Into The Ghetto

For all the expressions of piety about the 'dignity of the Lawrences', history and recent developments in Europe show that the middle classes are not to be trusted. Which is why A. Shaw, in a reversal of accepted custom and practice, argues that the interests, aspirations and sensitivities of the 'ghetto dwellers' must now become anti-fascism's absolute priority.

Given the current climate, it is predictable that the removal of a universal right to trial by jury, that has existed since the Magna Carta, is debated as if it would effect less than 5 % of the entire population. For everyone is apparently agreed that not only is racism society's greatest evil, but as importantly is an unreasonable wickedness that only appears in badly educated people. So once racism, or indeed the badly educated, are obliterated, envy, crime, injustice, ignorance and inequality could be expected to go with it.

Once the scientific basis for racism is sufficiently blurred, so to speak, racism, it is generally believed, would automatically become redundant. And with everything else already being in its 'natural hierarchical order', life would be grand. Which is why "Everybody" according to Warren Beatty's character in Bulworth "has got to keep fucking each other until we are all the same colour." "Vigorous and widespread miscegenation" is indeed "the best answer" to racist arguments according to former Independent on Sunday editor Andrew Marr.
And under a headline "Poor? Stupid? Racist? Then don't listen to a pampered white liberal like me..." Marr acknowledges that it isn't sufficient simply to berate the "lower orders" (fashionable though it may be) in order to achieve the desired change. "These people are likely to be utterly unmoved by anything the elite liberal establishment has to say about Stephen Lawrence or racism. They don't listen. They don't care. The collective breast beating - I originally mistyped it 'beast beating', which is maybe better - from Tony Blair, Jack Straw, The Guardian, Channel 4 News and yes Sir Paul Condon and his well schooled spokesmen - will change not a single mind in the working class white ghettos where the intense and violent expressions of racism come from." (Observer 28.2.99) Marr, like the majority of the liberal press, is in no doubt that racism comes from white working class ghettos. If that is its source, emasculate the working class and destroy racism is the subliminal message.

And so for all the piety about anti-racism, the 'dignity of the Lawrences', the public displays of self-flaggelation by the middle classes etc: that anti-racism provides the perfect cover to get in a bit of 'beast beating' is clearly a major attraction. As Marr acknowledges, the conflation of liberal anti-racism and old fashioned snobbery makes it all right to hate the poor. And moreover the poor know it. So Marr is only half right. Not just in Britain but all over Europe the relentless preaching is changing minds but - negatively.

Despite the mounting evidence of a rebounding propaganda no opportunity is wasted to drum home the message that 'anti-racism' is that vital distinguishing component separating the 'poor, stupid, self pitying and the badly educated' from their social superiors. A point not missed by self confessed racist and former Sunday Telegraph editor Peregrine Worsthorne, who was startled to discover that in an otherwise perfectly reactionary world of the American upper classes the slightest hint of racial bigotry was now regarded as the ultimate social gaffe. Of course that wasn't always the case. Quite the reverse.

Only fifty years or so ago, precisely the same social circles in Germany, Britain, France, Spain, Austria and (as we have recently learned from the files of Ford and General Motors) the United States decided that Hitler was, on balance, a case of "the lesser evil". A lesser evil to the political threat coming from their respective ghettos that is. And it was as a young disgruntled lower middle class layabout, and temporary member of the "lower orders" himself, that a young Hitler, though he considered the work beneath him, was forced to seek employment on a building site. As he explains in Mein Kampf, it had a profound effect. "Some of the men went into the nearest public house," while "I drank my bottle of milk and ate my piece of bread on the side." And when they talked politics, "Everything was rejected: the nation as an invention of the "capitalistic" classes, how often I hear just this word! - the country as an instrument of the bourgeoisie for the exploitation of the workers; the authority of the law as a means of suppressing the proletariat; the school as an institution for bringing up slaves as well as slave drivers; religion as a means for doping the people destined for exploitation; morality as a sign of sheepish patience, and so forth. Nothing remained that was not dragged down into the dirt and the filth of the lower depths." It was the shock of this confrontation which first politicised, then persuaded the young Hitler to study "book after book, pamphlet after pamphlet" and to begin fighting back. "I argued till finally one day they applied the one means that wins the easiest victory over reason: terror and force. Some of the leaders of the other side gave me the choice of either leaving the job at once or being thrown from the scaffold."

Nowhere you notice, in this life changing experience is there any reference whatsoever to Jews. Not a mention. Even for arch anti-Semite Hitler, the Jewish question was an afterthought. An all too convenient and none too original scapegoat, brought centre stage to provide a rationalisation for capitalist iniquities, and to disguise his fawning admiration for the "capitalistic classes". For Hitler as for his fellow building workers class hatred, not race hatred, was the thing. It was contempt and fear of the lower orders rather than contempt and fear of the Jews that was his motivation. Consequently when Hitler took power the first into the camps were not minorities, intellectuals, journalists, teachers, civil servants, homosexuals or - Jews. It was instead, in their tens of thousands, Hitler's and capitalism's direct, immediate and indeed only serious political opponents. His original adversaries, the 'poor and badly educated' building labourers and their social equivalents. The "other side".

