From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
Modern racist attitudes are entirely the product of capitalist society. They are generated by capitalism through the social and economic relationships which exist toward the means of production. These relationships (whether or not the State is involved) are private-property ones, i.e. employer to employees, landlord to tenant, buyer to seller, rich and poor.
Any attempt to rationalize racist attitudes, or to surround them with an aura of scientific justification, is ludicrous. These are no examples anywhere that can be shown where any group of people, along racial or national lines, is more or less capable of assimilating ideas or interpreting information and performing social functions than any other. Different stages of history and different systems of society vary widely in the kinds of ideas and social functions relevant to them. If we call these things intelligence, then man’s intelligence is entirely social.
All human beings are genetically similar, and what variations there are—such as in aptitude, strength, endurance, creativity and so on—exist within every group and in no way lend support to ideas of innate superiority or inferiority.
The proof of this, of course, is society itself. Inherited characteristics can only be seen in action through society. Whatever social group or so-called race one takes against which prejudice is held, whether it be blacks, Jews, Irish, Poles, Pakistanis or Japanese, every shade and level of ability and accomplishment exists within each of them. That there are some exceptionally “gifted” or talented people is obvious, hut no one group has a monopoly of such people. On a planet inhabited by some 3,000 million people, there is no possible starting-point for the development of a so-called super-race. Neither could such an abhorrent abomination ever be desirable.
In any schoolroom of working-class children, regardless of colour, there are the “bright” ones who get higher marks and the “less bright” ones who get lower marks. All of the standards set and the measurements used are derived from the needs of capitalism, and ultimately aimed at slotting people into those private-property relationships. Modern educationists and sociologists look for social or economic factors to explain why some children are relatively backward. The size of class, home background, parental encouragement, amount of sleep, nutrition, number in family, and family income. It is conditions outside the individual social conditions, the sum total of which constitute the social environment, which mould and influence the people involved in them.
We are not taking the mechanistic view that man is poured into a social mould which predetermines him and from which there is no escape. It is because man’s consciousness develops through society that he becomes aware of his environment and tries to change it: in fact he is constantly changing various aspects of it and being constantly modified himself as a result.
Social attitudes, habits and institutions which flourish in one form of society do not fit into another. Indeed, many ideas from early capitalism would not fit into modern capitalism. Scores of examples could be taken from medical science or physics and from the spheres of social thought which correspond to the different periods.
Just as the racist looks at the African tribesman and concludes “we are superior”, it is relevant to ask if the British, French or German working class of the early industrial era were inferior to their modem successors. Were ancient Britons inferior to the Romans, or the pioneers of locomotion backward because they did not start with the Golden Arrow?
We would argue that the opportunities for the development of ideas are socially created, and restricted by the general level of development of the means of production at a given time. Capitalism imposes further restrictions concerned with investment of capital and the profitable disposal of goods in world markets.
As Socialists, we condemn racist ideas. They are stumbling-blocks to working-class understanding of Socialism. This above all is why we find such attitudes pernicious and repugnant, Racists are invariably ignorant and irrational. They seek only the most crude and superficial explanation of social problems. They need a whipping-boy, a scapegoat. The Jew to blame for money grabbing and financial swindling. The black man to blame for housing squalor or unemployment. If they can find in the black man a convenient outlet upon whom to vent their frustrations and resentments, they need look no further.
In a recent television programme, in what was supposed to be a debate on racism in Britain, representatives of the National Front and the Monday Club expressed alarm at the development of a multi-racial community and the loss of what they called “national identity”. For the working class national identity has always meant decaying slums, congested insecure living, poverty and, very often, dole-queues and wars. National identity is a cunning political device by means of which the working class, who own no country, are kidded to identify with their exploiters the capitalists, who own virtually everything.
One has only to look at those festering cess-pits of capitalist culture where racist ideologies have had legal sanction and/or mass support, to see the depth of inhuman depravity masquerading as race supremacy. The worst examples being Nazi Germany, South Africa and the United States. The records of the first two countries are perhaps more familiar than the last. Would any white suprematist today like to defend the record of the United States where some 5,000 negroes were lynched during the hundred years up to 1961? Many of them were burned alive. Some had the defiant courage to sing while the mob perpetrated their grisly deeds. The violence and hatred which now erupts in the form of the black-power movement can only be understood against the background of a long history of racism—which, in turn, can only be understood as the product of the most appalling poverty and ignorance: a product of capitalism.
It is a typical contradiction of capitalism that its private-property relationships produce racism, and yet commodity production and the profit motive find racism an encumbrance. The capitalist class (black and white) is interested in maximizing profits. Whether the wealth they accumulate derives from the exploitation of black or white wage-slaves is a matter of indifference to them. In the long run, capitalism finds it unprofitable to have a potential labour force of many millions which cannot be fully exploited because it is black. What capitalism encourages in one situation, it actively seeks to prevent in another. This is true of racism in America, and similar signs are beginning to emerge in South Africa.
Capitalism in creating “a world in its own image” also creates a world-wide working class with common interests. This common interest cuts right across questions of colour, language, and place-of-birth. It prompts all workers to understand the world they live in and to take enlightened action to banish the major social problems, by changing society.
The whole of humanity and the entire earth are the only limits to society. Capitalism divides because the means of production are owned by a few. Socialism will embrace all mankind because the earth will be owned in common. Only thus can racism and all its ugly manifestations be finally conquered.