From the earliest days of working-class history, racial hatreds and national antagonisms have repeatedly been an obstacle to working-class solidarity and organisation.
Capitalists and their agents know the value of keeping alive these antagonisms. They know quite well that, whilst the workers remain divided racially and nationally, their own privileged position in society will remain secure.
It is largely to divert the attention of the German workers from a critical examination of the true cause of their poverty, from an examination of the capitalist system, that the Nazi set them against the Jews. However, it would be a very serious mistake to think that Hitler has the monopoly of this technique of hindering working-class organisation. On the contrary, it would be difficult to find a capitalist class of any country which has not at some time or other stirred up its workers against those of another nation or race.
The British capitalist class has done its share of this sort of thing. For example, a few years ago the Press of this country used to regale us week after week with atrocity tales about Russians. This was partly due to the fact that the true significance of the Russian upheaval was not understood by the capitalists. So long as they mistakenly thought that socialism was being established in Russia, they did their best to make the workers of Britain think that Russians were the arch-enemies of civilisation. When it was discovered that Russia was developing along capitalist lines, these stories became less frequent. In recent years, the Japanese, Italians and the Germans have taken the place of the Russians in the British Press. This is because the capitalists of Japan, Italy and Germany threaten the interests of the British capitalists.
We are not suggesting that there is no truth in these atrocity stories; very likely, most of them are true. The point we wish to make is that they would not be given so much publicity unless the British capitalist class wished to rally its workers to the defence of British capitalism against the attacks of likely aggressors.
Little publicity is given to the French method of railway construction in Equatorial Africa. And yet for sheer brutality it is equal to anything perpetrated by the Germans, Japs or Italians. What fine stories the British Press could give us about French Imperialism—and would give us—if British and French imperialist interests were in conflict.
Londres, the French journalist, in his book “The Land of the Black,” describes the construction of railways in the French equatorial colonies as follows: —
“Here the Negro is used instead of machinery, instead of everything else, in fact. He takes the place of the machine, the motor-lorry, the crane. And were it only possible, he would be used instead of explosives, too !Again we venture to say that if French capitalist schemes of aggression were threatening British capitalist interests to-day, such stories as the above about the French (and many others like them) would be plastered on the front pages of the dailies, with the juiciest of headlines.
"The Negroes died like flies. Of the 8,000 that came to Batignaloes only 5,000 were soon left, and then 4,000, and later 1,700. New recruits had to take their places. . . .
“We started to hunt the Negroes. Our men caught them as best they could with the help of lassoes, etc. We put 'collars' on them, as they are called here. . . . The death rate increased. . . . 'We must reckon with a loss of six or eight thousand people,' said Governor General Antonette, ‘or give up the railway.' But the number of victims was greater. To-day it already exceeds 17,000, and there is still about 200 miles to go! . . . We are woodcutters in the human forest." (Quoted in George Padmore's "Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers.")
Racial hatreds have been of great service to the capitalist classes of America. Both in Latin America (Brazil, Cuba and Colombia) and in the United States, the idea is carefully nurtured among “white" workers that the “black" is his enemy. Here we have the capitalists importing negroes to work in their concerns because they can force them to accept low wages, and then doing all in their power to rouse white against black so as to prevent them from joining forces.
Incidentally, the same thing happened here last century. Irishmen were brought to England to work at cheap rates and then the capitalist played off the Irish and English Workers, one against the other. About this, Marx wrote in 1869: —
"The English bourgeoisie has not only exploited Irish poverty in order to worsen the condition of the working class in England, by the forced transplantation of poor Irish peasants, but it has, moreover, divided the proletariat into hostile camps. . . . The average English worker hates the Irish as a competitor who lowers his wages and level of living. He feels national and religious antagonism towards him. . . . This antagonism between the proletarians of England is artificially cultivated and maintained by the bourgeoisie. It knows that in this antagonism lies the real secret of maintaining its power" (Italics are Marx's.)George Padmore, in his "Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers," has much to say about the methods used by the capitalist class of the United States to cause black and white workers to hate each other. He says (p. 62) that “some of the most active agents of the Oppressors are the preachers, who go round the countryside stirring up racial hatred and mob law against the Negroes." He tells, too, how after the lynching of two Negroes, Shipp and Smith, at Marion, Indiana, pictures of their charred bodies were sold in the shops of the city of Terre Haute. "Over 3,256 Negro farmers and workers have met their death at the hands of white lynching mobs between 1885 and 1930" (p. 50).
With regard to Latin America, Padmore has noticed happening there what Marx observed in England. He writes: "The national bourgeoisie and the Yankee imperialists . . . consciously foster the feeling of national chauvinism and race prejudice among the native Negro and white workers against the Negroes from Haiti and Jamaica. Cases are not rare when these foreign black slaves become the victims of most brutal chauvinistic persecution on the part of the native workers themselves, who are made to believe that by doing so they are defending their own economic interests.
"With respect to wages, both the native and foreign Negroes always receive less wages for the same amount of work as the white workers, while the imported blacks get even less than the native Negroes. Through this method of wage discrimination the imperialists and the native capitalists are able to split up the class interest of the workers into different parts and play one off against the other."The fact that the agents of capitalism are able to stir up workers of one country against another is proof of the immaturity of the working class. It is a proof that up to now the workers are without a true understanding of their position in capitalist society. They are still ready to consider their own interests identical with those of their master class.
C. A. Allen