WILL EDUCATION END RACISM?
According to South Africa's ruling elite, the problem of racism is basically
a problem of ignorance. "Education", according to Barney Pityana of the Human
Rights Commission, "will cure racism". This argument sounds appealing, but it is
inaccurate and misleading. Most importantly, this view conveniently ignores the
role of the CAPITALIST SYSTEM in inventing and perpetuating racism. Since
capitalism emerged in the 1500s, it has committed many crimes against humanity.
But few of these crimes are as vile as racism. Perhaps that is why Barney
Pityana - as a defender of capitalism and the ANC government's privatisation
policies - wishes to hide capitalism's dirty laundry with his stress on
CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY
Capitalism developed as a world system based on the exploitation of workers,
slaves and peasants - black, brown, yellow and white. In the early period of
capitalism ("merchant capitalism") in the 1500s and 1600s, capitalism centred
mainly on Western Europe and the Americas. In the Americas, vast plantation
systems were set up. Based on slavery, they were capitalist enterprises
exporting agricultural goods to Europe.
It was in the system of slavery that the roots of racism are to be found. In
the words of the black Caribbean scholar, Eric Williams, "Slavery was not born
of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery".1
In the beginning, the slave plantations were not organised on racial lines.
Although the first slaves in the Spanish colonies in the Americas were generally
Native Americans, slavery was restricted (at least officially) to those who did
not convert to Christianity.
The Native Americans were succeeded by poor whites shipped in from Europe.
Many of these workers were only enslaved for a limited period, as indentured
servants serving contracts of up to ten years or more. Others were convicts
sentenced for "crimes" such as stealing cloth or prisoners of war from uprisings
and the colonisation of areas such as Ireland and Scotland.
There were also a large number of life-long European slaves, and even amongst
the indentured, a substantial number had been kidnapped and sold into bondage
against their will.2 Conditions on the "Middle Passage" (the trip across the
Atlantic) for these indentured servants and slaves were, in Williams' words, so
bad that they should "banish any ideas that the horrors of the slave ship are to
be in any way accounted for by the fact that the victims were Negroes".3 More
than half the English immigrants to the American colonies in the 1500s were
unfree indentured servants4, and until the 1690's there were still far more
unfree whites on the plantations of the American South than black slaves.5
SLAVERY AND RACISM
It was in the 1600s that racist ideas first emerged. In the 1600s and 1700s,
the trade in human flesh shifted increasingly from the Americas and Europe ...
to Africa. The main reason for this shift to African slaves was not racism, but
the fact - so cheering to the capitalists - that African slaves were cheaper and
easily available.6 The African elite, which now hides its guilt under a
mealy-mouthed "anti-racism," actively collaborated in kidnapping millions of
African peasants and selling them to white merchant capitalists at the ports on
the East and West coasts of Africa.
"The trade was... an African trade until it reached the coast. Only very
rarely were Europeans directly involved in procuring slaves, and that largely in
In the 1600s, facing pressure from slave revolts and radical grassroots
movements in Europe itself, the slave-owners invented the ideology of racism.
One of the most important slave-owner groups were the "British sugar planters in
the Caribbean, and their mouthpieces in Britain" who used differences in
physical appearance to develop the myth that black African people were sub-human
and deserved to be enslaved: "here is an ideology, a system of false ideas
serving class interests".8
Racism, in short, was invented to justify a long-standing system of slavery
in the face of demands within Europe and the Americas for equal rights and equal
duties for all working people.
The enslavement of Native Americans had been justified as being on the
grounds of their "heathen" beliefs; European servitude was justified as being
the lot of inferiors from the lower classes; African slavery was justified
The people who benefited from slavery were not Europeans in general, but the
capitalist ruling classes of Western Europe. African ruling classes also
received major benefits.
Many poor whites were indentured or enslaved, whilst poor white farmers
within the Americas lost their land and markets to the slave-owners, whose drive
for more land led to poor whites being driven off their family farms.9 (The vast
majority of Europeans never owned slaves: only 6 percent of whites owned slaves
in the American South in 1860).10
Slavery, in short, benefited the capitalists, to the detriment of working
people of Native American, European and African descent.
RACE AND EMPIRE
Racism was thus born of the slavery of early capitalism. However, having been
once created, later developments in capitalism would sustain and rear this
creature of the capitalist class.
