At the moment a sizable number of statues are coming down around the world as the unfettered police racist murder of George Floyd in the US has drawn attention to the link between racism and black slavery. Britain was of course was the major slave trading country, bringing enormous wealth to the slave traders who, being rich, rapidly received recognition as the great and the good. Some of them donated a part of their vast fortunes to public works for the benefit of the less fortunate – and one of them wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. Nevertheless, those who suffered at the hands of these bandits and their descendants cannot feel that whatever good works they might have done wipes out their unspeakable crimes. Many of these wealthy slave traders and their descendants were among those who set up coal mines, mills and factories where they harshly exploited the British working class (who in the days of slave trading were overwhelmingly white), employing little children, throwing workers into unemployed penury at will, making workers endure dangerous conditions and forcing them into life-limiting overwork. Whether descended from the victims of slave owners or other heartless exploiters, we do understand the anger that takes a protest in the direction of toppling statues designed to honour these sociopaths. We are happy for people to take into their own hands the removal of these tributes to evil, i.e., for the working class to take the necessary executive action since clearly without that absolutely nothing would be done. As a result of the good citizens of Bristol tipping the statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the river, authorities all over the world are frantically removing obnoxious statues, or at least covering them up, as well as changing street names, etc., so well done! What must not be done, however, is to restrict oneself to fighting the crimes of the past, since equally heinous crimes are being committed in the present by the living ‘great and good’ – every day, in every way, and on a scale that positively dwarfs even the slave trade. To the extent that we fail to fight the imperialist bloodsuckers of today while enjoying some of the benefits that living in an imperialist country provides, we make ourselves complicit in the crimes of our ruling class. Herein lies the great danger.
British imperialism, principally through its finance capital, sucks blood from oppressed countries all over the world. Having for centuries through downright looting impoverished countries it colonised, it now claims for itself a large proportion of the wealth generated in these countries through lending to them at high rates of interest the money it looted in the past and the wealth it continues to extract to this day. The result of this is that these countries, whether exploited by British imperialism, US imperialism or any other imperialism, lack the means to provide modern infrastructure, health and education facilities, and even to build enough production facilities to provide employment to their population, except to the extent that they increase their indebtedness and subservience to imperialism. Those who try to resist this iniquity nowadays find themselves victims of crippling sanctions, if not the bombing and destruction of what little they have.
The result is of course millions of refugees from these countries desperately seeking a safe haven, many of whom lose their lives in the process, or get stranded in concentration camps with little in the way of facilities and often without enough to eat. Disease in such places is rife.
Even in the UK we have been witnessing how the billionaire class has callously put working class lives at risk by pillaging the NHS so it could not afford to put in place the necessary facilities to combat a pandemic that everybody knew would sooner or later be coming. To date some 62,000 British people have paid the price with their lives (according to Chris Giles and Clive Cookson in the Financial Times of 5 June 2020, ‘Excess UK deaths blamed on undiagnosed coronavirus cases’), afflicted either with coronavirus or with other conditions the hospitals were too overwhelmed to attend to, while others will never fully recover. One must not forget also that precisely because of racism and discrimination that lowers their average social status, black people in the UK are even more susceptible to coronavirus than the general population, without, however, blinding us to the fact that even in the lowest economic strata of British society, the majority are white. In other words, susceptibility to disease is above all a class question.
In conclusion, if you see a statue erected to some great owner of cotton mills or coal mines, some industrial giant or honoured civic or royal dignitary, it is surely the case that the wealth they amassed or used was built on the dead bodies of slaves, the mines full of corpses, the short and pitiless lives of mill workers, and you seethe with anger at that. What then should be your response? To smash or hide that statue is by itself not enough. What is needed is to stand in unity with other workers, black and white, young and old, male and female, and smash the chains that still hold you. Racism cannot be tolerated as it undermines unity – a divided working class stands little chance of victory.
Our collective enemy is imperialism and it must be destroyed. One day in some future, people will walk freely through museums of statues to this or that slaver, owner of machines, land-grabber, king or president, and marvel that such a twisted and sick society was ever created and lorded over by such an insignificant and vain tiny minority. But, there is much work to do to before we are able to establish that bright future.