Capitalism, Class and Racism

Capitalism, Class and Racism

We live in an integrated global economic system known as capitalism. Capitalism is divided into about 195 competing nation states. Each nation state is divided into two classes. There is a capitalist class minority who do not work but own the means of production and distribution. The capitalists are driven by competition to make a profit and accumulate capital. And there is a working- class majority who do work but do not own resources like oil and gas, land, factories, transport and communication system, offices, warehouses and distribution points. The workers are exploited producing more social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries.

Capitalists and workers struggle economically on a daily basis over the intensity and extent of exploitation. Politically, it is a struggle over the ownership and distribution of the means of production, which are protected by the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the state.

Workers are constantly confronted with ruling class ideas and beliefs which also keep them as an exploited class. As a result, workers are splintered and fragmented into groups along national lines and split into factions around race, age, gender and sex. Workers do not see themselves as a united world-wide class with the single-minded objective of establishing socialism. "Divide and rule" is the motto of capitalist governments and politicians. And they have been very successful in pitting workers against each other, to the detriment of the interest of the working class.

Racism and Ruling-Class Ideas

One of the more pernicious ruling-class ideas is racism. Often it is crude and violent; a lashing out by workers against other workers due to the economic and social conditions they live under. While the ruling class entering their smart houses would kick the doorman at the gate, the doorman in turn would look out on "inferior races". He might be kicked and battered by his "betters" but at least he could look down on those outside. In the US some of the white poor who give their support to Donald Trump by shouting inane slogans at his rallies, consider themselves victims of "white genocide" through the migration of Mexicans and others from Central America. Eeking out an existence in trailer parks they might lead desperate and impoverished lives but they can at least "console" themselves they are not black (see "WHITE TRASH: 400 HUNDRED-YEAR UNTOLD HISTORY OF CLASS IN AMERICA", N. Isenberg, 2019). Governments administrating the needs of capitalism and the interest of the capitalist class impose austerity politics to support the interest of the capitalist class, leave parts of the country to fester in poverty, but the response by downtrodden workers is to find other workers to blame; belittle and hate. Only capitalism wins.

However, racists have also produced sophisticated arguments, justifying slavery, genocide and segregation in the US. In the UK similar racist arguments were used to justify the British Empire. The nineteenth century saw working class racism against the Irish who were portrayed in cartoons in magazines like Punch as "prehistoric" and "ape-like" to reinforce racist claims that Irish workers were an "inferior race'.

Ironically, the future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli wrote:

[The Irish] hate our order, our civilization, our enterprising industry, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character. Their ideal of human felicity is an alternation of clannish broils and coarse idolatry. Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood. (Robert Blake, Disraeli, 1960, pp152-3)

Disraeli’s racism would later come back and haunt him. Racism moved from deriding the Irish to scapegoating the Jews.

Divide and Rule

During the early twentieth century, racial divisions were a cause of tension particularly with the migration of Russian Jews into the country attempting to escape from pogroms, violence and war. From 1881 thousands of Jewish immigrants came and settled in the East End of London. Tensions were exploited by Tory politicians and the gutter press between indigenous workers and Jewish immigrants and this culminated in the Aliens Act of August 1905 which imposed immigration controls and registration for the first time.

Eugenics was being used by John Galton - a cousin of Charles Darwin - and others to divide the working class into those who were fit to breed and those who were not fit to breed. In 1869 Galton, in his book, HEREDITARY GENIUS, misapplied Darwin’s theory of biological evolution to the evolution of human society and its division into higher and lower classes (as well as to what he considered to be "superior" and "inferior" races). One of his supporters, Herbert Spencer, also claimed that the aristocratic families of Great Britain had been selected in the struggle for the "survival of the fittest" (PRINCIPLES OF BIOLOGY ,1864) because of their biologically superior traits and predisposition to rule.

