Dead Men Left

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

ESF: more responses

My email inbox is straining at the seams, stuffed to the brim with the continuing fallout from the storming of the anti-fascism plenary session at the ESF. Many of the weak defences of the Wombles' attack centre, in Daily Mail fashion, on the supposed "playing of the race card" by Lee Jasper and other signatories to a letter in the Guardian on Tuesday, deploring the disruption. How dare - it is said - a group of black activists suggest that for an all/overwhelmingly(accounts differ) white group of self-appointed guardians of ESF purity to attack an a black and Jewish platform at an anti-fascist meeting might look perhaps a little, well, racist.

There was a notorious incident in the 1970s when the (largely male) stewards' organisation of an Italian far-left group physically broke into a women-only protest on the grounds that it was divisive for the movement. I don't imagine the stewards' group was motivated by sexism as such, but it did not make their actions anything less than sexist.

I don't imagine the Wombles were motivated by racism, either. But racism is more than its liberal definition of intolerance for the "Other" by an individual. Racism occurs in a context of instituitions, prevailing attitudes, and deep-rooted values. When the MacPherson Report spoke about "institutional racism", it was to describe an ugly focus of this context within the Metropolitan Police. It means that those on the left, who claim to be anti-racists, have a particular responsibility to maintain an awareness of how racism occurs in society, and act appropriately. Those "storming the palace" on Saturday utterly failed to do this. There have to be serious questions asked about how and why such a failure was possible.