Anti-racism charter calls for state bans

ORGANISED by the Tower Hamlets Anti-Racist Committee, the national assembly against racism held in London’s East End last weekend was addressed by an array of establishment speakers, as well as local ethnic and community leaders, and families of victims of racist violence.

Although a detailed anti-racist charter was distributed, no serious discussion of its contents took place, as only half an hour was set aside for contributions from the floor. Among those reminding delegates of the evils of racism were John Monks, the TUC general secretary, and various Labour MPs and MEPs, including Diane Abbott and Bernie Grant.

Despite the commitment of the charter to “an agenda which centrally tackles racism at its roots”, it was hardly surprising, given the politics of these worthy ladies and gentlemen, that capitalism was not identified as the dragon to be slain.

Diane Abbott stressed the importance of challenging racism as individuals: “Name that person!” she implored us.

Kashmir Singh from the British Sikh Federation advised us not to be afraid of asking for support from unexpected sources. For example, “Lady Margaret Thatcher” had backed the successful campaign to exempt sikh motorbike riders from wearing crash helmets.

The assembly was conceived out of the internecine rows which blew the Anti-Racist Alliance apart. The dead-end of black separatism is therefore reflected in the charter, which combines the call for black leadership with appeals to the state to ban racism out of existence.

One delegate who was prepared to go beyond the platitudes of what he called “the high and mighty here this morning” was Assad Rahman of the Newham Monitoring Project. In a fighting speech from the platform he referred to the “East London shitholes” where both black and white workers are expected to live. The British National Party seems to many whites to be providing ‘answers’, however false they may be. Those conditions must be tackled, but “when the fascists come out, we have to stop them physically”.

Afterwards, I asked him what he thought should be done.

“The conditions for electing Beackon had been there for years,” he said. “The BNP learnt the lessons of the past and started to take up issues like wheely-bins. So it is not just a question of defeating racism, but of taking up the economic issues. People are turning to the BNP as a protest vote, but it is also a vote of despair.”

In the recent Newham South by-election the Newham Monitoring Project distributed leaflets simply calling on workers not to vote BNP, without suggesting an alternative. I asked Assad whether he thought this just drove people back into the arms of the Labour Party.

“I agree that Labour is seen as part of the problem in terms of these issues. Somebody has got to give these people answers and it is up to the left to provide them. Our job in the NMP is to combat racism and fascism here and now. It is up to you to offer the long-term solutions.”

But trying to defeat the BNP without organising against capitalism itself is like banging your head against a brick wall. Short-term victories can be gained, but new and more vicious dangers will continually arise if that task is not put right at the top of our agenda.

Peter Manson