The Negro Struggle and the Proletarian Revolution

From SWP Discussion Bulletin No. A-19, August 1954. Fraser delivered these two lectures in
November 1953 at the SWP Friday Night Forum in Los Angeles.

Continued from left column

It is different in the colonies. Here, the special colonial ex­ploi­ta­tion to which the masses of Asia, Africa and South America are subjected is de­pen­dent primarily upon the financial, military and political control which the imperialists are able to maintain. The establishment of race re­la­tions reflecting the concept of white superiority is an important in­stru­ment of this domi­na­tion, but not fun­da­men­tal.

With or without seg­re­ga­tion the special ex­ploi­ta­tion of colonies would continue upon the basis of the economic, military and political power which the U.S., Great Britain, France, etc. wield over the colonial world.

The completeness and rigidity of seg­re­ga­tion in the United States is demonstrated principally at the points where it tends to break down. The most ticklish problem of such a system as the Amer­ican race system is inevitably—what to do with the children of mixed marriages; or, more precisely, how to determine racially people of mixed par­ent­age. Marriage between Negro and white is illegal in the majority of states. But the offspring of illegal marriage is nevertheless taken care of by far-seeing lawmakers. In some cases, anyone with so much as one-sixty-fourth Negro ancestry is a Negro.

This illustrates the completeness of the seg­re­ga­tion system in the U.S. It demonstrates in the first place one of the important differences between race re­la­tions and other social re­la­tions under cap­ital­ism.

In no other system of social re­la­tions is seg­re­ga­tion the principal form. There are re­la­tions between nations of many different varieties based upon the in­ter­na­tion­al rivalry for markets, and upon other points of in­ter­na­tion­al conflict. However, through­out history it has only been necessary for an in­di­vidu­al or group to adopt the language and cus­toms of another nation in order to become a part of it.

Among classes it is only necessary to change economic status to pass over class lines. The worker can accumulate money, invest it in a cap­ital­ist enterprise and find the road to the cap­ital­ist class. The cap­ital­ist who loses his capital and must work for another to support himself descends to the work­ing class.

While in the present stage of monopoly capital there is greater class rigidity than in the early days, and it is now virtually impossible for a worker to become a cap­ital­ist, still it is fun­da­men­tal to cap­ital­ist society that it provide means for the passing over from one class to another as economic de­vel­op­ment requires. In the United States the worship of this machinery is a na­tion­al creed with the constant reiteration that anyone can become a cap­ital­ist, anyone can become president.

The caste system of India represents a decayed stratification of occupational groups within classes. Yet it provides the machinery both for in­di­vidu­als to change their caste station either upward or down­ward in the social scale and for whole castes to change their social standing. It is only race re­la­tions which are formally immutable and absolute. A Negro cannot become white.

In this comparison it is obvious that race re­la­tions are in a separate category from the other basic social re­la­tions of society.

The caste system was the necessary product of the stagnation and decay of Indian feudalism. National re­la­tions are the inevitable product of the de­vel­op­ment of commodity pro­duc­tion. Class re­la­tions are the inevitable result of the break-up of primitive communism and the establishment of private property. All of these have the historical jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of economic necessity, are firmly inter­twined with great historical epochs, and are inseparable from them.

But race re­la­tions have no such firm foundation. The racial structure of Amer­ican society is a disease of the social system and has neither historical jus­ti­fi­ca­tion nor economic necessity, in the sense that cap­ital­ism has existed for centuries in other coun­tries without the disfiguration of race antago­nisms.

Any attempt to classify the Negro ques­tion as a caste or na­tion­al ques­tion serves only to confuse it. For such a classification lends to race re­la­tions some of the stability and historical jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the centuries upon centuries of Indian civilization, or the worldwide de­vel­op­ment of nations. Race re­la­tions are products only of cap­ital­ism, and specifically of Amer­ican cap­ital­ism, and will disappear entirely without leaving much of a trace, with the dis­ap­pear­ance of the cap­ital­ist mode of pro­duc­tion.

The absurd stringency of laws which state that a person six generations removed from Negro ances­try is a Negro, when in actuality a Negro is only a person with a dark skin, signifies the instability and artificiality of the system and the extent to which fantastic and artificial measures are required to maintain its form—seg­re­ga­tion.

For it is not the purpose of the law to keep a visibly white person of one-sixty-fourth Negro ancestry in the ghetto in seg­re­ga­tion with dark people, but to prevent social contact between white and black in the beginning of such a family descent by stigmatizing the offspring of mixed marriages as black. It is in the United States that the form of race re­la­tions reveals its basic content and absurdity: this is the naked or pure form of the race ques­tion.

6.  Interna­tion­al Aspects of the Race Question

The system and ideology of white supremacy is an important weapon of western imperialist domi­na­tion of the colonial coun­tries of Asia, Africa, Asia Minor and South America. Specifically, it is those areas dominated by either Britain or the United States where race is a most prominent feature of colonial ex­ploi­ta­tion. It is important to note also that it was Britain in the 19th and the U.S. in the 20th century which represented the most effective and ruthless system of oppression of the darker peoples of the colonial world.

