Saturday, June 11, 2022

Editorial: Where We Stand (1965)

Editorial from the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists advocate a world where the whole of humanity is united about social relationships of equality and co-operation. The identity of the Socialist even now is not with any national grouping, brand of religion, any alleged “race” or local culture. The Socialist has no loyalties to Britain or America, to Protestantism or Catholicism, to white men or brown men, to Welsh culture or African culture. By his perspective of history, by his knowledge of the economic nature of modern society, the Socialist has gone beyond the shallow allegiances that misdirect the attitudes of those who are still burdened by nationalism, religion or racism. Our argument is that if the majority were Socialists, the security of all men in material comfort in a world of harmony and freedom would at last become a reality.

It is true that the world picture of racism at present is gloomy; it is a running sore of a problem, frequently accompanied by outbursts of physical violence. Apart from its form as widespread prejudice, in some parts of the world it is still maintained as official government policy. Although it is the product of different historical conditions, and although up to now the South African Government has not begun to build gas chambers, apartheid is in direct descent from the Gestapo’s “final solution”. Racism may be dormant in Hamburg, but its ugliness has reappeared in Smethwick and Netting Hill.

Socialists have no hesitation in taking a stand. We condemn racism. To us it is repugnant. We are opposed to any attitude that discourages the unity of the working class. Even so, our disgust is extended by an understanding of the problem. Disgust without knowledge is impotent. The racists of Johannesburg, Salisbury, Birmingham Alabama or Birmingham, England, are not inherently evil men. They are men who are moved by fear, insecurity, frustration and ignorance, all of which are attitudes conditioned by social forces. The working class of Smethwick have a social history of struggle and insecurity. They are on the defensive, they are anxious to protect jobs, a standard of living, a standard of housing, that they feel has been hard won. Mere condemnation will not help them. They have to realise that they are victims of a universal situation that impinges on members of the working class wherever they exist.

What workers really want, whether they hail from Jamaica, Pakistan or Smethwick is the security of material comfort. This cannot be achieved by engaging in racist struggles that only add hatred and the nightmare of strife and violence to enduring frustrations. They must realise that they are denied this because the means of wealth production and distribution are owned by a minority class, who exploit this ownership and the labour power of the workers for the purpose of profit making.

All workers, whatever their skill and capability, have a common identity and a common interest not as Jamaicans, Pakistanis or Brummies, but as members of the working class. Their common problems can only be resolved, not by squalid differences between themselves, but by a confrontation between a united working class and the owners of the means of wealth production – the capitalist class.

The world’s workers must destroy this private monopoly of the means of wealth production and convert it to the common property of the whole of man. Only then can social integration, co-operation, equality and freedom be realised where it really matters, in the production and distribution of wealth, in meeting the world community’s material requirements.

Socialists will continue to show that there are no differences between men that prevent the establishment of a society where the human family can live in harmony and co-operation. We shall continue to show that “race” is a myth, that racism is sterile hysteria containing much that is painfully disrupting and nothing that is of material advantage to the working class. Racism is at war with everything that Socialists want.

The Myths of Race (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

A few years ago, an American professor created three fictitious races, gave them names, habits and customs and asked people what they thought of them. A large proportion of those tested were hostile to the non-existent races, and thought that they should be restricted. This is typical of the confusion which surrounds the subject of Race; confusion inspired at the best by misunderstanding and at the worst by calculated malice. A man will be dispassionately scientific when he is talking about the differences between his dog and his neighbour’s, but he will be exactly the opposite when he is discussing the differences between his neighbour and himself, if the neighbour happens to have a coloured skin. The very word Race is distorted and , misused more than most others. It is, for example, common to hear talk about the White Race, the Aryan Race, the British Race—all of which are different, indeed contradictory, ways of using the word.

A first step in clearing this confusion is to realise that the word Race is useful only in so far as it is restricted to a concept in the science of biology. It cannot be used for a political, or sociological, or historical, concept—although this happens too often.

Biology is concerned with the study of life and its processes, their classification and reduction, to order. The basis of the system of classification was laid down in the eighteenth century by the Swedish botanist Linnaeus; from this basis an efficient system has been evolved. Millions of distinct species—some living, some extinct—have now been defined, and their relationships with other species identified. And the work is still going on.

This system of classification originally depended wholly upon physical characteristics — stature, type of hair, skin colour and so forth, The rise of other sciences—of genetics (the study of heredity) and biochemistry (the chemistry of living organisms) in the present century has provided other means, which may turn out to be more useful.

The basic unit of biological classification is the species—a unit, of plants or animals, which can interbreed and so can form a single, natural breeding population. All existing men and women belong to the species homo sapiens. But as we all know, human beings, just like any other species, are not all exactly alike. The physical differences between, say, a Senegalese Negro and a fair haired, blue eyed Swede are all too obvious; they are, moreover, differences which have been inherited and which can be passed on to another generation.

It is clear, then, that the human race can be divided, on the basis of physical characteristics, into subspecies—into races. A race, says one biologist, is “a group of related intermarrying individuals, a population which differs from other populations in the relative commonness of certain hereditary traits.” But when we try to elaborate on this we encounter some important questions which show up our original proposition in a rather more doubtful light.

We meet these questions immediately we try to divide people on the basis of their colour. Any large gathering of “white” people is bound to include a variety of skins, from chalky white (considered to be very undesirable!) to swarthy. Any large gathering of Negroes will include many whose skins are not black, but varying shades of brown, some of them actually lighter than many of those who are considered white ”. Many “white” people have physical traits—a heavy mouth, a flat nose, fuzzy hair—which are supposed to be the identifying marks of a Negro and many Negroes have physical traits which are supposed to be exclusive to “whites ”.

We can extend the questions even farther. Where do we fit in those people in South East Asia, such as the Malays, who appear to be the result of a cross between ”brown” and “yellow” ancestors? Then, outside the field of skin colour, how do we classify the white Europeans who show clear evidence of racial mixing—for example those who bear remnants of the periodical raids into Europe, centuries ago, by the Mongolian hordes? There are many more such questions which, although they do not deny that differences exist between people, expose the absurdity of laying down rigid lines upon which mankind can be divided.

It is not surprising, then, that the very scientists who have tried to classify man should produce such widely differing estimates of the number of races into which he can be divided. Linnaeus said that there were three; Morton thirty-two; Crawford sixty-two; Gliddon one hundred and fifty. It is also not surprising that the same difficulty has afflicted those whose interest in the matter is anything but scientific.

In the United States there has always been confusion over the legal definition of a Negro. In Maine in 1852 a person having one-sixteenth “African blood” was held not to be a Negro for the purposes of intermarriage. In 1910 in Louisiana a coloured person was defined as anyone who had “an appreciable amount of Negro blood.” (What is an “ appreciable amount”?) The Official Census in 1890 applied the term “Black” only to those who had three-quarters or more “black blood”. The 1920 Census tried to distinguish between “full blooded” Negroes (who were classed as “Black”) and those having a proportion of “white blood” (who were returned as “Mulattoes”). The 1930 Census instructed its enumerators to return as Negro those having one half or more “Negro blood”; by the Census of 1940 anyone of mixed white and Negro parentage was classed as Negro.

The definition of Negro varies from state to state. Some (Alabama and Arkansas) say that anyone having Negro ancestors, however remote, is coloured. Others define their non-white population according to the amount of “black blood” in them; of these states, Florida and Louisiana require one-sixteenth, Mississippi and Maryland one-eighth. Thus a person in Louisiana whose Negro ancestors ended with his great-great grandfather is classed as coloured. But he can legally change into a white man simply by moving across the border into Mississippi, which sets the limit at his great-grandfather.

Before the war the Nazis conveniently modified their ideas of racial purity so that their Italian and Japanese allies could be included in the Master Race. The South African government (whose official, legal definition says that a white person is anyone who is “generally accepted” as such) has for commercial reasons admitted the Japanese into the “White" ranks, although at present the Chinese are excluded. .

Whatever the race maniacs say, a “pure” race is almost an impossibility; it could only exist among a few small isolated groups who by virtue of their remoteness have been able to inbreed for generations. Man has spread all over the Earth during his life, and wherever he has gone he has interbred, swamping any “pure” races that may have existed. There is hardly a country—certainly there is no modern country— which is not now a racial melting pot. To talk, therefore, of Race as something which is rigidly definable is nonsense. To support such theories with a political policy of discrimination, suppression and extermination is pernicious.

