A comment on recent events from a CWO sympathiser.
Only a few short months ago, we were beginning to see the ominous signs of a new chapter in capitalism’s long running crisis. The residual effects of the 2008 “financial crisis”, colossal debt, low growth, low pay, austerity, in a word, the erosion of living conditions of the vast majority were still very much present as the downturn began manifesting itself. This however was merely the warm-up act for the present catastrophe, opening up before our very eyes and whose eventual depth we are yet to experience. Acknowledged as such by the leading global institutions such as the IMF, on its own website, we find this:
"What I have described is a baseline scenario but, given the extreme uncertainty around the duration and intensity of the health crisis, we also explore alternative, more adverse scenarios. The pandemic may not recede in the second half of this year, leading to longer durations of containment, worsening financial conditions, and further breakdowns of global supply chains. In such cases, global GDP would fall even further: an additional 3 percent in 2020 if the pandemic is more protracted this year, while, if the pandemic continues into 2021, it may fall next year by an additional 8 percent compared to our baseline scenario … In the meantime, we face tremendous uncertainty around what comes next."1
Still punch-drunk from the crisis of 2008, the world has been ravaged by the coronavirus and the consequent lockdown. It is wholly inadequate from the scientific perspective, since workers have to go to work in crowded workplaces with overcrowded changing rooms, often with no disinfection. Even this half-hearted lockdown has still devastated the already crumbling capitalist economies, and has generated massive unemployment and global hunger.
In the midst of all this “unprecedented collapse”, to quote Birmingham City Council, we have been subject to yet another nightmare worthy of the darkest horror movies. The gut wrenching spectacle of the very public execution by asphyxiation of George Floyd, whose dying pleas during the final eight and a half minutes of his life at the hands of State law enforcement agents have been branded on our minds as indelibly as the Royal Africa Company brands in the flesh of tens of thousands of black victims kidnapped, packed in to slave ships and if they survived, subject to the horror of slavery.2 A spark in a lake of fuel, the discontent built up by decades of capitalist decay and centuries of racial oppression, this has spiralled into yet more destruction in the shape of riots, looting, further police murders and acts of atrocity. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion we are living through the perfect storm.
We are battered on so many fronts by a multi-pronged crisis that gives the lie to any illusion that capitalism has changed its spots, has transformed from the monstrosity born of the expropriation of the common land, the exploitation, oppression and destruction of the indigenous peoples of the New World, the unrestricted and merciless exploitation of men, women and children in the emerging capitalist centres which remains the foundation of the wealthy elite of today. "If money comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek", then "capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt" wrote Karl Marx in Capital. Monster it was, monster it remains. As fodder for the profit machine, we are now expected to accept the Russian roulette of Covid-19 contagion and revive a system that has scant regard for our well-being. A system that enriches a tiny minority by exploiting the many. How does it get away with such grotesque inequality that has reached such absurd heights that a couple of dozen people now own more than half of humanity?
The reality is that even in the face of an unprecedented catastrophe on so many fronts, the vast majority still share the fundamental belief that, no matter its faults, the capitalist system is the only possible one, that there is no alternative but to accept it, warts and all, and do whatever it takes to make it work. This because those who own so much have the means to subject us to a daily barrage in favour of the system and to prevent the realisation of the only way out of this disaster summed up in what remains the greatest rallying cry of all; "Workers of the world, unite!"
For the masters of this world, the capitalist class, it is precisely this unity of working people the world over that must be prevented. Hence the necessity of racism, sexism, nationalism and many other noxious methods to keep the exploited class weak, divided, in its place.
