Address to the Cosmo Debating Society, Nottingham, by Comrade Willmott
We have often been reproached for having a black and white case for Socialism and in the light of the recent race riots, both in London and Nottingham, we can say that from a particular standpoint—we have, and if you will permit a mild pleasantry I shall from the viewpoint of the S.P.G.B. attempt to shed some light on a rather dark subject.
To begin, it is an error to think that race prejudice is itself a black and white question. It is not The worst race riots in the British Commonwealth took place in South Africa between Indians and Negroes. That was rioting between brown and black. The worst race riots perhaps in the U.S.A. were not in the Southern States but in the north—Detroit. While the most tragic example of race prejudice in Europe, the persecution and slaughter of the Jews was man’s inhumanity to man in the form of whites’ inhumanity to whites. And who knows, the next showdown may at least in part be presented as a struggle between white and yellow, and so we arrive at the paradox that race prejudice knows no colour bar.
Now one of the myths of our times is that race feelings are somehow associated with differences in blood stock. Now scientists agree that there are different types of blood, which are enumerated as A, B and O, but whatever group the blood in the human body belongs to, is independent of race, clime, or country. A white man may belong to the same blood group as a coloured man and the white man’s own brother belong to a different blood group.
So if at any time you have to undergo a blood transfusion and perhaps unbeknown to you your blood donor is a coloured person, you will be none the wiser, and if you had colour prejudices before the transfusion you will have them after transfusion, and the coloured man’s blood inside you won’t make any bloody difference.
Even the term race has no real meaning. It is true there appear in certain human groups inherited features like woolly or straight hair, colour of skin, shape of head, and so on, but such things are found in other groups, like red hair and blue eyes, they are physical characteristics and have nothing to do with a person’s mentality. And seeing all these ethnological groups, black, brown, white, yellow, have all intermingled and got mixed up for thousands of years to look for something called race in any real sense, is like looking for a black cat in a dark room that isn’t there.
What ethnologists stress is that between the various ethnological groups there is so far as mental capacity is concerned, complete equality.
Class and Race
There are, of course, whites and coloured in the social top drawer, just as there are whites and coloured in the bottom drawer, and the whites and coloured in the top drawer have much more in common than they have with white and coloured folk in the bottom one. Those in the top drawer never indulge in race rioting with each other. Being more civilised they will often share the same exclusive hotel, or a bottle of champagne, even the same yacht Their good breeding also prevents them from being antagonistic about who’s going to fill a job vacancy or occupy a basement flat. All of which shows how one’s racial views are coloured by one’s class conditioning.
While there are social divisions among men there is no biological division. Differences in ideas and attitudes arise from differences in their socio-economic environment. A negro who has lived all his life in Stepney will be a cockney and a white child reared by Africans in the Congo. will be a product of Congo culture.
Yet in this age of jets, sputniks, rockets and television, the superstition and ignorance on the question of race is such that one wonders whether we have made any real progress over our witch burning, rackrending, thumb-twisting, forefathers, and after the recent racial riots we might look less superciliously at the Philistines across the Atlantic with their Ku Klux Klan tradition and Little Rock problem and remember that people who live in prefabs shouldn’t throw atom bombs.
Before the recent racial outburst there have been outcries against Poles, Italians, Lithuanians, even the Irish. While before the war there were organised protests about keeping the Welsh miners out of London and other cities. Given a recession and a big increase in unemployment, many who think of themselves as British subjects may find that they have become foreigners overnight.
Apart from racial antagonisms there are all sorts of other antagonisms in this society. There are antagonisms between the young and old in the Civil Service, commerce and elsewhere, on the matter of retirement and promotion. The antagonism of married men about other married men whose wives go out to work. The antagonism about policemen who retire fairly young with a pension and are regarded as unfair competitors for certain jobs. The antagonism between miners and agricultural workers when miners work on the land in times of unemployment or trade disputes, and so one could go on and on and on.
Then over and above all these are the national antagonisms resulting from the economic rivalry of world Capitalism. In this case, whites feel antagonistic to whites. Have we not been taught at various times to feel hostile to Germans, Italians, Japanese, and others, and they in turn have been taught to feel the same about us. We are now told by press, pundits and politicians that it is wrong for whites to feel hostile to blacks. Although at other times they have held that it is right for whites to feel hostile to whites.
But we shall not see the antagonisms of the present set up in real perspective, unless we realise that it is based itself on an antagonistic class division of income, producing an antagonism of class interests. This arises because a small minority of the population own the means of living and the rest own nothing but their ability to work. This ownership allows the Capitalists to appropriate profit or unpaid labour over and above what is necessary for the working class to efficiently reproduce their productive energies.
The Capitalists in order to realise this unpaid labour or profit compete with each other on a world-wide market and this international rivalry in turn brings about preparation for war and sometimes war itself.
Worker versus Worker
Given such an antagonistic set up small wonder that racial and other antagonisms are present in a latent or active form. Again in a competitive system where workers compete for jobs and houses, the coloured person who is a worker must become a competitor too. And in a social system where ruling groups exploit race prejudice along with other prejudices to play one set of workers off against other workers, it becomes easy for the coloured person to become a scapegoat for all sorts of social evils.
