Mary Schmich’s “Wear Sunscreen” and the spirit of cycling

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” (Schmich, 1997)

The following essay by the American journalist and newspaper columnist Mary Schmich was originally published in the Chicago Tribune in June 1997. Although Schmich makes no reference to cycling, her outlook nevertheless captures the spirit of cycling perfectly. Every single time I contemplate riding my bicycle I feel scared, and every single time I mount my bike and cycle off, moment by moment for that entire journey I feel a sense of aliveness like none other. When I return home safe and sound, I feel a deep gratitude and satisfaction. Fear of living yet living in spite of that fear, and gratitude for seizing life: that’s the soul of cycling. Read on and relish Mary Schmich’s poetic words:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Two years after this essay’s publication, Baz Luhrmann released an adaptation to spoken word song: “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”.

Guest post by Helen Russell: Top cycling tips for hill climbs!

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For many cycling enthusiasts conquering an ascent, whether it’s a local hill or an Alpine climb featured on the Tour de France, is the epitome of cycling. The winners of Grand Tours are often decided in the mountain stages and the title of King or Queen of the Mountains evokes the idea of an existential battle against the gradient to vanquish the mountain! Cyclists seem to be drawn to climbs but what is the best way to reach the summit? Here are my top tips for climbing:

1) Practice

The first thing to do if you are planning to tackle some of the iconic mountain climbs is to practice! It can be difficult to ride a long, steep gradient if you have never done it before. Riding the climbs of the Grand Tours will be a bit of a shock both physically and mentally if you are not used to riding hills. The climbs on the continent are long steady climbs rather than short steep inclines which are more common in the UK. If you can’t find a long climb close to home then just ride a decent hill a few times to get your legs used to climbing a longer distance.

2) Equipment

Make sure that your bike is set up properly for climbing. If you plan to take your own bike overseas to ride the Cols then the main question is – does it have enough gears? The standard 39/53 tooth chainring with 11-23 cassette is ok for hills that only last a few minutes but climbs on the continent can take over an hour to reach the top so you should think about changing either the chainset, cassette or both for a lower gear ratio. Of course that is easier said than done so the best way to ensure that your bike is suitable and avoiding the need to change your existing bike set up is to hire a bike with compact gears appropriate for the local terrain, at your destination. Lots of hire bikes have a traditional compact chainset with 50/34 chain rings and 11 speed 11-32 cassette – perfect for the mountains.

3) Technique

The most efficient way of climbing is to spin in an easy gear. We all know someone who claims to have climbed a mountain in the big ring but look at the gearing the pros use up climbs and you will see that they spin up. Unless you are doing a specific strength building session then select a lower gear and spin. Try and stay seated as long as possible. When the going gets tough move towards the back of the saddle to get some extra power and only stand for the steepest of gradients or just to stretch the legs.

4) Pace

The main point to make about pace is not to go off too fast. The climbs on the continent are a lot longer than those in the UK so you will need to conserve energy to reach the top. The most energy efficient way to climb is to ride at the same pace from the bottom to the summit and remember to ride within your own capacity. Also don’t be afraid to stop for a rest on the way up – you don’t have to ride it all at once. Actually stopping is advisable to take a look at, or a photo of, the stunning scenery on route!

5) Fuel

The mistake that many riders make is that they try to fuel the climb whilst on the climb. This is too late as your energy stores will already be depleted and what is worse it will be hard to digest whilst cycling hard and could make reappearance! Make sure that you have an energy bar about fifteen to or twenty minutes before you get to the climb. Energy gels are good for climbing as they are more easily digested and take affect quicker than solids. Of course keep taking small sips of drink whilst climbing. Some climbs have refreshment stops on the upwards slopes but that isn’t always the case so fill up your bidons at a café or shop at the bottom.

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Helen is a former age-group European triathlon champion and World and European duathlon champion. In 2015 she cycled the entire route of the Tour de France as part of the ‘One Day Ahead team’, which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia.  You can follow her training and racing on Twitter via @helengoth. Read more about Helen in Anaemic On A Bike’s Hall of Fame page.

The immorality of the One State idea in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a debate

“There can be no doubt that the One State idea gives its holders a moral satisfaction. Somebody told me: OK, perhaps it is not realistic but it is moral, this is where I want to stand. I respect this, but I say: this is a luxury we can’t afford. When we deal with the fate of so many people, a moral position which is not realistic is immoral. […] Because the final result of such a stance is to perpetuate the existing situation.” (Uri Avnery, 2007)

Within the milieux of the academic and public Left, the idea of a two states settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has increasingly limited traction. Various forms of a one state or one shared space resolution are instead rapidly gaining intellectual dominance. The ‘two states solution’ is regarded as that of the ruling hegemonies of the West: an unjust, disingenuous, myopic solution with a rightist political agenda that favours Israel; and moreover, a solution that is more and more unrealistic given the ‘facts on the ground’.

Those of us on the Left who advocate a two states settlement – a diminishing minority both within Israel and worldwide – have an enormous responsibility and task to claim and distinguish, and to explain and debate, our own independent politics for a two states settlement. The edited extract below is from one such debate that took place in 2007 in Tel Aviv between Ilan Pappé and Uri Avnery (for a transcript of the full debate, see here “Two States or One State”).

A display of crossed Israeli and Palestinian flags with the word for peace in both Arabic (Salaam/Salam السلام) and Hebrew (Shalom שלום) (Wikimedia Commons)

A display of crossed Israeli and Palestinian flags with the word for peace in both Arabic (Salaam/Salam السلام) and Hebrew (Shalom שלום) (Wikimedia Commons)

Ilan Pappé commences the debate by presenting the following narrative. The moment that the nationalist movement of Zionism became an unequivocal colonial project was when the territory it sought became only and exclusively Palestine (home to an indigenous population). Moreover, the Zionist quest to become a democratic nation state was fundamentally and dangerously flawed since this was, and still is, bound together with the need for a Jewish majority, and a Jewish majority at all cost: up to and including the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Thus, the creation of Israel in 1948 should be recognised for what it is: a crime against humanity. The conflict comes down to a question of justice for the Palestinians against the Zionist Minotaur. The notion of justice for two sides is nonsensical. Even when all of Palestine has been given to the Jewish State (with its never-ending territorial hunger), this State will continue to drive for a democratic majority, i.e. a Jewish majority, and so to ethnically cleanse. The two states solution satisfies, rather than challenges and undoes, Zionist territorial hunger and maintains Israel as a Jewish majority state. Under the guise of the peace process for two states, there has been continued ethnic cleansing and imprisonment of Palestinians. Settlement building and ever greater ‘facts on the ground’ have resulted in a reality where no two states solution is actually (meaningfully) possible. Instead, the two states solution merely separates the occupier and the occupied. What is actually needed is redress for the crime and injustice of 1948. It is no wonder, Pappé concludes, that the heads of the Israeli and US states favour a two states solution, because the principle of justice can never be delivered through this formula. The way forward politically is to provide an alternative to two states – the call for one state – and to build an international boycott movement to ‘out’ Israel for what it is: a pariah state.

Uri Avnery responds with the following counter-narrative. Zionism committed a historical injustice to the Palestinians. The occupation must be terminated. On the question of ethnic cleansing, both sides in 1948 were guilty of this. This debate is not about the far future, but rather the foreseeable future. And on this, Israeli peace activists should not give up the fight for Israeli public opinion – to change the reality inside of Israel. The ideal one state project is borne out of despair and must not be made into an ideology, which consequently turns away from the real prospect of a genuine two states settlement (on pre-1967 borders). There is no such thing as a point of no return vis-à-vis the conditions needed for two states. But the one state solution is not at all realistic and its proponents should be open and honest about what they actually mean: the dismantlement of the nation state of Israel. It is necessary and critical to wage a struggle inside of Israel to change its historical narrative and the notion that it can be both Jewish and democratic – a struggle to end the occupation outside of Israel proper and to end the discrimination inside of Israel. One simply cannot ignore the overwhelming majority of Israelis who do not want to dismantle their nation state. Those who believe that outside pressure will achieve such a dismantlement, and that a campaign for one state might frighten Israelis into giving the Palestinians their own state, will (in reality) be driving the Israeli public further into the hands of the Right-wing and will awaken the sleeping dog of ethnic cleansing. The idea of a single state is a utopian idea because reality worldwide is a nationalist reality, in which it is nation states (and the demand for nation states) that are flourishing not multi-national states. There is a disturbing lack of elaboration as to what a one state would look like in practice and how it will come into being. However, when one imagines a one state not in its ideal form but in its most likely actuality then one sees a disguised and continued occupation, an Apartheid state, and a descent into civil war that plays out a new version of 1948. The two states solution is the only realistic solution and in the sphere of consciousness it is this idea that is winning. The obstacles to achieving a two states settlement are big, but nowhere near as big as those to a one state resolution.

Pappé responds to Avnery by insisting that calls for one state come from hope not despair – two states require politicians, one state, educators. What’s more, examples of Jewish-Arab cooperation already exist, as do Palestinian and Jewish partners of this idea. Pappé states that it is necessary to stand apart from Israeli society because Zionism is an ideology of dispossession not nationalism, which has reached a point of no return. The real danger of a two states solution, Pappé spells out, is the logical extension of ethnic cleansing into ethnic elimination. Avnery presses Pappé for not answering how he would bring about the dismantlement of the nation state of Israel and thus how a one state solution could be achieved in practice. He also notes examples of Jewish-Arab co-existence. Avnery offers Pappé a compromise: for two states now, so that one day we can have one state, voluntarily. Avnery again insists that the prospect of two states is stronger now than previously, and that reality is nationalist so we cannot avoid working with that. Pappé asserts that he is for the right of the Jews to a state but not Israel because Israel is a state that dispossesses the indigenous population. Avnery maintains that a solution to the conflict has to entail the consent of a majority of Palestinians and Israelis, otherwise it is not a solution at all. To this, Pappé makes plain that the story of the conflict is in fact very simple: white people who were persecuted in Europe committed a crime against black people in Palestine, and these white people should be grateful that now these black people are willing to accommodate them in a solution. Avnery holds that the story is not one-sided and that unless we engage with both peoples then there will be no peace. To which Pappé retorts, why should the occupied engage with the occupier who claims the crime they have committed is more complicated than it is. Only when the crime is paid for would it be reasonable for the oppressed party to listen. Pappé closes, it is the duty of an international boycott movement to tell Israel that it is a pariah state and will continue to be so until it stops its crimes. This will strengthen the chance of long term peace. Avnery finishes, the Israeli peace movement should engage with the Israel public of six million. Outside pressure can be helpful or it can cause grave danger. Gush Shalom calls for a selective boycott of settlement goods. A blanket boycott instead will push Israelis further to the Right. The one state proposal leaves dangerous space for the Israeli Right to say that there is no solution to this conflict, which then justifies further conflict up to and including ethnic cleansing. In the foreseeable future, it is two states that has a chance, whilst the one state solution has none.