But in face of all the facts the racists carry on; one of their most popular arguments today is that Negroes are mentally inferior to white people, and that the white race has been responsible for all the cultural achievements of the modern world. One of the happy hunting grounds of such theorists are the intelligence tests which have been carried out in the United States, and which usually show the Negro scoring lower than the white person.

Even if we accept the validity of I.Q. tests as a measure of mental capacity, it does not' follow from their results that the Negroes are inferior. To begin with, we must take account of the fact that nowhere in the United States are educational facilities and opportunities for Negroes equal to those for white children. In the South, where the mass of Negroes still live, the discrepancy is especially wide. Yet even without taking this into account, the fact is the tests have not demonstrated that skin colour has anything to do with intelligence.

One of the most important—and widely quoted—of these tests was one which was given to nearly two million United States Army recruits in 1917/18. Although the results put the Negro at the bottom of the IQ scale, they also showed Negroes from urban areas in the North on average scoring higher than white recruits from some states in the South. Of the other tests, those carried out by S. D. Porteus draw results from many areas of the world, including Hawaii, Australia and parts of Africa. Again, although the coloured people were generally lower, the results were uneven; some of the most primitive groups, for various reasons, actually surpassed other, more culturally advanced groups. In the Fifties, tests on Negro children who had moved from the South to New York City and to Philadelphia showed that their I.Q. went up with the length of time they had been away from the South.

In any case, all of these tests can only have a limited usefulness. Scientists have not been able to devise a means of testing innate mental capacities, and what tests they have devised have not even been able to separate innate from acquired capacities. Some tests, for example, have discovered that Africans who could not readily recognise diagrams and pictures when they were drawn on paper had no difficulty when the same shapes were cut out in the more familiar ivory or leather. Swazi natives were found to be unable to arrange coloured pegs into a simple pattern, although they frequently planted trees in that very same pattern.

The other popular argument — that coloured people are inferior because their cultural achievements do not match those of the white race — has gathered a certain amount of support from people who claim that North West Europe has alone been responsible for modern civilisation. But the history of the human race started a long time before Europe became civilised; while the people there were still primitive savages, coloured races in parts of what are now India and China had developed civilisations with a high standard of cultural achievement.

These civilisations rose and declined for the very same reasons as those which later allowed and encouraged developments in Europe. Civilisations depend for their life upon many influences — primarily economic, but also geographical, climatic, historical. Where such influences are favourable, settled life can take root and flourish. Where they are not favourable, it is a different story; there are many areas in the world which even the so-called Superior Races cannot tame and which remain deadly wildernesses.

Culture is not something innate, something which human beings are born with. It is something which they acquire, in reaction to their external conditions. These conditions affect people of all colours; some Negroes are undoubtedly culturally backward but then so are the Poor Whites in the American South, and so are the Hillbillies of Kentucky and Tennessee. Not all white countries are in the forefront of modern culture: some are distinctly backward and may soon be overtaken by some of the new African states. Culture is only one of the characteristics man has acquired during his lifetime; it can be acquired by all people, whatever their race or colour. It has nothing to do with man's innate capacities, which are probably not much different now from what they were eighty thousand years ago.

The racist argues against this. At its highest, his case confuses the innate characteristics of man with the acquired. At its lowest, his case is a mass of evasions and distortions, which in the end can only be asserted by oppression. The only way to avoid this morass of confusion is to subject the racist’s arguments to a searching examination. This is bound to show them up for the pernicious sham that they are, and to illuminate the fact that there is no reason, in biology or elsewhere, why men of all colours, shapes and sizes should not live in harmony and co-operation.

The Roots of Race Prejudice (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is all too easy to discover examples of man clinging passionately to ideas which have no basis in fact. One of the most widespread of these ideas at the moment is racial prejudice, a term which conceals a multitude of aberrations all of them based on the notion that some people, in some way, are innately inferior to others.

This comes in different forms at different times. Before the war, when the Nazis were at their work, it took the form of intense anti-Semitism. This was then one of the most prevalent types of racial prejudice, and it was fearfully simple. The Nazis decided that the Jews were less than human and were, therefore, proper subjects for bestial experiments and finally mass extermination. Himmler, for example, put it like this to a gathering of his S.S. generals at Posen in 1943:
Anti-Semitism is exactly the same as delousing. Getting rid of lice is not a question of ideology, it a matter of cleanliness. In just this same way anti-Semitism for us has not been a question of ideology but a matter of cleanliness.
No evidence worthy of the name was ever produced to support statements like that, any more than any was ever produced to support their corollary, that there was an innately superior type of person—a fair haired, blue eyed so-called Aryan—who was destined to rule the world. (Only one or two of the top Nazi leaders bore the faintest resemblance to their own idea of racial perfection:) But the gas chambers did not need evidence and rational thought to feed them; they lived on the evil fruits of barbarous prejudices.

In the same way, there is no proper evidence to support the racial theory which is now most prevalent—colour prejudice. Not so long ago, people in this country thought that violent colour discrimination was confined to places like South Africa and the United States, and could not happen here. The influx of coloured immigrants over the past twelve years or so, working its own type of aggravation on the problems of housing, employment and so on, has shown how false was this comfortable notion.

This is not to say that Smethwick is the same as, or indeed anything like, Selma. Nowhere in this country is there a tradition of militancy to compare with that of the American South. People in, for example, Alabama and Mississippi assert their prejudices in defiance of the law, yet they escape the law’s reprisals, which is something yet to happen in Great Britain. The conspiracy in the South is to all intents and purposes complete; it often includes the very people who are supposed to enforce the law. It includes the sheriffs and their deputies and the legal officers of the states.

In a letter to The Guardian of April 14th, 1960, a Judge Jones of Burke County, Georgia, revealed his thinking on the colour question:
Freely admitting that the number of our Negro voters is relatively small, we believe that this is due to the ignorance and indifference of the Negroes themselves rather than to any present policy of disfranchisement. 
Judge Jones described himself as “a friend sympathetic to the Negroes ”: it would be interesting to know whether he now thought the obstacles put in the way of the Negroes who tried to register to vote in Selma amount to a “ policy of disfranchisement ” or not.

In any case, it is this sort of stonewalling which helps to keep the Negroes deprived of their vote, their chance of employment on equal terms with the whites, the legal right to eat, or ride a bus. alongside a white person. And in the end, if the Negro refuses to accept an inferior social status, it sometimes deprives him of his life.

It is as well to say a word here about the laws, such as the Civil Rights Bill, which the Southerners defy. Many people think that these laws were inspired by humane motives. In fact, they were passed because American capitalism needs them. One of capitalism’s achievements was to make labour power free to move from one place of employment to another, as the prospects of profit require. But the archaic prejudices which are responsible for the Confederate flag being still flown above the Capital in Montgomery, Alabama want to enslave, and therefore restrict the freedom of, the labour power which is in coloured bodies.

Capitalism’s interests demand that it should not be concerned about skin colour; it wants to exploit all its workers at maximum intensity. At the same time, capitalism hates waste which depletes its profits—and having things like transport systems, hospitals and living areas divided into white and coloured is mightily wasteful. The Civil Rights, laws are designed to eliminate, or at least to lessen, all of this and to open up further fields of exploitation for American capitalism.

When the Southern racists defy United States law, then, they are ignoring the needs of the very social system they so ardently support. But capitalism is a ruthless system; it will not be denied by a crackpot minority who cling to the nostalgias of the Civil War and to the divisive theories of the Confederacy. It seems certain that the Klansmen will be forced into a sullen acceptance of integration. The Negroes will have the vote, and the other rights for which they are now demonstrating. But will they also develop their own delusions and prejudices, and at election times support, with the votes so clearly won, the system which exploits and degrades them? If they do, somebody is sure to call this progress.

Before that happens there is a long, hard road of brutality to be travelled. The Southern rebels are representing ideas sprung from the roots of an earlier social system, and such attitudes do not die easily. They will not quickly abandon their prejudices, especially as long as they can assert them in violence. (There is a chilling echo of Himmler’s words in this extract from Ku-Klux-Klan literature which was circulating in Mississippi last Summer: “Race mixing is more criminal than murder.”) 

