To understand an ideology such as racism we need to understand the forces in society that demanded its existence. Everything in human society is based on a material foundation. The material foundation of a society is the economy. Agricultural economics has been the basis of every human society. Without agriculture there could have been no industrial revolution, and no electronic and information age. Economics is not just a part of human life. It is every part of human life. So when the economy changes, social values change and the politics change in that society. Ideas such as race, racism and white supremacy are essential products of capitalist economic conditions.
Racism rooted in economics
A major change in the world economy, and therefore world history, was the African slave trade or Maafa (African Holocaust). The slave trade to the Americas, including South America, Central America, the West Indies and North America was the greatest crime in human history. It was the most profitable, the most brutal, earthshaking, history-changing human undertaking that ever took place. Everything changed because of the economic demand for slave labor.
There was no such thing as racism before the rise of the Atlantic African slave trade. There was no economic demand for it. The Medieval Arabs from the Middle East did invade and enslave millions of North, East and Western Africans. Eurasian Arabs also enslaved other whites and Mediterranean whites. History teaches us about the Eurasian Mameluke slaves who rebelled against the Arabs and also about the Slavs of Eastern Europe from which the word slave is derived.
Ancient slavery and Medieval Arabic slavery were greatly different from capitalist Black enslavement. For example ancient and Arab slaves were mainly prisoners of war, debtors or victims of religious persecution. Of course, any form of slavery is destructive to humanity whether ancient, medieval or colonial, but it is important that we understand the difference.
The slave trade in West Africa did not begin with an invasion by Europeans. It began with elites of divided African nations selling their subjects and war prisoners in exchange for guns, rum, and so forth. Only later in the slave trade did it become a question of color.
Capitalist Black enslavement did not result from financial indebtedness, war or religious persecution, but from the need for labor in the Americas. The sugar and cotton plantations of the Americas required acres of land and thousands of workers. Tens of millions of Black Africans were brought to the Americas, died on the journey or, if they survived, were sold into bondage. Black slavery was permanent and inherited. Blacks were considered sub-human.
The failed enslavement of Native Americans and European indentured servants paved the way for the permanent enslavement of African Blacks to meet those needs. West Africans had agricultural knowledge and skills. They also had a relative immunity against malaria adapted from centuries of living in the tropics that the white indentured servants did not.
To eyes blinkered by profit and wealth, these slaves were not human beings, but commodities to be bought and sold on the world market, nothing more. This is what gave the new type of slavery its brutality, misery and horror. This is what made it the “peculiar institution.” The slave trade was the most profitable market that humans had ever experienced. It divided humanity between those who were being sold and those who were doing the selling.
The brutal system of slavery in western society and the subjugation of millions of people had to be justified with an ideology. This ideology was racism. Racism declared that the “white race” had been chosen to rule the earth in God’s name.
Racism arose in the United States in the context of science, culture and the demands of a growing capitalist economy. It was different in Europe than in the U.S. because non-white existence was not an every day fact there.
Before the 15th century Europeans did not view themselves as Europeans. This concept was developed due to the African slave trade in which Europeans were conditioned to view “white” as a race and race as an important human characteristic. This concept of racism meant that white people had the right of conquest and exploitation of other lands and other peoples by virtue of their color.
Capitalism has to expand or it cannot exist. Racism grew out of the capitalistic economic demand for Black slavery. The expansion of capitalism also expanded the ideology of racism and white supremacy. The spread of the concept of race was inseparably connected to the conquest of the Americas, and the spread of African slavery. The wider the spread of African slavery, the wider the spread of the concept of race.
These ideas did not just naturally appear. They had to be created and nurtured at every stage of capitalism’s development.
European religious institutions played a central role in developing such a vicious concept of race. European Christianity perversely changed its values to justify slavery through racist ideology and practice. Originally in medieval times, Madonnas resembled a physically distinctive Black woman. Shrines of the Black Madonna are scattered all over Europe. During the period of the development of the slave trade, these Black Madonnas were superseded by white Madonnas. The color of the Christ mother was changed from black to white in order to justify such a brutal slave system. Remember: an ideology cannot arise unless it has a material foundation to do so. That material foundation is capitalism.
The Catholic church strongly supported Black slavery. Not only did it support slavery it was a major owner of slaves. In 1488, Pope Innocent VIII accepted a gift of one hundred Black Moorish slaves from Ferdinand of Spain and distributed these slaves to various cardinals and nobles. In 1502, the Catholic church aligned itself with the Portuguese to authorize the Christianizing of Black slaves before sending them to its colonies.
In America, the Protestant denominations finessed their theological teachings of the oneness of humanity by dividing theory into the present and the hereafter. They taught that in the present world Blacks were inferior beings and that if slaves were obedient their souls would find equality with whites in heaven. From this arose the declaration of Black inferiority.
In the 1840s, the Southern Baptist and Methodist congregations seceded from their national groups and formed Southern denominations whose ministers and teachings would not question the rightness of the Southern course and would call on God and the Bible in the defense of human slavery. Other denominations stayed together, but split into pro and anti-slavery wings. It was out of these anti-slavery wings that many of the abolitionists emerged.
Since God had marked Blacks as “Noah’s curse of Ham,” the church’s primary duty was to offer theological justifications for the existence of the peculiar institution of slavery in America. This was later supported by theories that claimed to prove scientifically that Blacks were naturally inferior and that bondage was their natural condition. These ideas were also used to justify conquest and extermination of other peoples as the U.S. rulers expanded their continental holdings. These ideas were also used to explain away the poverty and misery of the growing class of white workers, who it was claimed were poor because they too were inferior.
Unity of humanity
Understanding history is key to knowing how and what needs to be changed in order to better humanity. It has been stated that whoever controls the past controls the future. The ruling class has followed this statement from the time of the Pharaohs of Egypt up to the western world empires of today. What is bringing peoples’ history to light is modern science that aids in challenging history as interpreted by the ruling class.
Human beings have been able to survive on this planet through cooperative effort to make a livelihood. Every new way of making such a livelihood has necessitated changes in their wider relationships with each other. Changes in the forces of production are associated with changes in the relations of production, and these eventually transform the wider relationships in society as a whole, including the ideas that define and justify those relationships.
The unity of humanity, whether Black, white, Hispanic or Asian, depends on its material condition. Economic inequality divides human society. Without economic equality there will be no unity as history teaches us.
Automated production increasingly exceeds consumption. This widens the gap between the rich and the poor and increases poverty amongst the masses of Blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians. This economic condition can no longer meet the needs of human society. The question that comes up is can economic equality be achieved? A hundred or fifty years ago, no. But with the technological means of today, most definitely.
Modern science has allowed history to take leaps in the past fifty years with the discovery of genetic science by tracing DNA in the human lineage. It is a fact that the human race shares a common ancestry. This knowledge alone eradicates the legitimacy of the concept of races among humans.
Capitalism as an economic system is coming to an end. For the first time in human history, abundance, not scarcity, can define human society. But the death of capitalism alone will not secure mass human wealth. The laws that protect private property must be abolished in order for the means of production to be publicly owned by the people and to produce in the interests of the people.
As we have seen, race is an economic issue primarily, not just a moral issue. If we destroy the current economic situation then we can destroy institutional racism.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011