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Issue #1790      August 16, 2017

Culture & Life

Racism - a capitalist tool

Time was, if you felt strongly about some issue and wanted to make your views known to other people you had to type up a stencil and run off copies on a roneo-machine or pay someone with access to a printing press to print your views as a flyer to be handed out to people you hoped to influence.

Race Riots in Lewisham, UK in 1977. Police making an arrest. (Photo: Peter Marlow)

But that was then. Today, you simply post your views on Facebook or Twitter from the comfort of your computer at home and you can reach vast numbers at insignificant expense. However, just because a person knows how to talk doesn’t mean they have anything to say that is worth hearing.

In fact, it might well be that, depending on their education, background, personal prejudices and similar influences, what they have to say is nothing more than a vicious, hate-filled tirade pandering to ignorance and fear. Just look at the utterances of almost any federal government back-bencher or the notorious Tweets of US President Donald Trump.

Or consider the phenomenon of cyber bullying, where the anonymity of modern technology platforms allows cowardly attacks on individuals to be perpetrated publicly with impunity. Clearly, technology alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by the simultaneous development of society to replace fear and suspicion with co-operation and friendship. That seismic shift in social relations comes – over time – with, and only with, the establishment of socialism.

Witness the experience of the people of the USSR or the GDR. Even the restoration of capitalism has not been able to wholly eradicate the lessons learned while living in a socialist society.

Capitalism, which is devoted to benefitting the individual at the expense of others, breeds fear and jealousy, hostility and hatred. People live in fear that what little they have may be taken away from them by business chicanery or ill health or government fiat. In fact, capitalism not only encourages – it positively revels in – greed and self-interest. Ignorance is its handmaiden and also one of its more powerful weapons. When that is combined with the powerlessness and frustration that is the unfortunate lot of ordinary people under capitalism, it is hardly surprising that so many are sucked in to giving credence to those who blame the ills of the system on racial or religious differences.

Those who are visibly “different” make a very convenient target for right-wing rabble rousers to point to in their efforts to divert popular attention away from real issues like de-industrialisation by capitalists whose pursuit of greater profits means they happily close down entire industries, throw whole cities out of work, while they shift production to low wage countries where they can extract greater surplus value from making the same object.

Hitler is usually held up as the epitome of the “hate-speech” maker, but there were and are many others. Anti-Semitism did not originate with Hitler. It was widespread among the upper classes in Britain and France in the 19th century. In Tsarist Russia there were frequent deadly pogroms against the Jews. It is no accident that so many of the immigrants who sought refuge in the USA before the First World War were Jewish.

After WW1, Clerical-Fascist Hungary continued the practice of using the Jewish minority as a scapegoat for the economic and social ills besetting society. Hitler merely adopted a tactic already tested elsewhere.

Capitalists have a permanent problem: if they come clean and admit to the people that as a system Capitalism exhausted its progressive phase (when it was taking over from feudalism) a couple of hundred years ago and that since then it has been nothing more than a drag on human progress, they are unlikely to emerge well from the ensuing bunfight. So instead they lie.

And finding scapegoats is still their preferred type of lie. You can sympathise in a way with bourgeois politicians: beating the racist drum or the anti-Muslim drum is a much easier thing to do than to try to analyse and explain to people the complexities of modern capitalist society. Especially when, if you did explain it, you would be the one who would come out with egg – or worse – all over your face!

So right-wingers spend a lot of their time (and money, let’s not forget that vital ingredient) fostering, feeding, financing and generally promoting that most useful diversionary tool, racism. Laws intended to safeguard people from racist abuse are howled down as limiting “free speech”, as somehow curbing democracy itself.

In Germany recently, Facebook informed the government that it is deleting about 15,000 posts every month because they breech the company’s guidelines on “hate speech”. Worldwide, according to vice president Richard Allan, Facebook deleted about 66,000 posts per week, over the last two months, for the same reason.

In the Australian Parliament, the Federal Attorney-General has lined up with those who would weaken our laws against racial vilification. On the grounds of “safeguarding democratic rights”, of course.

Free speech, like everything else, is a class question. Workers have a right – and a necessity – to be able to criticise capitalist (i.e. anti-worker) governments. Capitalists do not have a “right” to try to destabilise and overthrow a pro-worker government. Nor do they have a right to own all the daily newspapers and the TV and radio stations with which to propagandise their destabilisation message. If that seems unfair, it is because you are looking at it from the class standpoint of the bosses.

Try putting yourself in the position of the exploited workers. The reasoning becomes simple: if it is in the interests of the workers it is good, and is it is against their interests it is bad. “Simples!”, to borrow a slogan from those capitalist ads featuring a meerkat.

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