Attorney general George Brandis undoubtedly wants to ensure that all the bigots continue to vote Liberal.

But there is more to the proposed watering down of the Racial Discrimination Act than simply chasing after the racist vote and keeping reactionary columnists like Andrew Bolt and shock jocks like Alan Jones onside.

The Abbott government is parading itself as the defender of free speech and civil liberties. At the same time, it is cracking down on public service whistle blowers and imposing harsh restrictions on access to information about the appalling conditions refugees face on Manus Island.

The Liberals oppose the prosecution of racists like Andrew Bolt but are all for jailing the likes of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, who heroically exposed the lies of and the atrocities committed by governments and security agencies around the world.

However, while the left should oppose the watering down of the racial vilification laws because of the encouragement it gives to every bigot to crawl out of the woodwork, we should not be under any illusion that the current laws have had any significant impact in reducing racism in Australia.

They have not prevented the police racially profiling, assaulting and terrorising African youth. They have not led to any reduction in the number of Aboriginal deaths in police custody or the soaring rate of Aboriginal imprisonment.

They did not prevent the removal of more Aboriginal children from their families. Indeed, the vilification laws did not even prevent the vile lies propagated by Labor and Liberal governments and the ABC about supposed gangs of paedophiles running rampant in Aboriginal communities. Those lies were used to justify the racist Northern Territory Intervention.

Nor have the vilification laws done anything to stop the demonisation of refugees. Tony Abbott and immigration minister Scott Morrison have not been prosecuted for their unending vilification of people fleeing persecution.

Andrew Bolt may have lost a court case for his slanders, but all he got was a slap on the wrist. The Murdoch press continues to provide him with a high profile platform to spew out his unending bile against Aborigines, unions, the poor, environmentalists and workers standing up for their rights.

So why get rid of the laws? The bottom line is that racism serves the interests of the rich and powerful in capitalist society. The Liberals want fewer restrictions on racist hate speech because they want racists to be emboldened.

Demonising Aborigines is grist to the mill of the multinational mining companies and wealthy graziers who want to drive them off their land.

Whipping up anti-migrant racism is a way to divide workers and hold down wages. Islamophobia is used to justify murderous imperialist wars like the invasion of Iraq and the undermining of core civil liberties.

The hysteria about so-called boat people is used to reinforce the conception that all Australians – rich and poor – have fundamental interests in common, in others words to paper over the class divisions in society.

And stirring up racism against refugees, Aborigines, Muslims, Africans etc. is simply par for the course for politicians, both Liberal and Labor. Especially so when their neoliberal agenda for boosting the profits of the big end of town entails more and more cutbacks to basic services and attacks on workers’ rights.

How else to deflect anger about record payouts to CEOs while the rest of us are told to make sacrifices to restore the budget’s bottom line?

Precisely because racism is an integral element of modern capitalism, it cannot be eliminated by relying on the capitalist legal system. We have to mobilise on the streets to stand up to every racist atrocity, whether it be the murder of refugees on Manus Island, the stealing of Aboriginal children or the jailing of Muslims for thought crimes.

We have to combine that with a resolute defence of the living standards of all workers that points out who is the real enemy – Rinehart, Forrest, Packer, Murdoch, Abbott and Co. It is action like this that can begin to lay the basis for getting rid of the whole profit-driven system that thrives on racism.