Solidly established in the Americas and Western Europe by the 1700s,
capitalism soon became increasingly interested in expanding its operations in
Asia and Africa. Capitalist outposts already existed - often based on slavery,
as was the case in the early Cape Colony, which was modelled on American slavery
- and conquest was not far behind.
Between the 1700s and early 1900s, most of Asia and Africa were conquered as
Western European capitalist governments invaded - hungry for profit from trade,
from cheap labour and cheap raw materials, and profit from new markets to sell
In the period of imperialism - of the establishment of Western empires in
Asia and Africa - racist ideas were pressed into service to justify imperial
conquest and rule. It was said that Africans and Asians were unable to govern or
develop themselves, and needed to be ruled by external forces - conveniently,
this meant the ruling classes of Western Europe.12 (Japan, which began to carve
out its own capitalist empire in the 1800s, used a similar racism against
Koreans, in particular).
Empire did not benefit workers in the colonies, nor in the imperialist
countries. The profits of empire went to the capitalist class.13 Meanwhile, the
methods and forces of colonial repression were deployed against workers in the
imperialist countries (most notably, the use of colonial troops to crush the
Spanish Revolution), whilst lives and material resources were wasted on imperial
adventures. Today, multi-national companies cut jobs and wages by shifting to
repressive Third World client regimes.
South Africa's history cannot be understood outside of the history of slavery
and empire. When Jan van Riebeck arrived at the Cape in 1652, he did so as an
envoy of the Dutch East India Company. Within twenty years, a slave system
modelled on the plantation slavery of the Americas was emerging.
In the 1800s, growing British and European interest in the region was
justified by an increasingly strident imperialist racism that hid its capitalist
motives under the shawl of concern with "bringing Africa out of darkness."
Britain took over the Zulu kingdom in 1879, the Pedi in 1879, Botswana in 1885,
Zimbabwe in 1890-3 and Swaziland in 1902. It wrapped up its conquests with the
crushing of the Afrikaner republics in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. Germany
also got in on the act with the conquest of Namibia in 1884, whilst Portugal
maintained control of neighbouring Angola and Mozambique.
It was in this period of British imperialism that all of the key features of
Apartheid were developed: segregation, pass laws, restrictions on African trade
unionism and the cheap labour migrant system. These instruments from the heyday
of imperialism were refined and perfected under the National Party after 1948,
which saw how useful racism was for capitalism. The capitalist class in South
Africa has, in short, benefited from 300 years of racism, which has provided
cheap, right-less black labour on demand.
Clearly, capitalism gave birth to racism. Racism as an idea helped justify
empire and slavery. With the collapse of the European and Japanese empires
between the 1940s and the 1970s, racist ideas and theory became less and less
acceptable. Why then does racism continue even today within the Americas, Europe
It continues because it serves two key functions under capitalism.
First, it allows the capitalists to secure sources of cheap, unorganised, and
highly exploitable labour. Immigrants and national minorities are sources of
cheap labour that capitalists pit against the rest of the working class.
Secondly, racism allows the capitalist ruling class to divide and rule the
exploited classes. Across the planet, billions of workers and peasants suffer
the lashes of capitalism. Racism is used to build divisions within the working
class to help keep the ruling capitalist class in power.
Praxedis Guerrero, a great Mexican Anarchist, described the process as
"Racial prejudice and nationality, clearly managed by the capitalists and
tyrants, prevents peoples living side by side in a fraternal manner... A river,
a mountain, a line of small monuments suffice to maintain foreigners and make
enemies of two peoples, both living in mistrust and envy of one another because
of the acts of past generations.
"Each nationality pretends to be above the other in some kind of way, and the
dominating classes, the keepers of education and the wealth of nations, feed the
proletariat with the belief of stupid superiority and pride to make impossible
the union of all nations who are separately fighting to free themselves from
"If all the workers of the different nations had direct participation in all
questions of social importance which affect one or more proletarian groups these
questions would be happily and promptly solved by the workers themselves."
