Anarcho-syndicalism, racism and struggle

Interesting account of an anarcho-syndicalist and member of the Direct Action Movement about being an ethnic "minority" in Britain and how to oppose racism, from around 1983.

Submitted by martinh on October 26, 2006

I was born in this country, but my parents were born in a country that was still under the British colonial rule, a country that was still part of the "empire". Like thousands of other people my parents came to this country to work, they were encouraged to do so. For the last twenty-four years they have put up with poor working conditions, low wages, racism and a profound and deep sense of alienation. They have clung to a myth of return, return to a country that is still suffering from the direct and indirect consequences of British imperialism. It is a myth. They cannot and will not return to their country, it's an economic and social impossibility.

Around me I see hundreds of young people in the same situation as myself. Born here, educated here but still not part of this country, we are marked out by colour, culture and language. Some second generation immigrants totally reject British culture, they too long to return to a place they regard as home. Some others totally reject their parents culture and regard themselves first and foremost as British. A large majority try to balance the two, regard themselves as Black or Asian British. I have tried the first two approaches, I even returned to my parents' country but found myself a foreigner there too. I now reject all of these approaches. Whilst I cannot deny my parents' (and to some extent my own) culture, the common element is class. My parents are working class, I am working class, both here and abroad. From both instinct and experience I reject the divisiveness of nation and accept the unity of class. This is the only solution to the problems of "fitting in".

The reason I am writing this pamphlet is to express these ideas to a wider audience, of all cultures, and to engage in a dialogue with whoever is interested. I have specifically refrained from mentioning which country my parents come from, this is because the experience is common to all the nations that were exploited by British imperialism.

Racism - Who Benefits?
It is often said that racism is a deliberate policy to divide and rule the working class, whilst this is undoubtedly true it does not go very far in explaining racism, nor are the conclusions drawn as far as they should. Racism in Britain is directly linked to its colonial past. Even before the influx of twentieth century immigrants (Jews, Irish, Blacks, Asians, etc.) belief in Empire and Colonialism were deliberately fostered in sections of the working class to quieten down working class opposition. Even the middle class philanthropists were patronising racists in their assumptions. "Socialists" like Hyndman at the turn of the century supported British Imperialism. With this imperialism racism was an integral part. The belief that the exploited peoples were inferior and barbaric existed even before large numbers of blacks and Asians came here (though in some parts of Britain there have been blacks in the community for hundreds of years, like Cardiff, Bristol, Liverpool etc.).

When the economy was expanding and capitalism needed more labour the Colonial connection was used to bring in immigrant labour, very often from places that had been deliberately under-developed by colonialism. After a time when the economy was ending its expansion and some far sighted politicians saw future contraction and unemployment then racism was used in an overt way. Let's be straight about this, Enoch Powell did not create racism or racial tension, it had been part of British society for hundreds of years, he merely brought it out of the gutter and into the open.

As can be seen for hundreds of years racism and colonialism were tactics used by the state to gain the support of the British working class. So the idea that racism is a divide and rule tactic of the capitalist bosses is true. But the honest conclusion is not that simply the bosses benefit, it's more than that, the entire STATE benefits. The bosses, govt, police, media, all win. The government wins, both Labour and Tory governments used and will use racism. The police not only create racism and are racist, they need racism. They will use racism to get new and more powers. They need racial conflict to get more power and also to practice strategy and tactics for future mass disturbances, (Ireland is the obvious example of who benefits by inter-communal conflict). The race relations industry, that mass of patronising academics, middle class social workers and self-styled "leaders" and "experts", have got a stake in continuing racial conflict.

The only people who don't benefit are the immigrant communities and the white working class. Whilst we are at each others throats everyone else, police, bosses, government, media and academics are making a profit.

To be anti-racist it is not only necessary to be against racism and scum like the nazis (I'll get around to them later), it is also necessary to be against the STATE, (whatever colour flag the government waves), against the bosses and finally against the patronising and racist race relations industry. To be truly anti-racist one must also campaign actively for racial unity, the unity of the working class. True anti-racism is also anti-statism, if the state is smashed the whole racist structure is smashed. And without state protection how long will the nazis last?