No doubt we could fill many volumes listing the instances of discrimination, both historic and current, there is no difficulty uncovering statistics to illustrate the disproportionate prevalence of poverty, unemployment, low pay, health inequality affecting certain sectors of the class, particularly the ethnic minorities and women, as well as episodes of police brutality and other forms of violence which they in particular suffer. Discrimination remains as virulent as ever in many forms. People of colour remain far more likely than others to be poor, unemployed, homeless, hungry, and sick. They are disproportionately victimised by the legal system; jailed and in certain countries where the death penalty remains, sentenced to death. They are disproportionately harassed and murdered by police; subject to the inhuman condition of sex slaves, the refugees or “collateral damage” in endless wars. They are the suffering dispossessed who are forced to flee violence, poverty, and environmental disasters, only to be met with veritable prisons and even cages at borders where little children are separated from parents, or left to drown at sea. After all that they then face the racism directed at them if they manage to secure some sort of residence, legal or otherwise. As we have previously published:
"Indeed, like the immigrant labour force, the female labour force, as is, is less well paid, and is used by the employers to reduce the cost of labour as a whole. Free housework carried out within the family, discrimination in the workplace, sexual harassment, gender-based violence, cuts in social services for children, for the disabled, and for women in difficulty: this is the reality which women workers and women on the margins must confront every day; not to mention the violence, including practices that violate a woman’s physical and mental integrity, and the open discrimination that women experience in so-called developing countries."3
Even in the advanced capitalist heartlands, gender inequality remains the case for example: “According to the ONS, the general gender pay gap in the UK in 2019 still stood at 17.3%.” No matter the legislation, the token commissions, the inquiries, the discrimination persists, takes on new forms, rises. Overtly or covertly. This discrimination is not simply the domain of the inadequate who seek some sort of compensation for their lowly social status, it emanates from the highest institutional level. In terms of race, institutional racism is a term coined to describe this phenomenon; “Institutional racism is a form of racism that exists in institutional settings, usually of a social or political nature.”
The Metropolitan Police force was famously branded “institutionally racist” in 1999 by Sir William Macpherson, who led the public inquiry into the fatal stabbing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1993. Macpherson defined institutional racism as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. This form of racism is seen in “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people”, he said.”4
Thus, in the midst of so much anguish, so much injustice, so much inequality, so much dread for the future, Marxists, real socialists, have to posit a solution to this “horror without end”. We squarely place the virulence of discrimination on the need of the capitalist class to hoodwink the exploited and oppressed into blaming its plight on whatever scapegoat it can come up with, to cultivate a stinking heap of prejudice in our minds to prevent our class unity, our collective awareness of the ugly realities of class society. The victim is not just the people of colour, women, the disabled, immigrants of whatever skin hue and the like, significant though these categories may be. So significant that in their totality they constitute the majority of the global working class. The victim is the entire working class tied to a decrepit system that lurches from crisis to crisis. As Karl Marx said, “Labour in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin." Neither can we talk about revolution if it does not include the emancipation of women from gender oppression.
Perhaps it is a mere academic exercise to question the absolute dependence of capitalism on these forms of discrimination, or any specific discriminatory form. Could we argue that modern capitalism given the urgency to placate societal anger could seriously tackle, perhaps by means of “positive discrimination”, perhaps by general policy such as Universal Basic Income, at least the sharper edge of discriminatory practice. For example, could we contest the well-known declaration of Malcolm X, on prominent display during the current crop of demonstrations provoked by Floyd’s abhorrent murder that “You cannot have capitalism without racism”. The CWO has previously stated with regard to racism that,
"it has continually fulfilled the same function for our rulers, that of ideologically justifying exploitation and oppression. Racism is therefore not just a moral obscenity, but, on the contrary, an essential organisational principle of capitalist society. The maintenance of the structure of the capitalist economy demands that workers regard other workers as competitors for employment, accommodation, entry to educational institutions, etc."5
However, certain academics have raised the possibility of a future capitalism more or less free of racism, regarding it as a persistent stain from its formative period. However, even if for the sake of scientific precision we concede that remote possibility that our rulers could jettison one or more of their weapons of control, this would not resolve the problems of the vast majority of “people of colour”, of women, or any other category of oppression one could conceive.
