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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

The Cause of Race Prejudice

(29 March 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 13, 29 March 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Although it is now two months since the publication of Oliver C. Cox’s book – Caste, Class and Race (Doubleday and Co., $7.50) – very little attention has been given to this scholarly work by the capitalist press. This annoys us because in our opinion it is the most important book published in this country since the war and by far the best ever written by an American on the question of race prejudice.

It is interesting to contrast this with the big build-up a few years ago for a book that really isn’t in the same class – Myrdal’s An American Dilemma. Of course, you don’t have to search far to learn the reason for the different receptions given these books. Myrdal’s represents an apology for the status quo, implying that race prejudice presents a problem that only time can solve. On the other hand, Cox’s book, despite certain defects, leads to profoundly revolutionary conclusions, showing that Negro oppression is product of capitalism and can be ended by socialism.

Perhaps we can indicate the value of this book by referring to the section analyzing the theories of the conservative, orthodox and non-revolutionary schools of thought on race relations in the U.S. Among those dealt with are:

The Theory that race prejudice is due to some fundamental color antipathy between the races. The theory that it is due to “custom” or the “irrational upthrust of primitive folk attitudes.” The theory that it can be explained by “ethnocentrism,” that is, “the view of things in which one’s own group, is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated in reference to it.” The theory of race prejudice as a “belief” without regard for the “materialistic” source of the rationalization.”

After presenting these and other theories objectively, the author subjects them to historical and materialistic tests, exposing all their contradictions, shortcomings, reactionary implications and scientific worthlessness. On the contrary, he shows, “the race problem developed out of the need of the planter class, the ruling class, to keep the freed Negro exploitable. To do this, the ruling class had to do what every ruling class must do; that is, develop mass support for its policy. Race prejudice was and is the convenient vehicle.”

Then there is the large school of writers relying on the theory of the caste system as their guide to the study of race relations in the U.S. Actually, as Dr. Cox demonstrates on the basis of a detailed examination of the caste system in India, this analogy has no basis whatever, either historically or sociologically. It falsely assumes that each of the races isolates itself, thus denying the aspirations of the Negroes for equality of social opportunity, and implying at best that segregation is the real solution.

Dr. Cox also deals effectively with the Myrdal book, which presents a variation of the caste theory. Myrdal’s approach is shown to be based on a misrepresentation of the problem as a “moral issue,” void of all class analysis, and as a “mistaken” or “wicked” idea shared by all the whites equally, and thus in effect exonerating the ruling class from its responsibility for instigating and promoting race prejudice.

Finally, for the benefit of those who think the answer lies in “education,” we present this quotation from Dr. Cox:

“We cannot defeat race prejudice by proving that it is wrong. The reason for this is that race prejudice is only a symptom of a materialistic social fact. If, for instance, we should discover by ‘scientific’ method that Negroes and Chinese are ‘superior’ to tall, long-skulled blonds ... then, to the powers that be, so much the worse for Negroes and Chinese. Our proof accomplishes nothing. The articulate white man’s ideas about his racial superiority are rooted deeply in the social system, and it can be corrected only by changing the system itself.”

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