A little over five years since the shooting by police of Mark Duggan in Tottenham and two years since the beginning of the movement in the USA, Black Lives Matter (BLM) has finally taken shape in Britain. To commemorate Duggan’s death and continue to challenge police racism, big protests were organised in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham on 5th August, as well as smaller ones elsewhere around the country. These protests are all about challenging the racism that exists in the police force, in a more direct way than establishment politicians seem capable or willing to do.
In rural areas of Britain, black people are 17.5 times more likely to be stopped by police and three times more likely in the supposed oasis of ethnic diversity that is London. The truth is that, while we supposedly have equality before the law, in reality there remains institutionalised racism in this country, something that is at best ignored or at worst covered up by the political establishment.
Black Lives Matter is set on exposing and opposing this racism. As socialists we fully support this struggle. We fight against all forms of oppression, which are used by the capitalist class to divide us amongst ourselves and turn us against one another when the real enemy is the ruling class and the establishment who whip up this racism.
Since 1990 in England and Wales there have been 1563 deaths in police custody or following contact with the police. Despite this brutality by the police the line we are fed is that this should be accepted as some sort of cruel necessity. What’s even more outrageous is that only one conviction of a police officer has resulted from these deaths. The police seem to have been granted a mandate for murder by the state.
The reality of race in this country is that less than two-hundred years ago the slave trade was legal and, well into the mid-twentieth century, Britain’s economy relied heavily on the barbaric exploitation of workers in its colonies abroad. The capitalist class in Britain and elsewhere has always encouraged racial prejudice to further its own economic interests and uses the state - its instrument of repression - to institutionalise this prejudice.
We must continue to fight for the basic democratic right of equality before the law and freedom from racist oppression and discrimination. But if we limit ourselves to this demand, within the confines of an inherently biased and racist capitalist system, we will never achieve real equality. Black Lives Matter are right to actively highlight and challenge racism, but to eliminate racial prejudice entirely we need to link this campaign up with an anti-capitalist movement which has a socialist society and the abolition of class exploitation as its goal. If we achieve that, the material basis for racism will disappear. Malcolm X once said that you can’t have capitalism without racism. Getting rid of one means getting rid of the other.
The Black Lives Matter movement began in the USA, where all police have guns and working class black people are murdered or harassed by the capitalist state on a daily basis. The movement in the US and the actions of BLM in Britain (blocking roads into airports etc.) are inspirational by their militancy. With a revolutionary socialist political programme such a movement would be unstoppable.