There is no in­ter­na­tion­al rigidity in the appli­ca­tion of the in­ter­na­tion­al system of white supremacy, as there is in the United States. It may take the violent form of terrible oppression of the Bantu in South Africa, or the comparatively benevolent form of white domi­na­tion through ostensible equality as in Hawaii. But in all circumstances it retains fun­da­men­tal features in common which reveal its role.

The idea of white superiority in China of a few years ago or in India is certainly believed to impress the “natives” with a sense of their own inferiority, and therefore a willingness to accept ex­ploi­ta­tion and humiliation by the white oppressor as a law of nature. There is, however, no evidence of great success in this field.

On the other hand it is quite evident that the main value of the ideology of white supremacy is in a situation where a thin stratum of white agents is required to maintain social ho­mo­ge­ne­ity while administering the affairs of the imperialist rulers. It is necessary to foster among them a racial con­tempt, even hatred, for the subject populations. Without color preju­dice, the inevitable tendency of such colonial agencies is to become absorbed into the population and to develop sympathies and allegiances in contradiction to their function as agents of empire: they would tend to sympathize with the oppressed.

Today in the twilight of imperialism the ideology of racial hatred assumes even greater importance than during the heyday of the “white man’s burden.” Today ques­tions are being settled not by administrators supported by a police with a small military force held in reserve, but by large armies of occupation and subjection whose morale and social ho­mo­ge­ne­ity must be maintained whether in actual warfare as in Korea, or in preventive occupation as in Japan. The problem in the U.S. Army is con­sid­era­bly complicated by the presence of Negro soldiers who do not accept the specific doctrine of white supremacy. Nevertheless, race preju­dice remains an important con­di­tion of the stability of imperialist rule by the United States throughout the world. This con­di­tion indicates the delicate equi­lib­ri­um upon which all imperialist stability rests.

Throughout the colonial world we see expressions of racism. However, in every case they are deriv­ative phenomena de­pen­dent upon the Amer­ican system of race re­la­tions.

It is only in the United States that race re­la­tions assume a pure form. That is, it is only here that skin color alone, in­de­pen­dent of cultural difference, geographical remoteness or na­tion­al identity, forms the basis for dis­crim­ina­tion and special ex­ploi­ta­tion.

In the Union of South Africa race re­la­tions assume the most violent and brutal form. A white European minority of two million exercises domi­na­tion over eight million Africans. However, the racial structure of this society is con­sid­era­bly newer than its Amer­ican counterpart, and its builders have always looked to the United States for guidance and inspiration.

As late as 1877 only one-tenth of the continent of Africa was under imperialist domi­na­tion. It is mainly from this date forward that white suprem­acy has asserted itself. For all the violence of race re­la­tions there, it is only recently that the rulers of South Africa have made the final attempt to “purify” the race ques­tion along Amer­ican lines by the ex­clu­sion of mulattoes from the electorate along with the blacks.

The main concern, however, of the Bantu, as of the mulattoes, is not one of color but of their colonial-na­tion­al status. The strug­gle of the native inhabitants of Africa for emancipation will on the other hand probably take the form of a color strug­gle, as did the 18th century rev­olu­tion in San Domingo which established the Republic of Haiti. But its essence will be that of a na­tion­al strug­gle against colonial oppression.

In the African colonies, as in all colonial coun­tries, the race ques­tion, however severe, is sub­or­di­nated to the needs of these peoples for na­tion­al emancipation and the end of all colonialism. The cultural differences between the European and African population, when expressing the re­la­tion between oppressor and oppressed, take on an eco­nomic and socially antagonistic character which is only reinforced and stabilized by the doctrine of white supremacy.

Thus in the Union of South Africa, where race re­la­tions occupy only a secondary and supporting position in special ex­ploi­ta­tion and are subordinated to the na­tion­al oppression of the native Africans, these race re­la­tions have a firmer foundation than in the United States.

During the days of chattel slavery where race re­la­tions were the expression of a special mode of pro­duc­tion, they enjoyed such a greater stability. The slave was the object of special ex­ploi­ta­tion primarily because he was a slave, secondarily because he was a Negro. Today, it is not because he is a worker that a Negro is Jim-Crowed but because he is black.

Thus in the economic aspects of ex­ploi­ta­tion, the race ques­tion in the United States demonstrates its fun­da­men­tal character. In every other instance racial ex­ploi­ta­tion merely serves as an auxiliary weapon to fortify na­tion­al or colonial ex­ploi­ta­tion or some combination of the two. Elsewhere it is accompanied by wide differences in economic and cultural de­vel­op­ment.

That the Negro ques­tion in the United States stands out nakedly as a simple matter of skin color indicates in the first place the extremely unstable foundation upon which it rests. But race antago­nism is fun­da­men­tal to the United States social structure under cap­ital­ism. The unstable foundation of the Jim Crow system thus reveals one of the weaknesses of the whole social structure.

In the second place, as derivative forms of racial dis­crim­ina­tion, white supremacy in other parts of the world is de­pen­dent upon the Amer­ican pattern. And just as when Amer­ican imperialism is overthrown and replaced by a workers state it will remove the last props from the collapsing cap­ital­ist structure throughout the world, so will the end of the Jim Crow system in the United States cut away the groundwork from white supremacy and race re­la­tions in the colonial world.

