Writing about slavery just after the Civil War Marx (1867, 1961:301) made the following comment showing that he recognised that racial divisions were crucial to the success of the exploiters - "In the United States of North America every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded."
Oliver Cox perceived racism as developing out of capitalism “ and provided a means for furthering the use of labour as a commodity, pure and simple, resulting in a greater exploitation.”
Does racism grow out of capitalism (as Cox, the black Marxist writer claims?
Race is fundamental to the formation of the working classes in general and to the experience of black labour in particular. A pioneering study pointed out that the class relations within which black working-class people exist ‘function as race-relations. The two are inseparable .
"Race is the modality in which class is lived.” It is also the medium in which class relations are experienced. This... has consequences for the whole class, whose relation to their conditions of existence is now systematically transformed by race.’(Hall et al 1978: 394)” (p133 Loomba)
Marx perceptively recognized that European and U.S. capitalists promoted racist divisions within the working class in similar ways.
This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this."
Walter Rodney Walter Rodney writes of the divisive use of stereotypes on the plantations of British Guiana to maintain control and exploit labourers even after slavery had ended: “ Early in the history of indentureship, planters recognised the value of having a working population segmented racially; and they never lost sight of the opportunity of playing off the two principal races - by using one to put down any overt resistance by the other. (Rodney: 1981, 188).
It is sometimes assumed that a universal ideology such as socialism might serve to straddle the ethnic groups. But, even under such an umbrella group interests can be involved. In contemporary Guyana both major parties claim to be socialist. Both claim to be based on a 'working class', both are led by ethnic leadership. ...as Rodney recognised there are two working classes in Guyana ... Thus even a universal ideology must square with differences in culture or succumb to it (LaGuerre, 1987 :50)
“ Race is an idea which should be explicitly and consistently confined to the dustbin of analytically useless terms.”(Miles, 1984:42 in Solomos p8).
Robert Young on putting materialism back into race theory
"the idea of race and the operation of racism are the best friends that the economic and political elite have in the United States" Wahneema Lubiano
Race mystifies the structure of exploitation and masks the severe inequalities within global capitalism.
many contemporary race theorists, in their systematic erasure of materialism, have become close (ideological) allies with the economic and political elites, who deny even the existence of classes. A transformative race theory pulls back into focus the struggle against exploitation and sets a new social priority "in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all" (Marx 31).
Bourdieu, P (1977) Outline of Theory of Practice, Cambridge University Press.
Hall, S. et al. (1978) Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order, Macmillan, London.
Loomba A (1998) Colonialism/Postcolonialism , Routledge
Marx, K, and Engels, F (1982) Selected Correspondence , Progress p222.
Rodney, W (1981 ), A History of the Guyanese Working People , 1881--1905, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press
Spencer,,S. (2006) A Dream Deferred: Guyana and the Shadow of Colonialism, Hansib.
Spencer, S (2006) Race And Ethnicity: Culture, Identity and Representation , Routledge
Y oung, Robert Putting Materialism back into Race Theory: Toward a Transformative Theory of Race . The Red Critique; Marxist Theory and Critique of the Contemporary [Online] http:// www.redcritique.org /