To me, what is revealed most starkly from this exchange is Ilan Pappé’s writing off of the Israeli Jewish working class: this population has no meaningful and progressive role to play unless, and only unless, they renounce the nation state of Israel. Pappé places a great emphasis on an international boycott movement to shame Israel into dismantling itself. Uri Avnery insists: one, the nation state of Israel on 1948 borders exists and should continue to exist because a vast majority of its population wants it to; and two, we cannot have peace without bringing the Israeli Jewish working class – alongside the Palestinian Arab and Israeli Arab working class – with us.

Ilan Pappé (Wikimedia Commons)

Ilan Pappé (Wikimedia Commons)

Uri Avnery (Wikimedia Commons)

Uri Avnery (Wikimedia Commons)

The debate (an edited transcript)

Pappé: The moment it was decided that the only territory where Jews could be assured of a safe haven, the only territory where a Jewish nation state could be created was in Palestine, this humanistic national movement turned into a colonial project. Its colonial character became all the more pronounced after the country was conquered by the British in the First World War. […] But the problem – and the source of the Palestinian tragedy – was that the leaders of Zionism did not want only to create a colonial project, they also wanted to create a democratic state. And why was it a Palestinian tragedy that Zionism at its early career wanted to be democratic? Because it still wants to be democratic. Because if you put together Zionist colonialism, Zionist nationalism and the impulse for democracy, you get a need which still dictates political positions in Israel up to the present […]. It is the need to have an overlap between the democratic majority and the Jewish majority. Every means is fair to ensure that there will be a Jewish majority, because without a Jewish majority we will not be a democracy. It is even permissible to expel Arabs in order to make us a democracy. Because the most important thing is to have here a majority of Jews. Because otherwise the project will not be a democratic project. It is not surprising that not far from here, in the Red House on the seashore of Tel Aviv, eleven of the leaders of Zionism gathered in 1948 and decided that if you want to create a democratic state and also to complete the Zionist project, i.e. to take over as much as possible of the land of Palestine, and if you have no majority and you are only a third – than the only choice is to implement an ethnic cleansing, remove the Arab population from the territory you intend for a Jewish State. […] Had this act of the Zionist movement taken place now, no international body would have hesitated to label it a Crime Against Humanity.

The UN Partition Resolution of November 1947 and the attempts to effect a division of the land after the 1948 War were not based on the ideals of justice – i.e., there is justice and rights to the indigenous people, most of whom had been expelled, and there is justice to the new settlers. No. The basis for the impulse to effect a Two State Solution then, as at the basis of this impulse now, there was the idea that the Zionist Minotaur could be satisfied by letting the Jewish State have control over only part of Palestine – not the whole. The UN had proposed giving 50 percent of Palestine. For the Zionists that was not enough and they took 80 percent of Palestine, and there was a feeling that that would be enough for them. But we know that this territorial hunger did not end in 1948. When the historic opportunity came, a hundred percent of Palestine came under the rule of the Jewish State. But here the great Palestinian tragedy manifests itself once again. Even after 100 percent of Palestine became the Jewish State, there is still a real impulse to create and preserve a democratic state.

This is the background for the creation of a special kind of peace process, a peace process based on the assumption that the Zionist territorial hunger and democratic wishes can be assuaged by leaving part of Palestine – the West Bank and Gaza – out of Israeli control. This gives a double profit: on the one hand, the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs is not disturbed; on the other hand, the Palestinians are imprisoned where they would no longer threaten the Zionist project. […] Already in the 1980s, the mantra of the Palestinian State beside the Israeli State – as a good solution to the conflict or as a way to assuage the territorial hunger of the Zionist movement and preserve Israel as a Jewish State – this mantra was encountering increasing difficulties. One factor was that the ‘facts on the ground’ were steadily reducing the Palestinian territory, by creating and extending settlements. And from a different direction, there was the natural wish of the political movements to extend the ranks of those who supported the Two States Solution. Gradually, they found new partners, and these new partners gave new meanings to the term ‘A Palestinian State’. In fact, the connection gradually disappeared between the Two States idea on the one hand and the idea of solving the conflict on the other. Suddenly, the Two States Solution became a way of arranging some kind of separation between occupier and occupied, rather than a permanent solution which should have dealt with the crime committed by Israel in 1948, with the problems of the twenty percent of Palestinians inside Israel, and with the refugee population which has steadily increased since 1948. In the 1990s, and since the beginning of the present century, the Two States idea has become common currency. The respectable list of its supporters finally came to include, among others, Ariel Sharon, Binyamin Netanyahu and George W. Bush. When your idea gains such adherents, that is far from a bad historical moment to rethink the entire idea. […] Under cover of the Peace Process, you can say under the cover of the slogan of Two States for Two Peoples, the settlements were extended, and the harassment and oppression of the Palestinians were deepened. So far so that the `facts on the ground’ have reduced to nothing the area intended for the Palestinians. The Zionist racist and ethnic hunger got legitimacy to extend itself into nearly half of the West Bank. […] If the principle of justice be the basis for those who support the partition of this country, there is no formula more cynical than the Two States Solution, as it is now presented in the Peace Camp. 80 percent of the country to the occupier, and twenty percent to the occupied. That is, 20 percent in the best and utopian case. More likely, no more than 10 percent, a dispersed and surrounded ten percent, to the occupied. Moreover, where in this solution do you find a solution for the refugee problem, to where will return those who were the victims of the ethnic cleansing of 1948? […] If we trust in the international and regional balance of forces as the decisive factor we would give the Palestinians a tiny piece of land, hermetically enclosed with barriers and walls. Because we are not guided by moral principles, we are pragmatic people.

There will be neither reconciliation here, nor justice or a permanent solution, if we don’t let [the] Palestinians have a share in solving the questions referring to reconciliation and to defining the sovereignty, the identity and the future of this country. […] We will find an alternative model. All of us, including the old settlers and the new – even those who got here yesterday – including the expellees with all their generations and those who were left after the expulsions. We will ask all of them what political structure fits all of them, which would include the principles of justice, reconciliation and coexistence. Let’s offer them at least one more model, in addition to the one which failed. […] In conclusion: in order for this dialogue to start and flourish, let’s admit one more thing. Let’s admit that the occupation which they are increasing daily, we – with all our important efforts – can’t stop from here. The occupation is part of the same ideological infrastructure on which the ethnic cleansing of 1948 was built […]. The most murderous manifestation of this ideology occurs now in Greater Jerusalem and the West Bank. In order to stop the extension of these war crimes, the extension of this criminal behaviour, let’s admit that we need external pressure on the State of Israel. Let’s thank the associations of journalists, physicians and academics who call for a boycott on Israel as long as this criminal policy continues. Let us use the help of civil society in order to make the State of Israel a pariah state, as long as this behaviour continues. So that we here, everybody who belongs and who wants to belong to this country, could conduct a constructive and fruitful dialogue.

Avnery: There can be no dispute that Zionism, which had implemented a historical project, had also caused a historical injustice to the Palestinian people. There can be no dispute that ethnic cleansing took place in 1948 – though allow me to remark, in parenthesis, that the ethnic cleansing was on both sides, and that there was not a single Jew left residing in whatever territory was conquered by the Arab side. Occupation is a despicable condition which must be terminated. There is certainly no debate about that. We might have no debate about the far future, either, about what we would like to see happening a hundred years from now. […] We do have a debate about the foreseeable future.

Should we concentrate our efforts in the struggle for the Israeli public opinion, or give up the struggle inside the country and struggle abroad, instead? I am an Israeli. I stand with both legs on the ground of the Israeli reality. I want to change this reality from one side to the other, but I want this state to exist. Those who deny the existence of the state of Israel, as an entity expressing our Israeli identity, deny themselves the possibility of being active here. All their activity here is foredoomed to failure. A person might despair and say that there is nothing to do, everything is lost, we have passed the point of no return. As Meron Benvenishti said many years ago, the situation is irreversible, we have nothing more to do in this state.

It happens that you sometimes despair. Each one of us had such moments. Despair destroys any chance of action. Despair must not be made into an ideology. I say: there is no place for despair, nothing is lost. Nothing is irreversible, except for life itself. There is no such thing as a point of no return. I am 83 years old. In my lifetime I have seen the rise of the Nazis and their fall, the peak of the Soviet Union’s power and its sudden collapse. One day before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was not a single German believing this would happen in his lifetime. The experts did not foresee it – none of them. Because there are subterranean currents which act below the surface, and which nobody sees in real time. That’s why theoretical analyses come true so rarely.