7.  The U.S. as the “Melting Pot”

It is finally necessary to consider the problem of Negro equality and assimi­la­tion into Amer­ican society in re­la­tion to the United States in its function as a “melting pot” of na­tion­alities.

The original strength and vitality of Amer­ican cap­ital­ism from its inception in the 18th century was founded upon two pillars. First, the cap­ital­ist nature of the impulse of the British colonization of the eastern seaboard. This established cap­ital­ist and semi-cap­ital­ist enterprise as the basic and original mode of pro­duc­tion, unfettered by feudal restric­tions. Second, the uniting of the colonies by a single language and a single Anglo-Saxon culture.

Scores of European na­tion­ality groups have been more or less successfully assimilated into the Amer­ican nation. The difference in the problems of these na­tion­alities and those of the Negroes is easily discernible upon examination.

From the very beginning other na­tion­ality groups attempted to retain their na­tion­al identity, as I have mentioned before. But the Amer­ican ruling class ruthlessly thwarted them all. First, by cutting away the economic groundwork upon which a na­tion­al minority might stand and develop an in­de­pen­dent na­tion­al system of commodity pro­duc­tion and distribution. Second, by forced assimi­la­tion or “Amer­icanization.”

Anglo-Amer­ican domi­na­tion received a great impetus by the victory of the first Amer­ican rev­olu­tion. As the cap­ital­ist class came into undisputed control of the na­tion­al state power in the 1860 elections and the Civil War which followed, it developed the doctrine of “Amer­icanize the aliens.”

As the United States entered upon the imperialist epoch in World War I, forced assimi­la­tion of alien groups began to be transformed into their ex­clu­sion. United States imperialism could no longer afford the time required for Amer­icanization. It always required at least from one to two generations to complete the process of assimi­la­tion. And during these two generations the foreign groups were subject to great disaffection from the cap­ital­ist class, either in the direction of embracing the work­ing class move­ment, or in lack of enthusiasm for the na­tion­al chauvinism and bigotry required to whip up the war spirit against a rival empire.

The latest manifestation of this transformation in na­tion­al policy from forced assimi­la­tion to ex­clu­sion is the McCarran Act.

Forced assimi­la­tion arose out of the na­tion­al needs of cap­ital­ist pro­duc­tion and distribution which require a nation, with a common culture and language and a political unity, as the framework of its de­vel­op­ment.

The more modern hysteria over “aliens” dating from World War I results from the imperialist epoch in which the United States ruling class begins to confront enemies: the work­ing class or­gan­ized in opposition to it at home, and on the other hand its in­ter­na­tion­al imperialist rivals. The aliens are a danger in both cases. The Amer­ican cap­ital­ist class wants to be prepared to go to war against any country in the world without concern for the na­tion­al origins and therefore susceptibilities of important sections of its population.

Some of the con­di­tions imposed by the ruling class upon immi­grant groups seem calculated to have the opposite effect of assimi­la­tion. They are herded into more or less isolated and segregated slums and subjected to discriminatory con­di­tions of ex­ploi­ta­tion. Undeniably, this process in part encourages tendencies toward the retention of na­tion­al ho­mo­ge­ne­ity of the immi­grant group. However, this is only the meth­od by which the ruling class sets down its terms of assimi­la­tion: that the foreigners are welcome, that they may and must become Amer­icans, but only in the position of highly exploited laborers in the great industrial establishments of Amer­ican cap­ital­ism.

Discrimination against these na­tion­ality groups prevails in different sections of the country for different periods of time. It is accompanied by “native” con­tempt, bigotry, intol­er­ance and preju­dice. The fun­da­men­tal source of this intol­er­ance is in the cap­ital­ist intol­er­ance of any alien culture which threatens to break up the orderly pattern of commodity pro­duc­tion and distribution, and the political unity of the state. It is directed against the language and cus­toms of the foreign group with the object of eliminating them.

This na­tion­al intol­er­ance is part of the process of the assimi­la­tion of the na­tion­al minorities. It is, in effect, the demand by Amer­ican cap­ital­ism upon the Germans, for instance, to cease being Germans and become Amer­icans. “Speak English! Talk Amer­ican!” are the slogans of this intol­er­ance.

While the demand upon the foreign na­tion­alities to assimilate is at the root of this na­tion­al intol­er­ance, the direct opposite is the case when we deal with racial dis­crim­ina­tion. The object to be gained in the case of the Negroes is precisely to prevent their assimi­la­tion.

The race concept itself arose out of the need to demarcate the Negroes as slaves and to build upon that difference in skin color a wall separating them from the rest of society. Without racial separation in the United States, there would be no possibility of maintaining the discriminatory social and economic practices which are fun­da­men­tal to the economic and social well-being of Amer­ican cap­ital­ism, and its role in the world today.