The demonstrations, also, will continue; the Civil Rights workers have shown that they are not easily broken. These workers are doubtless confused, not to say ignorant, on many issues; they are certainly not Socialists; the end of their campaign will at best deliver the Negro from one type of suppression into another. It is easy enough to write this, in comfortable London. But it does not obscure the impressive courage of many of the Civil Rights workers—of the three young men who were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., nor of those who were killed in the Selma marches, nor of the many others who have suffered in the Negro cause.

Compared to these people, the white racists are a poor lot. The novels of James Baldwin make the point that those who erect racial prejudices are themselves lowered by it. The many people who endured the concentration camps, and kept their dignity, were infinitely more mature and complete human beings than the insane brutes who tormented them.

The one hope in this is to be found in examining the reasons for racial prejudices. Capitalism rests upon the ignorance and the apathy of its people. It requires only a few to be sensitive and learned; the mass are expected and encouraged to absorb only as much knowledge as will fit them into their place in the routine of exploitation. Capitalism promotes a ruthless competitive urge, and all manner of conceits, It instils nationalism into the working class, and it sets its own example by living out its disputes in violence. Periodically, capitalism glorifies brutality—it makes heroes of military murderers, it ennobles the men who organise the mass killings of wartime.

In this situation, one type of ignorance begets another even one like racial prejudice, which capitalism generally finds a nuisance. But popular ignorance has its own momentum. The most recent example of this is the way in which the Labour Party has been forced to pander to electoral realities by imposing even stricter immigration controls than the Conservatives did. (It was, after all, Labour voters who changed their votes in Smethwick, on the issue of immigration control.) This has been done despite the bitter attacks which the Labour Party made on the original controls, and despite the fact that Mr. Wilson is still strongly condemning racial discrimination:
. . . we have a duty at home to show our deep loathing and to condemn by our words, and to outlaw by our deeds, racial intolerance, colour prejudice, anti-Semitism . . .
Those words were spoken at last November’s Lord Mayor’s banquet. Perhaps everybody there was too full of over-ripe pheasant to reflect that Mr. Wilson, like the other political leaders of capitalism, is after the votes of workers who are politically ignorant, and who are therefore easy prey to any rabble-rousing race maniac Mr. Wilson wants the support of people who, although they react against problems like bad
housing, unemployment, inadequate hospitals, have not the first idea of how to abolish them—and who cannot hope for enlightenment from Mr. Wilson's party. They are, therefore, liable to blame such problems onto anything or anybody. At the moment, many British workers are inclined to blame the influx of foreign, and especially coloured, immigrants. This, in its way, is no more foolish than the Labour Government blaming the financial crises of British captalism onto foreign financiers.

The roots of racial intolerance are now stirring in this country, and it is disturbing to reflect that they may yet blossom into the same sort of malignant growth as disfigured pre-war Germany, and which went on to transform the greater part of Europe into a paradise for sadistic thugs. Racial theories divide the working class and set them against each other. They deny the unity of workers’ interests, which overrides all barriers of nation, skin colour, language, and which joins all workers everywhere in the need for Socialism.

In some ways, the human race now resembles a blind, wounded beast, picking its way over a wilderness of smouldering ignorance. But human beings have eyes to see, and they are whole. There is massive hope in those who hang on and work for enlightenment, for the day when man ceases to wander like a tormented beast and starts to live like a man.

Colour mania in the past (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Colour prejudice, and the classification of people as “superior” or “inferior” simply because of the colour of their skin, is one of the most persistent and pernicious of fallacies. The important thing to remember is that such an attitude is completely modern. It is not something that has existed from the beginning of man’s life, and neither is it a deep-rooted human instinct.

Its origins lie a mere three or four hundred years back. No European regarded Genghis Khan or Suleiman the Magnificent as inferior beings, or worried about their colour. And they themselves were “colour-blind;” their murderous and highly efficient armies were multi-racial. The shock troops of the Turkish army, the Janissaries, contained a large number of white men in their ranks. Again, in the 15th Century when Portuguese ships were edging their way around the coast of Africa, they did not consider that the colour of the Continent's inhabitants was important. Anybody who embraced Christianity and fitted into the economic set-up was accepted into the fold. Both Mulattoes and Negroes rose to high positions in Portuguese society. They commanded Portuguese ships, and many became priests, often rising to be high dignitaries of the church. They became interpreters and advisers to native chiefs and to resident Europeans, as well as brokers and merchants. Many settled in Europe, after a successful career of moneymaking. More important still, many became slave-traders of great importance, feeling no more affinity with negro slaves than a European aristocrat felt for a European peasant.

Certainly prejudices and hatreds of one sort or another have existed for centuries. Religious bigotry, fear and suspicion of strangers, aristocratic contempt for the lower classes, hostility between cities or states, and the bitterness of the merchant classes towards the landed nobility are a few examples. The permutations were endless, but they had nothing to do with colour. The Jews were the object of bitter persecution for many centuries, but this was purely a religious matter, and not racial.

It is to the history of modern Europe that we must turn for an explanation of colour prejudice. For about 300 years Western Europe had it all its own way, and dominated the world. As Europe moved from Feudalism into Capitalism, it went through a period of intense development—technological, military, and political. This gave it an immense advantage over other areas, especially the two great continents of America and Africa, whose inhabitants were in a much earlier stage of development. Ancient empires went down before mere handfuls of Europeans, and the treasure houses of Peru and Bengal were open to these rapacious plunderers. Whole continents were colonised and exploited by these same small nations. This gave rise to ideas about the superiority of the white races. The workers of Europe, slaving away in their dark Satanic mills, were able to console themselves with the thought that they were members of a “Master Race”. This gave rise to race theorists whose ideas, suitably simplified, are still trotted out today.

Of course three hundred years is a very short time in over five thousand years of recorded history, and if you apply the test—that military or scientific ability equals superiority—to five thousand years, and not just three hundred, then the white races have come out pretty badly. Race theories are now being put forward again in this country, for example by the British National Party, who are trying to exploit immigration difficulties in Southall. They overlook the fact that the people who formed the spearhead of European expansion—Portuguese, Spaniards and Italians: men like Columbus, Cortez, Vasco da Gama, and Cabot — were members of what race theorists consider an inferior section of the white races, dubbed by Lapouge, one of the most rabid of racists, as Homo Alpinus. You may not be able to have your cake and eat it but race theorists are always trying to.

As conditions change, so we are witnessing the racists shifts in attitude. Not so long ago the Chinese were regarded in a rather patronising manner. Romantic or sinister, mysterious or comical, but definitely inferior. A popular song of the 1920’s —Limehouse Blues—describes them as “Chinkies”. That sinister lot, with their opium dens in a kind of East London hell —any schoolboy, who could afford the price of a Tuppeny Blood knew that they were up to no good. In reality the Chinese of East London were small in number and engaged in the most mundane of occupations. But China, having led the world for most of its history, had temporarily fallen behind. It was divided and militarily weak, a prey to the greed of the European powers, and overshadowed by its pushing neighbour Japan. The Chinese could be regarded with amused tolerance. Today such expressions as “Chinkies” and “Chinaman” have a strange, archaic ring, and it is difficult to realise that they were once in common usage. Today China is a major power with its foot on the nuclear ladder, and is now challenging the U.S.A. or Russia. Chinamen are no longer comical.

But of all race prejudices, one stands out above all others—that against the Negro. An American Negro folk singer summed up the position in a few bitter lines.
If you're White, alright,
If you're Brown, stick around,
But if you’re Black, get back—get back—get back.
Unbelieveable lengths have been gone to, to keep the image of the Negro as an inferior being, and to write the lie into the sub-conscious mind. One example will suffice. The great folk hero of the 20th century is the cowboy, played against a backcloth of the legendary West. For fifty years they've galloped across the screens in their thousands. One thing you will never see; a Black Cowboy. But at the time of the great cattle drives, there were estimated to be over five thousand Negroes working as cowboys. This is not surprising, as cattle droving was a dangerous and badly paid job, and Negroes, like other members of the working class including Mexicans and Chinese, worked at it.

