RACE AND CLASS
If linked: [French] [German] [Italian] [Spanish]
Race and class
[top] [content] [end]
This article is meant as an accompaniment to the Article «Auschwitz - the big alibi», also published here, and should be read in conjunction with it. We will expand on some of the issues raised there, and compare our communist view with some of the contemporary arguments of the anti-racist and anti- fascist schools. We aim also to defend our view that «The worst thing about fascism was it gave rise to anti-fascism».
For us, the word «Fascism», is used to denote the form of government capitalism adopts when it is under severe pressure. It is adopted when the proletariat becomes a positive threat to capital's existence; when the bourgeoisie has to sink its differences and drop the facade of democracy. Fascism is when the bourgeoisie unleashes its grim-faced executioners of the working class to do their worst - for the good of capitalism as a whole. Capital becomes more and more concentrated every day, and a corresponding form of government is adopted to administer the huge and wasteful capitalist machine; this is another aspect of fascism, its corporativist aspect. The two sides of fascism are connected: the concentration is a response to the falling rate of profit, resulting in more and more mergers and more and more smaller businesses «going under»; the result being more and more sackings resulting in more and more pressure being put on capital; whether through directly organised class pressure or through the mere existence of millions of workers outside the main productive apparatus.
Under such circumstances, racism develops. The fascist government requires unswerving royalty to the nation! This is the paltry substitute for the true human community, and at the terrible cost of those who don't partake of the required level of racial and national «cleanliness». Even Dr. Johnson could see that «patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel», and today it is certainly the last refuge of all defenders of capitalism - and capitalist wars... The nation is becoming more and more an institution specifically to cage and oppress the proletariat within the national borders - whilst capital itself knows no borders. Even the nationalism that is whipped up during wars becomes a horrible parody when we consider the «transnational» portfolios of most big capital; British capitalists had shares in Krupp during the 2nd World War, for instance a fact which has been reported as explaining why British bombers tended to «avoid» such an obvious target, and it is common knowledge that the arms trade is an international affair. Wherever there is money to be made and surplus value to be extracted, there capital will be.
The nation! Race! How better to get the proletariat to forget they are an international class than to brainwash them into a folksy «pride» in the nation? Proletarians are lined up on each «side» in the periodic wars that erupt and shot in their millions. The workers in the trenches seem to recognise fellow workers in the trenches of «the other side»; thus the celebrated football matches between the opposing sides in the First World War. But the bourgeois propagandists are constantly whispering in their ears; «They are «Huns», «Frogs», «Tommys», «Nazis», «Commies», (or even: «they are imperialists»). Who knows what strange and barbarous antics they get up to! What would they do to your wife and family if they got half the chance?».
The Bolsheviks would directly reject the nationalist stance of the Mensheviks and pull the soldiers off the fronts of the First World War on attaining power in Russia, even at the expense of territorial loss.
The Anti-Nazi League, which has recently resurfaced in England, is one amongst many organisations that has taken up the cause of anti-fascism; the very banner under which millions of workers were butchered in the Second World War, and as is so often the case, this organisation is supported by numerous leftist groups that claim to represent the working class's best interests. Despite superficial appearances, this organisation, and anti-fascism in general, is a veritable minefield for the unwary; the worker doesn't just fritter away potentially classist energy, but is led to support an organisation which directly bolsters capitalism! To say this is not a polemical trick. We mean it. And we defend the assertion quite simply by pointing out that anti-nazi organisations are uncompromising supporters of capitalist democracy! Since dialectics is alien to them, they fall to see parliamentary democracy and fascism are just two methods of organisation and administration of the one system. Both are just forms of capitalism, established in different times and places and under particular circumstances, in response to capitalism's requirements. They are two sides of the same capitalist coin; a coin, moreover, which more and more resembles the double-headed variety as capitalist democracy and fascism become ever more indistinguishable. Democracy, in reality, is becoming more and more of a dictatorship of one or two parties; those able to put up the money to compete in the electoral circus.
If workers join such anti-fascist organisations with the aim of «duffing over» fascists, we certainly don't wish to stand accused of stifling a healthy anger against the preposterous viciousness of unadulterated fascist ideology. We wish only to point out that the iron fist of fascism is concealed within the soft glove of democracy all the while - which is why the latter is almost as painful: the daily insecurity of working in capitalist society (whose job will be the next to go?) the evictions, homelessness, over-crowding, the necessity to have to exercise one's «right» to have do endless overtime to pay the bills, what a horrible Hobson's choice it is. We emphasise: we are anti-fascist as well but we are also against the capitalist fetish of democracy.