We don’t deny the grievances, on the contrary, we are at pains to stress their importance in keeping the entire system afloat. But that does not mean that we can simply cheerlead those organisational forms which focus on single issues of discrimination without challenging the capitalist framework which spawns and benefits from them. For those who seek equality, focussing exclusively on single issues is not only no solution, it serves to perpetuate discrimination. Black Presidents, female prime ministers, disabled bosses and the like are no way forward for the masses whose lives are directly or indirectly blighted by prejudice, discrimination, exploitation, oppression. The reality is that any solution which aims at reforming but not abolishing the capitalist framework is not addressing the issues of the condition of those who are today under the boot of discrimination. As previously stated, the bulk of the working class everywhere is made up of people of colour and women. There is no improvement for them under a capitalism whose iron laws of motion dictate the working class be subject to ever greater levels of exploitation necessitating oppression in order to maintain the accumulation process. There are myriad organisations based on anti-racism, anti-fascism, anti-sexism, feminism, often intertwining. But the cold reality is that these organisations, like the malady they claim to address, are significant props of the capitalist system that benefits on both fronts.
"The anti-racism of the Labour Movement is a pro-capitalism anti-racism, you won't catch the leader of the TUC saying that racism is a tool used by the ruling class to keep the international working class divided. The leader of the TUC will say that racism is a cancer that divides society, and that it is stirred up by right wing elements. Yes, racism may be stirred up by capitalism's right wing defenders, but society is already divided into classes - only a defender of capitalism and the present order of things could call racism a threat to society. There is NOTHING about this society worth defending but it is essential for workers to fight racism in the working class as part of the struggle to raise class consciousness and unite against capitalism. While the Labour Movement might defend a black member of the boss class who is under racist attack we could not. What we would do is use the incident to point out the fact that racism is a tool of the ruling class to keep us confused and in our place, but we could never defend this black boss or her/his "right" to trade, give orders, make profits, etc. - if we defended the rights of anyone to lord it over us we would be anti-working class. […] We mustn't let ourselves get caught up in their game. The very least that Equal Opportunities might have done for black workers in Britain is have made it easier for them to get a job now. But even this is not true, is it? There is a far greater percentage of black people unemployed than white people, let's face it, it was easier for black people to get work in the 1950's, when there was no such thing as Equal Opportunities! The capitalists are playing games with us. Black workers are supposed to defend a "society" that has Equal Opportunities written into law, that says it is anti-racist, and yet black workers are worse off now than they were 20 or 30 years ago (as all workers are, of course), and for all this Equal Opportunities bullshit we now have another "rising tide of racism". Racism and "anti-racism": for our rulers both are tricks to keep us under the heel."6
It is here that our message differentiates itself from those so far generally given media attention. Capitalism is a class-divided, racist, sexist horror without end, but the only way out is to focus on the cause, class division, rather than attempting to remedy the symptoms one by one. The only force capable of toppling more than statues, emphasising token gestures like bending the knee, of toppling the entire system of oppression is the working class, united. The organised and united working class is the only way beyond this chaotic society. We are quickly approaching the peak of the storm. Existential threats to humanity are at the door. The present article has not even listed the most dreadful; the environmental catastrophe, the confrontation between the great powers, in particular, the China-USA tensions. These threaten all of us. Either the working class, led by its own Revolutionary International, unifies and carries out its historic mission to take down capitalism, to get rid of class society, or capitalism, rotten with prejudice, reeking with inequality, takes us down the road to ruin, a ruin whose horror has no limit.
- 2“RAC were believed to be involved in the sale of around 100,000 slaves from west Africa to areas of the Caribbean and the Americas. The company would brand each slave's chest with their logo, including those of women and children.” Daily Mirror, 8th June 2020
- 4theweek.co.uk the same source says the term was originally used publicly in 1967 by African-American civil rights activists Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) and Charles V. Hamilton in their book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, according to The Guardian’s Hugh Mair. In the book, Carmichael and Hamilton contrasted “individual racism and institutional racism”. They described the latter as “less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts. But it is no less destructive of human life.”
- 5For Communism pamphlet of the CWO.
- 6Subversion, What's wrong with anti-racism?