It was with interest that I read Paul Demarty’s article, ‘Anti-racism as a straitjacket’ (April 1) - a particularly cogent contribution on the subject - and I thought that I might share my own understanding of the matter from the Marxist perspective of historical materialism.
‘Anti-racism’ is a bourgeois ideology. As Marxists we understand that ideology as such is a reflection of the economic base, according to its present stage of development. The economic base is capitalist, bourgeois, and therefore the ideological forms are presently bourgeois too. The economic base gives rise to property and social relations and ideology reflects those. Thus law and morality, and even religious and quasi-religious ideas, reflect the relations that are rooted in the developing economic base.
Thus ideology is historical, not timeless, and it takes its character and its social ‘meaning’ from the time that gives rise to it. Social and moral ideas do not exist in some timeless realm and neither are they unchangeable. The real world is a flux, ever-changing, and ideas change to reflect changes in the real world. The economy changes, property relations and social relations change and ideas change with them. Ideology, as political and moral ideas, changes to reflect developments in economic and political society.
Thus in feudal times, ideology reflected the feudal economic base, and ideas were about hierarchy, divine ordination, social stratification and ‘duty’ - a caste society. As Michael Roberts’ article, ‘Capitalism and labour productivity’ (April 1), made clear, technological development allowed for the emergence of the bourgeoisie in England, and they then took over the aristocratic state and made it the bourgeois state to represent their own economic and political interests. Bourgeois ideology - the opposite values of personal liberty and social mobility - became more prominent and politically dominant to reflect the bourgeois economic base.
Similarly, the bourgeois state was ‘racist’ during the imperialist and colonial period. It is important to understand that ‘racism’ is a state ideology that reflected the interests of the bourgeoisie in the days of imperialism and colonialism. It is not an ideology that exists in separation from the economic base of the time. That traces of the ideology remain is neither here nor there - even some feudal ideas survive among traditional religionists, but they are still part of an ideology that is rooted in the feudal economic base. ‘Racism’ is not an ideology of individuals, but of the bourgeois state - even if some remnants of that ideology have been transmitted through generations since imperialist times. It is the bourgeois state that is ‘racist’/‘anti-racist’, not individuals.
The British bourgeois state was ‘racist’ back in imperialist and colonial times because it suited the interests of organised British capital. The conquest, occupation and rule of other lands allowed the British bourgeoisie to make use of the raw materials, labour forces and protected markets for its goods. It allowed the bourgeois state to accumulate capital to fund the industrial revolution and to expand organised British capital. ‘Racism’ is an ideology that reflected that stage of capitalist development and the needs of organised capital back then. It is an ideology that helped to ‘justify’ imperialist, bourgeois rule and exploitation.
The British state, and other imperialist powers, lost their colonies after World War II. The British state was financially bust and it could no longer afford to maintain the empire. It blew its share of the US Marshall Funds on an attempt to maintain the empire, while continental countries invested their share in modernisation of the economy. British capital fell behind the continent by the late 1950s and it never recovered its international competitiveness, which led to relative economic decline in the second half of the 20th century. The post-war attempt to maintain the empire is a large part of the reason why Britain was so run down from then on.
Material conditions are now changed. The British state no longer has colonies, with their workforces, materials and protected markets. The expansion of organised British capital now depends on an influx of workers to expand the domestic labour force, and that has been the pattern since the 1950s. Moreover, productivity growth in the UK, like in all ‘mature’ capitalist economies, has declined toward zero since the 1970s and now depends all the more on labour expansion. The capitalist state - organised British capital - now depends on an expanded labour force for the very survival of its profit- and growth-based capitalist economy.
So the historical conditions of British capital have now changed, and it is ‘anti-racism’ that now suits the bourgeois state, as it ‘justifies’ and reinforces the expansion of the domestic labour force so that this land can continue to be dominated and exploited for the continuation of capitalism. The ‘racist’ bourgeois state has become the ‘anti-racist’ bourgeois state. As Marxists, we are not that surprised that things turn into their opposite - it is exactly the sort of thing that we would expect from a dialectical, historical-materialist interpretation of ideology and of the world in general. So, ‘racism’ and ‘anti-racism’ may appear to be opposites, but they are essentially the same thing - bourgeois state ideology that reflects the historical material conditions and the needs and interests of the bourgeois state and of organised capital in its development.
Organised British capital now relies entirely on the expansion of the labour force to grow GDP, make profits, pay the shareholders, and to keep the entire capitalist economy and system ticking over. Moreover, domestic fertility rates have fallen, as material and social conditions have improved, infant mortality has collapsed and health and life expectancy have improved. The labour force would actually be shrinking, let alone growing, without expansion from outside. ‘Anti-racism’ is now the name of the game for the bourgeois state.
