The current Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is the biggest wave of protests against racism since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. The most radical leaders of that movement drew the conclusion, as Malcolm X put it, that “you can’t have capitalism without racism”, and that meant fighting for socialism.
Black Panther leader Fred Hampton summed it up: “You don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.”
Today the world is different. There has been a black President of the US, the most powerful capitalist country on the planet, and many major corporations have, for example, declared their solidarity with the BLM movement. The fundamentals remain the same, however. Racism is intrinsic to capitalism.
Capitalism is a blind, unplanned system driven by maximising the profits of a few and based on the exploitation of the majority. Today, according to Oxfam, the richest 85 people on earth have more wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population. They include one black African, although white men predominate.
Their role in society, however, does not stem primarily from their colour. They are part of a tiny super-wealthy ruling elite whose interests are completely tied to an inherently racist capitalist system.
Jeff Bezos, the richest man on earth, has declared his ‘solidarity’ with BLM, but that will not alter in the slightest his maximising his profits via the brutal exploitation of his low-paid workforce, 65% of whom in the US are from BAME backgrounds.
In countries like Britain and the US, the profits of the capitalists have soared while the working class – which is the big majority of the population – has seen its share of wealth driven down over decades.
BAME workers have been disproportionately affected. This has been laid bare by the Covid crisis – where BAME people are more likely to die from the disease, largely because they are more likely to be among those who have had to work through the crisis without adequate PPE, and are more likely to live in overcrowded conditions.
At the same time, police harassment and brutality remain a fact of life, particularly for young BAME men.
The capitalist elite is a tiny minority and, in order to maintain a social base and therefore power, they attempt to ‘divide and rule’. They encourage workers from Britain to believe that it is anyone but the bosses who are responsible for their low wages, for example.
Racism is such a central part of the capitalists’ divide-and-rule arsenal because of the whole history of capitalism. Karl Marx famously said it came into being “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt”. He was referring primarily to the horror of the slave trade that laid the foundations for capitalism.
With slavery came the development of racist propaganda designed to justify the enslavement of African peoples. Racist ideas were then adapted to justify the colonial oppression of large parts of the world by the imperialist powers. Direct colonial rule ended as a result of magnificent revolutionary independence movements that swept the planet in the twentieth century. Brutal economic exploitation continues, however.
Capitalism is based on nation-states, with an accompanying national consciousness, used by the capitalists to maintain their social base. The statue to the slave trader Edward Colston, which Bristolians chucked where it belonged at the bottom of Bristol docks, was not erected until 170 years after he died. This was part of a campaign by Victorian capitalism to invent a history that justified British imperialism’s exploitation of the globe and its workers at home.
Capitalism and racism
Malcolm X was right when he said that capitalism could never stop being racist. Today capitalism is a system in deep economic crisis, with growing national tensions, and is less able to take society forward than ever.
The BLM movement, however, which has spread so rapidly worldwide, indicates the determination of a new generation to build a new world. The movement is marked by its internationalism and its overwhelmingly working-class and multiracial character. It marks an important step in the search for an alternative to capitalism.
Only by taking wealth and power out of the hands of the tiny capitalist elite would it be possible to lay the basis for a new society free from the muck of racism.
This requires nationalising the major corporations and banks that dominate the economy under democratic workers’ control and management, in Britain and internationally, in order to build a socialist planned economy that could provide a decent future for all – starting with decent housing, well-paid work, and free education.
By adopting such a programme, the next generation can stand on the shoulders of giants, and complete what Malcolm X and the Black Panthers started.