As we have seen, in many fun­da­men­tal aspects of United States culture: language, folklore, etc., there is a constant mutual assimi­la­tion of the various char­ac­ter­is­tics of the Anglo-Amer­ican with those of the Negro. But this process of assimi­la­tion is halted by economic and social re­la­tions adapted from slavery whenever it touches the possibility of eco­nomic, political or social equality.

So far we have considered the race ques­tion in its most general aspects. The nature of the concept of race, its history and de­vel­op­ment, and its re­la­tion to other social phenomena under cap­ital­ism. Next Friday night we will consider it in its actual exis­tence: the Jim Crow system in the United States, its roots and branches, and how to eliminate it. We will show the only possible way in which the goal of equality can be achieved.

II. The Struggle for Equality

Last week we discussed the nature of race, and the nature of race re­la­tions, their origin, history and significance. We concluded that there is no scientific basis for the subdivision of humanity into races. Secondly, we noted that Amer­ican society is, never­theless, divided into races, and is disfigured and distorted by this division.

Dr. Du Bois has stated that the problem of the 20th century is the color problem. It is quite obvious that he was referring to the division of the world between the white exploiting nations of the West and the colonial coun­tries, inhabited by people of darker skin color.

Dr. Du Bois was only partially right. It is true that imperialism is the most significant politico-economic de­vel­op­ment of this century. It is equally true that imperialist ex­ploi­ta­tion largely takes the form of domi­na­tion by the so-called white world over colored peoples. This ex­ploi­ta­tion, however, is not based upon color but upon the superior military, economic and political power which one part of the world wields over the other. The skin color of the enslavers, whether they are British, Spanish or Japanese, makes no difference so long as it is backed up by military and economic might. The imperialist exploiters maintain their rule over the colonial peoples not on the basis of color, but by their power. They do, of course, try to reinforce their rule by imbuing their colonial subjects with a sense of inferiority. They are aided in this by the fact that the imperialist overlords, with the sole exception of the Japanese, are of the white-skinned race, while those they rule over are all peoples with black, brown or yellow skin. However, it is only in the United States that color, by itself, plays a real and dominant role in social re­la­tions. Here, the Negro people, a group of darker skin than the average, are subjected to special ex­ploi­ta­tion, dis­crim­ina­tion and seg­re­ga­tion, merely because of their skin pigmentation, which assigns them to a subordinate racial position in Amer­ican society.

Although we cannot recognize the existence of races as a biological fact, still we must recognize the existence of races as social groups, so or­gan­ized by the ruling class for the purpose of cap­ital­ist ex­ploi­ta­tion.

We will now discuss the actual political, social and economic roots of the Amer­ican system of race re­la­tions under the following specific headings:

  1. 1. The southern social system.
  2. 2. The industrialization of the South.
  3. 3. The Negro strug­gle and the demand for equality.
  4. 4. Race consciousness.
  5. 5. Stalinism and the ques­tion of self-determination.
  6. 6. The nature of preju­dice.
  7. 7. The Negroes and the labor move­ment.
  8. 8. Capitalist politics.
  9. 9. The final solution of the problems of discrimination.

1.  The Southern Social System

We have demonstrated previously how the United States is the worldwide center of the system of racial dis­crim­ina­tion. It is necessary now to investigate the specific source of the racial system in the United States. In other words, what are the social and economic forces which prevent the assimi­la­tion of Negroes into Amer­ican society?

The practice of dis­crim­ina­tion in the United States has its focal point in the southern social structure. At the end of the Civil War, having neither land nor political rights, the Negro agricultural population was forced into the peonage of sharecropping. A social system was built around this arrangement.

The cap­ital­ist class has had a four-fold motive for perpetuating this system. First, sharecropping made it possible to maintain the plantation system in southern ag­ri­cul­ture, even after the de­struc­tion of chattel slavery which was its fun­da­men­tal basis. If the Civil War and Re­con­struc­tion had succeeded in breaking up the large plantations the creation of an in­de­pen­dent small farmer class would very probably have produced diversified farming.

By means of the southern Jim Crow system, the cap­ital­ist class was able to prevent the de­vel­op­ment of free farming and retain the plantation.

Second, the degradation of the Negro, his loss of political rights and all means of economic defense, has made it possible for the cap­ital­ist class, in con­junc­tion with the plantation owners, to extract tre­men­dous super-profits from underpaid Negro labor, not only on the plantations but in the many indus­tries of the South.

Third, the Negro has always been the symbol of southern labor as a whole. Hence the greater degradation of all labor there and the consequent lower standard of living for all workers.

This degradation of labor has enabled the cap­ital­ist class to extract extra profits through the ruthless super-exploitation of a whole geographical segment of its work­ing class.

The fourth stake which Amer­ican cap­ital­ism has in the perpetuation of the southern Jim Crow system is that it is fun­da­men­tal to the political stability of the nation under cap­ital­ism.

The South is the only area where politics is in no degree de­pen­dent upon the people, where the minority of wealthy Bourbons and cap­ital­ists rule directly and nakedly. Through the southern Dem­ocratic Party the cap­ital­ist class is at all times able to carry out its basic interests. Every social crisis has revealed this political dependence of the cap­ital­ist class upon the southern Dem­ocratic Party which doesn’t have to answer to labor for its actions.