Forty years ago in the early Western films all cowboys were Whiter than White, while Mexicans, with their nasty faces under their big hats, were the villains. Today Mexicans and Chinese cowboys are portrayed, but the Negro still must not be allowed to be a folk hero. Why does such an attitude exist? The answer lies in one word; Slavery. With the opening of the American Continent there began a gigantic forced migration. The caravels that sailed from West Africa to the New World with their tragic cargo were radically to alter the pattern of world population. They were to make the Negro races second only to Europeans in their dispersion throughout the world. Estimates vary, but certainly many millions of Negroes were transported. Chattel slavery was an ancient institution, it was one of the economic stages through which humanity had passed. But modern slavery was unique.

In slave societies slavery was accepted as part of life, just as wage labour is accepted today. Anyone of any race or religion was liable to be a slave; even a member of a ruling class could be captured in war and enslaved. Slavery was regarded as a misfortune, it was not regarded as a sign of racial inferiority. But there was an important difference about the slavery that grew up in the modern world, in that the people who practised it had long left slavery behind. Europe had passed out of slavery, through feudalism, and was emerging into Capitalism by the lime the Western slave trade got under way. The world was treated to a new spectacle — slave traders who prated of freedom. At least the slavers of ancient Rome or Baghdad had not accompanied their activities with shouts of Liberty and Equality.

After all, the logical conclusion of a belief in liberty is that all men should be free, but the slavers’ profits were far too good for that kind of logic. To struggle, and even suffer, for political freedom on one hand, and accept slavery on the other, requires the kind of attitude that can look at a modern dictatorship and call it a Peoples’ Democracy, it also needs justification, and the only way the slavers could do this was to convince themselves that the slaves were sub-human, and fit only for slavery. To achieve this end the bottom of the intellectual barrel was scraped, and the Bible as well as pseudo-science were dragged into bolster up the double talk.

But colour mania goes beyond a mere question of skin colour. Race theorists have invented divisions within the “white” races themselves, with colour of hair, eyes and the shade of skin as the “tests’’. These divisions have been given such names as the Latin, Celtic, Slav or Aryan races. In fact these divisions are purely linguistic, and extremely vague ones at that; .they have nothing whatever to do with race. Which of them is held to be inferior or superior depends largely on which group the particular theorist happens to belong to. 

Perhaps the most violent and disastrous of all these myths was that of the Aryan, Nordic or Teuton, which reached its ultimate lunacy in Nazi Germany. “Teutons" are, roughly those people living in North West Europe, mainly Germany, Scandinavia, the Low countries and England. They are, according to themselves, the finest flowering of the human race. The "true Teuton” is blond, tall and blue eyed. This is so silly, as a glance at the majority of people in these countries will show, that one would be inclined to dismiss it, if it were not for the terrible example of Nazi Germany. One has only to look at many of the Nazi leaders — including Hitler — to realise the depth of self-deception that the racists can plumb.

The definition of the “true Teuton” is interesting. Every age and civilisation has its ideal type of person, and an ideal conception of beauty. This ideal changes, often from generation to generation, as a study of advertisements, matinée idols and popular magazines over the last half century will show. These ideal types tend to be portrayed in popular literature, art or poetry, in spite of the fact that they bear little or no relationship to the vast majority of people, so that a picture of an age, taken from these sources alone, would be completely deceptive. The “ideal person ’ of the Vikings and early North Europeans appears to have been tall, blond and blue eyed. All of the ”best people” in their sagas and poems, all the gods, heroes, and nobility, are portrayed in this manner. With the rise of German and other European nationalisms these ancient writings were brought out, and it was concluded, quite incorrectly, that all early and therefore “pure” Teutons were; tall, blond and blue eyed.

Workers who profess to support the theories of the racists, should read them a little more carefully. All the race theorists —Gobineau, Lapouge, Houston Chamberlain or Nietzsche to name just a few—had another side to their theories. This was their contempt for the working class. Whatever their differences on other fields they were agreed on this one point. The mere fact of being workers, they thought, marked people out as lower human types. All the race theorists had axes to grind — German nationalism, British Imperialism, control of immigrants into the U.S.A., and above all aristocratic supremacy. They would not have been at all impressed by such slogans as Keep Brixton White, considering that Brixton, like other working class areas, was fit only for what they called “lower human types” to inhabit.

Race theorists today are unscientific, inconsistent and pernicious. In this, they arc carrying on an inglorious tradition, and perpetuating a history of cynical deception..
Les Dale

Race in Smethwick (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last October the previously little known town of Smethwick, situated, ironically, on the edge of the Black Country, was suddenly shot into the headlines of every national newspaper. The town was described as “England’s Little Rock”, a “race-hate town”, were the electorate were “politically illiterate”. All of this because the controversial Councillor Peter Griffiths had unseated Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker at the General Election.

To what extent does racialism exist in Smethwick? What, if anything, gave rise to it? Does it have any basis in fact? To find the answers to these questions it is necessary to first know a little about the conditions in Smethwick which gave rise to the now notorious events of last October.

One of the first things to take attention in the town are the blocks of multi-storey council flats, towering over the slums they are replacing. Many people say that this is evidence of how much better off we are now; that this is progress. But these jerry-built dwellings, with their damp, paper-thin, warped walls and fierce draughts, are deteriorating into slums in about half the time it took for a back-to-back. The case of a man, reported in the local press recently, speaks for itself; he had had to spend the last ten months off work as a result of illness caused by the damp in his new council flat.

This one feature of the town typifies, as nearly as anything does, what sort of a place Smethwick is. Like thousands of other places, it has the thin veneer of the Affluent Society we are always being told about; but underneath there is the same old poverty.

Confronted with this, and other problems, the people of Smethwick looked for, and found, a scapegoat. Not for the first time, collective wrath fell upon a section of the community who are marked off by the colour of their skin. They overlooked the fact that racialism is no answer to inadequate housing, bad schools and social services.

It is unlikely that many Smethwick people are deep-rooted racialists. Undoubtedly, a lot of them trusted the panaceas of the politicians, in the hope that they would solve their problems. Yet with the records of inconsistency held both by Councillor Griffiths and Mr. Gordon Walker, one wonders if they themselves have any idea of how to go about it.

Griffiths has not always been so outspoken about immigration. For him, in the 1959 election the burning issue was that we should all vote in “a Smethwick man for Smethwick”, which conveniently ignored the fact that he himself is a Welsh immigrant. However, this did not cut much electoral ice and in 1964 he took advantage of the emotions aroused by the concentrations of immigrants by basing his platform on the immigrant question. In contradiction to the memorable photograph which once appeared in the local paper, showing his wife chatting over a cup of tea with a Pakistani woman, Griffiths declared that “Smethwick rejects the idea of a multi-racial society ”.

On the other side, Mr. Gordon Walker had spoken against the Immigration Bill when it was first introduced by the Tories and, although he had decided by 1964 that perhaps immigration control was not such a bad idea after all, he had already lost much support. However, the dissident Labour voters need not have worried. We all know that the Labour Party, now that they are in power, have not only retained the Act they attacked so strongly, but are actually enforcing stricter control than the Tories did.

Smethwick Labour Party are bitter about the whole affair. At their inquest on the election many speeches were made on the reasons for their defeat and on how they propose to win back the constituency. But next to nothing was said about the ways to solve the problems which face people, both white and coloured, in Smethwick and elsewhere.

Smoulderings in Southall (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

I used to drink at the Eight Bells but I gave it up when the Wogs started going there.” The sentiments were depressingly popular, the accent pure County Limerick—two facts which in Southall tell their own story.

For a long time, immigrants of one sort or another have trekked to this drab wedge of suburbia on the far west limb of London. Now established, their accents often flattened out, some of them speak bitterly of the Indians and Pakistanis who have travelled to Southall for the same reasons as they did.

A lot of people here came up from the West Country and Wales between the wars, driven by the slump to seek work in the factories which were attaching themselves to the Great Western Railway line like genes to a chromosome. The Irish too have come, in a slow, persistent stream.

