“It’s been quite fun to watch Government ministers and the Tories play the race card. It legitimises us.”
British National Party leader Nick Griffin
“The emancipation of the working class is the emancipation of all human beings without distinction of race or sex.”
In the 2001 General Election, the fascist British National Party more than tripled its average share of the vote. It won almost 12,000 votes across the two constituencies of Oldham, including 16.4 percent in Oldham West, the highest ever percentage vote for a fascist party in a British parliamentary election.
Although the far right in Britain is still very small, results like these raise the spectre of it winning the kind of mass support fascist organisations enjoy in other parts of Europe.
The BNP is an racist organisation; but not everyone who voted for it is a hardened racist. Many would in the past have voted Labour, but switched to the BNP to protest against the poverty and deteriorating conditions all around them — conditions which capitalism breeds and about which the Labour Government has done absolutely nothing. With New Labour increasingly moving to the right many people felt that no-one represented them; the BNP claimed it represented them.
In the face of mass unemployment, poverty and homelessness — and in the absence of a mass movement against these things — working class people of all colours can be persuaded that those physically or culturally different from them are to blame. In Oldham, the BNP had electoral success because it was able to convince thousands of white workers that the persecuted, disadvantaged Asian community, rather than the bosses or their government, were responsible for unemployment, poor housing and a crumbling Health Service.
Although it is vital to condemn racism, condemnation is not enough. Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all claim to be anti-racist. However, none of these mainstream parties will do what is necessary to undermine the conditions through which racism grows. What is needed is a programme to fight poverty: taxing the rich to provide the jobs, homes and services which working-class people — black or white, British-born or immigrant — need. Instead, the mainstream parties play us off against each other, scapegoating asylum-seekers, single mothers and unemployed “benefit scroungers” as it suits them.
The Government’s policies on asylum and immigration have helped create a climate in which racism can flourish. Bill Morris, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and supporter of the Blairite Government, was moved to make this judgement in April 2000: “By heralding measure after measure to stop people entering Britain, the Home Office has given life to the racists.”
When the Government defines asylum seekers as undesirable, they thereby stigmatise black people already living in Britain. Is it any wonder, then, that racist attacks, police racism and other forms of discrimination are commonplace?
The fascists follow in the tracks cut by official state racism. They are able to succeed because the labour movement is weak, unconfident after the defeats of the 1980s and the experience of New Labour in government, and headed up by weak trade union leaders unwilling to challenge the Tory policies of the “New Labour” Government.
Our movement has so far not been capable of organising an effective fight against the thousands of social atrocities which workers in Britain are subjected to every day.
Our movement will rise again, it will recover its confidence and fight back. But right now the labour movement neither fights consistently on immediate issues — the destruction of the Health Service, for example — nor offers the prospect of a socialist society as an alternative to the capitalist system.
Nevertheless, as history has shown, only the labour movement can offer black and white workers a vision of a better society, and act to make that vision a reality. No other force can destroy the seeds from which racism and fascism grow.
If it were just a matter of a few freaks and lunatics, organising on the fringes of society, then racism and fascism could certainly be fought by occasional marches, a few posters, liberal speeches against racism and a bit of street-fighting here and there.
But if — as is the case — these social diseases grow organically out of the rottenness of capitalist society, out of the conditions which capitalism creates, then the only serious anti-racism and anti-fascism is the struggle for socialism — a society organised around the principles of equality, workers’ democratic control, and freedom from all exploitation and oppression.
Only a government which serves the interests of the majority — of the working class — will be able to cut out the social roots of racism and fascism. The struggle against racism is inseparable from the labour movement’s struggle for a workers’ government.
Class is central. Black, white and Asian workers have far more in common with each other than with the bosses in their own communities.
White workers who listen to the poison the tabloids pump out, and who persecute and scapegoat black people, divide and weaken our class movement.
Black and Asian workers who listen to the cultural nationalism of the black middle classes are also turning in the wrong direction. The black middle class whips up support for its own advancement within the capitalist system. “Representatives” like Labour MP Keith Vaz will not militantly back the interests and struggles of black and Asian workers and youth.
Even the left does not always take the fight against racism and for the rights of black people as seriously as it should. The purpose of this pamphlet is to convince labour movement activists of the importance of the fight against racism, and anti-racists of the importance of the labour movement — and the fight to transform it once more into a militant force for human solidarity and progress.