“We don’t think you fight fire with fire best ; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism. We’re stood up and said we’re not going to fight reactionary pigs and reactionary state’s attorneys like this and reactionary state’s attorneys like Hanrahan with any other reactions on our part. We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.” Fred Hampton
Race, Class, Identity – Socialism
Debates occurring around the above topics are endless and most of them take the format of 140 character statuses on Twitter. How much political analysis you can put into 140 characters is or how much you can gleam from that and draw a conclusion goes beyond my comprehension.
Every revolutionary in their time however has made the same unequivocal political conclusion: class contradictions are the key contradiction in the current point of historical development of society. That is to say that the main driving locomotive of social relations and the differences that arise are between those that constitute the ruling class of capitalists who own all and the toiling and labouring class of the working class that produce all of the wealth and have it stolen from them.
This does not mean that other contradictions do not exist. This does not mean that other contradictions are ‘less important’, it does not undermine nor does it delegate them anywhere. All it means is that, as scientific socialists we have to establish first and foremost the overarching arena of struggle. Or to summarize it in the words of Karl Marx: “The history of all hithertho existing society is the history of class struggle”. We call this analysis and how we conclude it historical materialism, it is one tool used by Communists to understand human development.
On the subject of race, we see that the colonial world of the West, utilized race theory i.e white supremacy to quantify slavery. Their approach was that they ‘deserved’ to colonize and hyper exploit other people because they were inferior. A similar approach was taken by the Roman Empire which brought ‘civilization’ and a similar approach is taken today by the Western Axis in their pursuit of spreading ‘Western values’. Racism is a product of colonialism, capitalism and imperialism, it exists as something that underpins the capitalist mode of production and justifies it. It justifies the disproportionate incarceration of people who are black in the US or the UK. It justifies this ‘African gang’ rhetoric in Ireland. It justifies the ‘black on black’ violence nonsense peddled in the UK, that avoids any nuanced explanation of the link between poverty and criminality. Does this mean racism doesn’t exist among working class communities of white people? Of course it doesn’t and nobody denies that to be the case. In fact it’s entrenched in various working class communities.
If it is entrenched, how do we uproot and overcome it? If it is a product of capitalism, how do we formulate our strategy to overcome socialised differences between various ethnic groups? It’s also worth commenting on the fact that in my time as a union organiser, the most amount of racism I’ve seen is on the shop floor where X nationality won’t have anything to do with Y nationality. Put your union organiser cap on, how would you deal with that? Would you shout racist or write an angry 140 character tweet for the adoration of fellow Twitter users? Of course you wouldn’t do any of the above because they wouldn’t a) overcome the racist views some people have and b) provide a long term solution for members of your class.
We fight racism with solidarity and a common cause against a common enemy. The primary benefactor of ethnic tension is who? It ain’t the worker or the tenant. A big grain of thought among the Black Liberation movement, championed by the Nation of Islam was that Black people should be given two states and left to manage their own affairs under a capitalist mode of production. This unravelled at the end of the day and figures such as Malcolm X distanced themselves from that view and ultimately also acknowledging that capitalism was the root of all conflict. The experience that framed his view was a trip to Saudi Arabia, where white people, fellow Muslims, were not racist towards him – he quickly drew the conclusion that ‘white identity’ was reflective of other factors other than skin colour and that the race question in America was a distinctly Anglo-American, imperialist phenomenon rather than a universal one, that is to say that racism was part of the American system, rather than that racism was an instinctive characteristic of people that were white. Another contemporary offered the exact same correct analysis by commenting that the “evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism”, Martin Luther King Jr.
In fact, we should actually instructively take the experiences of monumental figures such as Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton and others in how they formulated the organisation of the black liberation movement. At first, they advocated for black owned businesses and black capitalism and then they got them. What was the next hurdle to overcome? Well, black employers were still exploitative of black employees even without the race dynamic. The dialectical contradiction that resolved itself here was the overcoming of those social relations that lend themselves to such an exploitative relationship. The solution was socialism and the collective ownership of the enterprise, it’s social, economic and political ownership. Look at the Fred Hampton quote at the beginning of this essay again – that’s the conclusion, that’s the solution.
