We must use every opportunity to build a united movement against racism
Racist extremism is back centre stage. Desperate refugees from the Middle East, Africa and beyond are being detained in camps on Europe’s borders to starve and freeze. Politicians are making incendiary speeches about the ‘Muslim threat’ and ‘refugee swarms’. Physical attacks, particularly on Muslims, are soaring.
Where is this coming from? Too often the assumption is that racism comes from ordinary people. The media, the Tories, even the Labour right are obsessed with the idea that working people in Britain are incurably racist. But look at the response to the refugee crisis. There has been a popular surge of sympathy. At the end of last year, 44 % of the population thought we should take more refugees and only 22% thought we should take less. A majority of people support Syrians settling in their area.
In fact, racism comes from the top. It is Europe’s rulers – including our government - who are excluding and demonising refugees. Here, the two sides in the EU debate are competing at who can be toughest on migrants. For our rulers, the ‘problem’ is not the suffering of people driven desperate by war and social collapse, but how to keep them out of the country. When it comes to Islamophobia, the issue is not the growing attacks on Muslims, but how to ensure Muslims are perceived as the enemy within.
Why is this happening? It is the establishment’s way of dealing with the collapse of their policies at home and abroad. The wars they claimed would spread democracy have brought mayhem and misery to swathes of the planet. Their response to the resulting instability and spreading terrorism is to further demonise Muslims, ramp up ‘security’ and – incredibly - continue with the wars.
The refugee crisis could be resolved. The wars need to end.
Europe is a continent of 500 million people. With a modicum of planning and co-ordination a few million refugees could easily be welcomed, housed and given work or benefits. But the European elites’ commitment to free market policies, their addiction to austerity and the damage both have done, means they prefer to put up the fences and turn their backs on human suffering.
Thousands of ordinary people have been collecting money, clothes and food for the refugees. A majority oppose the wars our rulers insist on pursuing. We need to turn this popular sentiment into a mighty movement of solidarity with some of the most desperate people on the planet.
After the Stand Up To Racism demonstration, the planned Peoples’ Convoy to Calais is the next big opportunity to generate such a movement. Polls show opinion is wide open. A dynamic movement can win support for refugees and turn the tide against racism just as the Stop the War protests helped turn popular opinion against war.
But we also need to deepen the fight against the government’s economic policies. Racism thrives on insecurity. Broad-based opposition to austerity and cuts is essential to channelling discontent against the real perpetrators. Corbyn’s leadership of Labour means that if we keep up the protests we can, at last, mainstream an alternative vision of a more just, equal and humane society. The People’s Assembly demonstration on April 16 for Homes, heath jobs and Education is a chance to go on the offensive.
The struggles need to be linked. We need to popularise the idea that racism is ruling class ideology and instinct being used to divide and demoralise us in the face of a more and more brutal and bankrupt elite.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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