The British bourgeois state is 100% ‘anti-racist’ today, just as it was 100% ‘racist’ back in imperialist times. The BBC was set up by ‘racists’ and imperialists to maintain morale and domination in the empire and to encourage the locals to submit to bourgeois state rule, but now the BBC is entirely given to the promotion of ‘anti-racism’. So, ironically, people who are given to ‘anti-racist’ activism in this day and age are doing the bourgeois state and organised British capital a massive favour. They have largely absorbed their values from the bourgeois society in which they were socialised, just as British subjects used to absorb ‘racism’ from their society. People largely get their ideas and values from the society in which they live, and those ideas and values largely reflect the social relations and economic needs of that society in its particular stage of development. So, ironically, ‘anti-racism’ is not ‘revolutionary’: rather it is ‘conservative’ in dialectical terms, as it maintains the deeper status quo.
‘Anti-racism’ is currently not even ‘leftwing’, let alone Marxist. ‘Leftists’ have largely absorbed their values from the bourgeois society in which they have been socialised. The focus on ‘anti-racism’ among ‘Marxists’ reflects the ‘downturn’ in working class activism and a forlorn turn to ‘front groups’, ‘issue platforms’ and ‘popular fronts’. It reflects a defeatism within working class politics. It is fake ‘revolutionary’ activity, even a diversion from the real issue. Which is: capitalism is no longer a progressive economic system that is able to develop the quality of the means of production or to improve living standards. Capitalism can no longer profitably implement new technologies, and it has run its course. Now is the time for socialism to take over. Capitalism has developed the productive means, such as to make socialism possible. Marxists need to take a good look at why they fail to argue better for a socialist society, when capitalism has already hit its limits. Maybe some focus is needed?
And only then, once socialism has become a reality, can ‘anti-racism’ become something other than a bourgeois ideology. Just as the bourgeois state can change from ‘racism’ to ‘anti-racism’, so can ‘anti-racism’ change from being a bourgeois ideology to a proletarian ideology. But we can only have proletarian ideologies once we have achieved a socialist economic base with socialist property relations and social relations. Only once ideology reflects proletarian needs and interests, not bourgeois needs and interests, due to a socialisation of the economic base, can ‘anti-racism’ become a societal ideology that is rooted in a material reality of socialism and thus a socialist ideology. The horse has to be put before the cart. The real world must be the foundation of the ‘meaning’ of ideas.
Until then, ‘anti-racism’ is merely ‘do-gooding’ - there is nothing ‘wrong’ with that, but it is essentially a bourgeois societal ideology that is ordered to bourgeois economic and political interests. Revolution has to come first, and only that will alter the character not only of economic society, but of societal ideology too. Only then can ‘anti-racist’ activism amount to anything but doing organised British capital a massive favour and ‘good doing’.
It is just sad that some groups see such ‘activism’ as a substitute due to a defeatist historical view of working class political potential. Marxists need an activism that is focused on the historical situation today and a renewed confidence. Workers of the world, unite - but to overthrow capitalism, not to posture with the latest fashionable bourgeois values, as if looking like a ‘good’ person is the point of Marxist activism.
I am in the process of catching up on a backlog of reading and made a point of reading Jack Conrad’s three articles on the Communist Party programme (‘The importance of being programmed’, May 7, 14 and 21 2020). They are, as always, extremely good, very informative and educational, and I agree with most of their content.
Unfortunately the first article appeared to contain a bit of a howler (or a bit of a mystery). In describing the composition of the Weekly Worker group’s Draft programme, Jack states: “From our minimum demands we move on to the character of the British revolution and the position of the various classes and strata.” Earlier Jack describes the character of the socialist revolution in this way: “The working class smashes the old state machine of the bourgeoisie, constitutes itself the ruling class and begins the transition to the communist mode of production.”
Yes I agree, but the only trouble is the WWG’s Draft programme says absolutely nothing whatsoever about the actual “character of the socialist revolution” and the second quote is nowhere to be seen in the Draft programme. Instead, the Draft programme moves seamlessly from discussion of the role of the middle class to the working class (or workers’ state) constitution, which presumably is established following the socialist revolution. It is almost as if “the actual character of the socialist revolution” was omitted accidentally from the Draft programme.
The WWG clearly has a view on the “character of the socialist revolution”, as summed up in Jack’s second quote, so why is it not in the Draft programme? This is a genuine question.
I would agree we should not and cannot try to predict or prescribe in advance how the socialist revolution will actually unfold in the UK, and across Europe. That would be ridiculous and nonsensical, given where we are now. But the second quote would not do that; it would simply state the universal principles applicable to any and all socialist revolutions if they are to be successful, and demarcates the communists from the reformists and the anarchists equally.
A small amount of explanatory text might be beneficial to explain the second quote a little further - as to why it is the Marxist view that the capitalist state must be overthrown and destroyed (as opposed to being reformed or transformed) and why it then needs to be replaced by another type of state, the working class state: for the first time in history the state of the majority.
But I am genuinely puzzled as to why there is no discussion of the expected and required character of the actual socialist revolution itself in the Draft programme.