There are three basic questions about the One State idea. First: Is it possible at all. Second: If it were possible, is it a good idea. Third: Will it bring a just peace. About the first question, my answer is clear and unequivocal: No, it is not possible. Anybody who is rooted in the Israeli-Jewish public knows that this public’s deepest aspiration – and here it is permissible to make a generalization – the far, far deepest aspiration is to maintain a state with a Jewish majority, a state where Jews will be masters of their fate. This takes precedence over any other wish and aspiration, it takes precedence even over wanting to have a Greater Israel. You can talk of a Single State from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, define it as bi-national or supra-national – whatever the term used, in practice it means the dismantling of the State of Israel, destruction of all that was built for five generations. This must be said out loud, without any evasions. That is exactly how the Jewish public sees it, and certainly also a large part of the Palestinian public. This means the dismantling of the State of Israel. I am a bit disturbed by the fact that these words are not said explicitly. We want to change very many things in this country. We want to change its historical narrative, its commonly held definition as “Jewish and democratic.” We want to end occupation outside and discrimination inside. We want to build a new framework in the relations between the state and its Arab-Palestinian citizens. But you cannot ignore the basic ethos of the vast majority of the citizens of Israel. 99.99% of the Jewish public do not want to dismantle the state. There is an illusion that you can achieve this by outside pressure. Would outside pressure force this people to give up their state? I suggest a very simple test. Think for a moment about your neighbours at home, colleagues at work, fellow students. Would any of them give up the state because somebody outside demands it? Pressure from Europe, even pressure from the White House? Short of a decisive military defeat on the battlefield, nothing will induce Israelis to give up their state. And if Israel is militarily defeated, our debate will become irrelevant anyway. The Palestinian people want a state of their own, too. This is needed in order to satisfy their most basic aspirations, the restoration of their national pride and the healing of their trauma. Even the Hamas leaders with whom we spoke want it. Those who think otherwise engage in daydreams. There are Palestinians who speak of a Single State, but for most of them this is simply a code word for the dismantling of Israel. And even they know it is a utopia. There are those who delude themselves that if they speak of a bi-national state, that would frighten the Israelis so much that they will immediately consent to the creation of a Palestinian State at the side of Israel. But the result will be the opposite. This frightens the Israelis, that’s true – and pushes them into the arms of the right-wing. This arouses the sleeping dog of ethnic cleansing. About this I agree with Ilan: this dog is sleeping, but it is still there. All over the world, the trend is opposite: not the creation of multi-national states but on the contrary the division of states into national units. […] There is no example in the world of two different peoples voluntarily agreeing to live in one state. There is no example in the world, except for Switzerland, of a really functioning bi-national or multi-national state. And the example of Switzerland, which has grown for hundreds of years in a unique process, is the exception which proves the rule. After 120 years of conflict, after a fifth generation was born into this conflict on both sides, to move from total war to total peace in a Single Joint State, with a total renunciation of national independence? This is total illusion.

How is this supposed to be implemented in practice? Ilan did not talk about it. This worries me. I suppose it should look like this: The Palestinians will give up their independence struggle and their wish for a national state of their own. They will announce that they want to live in a Single Joint State. After that state is created, they would have to struggle in its framework for their civil rights. Many good people around the world will support that struggle, as they did in the case of South Africa. Israel will be boycotted. Israel will be isolated. Millions of refugees will return to the country, until the wheel turns a full circle and the Palestinians assume power. If that was possible at all, how much time would it take? Two generations? Three generations? Four generations? Can anybody imagine how such a state would function in practice? […] There are those who say: It already exists. Israel already rules one state from the sea to the river, you only need to change the regime. So, first of all: There is no such thing. There is an occupying state and an occupied territory. It is far easier to dismantle a settlement, to dismantle settlements, to dismantle ALL the settlements – far easier than to force six million Jewish Israelis to dismantle their state. No, the Single State would not come about. But let us ask ourselves – should it somehow be erected, would that be a good thing? My answer is: absolutely not. Let’s try to imagine this state – not as ideal creation of the imagination, but as it might be in reality. In this state the Israelis will be dominant. They have an enormous dominance in nearly all spheres: standard of living, military power, level of education, technological capacity. Israeli per capita income is 25 times – 25 times! – that of the Palestinians, 20,000 dollars per year compared to 800 Dollars a year. In such a state the Palestinians will be “cutters of wood and hewers of water” for a long, long time. It will be occupation by other means, a disguised occupation. It will not end the historical conflict, but just move it to a new stage. Would this solution bring about a just peace? In my view, exactly the opposite. This state would be a battlefield. Each side will try to take over a maximum of land. Bring in a maximum number of people. The Jews would fight by all possible means in order to prevent the Palestinians from gaining a majority and taking power. In practice, it would be an Apartheid state. And if the Arabs do become a majority and seek to gain power democratically, there would start a struggle which might reach the scale of a civil war. A new version of 1948. Also those who support this solution know that this struggle would last several generations, that a lot of blood might be shed and that there is no knowing the result. It is a utopia. In order to achieve it, you need to replace the people – perhaps the two peoples. […] Precisely a beautiful utopia can bring about terrible results. In the vision of “The Wolf lying down with the Sheep” there would be needed a new sheep every day.

The Two State Solution is the only practical solution, the only one which is within the bounds of reality. It is ridiculous to say that this idea was defeated. In the most important sphere, the sphere of consciousness, it is growing ever stronger. After the war of 1948, when we raised that banner, we were a small handful, which could be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Everybody denied the very existence of a Palestinian People. I remember how, in the 1960s, I was running around Washington, talking with people in the White House and the National Security Council. Nobody wanted to hear of it. Now, there is a world-wide consensus that this is the only solution. The United States, Russia, Europe, the Israeli public opinion, the Palestinian public opinion, the Arab League. You should grasp what this means: the entire Arab World now supports this solution. This has enormous importance for the future. Why did it happen? Not because we are so clever and talented that we convinced the whole world. No. The internal logic of this solution is what conquered the world. True, some of the declared adherents are only paying lip service. It is quite possible that they use it to distract attention from their true purposes. Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert pretended to be supporters of this idea, while their true intention was to prevent the abolition of the occupation. But precisely the fact that such people need to resort to such a pretence, that they are now outwardly committed to it, exactly that proves that they realize it would be futile to go on fighting it. When all peoples, the whole world, recognize that this is the practical solution, it would finally be implemented. The parameters are well-known, and about them too there is a worldwide agreement. One: A Palestinian State will be created, side by side with Israel. Two: The border between them will be based on the Green Line [pre-1967 border], possibly with agreed exchanges of territory. Three: Jerusalem will be the capital of both states. Four: There will be an agreed solution to the refugee problem – meaning that an agreed number will return to Israel, and the others will be absorbed in the Palestinian State or in the present places of habitation while getting generous compensations, for example like what the Germans paid us. […] Five: There will be an economic partnership between the two states, in whose framework the Palestinian Government will be able to defend the interests of the Palestinian People, unlike the present situation. The very existence of two states will to some degree diminish the gap in the imbalance between the two sides. […] Six: In the longer range, there should be a Middle-Eastern Union on the European model, which might eventually include also Turkey and Iran. There are big obstacles. They are real. Real obstacles can be overcome. They are as nothing – I want to emphasize this – they are as nothing compared with the obstacles on the way to a Single State. […] Opting for the One State since it is difficult to gain the Two States is like being unable to beat a lightweight boxer and therefore choosing to contend with a heavyweight; or failing to run a hundred metres, and therefore shifting to the marathon; or being unable to attain the peak of Mont Blanc, and therefore trying the Everest instead. There can be no doubt that the One State Idea gives its holders a moral satisfaction. Somebody told me: OK, perhaps it is not realistic but it is moral. This is where I want to stand. I respect this, but I say: this is a luxury we can’t afford. When we deal with the fate of so many people, a moral position which is not realistic is immoral. It is important to repeat this: a moral stance which is not realistic is immoral. Because the final result of such a stance is to perpetuate the existing situation.

Pappé: The One State idea does not proceed from despair. […] There is hope. You can see it, for example, in the Galilee – where Jews and Arabs live in a region relatively free from state interference. It is interesting to note that exactly where there is a demographic balance between Jews and Arabs, there are also business partnerships, joint schools, suddenly there is a budding common life of the two nationalities. It turns out that you can fight segregation. Why is it possible to fight it? Do you know why? Because the idea that nationalism is bound to win around here is the result of manipulation and education – not of human nature. You can educate otherwise. It’s true – there is an enormous difference between the Two State Solution and the One State Solution. For two states you need politicians, for one state you need educators. […] The real Two States formula […] is the one which we see being implemented in front of our eyes. It means fifty percent of the West Bank annexed to Israel, and the other fifty percent as a Bantustan surrounded by walls and fences, but with a Palestinian flag. That is the state, with apparently some kind of tunnel connecting it to the other concentration camp which is called the Gaza Strip. This is what will be signed in a ceremony on the White House lawn, about which the Zionist Peace Camp will come and say: nevertheless, this is a bit better than what we had until now. We have already seen the results of this kind of thinking.

There is a need for persons who struggle with their society. The kind of person who says to his society: I am sorry, the collective ideological identity which you have chosen is despicable and impossible to maintain. It does not stand the test of Judaism or of common morality. This idea that Jews have an ethnic preference, ethnic majority, ethnic superiority – for a state which is supposed to represent the victims of the Holocaust. Am I supposed to accept all this because the majority thinks so? Because this is the result of past education? Even if I am left as the only Israeli who thinks otherwise, I will go on saying it! What are you trying to say? That in the name of the collective consciousness as it was under the Apartheid regime, it was forbidden for a white person to come and say out loud what certainly did not sound realistic in the 1960s and 1970s – that Apartheid was a despicable ideology? Zionism is not the ideology of a national movement. It is an ethnic ideology of dispossessing the indigenous people and denying them the possibility of going on living here. If we do not start changing the discourse, the general public certainly will not. There ARE points of no return in history. Yes, there are points of no return in history. I am sorry to say, Uri, that genocide is a point of no return, an irreversible act. There is no lack of examples. Let me tell it to you as a historian, there is no lack of historical examples where ethnic cleansing turned into genocide. You should give a thought to the depths of this national consciousness, this Jewish consciousness from which you draw such hope for the implementation of the Two State Solution. I don’t like to contemplate these depths, the possible transition from ethnic cleansing to ethnic extermination. […] Is it possible? It is not possible tomorrow, nor is it possible the day after tomorrow. I am sorry to say that it is far more possible that the Zionist Project will succeed to create here a state without Arabs. This is far more possible. It is on the cards, among other things because of the mistake of the peace camp and the support for “Two States for Two Peoples”. Because with the help of the slogan of “Two States for Two Peoples” it is possible to start talking of a transfer of population, it is possible to talk of reducing the Palestinian territory, it is possible to cleanse the Israeli territory of Palestinians. “We are here and they are there” said Ehud Barak. They can also cleanse the Palestinian minority in Israel, in the name of the sublime idea of Two States. […]

Do we have no partners on the Palestinian side for building here a joint state? Are there no Palestinians in Israel with whom we want to build a joint state? Are there no Jews in Israel with whom we DON’T want to build a joint state? So let us already make the division as between normal Jews and Arabs on the one hand and Jews and Arabs who are bastards on the other side. Let us stop dealing with the nationalist discourse which perpetuates occupation, alienation and oppression.

