We are living through times of emboldened reaction, where far-right politics gain ground in European Parliaments and on European streets, where the mainstream right increasingly overlaps with the KKK and white supremacy shows itself more unabashedly. As people who seek the abolition of capital, the state, and classes, we also seek the abolition of “race” – the ongoing/adaptive process of ascription and domination – not merely the equalising of wage differentials, policing and penal reform, state recognition, cultural representation, and national state integration of some racialised people.
In recent months, there have been increasingly visible attempts to challenge the failure of the left to address white supremacy within its structures. Whilst the necessity of these interventions has been recognised by many, the defensive reactions from some has only further demonstrated just how foundational these issues are. We saw environmentalist NGOs and campaigners physically tussling with the ‘Wretched of the Earth’ bloc, who had sought to bring representation of colonised and Indigenous people to the front of a recent national Climate March. This action of foregrounding was deemed divisive by organisers, among others. Elsewhere, various struggles for liberation on university campuses, from a desire to hold productive and safer meetings, to the demands of #RhodesMustFall, have been decried as censorial and revisionist or patronisingly held up as debate points for liberal commentary.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) have long guarded a conception of the working class that excludes migrants. This year sees the 40th anniversary of the Grunwick strike, where a predominantly East African Asian female workforce was forced to strike to secure union recognition. A 2009 dispute saw widespread use of the slogan “British Jobs for British Workers” by strikers in an oil refinery. Cries of “solidarity” have too often excluded those being exploited in European colonies, and the work done – largely by women – to reproduce the working class. The inability of the union movement to address the wage relation as a violent mechanism of separation – between those who are valued and those who are not – was most striking in the “I am an Immigrant” campaign, which sought to confront xenophobia by highlighting the stories of migrants who work and are therefore valuable, merely reaffirming an economic relationship that demarcates the valuable from the abject, underscoring a culture complicit in racist othering. Today, complicity with racist structures is evident in job centres and housing offices, where workers, often unionised, will castigate and racially abuse black and migrant women, fulfilling racist and violent state policies, whilst simultaneously calling for solidarity and ‘unity’ in their own political struggles.
To lay these things entirely at the feet of the authoritarian left would be wrong. Grassroots and ‘horizontal’ movements have also long been complicit with a failure to challenge the longstanding erasure of black and non-white experience. Even here, those who refuse to discuss anything which doesn’t fit within preconceived notions of “class struggle” are familiar – where exposition on any issue that decentres the concerns of whiteness will be met by calls for “unity”. Border violence, racist policing, sex work and other issues are of course entirely bound up with, and often inseparable from, relations of class.
The grassroots left continues to uphold, even internally police, the boundaries of what constitutes ‘legitimate’ political practice. When left-liberal speakers and activists complain of “excessive” police force in response to direct action, they are effectively demanding that police (and border police) resume their intended social function – to stop harassing activists and get on with their “real job”. But what is the substance of this political demand, if everyday policing consists of the brutalisation of black and non-white bodies elsewhere and out of sight?
This distance, between majority white, left-liberal activist campaigning and the conflict zones of the racist state, is maintained in struggles around migration. The response to the suffering caused by borders has been acutely lacking – both for those currently within and without “Fortress Europe”. Conceptions of support for migrants have tended to rely on notions of charity, rather than solidarity – those who migrate must be “saved”, even if this is predicated on erasing their demands or personhood. Those currently obliged to live in grossly inadequate conditions in Calais have marched again and again, as their homes are torn down around them, holding placards for all to see: “Freedom of movement for all” “Everyone deserves a safe home” “No More Wall”. These are demands, and they are expressed in Calais as they are in the people being displaced by the housing crisis in London.
The racist violence of the state is part of the daily struggle for survival that dominates so many people’s lives. And the places where this daily violence occurs are the immanent sites of struggle and potential solidarity, whatever their formation: gathering, skirmish or riot. Those wishing to demonstrate solidarity, or engage in this political terrain, should recognise the expanse of this struggle and act within this space.