Culture is more than just songs and dances, culture is more a way of thinking and acting, it's a way of expressing a common solidarity. Within my own immigrant community great emphasis is laid on culture and language, in common with many communities. In an alien society the preservation of a cultural heritage is seen as of vital importance, especially with the chance that young people might grow up totally divorced from the "mother-land". Too often this takes the form of superficial learning of folk-dances, music and song. Also we have this strange idea of a "national" culture divorced from the realities of class. There is no such thing as a pure "national" culture. A culture is formed in actual experience in the hard struggle of daily existence, in the struggle against both native and foreign bosses. Our "community" leaders ignore this fact. For second generation immigrants like myself it's too much to take. I have nothing in common with the boss, even if he speaks the same language. We have to examine this culture critically, take what is good and reject what is bad from both British and native cultures. Accept what is combative, what is liberatory, what is unifying, learn from our parents and working class history, but reject what is passive, what is sexist, what is stultifying and reactionary. I use my language not to sing songs to the new boss, or to god, but to express solidarity with my comrades in struggle both here and abroad.

In British working class culture similarly there is much that is both good and bad. The history of struggle and solidarity among union militants is of immense value and similar to what exists in our own communities. We can learn form it, study its history , just as the white working class must do with our own culture.

Much more difficult to do is to be critical of our own communities. Each community has its own so-called "leaders" and "elders" who exploit their position for their own ends, often allied to the Labour or Communist Party, they presume to speak for all of us, they have an interest in keeping us passive, separate, and under control, their control. They will use slogans about national or cultural preservation to keep us apart from the rest of the working class. They also have their own class and economic interests, they are usually business men with factories that exploit workers of all nations. I do not talk here of the true class militants but the middle class scum who appear on TV to apologise for us every time we hit back.

For large numbers of people mention racism and they will immediately think of skinheads, the National Front or other Nazi groups. Yet when I come across racism it's when I open the newspaper, or listen to the radio, or watch TV, it's when I see a group of politicians or academics talk about us as if we are a cancer. Racism is when I see workers doing shit-work for low wages and being afraid to complain. Capitalism and the State are the real racists, and what's more they have real power. The racist bosses have the power to hire and fire and exploit. Racist police have the power to beat up and arrest and spy. The racist courts have the power to fine and imprison. Racist politicians have the power to take decisions and create fears and tension. In comparison the Nazis are almost powerless. Almost, but not quite.

Racist and fascist organisations have a useful role to play for the State. They can galvanise and manipulate racist feeling, they can pull communities apart. They can create violence and insecurity so that people call for more police power (just what the State wants). They can create discord in workplaces. They can attack militants and individuals. This doesn't mean that the State forms and directs nazi organisations though it's safe to say that police have their own people inside the nazi leadership. By offering publicity and protection, by nods and winks, the nazis are used to create the sort of situation the state needs. In effect they are the shock troops of the racist State. When they are no longer useful they will be discarded.

The nazi leaders aren't stupid, they know this, but whilst they are being used they are trying to use the situation to their own ends. No doubt the majority of nazi cadres really do believe the crap they are fed by their leaders but the fact remains that they are being used. For example the National Front leaders know that so long as they are seen as simply a collection of racist thugs they will only be of limited use to the State and will not be able to manoeuvre into power. Hence whilst keeping the racism as the main recruiting point and major plank of activity, they are quietly moving into other fields such as trade unionism, animal rights, ecology, right to work etc. Anti-racists should be aware of this new trend.

So while the State is our real enemy, and the protector and elder brother of the nazis, the various fascist do represent an everyday danger to for us. They are constantly making racist attacks, spreading their filth on the streets and so need to be dealt with. Self-defence is vital for communities under attack and we should not be afraid of violence, they only attack because they can get away with it. Monitoring their activity is also useful, we must know who they are, where they live and what they do. In workplaces only total unity and organisation will be able to ruin their plans for keeping us apart.

Beyond the equality principle
The demand for equal rights from some sections of the community, with the support of liberals and reformers everywhere, will not make that much difference to us at all. As long as the State exists then equal rights will be equal rights for wage slavery , equal right of exploitation, equal rights of the dole, equal rights to alienation and oppression. The only equal right that I want is an equal right to take part in the mass working class struggles to overthrow the State and Capitalism. And I won't get that right by asking nicely or staying silent.

Of course we mustn't stop struggling for equal wages, improvements in conditions and for the ending of racist practices. Indeed using direct action as our means, through wildcat strikes, go-slows, sabotage etc., the struggle for these reforms will not only produce results it will increase out power, confidence and morale. But the principle of equality is not the be-all and end-all of our struggle as workers. Beyond the equality of today, beyond equality in wage slavery and unemployment, beyond this lies the real equality which will come about when capitalism and the state are smashed.