Supporters of eugenics called for government policies to improve the biological quality of the human race through selective parenthood. Instead of focussing on capitalism, social problems including crime, vagrancy, alcoholism, prostitution and unemployment were blamed on the deficiency of sectors of the working class called the "residuum" (THE EUGENISTS AND THE RESIDIUM: THE PROBLEMS OF THE URBAN POOR, P. M. H Mazumdar, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 54, No. 2, Summer, 1980, pp. 204-215). Eugenics was seen as scientifically respectable and gained the support of leading politicians and opinion formers, notably the Fabians.

Socialists at the time were aware that racism was and is divisive, and works against working class unity and solidarity. A world working class confronts a world capitalist class. Workers have no country but are united by their own interest manifesting itself in a class struggle. And the cause of social problems derives from capitalism, not workers. Racism causes division and acts as a barrier to a clear recognition of working class-interests.

"Without Distinction of Race or Sex"

When the Socialist Party of Great Britain was established in 1904 it had as its fourth principle, a clause that specifically dealt with race and sex:

"That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class would involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex".

Only the establishment of socialism will end racial and sexual discrimination. And that first requires class unity and solidarity.

In the SPGB's QUESTIONS OF THE DAY, published in 1942, an article was written dealing with the question of "Socialism and Racial Theories". The 1930s had seen the rise of racial theories based on Social Darwinism, eugenics, "race hygiene" and so-called "race science". Mosley's Fascist Black Shirts were recruited from the working class, many economically hit by the effects of the Great Depression with its high unemployment.

Preventing workers from reproducing was seen by some social reformers, including Churchill and Beveridge, as a means to reduce the burden of taxation on looking after the poor and to reduce levels of unemployment. In May 1910 Churchill had seriously considered the "sterilisation of degenerates" but the Bill he introduced in 1913 was watered-down to exclude all but the pauper mothers of illegitimate children.

William Beveridge, the architect of the post-1945 welfare state, was highly active in the eugenics movement and said that:

"Those men who through general defects are unable to fill such a whole place in industry are to be recognized as unemployable. They must become the acknowledged dependents of the State... but with complete and permanent loss of all citizen rights - including not only the franchise but civil freedom and fatherhood". (see Victoria Brignall, The Eugenics Movement Britain wants to Forget, NEW STATESMAN, 9 December 2010).

There was little or no opposition to eugenics. It was practiced within the medical profession and the universities and seeped out as policy proposals within government circles. Eugenics also had its supporters in the main capitalist political parties.

The SPGB pointed out in QUESTIONS OF THE DAY (1942):

"There is, in fact, no single scheme of classification that will satisfactorily cover the different types of human beings in existence. Alpine, Nordic, Mediterranean and other strains are present in varying degrees in all the peoples of Europe. The human race comes into the world naked, and clothes itself with habits and traditions the result of social circumstances. Different sections of the human race rise and fall in culture or importance according to the nature of the social environment, irrespective of colour, language or religion (p. 89)".

At particular points in capitalism's history immigrants have often been made scapegoats for the problems facing the working class. In Britain there have been spikes in racism and the rise of racist politics during periods of high unemployment and immigration, mirrored in groups like the National Front and the British National Party. The National Front cited Dawkins in support of its proposition that nationalism and racism are products of our genes, although Dawkins was to distance himself from their ideology (J. T. O Kirk, Science and Certainty, 2007).

Following the Second World War, these periods of racism coincided with the arrival of workers from the West Indies in the 1950s, those coming to the UK from Pakistan and India, the arrival of Ugandan Asians in the 1960s and 1970s, and more recently refugees escaping war and conflict from the Middle East. Immigrants are ignorantly blamed for poor housing, taking jobs from the indigenous population or forcing wages down or parasitically using the Health Service, and so on.

However, low wages are the result of the class struggle and the balance of power between employers and workers. Under favourable economic conditions organised trade unions can get higher wages and better working conditions. In periods of economic depression wages are driven down. Workers have lived in poor housing before immigration. Workers cannot afford decent housing which meet their needs but the problem of housing existed long before the immigrants came. There is no such thing as "British jobs for British workers" (Gordon Brown). Workers are only employed when it is profitable. During economic crises and trade depressions when capitalists cannot sell their commodities for profit workers are made redundant. And only the rich get the best health care and education. They can afford the best. Only socialism will provide "from each according to ability to each according to need".

