Fighting Racism: A Key Struggle (1982)

25 February 2010 254 hits

The fight against racism is one of the major aspects of the fight for an egalitarian society, and should be seen as central to the struggle for communism. Racism is not an "accidental ' or "incidental" aspect of capitalism, but an essential one. Nowhere has there been, or will there be, a capitalist society which is non-racist. Capitalist relations of production created historically and maintained everywhere to the present day, the material basis of racism. At the same time, racism, closely linked with anti-communism, is a major aspect of bourgeois ideology.

This article raises and develops four general points:

(1) The fight against racism under capitalism is not "just another reform."

(2) Capitalism cannot and will not ever eliminate racism, so all non-communist anti-racist movements are doomed to failure.

(3) To the extent that capitalist production relations are allowed to exist under the dictatorship of the proletariat, racism will continue to exist even if efforts are made to fight it on an ideological and on an economic level.

(4) To the extent that racism continues to form a part of people's consciousness, it will be difficult or impossible to build a communist society.


Pre-capitalist societies had many ways of dividing the oppressed classes and creating group hostilities, but the notion of "race" was probably not one of them. The idea of "natural" differences among human groups--in the sense of biological differences--was closely linked to the rise of modern science. In particular, the development of taxonomy (classification of living things) was a product of the rapid overseas expansion of European mercantile capitalism in the 16th and 17th centuries, and a prerequisite for the "scientific" classification of human "types".

At the same time, the rise of capitalism in Europe depended on the forcible incorporation of Africans, Asians, Native Americans and other "people of color" into the sphere of capitalist production relations. The so-called "primitive accumulation of capital" which fueled the development of industry in Europe was nothing but the expropriation of wealth and labor power from non-European societies. At first, the European bourgeoisie justified this rip-off on the basis of religion: the Pope divided the world and told the rulers of Spain and Portugal who could do their ripping-off where. But this was not enough--it was necessary to explain why these people were to be ripped off rather than converted, and besides, after the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the leading national bourgeoisie of England, Sweden, and Holland didn't care what the Pope said anyway. So the idea of distinct "racial" groups, some of which were supposedly inferior to others, came to play the key legitimizing role. This aspect of racism has remained important to the present day, because the logic of capitalism has continued to require overseas expansion and increasingly complete incorporation of all people of the world into the capitalist sphere.

The particular pattern of racism in North America-- in many respects the pattern for all subsequent development--emerged mainly in relation to the emergence of a multi-racial work force in the British colonies. Black and white laborers were forced by law into qualitatively different relations of production: slaves were not simply "zero-wage" earners, but were not allowed even the "privilege" of selling their own labor power on the market as an increasing proportion of white laborers were forced to do. Meanwhile, Native Americans, who were not strong enough to maintain their own system of production in the face of the European invasion, but strong enough to resist enslavement, were subjected to genocide. Anti-black racism thus became the main form of racism in the United States.

With the destruction of slave-capitalism, and the rapid industrialization of the United states in the late nineteenth century, the working class became multiracial and the system of racist capitalism took on its present shape. The concept of race was written into law, and strict segregation of the so-called "races" was enforced with the power of the state at the point of production and in every other sphere of life. "Separate" was never "equal", anytime or anywhere. Differential in wages paid, in employment patterns and job classifications, in "social wages" such as education and health care, and so forth--the super-exploitation of supposedly "inferior races"--provided additional billions of dollars ripped off from the working class by capitalist bosses.

At the same time, the actual differences in the lives of persons of different "races"--created by the bosses themselves--were explained by the bosses' ideologues as supposedly the result of so-called "natural biological hereditary differences" among these so-called "races." Thus, social inequality was defended as an inevitable "fact of nature." Workers were kept divided, at each others' throats, and in some cases were used as the shock-troops to keep down the superexploited minorities. The worker-farmer Populist movement was destroyed by this racism, and the U.S. Labor movement seriously set back. In addition, this ideology of racism played the key role in preventing the development of communist consciousness on a mass scale. To the extent that the super-exploitation of minority workers seemed "natural" (as in the "social-darwinist" mythology) any possibility of a society based on full social equality must have seemed remote indeed. Racism necessarily leads to anti-communism!

Because racism is an integral part of capitalism, serious anti-racists should become communists. Only by destroying the system on which it rests can racism be eliminated.


Under capitalism, so-called "liberal" anti-racism will inevitably be turned into its opposite. Liberalism means relying on the bourgeois state--cops, legislation and especially the courts--to stop the KKK and other racist-fascist groups. This is a real loser! Liberalism pushes pacifism as well as legalism, disarming the anti-racist struggle. Liberalism rejects the view that racism stems from capitalism, blaming it instead on individual prejudice, and singling out the white worker as the villain. Since white workers, too, are hurt by racism, this is a version of "blaming the victim." Thus liberalism is also idealist: not recognizing the connection between racist ideas and racist segregation/discrimination, it calls for toleration of racist ideas under the slogan of "free speech." Liberalism promotes nationalism--"to each his own." Liberalism and the bourgeois notion of "right" lead to a narrow, economist view of the fight against racist wage differential and so forth, calling for the elimination of overt differential ("equal pay for equal work"), or at best, equal access to different job categories. It cannot deal with the historical fact of segregation and the racist lies pushed to defend it: witness the stampede of liberal ideologues who jumped on the "reverse discrimination" racist bandwagon. Liberalism calls for "toleration" of other "races" in spite of their "differences." It hides the fact that workers of all so-called "races" have far more in common than they have differences, and the fact that the whole concept of "race" is an invention of the bosses.

