From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard
On 8 December last, a judge at Manchester Crown Court sentenced to gaol a sociology lecturer and eight students who had formed a left-wing hit squad armed with a “fearful array of weapons" and to crusade against their fascist rivals from the National Front. So. the right wing thugs won that battle 9-0 without having to cross their front doors. “Daddy, where are you going with that sledgehammer?” the child of the sociology lecturer might have enquired. “I’m going out to persuade those fascists of the need to establish a society of peace and harmony”, comes the reply.
As people become increasingly frustrated with the inability of the “respectable” political parties to solve major problems like unemployment and poverty, fascist ideas gain popularity. Today, both main political parties are riven with internal disputes. Neither can present to the electorate a united and confident parade of leaders in order to capture trust and votes, and both have records of miserable failures in government. As the recession aggravates social problems, so the appeal of fascist ideas grow stronger. “What we need is a clean break . . . stronger leaders . . . firmer discipline . . . a firm movement to bring order where there is chaos . . . to re-establish some of the old virtues like obedience and fear of God . . . a clean Britain, a pure Britain ... a White Britain . . . ”, runs the rhetoric of the dons of ignorance.
Organisations like the National Front and the British Movement have been churning out propaganda, aimed particularly at young people, to foster racial antagonism between between black and white. In recent years, minority ethnic groups have suffered an increasing number of racially inspired attacks. Temples, mosques, synagogues and burial grounds have been vandalised and daubed with fascist slogans and emblems; left-wing bookshops have been raided and bombed and people have been attacked in the streets and abused with racialist insults. This alarming trend is only the tip of an iceberg of popular and institutionalised racialism and romantic para-military left-wing expeditions to root it out will not only fail but could have the opposite effect.
The frequency and seriousness of racial attacks reached such a pitch last February that the first official Home Office study of racially inspired crime was commissioned by the Home Secretary. William “short, sharp shock” Whitelaw. The committee issued its report (Racial Attacks, Report of the Home Office Study 1981) last November.
The problem of racial tensions is usually approached from the assumption that we should be devising plans to enable ‘different races’ to exist co-operatively. Although on the face of it this is an anti-racialist attitude, it is in fact quite the reverse. There is, of course, only one race, the human race, and no one has a “pure racial make up”of one stock. Peoples of the world do enjoy many diverse cultures but there is no necessary link between ‘race’ and ‘culture’. A white Caucasian born and bred in an Indian village will acquire an Indian language and culture and, conversely, an Asian born and bred in England will acquire an English language and culture. The culture of a country is not a fixed, static entity, but rather something which constantly changes with the arrival of new ideas and people from different cultures. Today’s so called “British stock” in fact trace their ancestry to a great variety of groups who settled on this island including the Celts, Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Romans and Normans. Each of these groups was, similarly, the result of a mixture of people of different geographical and cultural origins. So, many of the philanthropic reformers who today advocate measures like “positive discrimination” as ways of improving the relations between the “different races”, are in fact proceeding from the same fallacious racial assumptions as their fascist opponents.
The problem of police brutality, harassment and infringement of personal liberties is usually approached from the point of view of wanting to organise the police force to do their job kindly and unobtrusively. Like trying to design the gallows in the best interests of those sentenced to hang. It is the job of the police to act against the interests of most of us. Their main function is to protect property which means making sure that the great majority of us who actually create wealth don’t take back more of it than we can buy with our wages.
Since its organised beginnings in the eighteenth century, the police force has been their police force, not ours. Like banks or national armies, police forces are an integral part of modern capitalism. They can only be swept aside once their reason for existing – the protection of private and state property –has been removed. That is once a majority have established common ownership of social wealth. With the enormous oppression of the working class that the police force as such represents, it would be silly for us to campaign for trivial changes to police organisation. At the end of last year that party-of-a-thousand-demands,the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), launched a nationwide campaign to have the Chief Constable of Merseyside. Kenneth Oxford, sacked after the police behaviour leading up to and during the Toxteth riots. At a recent public meeting in Manchester, the SWP were asked in what possible way the removal of one Chief Constable (and, of course, his immediate replacement by another Boy in Blue) would help to establish socialism, or even benefit the working class. “Well, you've got to start somewhere” was the reply — not by some drunken joker, but by Tony Cliff, one of the leading theoreticians of the SWP.