Avnery: I am in a bit of an embarrassing situation – because in the debate between emotion and logic, it is always emotion which gets the applause. In the debate between absolute morality and relative morality, absolute morality gets – and rightly so – the applause. I have listened attentively to what you said, Ilan, but I also listened attentively to what you did NOT say. You did not say how you can bring about the dismantling of the State of Israel. You did not say how the One State will come about. You did not describe how it will look in reality. You have described ideal things. […] There are many good people in Israel. Many, who do good things. There are a hundred peace organizations and more, each one of which does important things in its own way. There are teachers who educate for Jewish-Arab coexistence, there are kindergartens which start this even earlier in life, all true. But you yourself said that the solution which you propose will not come about in their lifetime. You propose planting an almond tree of which your grandchildren will get to eat. But God Almighty, all this frightens me terribly. You talk of ethnic cleansing, of the terrible danger of ethnic cleansing. You talk of the terrible dangers which threaten the Palestinian people in the present reality, and I see this situation as darkly as you see it. I am even more sombre than you. In this reality, we have no fifty years to wait for a solution! I said that there can be no compromise between our positions. But let’s offer you a compromise anyway: work with us for the creation of the two states. After the two states will be there, after these dangers would be averted, go on struggling to get them united into a single state. I say this seriously. Struggle for it that the two states will become one, voluntarily. […] It is absolutely true: On the ground we see that reality is terrible, that it is even getting worse – if that is possible, and we know that it is always possible. We deal with all that every day. But below the surface other things are happening. There was a time when 99% of the Jewish-Israeli public denied the very existence of the Palestinian People – now, nobody speaks like that anymore. Once, the big majority opposed the idea of creating a Palestinian state. Now, according to all opinion polls, the great majority in Israel accepts this idea as part of the solution. When we said that Israel should talk with the PLO, they said we were traitors. Afterwards, the government made an agreement with the PLO. Now we say that there should be talks with Hamas. I am sure that Israel is going to talk with Hamas, and that it will not even take too long before that happens. We said that Jerusalem was going to be the capital of two states. That was terrible, unacceptable. Jerusalem is the Eternal Undivided Capital of Israel, blah, blah, blah. But when Ehud Barak proposed a kind of partition of Jerusalem – and it does not matter whether he meant it or not, and precisely what he meant – what was the public reaction? The public was silent. […] It is not easy, the obstacles are enormous. But I am not mindlessly optimistic. I am optimistic on the basis of reality. I think that we will get to the creation of a Palestinian state, side by side with Israel. And I think that Palestine will be a proud national state. I know that for many people the word “national”, the word “nationalism”, are dirty words. You can open a big additional debate on that, and take up a whole new evening with it, but I will say only this: anybody who ignores the enormous power of national feeling lives in an unreal world. Reality is nationalist. […] Ignoring the irrational element in politics is not a rational behaviour. Irrationality exists. It is rational to take the irrational into account. We need to think how, despite this irrationality, we can reach a solution which can be lived with.

Pappé: I do not deny the right of the Jewish People to a state, as I do not deny the right of the Palestinian people to a state. I do deny the right of the Jewish People to dispossess the Palestinian people of their homeland. If the political solution which is being proposed would enable the Jewish people to continue dispossessing the Palestinian people, this is not only morally unacceptable – it also means that the conflict would be perpetuated. Therefore, what I seek is a solution which in the final account will enable everybody who lives here to feel that their historical rights are respected, and that their civil and human rights are respected, too. If this sounds like absolute morality, I shudder to think what relative morality would consist of.

Avnery: The solution which you propose like the solution which I propose have one thing in common: neither could be implemented except with the common consent of Israelis and Palestinians. Anything but that would mean either the destruction of Israel or the perpetuation of Israeli occupation. This solution or that, the one you consider realistic and the one I consider to be such – both need the consent of both peoples. And if you want to include the refugees in the decision, too, I am certainly not opposed to that.

Pappé: Uri, the story is not complicated – unlike what you say and what is written in this brochure prepared by Gush Shalom. The story here is a simple story, a story of white people who were persecuted in Europe and who drove away the black people who used to live here. It happened in many places. The difference is that here the white people stayed, and surprisingly the black people who are left here are willing to build a single state together with them. So, we should be grateful to them for that, rather than start accusing them again and look for ways of locking them into impossible enclosures.

Avnery: Here, the Palestinian People found itself faced with a formidable movement which progressively took over the country. I define this historic, tragic and painful conflict (to whose Jewish side I am also sensitive) as a collision between an unstoppable force and an immoveable mass. It is, in my view, not a completely one-sided story. When you, Ilan, show high sensitivity to the injustice done to the Palestinians, I accept this fully and more than fully. But when you completely ignore the fact that there is a Jewish side to that story, I don’t think this is true. And it is also not useful. You could not affect the Jewish-Israeli public if you have no sensitivity to what this public thinks, to its fears and anxieties. All this exists. It exists, and you must take it into account, if you want to influence these people. Also to influence in your direction, also to bring six million Israelis to dismantle this state and accept a common state with another nation – a nation which they now hate and fear. If you want to influence the Israeli public, you must understand these fears, understand where they come from. Only if we look at both peoples, see them at every moment of our struggle, see their anxieties and aspirations – only then do we have a chance of succeeding.

Pappé: It is always the occupier, the dispossessor, the oppressor who claims that the story is complicated. The victim always says: In fact, it is not so complicated. You have taken my home, you imprison me, you don’t let me breath – all this does not sound complicated to me It is hard, it is terrible and horrible, but it is not complicated. The occupier says: it is complicated, it is far more complicated, you have to understand also my side. The side of the occupier is something to which we will show understanding when the occupation is over – not a minute before. […] There is only one way to deal with a regime like the Israeli regime, which is based on an ideology which creates a separation between the Jewish population and the local population – a population whose cleansing started in 1948 and never stopped for a single day since then. There is only one way of conveying that the message that this ideology does not pay, that the occupation is too expensive to sustain. The only way is a clear message from conscientious people, of peace movements all over the world. Israel should get the same message which was delivered to South Africa: “You will stay a pariah state as long as you continue committing these crimes”. This is an important message, a message which should be supported. It does not contradict the Palestinian struggle, it does not contradict the peace struggle. On the contrary, it strengthens these struggles, it gives it a chance. Without that, the first victims will be the Palestinians but we too will be victims, everybody in this room.

Avnery: The question is where the Israeli peace movement should direct its main thrust, its main effort. Where is its main battlefield. I say, unequivocally: that is here, in this country. As to outside pressures: there are pressures which can help, and there are pressures which might cause damage, even grave damage. If the outside pressure would be of such a kind as to make normal, sane Israelis feel that the entire world is ganging up on us because we are Jews, this pressure will bring an opposite result. If the pressure will be selective, if the boycott will be focused on bodies which support the occupation and take part in it, then it would be excellent. I am all for that. In fact, Gush Shalom pioneered this way, calling already ten years ago for boycott of settlement products. Occupation will not end without peace. We have to see that in the most clear way possible: there is no way of putting an end to all this injustice, of ending the occupation, except in the framework of peace. […]

Let me tell you what I find most frightening in your proposal, more than anything else. You say that the Two States Solution is inherently bad and should be rejected. Your alternative is a solution which 99 percent of Jewish Israelis do not want, and which has no chance to be accepted. What does that leave? It leaves the slogan of the Israeli right wing: that there is no solution to this conflict. That is what I am afraid of: of those who say that “There is no solution to the conflict”, the conflict will last forever, that it is our fate to suffer an eternity of it. This is what I am afraid of, because it can serve as justification to all horrors, up to and including ethnic cleansing. To sum up: I am not pessimistic. I am optimistic. I think that nearly everything is possible. The one thing which is not possible to convince the Israelis to dismantle the state of Israel. This simply will not happen, not under any conceivable set of circumstances, even in situations which go beyond the most wild imaginations. It will not happen in the foreseeable future. Well, it might happen beyond the foreseeable future. […] A single state means the dismantling of the State of Israel. The adherents of this idea should say this loud and clear. You cannot walk around on a tiptoe and wrap it in a million disguises. What is up for discussion on the table is the existence of the State of Israel. Nothing else. If anybody here has found the way of how to convince six million Israelis to dismantle the State of Israel for which five generations had fought, I raise my hat to them. There is no such way.

Expounding racial hatred before and after the Brexit vote

In this post I present, first, a brief overview of the current period in Britain vis-à-vis racism and hate crime; second, the limitation of a dominant academic understanding of racism; and third, a historical exposition of the nature of racism which offers explanatory power for our contemporary era.

I. Hate crime post the EU referendum

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Anti-Polish propaganda which was posted through the doors of immigrant residences in Cambridge during the EU referendum campaign (source: YouTube)

Britain’s EU referendum cannot simply be regarded at its face value as a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. More than this, it was a noxious campaign on immigration, which was preceded by years of political and media discourse that has mainstreamed anti-immigration sentiment. The Brexit vote legitimised racism: it took the shame out of racial hatred and unleashed waves of its verbal and physical expression. The Economist (2016) reports hate crime data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council of 3,076 incidents of harassment or violence between June 6th and 30th 2016, a rise of 915 on the same period the previous year. More recent figures, from between August 5th and 18th, indicate 2,778 cases, an increase of 14% on the same period in 2015. The stark reality behind these statistics can be seen through the following summary by The Independent (2016) of hate crime incidents since the EU referendum:

“Gangs prowling the streets demanding passers-by prove they can speak English

  • Swastikas in Armagh, Sheffield, Plymouth, Leicester, London and Glasgow.
  • Assaults, arson attacks and dog excrement being thrown at doors or shoved through letter boxes.
  • Toddlers being racially abused alongside their mothers, with children involved as either victims or perpetrators in 14 per cent of incidents.
  • A man in Glasgow ripping off a girl’s headscarf and telling her “Trash like you better start obeying the white man.”
  • Comparisons with 1930s Nazi Germany and a crowd striding through a London street chanting: “First we’ll get the Poles out, then the gays!””