Racial politics take a multitude of dynamics in contemporary Ireland, but they aren’t as pronounced for a variety of reasons. Ireland was a colony, rather than an imperial state. Ireland is still a colony. The dynamics behind anti migrant rhetoric are two fold.
1. The refusal of the left to deal with the question in any coherent form or explain its politics i.e shouting about having no borders and letting everybody in isn’t an explanation of a highly complex issue, neither is it a Communist analysis.
2. The failure of the left and trade unions to involve the migrant community.
3. Irish liberals pretend there are no issues of discrimination in Ireland.
The backdrop to this is rather simple: Ireland is under the triple lock of imperialism of the EU, the US and the UK. It’s economy is mostly a service based economy that requires highly qualified professionals and an army of menial labourers. Young people who end up with degrees tend to be attracted to higher paying jobs in the major hubs of finance capital in the West and where they have connections, so they migrate. People from backgrounds where it’s less likely to obtain a degree, i.e more deprived socio-economic backgrounds tend to stay and fill the menial labour positions, however the service sector and hospitality sector also highly depend upon migrant workers coming in to fill those poorly paid and physically taxing roles. That’s not to say that’s how things are, this is a general assessment and dynamic I’ve observed.
How does racism brew? Well it brews in the absence of solidarity among workers and inter-ethnic competition on the basis of artificial scarcity of wages and jobs. There’s plenty of jobs, plenty of resources – the capitalists withhold it and blame the Romanian worker instead. We fight that by organising, both demographics, together, against their common foe. What is interesting is that the likes of Gemma O’Doherty or the Gran Torino frauds have positioned themselves to try to appeal to those disenfranchised with migrants, Islam and so on – the left has almost bought into that by refusing to participate in the discourse and obtain a practical resolution to it via organising. They simply ceded ground. Not good enough.
We don’t fight it by calling the Irish workers racist, that’s for sure – that might float on campus but in the real world it’s nonsense.
The trade unions and the left don’t offer the necessary network of support or solidarity that they may have once before but this is more reflective of the general lazy, advocate based direction that the union movement has adopted rather than a concrete individualized issue. They’re not reaching out to Irish workers either, never mind migrant workers! That’s a problem that has to be resolved by the next generation of young activists. If one fifth of all workers are migrant workers then we need to be supporting them and helping them get organised in their workplace, alongside their fellow workers.
It’s worth reminding you, the reader – that the ultimate benefactor of any splitting of the workers and tenants is the boss or the landlord. They’re also aware of that. I’ve seen factory floors where the boss will promote a Polish person to a supervisor position because they know the Romanian workers dislike them and utilize it. Organise, organise, organise.
On the question of the border, it’s not really all that complicated but it seems to have become complicated. The concept of open borders is an ideal we can strive for in a Communist society where no capitalist states exist that seek to reproduce capitalist relations. We don’t live in that world. We live in the world where the first thing that happens to any nascent revolutionary movement is the Yankee imperialists intervene with all manner of sabotage and agents. We are going to have to defend our borders not because we want to stop people in from coming in or offering save haven, but because we’re subverting the interests of the greatest Empire on Earth, just like our Cuban friends have, and just like them we’ll come under immense military threat and pressure.
As for migration? A socialist republic that can consolidate its gains will probably be able to easily take on more people coming here than the small amount we do now. It’ll be able to integrate them properly and maximize the many multitude of skills people bring. It’s phenomenal how many highly qualified migrants there are in Ireland, cleaning toilets or working factory jobs. There isn’t anything wrong with those two things, but the market needs labour, it doesn’t care about the human cost, we Communists do care for it.
