Following the brutal murder of George Floyd by the police in the USA there has been a massive upsurge in anger and frustration at the endemic racism in the world. It is highly likely that the suffocation of Floyd by a US cop was the result of racist attitudes which for centuries have been propagated and pervasive in the USA which is historically a white colony. The slave trade ruthlessly brought millions of Africans to the Americas and subjugated them to the most savage slavery the proceeds out of which capitalism developed its industrial base. Even after the abolition of slavery African Americans were subjected to other forms of slavery in the Southern part of the USA. As share croppers and supposedly ‘free men’ they had to take on large mortgages on the land they worked and lived on. When inevitably many could not afford the mortgage payments and the huge interest rates they were arrested and enslaved in the chain gangs and prison system as punishment. And that was in the early twentieth century!
Racism has existed for centuries in various forms. Whether it was based on tribal differences, religion or skin colour it was used by various ruling classes to divide and rule. Anti-black racism has been particularly insidious because of the need to justify the slave trade of the past. In Britain an early example of proletarian internationalism was the strikes by textile workers in England in 1862 in which the Lancashire Cotton Mill workers refused to work the cotton picked by slaves in the Confederate South. These workers faced job losses and even starvation but they continued in their support for the North in the American Civil war against the Slaver South. After this the ruling class encouraged and promoted pseudo-scientific ideas that humans were dived into ‘races’ with black people being categorised as inferior. This provided the justification for colonialism and these false ideas were used to destroy the solidarity of workers with oppressed people.
However they are made up these false ideas about ‘race’ have real material consequences. Racist ideology is pervasive and from an early age people are indoctrinated in the schools, through TV, newspapers and religious institutions with racist ideas. Therefore people behave in the way they are taught to towards those who are deemed different or lesser than them. Yet many workers break free from this false ideology, especially in struggle against the capitalist system of exploitation and as they come to realise they have much more in common then the false divisions which are engineered to divide them. In Britain many people still hold racist ideas, some more than others.
RACISM IN THE USA
The murder of George Floyd demonstrates the attitude towards the lives of black people by the institutions of the US state. It is very common for the US police to kill black people. Many Black Americans were forced to live in ghettos which suffer deprivation, underfunding and high unemployment. These people are still treated as worthless and thus many have no choice but to make a living in gangs to survive and this is used as a justification for heavy-handed policing methods. Racist attitudes held by white workers have done them no good and only benefited the bosses and their drive for making profits. In the USA in the southern states racism by whites has meant a lack of unity between black and white workers. Therefore they have been unable to struggle together for higher wages and better conditions. Workers in the US north earned higher wages and after World War II many black people migrated to the north to take up jobs in manufacturing industries. With their white comrades they fought for higher wages and all workers were better off in the north than the white workers in the deep South.
RACISM SERVES CAPITALISM
Racism is very useful for capitalism as it can be used to pay those deemed inferior lower wages and funnel them into workplaces with dangerous conditions. This has been going on in Britain for a long time. We see the results today with many black workers in low paid front line jobs which has led to a disproportionate number falling ill and dying to Covid-19. The EU Referendum whipped up much anti-migrant rhetoric and yet recently there has been the much publicised and stage managed ‘clap for the NHS’. The NHS as an institution has always relied heavily on the labour of migrants and in particular black women. From its earliest days Afro-Caribbeans were indispensable to its functioning. This demonstrates the racist hypocrisy of Britain’s racist culture.
Younger workers today are less inclined to racist ideology thanks to past struggles such as the anti-colonial struggles since the 1940s. Also there has been wider access to information and scientific knowledge to undermine racist nonsense. The racist oppression highlighted by George Floyd’s murder and the higher risk of Covid-19 mortality to BAME people has led to an outpouring of outrage and protest. Many young people, black and white, have come out on the streets to demonstrate against continued racism, overcoming the fears and restrictions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic to demonstrate solidarity, as they know racism kills even more people. This has of course led to a lot of virtue signalling by capitalist institutions and politicians as well as do-gooders who have no intention of changing the capitalist system which relies on racism and which helps sustain its exploitative wage system. The wealthy boxer Anthony Joshua appeared on one demonstration to call on people to spend money in black-owned businesses. This tokenism will only benefit the rich and capitalists. Promoting black capitalists is no different. They will still exploit workers and drive down wages which would inevitably require racist division and rancour against one group of people or another. Black nationalism and separatism, just like white supremacy, is reactionary and will only benefit one group of capitalists against all workers.
DESTROY FALSE IDOLS
Already there is a chorus of bemoaning and whining against the world-wide demonstrations. Reactionaries declare the ‘Black Lives Matter’ slogan is wrong and that ‘all lives matter’. But when after centuries of being told black lives are worth less then white ones, it is quite correct to affirm ‘Black Lives Matter’. In a great and symbolic act BLM demonstrators toppled a statue of the slave trader and Tory MP Edward Colston. Some said this was wrong as it erases history and therefore knowledge of the slave trade. This is a poor excuse because most people can pick up a book and go on line to read about the slave trade. In our schools and museums not a lot is said about this dark history and more should be taught. People will defiantly not learn much from an inanimate depiction of some reactionary. Fittingly, Colston’s statue was thrown into the harbour which was the fate of many innocent Africans when they were thrown off the slave ships into the Atlantic when they were being transported to the Americas. We don’t really need any more statues to attract bird shit anyway. There are some arguing that Colston left his wealth to the City of Bristol which went into the building of schools, libraries and other public amenities which benefited the population. This may be true but was this really a great benefit? In the end this was a meagre alleviation of the poverty and exploitation suffered by most of the working class in the nineteenth century. Britain by World War I had some of the worst slums in Europe. Those who were lucky enough to attend a school funded by the philanthropists like Colston would have had their heads indoctrinated with the nationalism and racism which made so many volunteer and die in the imperialist wars for ‘King and Empire’ and which culminated in the mass slaughter of World War I. These crumbs from the slave traders like Colston can hardly be described as a benefit.
YOUTH TAKE THE LEAD AGAINST RACISM
The protests have brought to light the racism experienced by many people in Britain and exposed publicly the history of British imperialism and the role of many of its heroes such as the racist Winston Churchill, whose statue has also received some attention. The youth are demonstrating that workers are overcoming the racism taught to us by the ruling class and are demonstrating their desire for a different society. As one placard left on the railings near Parliament said, ‘You have fucked with the last generation’. Workers Black and White must unite to oppose racism and the capitalist system.