There were few, if any, coloured immigrants until the middle fifties. Then some came to work in a rubber factory, whose hard and unpleasant work made it difficult to compete for labour with other firms. Vacancies in local industry increased the first brown trickle into a flood. Now the Indians and Pakistanis almost monopolise some districts in Southall.

So far there have been no open clashes— nothing to put Southall into the headlines. The local Teds did manage a feeble demonstration outside the rubber factory at the time of Notting Hill but this was easily dispersed. A Sikh temple has been defaced more than once. But on the whole the Southall population has settled into a brooding resentment. Only occasionally are there small eruptions.

There was one of these over education, when parents protested that their children’s schooling was being held up by the presence of immigrant children who could not speak English. Sir Edward Boyle, who was then Minister of Education, came down and smoothed the incident over.

There are continual complaints about the immigrants’ behaviour. Some of these seem to be justified; some are due to a misunderstanding of different social habits and some to downright malice. There are the usual grisly rumours—the Asians make a curry of the local cats, they throw all their rubbish into the garden next door.

Southall’s housing problem is no worse than any of its neighbours. It has no abject slums like Notting Hill or the Black Country. Perhaps the worst it offers are seedy Victorian terraces and tawdry, featureless council estates. The immigrants have therefore moved into, for them, comparatively genteel areas, some of which are inhabited by owner occupiers who worry about a “fall in the value of property” when coloured people move into their street.

Some of these owner-occupiers, not tied to the district by being a council tenant, have moved out of Southall into the similar wastelands of nearby Greenford or Hounslow. Some have gone farther afield, to the new estates which have sprung up in places like Reading and Camberley. Others have gone farther still, emigrating to Australia, whose official bar on coloured immigration they regard as sensible and progressive. It was one of these who explained on his application to emigrate that he wanted to go to Australia “because there are too many niggers in my street ”.

Beneath Southalls’ surface calm, then, potential violence smoulders on. The local branch of the British National Party blows hard on the embers; their propaganda is exceedingly crude but they got nearly three and a half thousand votes in the general election. Last October the Tories played the immigration issue comparatively cool; Labour hung on for dear life and George Pargiter came out with a reduced, now marginal, majority. That may be a clue to a grim future. If the Conservatives decide to plug a Smethwick line in Southall, they could start something which they do not know how to stop.

Some local organisations are doing their best to keep the fires damped down. There is the Indian Workers’ Association which, now that the Labour Government has announced its new tough line on immigration, may be questioning the wisdom of its support for Pargiter last October. There are other organisations which run well intentioned multi-racial outings, meant to prove that we are all brothers under our skins. These organisations are touching only the fringes of the problem; if racial trouble ever became really hot in Southall they would be consumed in the flames with the rest.

Southall is not a pleasant place. It has an ugly industrial sprawl, acres of cramped houses, cheapjack shops and supermarkets. It is near enough to London Airport to have the big jets often screaming over the rooftops. In many ways life here is hard, and it has bred hard working class attitudes, stifling restrictions and anomalies, formidable prejudices. This is an inflammable place and next time, perhaps, there will be the fire.
Ivan (Southall).

Black and white in Brixton (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is surprising how little we sometimes know about what goes on just down the road where we live. Capitalism, with its jungle law of every man for himself, tends to make social relationships impersonal and, even in overcrowded cities, to make people live in isolation. Unless there is an outbreak of violence the coloured people are left to go their own way. Although they live among us, they keep very much to themselves; they are not absorbed.

In the Borough of Lambeth (before GLC) the population at the last census was 223,763. There is no separate figure for immigrants but the Borough is estimated to have between ten and fifteen thousand coloured people. There has not been so much open hostility in Brixton as in some other areas, although many of the first immigrants came here, mainly to Somerleyton and Geneva Roads. It was here in the late 1940’s that the fascists started anti-coloured activities, which included the usual horror stories about the appalling conditions coloured people lived in. The fact that most of the places were slums long before any coloured man saw them didn’t matter, the insanitary and overcrowded conditions were easily blamed on to the immigrants.

Since those days, more coloured people have arrived and have slowly fanned out into neighbouring roads; most back streets in Brixton now have coloured families. Most of the housing is low standard but conforms to what the “white” working class have accepted for many years. In some of these roads, including Somerleyton and Geneva, the slums are as squalid as any in London. In conditions like these it is very difficult not to sink into despair and to lose the urge to struggle on. Perhaps the worst aspect of the situation is the resigned acceptance of it by its victims.

In a typical house in Geneva Road, one woman pays £5 5s. 0d. for two or three rooms; another pays £3 for one room. Electrical consumer durables have not made much headway in this district; a pile of washing goes from one plastic bowl to another and is “spun” dry by hand. A dozen or so coloured workers interviewed all said they were satisfied with their housing condition. There were the usual moans about money matters, but no apparent desire to do other than keep plodding.

Asked if they had been victims of prejudice because of their colour their answers were mainly negative. There had been cases of people sitting away from them on trains and buses but no trouble with neighbours and in the local pubs they mixed quite well.

Politics was a subject that brought frowns all round. Both Tory and Labour party met with equal indifference—alas, not the indifference of enlightened rejection.

Trade Unions were joined if they went with the job, which did not seem often. All in all, these coloured workers had attitudes which are pretty common among their “white” counterparts, and the added disadvantage that they lack the traditions and experience of working-class organisation. On the other side of the picture, if there are twenty people studying in the local library’s reference room, six at least will be coloured.

In Somerleyton Road, there is a huge wooden hut which stands on a bomb site. It is painted bright pink and is used as a church. From the doorway the ranting of the preacher can be heard ringing out in old revivalist style, while about 25 men, women and children listen unenthusiastically. A few minutes’ walk from this place, in a dilapidated basement of a house in Effia Road, there is another church. Their saviour here must be a jazz enthusiast—the singing is lead by a tambourine and has a distinct blues flavour. Prayer meetings are held on a street corner during the warm weather. It seems that in Brixton the coloured workers' preparations for the next life are well in hand, even if this one leaves a lot to be desired.
Harry Baldwin (Brixton).

All quiet in Glasgow (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Certain historical facts have ensured that racialism has never been prominent in Glasgow. For instance, anti-Semitism rarely shows itself, except in the odd golf club, and even during the ’Thirties Mosley’s sole appearance in the City ended in complete fiasco.

The late arrival of the Jews (mid-19th century) was a help, for this meant that the ancient antagonism so typical on the Continent is absent here. Later on, the importation of Irish religious influences provided other means whereby the frustrations of wage-slavery could be worked off without the presence of any other “races”. The roles of “them” and “us” were adequately filled by the Orange and Catholic elements who have been hating one another ever since.

And unless a few pedlars and seamen, could be counted, Afro-Asians were an unusual sight in the City until the early ’Sixties when, it seemed to the Citizens, a flood of “Paki’s” suddenly descended in their midst. This impression was helped by the newcomers finding employment almost exclusively on the Municipal Transport, thereby assuring themselves of a constant place in the public eye, while their habit of taking up group residence gave the impression of whole areas being taken over.

In fact Glaswegians might be surprised to know that compared to Birmingham, which has a similar population, of just over a million, Glasgow's immigrants are rather thin on the ground—about 7,000 against Birmingham’s 70,000.

The reasons for the low numbers are obvious. Glasgow’s unemployed rarely falls below 20,000 while the light industries which can absorb the unskilled immigrant are practically non-existent here. Clydeside is synonymous with heavy engineering and shipbuilding so the demand is for skilled men only and what light industry there is can, in an area where wages are well below the national average, find an abundance of married women to fill any available vacancies.

Anyway, the big problem in Scotland is not immigration but emigration. Around 11.000 left here for overseas in each of the six years between 1958-63 while another 87.000 found work elsewhere in the U.K. during the 1950’s. So concerned with this state of affairs are the local Nationalists and Labourites that they don’t even have a policy on immigration at all, devoting themselves solely to preventing the mass escape of wage-slaves to other parts!

The Trade Unions have discussed the matter and at the 1962 Conference of the Scottish T.U.C. the Association of Scientific Workers, appropriately enough, moved an anti-racialist resolution which concluded ”. . . no barriers on grounds of race, creed or colour should be erected against those who wish to live and work in this country”. The motion was unanimously adopted. Another resolution condemning Apartheid is due to come before the 1965 Conference and doubtless it, too, will carry the day. All of this hardly reflects the attitude of the average union member. As the seconder of the 1962 resolution admitted “. . . we had to be honest. . . there were still some of our own people who had prejudice against a person’s race, religion or colour”.

