Issue 237 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review

The future

PRESENT TENSE, FUTURE PERFECT?

We asked a number of contributors to look at prospects for social and cultural change in the new century. Here are some of their ideas

'A deepening crisis results in wars and nationalist ideology' Weyman Bennett: racism

New Labour's Asylum and Immigration Bill was contested by black, Asian and white unity

George Orwell said that those people who understand the past can shape the future. A look at recent trends in fighting racism gives important indications as to where the struggle over racism stands as we go into the next century. In this century alone we have witnessed the overthrow of colonialism, the victory of the civil rights movement in the United States and the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The effect of this was twofold. On the one hand, despite its continuing racism, the ruling class was forced to accept a degree of multiracialism and find ways to accommodate black leaders and a black middle class, particularly in the US and Britain. Simultaneously the working class movements of the world were shaped by these great struggles. In Britain the increasing internationalisation of capital has meant a more and more integrated working class--40 percent of Londoners have an ethnic background other than just British. Black, white and Asian people have fought together over a whole variety of issues.

However, if integration and multiculturalism were the only things happening, racism would eventually disappear. But as well as being pulled together, there are forces which push people apart. As the crisis deepens this leads to more international competition, resulting in wars and nationalist ideology. It also leads to increasing competition between workers for jobs and resources. Both these factors can sow the seeds of racism. Despite the rhetoric of multiculturalism, the Asylum and Immigration Act is a viciously racist piece of legislation. Institutional racism looks likely to increase in the future. The attitude of the police and the courts has become more draconian. Already New Labour has attempted to create a punitive culture that attacks the most vulnerable with a view to dismantling the welfare state, while blaming the very people it attacks. Playing the race card will undoubtedly be part of this process as groups are criminalised. We have already seen Jack Straw's vitriolic diatribe against Gypsies and the practice of 'racial profiling' used by police in the US.

Nevertheless, the future is also likely to see more generalised fights against racism. Active anti-racism is now taken seriously by individuals and organisations. Anti-racism is now an integrated part of the class struggle--the white collar union Unison ensured the Onibyo family was reunited after being deported. In the immediate future, these trends which represent a challenge to racism, a certain breaking down of racism, are likely to continue. The strike at Ford in which black and white workers defended an Asian shop steward against management racism is one of the clearest and most inspiring indications of this trend. This is not to say that there will not be racist outbursts or fascist activity (we cannot ignore the rise of Haider and Le Pen), rather that the struggles against them will be politically organised.

Socialist leadership has fundamentally shaped the struggles against racism, and the intervention of socialists at the core of anti-racist struggles is a key factor in defeating racist movements, as the success of the Anti Nazi League demonstrates. Other analyses of racism look increasingly weak in the face of unfolding events. The black nationalist argument that because all whites are racist, racism cannot be eradicated is undercut by the levels of integration in the working class, and by the fact that 78 percent of black people in Britain are members of trade unions.

Underlying black nationalist ideas is a deep pessimism about the extent to which racism can be challenged. Reformists see the fight against racism as just a matter of education and morality. For revolutionaries the rise of racism has always been linked to the development of capitalism as a whole. In the 21st century there is every possibility that the question of racism will be settled by an active fight against it in the context of a generalised fight against the system. The end of racism is part and parcel of the destruction of capitalism. Indeed, it is one of the best reasons to be active in the fight for the overthrow of this rotten system, born in the blood of slavery, and for a better system, born in the common humanity of mankind.

Colin Sparks: the internet

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