This provides a critical backdrop and climate to the horrific fatal assault on a Polish man, Arkadiusz Jozwik, in Harlow, Essex, on 27th August 2016. The question addressed by this article is: why and how have we arrived at this moment? To answer this, we need to adequately understand the history and nature of racism in Britain.

II. Dominant academic framing of racism

The UK Independence Party's "Breaking Point" poster that was launched during the EU Referendum campaign

The UK Independence Party’s “Breaking Point” poster that was launched during the EU referendum campaign

Sociologist Gurminder K. Bhambra (2016), in a blog post written soon after the EU referendum result, states that what was “unleashed in the weeks prior to the vote was the most toxic discourse on citizenship and belonging, and the rights that pertain as a consequence”. She questions the idea of Britain as an ‘independent’ nation, given its history as part of wider political entities: notably, the colonial Empire and Commonwealth, and the European Union. Bhambra continues, the idea of the British nation has long been dependent on “a racially stratified political formation” of its making and, decisively, it has been:

“the loss of this privileged position – based on white elites and a working class offered the opportunity to see themselves as better than the darker subjects of empire […] – that seems to drive much of the current discourse. Austerity has simply provided the fertile ground for its re-emergence and expression.” (Bhambra, 2016)

Thus, she argues, to understand ‘Britain’ one needs to understand its colonial and imperial Empire and governance. The 1948 British Nationality Act was a turning point, for previously Britain’s colonial subjects were defined as British subjects but with the Act they became Commonwealth citizens. And as the bodies of these Commonwealth citizens migrated into the space of the British nation-state, “mythologies of the changing nature (or, perhaps more accurately, face) of Britain” developed:

“Mythologies that continue to reverberate in the present and have taken on a renewed political vibrancy in light of the debates regarding our continued EU membership. […] The transformation of darker citizens from citizens to aliens over the 1960s and 1970s was based on a visceral understanding of difference predicated on race that brought into being two classes of citizenship – full citizenship and second-class citizenship. […] immigration into the country was increasingly managed by the passing of Acts to discriminate among citizens on the basis of race.” (Bhambra, 2016)

From this twentieth century history, Bhambra concludes that the “common-sense position” on what it means “to be British or English is to be white”, as based on the “mythology of a white Europe or a historically white Britain”. The consequence of this (racist) common sense is a grave misrepresentation of Britain’s “multiracial political formations”. As such:

“we must rethink our analyses to take into account the imperial configuration of Britain and all those who were subjects within it and subject to it. If this is not done, then that demonstrates a commitment to a racialized national history that has no space for its darker subjects.” (Bhambra, 2016)

For me, this academic narrative leaves unexplained the present-day racism against Eastern Europeans, for example. Without a doubt, racism before and since the EU referendum affects Britain’s darker subjects, but what has evolved is not simply or only a racism that targets those of different skin colour. Other markers, both visible and invisible, are also at play as signifying negative racial difference and inciting hatred. Helpful here is the work of the sociologist Robert Miles (1993), who makes the point that proposing (or indeed assuming) the ideology of racism has its historical origins in colonialism can lead to a conclusion that racism is an ideology created exclusively by ‘white’ people to dominant ‘black’ people. However, “in part, the origins of racism can be traced back to pre-capitalist social relations within and beyond Europe” and “its reproduction is as much determined by the rise of the nation state as by colonialism” (Miles, 1993). From the highly cited and regarded work of Stuart Hall and the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) collective, a dominant academic understanding of racism has problematically developed, as Miles observes, “often implicit in their writing is the assumption that the only contemporary form of racism in Britain is that which has people of Caribbean and South Asian origin as its object”. Yet:

“Many physical characteristics (both real and imagined) have been and continue to be signified as a mark of nature and of ‘race’ […]. Moreover, cultural characteristics have also been, and continue to be, signified to the same end. The reification of skin colour therefore mistakenly privileges one specific instance of signification and ignores the historical and contemporary evidence which shows that other populations (Jews, Irish people, etc.) have been signified as distinct and inferior ‘races’ without reference to skin colour […]. Moreover, it restricts analysis of the nature and determinants of racism to a debate about the effects of colonial exploitation.” (Miles, 1993)

I turn now to detail Miles’ exploration of the history of racism, which, I will illustrate, provides astute explanatory power to the contemporary era surrounding Brexit.

III. On the history of racism and its reverberations in the present

Miles’ explanation of the historical interrelationship between nationalism and racism vis-à-vis capitalist development is instructive:

“In the context of its formation, nationalism was […] a revolutionary doctrine because it sought to overturn monarchy and aristocratic government by an appeal to the popular will of ‘the people’ who were the ‘nation’ […] For much of the nineteenth century, nationalism was synonymous with a struggle for political sovereignty within defined spatial boundaries and for some form of representative government. […] By way of contrast, there was no single political strategy that emerged from the general theory of biological, hierarchical differentiation expressed in the idea of ‘race’. This was not only because there was little agreement about the boundaries between the supposed ‘races’, but also because scientific racism did not posit a single, coherent political object. The theorisation of ‘race’ and ‘nation’ took place at a time of ‘internal’ European political and economic reorganisation and ‘external’ colonial expansion, in the course of which the range of human cultural and physiological variation became more widely known to a larger number of people. The extension of capitalist relations of production increased the circulation of commodities and of people, and this increasing mobility, migration and social interaction provided part of the foundation upon which the ideologies of racism and nationalism were constructed. The increasing profusion of physiological and cultural variation, as recognised in western Europe, became the object of intellectual curiosity and, thereby, of the theoretical practice of scientists and philosophers. But it also became the focus of political attention and action as populations within and beyond Europe were nationalised and racialised by the state […]” (Miles, 1993)

Mesocephalic indexes - an illustration of racial science from the Popular Science Monthly Volume 50, 1896 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Mesocephalic indexes of different ‘races’ – an illustration of racial science from the Popular Science Monthly Volume 50, 1896 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

While distinct ideologies, nationalism and racism can overlap: the construct of the ‘nation’ as based on cultural differentiae is compatible with the notion that the nation is founded on a biological ‘race’. Miles continues to demonstrate that first the feudal aristocracy’s, and later the bourgeoisie’s, ‘civilisation’ project became fused with racism – a civilisation project which was central to emergent and developing capitalist social relations within and outside Europe:

“In France, notions of politesse and civilité were used by the feudal aristocracy to contrast the refinement of their behaviour with that of the ‘inferior’ people whom they ruled. […] the bourgeoisie became its leading exponent once it had displaced the aristocracy as the ruling class. By the early nineteenth century, the bourgeoisie, conscious of its material achievements and more firmly in political control in at least certain parts of Europe, began to assert that its values and manners were more a matter of inheritance than a social construction. In these circumstances the notion of civilisation (Elias 1978: 50): “serves at least those nations which have become colonial conquerors, and therefore a kind of upper class to large sections of the non-European world, as a justification of their rule, to the same degree that earlier the ancestors of the concept of civilisation, politesse and civilité, had served the courtly-aristocratic upper class as a justification of theirs.”” (Miles, 1993)

Depending on conjuncture and interests, the boundaries of blood have been mapped and remapped:

“Hence, during the nineteenth century, in certain circumstances the English working class, or fractions thereof, were signified by the dominant class as ‘a different breed’, an uncivilised ‘race’, but in other circumstances, as a constituent part of the English (or British) ‘race’, a ‘breed’ which contains ‘in its blood’ civilised and democratic values. […] The result was a racialised nationalism or a nationalist racism, a mercurial ideological bloc that was manipulated by the ruling class (or rather by different fractions of it) to legitimate the exploitation of inferior ‘races’ in the colonies, to explain economic and political struggles with other European nation states, and to signify (for example) Irish and Jewish migrants as an undesirable ‘racial’ presence within Britain.” (Miles, 1993)

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This 1862 song, “No Irish Need Apply”, was inspired by No Irish Need Apply [NINA] signs in London (source: Wikipedia)

Thus for over two centuries the signification of racial difference has been a central aspect of class relations and class struggle both inside and beyond Europe. To maintain domination:

“Europeans in different class positions have racialised each other, as well as inward migrants and those populations that they colonised beyond Europe. During the twentieth century, there have been further examples of the racialisation of the interior of European nation states (as in the case of the Jews), as well as a racialisation of larger-scale inward migrations, including colonial and non-colonial migrations, since 1945.” (Miles, 1993)

We might productively consider the present period in Britain as an extension and evolution of this history, in which racism vilifies an internal European Other and an Other from outside Europe.

It was by the close of the nineteenth century that the political economic domination of the global capitalist system by Britain came under threat from sources inside and beyond Europe, and as such, by the final quarter of the nineteenth century:

“a new, right-wing English patriotism, which was simultaneously royalist and racist, was created […] the whole world was racialised, including Europe, in an attempt to comprehend the rise of competing European capitalisms, each embodied in a separate national shell, and each seeking its ‘destiny’ on the world stage” (Miles, 1993)

A nineteenth century British cartoon (source: Wikimedia Commons)

A nineteenth century British cartoon (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Irish immigration into Britain during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was racialised, as was immigration from Eastern Europe and Germany. There was widely perceived to be an ‘alien’ problem in the country:

Commencing halfway through the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century, a political campaign against the settlement of immigrants from eastern Europe achieved prominence […] Those involved in the campaign consistently exaggerated the scale of immigration […] and demanded the introduction of an immigration law which would permit the state to control and limit the entry of Jewish refugees from eastern Europe. […] the notions of ‘immigrant’ and ‘alien’ became synonymous in everyday life with that of Jew […] legislation regulating the entry of aliens into Britain was introduced immediately preceding and after the First World War. […] Assertions about the existence of a German conspiracy multiplied, and myths about the German ‘national character’ which signified Germans as having certain (negatively evaluated) natural attributes were widely articulated […] The categories of ‘German’ and ‘Jew’ were often used synonymously” (Miles, 1993)

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The Daily Mail, 1938 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The political debate surrounding the Aliens Act of 1905, and the subsequent Aliens Restriction Act of 1914 and Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Bill and Act of 1919, identified the problematic presence of three population groups:

“First, there was a lingering desire to find additional ways of punishing the defeated foe, the ‘Hun’. In addition, two ‘new’ enemies were found. These were trade union radicals or ‘Bolshevik sympathisers’, and Jews, including those who had arrived as refugees in the late nineteenth century as well as the longer-established Jewish community, a proportion of which formed part of the British bourgeoisie […] Collectively, this Other constituted the quintessential ‘alien’” (Miles, 1993)

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An anti-immigration poster from 1902 (source: Wikipedia)

Nonetheless, confronting major shortages of labour, the Labour government reluctantly opted for large-scale foreign-sourced labour. By the close of 1946 a system was in place for the resettlement of Polish people and the European Volunteer Scheme (EVW) came into being. The political discourse underpinning this immigration was one of ‘assimilation’ and (as it later transpired) a problem of lack of ‘integration’:

“the concern was to find the most suitable ‘races and nationalities’ that would not only provide labour power but also possess the kind of ‘vigorous blood’ that could be expected to benefit ‘our stock’. […] As evidence accumulated showing that the Poles and the EVWs were not learning the English language, that they continued to identify themselves with the nation states from which they originated, and that they were forming ‘exclusive communities’, official concern increased.” (Miles, 1993)

A stark comparison can be made here with the present-day racism against Polish people, who are accused of failing to integrate and assimilate to the so-called British way of life. Across Europe, including Britain, integration has become a state objective: “‘they’ are expected to learn to behave like ‘us’ because cultural homogeneity is considered to be a necessary precondition for the survival of the nation” (Miles, 1993).

Miles identifies a shift vis-à-vis immigration to Britain during the years 1945-1951, from Europe as the major source of labour migration to that of the British colonies and ex-colonies:

“because the British state proved unwilling to realise its racism in law at this time, the rights of British colonial and ex-colonial subjects to enter and settle in Britain were not withdrawn. Migration from the Caribbean (as well as from Ireland) continued and increased through the 1950s, and was paralleled by migration from India and Pakistan. It was not until 1962 that the British state imposed controls on the entry of British subjects from what had become known as the New Commonwealth.” (Miles, 1993)

Decisively, “by removing the right of entry to, and settlement in, the United Kingdom from certain categories of British subject, the state established new (racist) criteria by which to determine membership of the ‘imagined community’ of nation” (Miles, 1993). A critical aspect of this post-1945 era has been the response of the British state to political agitation for immigration controls against ‘coloureds’: such immigrants have been “simultaneously racialised and signified as the cause of economic and social problems for ‘our own people’” (Miles, 1993). Similarly, in recent times, both European and non-European migrants to Britain have been racialised and signified as the cause of the social and economic problems of the British people; it has become (racist) common sense that immigration is a problem and must be severely controlled.

The development of the European Union has brought with it a new specificity of tensions vis-à-vis immigration, nationalism and racism. What isn’t new is the political debate about immigration – framed as alien populations flooding in to threaten the identity and existence of the nation. However, what is distinct is that:

“the effects are refracted through a novel international conjuncture, one in which the reality of the nation state, and the power of the individual state to regulate social relations within its ‘sovereign territory’, is being transformed in Europe as a result of the interplay between the power of international capital and the political reorganisation embodied in the evolution of the EC as a supranational political unit.” (Miles, 1993)

From the early 1950s through to the early 1970s there was large-scale labour migration into Western Europe which (with some exceptions) the state promoted as an economic necessity. But since then this political discourse has been replaced by one of the need for stricter and stricter immigration controls. And so:

“Every official statement expressing support for the ‘principle’ of increased [immigration] control […] legitimates political opposition to immigration within the electorate in circumstances where the state faces structural constraints on its ability to deliver what it promises: this contradiction will ensure that immigration remains at the centre of political conflict within most European nation states and within the European Commission during the 1990s and beyond. The contradiction is overdetermined by the reality of the EC as a political entity: because of the attempt to create a European immigration policy, the politicisation of immigration as a problem in one member state can have immediate repercussions in the others. Moreover, in so far as a consequence of continuing immigration is a magnification of political opposition to it, and in so far as that opposition is grounded in, or expressive of, racism, the intervention of the state reinforces that racism.” (Miles, 1993)

One response that has emerged on the Left defines the European Union as a ‘Fortress Europe’, which “prevent[s] ‘black’ people from entering its borders and […] sustain[s] a common ‘white’, Judaeo-Christian heritage by repelling or subordinating alien (non-European) cultural influences (such as Islam)” (Miles, 1993). During the EU referendum, this was what Lexit campaigners such as the SWP raised in their incoherent arguments. What is indeed rampant in the contemporary era surrounding Brexit is a pan-European racism – reflected in the growth of far Right parties across the continent – against, for example, an African Other, an Islamic Other, a Syrian Other, et cetera. That said, Fortress Europe racism is not the whole picture. As observed by Miles of the late twentieth century:

“For geo-spatial and ideological reasons, the greatest apprehension originally concerned migration from the southern edge of the EC. The fear was, and is, that the Mediterranean Sea will become Europe’s Rio Grande, no more than a minor obstacle for the ‘millions’ of Africans seeking to enter the EC illegally […] Since 1989, new fears have been articulated: speculation has increased about a large-scale migration from eastern Europe, one that places Germany (and Austria) in the front line against an ‘invasion’ from the east.” (Miles, 1993)

Alongside then a Fortress Europe which negatively racialises an external (non-white and/or non-Christian) Other, what has also become prevalent is a negative racialisation of an internal (white) Other, most notably, Eastern Europeans. These racialisations and their associated racial hatreds have historical origins in capitalist (and pre-capitalist) social relations and the nation state, with colonialism one integral moment within this; in this context, “theories of racism which are grounded solely in the analysis of colonial history and which prioritise the single somatic characteristic of skin colour have a specific and limited explanatory power” (Miles, 1993).

 

References

Bhambra, Gurminder K. (2016) “Viewpoint: Brexit, Class and British ‘National’ Identity”, http://discoversociety.org/2016/07/05/viewpoint-brexit-class-and-british-national-identity/, last accessed 10th September 2016

Editorial (2016) “Hate crime: Bearing the brunt”, The Economisthttp://www.economist.com/news/britain/21706477-rancid-post-referendum-rise-bearing-brunt, last accessed 10th September 2016

Lusher, Adam (2016) “Racism unleashed: True extent of the ‘explosion of blatant hate’ that followed Brexit result revealed”, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-racism-uk-post-referendum-racism-hate-crime-eu-referendum-racism-unleashed-poland-racist-a7160786.html, last accessed 10th September 2016

Miles, Robert (1993) Race after ‘race relations’. London: Routledge

Questions all Owen Jones supporters need to answer

Owen Jones (Wikimedia Commons)

Owen Jones (Wikimedia Commons)

An article by Owen Jones titled “Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer” (posted on 31st July 2016) has stimulated a range of responses from the broad left-wing milieu of the Labour Party which appear to fall into three camps:

1) some, who intend to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the forthcoming leadership election, regard this article as a genuine effort at helping to advance the campaign;

2) some, who originally voted for Jeremy Corbyn but now intend to vote for Owen Smith, take welcome refuge in Owen Jones’ words;

3) some (for the first time) question the sincerity of Owen Jones’ politics.

Notable online responses thus far include the following. Darrell Kavanagh reasons and pleads with Owen Jones: “If the Labour Party is going to be the vehicle for social change, we need to rebuild it from the ground up, taking account of the atomisation of the working class which means that the old hierarchical structures of the movement need to be replaced. A Corbyn leadership makes this possible. Owen Smith as leader would make it impossible  –  the nascent transformation of the Party into a new mass movement would be stillborn and the stultifying party bureaucracy would regain its hold. … So please, Owen, come out clearly for Corbyn. The movement enabled by, and represented by, Corbyn’s leadership is currently the only game in town for the British left.” Also in the spirit of reason and plea, the blogger Redstart writes: “While I am a little confused by the timing of the article, in the middle of a leadership contest, I take the article as questions from a critical friend and will attempt a response in the same spirit.” On the question then of how Labour’s mass membership can be mobilised: “The first thing that must be done. Now. Is for Labour MPs to stop insulting new members. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. There has never been a time when new members have been made less welcome and at a time when there have never been so many new members. So that’s the first thing: MPs must stop calling new members trots, rabble, dogs, scum, entryists, etc. … most new members are keen, committed, doing something that they perhaps never thought they would and actually pretty excited about what will happen. And then what happens? They’re insulted by MPs. They’re not allowed to vote in the leadership election unless they pay another £25. They’re told there’ll be no more meetings (to protect MPs from the likes of them) and then some meetings are organised for leadership nominations but they’re not allowed to come, so aren’t invited.” More critically discerning of Owen Jones, Kate Buffery states: “Despite his protestations, Owen Jones has taken sides. The choice at the moment is between Corbyn or Smith. Jones doesn’t want Corbyn as he is. … And Jones’ blog looks too like the work of man who is sure he ‘knows better’ and feels unfairly spurned. He too readily uses the excuse that he is being true to himself whilst using his position to compromise that of a leader he ostensibly supports. He’s under no obligation to put right the proven media bias against Corbyn (which he brushes off as readily as Corbyn’s most fervent detractors) but I don’t see a genuine principle at play in deciding to do the opposite. … a huge number of Labour members, have judged Corbyn to be the best possible option to guard and promote the democratic socialist agenda. If you truly believe in democracy and in socialism Owen Jones, ask not what Corbyn or Corbyn supporters should be doing for you  –  but what you should be doing for this movement. Whilst you are using media pressure in the hope of changing the mindset of an elected leader so that it more neatly reflects your own, you become a dead weight in Corbyn’s leadership campaign despite positioning yourself above it.” Finally, and perhaps most scathing of all, Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, has suggested (as reported in the Huffington Post): “Owen Jones’s ‘Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer’ is the public climax to a private campaign of criticism of the Labour leader which Owen initiated within 24 hours of Corbyn’s election last September. Barely had the votes been counted to give Jeremy his unprecedented mandate than Owen was embarking on his ‘it’s all going wrong’ shtick to anyone who would listen. Some may now see this as the act of one whose prescience borders on genius, others as a campaign of petulant resentment by a celeb no longer quite as centre-stage as he was accustomed to being. Whatever, his assertion that ‘I cannot even begin to put into words how much I’ve agonised over Labour’s terrible plight’ is the one flat untruth in his blog, as can be attested to by anyone who has suffered his foaming hour-long reviews of the disasters that have attended Team Corbyn’s failure to follow his advice to the letter.”