Only communist ideas and organization can give the leadership which will ensure that anti-racist organizers avoid these pitfalls. And communists must point out that the logic of real anti-racism leads inevitably to an openness to communist ideas.

Because racism is an integral part of capitalism, communists must be anti-racist organizers. To take and hold power on a communist program will require masses of workers won to the idea of a society organized in the interests of the working class as a class and on the basis of full social (not merely legal) equality. Winning people to these ideas involves convincing them at least of the truth and importance of our analysis of racism. In fact, this may prove to be the largest part of this ideological struggle. Thus, waging serious anti-racist struggle on all fronts under capitalism is a prerequisite for the building of communism under the dictatorship of the working class, and is a key political task.


The International Committee Against Racism is not a "liberal" or "reform" organization. If it were, we would be trying to win people out if it and smash it! InCAR is a radical organization led by the Party, which the Party builds in order to advance the struggle for communism. This does not mean that everyone in InCAR or even in InCAR leadership must be in the Party.

Because of the power of communist ideas and organization in developing anti-racist analysis and strategy, InCAR--the party-led mass anti-racist organization-- has been noticeably successful in a number of respects. Many should be willing to join, based on those successes, but without necessarily understanding what's behind it. And they may be willing to build InCAR among their bases, but around politics different from ours. That's fine, but we are not about to let liberal politics lead InCAR. The Party leads InCAR. If we try to downplay this it would mean not fighting anti-communism, and if we don't fight it, we'll be defeated by it. On the other hand, this doesn't mean that the InCAR organization is or should be identical with the Party organization, but Party members should be held responsible for winning their base to be active in InCAR.


The main thrust of the anti-racist struggle in the creation of communist society will have to be the destruction of the material basis of racism. This is why the detailed analysis of racism and capitalism becomes important: abolition of wage inequality would not go very far at all toward the destruction of racism. It would be consistent with the maintenance of segregation and hence unequal access to food, education, housing and so forth, as well as continuing to generate racist consciousness. Furthermore, it would ignore the real and material differences between so-called races which originated under capitalism and have lasting effects. For example, black and other minority people will continue to be, on the whole, more frequently victimized by illness and will probably therefore need more health care. Distribution based on need would take all this into account, especially the need to fight segregation.

In every particular case, whether it be the desegregation of a neighborhood, the elimination of IQ testing and tracking in the schools, the abolition of racist job categories, the smashing of a racist organization, or anything else, masses of people (black, white, and everyone else) will have to be convinced that racism exists in that particular case and that it is in their interest to join the fight against it. This is the same thing we run into now, when we organize around a particular issue of racism: there are always plenty of people who will tell you that of course they are against racism, but why is this an example of racism? This is especially the case because we will be giving preferential treatment, in many cases to overcome the effects of past racism. This might include more responsibility on the job, first crack at training programs and at better housing, etc. To do anything else would in itself be racist, and would undermine the principle of, "to each according to need." But you can bet that there will be plenty or resistance, even from well-meaning and winnable people, on the grounds of "reverse discrimination" or the like.

Beyond this, we will work to develop an anti-racist, international communist culture and curriculum and struggle to replace capitalist "art" and "thought" with these new ideas. Both inside and outside the Party there will be struggle over this new culture, and how to carry out a true anti-racist line. Multi-racial social relations will have to be built up, carefully and with a plan for each individual in and around the Party, much as we should be analyzing our basebuilding now. Integration in a true sense will not simply flow from the desegregation of social institutions.

In short, the fight against racism during the dictatorship of the proletariat will not be an overnight thing, but a dialectical process of transforming the base and superstructure of society. Of course, we will wipe out obviously racist laws and institutions immediately, but the Party will need to continue to fight ideologically to win masses of people to become a material force to destroy the basis of racism, even while remnants of capitalism continue to generate racist consciousness. Thus, the destruction of racism will take as long as the destruction of all capitalist aspects of social organization.

InCAR will have a very important role to play in this process, growing directly out of the role it should be playing today. It will be the mass organization led by the Party to carry out this vital aspect of the work, with the unity of Party members and non-Party people who are willing to work on these tasks under the Party's leadership. The role of InCAR will not be to "keep the Party in check" or to "prevent corruption in the Party."

In a great many particular situations, the main resistance to equalization of the social relations of production will take the form of racism: "blacks are getting everything," "standards are being lowered," "you can't get people to work together like that," and so forth. If separate has never been equal, then separate never will be equal. A "racist communist society" would be contradiction in terms. We are trying to win people to follow the leadership of a multi-racial party, and to join it; how can we do that without making great strides in the fight against racism? And a so-called "communist" party which soft-pedaled the fight against racism would have no right to expect to win the loyalty of black and other minority workers, nor of honest white workers. A party willing to tolerate racist inequality would tolerate all sorts of inequality and privilege.

We can wage a successful struggle against racism, and we can win mass support on the basis of a consistently communist program. The two are very deeply linked, particularly when we consider nationalism and patriotism as closely tied with racism. The fight against racism is a central part of the fight for communism, now and in the future.