies the finality of human progress, and that any system of which we can now conceive of as Socialism must necessarily give way to a new development of society.But that development is necessarily hidden from us by the unfinished struggle in which we live, in which for us the supreme goal is the Socialism we have been putting forward. Nor do we repine at this limitation of our insight; that goal is sublime and beautiful enough which promises to us the elevation of the whole of the people to a level of intelligent happiness and pleasurable energy, which at present is reached, if at all, only by a chosen few at the expense of the misery and degradation of the greater part of mankind; and even by those few, is held on such a precarious tenure that it is to them little better than a pleasant dream disturbed by fantastic fears which have their birth from the terribly real sufferings of the ordinary life of the masses on whom they live.”

 

From the Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World (founded 1905)

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

“Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the earth… Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

“… It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalism, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing  industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”

 

From Direct Unionism and Beyond, by healthcare worker Jomo, in April 2012 issue of Industrial Worker, the monthly publication of the IWW

“We need to have a discussion [within the IWW] about how our organizing, over the long run, can prepare for a qualitative shift from a capitalist mode of production to a new form of society – one that is not a transitional state controlled by bureaucrats. This qualitative shift is a process that involves changing capitalist social relations. Even though this process can only take place during revolution, we need to agitate and educate around it now as we fight.

Our demands should be directed not only at the necessity of better working conditions and wages, but also at breaking down the division between mental and manual labor, between gendered and racial divisions at the workplace and the like… Direct unionism as an activity is only the beginning. We have much more, in theory and in practice, that we need to discuss and work on.”

 

Susan Dorazio, May Day, 2012

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Jul 26 2002

Empress Brown’s Jingo Jubilee

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:36 pm

Terry Liddle (South London Republican Forum) describes the opposition to Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations

The year 1887 opened with rioting by the unemployed in Norwich. Two members of the Socialist League were arrested and later imprisoned. The Socialist League was a split by members including Eleanor Marx, from the Social Democratic Federation, Britain’s first Marxist organisation, William Morris and Belfort Bax, who could no longer stomach the dictatorship of H.M. Hyndman. By 1887 the Republican agitation of the 1870’s was but a memory but the tradition of staunch opposition from below to the monarchy was kept alive by the new-born groups of socialists, particularly the Socialist League. Some Socialist League members, such as Joseph Lane had cut their political teeth in Charles Dilke’s earlier Radical republican campaign. The Socialist League aimed at the realisation of complete Revolutionary Socialism.

On January 12th, 1887, at a Liberal Party meeting, the national anthem was hissed and members of the audience cried out for the Marseillaise. This was a period of labour unrest. In April 1887, William Morris, who edited the Socialist League’s paper Commonweal, travelled to Northumberland to address a crowd of 10,000 striking miners. A demonstration for the miners, organised by the Glasgow Socialist League, attracted 20,000 people. This was also the period of the grab for Africa, when the imperialist powers of Europe were annexing every acre of land they could occupy. War was raging in the Sudan, a war the socialists of the time bitterly opposed. At an anti-war meeting Morris caused a stir when he attempted to move an amendment stating that the Sudan had been invaded in the interests of capitalists who wished to exploit it.

Policy of coercion

In Ireland the government continued its long-term policy of coercion against nationalists. When William O’Brien and John Manderville organised a meeting to oppose this policy they were summoned. At a preliminary hearing in Mitchelstown, County Tipperary, scuffles broke out and the police opened fire, killing two men and wounding several others. O’Brien was later imprisoned.

In March of the same year, socialists organised the anniversary celebration of the Paris Commune. The English translation of the first volume of Marx’s Capital had appeared. On April 11th there was a mass demonstration, over a 100,000 strong in Hyde Park, against the Irish Coercion Bill. Under its terms the Irish Land League was outlawed. Any manifestation of Irish nationalism was treated as an outrage. Gladstone spoke for the Liberals, George Bernard Shaw for the Fabians and Tom Burns for the Social Democratic Federation. Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling spoke from the Socialist League platform.

The agitators of the Socialist League had been hard at it, speaking at numerous meetings, particularly those of the Radical Clubs. Aveling held a series of classes at Plumstead Radical Club. The Radicals constituted a working class left wing of Liberalism and socialists were trying to win them over. The Plumstead Radical Club, for example, would eventually affiliate to the Labour Party.

The Radicals felt a great affinity for the Irish. The Patriotic Club, nowadays, Marx House, held a meeting on Clerkenwell Green to protest the landlords’ rack-renting and evictions. A delegation of Radicals had visited Ireland to express their solidarity with the small farmers’ struggles there.

On May 14th, Victoria went to the East End to open the so-called People’s Palace. This was a bourgeois philanthropic scheme to bring art and culture to the deprived masses of the area, without, of course, improving their wages, working or housing conditions. All along the route she was jeered. To the socialists she was Empress Brown, a title given by William de Morgan, after she had been crowned Empress of India. It was rumoured that after the death of her husband, Victoria not only sought spiritual consolation from her Scottish servant, John Brown, a powerful medium, but also shared his bed, even having his illegitimate child.

William Morris first came into conflict with the monarchy in the 1870’s when he opposed the efforts of the ruling class to drag Britain into another war with Russia, something Victoria greatly favoured.

At last on June 21st there dawned the great day of Victoria’s golden jubilee. Some 26,000 children were entertained in Hyde Park and a twelve year old girl was presented with an award by Victoria in person. Crowned heads from Europe and beyond came to attend the celebrations as well as Presidents from several republics. An envoy from the Pope was also present.