The Taft-Hartley Act and the McCarran Act, two of the most vicious pieces of pro-cap­ital­ist, anti-labor legislation in the history of Congress, were not the result of a Republican majority, but of a balance of power achieved by the southern Democrats.

These are the main features of the southern system and make it necessary to conclude that Jim Crow is a fun­da­men­tal and integral part of Amer­ican cap­ital­ism.

The wealthy white classes could not attain such total power as they wield in the South by their own forces alone.

The Bourbon rule of the South today is founded upon the de­struc­tion of the glorious rev­olu­tionary move­ment of the Re­con­struc­tion and the sub­se­quent failure of the Populist revolt. The wealthy whites could not possibly have subdued these move­ments with their own small numbers. A mass sup­port in a significant segment of the population was necessary to organize the Ku Klux Klan and to elevate the ruling classes to their present position. This mass base of support was to be found primarily in the white middle classes of the southern cities and towns, and the better-off section of the small farmers.

One striking feature of the South under slavery was the absence of the commercial and industrial towns which were so characteristic of the North. This was quite normal in an agrarian society dominated by huge plantations, which provided no basis for a rich internal market. Without towns it follows that there was no sizable urban middle class.

Commercial towns arose during the Re­con­struc­tion under the impulse of cap­ital­ist economy in ag­ri­cul­ture. The de­vel­op­ment of these towns produced a middle class.

Everybody knows something of the fierce com­pe­ti­tion which goes on among the middle classes all the time. They must compete not only against each other, but also against big business which has more ef­fi­cient and cheaper ways of doing things.


I. Race and Capitalism

Not long ago a friend of mine with his family made an automobile trip to his ancestral home in the South. In a discussion of his trip I asked him how he got along on the road. He is a former official of the NAACP, a militant fighter against seg­re­ga­tion and dis­crim­ina­tion and knows the score just about any way he may be required to add it up. I knew that any incident which the southern Jim Crow system insisted upon bothering him with would be amply repaid.

No, he hadn’t any trouble to speak of. Only one small incident occurred at a gas station in the beautiful state of Arkansas. They drove into this gas station, asked the attendant to fill the tank and prepared to go to the rest rooms. The attendant told them gently but firmly that the colored rest rooms were around at the back. My friend put on his best dead-pan expression and in his most casual con­ver­sa­tion­al tone replied: “That’s interesting. What color are they?”

And while the attendant was gasping for breath and trying to keep from fainting, the family made its unhurried way to the regular rest rooms.

This episode, small and personal though it may be, reveals two important truths which I will try to illustrate tonight and next Friday when I complete this discussion of the race ques­tion. First, it illus­trates the complete irrationality of the division of society into groups according to skin color. What my friend was saying to the gas station attendant was that to any rational human being there should be no more significance to differences in the color of people than to differences in the color of rest rooms, and that the fact that the attendant was the pro­prietor of rest rooms of different color was mildly interesting, but no more. But that contrary to all reason and logic, all of Amer­ican society is dis­figured by this artificial and fantastic division into races.

Secondly, the episode brings to mind what the reaction of an ordinary European, unfamiliar with the Amer­ican social structure, might be to such a situation. A naive Englishman or Frenchman might honestly reply to such a situation: “You have rest rooms of different color? Very interesting, I am sure. What color are they?”

When placed in this context, the racial division of society shows up primarily as an Amer­ican disease of the social structure. For in the social structure of none of the advanced industrial coun­tries is it possible to find anything approaching the Amer­ican system of race re­la­tions, with the single exception of Germany under the Nazis.

These are two important themes in the analysis of the Negro ques­tion and you will find them ap­par­ent in each of the following subjects with which we shall deal tonight:

  1. 1. The transformation of the Negro ques­tion
    from the days of Booker T. Washington to the present day.
  2. 2. The ex­ploi­ta­tion of skin color.
  3. 3. What is race and what are race re­la­tions?
  4. 4. The origin of the race concept.
  5. 5. The form of race re­la­tions.
  6. 6. Interna­tion­al aspects of the race ques­tion.
  7. 7. The Negro ques­tion and the oppression of national minorities in the U.S.

1. The Transformation of the Negro Question

No inhabitant of our planet is permitted to ignore the power of Amer­ican cap­ital­ism today. Its military might, its financial rulership, its monopolistic na­tion­al power and apparent political equi­lib­ri­um are everyday facts of life for all the oppressed peoples of the world. This strength of Amer­ican cap­ital­ism was born in the Civil War, the Re­con­struc­tion and the consolidation of power following it.

In 1860 the cap­ital­ist class had shared the power with the dominant slaveowners for sixty years. Throughout this period the cap­ital­ists were thwarted eco­nomi­cal­ly and humiliated politically. Eco­nomi­cal­ly they were injured by the constant reduction of tariffs which brought cheap British goods onto the domestic market. Their need for westward ex­pan­sion was thwarted because the slaveowners would permit westward de­vel­op­ment only on terms favor­able to their interests.

The cap­ital­ists were humiliated politically by a series of congressional com­pro­mises. In these com­pro­mises the slaveowners invariably came off the victors, even when the Whig Party of the cap­ital­ists held congressional majorities and controlled the executive as well.