IMMIGRANTS AND NEO-LIBERALISM IN SOUTH AFRICA
Workers, in short, are told to blame and hate other workers - distinguished
by culture, language, skin colour, or some other arbitrary feature for their
misery. A classic example is the scape-goating of immigrants and refugees for
"taking away jobs and housing". In this way, our anger is deflected onto other
workers (with whom we have almost everything in common) rather than being
directed against capitalists (with whom we have nothing in common). An
"appearance" of common interest is created between workers and bosses of a given
race or nation. South Africa is a perfect example. The capitalist policies of
the ANC - privatisation, pension cuts, massive retrenchments - all prove that
the ANC is an outright enemy of the African working class.
Because of the ANC's neo-liberal capitalist policies, the legacy of apartheid
is not only not addressed... it is worsened. African workers and their families,
the victims of apartheid, now become the main victims of neo-liberalism (joined
by a layer of Coloured, Indian and white workers). But the new ruling elite,
which is increasingly multi-racial, increasingly plays the race card to fragment
us and so consolidate its class rule. Whether it is the ANC's Mbeki or the DA's
Leon who plays the race card, the effect is the same: more power to the
capitalist class and so, less and less chance of ending the legacy of apartheid.
And so, South African workers are pitted against each other and against African
immigrants. And the rich get richer whilst the poor get poorer.
The race card is thus played both in the "West" and the "South" to
disorganise the working class.
Our position is simple. As anarchists, we oppose racism, and stand against
racism wherever it raises its ugly head. Racism is not only a crime against
humanity, but a direct attack on the working class. Racism divides us, increases
capitalist profits, and leads to lower wages for all workers.
White American workers, for example, in no way benefit from the existence of
an impoverished and oppressed minority of African American workers who can be
used to undercut wages, and working and living conditions.
Therefore we support revolutionary education against racism as part of a
programme of developing a non-racial, international, anti-nationalist,
anti-racist working class movement capable of crushing capitalism and the
governments that defend it. This means every government, because every
government - not excluding Cuba and China- is a capitalist instrument, a
capitalist trade union.
We aim at the destruction of capitalism and the creation of a libertarian
communist society under direct working class self-management of all aspects of
society - whether the workplace, the school, the campus or the neighbourhood.
THE UN FRAUD
As anarchists, we consider the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) by the
United Nations to be an enormous fraud. Sitting cosily in expensive hotels, the
world's elite - the people directly responsible for racism - will have an
all-expenses-paid opportunity to posture as champions of anti-racism.
These elites, drawn from every race, will sit cosily and listen to lectures
on the evils of racism... something none of them ever experience. Racism is
reserved for the poor: the capitalist elites are protected by their lawyers and
money. The UN is a rich-man's club, not a weapon against racism. Like the IMF,
World Bank and WTO, the UN serves as an instrument of collective capitalist
power against the world's working class and peasantry.
Our own elite, represented by the ANC, will use the opportunity to try and
take the tarnish off its six years of anti-working class rule by posturing as a
"model" of anti-racism.
CAPITALIST ANC HIJACKS EVENT
For the ANC, the WCAR is a golden opportunity to hide away the fact that
privatisation and job loss are accelerating, and that the main victims are
African workers and communities.
This is expressed in the march by the ANC Alliance - including COSATU - in
support of the conference... only days after COSATU mobilised tens of thousands
of workers against ANC policies!
We look instead to the new anti-privatisation movement and the Durban Social
Forum as vehicles for moving the fight against racism beyond the bounds of the
The demand has been raised for reparations to African peoples for the impact
of the slave trade. This is a progressive demand that, if realised, would go a
long way towards ending the legacy of slavery in the Americas and West Africa.
However, it is extremely unlikely that reparations can be attained under
capitalism. The capitalists know that if they open the door to reparations for
slavery, they will be asked for reparations for every one of capitalism's many
crimes. Furthermore, across the world, whether "West", "South" or "East", the
capitalists are bent on crushing working and poor people through the
implementation of neo-liberal policies of privatisation, cuts in schools,
pensions and hospitals, flexible labour, free trade etc. It is therefore
unlikely in the extreme that the western ruling classes will now reverse the
trend and introduce major social reforms. Their aim, for now, is to redistribute
wealth from the poor to the rich.
Real reparations for the many crimes of capitalism will only be achieved
under libertarian communism. And under libertarian communism, the capitalist
elites of the world will be judged harshly for these crimes, rather than
rewarded and rewarded and rewarded for evil, as is the case today.