The Rebel Town Festival, including the fifth annual commemoration of events in Jarrow in the 1830s, will take place on Saturday July 3.
The history of working class resistance in Jarrow is world-famous - from the bitter struggles of the great northern coalfield of 1830s through the Jarrow Crusade and the great miners’, shipyard and engineering struggles of the 20th century.
In the bitter fight to establish the first miner’s union under Tommy Hepburn, for a reduction in hours of work miners and their wives fought hussars and armed police, were shot, hung, gibbeted, deported and evicted. In 1831 John Stewart, John Barker, Benjamin Stephenson, Thomas Armstrong, John Smith, Isaac Ecclestone and David Johnson were tried and sentenced to penal servitude for life and sent to New South Wales, Australia, on charges of house breaking. Five of the young men admitted that they had begged for food because they were starving, but strenuously denied the other charges, which the police made no attempt to prove. But evidence was given that the seven had been at strike meetings. This they admitted and declared that they were members of the union.
The Jarrow Crusade saw a determined, united town send its marchers to London to protest the government legislation, which closed Palmers and left the town with 90% male unemployment and unparalleled poverty.
Jarrow and Hebburn mines closed in the late 1930s, though the town’s miners worked on in Boldon, Wardley and Follonsby, Westoe and Wearmouth, taking part in the major national strikes in 1972 and the 1974 defeat of Heath’s Tory government. The most bitter resistance was the year-long struggle in 1984-85 and its sequel in 1992-93.
At the end of all this the heart was ripped out of industrial Tyneside - but not its soul, which still burns with rebellion, and a vision of a better world.
David John Douglass
Weekly Worker readers will be aware that there was only one news story at the beginning of the week (and, of course, it’s still a major item) - and that is: ‘Old man dies: a nation mourns’. Well, a large part of the nation mourned (apparently) - at least if you look at the coverage in the mainstream press. Even the most ‘left’ mainstream daily, The Guardian, devoted the first 13 pages and an editorial of its Saturday edition to the passing of an era.
But such bad timing: it was halfway between the CPGB’s ‘Week in politics’ in our online Communist Forums (and too late for a black border on the Weekly Worker) and two months short of the congratulatory telegram from his spouse. His family will no doubt miss him, but he had a ‘good innings’, while, of course there are many millions around the world who haven’t - including a good few in the UK, who would have survived for many more years if they’d had his level of care.
There was less adulation than expected, apparently, over the BBC’s coverage and a record number of complaints for the round-the-clock eulogy. The BBC was no doubt running scared: too little and they might lose funding from an angry government; too much and they might lose viewers. No contest - follow the money. Commercial stations were in no such quandary - viewers mean advertising revenue (though I do wonder about ITV - some licensing fears perhaps?). Boris Johnson will no doubt have been joining the millions watching Gogglebox on Channel 4, while his staff were putting his flags to half-mast.
I don’t know, but there does seem to be a fall in national worship here. Royalty has been a long-time mainstay of the bourgeoisie - part of the mythology assisting the supporting role of nationalism in pretending that we’re all in it together. It’s also needed for the royal prerogative - to pick prime ministers if necessary and even, if notice is short, to start wars.
The ruling class won’t want to lose a weapon like that, so the royal family will have to come back with a booster. A wedding perhaps (but who is there left to get married)?
As reluctant as I am to contradict Ian Birchall, who taught me so well as an undergraduate in the mid-80s, I must take issue with his claim that the Posadists’ vision relied on a Soviet pre-emptive nuclear strike (Letters, March 25).
These were by far my favourite of the 57 varieties of Trotskyism on offer at the time and I recall that everyone was deeply impressed by their theory that an invasion of extraterrestrials - who by virtue of their greater technological skill, must logically be more advanced socially - would impose a sort of socialist/communist space colony on earth.
‘Viva Salyut 7!’, as we used to cry.
Free him now
Ali Osman Köse is a political prisoner who fights for the freedom of the people of Turkey. He was imprisoned in the struggle for an independent, democratic and socialist country and has spent 37 of his 65 years in captivity. His imprisonment began in September 1980 during the rule of the junta backed by the USA.
There have been many repressive operations in Turkish prisons, the most significant being the so-called ‘Return to Life’ in December 2000 - conducted against political prisoners and the great resistance against the isolation regime, which resulted in the massacre of 28 of them.
Ali Osman Köse has been in isolation cells since 2000. As a result, his health further deteriorated and he could not be left alone. He cannot stand or walk, wash or even eat unaided. The Forensic Medicine Institute has claimed that despite this he can continue to be held in prison - and despite the fact that there is a 9cm cancerous mass in his kidney. Yet proper treatment is being deliberately prevented.
In addition, his memory problems mean that he does not remember to take his medications, and he also has hearing, vision and blood pressure problems. All this means he needs constant help, but the prison environment only aggravates his condition.
We demand his immediate release.