State Racism

What of the government and anti-immigrant legislation. The Labour Government set up a Cabinet Committee in 1950 to review "...the further means which might be adopted to check the immigration into this country of coloured people from the British Colonial Territories" (cited in Bob Carter and Shirley Joshi, "The role of Labour in creating a racist Britain," RACE AND CLASS vol. xxv (winter 1984, pp. 53-70). In 1968 the Labour Government enacted the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. In 1971the Tory Government passed another Immigration act influenced by Enoch Powell's notorious Birmingham "Rivers of Blood Speech" of 1968 which had led to several dock strikes and marches by misguided workers in his favour.

The long-term effect of the immigration legislation was to create a distinction between the predominantly white working class who could claim lineage within Britain and the predominantly non-white Commonwealth working class who could no longer claim to be 'British', which in turn barred the Commonwealth immigrant from entering Britain. The 1968 Act began the double-standard rule exploited by Theresa of dividing 'desirable' and 'undesirable' migrants according to country of origin. The hostile environment policy Theresa May introduced when she was at the Home Office was regarded by some ministers as "almost reminiscent of Nazi Germany" according to the former head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake (INDEPENDENT, 19 April 2018), No cabinet member resigned over the issue. In fact, the term 'hostile environment' was first coined by Alan Johnson when Home secretary in Blair's New Labour Government.

Socialists criticised the immigration acts as an attack on the working class. On the cover of the SPGB's pamphlet THE PROBLEM OF RACE published in 1968. The Party stated:

"Socialists emphatically repudiate racism. No one group is innately superior to another. From the earliest times mankind have been continually intermingling to the benefit of the whole human race. The interest of all workers throughout the world is the same – the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by socialism. Away with the barriers of nationality and the prejudice of race, and unite for socialism".

Socialists have no issue with immigrants. They are all members of the working class. They all have an interest in replacing capitalism with socialism.

Race Theorists

After the Second World War, race theorists such as William Shockley together with Arthur Jensen, Sir Cyril Burt, Richard Hernstein, Hans Eysenck and others still argued that the sections of the working class, including black people were innately intellectually inferior. These theories were still popular in the 1960s and 1970s and still have their supporters today. The selection of children at 11 under the 1944 Education Act in Britain, for example, was largely based on the faked IQ studies of twins by Cyril Burt and the mistaken theory that intelligence is born not acquired. Hence IQ testing for selection purposes became government policy.

The theory of the innate inferiority of some groups in society is based on the myth that "intelligence" is innate and fixed. According to the theory we are born with a given amount of intelligence which is constant throughout our lives. Each person, so it is claimed, has a given level of intellectual ability and it is this level of attainment that prevents some from not going as far as others. This has now been rejected by educationalists as studies have shown that reasoning and intellectual capability can be taught and developed. The brain is "plastic" and is able to adapt to new tasks, even in adulthood. There is no biological barrier preventing someone learning something new and acquiring expertise in the

In fact, despite being shown to be an unscientific doctrine, pseudo-scientific 'race science' never went away. Two influential and popular books for racists advocating race science are "A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE: GENES, RACE AND HUMAN HISTORY" (2014) by Nicholas Wade and "THE BELL CURVE: INTELLIGENCE AND CLASS STRUCTURE IN AMERICAN LIFE" (1994) by Richard Herrstein and Charles Murray. These books, although debunked by scientists, are reproduced and praised on the internet and You Tube by racists. They are used by racists to give their own crude racism some scientific respectability and as aids in driving a wedge between workers along lines of race. In response, Angela Saini's book SUPERIOR (2019) charts the rise of race science that has tried to legitimise racism by developments in technology and genetics. In a Guardian interview she said:

"...race science has always been innately political; it shouldn't surprise us that prominent thinkers used science to defend, slavery, colonialism, segregation and genocide. They imagined only Europe could have been the birthplace of modern science, that only the British could have built a railway in India. Some still imagine that white Europeans have a unique set of genetic qualities that propelled them to economic domination..." (Why Race Science is on the Rise Again, GUARDIAN, 18 May 2019).

