The election and the fight for workers’ political representation

Short of a Lazarus-style miracle Tory resurrection the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will be installed in Downing Street on July 5, ushering in a turbulent new period in Britain.

Amidst the driving rain and whirr of overhead TV helicopters accompanying prime minister Rishi Sunak’s hapless live general election announcement speech, the strains of the 1997 ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ New Labour anthem could be heard, broadcast by nearby protesters. A Tory wipeout of similar proportions is entirely possible this time too. But any hopes that a Starmer-led government can replicate the relative stability of the first Tony Blair administration will not be fulfilled. “They may ring their bells now”, said the first de facto prime minister of Britain, Sir Robert Walpole – although the prevailing sentiment today is more one of disillusionment with all ‘politicians’ – but “before long they will be wringing their hands”.

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Fighting racism in Britain today

The forms may have changed but racism is still deeply embedded in Britain’s capitalist society. Which is why, argues ISAI MARIJELA, the call for system change – socialism – is central to the struggle against it.

Racism remains a part of everyday life for Britain’s Black and Asian people. Shocking figures and statistics reveal the conditions facing people of colour. They are more likely to be in insecure jobs, live in the worst housing and health situations, and suffer disproportionately as a result of the cost-of-living crisis. They are two and a half times more likely to be in poverty than white people.

On top of that, they also face racial discrimination at the hands of the police and other capitalist institutions. The latest government figures on police stop and search show that, in the year to March 2022, there were 27.2 stop and searches carried out for every 1,000 black people, compared with 5.6 for every 1,000 white people.

Report after report reveals the unjust and unequal treatment of Black and Asian workers in workplaces. A 2020 Trades Union Congress report, Dying on the Job, painted a shocking picture of how Black and Asian workers were treated while working through the pandemic.

Fighting racism is an immediate issue that must be addressed in Britain, and a serious discussion and debate needs to take place on what tactics, approach and programme are required to smash it.

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‘Desanitising’ Martin Luther King

HUGO PIERRE reviews a recent book that looks at both the life and the political struggles of US civil rights activist and anti-racist campaigner Martin Luther King.

King: The Life of Martin Luther King

By Jonathan Eig

Published by Simon and Schuster, 2023, £25

Martin Luther King the pacifist, the compromiser and reformist, the acceptable face of the civil rights struggle versus Malcolm X, the revolutionary, the uncompromising face of the struggle for Black liberation – or this is how it has been portrayed. A section of the US establishment effectively ‘cannonised’ King to prevent a new generation of Black youth from discovering the mass militant methods of struggle he supported and unleashed from the mid-1950s until after his death.

King became fully immersed in these methods which brought him both an audience and in bitter conflict with the highest levels of the US state. Jonathan Eig’s biography aims to reconnect King with the militant insurrectionary movement King took part in and led at various points, the vicious attempts of the state to repress him and the movement, and explores the ideology that inspired his tactics.

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Racism, identity and class

Are the struggles against racism in Britain and the USA different? What is the relationship between race, class and national identity? APRIL ASHLEY, a female Black members’ representative on the national executive council of public sector union Unison, reviews in a personal capacity a recent book that raises these issues.

This Is Not America – Why Black Lives in Britain Matter

By Tomiwa Owolade

Published by Atlantic Books, 2023, £9.49

Following the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement after the racist murder of George Floyd in 2020, this book by Tomiwa Owolade, a Nigerian-born British writer, is an easy and interesting read, discussing the different experience of racism in America and Britain

Owolade argues that although all Black people suffer from racism there is a difference being Black American and Black British because of the differences in history and culture. And although, ostensibly, a simple argument, Owolade sets out to explore exactly what this means.

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The first Labour government

The Wild Men: The Remarkable Story of Britain’s First Labour Government

By David Torrance

Published by Bloomsbury, 2024, £20

Reviewed by Nick Chaffey

War and revolutions, mass strikes and demonstrations, economic and political crisis, four elections in six years. Sounds familiar? But this was 1924 – Labour in government for the first time faced with a deep economic and social crisis.

David Torrance’s book, The Wild Men, implies this was a government that pursued radical policies. But those policies, feared by the ruling capitalist class and hoped for by the working class, didn’t materialise. As a force for socialist change, Labour’s first government failed, opening up a stormy and revolutionary period in British history.

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The battle against the poll tax

Can’t Pay Won’t Pay – A Short History of the Anti-Poll Tax Struggle 1989-1993

By Chris Robinson

Published by Thinkwell Books, 2023, £10

Reviewed by Eric Segal

The struggle and victory against the poll tax was a significant event in British working-class history. Militant (the forerunner of the Socialist Party), which led the campaign, did what the Labour Party and trade union leadership had failed to do over nine years of vicious Tory anti-working class policies. In a clear lesson for today’s trade union leaders, co-ordinated, united and generalised class struggle defeated the poll tax and brought down the government of Margaret Thatcher.

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In the eye of the storms

Storyteller: Photography by Tim Hetherington

Imperial War Museum, London

20 April 2024 – 29 September 2024

Reviewed by Paul Heron

Just occasionally when you’re flicking through Netflix you’ll come across something that immediately pulls you in, and when you watch it, you want to tell all your mates about it. For me that programme was  Which Way Is the Front Line from Here?, a documentary by Sebastian Junger. The film is a heartfelt and insightful tribute to Tim Hetherington, the British photographer tragically killed in Misrata during the Libyan conflict in 2011.

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What is fascism?

An understanding of the class basis of fascism and the economic and political context in which it first arose is essential if the working class today is to defend itself from reaction in all its different forms, argues TOM BALDWIN.

From its earliest days the working-class movement has always had to defend itself from reaction. This has taken different forms, including state repression and attack from violent thugs. In the 1920s and 1930s the movement had to contend with a new threat – that of fascism. With capitalism in severe crisis, and following missed opportunities for revolution, fascist movements were able to take power in Italy, Germany and Spain. This had brutal, chilling consequences for the working class of those countries and internationally, helping drive humanity back into world war.

Today capitalism is again in a period of crisis and the working class is fighting its quarter. The conditions exist for a rise in reaction – a growth of authoritarianism, the far right and potentially even fascist forces. The questions of what fascism is and how to fight it remain important ones for Marxists to understand.

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