The entire structure of modern capitalism has been built upon the backs of wage-slavery and slavery as organised by capitalist elites and their agents. Beyond the natural world, practically everything that now exists has been sweated out of the efforts of those compelled by circumstances to labour long and hard to create the wealth and well-being of the elite.
In addition to the material world (which is demonstrably ruining the ecological balance of the planet) the capitalist class and their supporters have also constructed an ideological world. It is one moulded to fit their imagined superiority and serves to mask their inhumanity. Neither, the material or ideological results of capitalism ensure a harmonious or sustainable future.
Nowhere is the deficiency of the pro-capitalist elite (of all complexions) more clearly demonstrated than in the abstractions – ‘freedom’ and ‘race’. Freedom, for capitalists, has never meant more than their own freedom to exploit, oppress and consume. The ideology of race was created to justify the exploitation of foreign peoples.
Slavery and the ideology of race.
The first trading contacts between European merchant capitalists and African tribal leaders were largely focused on commodity exchanges. African Gold, Ivory and spices were traded for European cottons, silks and guns. This and subsequent sea-born trading took place between European elites and African tribal elites.
Furthermore, at first contact, discrimination and slavery already existed within African tribal communities. Although some African slaves were accepted in initial exchanges by British and European Atlantic coast traders, slaves were not the initial motive. That came later when the plantation crops of cotton, sugar and tobacco were developed in the Caribbean islands, North America and Brazil. It was then that African slaves became the all-important profit-making commodity and a 200 year, triangle of trade, commenced
1. Goods from Europe were taken to Africa and exchanged for slaves. 2. Slaves were transported to the New World and exchanged for cotton, tobacco or sugar. 3. Sugar, cotton, tobacco were carried to Europe and exchanged for cash.
An estimated 11 million African slaves were ‘transported’ by Europeans to the Americas. Surplus-value was usually extracted on each of the three journeys, thus creating massive profits for the merchant capitalists. Although fictions about human difference existed in many places, it was this transition from regular trade to Atlantic plantation-based slave-trade that motivated a more biologically based form of prejudice.
The ideology of race required two fictions to be dogmatically asserted as fact. African skin was asserted as Black and European skin asserted as White. Neither assertion depicted reality, but they served as metaphors for ideas justifying extreme prejudice. The labels also reflected prejudiced notions of clean and unclean along with pagan backwardness and Christian perfection. The other fiction – also asserted as fact – was that humanity consisted of biologically different races.
Consequently, some human beings were considered superior and should rule, whilst others were inferior and should serve. This type of discrimination (extreme intolerance of human variation) wedded to the 19th century economic incentive to profit from trade, led European capitalists to feel entitled to exploit much of the known world.
Political fictions concerning ethnic identity and human difference became so embedded in European language and thinking that these racist ideas infected practically everyone educated in Western elitist values. Hume, Kant, Gobineau etc., provided extra intellectual backing to forms of racist ideology which reached its abhorrent peak (or depths) in the Aryan ideology of 20th century Fascism.
Once the fiction of race was accepted as fact, a further erroneous assumption followed. The brutality and discrimination epitomised by racial ideology and the slave trade, was viewed – as a product of biology and skin colour. This one-sided version of reality perpetuated the racist assumption that biology, not economic structures, ultimately determine social attitudes.
The continued assumption of a biological motivation for prejudice and discrimination, ignores the actual socio-economic foundations of the capitalist mode of production – wage-slavery – and full slavery! Biological determinism, begat a crude and counter-productive dualism.
Yet the entire history of ‘civilisation‘ prior to and during the Atlantic slave trade, indicates that brutal discrimination of the ‘other’ and enslavement is not a product of skin pigmentation. In fact, during the period that the obnoxious ‘Atlantic Slave Trade’ developed, millions of Africans were captured, held in chains (often for months) by other Africans until European slave-ships arrived. The ‘captives’ were then transported to the Slave Coast (or Gold Coast) with the assistance of Africans having various skin hues.
In other words, indigenous Africans entered into capitalist commercial commodity-exchanges with European elites – by choice. Much Western/European stereotype prejudice has viewed African tribal people as incapable and uncultured savages. Not so. Such prejudice ignored the fact that before the 16th century trading expeditions, many African societies, like European ones, were segmented into nobles, artisans, field workers, herders and – yes – domestic slaves.
Indeed, indigenous Africans had previously developed and ruled sizeable empires – including Kush and ancient Egypt. Central African kingdoms we’re also highly developed as evidenced by 17th century travellers to markets in Ceuta and Timbuktu. Africa – the cradle of early humanity – has nurtured actively intelligent participants during many modes of production – millennia before Europeans ‘scrambled’ to colonise it.
A fuller understanding of economic history such as above moves the struggle against modern economic and biologically-determined discriminations from those primarily defined by skin colour, gender, disability, sexuality etc., to one based upon capitalist economic activity and its resulting class structure which gives rise to multiple forms of prejudice.
Of course, prejudice and discrimination against those with dark skin is still extreme and needs to be energetically combated, however, it is not the only form. The way to fight it is not by denial (or affirmative action for a few) but by solidarity with all oppressed and exploited people. The revolutionary-humanist solution to discrimination and oppression is not through a more multi-ethnic, gender-inclusive, capitalism, but via an egalitarian, sustainable, post- capitalist mode of production.
Roy Ratcliffe (June 2020)
[For further evidence that; “…races do not exist in humans” See ‘R W Sussman. ‘The Myth of Race’][For a lengthy discussion of race and class see http://www.counterpunch.org/2020/07/03/class-race-%5D