For me, public intellectuals like Owen Jones are incredibly important because very few left-wing people have a voice in the mainstream media. Owen Jones isn’t an anybody, he is a somebody. His words and his deeds carry tremendous weight. He has a big support base. I questioned him back in 2013 about his article, Sexual violence is not a cultural phenomenon in India – it is endemic everywhere, and invited him to reply to my critique of his argument here (which he ignored). I pay attention to what Owen Jones says and does because he is influential. As such, alarm bells went off vis-à-vis Owen Jones’ early political contribution amid the Labour Party coup. It is worth listening carefully to Owen Jones’ video that he posted on 29th June 2016 (and while doing so, bear in mind that the public face of the coup began in the morning of 26th June 2016).

In this video Owen Jones makes four main points – the fourth is bewildering:

  1. Owen states that Britain is engulfed in its worst crisis since World War Two, that the situation is very bleak and difficult, and that he predicted the Brexit vote and the subsequent disasters. Owen goes on to list these disasters as, one, the takeover of the Conservative Party by its right-wing faction; two, a coup against Jeremy Corbyn; three, an early General Election with a united Conservative Party and a Labour Party in crisis; four, a second independence referendum in Scotland; five, the legitimation of xenophobia and racism in mainstream politics; and six, retribution from the EU (who fears its own disintegration).
  2. Owen reasons, one could sit and weep for the country, which he has done, but one shouldn’t become paralysed. He urges that we need to do our very best to save this country.
  3. We need to accept the Brexit vote, Owen says. Moreover, he sees the Brexit vote as a result of working class people wanting to punch the political establishment. Given many problems which people face are seen through the lens of immigration, Owen calls for a rationale discussion on immigration.
  4. Owen concludes by saying that he wants to suggest something constructive – in his words: “…to launch a new broad based campaign, which, maybe its called Save Our Future or Operation Hope, maybe these aren’t very catchy names, maybe I’d like you to suggest in the comments what this campaign could be called, and basically it would deal with the threats I spoke about in the last video, and would organise in communities across the country, bringing lots of high-profile people and veteran campaigners…”

Here we have Owen Jones, amidst the Labour Party coup and the response from an ever-growing social and political movement around Jeremy Corbyn (most of whom are grassroots Labour Party members, old and new, and some of whom are organised through the Momentum campaign), amidst this, call for a brand new alternative campaign: Save Our Future or Operation Hope. He states that this (brand new) campaign is needed in order to defend workers’ rights, defend the NHS, combat racism and xenophobia, and engage young people in politics and democracy. At various moments in this video, scenes from the defend Corbyn rally in Parliament Square on 27th June 2016 provide the backdrop of Owen Jones’ proposal. It’s bizarre. Why? Because the social and political movement that has coalesced and is still coalescing around Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party is a movement that wants to defend workers’ rights, defend the NHS, combat racism and xenophobia, and engage young people in politics and democracy. Owen Jones goes on to say:

“…in due course I want to approach people, particularly people who I think could be influential, including campaigning organisations which I think are rooted in communities, that needs to be at the absolute forefront of this, I’d like to set up a good website where people can get in touch…”

Owen Jones does not simply call for a new campaign, he wants to initiate this himself. He positions himself as its key player. But he doesn’t want to just impose it (his words, “I don’t want to just impose this idea on people”), he wants his supporters to collectively own it. Perhaps Save Our Future or Operation Hope could be more accurately called Project Owen (Jones or Smith). Here are two questions for Owen Jones and his supporters:

  • At a time when the force and forces of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the British establishment have mobilised to smear and oust Jeremy Corbyn and to degrade and annihilate the mass social and political movement around him and in the Labour Party, why would you not throw your weight behind this movement? Most of us are, after all, critical supporters not blind cult followers.
  • When a mass social and political movement of new and old Labour Party members has developed, many of whom are involved in the Momentum campaign and in their Labour Party branches and CLPs (when they’re not suspended or, prior to that, acting in plainly hostile ways to sideline the so-called ‘Corbynistas’), then if you are interested in its politics, its strategy, its democracy, and its future – in discussing, in debating, and in shaping all of this – why would you wish to launch a campaign apart from this?

Brexit’s inevitable racism

“‘History’ has to be renegotiated and resignified in order to (re)create a sense of the past appropriate to the particular conjuncture and the political project for the future. […] in the case of English nationalism, the events selected include those which evince a sense of external threat over which ‘the English people’ triumph, especially events concerning war and imperialism […]. The continually reconstructed sense of the English past, in which ‘race’ is an ever present reification, signifies the English ‘nation’ (and therefore the idea of ‘race’) as an ever present collective subject” (Miles 1993: 76-77)

In one significant sense, the EU referendum wasn’t a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, rather it was a referendum on immigration and English/British national identity in which the idea of ‘race’ was infused. The referendum’s outcome, its narrow margin, was critically determined by the sociological white working class in England (and Wales), the former Labour Party heartlands. The dominant slogan of the Leave campaign, “Take back control”, as vacuous as it was, nevertheless translated as take back control of ‘our national borders’ and of ‘our nation’. It resonated as a slogan because large and indeed broader sections of the public have become convinced that their country is being invaded – that ‘we are under threat’.

Anti-immigration discourse has become mainstream, as (New) Labour joined the Conservative Party in its propagation alongside much of the media (all with various shades, nuances, and guises). Once the Labour Party explicitly bought into an anti-immigration discourse, along with the austerity politics post the 2007 -2008 global capitalist crisis – albeit a softer anti-immigration and a softer austerity – then the far Right, including UKIP, were on course to gain, as dramatically confirmed by Brexit.

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The Labour Party’s “Controls on immigration” mug from 2015: representing one of its election pledges. This was criticised at the time as pandering to UKIP.

It is also crucial to recognise that this contemporary moment is not altogether new:

“An important dimension of the post-1945 period has been the way in which successive British governments have responded to political agitation to impose immigration controls on the entry of those who used to be called ‘coloured’ Commonwealth citizens […]. The political discourse employed has been overtly and covertly racist, although within the formal political arena, references to inherent biological inferiority to legitimate the demand for such exclusion have been rare. Rather, the migrants have been simultaneously racialised and signified as the cause of economic and social problems for ‘our own people’ […] The post-1945 Caribbean and Asian presence in Britain has been signified as a previously external threat that is now ‘within’, so that the ‘old order’ is threatened by its presence. As a result, because ‘our’ collective existence is supposedly challenged, resistance (even a new war) must be organised. The prominent and desirable features of ‘our culture’ are spotlighted and reified by the assertion that they are in danger of being negated by the consequences of the presence of an Other […](Miles 1993: 73-77)

If we replace “‘coloured’ Commonwealth citizens” with Eastern European migrants and Syrian refugees (although the former are still scapegoated), then what we have today is a situation in which the Other is racialised and signified as the cause of the social and economic ills of ‘ordinary English/British people’. What’s more, the contemporary external threat has a more fluid geography that includes Europe, against which one’s own cultural identity must seemingly be defended and preserved. All the while, a neoliberal politics of austerity, with its driving conditions of poverty and inequality, escapes critique.

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“migrants have been simultaneously racialised and signified as the cause of economic and social problems for ‘our own people’” (Miles)

We have a constructed fantasy of a country at war, of a country being invaded, and of an enemy within. With anti-immigration discourse becoming conventional, it is not surprising that during the EU referendum the Leave campaign’s dominant slogan, “Take back control”, won ideologically.

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A country at war, a country invaded

Leave voters talked of: ‘wanting our country back’; it being ‘time to stand on our own two feet’; and that ‘we’re British, so come what may, we’ll be okay’. Such statements of faith illustrate a belief in a fabricated past and present and an impossible future, counter to all credible evidence and empirical reality. Amidst an anti-intellectual culture of ‘don’t trust the experts’ (with a leading Leave campaigner and former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove saying, “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”), “Take back control” reflected a quasi-religious English/British nationalism and patriotism saturated with the idea of ‘race’. The results of Lord Ashcroft’s Poll on how people voted in the EU referendum are startling in this respect:

One third (33%) [of leave voters] said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” […] In England, leave voters (39%) were more than twice as likely as remain voters (18%) to describe themselves either as “English not British” or “more English than British”. Remain voters were twice as likely as leavers to see themselves as more British than English. Two thirds of those who considered themselves more English than British voted to leave; two thirds of those who considered themselves more British than English voted to remain. […] By large majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, globalisation and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the EU; those who saw them as a force for ill voted by even larger majorities to leave.”

During the 1980s the Thatcher-led Conservative government created a populist unity though nationalism and patriotism, including ‘a Great Britain at war’. Take Thatcher’s speech in July 1982, after the Falklands War, in which she constructs a discourse remarkably similar to that of the Leave campaign:

“When we started out, there were the waverers and the fainthearts, the people who thought that Britain could no longer seize the initiative for herself … that Britain was no longer the nation that had built an Empire and ruled a quarter of the world. Well they were wrong. The lesson of the Falklands is that this nation still has those sterling qualities which shine through our history.” (Cited in Miles 1993: 75)

During the EU referendum campaign, Leave spokespeople teased the Remain camp for not believing in Britain: the Remainers were ridiculed as the waverers and the fainthearted.

