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Submitted by AWL on Mon, 31/03/2014 - 13:26

I was only at the event for a few hours - in addition to various discussions outside sessions, I went to Anindya Bhattacharyya's workshop on "Racism, new and old".

Anindya's presentation was thought-provoking and the discussion was quite good: a bit hesitant and provisional, but perhaps inevitably so given RS21's recent emergence from the SWP.

The presentation focused on the changing forms and focuses of racism in Britain over the decades, particularly since the 1990s. Anindya argued that anti-Muslim racism and bigotry, a dominant theme at least since the beginning of the war on terror and probably earlier, has been giving way to forms of racism focused on migrants. At each stage, obviously, older forms of racism do not disappear but remain, shaping and interacting with newer forms.

The lead off also discussed other newly prominent elements of racism, including the relationship between anti-migrant policies and the rise of a "security state", and the relationship between racism and anti-working class narratives, through the link of anti-traveller/anti-"Chav" bigotry. It included an interesting section on the use of non-racist or even anti-racist arguments by UKIP - eg outflanking Labour on the left on some issues to do with refugees - in order to legitimise their wider racism.

Hopefully Anindya will write up his presentation as I'm not sure I've done it justice.

Issues debated in the discussion included

• Anti-Muslim racism. Anindya said he preferred the term anti-Muslim racism to Islamophobia, and that the latter did not adequately describe the phenomenon. He agreed with me that such racism is a "composite" phenomenon involving both a version of anti-South Asian racism and a wider bigotry which can also affect, for instance, white Muslims. (There was a bit of discussion about the idea that skin colour is only one possible "signifier" marking out a group that faces racism - I think this needs pursuing.) However, having insisted that the SWP was right about "working with Muslim groups" during the anti-war movement, he didn't answer my question about whether it was right to work with the British wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, a question which is part of a much wider issue about the SWP's approach to Muslims, Islam and political Islam.

• Anti-fascism. Most people who spoke seemed to agree that the Unite Against Fascism model is inadequate, at least for a period of social crisis and cuts (Anindya said it was probably always inadequate). Several speakers raised what seemed to be genuine questions about what kind of anti-fascist and anti-racist movement or movements we need, including the relationship between anti-racism, migrants' rights and class demands. There was general agreement on the need for an integration of anti-racism with class politics and a move away from the liberal, "celebrate diversity" approach promoted by the SWP. This seems to be an area where RS21 or some people in it at least are actively rethinking.

• Europe. There was some limited discussion about how to deal with UKIP and whether socialists should advocate withdrawal from the EU. I argued that British withdrawal would not produce greater freedom of movement but a "fortress Britain" separate from "fortress Europe".

• Identity politics/privilege theory: again this was discussed only in passing, but there was a sharp disagreement between China Miéville (ex-ISN, very much in favour of "privilege theory", though critical of its misuse in shallow, mostly online arguments) and Anindya (very hostile to it). I'd like to hear more of this debate, in RS21 and in the AWL. I was also impressed by Anindya's sharp attack on theories opposing "cultural appropriation". ("As for cultural appropriation, I'm very much in favour of it.")

My impression was of something of a break from the approaches of the SWP and of people trying to think things through.

Sacha Ismail

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