Socialists are opposed to all forms of racism and ethnic chauvinism. Socialism depends on workers overcoming the divisions within their own ranks. That is why we say ‘the workers united will never be defeated’. If we have unity and solidarity across the working class and the wider poor masses of the world then our struggles for better health and education services, an increased minimum wage and ultimately a socialist society are more likely to be successful. Alternatively, we can emphasise the many differences in our ranks, between men and women, northerners and southerners, Christians and Muslims, or herders and farmers.
The most virulent of these divisions is racism, in all its forms. The racism of Hitler and the Nazis produced the organised mass murder of millions of Jews and Gypsies in the 1940s. Ethnic chauvinism or “tribalism” is currently causing the wars in the DRC, Central African Republic (between Christians and Muslims) and South Sudan (between the two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer). This is a clear warning to us, we must fight on clear class lines between the corrupt bosses and the working and poor masses. The alternative is a descent into nationalism, tribalism and ethnic bitterness, pitting one group of poor people against another, whilst the rich laugh all the way to the bank!
What is racism? At root, it means making physical or cultural differences between people into a basis for treating them differently. It can involve skin colour, or language, or religion. In politics, racism is always a basis for reaction. Racism is a way of diverting people’s attention from the real causes of their problems, and finding a ‘scapegoat’ in another group.
Rather than blaming the corrupt bosses, racists blame ‘others’. These may be foreigners, members of another ethnic group or religion. Currently the major form of racism in Nigeria is the demonization of Fulani herders.
Much of the media suggests that Fulani herders are a major cause of much of our problems. So, the conclusion is that the police, the army and even peoples’ militia should be mobilised to fight and kill the Fulani herders. But, the daily problems we face are due to poverty, unemployment and inequality. These will not change no matter how many poor Fulani herders are slaughtered.
Racism doesn’t even benefit ‘privileged’ groups it claims to defend. In the US, for example, the most segregated states with the worst racism are also those with the lowest wages for white workers – and of course for black workers.
Who gains from US racism? Big employers in the racist South. Modern racism emerged with capitalism. The European and American powers had to justify slavery and colonialism. They invented ‘biological’ differences between so called ‘races’, to legitimise white domination over African and Asian peoples. Today racism is used to divide working people across the face of world capitalism, hoping they will fight each other rather than unite against their common exploiters.
A more insidious justification is more common. Racists claim that people of ‘different cultures’ cannot mix together. Yet the whole history of our human species suggests quite the opposite. The very languages we speak are mixtures of all sorts of different sources. Our cultures are constantly enriched by interchange with others, whether it’s technology, food, music, clothing or decoration.
Against the divisive hatreds of racism, socialists always argue for solidarity with the oppressed and for working class unity. Racism, helps only the rulers, and is endemic in class society. But it can be combated. Outside the small ranks of organised fascists and ethnic chauvinists, most racism today is shallow and deeply contradictory.
People may make demeaning generalisations about Northerners, Southerners or members of other ethnic groups. But the same people may also assist their neighbours who have a different religion or originate from a different part of the country. During heightened class struggle, for example during general strikes, solidarity between different ethnic groups becomes more important. That is why in the north we had examples of Muslims protecting their Christian brothers and sisters at prayer and similar acts of solidarity in the south.
There is a constant war of ideas within the working class. On one hand are divisive ideas, that tie us to our rulers and leave us feeling weak, hopeless and afraid. On the other are ideas of solidarity and hope for change. Socialists must be part of that ongoing argument, all the time.
We have to avoid generalisations based on religion, ethnicity or nationality. Making America great again (as Trump wants) or developing Nigeria will only benefit the rich. We also have to argue with our friends, neighbours and colleagues at work when they suggest that members of other ethnic groups are inferior in any way.
Socialists have to be the best fighters for working-class unity and solidarity. That is why the Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels a hundred and 50 years ago ended with the inspiring words: Workers of all countries unite!
by Drew POVEY