Racism is a product of capitalism

A major problem besetting society, and one that is justifiably receiving an enormous amount of attention, is the problem of racism. Racism is an evil that has subjected millions to degrading and humiliating discrimination and prejudice. On more than one occasion seething unrest, resentment and frustrations of the exploited and oppressed black communities has exploded into resistance. The hideous conditions of life in the ghettos, slums and shanty-towns, the soul-destroying indignities that are the everyday burden inflicted on racial minorities, the endless frustrations that defeat the strongest wills of black and brown workers – these are facts that need no documentation here. What is needed here is to emphasise that such protests in America as the Black Lives Matter after decades of the passing of the Civil Rights legislation are the logical consequence of capitalism’s inability to change or even ameliorate these conditions.

While a great deal of effort has been made to alleviate the effects of racism, nothing much at all has been done to eliminate its cause. The basic cause of racism is not the false ideas or racial myths conceived and spread by the white supremacists. Rather, the cause of racism is the competitive, strife-ridden, class-divided capitalist system of society under which we live, and under which we desperately attempt to survive. The continuance of capitalism ensures worsening conditions. The truth is that capitalism, under which we have developed industrial and scientific forces that no previous epoch in human history could have even dreamed of, cannot solve the crises it has itself created. The very laws that are at the heart of the capitalist system, the incentives and motivations behind its economic activities, guarantee that social conflicts will worsen.

To those who say racial prejudice always was and always will be one of mankind’s burdens, we say, “You are wrong!”

Race hatred is not an ancient and inherent thing. On the contrary, all this prejudice, and the very concept of race, is the product of the modern era, of the era we call capitalism. There were other fears, other hatreds, other prejudices, but before the capitalist era man never discriminated against his fellow man because of the colour of his skin. And, as they are wrong who say “race prejudice always was,” so they are wrong who say it “always will be.” The capitalist system is the breeding ground for racial prejudice. As long as the cause remains, the evil also remains. It may be dormant for a time, but it will continue to add poison to politics.

Socialists, as men and women dedicated to bringing to birth a world of freedom, peace and brotherhood,  feel deep sympathy for all who resist the degradation of race hatred and we applaud their militant spirit. Nevertheless, candour compels us to point out that the struggle has to be one against capitalism, itself.

Under capitalism, the means of social production are owned privately by a relatively small class of capitalists. The great majority of the people own no tools of their own, and in order to live, they have to go to the capitalists’ cap in hand and sell their ability to work as a commodity. Now, this is quite a deal for the capitalists. They buy this labour, or labour-power, at the market price. But the workers produce a good deal more than is represented by their market price — four or five times more. In the science of political economy, we call the difference between what the workers get paid in wages and what they produce “surplus value.” The capitalist takes this. Of course, he doesn’t put it all in his own pocket. He has to divide with the landlord, the banker, the lawyers, the tax collectors, the insurers, the advertising companies and a lot of other hangers-on of capitalism. But this is the way the exploitation of labour takes place.

The overwhelming majority of the people of all colours have only their labour-power to sell. In order to live, they must sell their ability to work — their manual and mental labour-power — as a commodity to the capitalist owners. The capitalist class performs no productive functions. The workers do all the socially useful work and produce everything. In return, they receive in wages the equivalent of only a fraction of the value of the goods they have produced. The rest is appropriated by the capitalists. The less the capitalists have to pay the workers in wages, the greater the proportion of the wealth they can appropriate for themselves. Accordingly, the capitalists, under competitive compulsions, constantly try to increase their share of the wealth produced by the workers. Conversely, the workers resist the capitalists’ encroachments and strive to maintain or improve their living standards. The result is a class struggle that is waged continuously in capitalist society.

There is but one way to end this irreconcilable struggle. That is by abolishing this outmoded capitalist system, and replacing it with socialism — the next higher society decreed by social evolution. Only a united, class conscious working class can accomplish such a revolutionary change. So obviously, it is in the capitalists’ interests to prevent the working class from uniting. And race prejudice is one of the most insidious and effective devices ever invented for blinding the workers to their class interests and keeping them divided and fighting each other, instead of forming a solid front against their exploiters.

It is self-evident that the less the capitalist has to pay for this labour, that is fewer wages, the more he can take for himself. It’s like dividing an apple into two parts — if one part is smaller, the other part is larger. This brings us very close to one of the reasons why racial minorities are segregated and humiliated and held down to a status of second-class citizenship. To put it bluntly, by forcing racial minorities into submissive patterns of behaviour the ruling class supplies itself with a pool of cheap, unresisting labour.

This is one way the capitalists benefit from race prejudice and race discrimination. But there is another, more subtle way. We have shown that labour’s product is divided between the wages paid to the workers and the surplus value taken by the capitalists. We say it’s like dividing an apple — if one part is smaller, then the other part is larger, and vice versa. Now, by the very nature of things, there is a struggle between the capitalists and workers over this division. The capitalists, either because they are forced by competitive compulsions, or out of sheer profit hunger, constantly try in one way or another to increase their share. Here we can see the focal point of the class struggle that rages in modern society.

Reject violence. With all the sympathy that it is possible for humane mankind to summon for the suffering, anguish and desperation of the victims of capitalism, fully understanding their anger and bitterness and in complete agreement that this anger and bitterness are justified, the World Socialist Movement, nevertheless, urges all who are inclined to listen to the advocates of violence to reflect soberly. No one should doubt that such any insurrection as some propose would lead to bloodshed by the far better armed forces of law and order, many of whom are ready, willing and eager to launch a race war on those whom they fear and hate.

The World Socialist Movement hold that the class struggle is irrepressible and irreconcilable. It can be ended only when the workers, male and female, black, brown and white, skilled and unskilled, Catholic, Protestant and Jew, unite as a class to put an end to capitalist exploitation. Racism is one of the most insidious, and effective devices ever invented to keep the workers divided and fighting each other. There is but one answer. That is to remove the capitalist cause of race prejudice and to lay a sound economic foundation for human harmony. We must outlaw private ownership of the land and industries. We must make the means of social production the property of all the people. Then, instead of producing things for sale and profit, we will carry on production to satisfy human needs. In short, we replace the competition of capitalism with the cooperation and collective interests of the socialist commonwealth.

The World Socialist Movement is fully conscious of the humiliation and degradation of our black and brown fellow workers. We fully share with them their yearnings for an improved better life. But political honesty tells us to point out that only the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism can put an end to race prejudice, and establish the brotherhood of man on a sound material foundation. By making the means of production, distribution and social services the collective property of society, we shall be able to use our collective productive genius to create abundance and leisure for all in a sane, peaceful and democratic socialist cooperative commonwealth.

Socialism will mean educational institutions will have the finest facilities and will be devoted to developing individual talents and skills. The medical and social services will concentrate on creating and maintaining the finest health and recreational facilities conceivable. In short, with socialism, toil, drudgery, poverty and social misery will be banished forever. Under such beneficent material conditions not only will the cause of race prejudice be eliminated, but the cause of war, poverty, unemployment and all our other distressing social problems will also be eliminated. To build socialism, the workers of all nationalities, colours and creeds must organise together.