As the capitalist mode of production developed, its members had to struggle against the social and economic domination of the previous feudal land-owning class. These aristocratic regimes and their Monarch’s, had long dominated the countries and people of Europe. In opposing aristocratic privilege and exploitation, the rising bourgeoisie promoted the rights of all male citizens to be free of feudal bondage and to have representation in governments The intellectual high point of this capitalist struggle, came with various political declarations of the ‘rights of man’.
In England, France and America, successful revolutions took place against the aristocratic establishment. Whilst not ridding itself of patriarchal prejudices and practices against women, members of the capitalist class did for a short time champion – at least in theory – the rights of all men. The ‘No Taxation Without Representation’ mantra was replicated by the bourgeoisie in England and America whilst in France they chose Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. However, perhaps the clearest expression of this short period of political ‘enlightenment’ was formulated in the American Declaration of Independence;
“ We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….”
If that is judged to be the moral high point of the male-centred capitalist class struggle against feudal absolutism, its morality declined quickly. Such political declarations had from the start left out more than half the population from the equality equation (females and males without independent means) and they made absolute slaves of non – European people’s – both male and female. However, before considering the profit-led fictional bifurcation of the human species into separate biological categories and so-called racial types, we should consider the other divisive bourgeois invention – nations!
The invention of nationality.
Although capitalism is now international and even global, it’s origins and roots were, and to an extent still are, tied to specific territorial locations. During their development, the capitalist classes transformed the territories they progressively controlled into modern nation-states – complete with clearly defined borders. The purpose of the bourgeois nation-state was to be an authoritarian, repressive tool supporting and defending the interests of the capitalist class and their mode of production.
Because the capitalist mode of production was already authoritarian by design it was only necessary to modify the previous aristocratic/monarchical, might-is-right practice of governance, not abolish it. Feudal working for ’the man’ involved several days per week usually lasting from dawn to dusk. This was extended by capitalist employment practices to include six (or more) days per week and night time working. Furthermore, from the moment the worker steps into the factory, shop or office, he or she must do as they are told, and work at the speed and efficiency decided by the owner/manager. Henceforth, there was to be no wandering off in the woods hunting or gathering wood, or snoozing in the meadow, as earlier peasant workers liked to do.
In sharp contrast, the capitalist boss, or his or her avatar, became a de-facto industrial or commercial ‘sovereign’ and the economic process is governed more or less as the ‘boss’ pleases. Not surprisingly, therefore, when the capitalist classes deposed the previous top down monarchs they merely replaced a single sovereign power with a collective one! As the English philosopher, Edmund Burke had pointed out;
“….whatsoever power is given to the Soveraign, whether a Monarch, or a Soveraign Assembly, without which the Common-wealth cannot stand, such as is the power of War and Peace, of Judicature, of Election of Officers, and of doing whatsoever he shall think necessary for the Publique good.” (Edmund Burke. ‘LEVIATHON’. Page 292.)
So when lines were drawn on maps to delineate the territorial limits of the new capitalist states, the bourgeois “sovereign assemblies”, did just that! They not only decided what constituted the ‘public good’, but did whatever they thought necessary (torture, assassinations, genocidal wars) to pursue their version of it. So a varying degree of dictatorship (total or partial) is in the nature of capitalistic rule – even if it is relaxed from time to time. Elite state-controlled sovereign assemblies, capitalist and state-capitalist ones included, were never intended to serve the people; the people were always intended to serve the sovereign assemblies and the governing elites. However, in this case, those governed were no longer agricultural ‘village people’ but urban town and city proletarian masses.
O Neighbour, Where Art Thou?
The nationalistic drawing of straight lines on maps also produced other divisive effects upon humanity. Traditional communities (and sometimes extended families) were split up as borders were drawn between previously connected villages and even down the middle of rivers. For the first time in the millions of years of human history, legally fixed boundaries, with armed guards, were erected to keep some people in and others out of a designated territory. The people ‘inside’ becoming subjected to numerous state laws and taxes.
In this way a new bourgeois political form of human identity – nationality – was invented and imposed so that Burke’s ‘sovereign assemblies’ of capitalists and pro-capitalists could do as they saw fit. Common lands were enclosed, peasants turfed out of cottages, walls and fences put up. Eventually glorious anthems were devised and people taught to be proud of the nation they found themselves trapped in – no matter what crimes against humanity their ‘sovereign assemblies’ initiated!
Even more damaging to the common origin, morality and shared biology of the human species and the biosphere they all shared, the people corralled within the new national boundaries were taught to despise and even hate people living in other such manufactured ‘nation-states’. The fierce economic competition between national based rival capitalist elites to sell their commodities internationally was foisted upon, and culturally massaged into the neurons and ganglia of everyone under the control of their elite ‘sovereign assemblies’.