Through the Civil War the cap­ital­ist class over­threw the slaveowners and took the whole na­tion­al power for itself.

During the ensuing Re­con­struc­tion in the South, the cap­ital­ists permitted a short and inconclusive strug­gle of the Negroes for equality. These were the glorious days when a white and black peasantry ruled the South. It was then that the Negroes achieved the social, political and economic de­struc­tion of the old enemy class. But as soon as this de­struc­tion had been accomplished, the cap­ital­ists turned against the Negroes. Together with a new cap­ital­ist plantation aristocracy, the cap­ital­ists drove the Negro people back into the social con­di­tions that accompanied slavery.

This defeat of the Negroes formed the basis for the modern political system in the United States. The stability of the so-called two-party system, where the cap­ital­ists rule unques­tioned through either one of two similar political cliques, was based upon the disfranchisement of the southern workers.

This political system enabled the cap­ital­ist class to exploit mercilessly the western farmers, amass tre­men­dous aggregations of capital through this ex­ploi­ta­tion and through the looting of the public domain and the public treasury.

Capitalist economic dominance and political equi­lib­ri­um made it possible for the United States to expand into the world market, to engage in two world wars of imperialist ex­pan­sion, and to rise from an insignificant power at the beginning of this century to its present exalted position as leader of the entire cap­ital­ist world. All this was done without serious political interference by any other class in Amer­ican society.

In part, therefore, the economic well-being and the political stability of the cap­ital­ist class rest upon the renewed degradation of the Negro people after the Civil War.

It was this degradation that brought forth Booker T. Washington. He was the in­stru­ment by which the Negroes acceded to the terms of defeat. In his fa­mous Atlanta speech in 1893, Washington for­mally renounced the strug­gle for equality.

But since this defeat in the last quarter of the 19th century there has been a fun­da­men­tal change in the material con­di­tions surrounding the Negro strug­gle. The defeat of the Negroes was the defeat of an almost exclusively agrarian people in a backward agrarian society. Today the Negroes are largely city dwellers, and even in the South, industrial cap­ital­ism has been forced to break up the old agrarian pattern.

The victory of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1890’s was made possible because the Klan was able to isolate the Negroes and to separate them from all their allies among the other work­ing masses of the country. Today, the Negro move­ment emerges as a move­ment of na­tion­al scope with powerful con­tin­gents in every city in the country. The growth of the CIO has reflected the re-establishment of the alli­ance of black and white in the industrial work­ing class.

The program of Booker T. Washington was one of humility and acceptance of second-class citi­zen­ship. Today the Negro community is alive with a great move­ment which has as its fun­da­men­tal aim the achievement of full economic, political and social equality. Substantial gains have been made. There has been, in fact, a complete transformation of the move­ment of the Negro people during the past twenty-five years.

This occurred at a time when the whole Amer­ican work­ing class stood on the threshold of growth into political consciousness. In the great awakening strug­gles of the 1930’s the work­ing class gained the elementary class solidarity of unionism. Today the con­di­tions are maturing under which it will move forward towards full class consciousness and a strug­gle for political power.

The rejection of race preju­dice in favor of class solidarity has been a consistent phenomenon ever since the beginnings of the CIO. Its fulfillment will be the mark of the full maturity of the Amer­ican work­ing class move­ment.

The strug­gle of the Negro people for equality is one of the great dynamic forces of the labor strug­gle itself. The purpose of these lectures is to analyze this strug­gle and to show how it will find its completion in the socialist society of the future.

2.  Exploitation of Skin Color

We will now consider the fact that the fun­da­men­tal element in dis­crim­ina­tion against Negroes in the United States is special ex­ploi­ta­tion through stigmatization of skin color. Never in history until the rise of cap­ital­ism had the world witnessed the division of society by color.

The special ex­ploi­ta­tion of Negroes bears some similarity to the ex­ploi­ta­tion of the colonial world by the imperialist nations, and also to the domi­na­tion of the small and weak nations of Europe by the rich and powerful empires. The similarity exists in this one fact: that the Negroes as a social group are subject to dis­crim­ina­tion and super-exploitation above and beyond the elementary ex­ploi­ta­tion of wage labor by capital, or the oppression of the small cap­ital­ists by the large ones. The Negro people as a whole including all classes are subject to this discriminatory oppression.

This is the similarity of the ex­ploi­ta­tion of Negroes in the United States to that of colonial peoples and other oppressed nations. But there are also important differences, and these differences are more striking than the similarities.

Czarist Russia conquered Poland and subjected it to a classical na­tion­al domi­na­tion. Great Britain’s subjugation of India was equally representative of colonial oppression. Here we have the oppression of whole nations. But the Negroes are not a nation. Imperialist ex­ploi­ta­tion subordinated the na­tion­al economy of the weaker and more backward coun­tries of the earth to that of the dominant nations. This ex­ploi­ta­tion is made possible through the vast differences in historical de­vel­op­ment of different areas of the world.

