Malcolm X once stated that “you can’t have capitalism without racism.” These words were spoken over 40 years ago, but they remain frighteningly true today. As social institutions, capitalism and racism have a symbiotic relationship. Nevertheless, capitalism in its purest form (an unbridled free market with laissez-faire competition) does not really exist in the modern world.
As the renowned socialist economist Ernest Mandel once said, “Capitalism was born of free competition and is inconceivable without competition. But free competition produces concentration and concentration produces the opposite of free competition, namely, monopoly. Where there are few producers, they can readily reach agreements, at the expense of the consumers, in dividing up markets and preventing any lowering of prices.”
In our world, a globalized, mercantilist neo-capitalism (dominated by increasingly monopolistic corporations) is the ruling economic system. Malign Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels all you like, but this is exactly what they predicted 160 years ago in “The Communist Manifesto.”
Returning to our main question, what exactly is the connection between capitalism and racism? To understand the problem, one must first examine the pre-industrial United States, when the economic structure was largely an agricultural slave-society. American slavery was American capitalism in its embryonic form. Proto-capitalists had two possible sources of slave labor other than blacks: Native Americans and white indentured servants.
But there was already a trade in humans from Africa, and as historian Howard Zinn writes, “Their helplessness made their enslavement easier. The Indians were on their own land. The whites were in their own European culture. The blacks had been torn from their land and culture, forced into a situation where the heritage of language, dress, custom, family relations was bit by bit obliterated except for the remnants that blacks could hold on to by sheer, extraordinary persistence.”
For proto-capitalists, enslaving Africans was a practical choice. All they needed was some sort of “rationalization” for treating people as property – and this “rationalization” was found in racism. Crackpot pseudoscience of the era “proved” blacks to be “inferior to whites,” while certain Bible verses seemed to morally justify slave ownership.
Together, these forged a distinctly American ideology of racism. The ideology had powerful effects. It made enslaved blacks feel unequal to whites, and it caused poor whites feel to antipathetic toward blacks. Wealthy, powerful individuals loved this.
After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, industry burgeoned and agriculture had declined in economic importance. The ruling class still needed racism, but it had to adapt the ideology to changing material and political conditions.
Racism mainly took the form of segregation, discriminatory laws and bigoted hiring practices. Newly-emancipated blacks were outwardly denied social mobility. At the same time, poor whites were propagandized to fear blacks as threats to their jobs, families and security. Decades later, this sort of activity persists.
For members of the lower and middle classes, racism is always internecine. When people are divided by racism, they cannot unite and challenge exploitative social conditions.
Julius Caesar realized the efficacy of the “divide and conquer” strategy, and so do capitalists. By enhancing their socioeconomic dominance, racism benefits capitalists enormously – it debilitates and subdues workers. And the 21st century is an especially terrible time for workers to be debilitated and subdued.
The United States has the most economic inequality of any industrialized Western nation. In this country, 10 percent of the population controls roughly 70 percent of the wealth. When one looks at social and financial inequity in terms of ethnicity, things get even worse. On a national level, black families earn almost 40 percent less than white families. Nearly 25 percent of black Americans are poor and without access to sufficient medical care.
People may vary in physical appearance, but all humans are the same on a genetic level. Biologically speaking, “race” does not exist. Reactionary, essentialist theories claiming that blacks are “naturally unequal to whites” can never be valid explanations for ethnic inequality. Institutionalized discrimination and bigotry are the reasons for this deplorable actuality.
As I noted earlier, capitalism necessarily produces a disproportionately powerful wealthy elite. The elite thrive on racism. Let us fight against this horrendous situation and create a society that is fit for human beings.
Information from – isreview.org, historyisaweapon.com, faireconomy.org, marxists.org