So even if Glasgow’s record is comparatively clean it must be remembered that the conditions for real prejudice seldom crop up. The immigrants live almost as a separate community and follow their own cultural activities. They aim simply to stick it out for a few years, save enough money, and return home to open a small business. Few intend to stay.

Nor have they added to the local housing or unemployment problems. The ten year residential qualification rules them out for a Council so they live mainly in tenements which were slums years ago, and the jobs they find are usually those which do not, at present, attract local men anyway.

When the necessary conditions have arisen, in isolated instances Glaswegians have shown the same lack of class consciousness as workers elsewhere. Only recently, when some immigrants moved into a once posh street in the City, their neighbours raised the usual howl about the adverse effect this would have on the value of their property. Last Autumn a racial strike occurred at the Gavinsbum Bus Dept, just outside Glasgow, when the strikers claimed too many Pakistanis were getting jobs in an area of high unemployment. Nor should we forget how—earlier immigrants—Italian Cafe owners—had their shops smashed up by patriotic mobs when Italy entered the war in 1940.

The coming of the Immigration Act, plus the existing state of industry, make any immediate influx of immigrants unlikely. It does not follow, however, that the present peacefulness must continue. Capitalism has shown that no great change is required in its socio-economic climate to produce, here, the outbreaks of intolerance so common in other parts of the country.
Vic Vanni (Glasgow)

Ashley Montagu quotes (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard
“Race” Mixing
Those who deliver themselves of unfavorable judgments concerning “race crossing” are merely expressing their prejudices. . . . The truth seems to be that far from being deleterious to the resulting off-spring and the generations following them, interbreeding between different ethnic groups is from the biological and every other standpoint highly advantageous to mankind.. . . Indeed, if there were any truth in the suggestion that hybridization results in degeneration or decadence man should have died out long ago or else sunk to the level of a deformed idiot, for he is one of the most highly hybridized creatures on earth.
From “Man's Most Dangerous Myth” (Ashley Montagu).

“Race” and “Blood”
Scientists have for many years attempted to discover whether or not any differences exist in the blood of different peoples, but the results of such investigations have always been the same—no difference has been discovered, except in the statistical distribution of the traits which all human beings possess in common. In short, it cannot be too emphatically or too often repeated that in every respect the blood of all human groups is the same, varying only in the frequency with which certain of its chemical components are encountered in different populations. This similarity cuts across all lines of caste, class, group, nation, and ethnic group.
From “Man's Most Dangerous Myth” (Ashley Montagu).

Background to Civil Rights in America (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

A great many—if not most—people make a practice of judging shop merchandise by the display in the window. A policy such as this often leads to confusion, if not error. Much the same might be said for many of those who would analyze the civil rights struggle in America. They concentrate upon the propaganda and personal utterances of spokesmen involved in the struggle and gain an image of the causes, thereby, that is inaccurate to some extent and generally confusing. Slogans such as “Equality”, "Justice”, “Freedom ”, etc. are important in generating enthusiasm among the rank and file membership; they constitute the window display. But if one is to understand the problem it is necessary to get behind the slogans and examine American capitalism and its basic needs. Since the Supreme Court of the United States is a top agency of American capitalism, no better research can be recommended than an examination of their edicts over the years.

The Dred Scott Decision.
Every American school child has been made acquainted with the basic details — if not the underlying significance — of the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s court declared, 5 to 3, that Scott could not be a citizen because he was a Negro and that he was not freed from his original slave status merely because he had twice established residence on soil that was guaranteed free by the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Whatever the attitude today towards the “morality”, “justice”' and "mercy” of the Supreme Court of 1857, one can be certain that it reflected the prevailing opinions of their time. But more important, they reflected the needs of American capitalism. Southern plantation capitalism was still an important—even if a rapidly deteriorating—part of the United States economy and plantation capitalism operated on a foundation of chattel-slave labour. Chief Justice Taney and his Court were not about to endanger the sanctity of private property nor is it likely that many, aside from an Abolitionist minority, regarded the justices as black-hearted scoundrels.

Even in the North, feeling against the institution of chattel-slavery in the Southern states was not widespread and the Abolitionists were not by any means popular. But they carried on their activities. In Boston, for example, they soap-boxed on the Charles St. mall of Boston Common and they placed posters in Negro neighbourhoods warning the coloured people against conversing with white strangers lest they divulge information that could lead to the capture of runaway slaves. It took the secession of the Southern states from the Union to bring on the Civil War and to end the legal system of chattel-slavery.

“Separate But Equal”
By 1896 American capitalism generally, and Southern capitalism in particular, had new problems. In the North, industry had grown rapidly under the command of the “ malefactors of great wealth ’’—Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller, etc. —There was area enough, what with the developing frontier, and wage-labour enough with the deluge of poverty-stricken immigrants, to obviate the need for expansion into the deep South. So the South remained largely a region of small scale, low wage, capitalism. Southern white capitalists had found it advantageous to foster a myth of white superiority and a policy of white supremacy. By keeping Negro labour power generally well below minimum subsistence standards, white labour power was stabilized at a level high enough to satisfy a type of ego that is happy to be “better off" than others, even if considerably below national averages.

The Supreme Court, while not necessarily Southern in sympathy, could reflect the attitudes of American capitalism, generally, and still deliver a verdict on Negro rights consistent with the demands of Southern capitalism of the time. So in 1896 the Supreme Court decided that the State of Louisiana was not in violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution when it introduced segregation of Negroes in railway passenger cars. Again in 1908 the “nine old men" decreed that it was entirely constitutional for the State of Maryland to set up segregation in schools. So legalized segregation (“separate but equal") became perfectly natural, normal, moral, and the height of justice in the South and everybody, including such revered Negro leaders as Booker T. Washington, seemed happy at the new development in American democracy. . .

". . . With all Deliberate Speed.”
until 1954, when an entirely new set of circumstances—developed over a period of years and accelerated since the end of World War II—became reflected in a new and opposite Supreme Court decision. In fact, the decision on desegregation in 1954 placed a legal stamp upon a movement that erupted in the wake of a rapidly developing industrialization of the Southland. It is one thing to compel Negroes to take a back seat and refrain from “contaminating” the white man's schools and his pools when the region is pretty much a sleepy backwater. It is quite another problem, however, to segregate the coloured population—particularly the small section with higher educational qualifications and incomes on a par or higher than the vaunted “American standard ”. As big Northern industry moved into the South and as the South became a part of the 20th. century the pressure for “equal rights” under the Constitution reached boiling point and in many instances the lid was blown off in demonstrations, sit-ins, and riots in major cities both South and North.

Not only had it become evident that the “separate’’ Negro facilities, schools, etc. were far from equal, indeed decidedly inferior; it had also become evident to the Supreme Court that the very concept of separateness denotes inferiority and constitutes a violation of the 14th. Amendment, Melville W. Fuller and his Supreme Court of 1896 and 1908 notwithstanding.

But why had the Negro movement reached its present dimensions as late as the mid years of the 20th. century ? Why not in 1900, or in 1920, or 1940? There are those who might infer that Chief Justice Earl Warren's Supreme Court is composed of men of higher moral calibre that the courts of Roger Taney and Melville Fuller. Or perhaps, even, that the moral qualities of the nation are higher today than in 1857 or 1908. Even if we accept that this is true, the question remains; why this should be so at this particular time; All evidence points in one direction. Segregation, except in special instances, is not in the interests of American capitalism today on either the domestic scene or, especially, the international arena. The rapid appearance since World War II of a number of new nations populated and ruled by coloured people has doubtless influenced the conversion of an ardent segregationist such as Lyndon B. Johnson into an outspoken champion of Negro civil rights. And only the more backward states of the Old Confederacy refused to go along with him in November, 1964. For Mr Johnson today represents the interests of the total national capitalist class of America and segregation has now become a positive menace to those interests.

Civil Rights and Emancipation.
Despite the continuing opposition to the Civil Rights Law enacted by Congress in 1964, in parts of the South there seems to be a general compliance. It is but a matter of time until only the most dominant of all discriminations—between workers and capitalists—will remain.

