Friday, January 31, 2020

Nativism: Covert Racism (2020)

From the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are prominent politicians around the world who propagate a fallacious theory on immigration and, when extremists embrace such ideas, those politicians wash their hands of any culpability. The fear of immigrants is magnified by lies and language. Fear of migrants brings in votes for politicians. Politicians feed on the fear. Fear of migrants brings in viewers and readers for the media. Yet multiple studies have found that people who have direct contact with immigrants have much more positive views about their work ethic and supposed reliance on welfare, and are much more open to increased immigration.

Conspiracy theory
There is a conspiracy theory pervading the far right. It is centered on the idea of white genocide with the belief that ‘Western, Christian’ culture is under siege by immigration from non-white countries, resulting in a replacement of white people via demographics, i. e, foreign-born out-breeding the native-born. This is despite numerous studies dismissing such paranoia. The Great Replacement Theory claims that a white Christian European population is being systematically replaced by non-European, non-white, Muslim immigrants. Renaud Camus, credited as the originator of this pernicious theory, cites Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech as an influence on his thinking.

Hungary recently hosted an international summit on demography attended by delegations from dozens of countries. The fear of rising populations in other parts of the world was the dominant theme during the summit. Boosting native birthrates was a priority for the long-term development of their countries. Procreate or face extinction was the message concerning their shrinking population.

Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, said it was conceivable that his country, due to low birthrates and emigration of Hungarians to EU states further west, could simply disappear, explaining to the conference: ‘If Europe is not going to be populated by Europeans in the future and we take this as given, then we are speaking about an exchange of populations, to replace the population of Europeans with others. There are political forces in Europe who want a replacement of population for ideological or other reasons’.

His minister for family, youth and international affairs, Katalin Novák, said ‘Europe has become the continent of the empty crib whereas in Asia and Africa they face demographic challenges of the opposite type.’ The Hungarian government doubled family spending between 2010 and 2019, with the goal of achieving ‘a lasting turn in demographic processes by 2030”’. Fertility rates have gone up from 1.2 to 1.5 children per woman, according to government figures. This is still far from the 2.1 figure the UN says is the number required for a sustainable population. This year the Hungarian government introduced a 10m forint (£27,000) interest-free loan for families, which does not have to be paid back if the couple has three children.

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott saluted the Hungarian leader for having ‘the political courage to defy political correctness’. Abbott said dying populations, not climate change, were the biggest threat to western civilization.

The manifesto of the Australia-born Christchurch shooter in New Zealand was entitled ‘The Great Replacement’ and began with: ‘It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates. It’s the birthrates.’

The El Paso shooter said in his text, ‘This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion’.

In the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, the shooter’s social media posts revealed he was punishing Jews for, as he saw it, inducing the death of whiteness by orchestrating immigration.

Six weeks later another shooter murdered a woman and wounded several more at a synagogue in Poway, California, leaving a manifesto that blamed Jews for ‘funding politicians and organisations who use mass immigration to displace the European race’.

Fear of the ‘great replacement’ was echoed in the chants of ‘You will not replace us,’ and ‘Jews will not replace us!’ in the white supremacist march in Charlottesville.

In the USA, Fox News airs reports about Hispanic immigration at the Mexican border in terms of ‘invasion’ or as Fox TV host Laura Ingraham put it, ‘replacing the current American population, or swamping the current American population, with a new population of people.’ In the UK, that media demagogue Katie Hopkins expresses much the same sentiments. ‘Do you think that happened by chance or by design to keep the London mayor in Muslim hands. Our capital city, our capital city, your capital city is run by a Muslim mayor who has a Muslim police association, a Muslim housing association’.

This view is also reflected by Spectator associate editor, Douglas Murray, who claims that ‘Europe is committing suicide’ by allowing Muslim immigration. He warns of ‘white Britons’ becoming a minority in ‘their own capital city’ and claims London has become a ‘foreign country’ because of so many black, Asian and mixed-race Brits – no matter if they’re born there – living there, arguing: ‘London is now less than 50 per cent white British. It is not healthy for the native population to be a minority in their own capital’.

Racism and nationalism exists because capitalism produces endemic problems in employment, housing, and welfare. The working class suffer the misery of these problems but they do not understand their cause. They are, therefore, ready to be persuaded to blame the problems onto scapegoats, whether immigrants or any other minority that can be readily identifiable. Racism and nationalism are issues which working people must deal with as an obstacle to their progress to a sane social system.