For a large number of black trades unionists and militants the main focus is on getting more of our people into positions of management and control. And once we have black managers what happens? We can be ordered about in our own languages as well as English. This is not what I fight for. What difference if the boss is black, white or brown. A boss is a boss and out to control us. Rather than fight for more managers it is better to fight for the abolition of managers once and for all. Remember a boss will gladly appoint black managers to divide us so that he can't be accused of racism, and so he can spy on us. We want no bosses, black or white.

Direct action and unity
All through this pamphlet it has been constantly stressed that unity between workers of all races is totally vital. But how does that unity come about? By standing side by side and shouting "Black and white unite and fight"? Certainly that won't do any harm, but saying "let's love each other" doesn't mean we will and doesn't mean that hundreds of years of racism can be wiped out. The only way unity, class unity, can be achieved is by constant day to day struggle on all fronts. Only by the swapping of ideas and tactics in the everyday struggle at home in the streets and at work. If we all waited, black and white, for the politicians (from the SWP to the SDP), to unite us then we might as well give up now. Internationalism will replace nationalism when we all know that we have more in common with each other than with the bosses.

In the streets, in the momentous street battles of April and July 1981, we had black, brown and white fighting side by side against the common enemy, the police. It's that sort of common action that solidifies bonds between us all. In the struggle against the nazis we have all races united against the racists. It's that fragile unity of the moment that we have to build upon, we have to extend that unity, make it permanent. It will be put to the test again and again, and every time it survives it will be stronger and stronger. On the picket lines militants of all races multiply in struggle, we can win.

At home, on the housing estates, in tenant associations we must overcome the tensions. In cases of racist attacks, supportive neighbours help to end the isolation, help to hit back against the racists. In the struggle for better housing., against bad conditions we are united. Remember damp walls and TB recognise no differences in colour. Nor do greedy landlords or homelessness.

Work (where there is any that is), is perhaps the place with most potential for unity. Day in day out people of all races work together, together they face the same bosses (though sometimes differing degrees of exploitation). Unfortunately the unions have been totally pathetic about the struggle of black workers in this country. Often union officials are either apathetic, or racist, or both. The history of unions and racism is a sorry one. The divide and rule tactics of the bosses are allowed to succeed. But if you take a close look at the unions involved they aren't exactly enthusiastic about the struggle of white workers either. (This doesn't excuse their racism). From being the fighting organisations of the workers they have often degenerated into centralised and monolithic blocs run by well paid officials, divorced from everyday reality and useless when it comes to doing anything active. The only people who are to blame are the workers themselves who have let things degenerate to such an extent. It is up to the working class of all races to take back the unions, to get rid of the bureaucrats, to root out the racist scum, to turn the unions back into fighting units for a new society. The workplace is the basic unit of production, of organisation, each workplace needs an independent working class organisation run by all the workers themselves without politicians or bureaucrats. These workplace organisations can engage in day to day struggle for wages and conditions, using direct action, rather than waiting for the bosses to be nice, and from day to day to grow in confidence and power. The ultimate aim is for these workplace organisations or workplace committees, to unite across the country, again without the end for bureaucrats and politicians, and once united launch the struggle to smash the State and create a new society based on self-management and mutual aid.

With the workplace committee as the basic unit for struggle the workers power and organisation is rooted in real life. It is here that racism will be crushed. In struggle we will depend on each other for help and solidarity. Racists will either realise their errors when they see the reality of class unity or they will be driven out of the workplaces by the committees. In the streets and at home neighbourhood committees will work in the same way as the workplace committees.

All this may seem utopian dreaming but it is based on countless years of experience, on the history of workers struggles around the globe. This is anarcho-syndicalism, the union of workers struggling against the state for a free and libertarian communist world (anarchism). It is rooted in our class life, in day to day struggle. In Africa it is no longer then armed struggle movements, linked to foreign Imperialist powers (like Russia/Cuba, or China, or USA/South Africa), but the struggle of the unionised and class conscious workers and peasants which hold the key


This pamphlet was written by a member of then South London Branch of the Direct Action Movement (forerunner of the Solidarity federation) in about 1983. While some of the situations described have moved on and changed, the conclusions are still generally valid.



9 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by syndicalist on July 31, 2014

recall this pamphlet well. Thanks for the republish