1960s >> 1968 >> no-767-july-1968

Letter: Let’s Unite against Racialism

Dear Comrades,

Since Enoch Powell’s race-hate speech, the Wolverhampton branches of the YCL have led in the formation of the Wolverhampton Front Against Racialism. We have taken as the symbol of the six-pointed Yellow Star, known in Hitler-occupied Europe as the ’Badge of Shame’.

These badges have been distributed to demonstrators at protest marches, and to other opponents of racialism and fascism, along with an explanatory leaflet.

Our idea is to unite all anti-racialist, anti-fascist forces in common action. So we call upon readers of the Socialist Standard to take the initiative in their localities in the formation of similar fronts. Make your own badge, do your own leaflets, lead and fight.

It is vital that a stand be made — Powell has not learned to keep his mouth shut yet — we must shut him up for good. It is above all vital that this campaign be national, uniting all progressive forces.

R. M. Bashforth
Organiser, Wolverhampton, Y.C.L.

Reply:

It is a pleasant change to get a letter opposing racialism. Nevertheless, although the Socialist Party of Great Britain is of course opposed to racialism, we cannot agree to join any united Front Against Racialism, as proposed by the Wolverhampton YCL branches.

Many times before have we been invited to join with others to oppose, for instance, the Tories, fascism, some war or nuclear weapons. We have always turned these invitations down, not because we are not against the Tories, fascism, wars and nuclear (and other) weapons, but because we do not think that this is the way to oppose them. To unite with non-socialist organisations is a dangerous policy for a Socialist party. It would be a hindrance to what should be the basic aim of such a party: to agitate, educate and organise for Socialism. At present most people are opposed to Socialism. They are prepared to put up with capitalism and much of what goes with it. It is only because most people are patriotic (think they have a country) and are ready to trust leaders that they do listen to appeals for national unity, strong leadership, wars and armed forces. What is needed is not mere anti-racialist propaganda, but basic Socialist education: the statement in clear and unequivocal terms of the case for a socialist world community.

Since Socialists appeal to workers to unite, irrespective of nationality or colour or race (so-called), to the extent that we are successful racialist and nationalist ideas are defeated. As part of a general Socialist education campaign anti-racialism is much more effective. In our socialist activity we warn workers of the dangers of supporting leader-based, nationalist parties like the Tories, Labour, Liberals, fascists and, yes, the Communists. Were we to unite with (nationalist) non-socialists our case would be weakened. One moment we would be urging workers to oppose Labour, Liberals, the Communists and the churches; the next we would be working with them! We would appear as unprincipled hypocrites. Our task is to spread socialist ideas as, in the end, only a working class, imbued with socialist ideas, is a sure guarantee that they will not listen to racialists like Powell and Mosley and nationalists like Wilson, Heath, Thorpe and Gollan.

While they may mean, well, we cannot agree with the Wolverhampton YCL’s suggestion on Powell that “we must shut him up for good”. We have no wish to shut anyone up, not even Colin Jordan. We are more concerned with persuading the tens of thousands of workers who support Powell not to take any notice of what he says. Shutting up Powell would achieve nothing. It would rather (like Heath’s sacking him from the Tory Shadow Cabinet) earn him undeserved public sympathy. Powell’s views are obnoxious and he does use lies and half-truths (but don’t they all?), but he should still be allowed to speak. As Socialists we are quite opposed to all restrictions on the free expression of ideas. In 1941, when the government banned the Daily Worker (for calling, among other things, for peace with Hitler) we protested. It is worth recalling what the Socialist Standard of February 1941 had to say:

   “The SPGB has its own, quite different, point of view. True to our basic principle we do not support suppression of opinion, however false we believe that opinion to be . . . The SPGB is opposed to suppression of opinion. In our view the way to counter any kind of propaganda, and in the long run the only way, is to meet it in the open in unfettered discussion. We are entitled to add that we practise what we preach and have always thrown open our platform to our opponents.”

We stand by this today, and would urge those who want to shut people up to think where this might end. After Powell, who?

Editorial Committee