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Future Socialist Society

John Molyneux

The Future Socialist Society

8. The end of racism

Racism is one of the most ugly and pernicious features of capitalist society. Future generations who live under socialism will need to make a considerable leap of imagination to be able to understand not just the great crimes of racism – like the Nazi Holocaust and apartheid – but also its relatively ‘minor’ manifestations like the sickening hysteria over refugees seeking asylum in Britain.

Undoubtedly they will regard such episodes as clear evidence that the society which produced them was fundamentally rotten. For socialism will eradicate racism.

By this I do not just mean that socialism will combat racism. It should go without saying that the socialist revolution will wage the most determined war on every form of racism. The workers’ state will treat as a most serious offence all racial discrimination, racial harassment, and all expressions of racist ideology. Its schools and media will combine to educate the population in a spirit of militant anti-racism.

But I mean much more than this. I mean that the socialist revolution will tear up the very roots of racism so that in time it will become a historical relic as anachronistic, absurd and irrelevant as the persecution of witches.

To see how this will happen it is necessary first to understand what these roots are.

Racism, contrary to the theories put forward by people who are in fact apologists for racism, is not a ‘natural’ or ‘instinctive’ reaction to ‘outsiders’.

Nor is it a hangover from primitive superstition based on ignorance. Unlike the oppression of women, it is not even a product of class divided society in general.

Racism is the quite specific product of the rise and development of the capitalist economic system. It was not a feature of pre-capitalist societies, not even of the ancient slave societies of Greece and Rome. In those societies slaves (and slave owners) were both black and white. Although anti-slave ideas (‘slaves are by nature inferior’ and so on) were rife, they did not have a racial or skin colour connotation.

The origin of racism lies in the slave trade, in the practice of forcibly seizing and shipping millions of black Africans to the Americas to work as slaves on the plantations.

(This statement has caused some controversy. It has been argued that the existence of anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages seems to contradict the idea that racism is a product of capitalism. However, as Abram Leon showed in his book The Jewish Question, the anti-Semitism of the period was essentially a religious and not a racial persecution – Jews who converted to Christianity could avoid it. This is not in any way to excuse the horrors that were committed – but to insist that it has to be seen in the same light as the equally horrific persecution of minority Christian sects in the same period.)

This trade and the slavery that followed it were undertaken for economic reasons. They were immensely profitable and played a major role in the rise of capitalism. But like all forms of exploitation, they required ideological justification, and this was supplied by racism. The inhuman treatment of millions of people was legitimated by the theory that these people were subhuman.

The racism that grew from the slave trade was then further reinforced and boosted by imperialism as a whole. Capitalism, arising first in western Europe (and developing particularly in Britain), was driven by its competitive nature to scour the world for markets for its goods, for raw materials, and then for colonies as outlets for investment and sources of cheap labour. This inevitably brought the merchants, missionaries, businessmen, politicians and soldiers of European capitalism into conflict with the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Asia and Africa – that is, with the black and coloured peoples of the world.

Once again justification was needed. What better than the notion that these people were childlike, primitive and incapable, and that the whole process of robbery and plunder was really for their own good-that it was the ‘white man’s burden’ to lead them slowly to ‘civilisation’.

Racism is not just a legacy of imperialism, however. It is also continually regenerated by contemporary capitalism. For capitalism rests not only on competition between capitalists but also on competition between workers.

The structure of the capitalist economy encourages workers to see other workers as rivals for jobs, houses and so on. It is only through overcoming this competition amongst themselves that workers are able to fight back against the system.

Consequently, any ideas such as sexism, nationalism and above all racism, which set workers against each other and disrupt that unity are of great advantage to the bosses. Racism also provides the system and its ruling class with an extremely convenient scapegoat for unemployment and all the other social ills capitalism produces.

For these reasons capitalism, openly or discreetly but nonetheless persistently, stokes the fires of racism so that the racist card is always there to be played when needed.

None of this is meant to suggest that the problems of racism will be easily solved, still less that it will disappear overnight with the revolution. On the contrary, the roots of racism are very deep. The point is that they are capitalist roots and the moment capitalism is destroyed they will be deprived of further nourishment and begin to wither.

Moreover, the process of revolution will itself deal racism many powerful blows. First, because it is certain that black workers will themselves play a powerful and leading role in the revolution. Second, because unless unity is achieved between the decisive sections of the black and white working class (on the basis of total opposition to racism) the revolution cannot hope to achieve victory. Third, because a victorious, confident working class that has been through the enlightening experience of revolutionary struggle will feel no need for scapegoats.

Building on this firm basis, a socialist society which unites workers as collective owners and controllers of production rather than dividing them, which is able to solve the problems of unemployment, homelessness and poverty, and which spreads itself through international solidarity rather than imperialist conquest, will steadily eliminate the last vestiges of racism.

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Last updated: 15 November 2015