Such a reading of history would be inconceivable to someone like 'anti-racist campaigner' Lee Jasper who welcomed the launch of the National Civil Right Movement with the comment that the Lawrence inquiry "had thrown open the issue of race in this country. We're moving away from our usual obsession with class". (Observer 28.3.1999) Jasper is a member of Jack Straw's Home Affairs advisory committee. He is considered an expert on race. An anti-racist expert. An expert in highlighting issues pertaining to all things racial. Someone who sees all of society problems as racial. Someone for whom race is both the problem and the solution. Jasper is pro-black. A black nationalist. He only becomes anti-fascist by the accident of believing fascism, stripped down to the essentials, is between black and white, a war between races, rather than a war between classes. A war moreover between the European races and outsiders. A myth constructed by the liberal elite who present anti-fascism as an offshoot of middle class liberalism, rather than the rearguard of working class communism. Much like being 'coloured' in South Africa, being 'black' in Britain is a political, not biological classification. And fascism was and continues to be the clearest expression of the polarisation and often militarisation of the eternal struggle between classes, within Europe. Not a struggle between the West versus the rest. Marr, Jasper and indeed Bulworth may believe colour is central, but Hitler (something of an authority), begs to differ.

Ironically it is this false marrying of liberalism and anti-fascism which has come to be regarded by the middle classes as proof of their innate economic, social, intellectual moral and cultural superiority over the "lower orders". But as Marr concedes, the middle classes have no real investment in anti-racism, (much less anti-fascism) "have sacrificed almost nothing to the pieties of multi-culturalism, other than smiling at the shopkeeper, inviting a black colleague for a drink, or being pleased when your child knows as much about Diwali as Easter." This he senses is "the moral weakness of the liberal establishment. We condemn the police for their awfulness, their racism, their incompetence, their, their... their... working classness perhaps? But how many Observer readers would dream for a moment of encouraging their children to join the police? Oh no, not us. How many middle class liberals send their kids to inner city London comprehensives (All right a few. But not me, that's for sure)." And while on the subject, how many middle class liberals would serve the cause of multi-culturalism they profess to be so proud of, by insisting their off-spring engage in a bit of 'vigorous miscegenation?' (No need to answer that.) But where the middle classes have made a shrewd investment is in ensuring the rewriting of history to make it conform with a contemporary view of themselves. And as importantly, of the inhabitants of the ghettoes.

So for instance, if as is accepted the Empire 'was won on the playing fields of Eton', Republican forces in the Civil War in Spain it is reported just as routinely, were generously furnished by the playing fields of Oxford and Cambridge. In a recent article (London Evening Standard 27.4.99) the conflict in Kosovo is "compared to the Spanish Civil War during which" it is casually mentioned in passing you understand, that "many Oxford undergraduates abandoned their studies to join the fight against the fascist forces of Franco." (Many? How many? More than volunteered from Cricklewood bus garage?) A view vigorously rebutted by International Brigade veteran Bob Doyle in an interview with Red Action in 1988 when he explained that "undergraduates and the like" never made up more than "a handful" but attracted "great prominence" by an "ability to write about it".

It is of course the ability to write about it, and the retrospective capturing of the moral high ground, that entitles the liberal middle classes to lecture the "lower orders" on racism today. But more insidiously it is also the moral platform from which to reshape the 'counter terror and force' of real anti-fascism that so impressed Adolf into their liberal opposites - morality and it's all too frequent companion - capitulation. Robert Skidelsky in his 1975 biography of Mosley explains how, in the 1930's when Mosley's Blackshirts, even in the East End, were more often than not at the wrong end of the violence, and while "the communists organised just as thoroughly, with as much military precision as did the fascists... their use of force was largely concealed, a darkness partly induced by such left-wing bodies as the National Council for Civil Liberties". More recently in the BBC's coverage of the Battle of Waterloo, the footage selected focused on the only incident in the entire day when the Far-Right were very temporarily, (and entirely accidentally) dishing it out. On one level, like their anti-anti-fascist predecessors in the NCCL, the BBC cannot countenance any proper course of action that is neither nice nor legal. On the contrary, they recognise that for full middle class acceptance, anti-fascism must constantly be portrayed as legal, pacifistic and polite. As a rule the working classes tend not to get beaten up by the middle classes. So by concealing the violence the class nature of the perpetrators is also concealed. So more than simply wanting to avoid 'anti-fascism getting a bad name' the role reversal is necessary to comply with the general propaganda equation, fascism = working class - pacifism = middle class: violence = fascism - middle class = anti-fascism.