Socialists sympathise with the suffering of our fellow-workers of whichever ethnicity and we ask them all to set aside their nationalism, their religious bigotry, their ethnic hatred and racism and to join together to put an end to the real problem – capitalism. The Socialist Party appeals to our fellow workers to unite, irrespective of nationality or colour, to defeat racism and nationalism. We are opposed to all restrictions on the free expression of ideas and do not support suppression of opinion, no matter how false or distasteful we believe that opinion to be. In our view, the way to counter irrational racist conspiracy theories is in the open unfettered discussion.

History as Drama (2020)

The Wood for the Trees Column from the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent film Le Mans ’66 represents an addition to the long tradition of transforming historical events into entertaining dramatic film narratives. Given that its centrepiece is one of the many famous races held at the Le Mans motor racing circuit it already has a built in dramatic edge but the film focuses mainly on the relationships between the people who had the imagination, power, courage and knowledge to change motor racing history.

For decades the Ferrari motor company was dominant in this form of motor racing where performance has to be matched by engineering consistency and endurance. These were thoroughbred cars where no expense was spared – both on the track and in its road cars. They were the cars for the rich elite to show off their wealth, and status and success at the race track was seen as essential in maintaining this image. In contrast to this the American car industry specialised in the ‘mass production’ that would bring down prices and so make cars accessible to most everyone. Primary among these was the Ford motor company and Henry Ford himself is usually identified as having instigated the alienated assembly line manufacturing process.

The film opens with Henry Ford’s son expressing a frustrated desire to give his cars a much more performance-oriented sexy image. To acquire such engineering credibility he was advised that winning the world’s most prestigious motor race (Le Mans 24hr race) would be the most assured way of entering the performance market. To do this Ford initially attempts to buy the cash-strapped Ferrari Company but its owner Enzo Ferrari finds a better deal with Fiat and in refusing Ford’s offer he insults the American company and its CEO. Furious at this Ford instructs his employees to construct their own car to win the Le Mans race. The film follows the technological and social implications of such hubris in terms of the antagonism between the personalities that were essential to its realisation. The conflicting traditions of capitalist production in America and Italy and their respective corporate hierarchies together with maverick designers and drivers, their egos and comradeship combined with the aesthetic of speed all converge to make this movie entertaining and informative.

The result was the famous Ford GT40 racing car which was a winning combination of British design (Lola) and Ford’s 427 racing engine tuned by Carroll Shelby and driven by hot-tempered Brit Ken Miles. The traditional trope of the soulless big corporation trying to keep control of the free spirits of the drivers and engineers is used to entertaining effect by emphasising that the only way to achieve their goal was somehow to synthesise the incompatible realities of capitalism and freedom. We can only speculate as to the number of examples of other such attempts in numerous walks of life that have failed to hold together under similar inherent contradictions – but then nobody would want to make a film about failure.

This is, of course, one of the flaws in any attempt to make drama out of history. Not that history is without drama but to condense events into a story with structure and meaning must always involve being selective, depending on who’s telling the story as much as with its subject. Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy and countless other authors have not been inhibited in using historical events as the background to the stories that they wish to tell. It has become the job of many historians and archaeologists to try to unravel the myths and legends that have become so inextricably linked with our understanding of the past. Indeed many within those professions were themselves initially attracted to history by those same legends and myths.

Most of us enjoy a story where the ‘underdog’ or ‘maverick’ individual overcomes the conditioning and control of the powerful. Many are unaware of the political implications of this desire to escape the dead alienating prison of capitalism and can only express it by vicariously enjoying the escapism provided by drama. The heroes of the past express our anger in a positive way rather than the everyday negativity of conforming to tribalism, prejudice and competitiveness because of fear and political ignorance. Humankind has always loved to discover and/or impose patterns on existence. Dramatic stories provide meaning and structure to the chaos of life but this need we all possess must not be allowed to eclipse or disguise other more uncomfortable perspectives. We are all aware of such travesties of history in films like: Birth of a Nation, Quo Vadis, Braveheart and Kingdom of Heaven. Such movies emphasise the danger of conflating history and drama especially because they are aesthetically pleasing with a good story, good acting and great scripts. Stories are used to obfuscate historical truths as often as they can illuminate them — the next time you read the legend ‘what follows is based on real events’ at the beginning of a film always bear this in mind.