US IMPERIALISM AND THIRD WORLD ELITES
Nowhere is the role of the UN as a rich-man's club made more clear than the
bullying role of the US in the run-up to the WCAR. The US, as the most powerful
capitalist country, has championed the removal of reparations and the repression
of the Palestinians by the Israeli state from the WCAR. Clearly, the US
capitalist class wants to prevent any discussion of the two issues.
In this it is, unsurprisingly, supported by the ruling classes in Africa, who
have scrapped the demand for financial reparations for slavery and colonialism
in favour of more debt relief and more free trade. This move illustrates that
Third World ruling classes are complicit in the system of neo-liberal capitalism
and imperialism. Our immediate enemy, as South African militants, is not a vague
"US imperialism," but the local ruling class which acts as a junior partner in
capitalism, which is, after all, modern slavery. The enemy is at home!
The rich will not succeed in setting the agenda for anti-racist and
anti-imperialist activism, because it is in the streets that the real demands
and actions will take place! Struggle from below will help set out a working
people's agenda against racism and imperialism, and the system that creates and
recreates these social evils: capitalism.
It is our view as anarchists that the key to meaningful freedom for ordinary
working and poor people is a struggle against racism, for libertarian (free)
communism. The creation of a truly non-racial South Africa requires a social
movement against capitalism and neo-liberalism, and for a society based on
collective ownership and the principle "from each according to their ability to
each according to their needs".
We stress the common interests of all workers across the world, and oppose
the nationalists who are trying to use the WCAR as an opportunity to fragment
workers and distract attention from the real class war in the streets,
workplaces and communities
Our immediate demands are
- an immediate end to privatisation, which can only increase poverty and
- refusal to pay unfair electricity and water charges
- an immediate halt to retrenchments
- trade union independence from all political parties
- full trade union democracy
- an election boycott: elections are a fraud that serve only to waste our
time and confuse our people
- reparations for slavery
- equal rights for immigrants
- land occupations by self-managed rural collectives
- factory occupations by the workers and their trade unions
- freedom for the Palestinians, Burmese, Tibetans and all victims of racism,
colonialism and capitalist dictatorship.
- abolition of the third world debt, which serves as an instrument of
capitalist imperialism and the closure of the IMF, World Bank, WTO and
In order to implement these demands, we must not rely on liberation from
above, which will never happen. We must struggle from below, taking direct
action against the bosses, the local councillors and other sectors of the elite,
organising ourselves for a social war for the freedom of the working class.
"Anarchism does not derive from the abstract reflections of an intellectual
or a philosopher, but from the direct struggle of workers against capitalism,
from the needs and necessities of the workers, from their aspirations to liberty
and equality, aspirations which become particularly alive in the best heroic
period of the life and struggle of the working masses."
P. Arshinov, N. Makhno and others, 1926, The Organisational Platform of
the Libertarian Communists.
From Prague to Seattle, Continue the Battle!
Reverse the Drive to Privatise!
There is no contradiction between the class struggle and the struggle against
racism. Neither can succeed without the other.
- Eric Williams, 1944, Capitalism and Slavery. Andre Deutsch, p. 17. See
also Peter Fryer, 1988, Black People in the British Empire. Pluto Press,
- Williams does not take sufficient account of the institution of life-long
slavery among Whites.
- Williams, p. 14
- williams, p. 10
- Leo Huberman, 1947, We, the People: the drama of America. Monthly Review
Press, p. 161.
- Williams, pp. 18-19, 23-29
- Bill Freund, 1984, The Making of Contemporary Africa: the development of
African Society Since 1800, Indiana University Press, p. 51.
- Fryer, p. 64.
- Williams, pp. 23-26; Huberman, p. 167-168
- Huberman, p. 167.
- See Freund for a discussion of the African experience.
- Fryer, pp. 61-81; Freund.
- And not to workers as Fryer claims, pp. 54-55.
- Programa del la Liga Pan-Americana del Trabajo in Articulos de Combate, p.
125-5, cited in D. Poole, "The Anarchists and the Mexican Revolution, part 2:
Praxedis G. Guerrero 1882 - 1910, Anarchist Review, No. 4. Cienfuegos Press.
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