Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 6, February 20, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The Making of History

The Struggle between the Old and the New

June 2020, demonstration in Oxford against the colonialist outlook in education

According to recent press reports, Home Secretary Priti Patel has condemned those who protested against Eurocentrism and all forms of racism during the "Black Lives Matter" events of 2020. Last year was witness to anti-racist protests globally following the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man, by police in the United States. George Floyd's death also led to protests by thousands of people against state and other forms of racism in two hundred and sixty towns and cities in Britain last summer. But the Home Secretary maintained that such anti-racist protests were "not the right way". Government ministers are particularly alarmed by the popular removal of the statue of a notorious human trafficker in Bristol last year, not least because it was an example of people empowering themselves and engaging in decision-making in a decisive manner.

Speaking during an interview on LBC Radio, the Home Secretary denounced the anti-racist protests as "dreadful", and made it clear that she did not support them, as though that were the issue. She also criticised those professional athletes who "take the knee" as a form of protest against racism in sport and more generally in society. Priti Patel provocatively said that she would refuse to take such a stance. She also condemned the removal of the statues of those who have committed crimes against humanity, as well as criticising those local authorities who have encouraged discussion about the renaming of buildings and streets that are currently glorifying such criminal acts.

Priti Patel's comments came after the leader of the House of Commons, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, accused London mayor Sadiq Khan of overseeing "loony leftwing wheezes" following the creation of a new Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm. Sadiq Khan said that the Commission, which includes the former Director of the National Gallery, was established because "For far too long, too many Londoners have felt unrepresented by the statues, street names and building names all around them, and it's important that we do what we can to ensure our rich and diverse history is celebrated and properly commemorated in our city."

Statue of notorious human trafficker and Tory MP Edward Colston was in a mass protest removed from its plinth and cast into the ocean, where the lives of many of his victims in late 17th and early 18th centuries had been forcibly ended.

The reactionary comments by those in authority who claim to represent the people are simply beneath contempt. In addition, various government ministers, including the Prime Minister himself, have been outspoken in their opposition to what they off-handedly refer to as the "re-writing of history". However, to date only 39 names including streets, buildings and schools - and 30 statues, plaques and other memorials - have been, or are undergoing changes or removal since last summer's protests. Nevertheless, many local and regional authorities have announced that they are reviewing public memorials and monuments including the government of Wales and the city of Glasgow, which began its review before the protests. Some cities such as Manchester are organising public debates and discussions of these questions. In his condemnation of London's mayor, Rees-Mogg declared that "we should celebrate and glory in our wonderful history", although he did not dare elaborate on which aspects of Brit ain's history he deemed wonderful and glorious. It now appears that the Home Secretary and others regard political protests which they don't agree with as also not part of Britain's history. But facts are facts, and history is not to be brushed aside so easily.

What is being struggled over is precisely the question of outlook. The issue is not just about the representation and presentation of history. It is about the perpetuation of racism and Eurocentrism in a modern society as an acceptable outlook. The present government and its predecessors are determined that no major changes should occur in society, whether in regard to all manifestations of racism, the falsification of history or who should wield decision-making power. The attitude of the powers-that-be to existing inequalities in society has been furthered exposed through the present Covid epidemic, by the so-called Windrush scandal, by the racist immigration and nationality laws, as well as be the comments of leading politicians including the Prime Minister. The powers-that-be who represent everything that is old and backward in society are also intent on clinging on to such an outlook in the presentation of history. Who can forget the views of leading politicians on such histori cal matters as the nature of the First World War, or former Education Secretary Michael Gove, who wish to have a school history curriculum that not only glorified the "white men of property" but also sought to exclude the working people, women and people of African, Caribbean and Asian heritage entirely. On the other hand, are precisely those people that Gove wished to exclude, who demand to be part of history and to make their own history as they demonstrated in the protests from Land's End to John O' Groats last year. They represent the new and the overwhelming majority of people in society.


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