Neither cultural difference nor na­tion­al pecu­liar­ity sets the Negroes apart in Amer­ican society. Amer­ican cap­ital­ist society is a composite of immi­grant groups of diversified na­tion­al origin. The emergence of the Amer­ican na­tion­ality as one of the distinct peoples of the world is made possible by the subordination of these immi­grant groups to the dominant Anglo-Amer­ican culture and their assimi­la­tion into it. Of all the immi­grant groups, the Negroes were historically the best prepared to assimi­late.

Europeans coming to North America, whether voluntarily as colonists or as temporary indentured servants, had a natural protective tendency to group themselves together into closed communities in which they could perpetuate the na­tion­al pecu­liar­ities of language and custom characteristic of their homeland. The existence of large foreign-speaking groups, even entire cities and towns having news­papers, foods and other cus­toms of their European background, runs as a persistent theme throughout the history of the United States.

The voyage of the Negroes to North America was not a migration, however, but the process of the slave trade. The slave traders, in their devastation of African life, did not bring to America a ho­mo­ge­ne­ous population but representatives of a thousand different tribes.

The transition from African tribal life to ex­ploi­ta­tion on Amer­ican plantations was sufficiently abrupt, terrifying and protracted to break virtually every important bond which held the slave to his former life and cultural background. The rupturing of the cultural chain which might have held the Negroes together in some African cultural ho­mo­ge­ne­ity was further helped by the slaveowners, who would generally refuse to buy more than one slave from the same tribe or nation.

Thus living as slaves, who came to know no other homeland than the United States, knew no other language than English, held no foreign allegiance, the Negro people are among the oldest of all the immi­grant groups. They are essentially Amer­ican.

For two and a half centuries, the Negroes were the only stable labor force in that portion of the North Amer­ican continent which became the United States. All other sections of the population were drawn into the fluidity of classes which characterized the period of westward ex­pan­sion of the cap­ital­ist economy. The slaves remained enslaved from generation to generation.

In this position, the Negroes developed a powerful folk culture. But this culture did not take the road of an in­de­pen­dent na­tion­al de­vel­op­ment. Because it was virtually the only real Amer­ican folk culture, the slaves’ music, “accent,” folklore and religion filled a cultural need for the Amer­ican people as a whole. First the slave culture inundated the original Anglo-Saxon culture of the South, virtually destroying it. From there it went on to fuse with the whole na­tion­al culture until today those aspects of the na­tion­al culture which are considered to be “typically” Amer­ican are largely the result of Negro influence.

This is true in song and dance, in folktale, the romantic crooner, blues singer, jazz man and hep-cat; in all popular art, in fact, and in nearly every other field in which the needs, aspirations and frustrations of people are expressed through a social medium.

Cultural differences are one of the important symptoms of traditional na­tion­al and colonial oppression. However, it should be obvious that cultural difference can have no bearing upon the special kind of ex­ploi­ta­tion to which the Negro people are subjected. On the contrary, Negroes have been a constant in­stru­ment of modification of the basic Anglo-Amer­ican culture. This attests to a process of mutual assimi­la­tion with the dominant cultural group.

In spite of the stigma of the black skin, therefore, the mutual assimi­la­tion of Negro and Anglo-Amer­ican appears as an overriding law of Amer­ican historical de­vel­op­ment which defies the laws of seg­re­ga­tion, the preju­dice of skin color, and the cus­toms and social re­la­tions of the Jim Crow system.

3.  Race and Race Relations

The historical pecu­liar­ity of such a system of special ex­ploi­ta­tion based upon skin color requires a fun­da­men­tal analysis of the race system of social organization. The first ques­tion which arises is: what is race and what are race re­la­tions?

Until a few years ago it was universally agreed among scientists and laymen alike that race was a legitimate biological category. That is, that the visible physical differences of skin color, hair texture, etc., which are apparent among people formed an adequate scientific basis for the biological division of the human species into subcategories generally called “races.” Indeed for the past century all of physical anthropology, which is supposedly a branch of science, has been devoted exclusively to the demonstration of the race concept.

No two schools of this so-called science were ever able to agree upon what the fun­da­men­tal yardstick was for determining race. None agreed precisely as to whether race was really a designation of sub­species. None agreed as to how many “races” exist. Some said one hundred, others said three. Fun­da­men­tal to all of them until recent times was the idea of superiority and inferiority. They all agreed that these obvious physical char­ac­ter­is­tics were some­how related to fun­da­men­tal biological char­ac­ter­is­tics which expressed themselves in different capac­ities and functions of the human mind.

A more recent school of liberal anthropologists overthrew the concept of biological superiority and inferiority. They retained however the basic concept of racial division. This was the theory of the biological equality of separate races.

But once the idea of superiority and inferiority was stripped from the race concept, it could not stand, for this idea was fun­da­men­tal to the very idea of racial division. Within the last few years in a series of brilliant studies a small group of scientists has destroyed the basic theory and meth­od of physical anthropology. That is to say, they have made it quite clear that there is no scientific basis for the contention that society can be divided into races upon the basis of visible physical char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Even while destroying the foundation of the race myth, however, most of these scientists are still in its power and continue the search for some means to justify racism. But the objective result of their de­struc­tion of the old race concept has been to make any race theory scientifically untenable today.