This constant revisionism goes much further than merely concealing the reality of anti-fascist working class violence. In 1994 Chris Bambery, an SWP Central Committee member, unashamedly set out to reduce the political failure of the entire Left in the Weimar Republic to the "militarist mentality, indiscipline, and bullying of the working class squadists who glorified a laddish life style." For him their violence was not simply excessive, it was counter-productive. Indeed the combination of paramilitary violence and working class militias was for Bambery, in itself, distinctly suspect; ie. 'those who use the methods of the fascists invariable become fascist themselves.' For not only did "some of the squadists" as Bambery delights in pointing out even go "over to the SA" but on one occasion "RFB fighters invited SA men into their tavern to join them for beers at Christmas." It would considerably diminish the anecdotal allegation of widespread working class fraternisation [between Red Front Fighters League (RFB) and Brownshirt stormtroopers (SA)] if he went on to reveal that the one example mentioned resulted in the death of "storm trooper Erich Salgaser who died on January 8 1933 from a single stab wound" (Beating the Fascists page 141). So Bambery conceals it. Similarly, in terms of ANL propaganda the stress is firmly on the idea of 'being' an anti-fascist rather than operating as one: 'be nice to your neighbour vote Labour'. Anti-fascism is packaged as a life-style choice like vegetarianism. For additional middle class convenience it is presented 'as being part of you' rather than you being part of any pro-active anti-fascist movement. Hardly surprising, then when a film like American History X attempts to portray this limp wristed liberalism as the antithesis of a racism red in tooth and claw, the portrayal of anti-fascism is so unconvincing, the film ends up in the opinion of one reviewer like a "commercial for fascism".

Promoting fascism by default is bad enough, but when an impeccable liberal like George Monbiot pronounces the BNP to be "clever" (Guardian 29.4.99) you know we really are in trouble. "Sophisticated" fascism is something knew to George. For as he goes to great pains to point out, previous to his discovery, the consensus was that they were all "Neanderthals" and "political-knuckle scrapers", ie. working class. What Monbiot has of course stumbled on is Euro-nationalism. The type of "clever political manoeuvring" that has little to do with shouting 'wogs out'. A sophistication developed and exemplified by Megret, Fini, and Haider. A sophistication moreover that impresses more than simply Guardian journalists, but more infamously, the European counter-parts of the 'Guardian reader'. In March this year Austria's Jorg Haider, he of the impeccable fascist pedigree (both his parents were in the SS) topped the poll beating the social democrats and conservatives into second and third in a state election in Carinthia. This success followed another shock victory for the right-wing Christian Democratic Union a few weeks earlier in the German state of Hesse. A victory that according to the Daily Telegraph left the CDU "almost embarrassed", based as it was on a million strong petition against granting citizenship to resident Turks. In Hesse too the victory owed something to defections from the smaller parties. The denominator common to both racist triumphs was tactical voting by the liberals and not insignificantly - the Greens both of whom according to local daily Salsburger Nachrichten "made strategic mistakes forgivable in normal times, but fatal at times of political polarisation." (comment Guardian 13.3.99)

Post war, for much of Europe for much of the time, political polarisation seemed as distant as street fighting in the Weimar Republic. So government sponsored anti-racist strategies could politically indulge the myth that the working class ghettos were the source of racism, were inherently racist and nationalistic, while the middle classes were instinctively decent. And because the middle classes could be trusted, physical force anti-fascism was dismissed as both excessive and unnecessary. Well recently the middle classes in Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere are proving about as staunch as they were in the Weimar Republic. So threatened did the Nazis feel by them then, that Hitler even publicly apologised for 'the unfortunate but necessary nocturnal activities of his brown-shirts keeping them awake at night'! Back then, a bit like Andrew Marr now, Goebbels wondered whether the inhabitants of the ghettos 'could ever be made to listen?' Particularly after his 1931 national speaking tour was wrecked by widespread working class violence, with a rout by the inhabitants of the dock area of Hamburg-Altona, leaving fifteen of his supporters dead and fifty wounded, and the Minister for Propaganda thunderstruck. "Will it ever be possible to make a change here?" he fretted.

Brilliant a spin doctor though he was, he could not possibly have imagined that it would be in the name of anti-racism that the desired 'change' would be accomplished. So from a militant anti-fascist perspective in order to begin to undo what has been done, the interests, aspirations and yes, sensitivities of the "other side", must be given primacy. Into the ghetto. Cold-blooded realpolitik rather than sentiment or starry-eyed idealism demands it. Simply because 'the working class is' to paraphrase Churchill, 'the most reactionary of classes... except for the others'. Put bluntly, anti-fascism will need to come up with a diet substantially more appetising than middle class moralising, pie in the sky, and shaky warnings of dictatorship, if, the lower orders are to form the backbone of the movement next time round.
And quickly.

Reproduced from RA Vol 4, Issue 1, June/July 1999