There is no denying the heroism displayed by rank and file Negro and white workers — even children — against fearsome odds. From the “sympathetic” liberals who would have them not ask too much too quickly, from the bigoted and dangerous Birch Society members, Ku Klux Klansmen, and even from Southern “law and order", those who struggle for civil rights find a great many cards stacked against them. But the civil rights groups, themselves, are in a sense reactionary. They organize—for the most part—on the basis of loyalty to America and they demand for Negro workers nothing more than the opportunity to compete equally in the sale of labour-power. They cater to the myth of racialism even to the extent of building an image of a glorious history in Africa. They encourage and foster religious practice among their following. In short, they balance their militancy with the sheeplike propaganda so important to capitalism, and they hide the greater struggle, in which workers of all colours are brothers.
Harry Morrison
(Boston, Mass.).

‘‘America’s 15,000,000 negroes are its single most under developed human resource, and they cannot reach their full potential usefulness until they are thoroughly integrated with the white population. . . . Only when negro and white families can live together as neighbours, when negro children and white children can play together, study together, go to the same church —only then will the negro grow up properly prepared for his place in the world of work."
The Manchester Guardian, (15.5.56).

Black nationalism in Africa (1965)

From the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nationalism as a political theory originated in Germany around the beginning of the 19th century, when the German nationalists put forward the theory that those who speak the same language form a natural community which ought to govern itself.

This was to develop into racialism and to give rise to talk of the “Anglo-Saxon race ” and the “German race".

Despite the fact that nationalism has no scientific basis for its claims, it has been a powerful force in the world. Of course, it was not something which suddenly appeared out of the blue; its roots are to be found in the beginnings of capitalist development in Britain and France and the effect this had on intellectual life in Germany. This put Germany in a peculiar historical position.

Germans who had absorbed ideas developed in Britain and France turned to nationalism—the unity of all German speaking people—as part of the drive to modernise their country. Similar nationalist movements and theories appeared in Poland, Italy and Hungry, though only in Italy was the movement to have success in the nineteenth century. Here the achievement of national unity and independence was the equivalent of France’s revolution of 1789; it created the political conditions in which the evolution of capitalist society could continue.

In short in many of those countries which underwent capitalist development after Britain and France, the overthrow of the old order was represented as a form of national revolution—in some cases as a move for national unity, in others for national independence and in others for national regeneration. To refer to nationalism as a weapon of the social revolution from feudal society to capitalism is not to say that the nationalist movements were composed of traders and small factory owners. In fact the relationship is not as simple as this.

Capitalism created the social conditions for the spread of nationalism by alienating sections of the population from the old order. It is among this section—students, past and present, modern army officers and wage workers — that nationalists were to be found. These set about agitating among those they considered their fellow nationals in order to awaken their national consciousness.

From Europe, nationalism spread out during the twentieth century to the Middle East and Asia. Today it is spreading through Africa—Macmillan’s wind of change. The outward form of this nationalism varies from country to country depending on historical circumstances, but its essential remains the same; it is an instrument of the capitalist social revolution in relatively backward countries

In Europe the nationalist theories were based on language. In Africa they are based on colour and “race”. For this reason African nationalism is sometimes referred to as “racist ”. This use is permissible in so far as African nationalism does claim to champion the interests of the black people or “race”. Perhaps a better term would be Black Nationalism; this however should not obscure the fact that there are groups working among Africans which do preach race hatred and race domination. These can be called Black Racialist groups.

The intellectual roots of African nationalism go back to the Negro nationalist movements which appeared in America and the West Indies in the first part of this century. These ranged from openly black racialist organisations such as that of Marcus Garvey — the forerunner of the present day Black Muslims in America and the Rastafarians in Jamaica — to the cultural nationalism, so-called negritude, of the poet Aimé Césaire.

From this developed the doctrine of Pan-Africanism, which proclaimed the unity of interest of all Africans and those of African descent. Educated Africans and African students abroad joined in this movement. On returning to Africa, the students set about agitating for national independence. They would have had no success had not social conditions been ripe for the spread of their ideas.

As in Europe and Asia, nationalism in Africa spread only to the degree that the old order was breaking up. The colonial powers, in training Africans as soldiers and priests and civil servants, in employing them in the mines and on the plantations, undermined their own position. For these detribalised Africans formed the social base of the anti-colonialist struggle. Since the war the further break-up of the old order has proceeded apace. So has nationalism. It is only nine years since the first black African state, Ghana, became independent from colonial rule. Now, with the important exceptions of parts of central and southern Africa, most of black Africa has achieved independence.

The regimes that have taken over from the colonial governments have been various. Some have consisted of a motley collection of tribal leaders and opportunist and corrupt politicians. Others have an iron handed industrialising clique. Ghana provides the model of this last type; there the administrative techniques of Russia have been combined with the doctrine of Pan-Africanism to get what Nkrumah calls "African socialism ”.

Other nations which are modelled on Ghana — Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania — are one party states in which a vanguard party is used to mobilise the population for carrying through the capitalist social revolution. Because of the role of the state —and the influence of Russia—it was perhaps inevitable that these regimes would label themselves socialist. In fact they are totalitarian state capitalist regimes in which an élite uses the state power to try to extend capitalism rapidly throughout the area under their political control.

The situation in central and southern Africa is complicated by the presence of a not inconsiderable minority of persons of European descent. These—the whites—once enjoyed certain political and economic privileges at the expense of the Africans. It is in these circumstances that ugly black-white clashes have occurred and will almost certainly occur again. Among both white people and black there are groups preaching race hatred and intolerance. Many of the white workers are under the impression that they can preserve their security through discriminatory legislation. The African workers, on the other hand, see the solution to their miseries in African nationalism. The murders of Mau Mau in Kenya, and those of the Congo rebels, are examples of nationalism in action, just as the terrorist tactics employed by European nationalists in the past were. In Africa, however, they are now complicated as a clash between black and white.

African nationalism and the one party regimes it tends to set up are respectively the theory and practice of the capitalist social revolution in Africa. The spread of African nationalism together with the attempt by the Whites to maintain their privileges, is almost .certain to lead to further inter-racial violence and terror. Nationalism, with its talk of equality, may not at first sight appear as repugnant as racialism pure and simple. It often however, has the same results: bloodshed in which members of the working class are killed—not for their own interests but for those of their masters present and future.
Adam Buick

News in Review: Progressing backwards (1965)

The News in Review column from the June 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

Progressing backwards

The Labour government’s housing drive is progressing steadily backwards.

At the beginning of May, several big building firms announced that they were cutting back their production of houses.

Wates Ltd. (whose advertisements tell us that they care) said they were reducing by about fifteen per cent. McManus started a cut in its labour force of around twenty per cent. Richard Costain stopped work on two hundred or so part-finished houses — a quarter of their yearly production.

These reductions do not mean, of course, that everyone is now so comfortably housed that there isn't any need to build any more homes for the moment, thank you.

On all sides, the tragic evidence of the housing shortage abounds. The Milner Holland Report, which touched only one aspect of the problem, said that over seventy thousand London dwellings have no proper bath and that more than one million share a bath, a sink and other basic amenities. There are still thousands of homeless people in London alone.

Why, then, are there cuts in building? 

As part of their great programme of bringing prosperity to the working class, the Labour government has imposed a credit squeeze which, among other things, has made it more difficult to raise loans to buy houses.

These loans—a mortgage from a building society, a housing endowment policy—are the only method open to a worker who wants to buy a house he will never have the ready cash.

These, then, are the people who are affected by this aspect of the squeeze. In Glasgow, reported The Observer, tenement flats are being left unsold because young couples cannot raise the loans to buy them. For the same reason, cheaper houses in Leeds and Bradford are not selling. Bigger, costlier houses are not in the same difficulties; in Leeds and Bradford, those in the £8,000 to £15,000 range can be sold easily. People who can afford that sort of house can also raise the necessary loan—if indeed they need to borrow the money at all.

This particular crisis will probably continue. and develop. “We will only start up again," said Costain’s managing director, “When the purchaser shows he can raise the money.” In other words, they will only start building again when they think they can sell the houses.

