14. Racial Oppression

Working people of minority social groups in Britain continue to face official and unofficial forms of discrimination in their social and economic life.

The forms of oppression and the significance for our struggle also depend upon the context. For example, in Britain, British Black and British South Asian groups make up 3.4% and 6.8% of the population of the UK – 2.2 and 4.4 million people respectively.

For example, according to the last census, London has a combined population of over 25% Black and South Asian people.

By far, these are the most significant minority groups, but despite the British capitalist state’s condemnations of racism and declarations of “equality of opportunity”, the youth of these groups continue to face racism and localised issues such as police violence and murder.

On average, Black people and other minorities have less job and educational opportunities and constitute more of the prison population, harassment and death by police. The capitalist state and media often criminalise social minorities.

Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, followed by Black African and Black Caribbean communities, are the most likely to be in persistent poverty. Substandard housing, homelessness, unemployment and low wages all disproportionately affect these minorities.

This is not to underestimate the oppression and discrimination faced by other social minorities, and how these differ. For example, the religious spaces of British Muslims, Jews and other religious groups are attacked. Eastern European, non-white and other immigrants face xenophobic propaganda and racist border controls. Refugees face arbitrary and inhumane treatment. Racism towards Irish people.

The way of life of Gypsies and Travellers continues to be criminalised. As of 2020, the Government proposes to criminalise their encampments, or increase evictions, even though 65% of police consulted said that the lack of sites was the real problem.

As well as institutional and legal forms of oppression and discrimination, the far right (racist and fascist oriented organisations) increasingly attempt to organise and persecute these social groups, pushing the propaganda of divide and conquer on behalf of the capitalist system.

This is not only about capitalist exploitation, but also about the highest stage of capitalism, imperialism, in which highly developed monopoly capitalism in nations such as Britain has expanded beyond its borders and dominated other nations.

Pseudo-scientific and other racist propaganda justified colonial exploitation during the periods of the British Empire and neo-colonialism in South Africa. Pseudo-humanitarian and other propaganda (in the end, seeking to rule over these nations) justifies neo-colonialism and imperialist interventions today, in Africa and the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere.

In the struggle against capitalism, for Socialism and for the liberation of all working people, this means intersectionality of these diverse struggles against capitalist exploitation, oppression and discrimination, and the issues that face minorities in Britain.

Intersectionality in the Communist tradition means understanding and joining up the diverse struggles of different social groups on the basis of working class struggle. Intersectionality means solidarity between these groups of workers.

This also means linking these struggles to working class internationalism and anti-imperialist solidarity, since understanding imperialism means understanding and exterminating the roots of racism and fascism.

For example, the exploitative free movement of labour under the European Union that tries to compete worker against worker for profit, or the plight of Syrian refugees whose homes have been destroyed by imperialist intervention in their nation.

“Intersectionality” that attempts to “unite the people of Europe” or “unite British and EU workers” on an explicitly pro-European Union basis, for example, is not real solidarity, because the European Union is a reactionary and imperialist institution that in fact perpetuates our situation of oppression and exploitation.

This also means the development of a strong theory behind Anti-Racist and Anti-Fascist (ARAF) campaign work and understanding the differences between racism and fascism as we combat them.

The YCL and the labour and progressive movements have an incredibly rich tradition of theory and practice, from the Communist Party’s ARAF Commission and Communists like Claudia Jones, Billy Strachan, Tony Gilbert, Kay Beauchamp, Richard Hart, Peter Blackman, Winston Pinder and the London Recruits, as well as organisations such as the Indian Workers Association, Bangladeshi Workers Council and the Movement for Colonial Freedom (MCF), now called Liberation.

Communists like Beauchamp and the MCF argued that the concept of “race” was originally a racialist concept. Race can also be considered a social construct that many people use, including in the labour and progressive movements, referring to “Black and Minority Ethnic”. Similarly, the concept of “ethnicity” combines racial, religious and other factors to constitute a definite category of people that is un-Marxist.

Historically in Britain, “Black” as a left-wing political term referred to all non-white people who had a shared experience of racism, occupation and violence. This intended to be inclusive but was also problematic for those who did not identify as Black.

Should our approach towards Black workers be the same as towards Eastern European workers? Can we consider Gypsies and Travellers “white” and therefore non-oppressed?

These questions expose the problematic nature of neat categorisations.

As such, it is important that we make the case for the Communist, intersectional understanding and approach towards race and nationality. Beauchamp argued that the labour and progressive movements ought to adopt the view that there is “one race, the human race”.

We must respect cultural, national and social differences while rejecting the ideology of divide and rule and language that is immaterial and potentially divisive, and fight for the rights of the working class and all its oppressed sections.

National rights

These intersectional struggles must be linked to the Marxist understandings of “race”, “ethnicity” and nation, which have been developed by the world Communist movement.

Lenin wrote that in the Russian Empire, the different national capitalist classes “sacrificed the freedom of nations and democracy for the interests of capitalist expansion”. As such, the struggle for the liberation of the working classes of different and oppressed nations must also be linked up with the struggles for democratic and national rights.

Marxism and the National Question defines nation as “a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture”. As such, England, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall are nations, while Britain is also a nation.

The nation is a historical category that belongs to the era of capitalism developing from feudalism. This era constituted different groups of people into nations and nation states for the first time. National capitalist classes triumphed over disunited and multi-national feudal constituencies.

When it comes to national rights, the foremost struggle is for equal rights for all nations and the prohibition of all kinds of privileges or restrictions on different nations. In addition, Communists consider that nations tend to include national and social minorities and their development never stands still, meaning that it is illogical to narrowly define national groups.

For this reason, Communists struggle to build Socialism within a geographical nation that might include many different national or social groups, with democratic rights and equality for all within it. This theoretical perspective therefore informs our struggles for the social rights of different minorities in Britain who speak different languages, adhere to different religions and so on within our respective “multi-ethnic” nations.

Finally, Dimitrov argued that in the struggle against the growth of fascism, the ideological component of this struggle must develop positions on the national psychology, opposing the way in which fascists attempt to falsify it, chauvinism being their “main instrument of ideological influence upon the masses”.

Communists must link up our current struggles with the correct conception of our nations and cultures, its working class, its progressive and revolutionary traditions, not forgetting to link this with the international context of working class struggle and the more recent “multi-ethnic” development of our nation.

Working class internationalism and anti-imperialist solidarity with all people abroad goes hand in hand with organising to defeat racism and fascism at home.

The overthrowal of the capitalist system and the building of Socialism means the liberation of all Britain’s working people and the saving of their cultures and ways of life from the increasingly transnational and destructive forces of monopoly capitalism, already demonstrated in the effects of “neoliberalism” on our communities.