I reject the nonsensical shout for ‘open borders’ in the 21st century, right next to the British imperialist state and a stones drop from the United States. We’ll get squashed if the people are not organised and militant. We must also understand the role that a border plays and what role migration plays for the capitalist class. When Eastern European and Balkan countries were acceded into the EU, there was a few purposes to this, but one of them was for cheaper, more obedient labourers which would be less wage competitive. It was cheaper for the capitalist class in the West to import labour, which would largely pay its own way and come work for wages that were markedly higher than in their home country. How does this relate to borders?
The EU is built on four principles: the freedom of movement of goods, people, services, and capital over borders. What this in fact translates to is total domination of people, services and capital by EU institutions. This domination has to be ruptured. It can be ruptured in two ways: We can seek an all European referendum that will have every single EU member state agree, alternatively, we can seek a departure from the EU and rebuild our relations as a sovereignty, independent nation with control over its own currency, foreign policy and borders.
The discussion about borders and their freedom has been absolutely dominated by liberal commentators and not Marxists. It has pervaded into the territory of one declaring that a socialist workers republic controlling its own national territory and borders as somehow ‘racist’. This is a trope and nothing more. A Socialist Workers Republic will likely be able to facilitate significantly more migrants by virtue of having redistributed existing resources. It will likely be able to integrate them significantly better as opposed to ghettoizing them the way current structures do and it’ll certainly not lock people up in direct provision centers.
This ties neatly into one of the most dominant discursive points in the English speaking world. You’ll note I say English speaking. Why is that? It’s rather interesting but the frequency which the questions of gender and identity are raised is significantly greater among Anglo-American influenced countries than other non-English speaking countries. I’m not entirely sure why that is either to be honest so I’m not going to speculate, just an observation.
Gender and the struggle for civil rights has been on-going. Why? Because those rights aren’t afforded to people and homophobia and transphobia are socialised elements of the society we live in. Because trans people do suffer horribly more and are treated worse and there is a gross injustice there that has to be supported and fought for. It is the role of the Communist movement to offer a scientific analysis of gender within the context of the world we live in and human development. Is contemporary gender theory very much a Christian, Western construct?
The Chairperson of the CYM wrote an article titled: ‘The Empire of Gender’ for Issue #26 of Forward, you can read it here: https://www.cym.ie/2019/01/20/the-empire-of-gender/ . In this, Comrade O’Connor argues that gender duality was part of the imperialist project of ‘bringing civilization’ and that many of the peoples that the colonial and imperial powers destroyed had totally different social structures in their society that extended beyond the biblical conceptualization of gender relations. This analysis seems to me, to be the correct beginning point of any discussion on identity or gender and is often overlooked.
It is safe to say that before Communist women like Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai began to make a dent on liberal feminism, we are in an equally difficult position where the majority of discourse on identity and gender is completely dominated by a liberal outset. While the very correct criticisms come from the dominant discursive group of liberal activists and thinkers, the conclusions distort and undermine any long lasting solutions. Call out culture and Twitter Tribunals seem to have replaced deep organising and struggling to change minds with destroying people for having underdeveloped or different opinions.
I totally reject the idea that the mob mentality that continues to exist on the internet is a healthy exercise of political activism. It is one of the most disgusting and damaging things to come into existence and one that polarises, rather than educates people. I myself come from a homophobic background. I didn’t understand trans issues, I did not understand gender and I certainly drifted into the field of ‘toxic masculinity’. If somebody came to me at that time and called me any of the things people call each other today, I would have told them to fuck off. Instead, I was educated by comrades who, understanding my limitations and lack of knowledge guided me with suggested readings and challenges to my political view. In this I must thank Comrade Ben Kingston who helped a lot to challenge the narrow views I was socialised into it. That’s really my point – we have to educate our class, not segregate ourselves from it and disembowel it on Twitter. Fuck Twitter.