In Britain, fascism is generally equated with racism. Racism is easier to grasp than the alleged fundamental differences between allegedly different systems after all, and this is why the pundits of anti-fascism, who are very thin on theory, dwell on the subject so much. Rather they prefer to depend on whipping up emotions to almost evangelical frenzy - about race. Apart from this favourite cause of anti-racism, all the anti-fascists have to offer is a string of vague and contradictory platitudes: fascists go in for torture in rather a big way; they are totalitarian - Hitler was voted in; and they bash people up and torture them.
But bourgeois anti-racism is concerned only with race in the abstract: race is divorced from economy, and capitalism in particular. But with the concentration camps, they really think they think to have found their trump card, their «Big Alibi».
When the subject of concentration camps arises, one is generally perceived as odd if one wants to understand the phenomenon, as a hysterical response is seen as the only correct one. It is from remaining rigorously within the realm of explanation that the Auschwitz article derives its impact. It tries to understand the concentration camps not as a gratuitous act, but as a phenomenon that arose as a direct result of the blood-curdling imperatives of the capitalist system. And the key to understanding it is over-production of people: the pressure of the «surplus» population in a capitalist economic crisis.
The article in question refers to Engel's «Umrisse» of 1844, and we quote here other citations from the same source. In this work, Engels made a point of criticising Malthuses «population theory» which he interprets as saying
«when there are too many people, they have to be disposed of in one way or another: either they must be killed by violence or they must starve».
And precisely such a course was followed by the Nazis in «the final solution»; a solution after all others had been barred by the very system they represented. Engel's draws our attention to the writings of «Marcus», who had recommended the establishment of state institutions for the painless killing of the children of the poor:
«whereby each working-class family would be allowed to have two and a half children, any excess being painlessly killed. Charity would be a crime, since it supports the augmentation of the surplus population. Indeed it will be very advantageous to declare poverty a crime and to turn poorhouses into prison as has already happened in England as result of the new «liberal» Poor Law».
In fact, «Marcus's» plan appears to have been adopted - in an unofficial kind of way - in Brazil (and this is only the most notorious case). Here the annual total of murdered «street-children» is between 4.000 and 5.000; an elegant testimony to Brazilian democracy. The same thing happens, by way of official death-squads, in Columbia, where the hordes of children living in the sewers are «thinned out» by paid, «only doing their job», executioners.
«Over-population» is a perplexing problem for the capitalist classes as they know that the labourer is the very fount of surplus-value: the more workers a capitalist firm employs, the more profit will be generated. The catch - the periodic crises of over-production: too much is produced, the warehouses are full to the brim, and the workers are thrown out of their jobs to take up their positions in the recruiting offices of the industrial reserve army - the dole offices. But happens when a country is unable to support a vast army of unemployed? In a regime permitting only capitalist solutions, starvation is the tragic answer, and Auschwitz was simply a case of organising the death of the starving in a very methodical way; it was the solution arrived at after the concentration in ghettos caused «law and order» and «logistical» problems.
But there is another solution, for some, migration; the very solution denied to the poorer Jews wishing to escape the Nazi holocaust: In the newly developing countries where industrialisation is expanding, there is a parallel rise in the populations; whilst in the old heartlands of capitalism there is a corresponding decrease. Much juggling hence arises with the surplus populations which are shifted from country to country forming a mobile reserve army to stop up population shortfalls: Turks in Germany; Palestinians in Kuwait; Jamaicans in England; Tamils in Saudi Arabia; Algerians in France, to name but a few. Such migrations can in fact be a very effective way for particular capitalist Governments to cut costs: the migrant labourer is reared and educated in the country of his birth, often the poorest, whilst the best years of his life are expended in the country that hires his labour. Many obstacles are put in the way if he, or she, wishes to obtain full citizen status in the country where his, or her, labour power is sold; not least those which pertain to acquiring similar status for his family.
