At the end of the 19th century Frederick Engels called anti-semitism "the socialism of fools".
You're poor, you're exploited, your life is miserable - so blame it on another group, the vast majority of whom are also poor, miserable and exploited, in the case Engels was talking about, the Jews. Who can benefit from this except the exploiters? It's exactly the same in Britain today with all the hatred being stirred up against 'asylum seekers', or Asians, or blacks - a hatred that has burst out into 'race riots' in a number of northern towns.
Those who stir up racial divisions most openly, like the British National Party, use the same old arguments: you're poor because of them. They get all the jobs, the housing, the welfare hand-outs. In 99 cases out of a 100 this is simply a lie: official statistics invariably confirm that poverty, unemployment and lack of housing are worse among 'immigrant' sectors of the working class. But even if it were true that immigrant workers got a better deal from the state, it would not alter the deeply anti-working class nature of such arguments. Aren't all workers, to one degree or another, faced with attacks on wages, jobs, benefits and housing? Do we have any other weapon to defend ourselves with except getting together as workers against our exploiters? Any ideology which sets worker against worker serves the capitalist class. The ruling class and its state don't give a damn about the colour of your skin as long as it can sweat surplus value out of you. But it is very interested in promoting racial divisions because they weaken the capacity of the working class to unite and fight back.
The BNP aren't the only racists
Faced with the provocative actions of fascist type groups like the BNP or the NF in Oldham, Burnley and elsewhere, there are all sorts of 'anti-racists' running around telling us that these groups are the number one problem we have to deal with. But the BNP are simply pawns in a bigger game. Wasn't it the major political parties who helped stoke up the current tensions with the whole campaign about 'asylum seekers', with its phony distinction between 'political' (acceptable) and 'economic' (not acceptable) asylum seekers - as if both weren't equally the victims of capitalism's world wide crisis? Wasn't it the major parties, backed by the tabloid press with its scare stories about asylum seekers living in five star hotels at the tax-payer's expense, who have been vying with each other to come up with more and more brutal ways of dealing with illegal immigrants? Isn't it the entire police force which, following the inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder, was charged with "institutional racism"? Racism is far too useful a weapon to be left to the likes of the BNP. It is manipulated and used to the hilt by the state as a whole.
And what's more, the whole ideology of anti-racism and multiculturalism also serves the interest of the state, because it too divides the working class up into racial and religious categories and calls on them to organise on the basis of their separate 'identity' or 'culture'. They - especially the most radical ones, like the Socialist Workers Party - claim that the nationalism of the oppressed is more progressive than the nationalism of the oppressor. This argument is another blow against workers' unity. Look what has just happened in the Balkans. Hundreds of thousands died because the bourgeoisie succeeded in getting people mobilised to fight each other along ethnic, national, or religious lines. In Kosovo one minute Serbian nationalism had the upper hand over Albanian nationalism, making it the 'nationalism of the oppressed'; the next minute, thanks to NATO, the Albanian nationalists had the tables turned and began persecuting the Serbs. Which nationalism was more progressive then? Answer: neither. Both are equally reactionary, because both are used to get workers to slaughter each other for a cause which is not their own - the cause of capitalist and imperialist war, which is plunging whole regions of the planet into barbarism right now.
Capitalism breeds racism because it is based on national divisions and competition. The capitalist class, from right to left, is therefore inherently racist. The capitalist disease of racism infects and affects the working class, weakening it and dividing it. But the working class is a truly international class. It has no nation to defend because it owns nothing but its labour power, and is exploited in the same way all over the globe. The working class struggle is therefore the only practical antidote to racism, both in the short and the long term. In the short term, because in their day to day struggle against the effects of exploitation, workers of different 'colours' either stand together or go down in defeat. And in the long term, because only a worldwide workers' revolution can finally free humanity from the insane national and racial divisions which threaten its very existence. WR, 30/6/01.