Here is where we come to the term ‘intersectionality’. It seems to mean different things to different people – so I’ll outline precisely what it means to me. It’s the linking of all the variety of issues that each specific demographic faces into one common struggle against capitalism, orientated around the overarching contradiction of class. It’s not exclusive of those issues, I’d argue it’s inclusive of those issues but it must include economy inequality and class to actually provide long lasting solutions. It has to be both, or neither. It can’t be one or the other. If we take a quick look at Socialist countries, gender norms, misogyny, discrimination and a pile of other problems existed there. Some of them were more aware and in tune with these social issues and made an effort to resolve them, utilizing the fact that the working class had economic power and could actually yield material changes. Cuba was once considered homophobic, now it’s a leading light in this area. Fidel Castro openly admitted to homophobia and the concept of machismo, I say good! He learned, developed and advanced his political understanding of the world for the better.
It is to the benefit of the capitalist class to see all of us divided along ethnic or gender lines. The task of Communists is not to act like immature reprobates denouncing all on the left, right and center – but to offer a concrete material analysis of society, link it to short term struggles and interventions and resolve them. We fight disunity by creating unity. We fight discrimination by fighting for the advancement of current rights and expounding upon them.
The terms ‘civil rights’ or ‘human rights’ are often used. Why? Language as a tool is really important in all discussion. Civil rights/human rights are the contemporary terms to use when talking about the discriminatory practices against the LGBTQIA community, because it’s their civil rights, as people that are being restricted in comparison to other people. We have to make that discussion and change our language – if society treats people as second citizens then they need those civil rights won for them and we can’t stand atop old prejudices denying them. This discussion however is led by bourgeois human rights proponents who use bourgeois morality to frame the discussion.
The limitations of ‘human’ or ‘civil rights’ not only within the framework of what a social democracy can deliver, but also of the individualization of the concept. A right in a capitalist society is given to capitalists, by framing our methodology of obtaining rights we struggle within the confines outlined as opposed to a total reconstruction of our understanding of rights and their meaningful and very real relationship to the means of production and exchange.
Our struggle is for shifting power politically and economically to the working class. Of course you can distinguish demands that are short term and long term but remember that language is an ever important tool.
Instead of quoting Fred Hampton we should be doing the work the Black Panther Party did. Liberating our people, politicizing them on the issues that impact them and creating a link and a chain of those issues to explain the capitalist mode of production and how it benefits and reproduces that discrimination and hatred. What the left is doing today is consolidating those differences by refusing to address the underlying causes of these problems and how they come about. 140 character campaigns, led by people who do nothing for anybody are the main method of “changing the world”.
I can say with certainty that fighting to get the rent lowered, or organising a rent strike or getting a wage increase will benefit everybody irrespective of their gender or sexuality and won’t discriminate against any of them on those grounds either. I can say safely that the greatest ally to marginalized communities is an organised working class that can take them in. Moving away from liberal discourse is the first step, but the most important step is to actually go out and ORGANISE.
Raise the red flag high and be proud of it, it stands for the blood of the working class, it is our flag and represents the myriad of issues that the working class faces. Discrimination, racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, harassment, and so on. It is the banner of liberation for us all, because when we run the industries, the airlines, the financial institutions, the ship yards and much more, the differences that are accentuated now can be much better resolved under the banner of Socialism and Communism.
“The day has passed for patching up the capitalist system; it must go. And in the work of abolishing it the Catholic and the Protestant, the Catholic and the Jew, the Catholic and the Freethinker, the Catholic and the Buddhist, the Catholic and the Mahometan will co-operate together, knowing no rivalry but the rivalry of endeavour toward an end beneficial to all. For, as we have said elsewhere, socialism is neither Protestant nor Catholic, Christian nor Freethinker, Buddhist, Mahometan, nor Jew; it is only Human. We of the socialist working class realise that as we suffer together we must work together that we may enjoy together. We reject the firebrand of capitalist warfare and offer you the olive leaf of brotherhood and justice to and for all. “ James Connolly
With thanks to Fergal Twomey for input and a look over.