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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

A Very Important Book

(22 March 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 12, 22 March 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A very important book was published a few weeks ago – Caste, Class and Race by Oliver Cromwell Cox, professor of sociology and economics at Tuskegee Institute (Doubleday and Co.). It is a long book, covering a number of vital and complex problems, and some of the points Dr. Cox tries to make are not acceptable to Marxists. In this column, however, we intend to leave aside such disputed questions and to concentrate on the third and largest section of the book, dealing with the field of race relations.

The price of the book is high ($7.50) and that, unfortunately, will limit its circulation. But it is well worth it and it fully merits study by every opponent of the Jim Crow system, as we shall try to show here by referring to one chapter: Race Relations – Its Meaning, Beginning and Progress.

What is the origin of race prejudice? Dr. Cox’s “hypothesis is that racial exploitation and race prejudice developed among Europeans with the rise of capitalism and nationalism, and that because of the worldwide ramifications of capitalism, all racial antagonisms can be traced to the policies and attitudes of the leading capitalist people, the white people of Europe and North America.” And he does a brilliant job in supporting this hypothesis.

First he goes back to the history of the early empires, touching on the Greek and Roman especially, to show that race prejudice was unknown then, even though colored peoples were among those subjugated. Similarly with such later developments as the Crusades.

In the 15th century the Portugese, seeking a route to the trade in the Near East, began to invade Africa and enslave the natives. But “there was as yet no belief in any cultural incapacity of these colored peoples. Their conversion to Christianity was sought with enthusiasm, and this transformation was supposed to make the Africans the human equals of all other Christians.” When converted, the Africans could be and were assimilated.

In other words, it was not until about the time America was discovered and capitalism first began to develop that racial antagonism appeared.

“The slave trade was simply a way of recruiting labor for the purpose of exploiting the great natural resources of America. This trade did not develop because Indians and Negroes were red and black, or because they cranial capacity averaged a certain number of cubic centimeters; but simply because they were the best workers to be found for the heavy labor in the mines and plantations across the Atlantic. If white workers were available in sufficient numbers they would have been substituted.”

The forerunners of the present capitalist class needed a new ideology or theory to “justify” the degradation produced by the profitable slave trade and slavery, so they invented one – the theory of “white superiority.” But that was not until the middle of the 16th century. The argument that race prejudice is “inherent” in mankind is thoroughly disproved by all the facts of history. It was invented and developed during the last 400 years in order to make profits for the ruling class. As Dr. Cox puts it:

“It is probable that without capitalism ... the world might never have experienced race prejudice. Indeed, we should expect that under another form of economic organization, say socialism, the relationship between whites and peoples of color would be significantly modified.”

The above summary gives only the faintest hint of the riches to be found in this book. We shall return again and again to a discussion of it. Our necessarily brief remarks here are intended only to call the attention of our readers to a work that deserves the widest possible circulation.

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