The Home Office Report on Racial Attacks, recognising the upsurge of such incidents in recent years, and the way in which certain parties like the National Front are fostering a climate of antagonism between ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’, makes a number of recommendations. One is that in investigating and dealing with alleged racial attacks the police should be more “sensitive” to the issues involved. This is not very helpful. An organisation of uniformed men and women, armed with truncheons, handcuffs, private interrogation rooms and with the full force of the law behind them, even with the best will in the world (forget Blair Peach, Liddel Towers, David Moore) could not operate sensitively. With the huge job of methodical tyranny that they have to carry out, the police have to act on wide, clumsy and insensitive rules of thumb. For instance, in his book The Signs of Crime: A Field Manual for Police (1977) David Powis, then Deputy Assistant Commissioner to the Metropolitan Police, included in his list of indicators of suspicious people: “People of an untidy or dirty appearance –especially with dirty shoes” (even manual workers, if honest, he says, are clean and tidy!) Also included were “political radicals” particularly if they “spout extremist babble” and “groups of young people in cars”.
That Great Crusader for racial harmony, William Whitelaw after he had finished singing the praises of the overtly racialist Nationality Act and showing such concern to re-unite Anwar Ditta with her family, chipped in his little bit of piety to the Report by writing its introduction. He said he would be exploring ways of combating racialist propaganda. Perhaps he will be consulting the expert wisdom of members of the British judiciary like Justice McKinnon who, presiding at the trial last year of John Kingsley Read (Chairman of the British National Party) for inciting racial hatred, commented that he (McKinnon) saw nothing inflammatory in calling somebody a “wog” as he had often been called that himself at school. Justice McKinnon is a ‘white’ man who was educated in Australia. Exploring how best the law can deal with racial attacks, Whitelaw may also wish to tap the discretion of Lord Justice Lawton who was a parliamentary candidate for the British Union of Fascists in 1936 in Hammersmith.
The profit system does not operate on any moral code, and we cannot say that as capitalism continues it will progress to smoother and more harmonious ways of working. Governments will tend to discourage or promote racialism to suit the requirements of the profitability of industry. During the last World War much of industry and many services were destroyed. After the war there was much work to be done, and with about 30,000,000 workers killed in Europe, there was an acute shortage of labour. The capitalists needed an enlarged workforce quickly, and they weren’t fussy about where the ‘hands’ came from. In the Economic Review of 1947 the [govern]ment set out its policy.
Foreign labour can make a useful contribution to our needs . . . foreign labour is the only substantial additional source of manpower which is open to us–especially for the undermanned industries.
Apart from using refugees and displaced persons after the war as European Volunteer Workers (Britain took about 200,000 of these) the colonies were also used as a new source of immigrant labour, particularly the West Indies, India and Pakistan. Now that Britain along with other industralised countries is in the throes of another crisis and there is high unemployment, the government is less keen on immigration. Hence Thatcher’s “they’re swamping our culture” scaremongery, and measures like the Nationality Act.
From the Zionists, who proclaim they are the ‘Chosen People’, to the neo-Nazis who believe that honour is theirs, all racialism feeds and flourishes upon ignorance. Today, the most significant historical division of people is that by which a small minority (from all cultural origins) own and control the means of life, while the overwhelming majority of us (from all cultural origins) create wealth and run society primarily to produce profits to further enrich the rich.
Today, the great majority of workers are struggling under the weight of holding a privileged minority above their heads. When they look down and observe that we are blaming our poverty on each other, because some are “black” and some “white”, they must enjoy a contemptuous laugh and feel comfortably secure above us. The real tyranny today is not that of the police, the army, judges and politicians. They are a small minority. It is a Tyranny of Ideas which makes the minority mighty and the majority meek.