|Volume 50 Number 26, July 11, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
The recent unprecedented global upsurge against state racism, as well as racism and Eurocentrism in all its forms, has also led to a vehement rejection of the glorification and exaltation of slavery, genocide, racism and colonialism, and the institutions, traditions, social relations and accumulation of wealth based on them. This rejection is clearly unsettling to the powers-that-be, which are the greatest defenders of all that is backward and anachronistic. It is therefore not surprising that there should be attempts to resist such a broad and global movement, to try to turn truth on its head and even to try to present what is sweeping the world as something that only represents a small minority in Britain.
One such attempt was recently launched by a body which calls itself Policy Exchange and describes itself as "the UK's leading think tank", as well as "an educational charity", and claims that "there are numerous examples of where our policy ideas have been taken forward by government". Although it also claims to be "completely independent", Policy Exchange was established by Conservative Party MPs and was once chaired by Michael Gove. Its sources of funding are not disclosed but appear to be provided by various millionaires in Britain and the United States.
It's most recent initiative is what it refers to as the "History Matters Project", a panel of "historians, public figures and people interested in history" chaired by Trevor Phillips, recently suspended from the Labour Party and whose appointment to the recent government enquiry into the disproportionate deaths of people from minority communities from Covid-19 led to immediate and widespread opposition.
Policy Exchange claims that its Project "represents a first attempt at drawing together a range of recent developments, which all turn on the place of history in the public square - including the removal of certain statues on public display, the renaming of buildings and places, and changes to the way history is taught in university curriculums."
However, although Policy Exchange claims that it is simply "drawing together" information, it is clear from the polling that it has also commissioned that it is rather more concerned that "action is being taken widely and quickly in a way that does not reflect public opinion or growing concern over our treatment of the past". Phillips more openly claims that "history is being politicised, and sometimes distorted in the current moment". He adds that "what concerns me about the current moment is the rapid and unthinking way in which large swathes of our public heritage is being effectively re-written, or erased entirely - much of it seemingly without much proper debate or forethought. It all adds up to a major transformation in the way in which we deal with history in the public square."
It might be pointed out that the debate over what history should be taught in schools and universities has been ongoing for decades. It was particularly fierce during the time that Michael Gove was Minister of Education and attempting to "politicise" the history curriculum in schools, demanding that history should mainly focus on the white men of property and the glorification of their crimes. There has also been for even longer widespread opposition to the glorification of slavery, empire and racism and those institutions and social relations based on them.
What is perhaps new about the current global upsurge, including its manifestation in Britain, is its breadth and power, the fact that it has the power to make decisions that bring about change. It is clearly this ability to make decisions and effect change which so unsettles Mr Phillips and those he is connected with. What is more unsettling to most democratic people is the fact the glorification of mass murder and mass murderers has persisted for so long, as have the institutions based on such crimes, while attempts to effect change have been resisted so fiercely and for so long. History will no doubt investigate that phenomenon and those responsible and pass the appropriate judgement!
What must also be rejected is any attempt to present the demand to end to the glorification of oppression and the institutions and values based on it as somehow anti-British, or a negation of Britain's history. Quite the opposite is the case, since the enslavers, mass murderers and exploiters cannot be said to be representative of the people of Britain today or in the past. Even at the height of Britain's criminal involvement in the enslavement of Africans in the eighteenth century, the working people demonstrated in their millions against this crime and opposed it at the same time as they demanded their own rights and freedom. Today this entire framework is designed to head off the striving of the peoples for empowerment.
Racism is a component of the ideology of the ruling elites designed to attempt to block the movement of society forward to one where justice, democracy and the rights of all prevail. What is important about the current upsurge is not only the fact that people are demanding an end to the falsification of history and an end to the glorification of all that is backward, but also that people are demonstrating that they are the agents of change and the makers of history. These gains can and must be consolidated!