For Saini, "race" is a social construct not a biological reality. Nevertheless it does not stop the biological use of the term "race" within far right political circles as though it had some scientific grounding. It does

Racial division and the myth of racial purity have again become politically fashionable following migration from the Far East and Africa into Europe. Fortress Europe with its walls, concentration camps in Libya and the rise of the nationalist extreme right in many European countries have uncomfortable parallels with the 1930s and the rise of Mussolini and Hitler. Immigrants are seen as "the other", not "one of us". Yet we are all from the same human species with the same social problems that can only be addressed and resolved by the establishment of socialism.

Even the EU has embraced a pan-European nationalism which excludes those from other parts of the world. The incoming president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, for example, unveiled a new role, that of vice-president for protecting the European way of life. The commission’s choice of words echoed the far right, borrowing from those who suggest that immigration places European, Christian civilisation in mortal danger (GUARDIAN 13 September 2019). But this form of nationalism is not new: back in the 1950s and 1960s in Britain, the right-wing and racist hostility to West Indian immigration regularly claimed this was a "threat to the whole British way of life". The only way of life for workers either in of outside the EU, is one of class exploitation.

Brexit and Racism

Following the referendum for leaving the European Union in 2016 there has also been an increase in racism, xenophobia and nationalism from the far right. Brexit has been used by far right groups like the, UKIP through to the Tory Party to galvanise support from workers who misguiding thought immigration was the source of their economic and social problems.

Ethnic minorities in Britain are now facing rising and increasingly overt racism, with levels of discrimination violent abuse, death threats and even gang violence - all continuing to grow in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

The survey by OPINIUM (20 May 2019) suggests racists are feeling increasingly confident in deploying overt abuse or discrimination. Eryl Jones, from the charity 'Show Racism the Red Card', said he believed Brexit had been a "major influence". The feeling is that a lot of people believe they have the right to express their racist feelings or to show hatred." (BBC NEWS June 20 2019)

In fact, capitalism - with or without immigration - causes poor housing for the working class along with periods of high unemployment and cuts in wages. And workers only receive the necessary health care to ensure the reproduction of future workers and the maintenance of a fit and healthy workforce for capitalists to exploit.

The capitalist left erroneously believe that to end racism you have to physically and violently prevent racists on the street. They say that they should be denied platforms; to be denied political oxygen. Such tactics will not end racism. Workers should be allowed to hear racists confronted in debate; to have their baseless racist ideas tested by a socialist case against capitalism and for a united working class. Racism cannot be physically destroyed by attacking those who hold racists beliefs. What has to be destroyed is the capitalist cause. And that requires the formation of a united socialist majority not workers following leaders telling them what to think and what to do.

Some voters believe they are in a war to "save Britain". They are egged on by politicians and the media using militaristic language like "traitors"" “no surrender" and so on.

A government source said that if the workers did not get Brexit, which they believe is in their interests then there was a risk of a "violent popular uprising" (TIMES 27 September 2019). This might be wishful thinking but, as Voltaire wrote:

"Those who make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" ("QUESTIONS SUR LES MIRACLES" 1765)

It should be remembered that during the 2017 election a neo-Nazi murdered a Member of Parliament yelling "Britain First" and "keep Britain independent".

Walking through Parliament square there is a pathetic Brexit carnival of flag waving protesters; some with union jacks, other with EU flags all shouting out nationalist or pan-nationalist slogans. This political immaturity will not establish socialism. You cannot become a socialist by getting involved with the interests of the capitalist class.

Blaming other workers might be easy but it lets capitalism off the hook. All workers, no matter where they come from, have a common class interest in abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.