Housing, like all human needs under capitalism, is a commodity — something which is made to be sold. If for any reason the market contracts, as it is contracting now under the credit squeeze, the houses will not be built.

Simple, but bad luck on anyone who has not got anywhere to live. Perhaps the government's intelligence on the matter was represented by Mr. Robert Mellish, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing. “Personally,” he said, “I feel that building societies are a machine by which people buy homes . . .”

This brilliant flash of insight, leaving unilluminated as it does the fact that building societies are also machines by which a few people make a lot of money, does not reveal anything new to those workers, who, unable to afford a house any other way, have chained themselves to a lifetime's debt to a building society.

Any year now. as Mr. Mellish settles into his new job, he may catch up with one or two other facts which are common knowledge. He may even go further, and realise that there is a perpetual housing problem for the working class, and that no government can solve it because the problem is an inseparable part of the capitalist social system which they administer.


One thing is dear about the Rann of Kutch, and that is that the fighting there was not over who should have the right to enjoy the beauties of its scenery.

This is one of the world’s inhospitable spots—a ten-mile square patch of lifeless mud and salt flats, broken by small mounds and peopled only by the Jeroba rat. The 24th. Parallel runs through the middle of it.

But inhospitable or not, the Rann had all the makings of a typical international dispute. To begin with, there may be oil out there somewhere. The Sun Oil Company of the U.S.A. plans to start drilling offshore fairly soon.

This is not to say that the fighting was about oil only. Its origins, as far as they can be discerned, were rather more complex.

India forcibly established its troops in the Rann, north of the 24th. Parallel, in 1956—soon after oil had been struck in the Gulf of Cambay, about two hundred miles away to the south.

At that lime, Pakistan was on the Western side in the Cold War, and was signatory to several American dominated pacts. India, on the other hand, except where its own interests were concerned, was the Great Uncommitted, infuriating Washington by its insistence on playing off the Western bloc against the Russian and acting as honest broker whenever it could.

Whatever else this did, it gained for India a certain diplomatic leadership in South East Asia. Since then, the situation has changed.

Pakistan has recently taken the initiative right out of India's hands. President Ayub has been feted in both Peking and Moscow. The Chinese government has stated its support for Pakistan in the Rann dispute. The Russians have implied that they uphold Pakistan’s case over Kashmir.

India, with no sympathy in Washington to fall back upon, was thus isolated—something which was emphasised by President Johnson’s brusque cancellation of Mr. Shastri’s proposed visit to him.

In this situation of double-cross all round, the Indian government had to do something to try to regain the lost ground and to divert its people’s attention away from India’s defeats.

On these facts, it seems likely that it was India who provoked the fighting in the Rann. Delhi’s propaganda machine was soon at work to make the most of it.

The so-called Socialist Party demanded assurances that the fighting (in which, of course, none of its leaders were actually engaged) should not cease until the Pakistani forces had withdrawn. Mr. Shastri himself said:
I know that each of our 450 million people of India is today prepared to make any sacrifice in defence of the motherland. . . 
The Rann of Kutch, then, had all the requirements of a classical war situation—rival economic interests, diplomatic ploys, political manoeuvres, betrayal and hysteria.

The final irony is that India and Pakistan have always posed as leaders of the “Uncommitted” nations, as the peace- loving neutrals of the Cold War.

The Rann of Kutch repeated the lessons of Kashmir and Goa. The newer nations of capitalism are no better than the old. The peacekeepers of yesterday are the warmakers of today.

Old, old story

In yet another flare-up in the endless round of minor conflicts, the focus of world attention swung last month to the Western Hemisphere.

Once again the United States Marines landed in that trouble spot of the centuries; the island of Hispaniola. This time it was the Eastern half of the Dominican Republic; not very long ago the marines were hovering off the coast of Haiti.

President Johnson's statement that 
All we are in the Dominican Republic for is to preserve freedom and to save those people from conquest.
was rich, even from such a poker-faced operator as the President. As any brief glance at the blood-stained history of Dominica will show, the people there have never had any freedom to lose.

In fact, for most of the time they have been ruled by corrupt and vicious dictatorships with occasional periods of civil war. And if the occupation of a State by the armed forces of a foreign power is not conquest, then the word has changed its meaning.

However, almost in the same breath the Americans came out with the real reason — fear of another Cuba. Dominica was in fact Viet-Nam in reverse. The United States has always been extremely touchy about Non-American states having a foot in the American Continent.

The Monroe doctrine of 1823 was proclaimed to prevent this, and the conditions of the modern world, with its nuclear weapons and its long range missiles, makes the idea of a possible Russian base so near home particularly unattractive.

Whether or not there were actually any so called Communists in Dominica, is unimportant the possibility was enough. Russia and China made all the expected noises, and the usual moves in the United Nations, but obviously did not intend to risk a major war over a possible minor gain.

There was however a further complication for the U.S.A. — namely the Latin American States, with their fears and suspicions of their gigantic neighbour. In the 19th Century the United States could afford to treat South and Central America with contempt, but today they prefer to have amicable relations with them.

They have, over the last 30 years, devoted much energy to their “good neighbour” policies and to the Organisation of American States (O.A.S.)

If the situation really demands it, and American Capitalism is threatened, Washington is quite prepared to go ahead and damn the consequences. Dominica, luckily, was not that serious, which saved all that good neighbourliness from going up in nuclear dust.

Dead duck

The nationalisation of the steel industry may well be the last quack and flutter of a dying, if not already dead, duck.

Nationalisation is not the political issue that it once was. The Labour Party have quietly forgotten their intention, avowed only a few years ago, to take over cement and sugar. They have also forgotten, although less quietly, the fact that Clause Four commits them to nationalise all industry.

The Conservatives are similarly placed. They have left the vast majority of Labour's post war nationalisation untouched. They have even added some of their own state influence—and in the steel industry at that. They set up the Iron and Steel Board, with instructions to “exercise a general supervision over the iron and steel industry. . .”

Steel is probably the last opportunity, for a long time to come, for the sham battles over state control. For both parties, it is something of a political albatross which neither of them can cut away.

One argument has been notably absent from the debate over steel. When the Labour Party wanted to nationalise the mines they always pleaded that this would benefit the miners. They drew pictures of the suffering of the mining areas under private control. “Pithead baths” was a promise on the lips of every Labour candidate.

This had a certain force, especially in the mining communities which nursed dreadful memories of their past. But the same argument could not be applied to the other concerns which the Attlee government nationalised. No Labour propagandist, be he ever so eloquent, could pretend that the clerks in the Bank of England had gone home hungry and filthy before the war. Neither could the argument apply to the airlines, to gas and electricity — and now it cannot be used about the steel industry.

The case for taking over steel rests on other grounds. The White Paper made them clear:
The iron and steel industry occupies a focal and dominating position in the British economy. ... A single new large integrated works may cost £150 million.
. . . There are difficulties in raising private funds for projeots of this sort.
In other words, steel is vital to the economy of British capitalism and only a state controlled, integrated industry can hold out any hope of providing the capital to allow it to live up to its importance.

On this issue the Labour Party’s mind is made up, at least until they change it. Some of their Members revolted over the scale of compensation, but they were rather late in the day here, because the Labour Party have never concealed their intention of arranging “full and fair” compensation to the steel shareholders. The time for revolts on this issue was last October, when these very same rebels were campaigning to get into Parliament on Labour’s programme, compensation and all.

It is true that the terms are what can be called “fair", if by that we mean that the stockholders are not going to lose out on the deal. Government stock to the value of £550 million will be exchanged for securities valued on the market, on the day the White Paper came out, at only £430 million. Any disagreement between the Minister and the stockholders over compensation will be referred to arbitration. What could be “fuller’’ and “fairer” than that?

If the Tories denounced the compensation as a fiddle, this was only a haggle, an attempt to bump up the price of steel shares. The Stock Exchange provided a more reliable reaction: “The voice of protest,” said The Guardian, “ was muted. . .”

A couple of days later, the point was rubbed in when millions were added to the values of steel shares. Whatever the reason for this, one thing it does not suggest, and that is that the capitalist class are trembling behind their Walls of Jericho at the sound of Fred Lee’s steel band (state controlled, of course).