But the worker can also seek work in the twilight world of the «illegal immigrant» and try and avoid the lengthy, soul-destroying and often hopeless attempts at obtaining citizenship in the «host country». Border patrols can be such as to permit a trickle of illegal emigrants to evade detection. This happens at the borders between Hong-Kong and China, and in France to cite just a couple of examples. In France, in fact, according to figures published by the French Immigration Office in 1963/4, illegal immigration represented 75% of the total of all immigrants entering France each year - with an irregular solution clearly being connived at by the authorities. Such measures result in a super-exploited section of the proletariat that lives out an illegal existence receiving minuscule wages and under constant threat of being shopped to the authorities, (the domestic servants kept as virtual slaves in the houses of the wealthy in Britain is a well-known example); this category of workers avoid claiming housing or welfare help, avoids application forms which ask for searching details and will hardly ever become unionised.
Connected with small-scale illegal immigration are mass, and attempted mass, migrations. The Albanians arriving by shiploads in the Italian ports; the Vietnamese boat people in Hong-Kong; the Somalian and Ethiopian refugees pressing on the borders of their neighbouring countries. In these cases refugee or internment camps are set up, or measures are taken to ship refugees back to their countries of origin - after, perhaps, allowing a few of the professional classes to stay. These can easily become Auschwitz like encampments in terms of their function of keeping the poor and starving in one place.
For some reason, the horrors of the World War Two concentration camps, still the subject of endless morbid documentaries, are seen as something that is far more «evil» than people dying in their millions of starvation in the «refugee camps» - places where people are concentrated in one place and just left to die. These have become just one more ghastly spectacle for the «news industry» to capitalise on: naked skeletons, the very picture of human misery are presented to us over and over again on the T.V. and papers. People at there most vulnerable appear wedged between items about beached dolphins and EEC summits as just another sensational «scoop». Rarely is there any explanation that goes beyond the superficial, and we are constantly told that periodic mass starvations are «natural disasters», beyond human control; or if wars have contributed to them, these, we are also told, are «natural disasters» which «serve to keep the population down».
The capitalists here reveal their ignorance and myopia. By laying all the blame at «Nature's» door, they are disguising the part that the anarchy of capitalist production has to play in these disasters.
A few «radical» interpretations also see the light of day. These tend always to be pitched as a critique of the «fairness» of the current trading arrangements between the poorer, raw material producing, countries and the richer nations. After having highlighted the fact that these poorer countries have to pay back the huge interest rates on the loans foisted on them when the OPEC money came in; after having pointed out how these poorer countries are constantly forced to accept minuscule prices for their products; after having highlighted the one-sided arrangements which the giant victualling firms force on the nations where they set up their operations, the radicals can is only dream of a «fair» capitalism; the very system that innately unfair by its legal endorsement of «the right» to extract surplus value from the labourer and convert it into privately owned capital. Charity is the only solution that capitalism will permit; as the real and permanent solution, international working-class solidarity, would, and will, threaten their very existence.
Although capitalist trade is international, the capitalist class needs mobile populations only when «business is good», at other times migrant labour becomes «a problem» and a host of immigration laws and rules and regulations are installed. Thus the recent events in Germany, where hostels housing refugees have been attacked by neo-nazis, receive the tacit support of the capitalist class as whole.
And the immigration laws now have, we add, the «scientific» backing of «ecologists» and «greens», who talk of how many people the «environment can sustain». Like so much of the environmental pontificating, the scientific credentials are false because they talk of their rational plans as though we were already in a rational planned society. Their plans, within the anarchy of capitalist production, can only lead to totally draconian solutions, whilst in a future communist society, movements of populations will take place not out of desperation, not because of the necessity of having to travel to a strange country in order to feed one's family or avoid starvation, but for positive reasons. For the masses under the capitalist regime, their movements are determined by the struggle for resources, a problem that can only be overcome in a properly organised and planned communist society; where stamping out starvation and providing decent accommodation has become the first priority.
To return to «race», as communists, we think of races as divided into classes, whilst for our liberal anti-racists, race, apart from its obvious references to different physical, categories and types (which can easily dovetail into broader categories like fat and thin, short and tail, etc.) is equally to do with «culture». Equality of cultures! (and thence again, equality of national cultures) this is their constantly reiterated refrain. They thereby invoke bourgeois «right», and thence sanction the «right» of an «ethnic community» to imprison their respective working classes within a «cultural» rather than a class perspective.
