What could there be to link racist chants by football hooligans during European matches, denounced since the 1960s but just not ever stamped out, and one of the earliest “debates” in European history, held over months during 1550-51 in the Spanish city of Valladolid?
Just as players are working out what to do about racist chants at matches – in LALIT we think the Captain should just his team off the ground when a chant begins, informing the Referee that he has not done his duty – it is worth looking at the long history of the ruling classes’ responsibility for racism, as part of an ideological justification for pillage, exploitation, profit-seeking and domination. The reason for drawing attention to this very old debate is that doing so reminds the present-day State apparatus in each European country and the Vatican of their responsibility. The present-day bourgeois state is a direct descendent of the feudal States that began colonization, which the bourgeois state then perpetuated and perpetuates, and it is thus still responsible, as are the ruling classes for present day manifestations of racism. For example, the State should insist on supporting players who are targeted with this racism, and changing rules to protect players who do take direct action like walk-outs, while also denouncing the often-hysterical supporters and fans who act as the real barbarians.
The debate nearly 500 years ago was a key one. The King of Spain had suspended further conquest of the Americas pending the outcome of the debate. Profit-making was thus temporarily suspended in these ventures. The debate was over the “justice” (or injustice) of the Spanish conquest over Amerindians, over whether the Amerindians had “souls” or not (sic), and whether compulsory baptism into the Church was the thing to do.
A Dominican Friar Las Casas was the challenger, arguing that conquered peoples should no longer be enslaved, that Amerindians with whom he had worked did indeed have souls, and that they should no longer be forcibly baptised as they had their own customs and religions. The opposing argument by Sepúlveda was one justifying the status quo, blaming the barbarian nature of some Amerindian customs as a “justification” for conquest and enslavement, as proof they had no souls, and as the reason to baptise them by force in order to save them. A kind of jury made up of top religious figures of the Church and top scientists of the time judged the issue. The judgement was inconclusive. The pillage, of course, continued. And the slave trade, on an industrial scale, had not yet even begun, nor had the world yet seen the use of slave labour to create the vast capital stocks that were sufficient to spur capitalism’s fast industrial expansion that would lead to capitalists, as a class, wresting power from the feudal and religious authorities by the 1790s – 1830s.
Recently at the Grande Riviere film club, by coincidence just as Pope Francois was about to land in Mauritius for a State visit, members watched the brilliant film La Controverse de Valladolid about this very early debate within the Catholic Church. The film is a 1992 classic made by director Jean-Daniel Verhaeghe, based on a novel by Jean-Claude Carrière, and starring a cast of fine actors Jean-Pierre Marielle, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jean Carmet. Note that Verhaeghe has worked with other giant directors like Luis Bunuel, Milos Forman and Peter Brook. We suggest people seek out the film. It can be watched on a small screen as it was made for TV.
The film shows both the class realities of the time that were the fundament of racism, and also the importance of the tradition of debate, where two different stand-points challenge each other before a jury. The film ends with the judgment somewhat in Las Casas’ favour saying that Amerindians are humans with souls, but at the same time, with the jury offering the colonial profiteers ... Africans, as potential slaves instead.
In times when racism is so refractory as to be a serious problem amongst a group as apparently innocent as a football crowd, it is important to see the class forces, and the class interests, that fostered the birth of this precise form of racism in the first place. It was not something invented out of thin air by some uninformed football fans who lack education. It is something we all, including at the far end of the spectrum the football hooligans, perpetuate, ourselves, often just by not challenging it, by continuing the pathology of classifying people by race. It is not just a fad, though. This kind of race classification and then race abuse was, for hundreds of years, used, and is still used in times of mass migrations, as a tool in order to extract the cheapest labour possible, and in order to continue, at the end of slavery, to divide those who continue, until today, to work to fatten up the ruling classes – who then take all manner of decisions in the name of the whole of humanity. We, those of us who were slaves, serfs, indentured labourers, peasants, are today not out of the woods. We still sell some one-third of our lives as “salary-slaves” to a ruling class that takes the decisions – on its own, and through its “state” apparati in each country – in order to maximize its profits.
The film is a rude reminder. And it puts some responsibility on the State of each European country to protect young men who work as soccer professionals from verbal abuse by fans. These fans use, until today, the crude tools of dehumanizing people by race classification. Something begun so long ago, but something perpetuated for reasons of profit.
In LALIT, we call on captains of football teams, preferably both teams on the pitch, to lead their entire team off the pitch. Referees who do not stop the game need to be exposed by football’s labourers, the players. One public announcement should then be made to stop the noises and chants. If they begin again, the match should be annulled, giving the win to the team whose member/s suffered the abuse.
Article written for LALIT by Lindsey Collen