It is claimed that race prejudice has never been actively promoted in England. Well, if it has not, the English ruling class have certainly actively promoted it outside of England under the slogan of “the white man’s burden.” As the centre of a vast colonial empire, the empire builders here, made the colonies with their exploitation, oppression and appalling poverty, a prolific breeding ground for national and racial prejudices.
The coloured workers are victims of race propaganda. Native Capitalist groups have sought to gain their support by presenting the white as the common enemy of all coloured people and so using it as means of sharing with the whites or ousting white exploiters, in favour of coloured exploiters. If the coloured emigrant meets with adverse conditions in a hostile environment, race prejudice can be let up.
A lot of left wing sentiment has been shown over the colour question. Yet many of these left wingers give support to all sorts of national Capitalist movements. Only a short time ago they were backing that greatest of national and racial demagogues, Nasser, who is demanding expulsion of whites from the Arab world.
Housing and Armaments
Then there is the left wing, right wing, centrist. Mr. Bevan. In the News of the World a few weeks back he said that the Labour Government of which he was a member was worried in 1946 about West Indian immigration. They thought it would lead to increased pressure on houses then, as now, in short supply. Mr. Bevan’s Government could have begun extensive housing schemes, but they had much more important things. They had a vast rearmament programme on hand. So there were no houses for black or white. It was the same old story, guns before butter and howitzers before houses. Mr. Bevan and his kind might shed tears over the plight of the immigrants, but they are crocodile tears.
With increasing unemployment there is a lot of talk about last hired first fired. Many white workers have consigned the immigrants to that category. But workers don’t control their own jobs, the employer or his manager on his behalf does that. It’s no good saying to the employers you must displace coloured workers for white ones should the occasion arise, or you must only employ blacks when whites are not available, otherwise you will create colour prejudice. The employer will take on or sack as he thinks fit regardless of race prejudice.
Back to Jamaica?
One wonders what might happen if the Government decided to build big atomic power stations in Jamaica. In that case many white workers might leave here to go there. Would they in view of what has happened here raise the cry “Keep Jamaica black.” So given a change of economic circumstances and it would be emigration in reverse.
There is no real solution to the colour question in Capitalism. Unrestricted emigration with its increased pressure on employment and house accommodation provides fertile breeding grounds for race prejudice. Even restricted emigration or no emigration at all would not do away with the competition for jobs and houses in which coloured workers are involved. Race prejudice would still remain.
How much better if white and coloured workers realised they have a common class interest. That poverty, unemployment, housing shortages, are not a colour issue but a class issue, and while white and coloured workers are enchained to Capitalism, neither are free. How much better off if white and coloured workers realised that the vast sprawling slums of London and other cities are not products of immigration but Capitalism. How much better if white and coloured workers united to bring pressure on the authorities, that it is housing shortages and bad living conditions which are the cause of it all and not be side-tracked by red herrings or black and white propaganda. That, of course, would presuppose that black and white workers have added to their class understanding and how much better that would be as well.
In principle we assert the right of people to go anywhere at any time but the conditions are lacking in present society to operate it.
The very term emigrants meant they arc not free people able to move in a free world. They leave their country generally because of the pressure of poverty or lack of economic opportunity. They do not move into an integrated society, but in a world of high national barriers where man is against man, class against class, and nation against nation. A jungle of competition and acquisition where the undergrowth of fear, ignorance and superstition chokes all healthy social growth.
To blame teddy boys for the recent racial disturbances is to evade the problem by seeking a scapegoat To act on the sadistic advice of the Daily Herald, who wanted to mow them down is to incite race prejudice and an open invitation to group warfare.
Just as proposed legislation for revoking the licences of dance hall proprietors who operate the colour bar or taking away leases from house-owners who refuse rooms to coloured people would make people feel they are being discriminated against in favour of other groups. This would have the effect of further inciting race prejudice. You can’t legislate emotion or prejudice.
Our Socialist Stand
We ourselves are not emotionally uncommitted on the question of race prejudice. But we refuse to be so emotionally committed that we lose sight of our own aim and object—Socialism. Emotion is only a positive and constructive force when it is controlled and directed. When it is misdirected its effects are negative and pernicious. We do not put forward our diagnosis of society merely because it is right, but because in the conclusions we draw from it are the humanitarian assumptions of remedying the ills of extant society. We are keenly sensitive to social suffering, but we refuse in lieu of our own remedy to accept what we hold to be harmful soporifics based on a faulty diagnosis. To act other than we do would be to impugn our own humanitarian aims and falsify the reason for our last 50 odd years’ existence.
The Brotherhood of Man
To the ideals of other parties we offer the ideal of the universal brotherhood of man. Others have paid lip service to this ideal. We have acted upon it and not to act on what you believe is not really to believe it at all.
We do not only say the vast mass must come to terms with the problems of their time: our very existence is an attempt to help bring it to fruition. For us, man is the measure of all things, and how well or badly he measures up to things is the final arbiter of social change.
Man has the biological prerequisites for co-operation but being a social animal he can only exercise them in and through society. But it is only in a cooperative society can he become a truly co-operative individual. Only where he can equally and freely participate in the community can his own personality become harmoniously enriched.
That is why in answer to this antagonism ridden, man divided, class divided, nation divided society, we proclaim the alternative, Socialism, one world, one people.