Hypocrisy & corruption

At the bottom of the social pyramid, the jubilee was far from popular. The Metropolitan Radical Federation issued an appeal for an anti-jubilee service on June 19th. The Socialist League issued a leaflet subtitled A word on the class war, outlining the technological advances of the previous fifty years and saying that Victoria, a mean old woman, had not had a hand in any of them. At a meeting in Llanelli, Victoria’s name was greeted with hissing. Neath Town Council refused to pay for any celebrations and Cardiff Trades Council refused to participate. A meeting in Bristol, addressed by socialists, carried two militant republican resolutions.

Writing in the Commonweal, William Morris stated, The powers that be are determined to show what a nuisance the monarchy and court can be as a centre of hypocrisy and corruption, and the densest form of stupidity.

He returned to the attack in the issue for June 25th. Whilst stating that it would benefit socialists little if the abolition of the monarchy gave place to a middle class republic, he felt it necessary to vent his anger at what he called tomfoolery and monstrous stupidity.

At least some people benefited from the Jubilee – in India, 23,000 prisoners were set free.

The pioneer socialists had to fight hard to carry out their activities. Open air meetings were often broken up by the police and speakers fined. In November a demonstration to protest at O’Brien’s imprisonment was savagely suppressed and William Cutner, a member of the Deptford Radical Society, which had a staunch Republican tradition, was killed, along with two others. Cutner’s funeral was closed with a song penned by William Morris. Socialists continued to attack the monarchy. In 1893 two members of the Commonweal Group were heavily fined for flyposting an attack on a royal wedding. Kier Hardie lambasted the monarchy in parliament and in his paper, the Labour Leader. The socialists who controlled Battersea Council, refused to celebrate Edward VII’s coronation and Edward was attacked in the pages of The Socialist, which became the paper of the new SDF breakaway, the Socialist Labour Party. The Social Democratic Federation included the abolition of the monarchy and the Lords in its 1903 edition of its programme.

In the 1930’s the Daily Worker regularly published brilliant anti monarchy cartoons. These were the work of Desmond Rowney, who was killed in action defending Republican Spain.

By 1977, at the time of Mrs Windsor’s silver jubilee, republicanism outside of Ireland was at a low ebb. However, republicans gathered in the rain on Blackheath, to celebrate the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 and the Chartist demonstrations held there in the 1840’s. An anti-jubilee event in East London was attacked by fascists. The SWP did a good trade in Stuff the Jubilee badges. These haven’t yet reappeared.

This time round the monarchist ardour is on the wane. A celebration of the life and work of the Red Republican, George Julian Harney, has already taken place. On May 30th, the Socialist Alliance will be holding an anti-Jubilee rock concert in Brixton. And there will be Thomas Paine and Charles Bradlaugh celebrations in June and a meeting on Bradlaugh in Bromley in April. On May 25th there will be a march and meeting to remember the heroic struggle of Bobby Sands. There will be a strong anti monarchist element in the Socialist Alliance local election campaign in May. The war in Afghanistan is far from popular and the prospect of war in Iraq even less so. Mrs Windsor’s jubilee could well be the last!

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Jul 26 2002

How republicans around Britain and Ireland are the jubilee

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 02RCN @ 7:13 pm

Socialist Alliance in England

It is the queen’s jubilee time and the Socialist Alliance in England supports all republican activities which seek to expose the lack of democracy at the heart of British society. The jubilee does not end on June 4. That is just the beginning of the monarchist jamboree up to the 50th anniversary of Elizabeth Windsor’s coronation, which is in 2003.

Socialist Alliance branches should discuss ways they can raise republican sentiment where they organise: in the localities, trade unions and in the campaigns they support. Rather than celebrate an unelected parasite on a throne for 50 years and the constitutional system she represents, the working class and socialists should celebrate the republican tradition of Britain. The Levellers and Diggers, Thomas Paine, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists, the Suffragettes, William Morris, Tom Mann, the formation of the Communist Party, the general strike of 1926 and even diverse characters from society from Oliver Cromwell to the Sex Pistols. We should take the opportunity offered us in the following weeks to make propaganda for a democratic republic, the abolition of the House of Lords, proportional representation and a democratic society.

For this to happen, the working class needs to take a lead on democratic questions. The Socialist Alliance has a role to play in this. Our activities against the jubilee celebrations should seek to raise republican sentiment among the working class and to organise republican and anti-monarchist events across the United Kingdom Socialist Alliance National Council resolution, February 2002. However the June extended Bank Holiday should not be the end of it. Socialist Alliance policy is to seek to establish an ongoing organised working-class campaign for a republic after the jubilee celebrations. On the basis of activities by republicans both in and outside the Socialist Alliance we should seek to build an ongoing campaign.

What you can do:

  • Hold republican social events on the June bank holiday weekend: picnics, Barbecues, street and estate parties. Get your friends, family & comrades together to celebrate republicanism.
  • Apply for funding for your republican activities from your local authority. You probably won’t get approval, but send a press release saying that legitimate activity relating to the jubilee year is being blocked by the council.
  • Demonstrate when the queen visits your area. To find out her tour dates go to: Golden Jubilee – now defunct
  • Hold a gig, invite local bands.
  • Hold a public meeting on republicanism, the monarchy and democracy.
  • Hold a Socialist Alliance members meeting on the question of the republican tradition.
  • Have a debate with monarchists.
  • Write letters to the national and local press. Don’t let the republican voice be silenced.
  • Raise the matter in your trade union.
  • Hold a public event/stunt at your local town hall against the monarchy. Invite the press.

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