Thursday, January 20, 2005

30 Years Of Race & Class

The London-based, radical journal Race & Class recently celebrated its thirtieth birthday. That is an achievement in itself. I can't think of any other publication that more influenced my thinking and political activism over a sustained period. The journal was born at a time when the mealy-mouthed pieties of race relations liberals had little of substance to say about the spell cast by Enoch Powell's rancid agenda over British politics. Since then its pages have been an important place for rigorous scholarly activism, as it has withstood the superficial attractions of intellectual fashion and fads like postmodernism, sectarian polemics and culturalism.

The current issue offers some reflections on the unfolding political agenda of Race & Class by its founding editor, A. Sivanandan, one of the great insurgents of our age. As always, Siva is worth quoting at some length. He opens thus:
We live in such a vortex of change that it is impossible to predict the next thirty days, never mind the next thirty years. But that is precisely why we must try to catch history on the wing if we are to influence its direction. To do that, we need the courage to abandon old orthodoxies which bear us down, the honesty to turn our faces against intellectual fads and fetishes which turn us away from engagement, and the commitment to fight injustice wherever we find it – for that is what brings us all together here today in fellowship, not ideology but a common visceral hatred of injustice. We need, too, the type of political analysis that Owen and Godwin, Saint-Simon and Fourier, Marx and Engels did for their time in the maelstrom of the industrial revolution – an analysis immanent in which were the strategies that would inform the working-class struggles against capital – and out of that conflict elicit, if not socialism, at least the democratic rights and freedoms that have come down to us.
Siva goes on to outline some of the ways in which those democratic rights and freedoms have been lost, how they have been "disaggregated" and "dispersed", and what may be done about their reclamation. In particular, he attacks the kind of ungrounded multiculturalism and ethnicism that was always the bête noire of Race & Class. Once again he makes the case for understanding and confronting racism as it stands in relation to the circuits of imperialism and capitalism. Looking ahead, Siva prompts the readers and contributors to Race & Class to fulfil its original pledge: "the function of knowledge is to liberate". Happy birthday!


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