In the past month there has been another orgiastic outbreak of Jew-baiting in Germany; and a Manchester slum child has received front-page publicity for a childish essay maintaining that “England is the best country in the world." Is there any connection between these two facts, the one so brutal, the other so smugly conventional? Decidedly. The members of the National Government have, in their well-bred, take-it-for-granted, true-blue-British way, been comfortably preening themselves on an unchallengeable “racial superiority," just as confidently, and just as unwarrantably, as have their crudely blustering Nazional fellows in Germany.
Superstitions on the subject of race, of racial differences and superiorities, are so rife even today that we can well afford to examine the subject.
In its usual everyday acceptance the term “race" is loosely used to equate with “nationality." There is a widespread belief that there are inherent and immutable differences between “races" (meaning nationalities), and that one’s own is vastly preferable to all others.
Such beliefs are amply demonstrated in anti-Semitic movements, in the position of negroes in the U.S.A., in the Australian Yellow-Peril phobia, in the “colour problem" generally. The growth and consolidation of the British Empire has particularly fostered these theories in every quarter of the world—always, of course, in favour of the British “race." Shaw speaks ironically of “England’s legitimate conquests, given to her by God because of her peculiar fitness to rule over less favoured races for their own good," but there are large numbers of people who hold that view in all seriousness.
Such beliefs are dangerously reactionary. They very conveniently serve to conceal, to justify, or to help intensify the exploitation of one section of the world by another. They represent, however, a slapdash, rule-of-thumb sociology which is by no means founded on fact.
Properly speaking, the word “race" is used for a purely physical, scientific classification of human beings, just as horses or dogs are classified. A race, anthropologically, is “a group of people possessing similar physical characteristics." The primary determining factors are the shape of the head, the height and the colour of the skin, all three being taken into consideration. Mankind is divisible, on these lines, into three races: the fair, the dark, the yellow. Each can be further sub-divided, but for the purpose of this article the sub-divisions of the fair race are all that need be noted; they are Alpine (short, dark, round-headed), Mediterranean (short, dark, long-headed), and Nordic (tall, fair, long-headed). But, in the world to-day, practically no pure races exist.
Only two remote sections of humanity, the Eskimos and the Pigmies, have any real claim to racial purity, and they are dying out. All the rest of the world is racially thoroughly mixed, and only in occasional, isolated, individual cases is a pure racial type to be found. Race overrides both national and linguistic frontiers; people of similar race speak entirely different languages and live in different countries, and, at the same time, people of divergent race speak the same language and live in the same country.
Many so-called races are nothing of the kind; for example, “Celtic" “Latin" and “Aryan" are all language divisions and by no means racial. Latin (or Romance) languages are spoken by people who differ widely from each other racially—Bretons and Roumanians, Spaniards and Walloons, for example. As for Aryan, not only is it not a racial division, but even as a language division it is no more than an assumption. There is a large group of languages called “Indo-Aryan" but the root derivation of them all has never been discovered. Hitler uses the word Aryan to describe a type which would correctly be called “Nordic"—but we may note that a very small minority of those speaking Aryan languages are of Nordic stock. Most Germans, for example, are of alpine type. So are the Jews, who are a religious and not a racial group. They are no more a race than are the Christians. Racially they are very mixed, but predominantly Alpine and Mediterranean, though with a fair admixture of Nordic stock. Only about thirty per cent. of the Jews have the so-called “Jewish nose"—which is actually a characteristic of the East Alpine group, irrespective of religion. From an anthropological point of view the Hitler doctrines and policy are comic to the point of absurdity; logically, to exclude all but the Nordics, he would have to dispense with some two-thirds of the population of Germany—while if he countenanced the Alpine stocks of which most Germans come, he would have to include most of the Jews, too. He is not, however, concerned with logic: an anti-Jew campaign helps to lessen the unemployment problem of non-Jews and distracts attention from other social problems; and foggy ideas about race foster the prejudices which encourage his campaigns.
The theory of inherent differences of temperament or outlook between racial groups is entirely baseless. It springs not from fact but from national prejudice. The only innate differences between races are the purely external physical ones of skin-colour, height and shape of head. These superficial distinctions have no influence whatever either upon temperament or intelligence. Intelligence is determined by quickness of sense perceptions, especially sight and hearing; it is conditioned—warped or encouraged—according to social environment. “Intelligence tests carried out in Australia and South Africa have shown that black children are not inferior in intelligence to white children. These results have caused some surprise, but there is no real reason why they should. Intelligence in children is the result of quick sight and good hearing. Every child born with good eyes and ears is born intelligent, though in most cases it is soon made stupid by disease, dull surroundings and dogmatic teaching. So-called racial differences, so far as our evidence goes, are merely differences in upbringing. Nationalism exists and thrives on the entirely false belief that these artificial, and often indeed non-existent, differences are innate and unalterable." (Lord Raglan, in the Listener, October 3rd, 1934.) The social circumstances, the sum total of manifold social influences, are what determine such differences as do exist between people of different nations.
But in class society the paramount social factor, overriding and often obliterating all others, is class. Class distinctions are stronger and more apparent than national or racial ones. There is an infinitely greater resemblance between two workers of different race, than between a worker and a capitalist of the same race. Except for the language barrier, a white miner and a yellow one would find far more in common with each other than either would with a mineowner of his own colour. It is easier to mistake a Pole for an Englishman or a Dane for a Frenchman, than to mistake Mr. Selfridge for a navvy or an archbishop for a 'bus conductor.
What are the uses of this race superstition? It both springs from and foments social prejudice: it assists political domination, that is, economic exploitation, as in India and Africa; it assists capitalist sections by encouraging jingoism and war-mongering, as in Abyssinia; above all, it is invaluable in obscuring the class issue: by setting up barriers of superstition and prejudice among them, it prevents the workers all over the world from realising their common cause. Actually, the world is divided into two opposing classes, buyers and sellers of labour power, whose interests cannot be reconciled under capitalism. But the race superstition makes it appear that there are numbers of “races" (corresponding with political divisions) whose characteristics and whose interests are fundamentally and inherently at variance. That is mere nonsense; but the capitalists would rather the workers' heads were filled with such nonsense than with sense about the class struggle and how to end it. This particular nonsense is a useful spur to patriotism when national sections of the capitalist class come into conflict, and want the workers to do the fighting for them.
There is only one way to end all this confusion of thought, this muddle of prejudices: remove the ignorance on which the exploiters trade. Do not allow the real nature of present-day society to be shrouded in these webs of misconception and falsification. By clearing away such fancies we lay bare the class issue which is the crux of the world problem. The workers must understand, plainly and unequivocally, that society to-day stands on a basis, not of nationality or of race, but of private ownership of the means of life; that it is organised not for “progress" or for "enlightenment," but simply and only for profit. The sooner the workers grasp these simple facts and their implications, the sooner will they sweep away the present organisation of society and all its superstitions, and bring into being a state of things organised to produce not for profit but only for use.
Not until the means of production are collectively owned and controlled by the whole community can class distinctions vanish. Not until then will the idea of race be wholly freed from these false associations that are bound to cling to it in capitalist society, which depends for its very existence on the exploitation of man by man.