Book Review: ‘Immigration and Race in British Politics’
‘Immigration and Race in British Politics’ by Paul Foot, Penguin Special
Paul Foot, a journalist for the Sunday Telegraph and also the editor of the semi-Trotskyist Labour Worker, has written a very useful account of immigration and race in British politics. In this book can be found facts on Griffiths’ campaign in Smethwick, on reactions to the past Irish and Jewish immigration control, on the campaign and final success of those pressing for immigration control in the Conservative and Labour Parties, on anti-immigrant organisations like the British National Party, the New Liberals of Islington and the various Immigration Control Associations in the Birmingham area. The reaction of the so-called Communist Party to the influx of Polish refugees after the war is recalled. Incidentally, a similar attitude was adopted towards the later Hungarian refugees with the Daily Worker using the old technique of over-reporting crimes committed by Hungarians. One striking omission is any reference to the black racialist organisations which try to channel the frustration of coloured people caused by capitalism against “the White man.”
As Paul Foot has elsewhere declared himself in favour of “international socialism” we are perhaps justified in criticising his solutions severely from this point of view.
Socialists hold that the many social problems which people face today arise from the fact that they own nothing but their ability to work which they must sell for wages in order to live. Capitalism, based as it is on wage-labour and production for profit, is the root cause of the problems which arise over housing, education, work and health. Colour and other kinds of prejudice result mainly from the competition and general insecurity of wage and salary workers under Capitalism which makes conspicuous minorities obvious scapegoats for social frustrations and ills.
In this book Paul Foot tends to blame these social problems not on the economic system but on what the government does or does not do. He speaks of the slander of those who blame
“the immigrant himself for the social problems resulting from Government neglect.”
The answer to government neglect, says Mr. Foot, is obviously government action. So, after pointing out that colour prejudice arises from the frustration of modern life, he says,
“The main task of government us to remove the root cause of this ‘displaced aggression’: to end the shortages which so cramp the lives of working people.”
It is difficult to work out if Paul Foot really believes this as in the no doubt less inhibiting pages of the magazine International Socialism (No.22) he writes that such shortages are
“entirely due to an economic system which produces wealth for the benefit and superiority of a class.”
In other words they are not due to “Government neglect” and if the economic system is the cause then the only solution can be to remove it an not to appeal to the government. Paul Foot is deluding himself if he really believes that action by the capitalist State, whether managed by Labour or Conservative, can solve the problem of colour prejudice. Even if we accept that government action could have some marginal effect this would only be tinkering with the problem.