What they likewise fail to recognise is that Capitalism subsumes all cultures, in the sense of customs, traditions etc. into the market culture. From one end of the globe to the other, there is a shared culture of electricity, the internal combustion engine, Coca-Cola, and video-games. And the curious thing is, that whilst the liberal «thinkers» of the petty bourgeoisie run off in frantic pursuit of all things ethnic, and put forward such schemes as doing without cars, washing machines, and televisions in short of pursuing a simpler life style «closer to nature», the populations in the so-called Third World can hardly wait to get there hands on as many of the wondrous products of industrial society as possible. How disappointing these «noble savages» in the «Third World» must be to the valiant defenders of simple ethnic virtues!
Then fact is, there has never been a truly human culture in the whole of human history (even tribal communism involved tribal conflict) but nevertheless, the increased productive capacity of capitalism over earlier stages of society will lay the basis for the next step. We are now at a historical juncture where for the first time it will be possible to create an entirely new society, where there will be no contradiction between «culture» - for which read society - and our individual being. To limit ones sights to creating a human culture by simply gluing together numerous different cultures, all based on the division of classes, is both self-deceit and a meagre substitute for that open-ended and profound culture which we have yet to build. The cost of simply looking back, or taking «cultures» as they exist today as the only possibilities, means, all other issues aside, to profoundly alienate oneself even from ones imagination.
And as religion plays such a huge part in these various cultures, we will mention a couple of points about that. For a start, we still maintain, and will continue to maintain that,
«Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions; It is the opium of the people».
And as Marx put it elsewhere, in his article «Estranged Labour» (1844)
«The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself».
As communists, then, we are scientific atheists, but, nevertheless, we wish to clearly delineate our perspective on religion, and show how our approach differs from the stalinist purging and outlawing of the Church. In The ABC of Communism (Penguin modern classics), written in 1919, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky included a large chapter called «Communism and religion». In section 92, entitled: «Struggle with the religious, prejudices of the masses», this is written:
«It has been comparatively easy for the proletarian authority to effect the separation of the Church from the state and of the school from the church, and these changes have been almost painlessly achieved it: is enormously more difficult to fight the religious prejudices which are already deeply rooted in the consciousness of the masses, and which cling so stubbornly to life. The struggle will be a long one, demanding much steadfastness and great patience. Upon this matter we read in our programme:
«The Russian Communist Party is guided by the conviction that nothing but the realisation of purposiveness and full awareness in all the social and economic activities of the masses can lead to the complete disappearance of religious prejudices».»
On the next page it is stressed that
«the transition from socialism to communism, the transition from the society which is completely freed from all traces of class division and class struggle, will bring about the natural death of all religion and superstition.»
Such are the conditions then for religion's disappearance. In other words it will be positively replaced rather than negatively banned. And thus:
«the campaign against the backwardness of the masses in this matter of religion, must be conducted with patience and considerateness as well as with energy and perseverance. The credulous crowd is extremely sensitive to anything which hurts its feelings. To thrust atheism upon the masses, and in conjunction therewith to interfere forcibly with religious practices and to make a mockery of the objects of popular reverence, would not assist but would hinder the campaign against religion».
A sad footnote to this matter of religion is that the ritual embalming of Lenin's corpse played right into the hands of Russian peasant superstition; which only sees a saint as truly acceptable to heaven if his body defies composition. «The body of Lenin was being used against his spirit» as Trotsky would later remark.
Our radical solution is that communism itself is a culture and a tradition which transcends the accidental question of birth and resolves the racial and cultural questions into a question of class (though class conflicts have to be fought out, we nevertheless maintain that, as far as it is possible, the party yet represents the society of the future in the present; insofar as it is the agency which is most conscious of it). Thus is posed the fact that members of all races have ultimately to take up their positions with regard to the class struggle.
And what benefits can membership of such-or-such a race really confer? In this society, individuals confront each other in the market-place, and this brings us to another function of the racist ideologies: as a method of excluding competition; whether in the labour market, where the backward worker has resigned himself to his role of supplier of labour to capital and seeks to eject his «foreign» competitors, or amongst the capitalists where racist ideologies go hand in hand with the wars which periodically erupt to redivide the world market.
Workers of all races will see their common identity under all their skin-deep differences. Rather than struggling alone in national and ethnic ghettos, workers of all races must fight their way out of them. The way forward is in recreating uncompromising class organisations to fight our immediate struggles, and uniting around a clear revolutionary class programme. This is the work we are dedicated to in the International Communist Party, a party organised at an international, not a local or national level.
Workers of the world unite - you have nothing to lose but your chains!
Source: «Communist Left», No.6, July-December 1992, p.12-16
[top] [content] [last] [home] [mail] [search] [webmaster]