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Nationalism, patriotism, and faith in the implicit idea of (racial) superiority

Back to the 1980s:

“The Conservative government reinforced this notion of Englishness or Britishness, which is shaped by the idea of ‘race’, in its British Nationality Act, 1981. The Act brought nationality law into line with the racist categories constructed in earlier immigration law and immigration rules (Dixon 1983: 173): “The crucial irony of the 1981 Act is that it is designed to define a sense of belonging and nationhood which is itself a manifestation of the sense of racial superiority created along with the Empire, while simultaneously it cuts the ties of citizenship established in the same historical process. The ideology of Empire is reconstructed: while Thatcherism rejects the essential expansionism of Empire in favour of ‘isolationism’, its supremacism, chauvinism and racism are preserved.” (Miles 1993: 76)

In 1950 UNESCO issued a statement declaring the so-called biological phenomenon of ‘race’ as a social myth. Before this, the British Empire had a specific relationship to nineteenth century racial science. To help justify colonial domination, ideas developed by racial science were incorporated into arguments to naturalise capitalist exploitation: ‘it is the white man’s burden to civilise the black and brown races’. What survives from this history is a pseudo-biological cultural racism: in which the idea of ‘race’ feeds into nation, and biology into culture. English/British nationalism echoes nineteenth and early twentieth century imperial nationalism. Embedded in this nationalism and patriotism, disguised within, is the idea of ‘race’:

“Phrases like “the Island Race” and “the Bulldog Breed” vividly convey the manner in which this nation is represented in terms which are simultaneously biological and cultural.” (Gilroy 1987: 45)

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Brexit Great Britain: an island race of bulldog breed

A dangerous outcome of the EU referendum is echoed in the words of Sivanandan (1990: 150) on 1980s Britain: “Shame…has gone out of Thatcherite Britain – the shame of being a racist…” Take, for example, the upfront honesty of some Leave voters from the north and south of England as reported on television news shortly after the result:

What Brexit has done is legitimise racism from which the fascist far Right will continue to grow (and it will grow most vigorously if a Labour Party coup succeeds in ousting the socialist leader, pro-immigration and anti-austerity, Jeremy Corbyn, in order to shift the party rightwards once again to a soft anti-immigration and a soft austerity politics).

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The Labour Party ‘on the back foot’ with a former Labour voter on the question of immigration during the 2010 election.

The question of Scotland is an important one, with both the SNP a vocally pro-immigration (and anti-austerity) party and Scottish voters, in the main, pro-Europe. The question being: why? The following astute historical analysis of the distinct nature of Scottish nationalism, vis-à-vis racism, offers an answer:

“post-1945 Asian migrants to Scotland have not been the object of a systematic and hostile political agitation as happened in England (although this is not to deny that racist images of these migrants are commonly expressed in everyday life in Scotland). Part of the explanation for this lies in the fact that the particular political compromise embodied in the Act of Union of 1707 between England and Scotland ensured the reproduction of a distinct proto-state apparatus and national identity. In this context, political nationalism in Scotland during the twentieth century has tended to focus on the perceived economic and political disadvantages of the Union. Nationalism in Scotland during the 1960s and 1970s therefore identified an external cause of economic disadvantage/decline, without reference to ‘race’, while in England the idea of ‘race’ was employed to identify an internal cause of crisis, the presence of a ‘coloured’ population which was not ‘truly’ British.” (Miles 1993: 77-78)

In the context of Brexit, the accusation of racism is a contentious one. One narrative emerging after the Leave campaign victory, from many of its voters, is an offended and defensive ‘I’m not a racist…’ One needs to understand what racism actually is (see my blog post Racism 101). While not all Leave voters (including the highly irresponsible fool-heads of Lexit) were and are racists, without doubt, the Leave campaign pushed and unleashed a reconstructed ideology of British Empire soaked with supremacism, chauvinism, and racism. Deeply worrying and perilous times lie ahead.

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Post EU referendum: a continued discourse of a Great Britain under attack that requires a tough Army General to lead against.

Reference: Miles, Robert (1993) Racism after ‘race relations’. London: Routledge.

[I dedicate this post to Lee Claydon, with love and solidarity.]

My interview in Jungle World on the British radical Left and Europe

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Jungle World is a radical left-wing German weekly newspaper published in Berlin, which is known for its anti-nationalist and cosmopolitan politics.

The following is the original transcript of my interview in Jungle World here.

In your Blog you have criticized the position of the SWP and Lexit campaign. Can you briefly describe why a part of the British (radical) left is arguing for leaving the EU and why this is wrong in your opinion?

Dominant sections of the British Trotskyist Left, and surviving Stalinist currents, compose the Lexit campaign. The legacy of Stalinism largely explains why so-called Trotskyist organisations like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Party (SP) have effectively adopted a leftist nationalist position – a hangover from the Stalinist idea of “socialism in one country”. One further feature of the SWP’s and SP’s position is their warped calculation of ‘Britain out’: that conditions will be objectively better for the British working class because there will be a crisis in the ruling Conservative Party government. This is warped since the mainstream Brexit campaign, if it succeeds, will undoubtedly be a huge victory for the political Right (regardless of any reshuffle of its leaders). The hegemonic politics of ‘Britain out’ is anti-immigration, racist nationalism. There’s simply no way round this.

The Lexit campaign is mobilising the nation-state as a bulwark against the evils of neoliberal global capitalism. For sure, the EU is a bureaucratic and undemocratic capitalist club of bosses, which is hostile to immigrants and refugees. But as socialists we are not crudely anti-capitalist; we are not crudely anti-globalisation. We are for sublating the progressive elements of capitalism out of capitalism; we are for an alternative globalisation. As such, on the EU question, our political response should be: stay in and fight for a fully democratic workers’ Europe. This is congruent with the tradition of Marxism (from Marx and Engels, through to Gramsci, Lenin, and Trotsky): for a socialist “United States of Europe”. Capital seeks globalisation, it seeks to overcome national borders; let’s not forget that as capitalism’s gravediggers, so do we but on our own terms! It is incongruous and anti-dialectical to pose as internationalist and yet succumb to nationalism, which is what Lexit does.

The upcoming EU referendum has revived nationalist sentiment and postcolonial nostalgia. Is the rhetoric of independence related to the British colonialist history? Does the (radical) left have an answer to that? What is particularly “British” in this discourse and where do you see analogies with other European countries, where anti-EU populism, both left and right wing, grew in the past decade?

Since 1945 racist anti-immigration discourse in Britain has rarely referenced biological inferiority, rather immigrants have been racialised as the cause of the socio-economic problems of ordinary Britons. English/British nationalism is dependent upon the idea of ‘race’: “an island race” which is distinct and apart from Europe. This imagined community utilises the past supposed greatness of the British Empire. A present insecurity in the national psyche, fuelled by a politics of austerity and a scapegoating of ‘the Other’, drives a resurgence in the allegiance to the national psyche: ‘Britain was great, let’s make Britain great again’. Ironically the Lexit campaign, while ostensibly for open borders, totally blunts its ability to challenge this racist nationalism.

The British situation is also very much part of a contemporary and pervasive European trend of anti-EU populism and exclusivist and racist nationalism, which positions the nation-state as a rampart against the perils of globalisation. This is a populism that seeks to cement space and reverse time. This is a deeply reactionary throwback of which a potential disintegration of the EU would be a part.

What role does the refugee crisis play in the referendum campaign? On the one side the right wing fears the refugees, on the other side the left sees the EU as a system killing people who are seeking protection or a better life… Why is it possible for the left to agree with the the right and far right in this question?

Absolutely core to the mainstream Brexit campaign is an implicit and sometimes explicit racism and xenophobia to immigrants and refugees, specifically their racialisation as the cause of socio-economic woes, which leaves the government’s politics of austerity unquestioned. The primary argument of the Lexit campaign is that the EU is neoliberalism incarnate, which leaves our national government ‘off the hook’. Secondary arguments of Lexit follow: the EU is an enemy of immigrants and refugees, and a ‘Britain out’ vote will destabilise the government. It is not a case of the far Right and the far Left agreeing on the question of immigrants and refugees, but rather that both place blame on the EU and negate national bourgeois responsibility.

Let´s focus more on the left. Why does the British and European left rediscover nationalism right now? Is it only anti-EU-rhetoric or is there more about that?

Romantic anti-globalisation has long been a current on the Left. This includes the crass dichotomy of ‘local good’ and ‘global bad’. In this schema, the nation-state forms the context spatiality of ‘the local’ whereas the EU of ‘the global’. Karl Marx once said of reactionary, romantic anti-capitalists that, it is “as ridiculous to yearn for a return to that original fullness as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill”. Add to this the legacy of Stalinism and its thesis of “socialism in one country” and one has a thoroughly muddled left-wing nationalism. Central to decent socialist politics is a commitment to a fully democratic, alternative globalisation, with international workers’ solidarity that brings down borders rather than erects or cements them: a global democratic union of localities that sublates the radical possibilities born from global capitalism – its infrastructure, wealth, resources, and gravediggers – out of capitalism into an equal and just society.

Who are the people that vote for leave? Can you characterise this group? Do working class interests play a role in the debate?

The key battle in amongst the working class in England and Wales (Scottish voters are, in the main, likely to vote to stay in the EU). The working class in England and Wales have traditionally voted for Labour, but in recent years have increasingly been attracted to far Right parties like UKIP. Why? This trend is a consequence of the Labour Party drifting rightwards under Tony Blair, the weakness and incompetence of the organised far Left, the defeats of the labour movement, and the mainstreaming of racist anti-immigration discourse. This sociological group will ultimately determine the vote.

In an open letter to Britain Slavoj Žižek writes: “The nation-state is not the right instrument to confront the refugee crisis, global warming, and other truly pressing issues. So instead of opposing Eurocrats on behalf of national interests, let’s try to form an all-European left.” Is that a possibility/solution? What do you think about new movements such as DiEm25 launched by Y. Varoufakis a couple of week ago, which not only are decidedly pro Europe but claim to make “another Europe” possible?

Both Žižek and Varoufakis are generally correct. A pan-European Left which can fight for another Europe, a workers’ Europe, is absolutely central for our class – locally and globally. Is it possible? Yes, absolutely: by mobilising connections through labour movement struggles, trade unions, political left organisations, and so on. The DiEM25 Manifesto is right to assert: “The EU will either be democratized or it will disintegrate!”

Leon Trotsky’s ‘method of analysis’ back in 1917 is as astute then as it is today: “If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to ‘autonomous’ national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.” What the EU has constructed is not something we want to blindly bulldoze, its disintegration through a tsunami of racist and xenophobic nationalisms would be a terrible reversal of historical progress. As cosmopolitan internationalists, we are for, echoing Trotsky, a “United States of Europe – without monarchies, standing armies and secret diplomacy”!

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