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Some Reflections on the Ōtautahi/ Christchurch Tragedy
To really understand the nature of the occurrence of racism and white supremacy then the present system we live under, capitalism has to be examined, and how it has used racism and continues to use it, to its own benefit for controlling and dividing workers.
Just over one week ago two New Zealand mosques were attacked by a white supremacist carrying four firearms. 50 people were killed, another 50 injured. The gunman lives streamed the attack on the internet and the resulting video was quickly shared. He also issued a 78-page manifesto giving a glimpse into his mindset and why he carried out the act that he did.
Since then much discussion has been held around about New Zealand’s colonialist past, its own far-right groups and the existence of racism in New Zealand society at large. All important conversations that need to be had, but cannot really explain what happened in this instance and why. This was an international event that just so happened to have been in New Zealand.
To really understand the nature of the occurrence of racism and white supremacy then the present system we live under, capitalism has to be examined, and how it has used racism and continues to use it, to its own benefit for controlling and dividing workers. It also requires a careful analysis of who benefits from racial oppression. Simply labelling the recent fascist attacks as something unusual, or as the act of an ‘evil’ individual is not enough.
Capitalism is intertwined with racism. As an idea, it was developed and used to help justify colonisation and slavery. Its use as a form of discrimination and oppression was used to create and justify high levels of exploitation and was an important factor in the development of capitalism. The end of the more overt racist structures of slavery and empire have not buried racism.
Racism survives as an idea and as a practice, as it continues to serve two key functions under capitalism. Firstly, it allows the capitalists to secure sources of cheap, unorganised, and highly exploitable labour, for example, immigrants and minorities. Secondly, racism allows the capitalist ruling class to divide and rule the working class as it is used to foster divisions within the working class at home, classically in the scapegoating of immigrants and refugees for “taking away jobs and housing”; and abroad by bolstering the image of the nation-state by being used to create a sense of superiority over other workers of other nations, creating an appearance of common interest between workers and capitalists of a race or nation, with whom in reality workers have nothing in common.
It goes without saying that we need to counteract these ideas. Racism does not benefit any workers. Even workers who are not themselves directly oppressed by racism lose out from racism because it divides the working class.
Despite this many working class people often support racism because of the capitalist control over ideas. Capitalists do not simply rule by force, they also rule by promoting a capitalist world-view. They feed the working-class ideas of national and racial superiority and pride through the education system, the media, and literature. The impact of the drip feed of this propaganda throughout life cannot be underestimated.
Another factor is the material conditions of the working class itself. Poverty leaves people open to ideas of being able to take pride in their superiority over another when their own economic-social status is low. Working class people are also locked in competition for a limited amount of jobs, housing and other resources, and it easy to take advantage of any privilege that you may perceive.
With the increasing loss of many jobs to technology, the increasing precariousness nature of work, and stagnating and falling wages, many members of the white working class have lost the security they once took for granted. The resurgence of white-supremacy represents anxiety about a descent into conditions that capitalism and racism had earlier let most whites escape.
If, as we claim, it is capitalism that continually generates the conditions for racist oppression and ideology, then it follows that the struggle against racism can only be consistently carried out by overthrowing the capitalist system. The overthrow of capitalism, however, requires the unification of the working class internationally, across all lines of colour and nationality.
This is not to argue that the fight against racism must be deferred until after the revolution. Instead, we are arguing that only a united working class can defeat racism and capitalism and that a united working class can only be built on the basis of opposing all forms of oppression and prejudice and winning the support of all members of the working class. It is in the interest of all workers to support the struggle against racism.
Banning assault rifles, asking internet providers to block access to certain sites, demanding the spies spy on the right will not end racism. Neither is looking to politicians for solutions when they have themselves have often been responsible for helping lay the foundations for the attack. This has to be the work of the ordinary people of New Zealand.
Anti-racism should occupy a high priority in the activities of all anarchists. This is important not simply because we always oppose all oppression, but also because such work is essential to the vital task of unifying the working class, a unity without which neither racism nor capitalism can be ended. The world we need to create is one without racial categorisation, without “whiteness”, and without capitalism. One crucial way of working toward such a world is defending the marginalised in the here and now. Communities must come to the defence of people of colour.
The dangers of white identity politics must be explained to white members in their community and workplaces. Any hopes of building an anti-racist movement require white radicals educating other whites to identify that progress for other groups means that all workers benefit and that their rise does not mean another’s fall. We need to challenge those that say “maybe immigration is too high” or “Muslims are different”. We need to stop politicians and media commentators using their platforms to abuse Muslims and migrants for political point scoring.
Without these kinds of actions the far-right will continue to gain footholds amongst the white working-class as they present themselves as the alternative people are looking for, and the answers to the changing world around them.
We need to combat any fascist organising in public, without any exceptions. When fascists feel free to organise in public their discourse becomes normalised and supporters can gain strength and confidence from this. Furthermore, fascist organising is a threat to the lives of the people they scapegoat. Don’t be swayed of arguments for free speech, these people aren’t interested in debate, they are already convinced of the correctness of their ideas, and they just want power.
However, it must be remembered at all times that racism cannot be fought by anti-racism alone. The fight against capitalism and the struggle against racism are two sides of the same coin. Neither can succeed without the other. The right has been good at presenting a vision of an alternative to the discontented, we need to do the same, and we need to do it better, after all our vision of an all-inclusive, egalitarian future is more rewarding.
One more thing to reflect on is the common cry since the shooting has been “this is not who we are” but we have to remember there is no “we” that encompasses the whole people of Aotearoa New Zealand. This country, like every other in the world, is a class-divided society, made up of opposing classes, with conflicting class interests, and only one of those classes rules, the capitalist class. That is the class who Jacinda Ardern represents, and amongst all the glorification of the Prime Minister, this has to be remembered. While we can look for the common values that represent us as exploited workers and the response of the New Zealand public in coming together has been heartwarming, there are no common values between the ruling class and ours. Jacinda Ardern, despite the way she has handled the tragedy, as a representative of the ruling class and their institutions that lead to the white-supremacist that carried out this attack is part of the problem, not the solution.