Patriotic fervour for the abstract term ‘country’ was elevated way above any rational concern for individuals of the human family or the planet we all depend upon. Nationalistic prejudice, and as we shall see, the politically motivated invention of ‘race’ systematically adulterated the understanding of our common humanity and our shared planetary ecology. The bourgeois sovereign assemblies had the power, by the use of state dictated conscription, to force citizens to take up arms against citizens of other nations and lands and to kill and main other members of their own species – in unprecedented numbers.
But this 20th century ecological and moral ‘decline of capitalism’, had not sunk far enough to disturb the conscience of the capitalistically inclined elite of Europe. They also decided to conquer the rest of the world and dehumanise it’s native inhabitants.
The invention of ‘race’.
The ideology of race required two fictions to be dogmatically asserted as facts. The central fiction of the invented category of race was that humanity consisted of biologically different sub-species which had evolved from some ancient hominid stock. To this central fiction was added a second; that certain skin colours and techniques determined which was the inferior category of human being and which was the superior. Dark skin was classed inferior, pale skin was classed as superior.
In the ‘scramble’ for Africa, for example, African skin was asserted as Black and European skin asserted as White. Neither assertion depicted reality, these terms were all fraudulent political fictions. No human being has black skin and no human being has white skin – and furthermore, there are no races! These nonsense concepts were bourgeois politically motivated metaphors for ideas justifying extreme prejudice and foreign conquest.
In the upside-down worlds, often constructed by bourgeois ideologues and those in their thrall, politically motivated distortions of reality are frequently asserted as truths. For example, militarised killing forces are described as peace-keepers; job training is labelled as ‘education’; a privileged class system is defined as ‘equality of opportunity’; wage and salary slavery is presented as ‘freedom’. More recently, according to petite-bourgeois political correctness advocates, a biological man can claim to be classed genderwise as a woman – if he so chooses. As capitalism economically, morally and ideologically degenerates, it drags others down with it. Clear biological and historical categories are dissolved away by the sectarian acid of political correctness.
Discrimination (based upon intolerance of human variation) wedded to the 19th century economic incentive to profit from trade, also led European capitalists 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 invented fictions infected practically everyone educated in Western elitist values. Hume, Kant, Gobineau etc., provided extra intellectual and philosophical backing to forms of racist ideology which reached their abhorrent peaks (or rather depths) in ‘Heart of Darkness’ European Colonialism/Imperialism and the mythical Aryan roots of 20th century Fascist ideology.
Moreover, once the fiction of racial categories was uncritically accepted as fact, by victim and perpetrator alike, a further erroneous assumption followed. The brutality and discrimination epitomised by capitalist exploitation justified by its twisted racial ideology and openly manifested in the capitalist inspired Atlantic slave trade, was erroneously viewed – as a product of European biology and pale skin colour. This one-dimensional – black and white – virtual-reality version of humanity perpetuated the racist assumption that biology, not socio-economic structures, ultimately determine social position and intellectual attitudes.
The assumption of a European biologically determined motivation for prejudice and discrimination, also ignored the actual socio-economic foundations for, and motivation of, the capitalist mode of production. That is to say, the categories of – wage-slavery – and full slavery. NB. Historically, slavery and the politics of colour prejudice, was, (and in the contemporary world still is) practised by powerful elites – of all skin shades or colours! Forms of prejudice and discrimination between human beings are ideological manifestations of practices which arise within elite governed socio-economic systems. The continued use of race is merely an extreme example of how low and loose the language of elite inspired prejudice and discrimination has been allowed to sink.
The logic flowing from recognising that the invention of race is a fraudulent, politically motivated, bourgeois invention is clear. The use of the term, in any of its forms, in any setting, and by any person, without immediately pointing out its fictional origin and the lack of supportive evidence for its existence, is merely helping to perpetuate a dangerous and divisive, politically motivated myth.
Unless these two fiction-based ideologies – nationalism and racism – are consistently and categorically opposed and intellectually refuted, the consequences will be dire. Left intact, these two fictions will be used to misdirected the struggle for a future ecologically sustainable mode of production and consumption into a self-defeating conflict within the human species itself. As the practical and moral decline and fall of capitalism continues, any conflicts prompted by national or racial fictions will devastate humanity rather than refresh it; such conflicts will destroy ecological balance rather than reconstruct it; and they will annihilate essential species, rather than maintain or repopulate them.
An alternative, ecologically sound and humanist based mode of production is possible, but unless enough people begin to campaign and organise for one, then the decline and fall of the capitalist mode of production will either continue over several decades or collapse more rapidly through the actions of one or more of its many obvious contradictions.
The final, (fifth) part of this series, will consider how future mass societies will need to adjust their mode of production in order to maintain the ecological sustainability of humanity and all other life on the planet.
Roy Ratcliffe (November 2021)
[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