What they have proven in reality is that there is no justifiable biological category such as “race” into which to divide humanity.

Nevertheless, in defiance of this advance in science, skin color and Jim Crow laws continue to go hand in hand. Color supremacy and color ex­ploi­ta­tion continue to persist, not only in the United States but throughout that part of the colonial world dominated by Anglo-Amer­ican imperialism. And the recent discovery that there is no such thing as “race” seems not to have affected the existence of ex­ploi­ta­tive re­la­tions between people which are in fact or­gan­ized around skin color or “race.”

“Race” is therefore a reality in spite of the fact that science reveals that it does not exist. In order to discover the re­la­tion between “race” as a concept of physical anthropology and “race” as a fact of social existence, it is necessary to enquire into the origin of both.

4.  The Origin of the Race Concept

How did the idea of race come into being? There was no conception of race before cap­ital­ism. Of all the antago­nisms between peoples of the ancient and medieval world not a single one had as its focal point the different appearance of peoples. On the contrary, older civilizations were struck with the basic identity of people as human beings in­de­pen­dent of the differences in skin color, hair texture, etc.

To be sure, ever since the division of society into classes, the owning classes have held those that they exploited in con­tempt. But in ancient times the claims of superiority of ruling classes never took on a racial character.

The first time in the known history of human society that difference in skin color was the subject of fierce antago­nism between people was the direct product of colonial and United States chattel slavery created under the impulse of the de­vel­op­ment of European cap­ital­ism.

It was a peculiar combination of historical ac­ci­dent and necessity by which the Negroes become the slave class of this modern slave system.

The climate, soil and location of the southern United States, the West Indies and Central America were suitable for the pro­duc­tion of certain crops. These crops could only be produced in marketable proportions by the use of large scale cultivation meth­ods. With a wide abundance of free land, how­ever, available to all, free labor could not be held on the land of others. It was therefore necessary to create a system of compulsory labor. The system of chattel slavery is quite in­ef­fi­cient and wasteful. But in this part of the western hemisphere the low cost of maintenance of labor made it possible to utilize slavery profitably in spite of its wastefulness.

The native labor supply of the Amer­ican, Caribbean and other West Indian tribes was neither extensive enough nor so easily adaptable to ag­ri­cul­ture as to provide an adequate work­ing force of plantation labor. European peasant labor was in­ef­fi­cient in the sub-tropical zone and expensive to maintain and replace. Labor from Africa, on the other hand, was plentiful, accustomed to ag­ri­cul­ture and ef­fi­cient in the heat of the sub-tropical zone.

Furthermore a slave trade had been going on in Africa for years, or­gan­ized by the Arabs. It was by no means an extensive trade but it could serve as a starting point.

Another advantage of African labor was that as a chattel slave—i.e., a piece of property—a Negro could be identified by his skin.

Chattel slavery was a system of pro­duc­tion which had been outgrown by European society because it was a system of low productivity and wastefulness. Therefore, the very existence of a mode of pro­duc­tion based upon the absolute ownership of one human being by another, after it had been so long outgrown, was repulsive to progressive people. Par­ticu­lar­ly when the world was bursting with rev­olu­tions proclaiming the equality of all men. This slave system became so repulsive in fact that only weird and perverse social re­la­tions could contain it. To despise the black skin as the mark of the slave was the principal and focal point of these social re­la­tions.

Thus, around the ques­tion of skin color, society in the West Indies and North America proper began to divide itself, as social re­la­tions degenerated under the slave system. First the black skin was despised because it was the mark of a despised mode of pro­duc­tion. But this despised mode of pro­duc­tion was the creator of untold wealth and prosperity, and cap­ital­ist society cannot despise riches for long. So they turned the whole matter on its head.

The slaves were in an inferior position eco­nomi­cal­ly. Gradually, white slaveowning society con­struct­ed a wall of color: that it was not the mode of slave pro­duc­tion which was to be despised, but the slave: that the reason the black skin was the mark of the slave was that it was first the mark of human inferiority.

In this manner the class problem of slavery became complicated and confused by the color ques­tion. The slaves, besides being an exploited social class, became, in the perverted thinking of the dominant society, an inferior race as well.

It was upon this foundation that the “science” of physical anthropology built its structure. In service to the Amer­ican planters, the in­ter­na­tion­al slave traders and colonial exploiters, fake scientists and politicians took a set of perverted social re­la­tions based upon a discarded social system and made them into the foundation stones of a science. They justified slavery as natural and completely desirable for those with a colored skin.

And they had great need for such a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. At the beginning of the slave trade the idea of spreading Christianity to the heathen was sufficient jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for Negro slavery. Slave traders were the missionaries and the slaveowners the priests of a crusade to bring the word of God to heathen “savages” who would otherwise be doomed to eternal torment in their awful ignorance.

But the rev­olu­tions in Britain, America and France stripped away the veil of religion from knowledge and initiated the age of science and rationalism. Social re­la­tions could no longer be explained by reference to God. So a fake “scientific” explanation of the social re­la­tions of slavery grew up to justify them. This is the actual foundation of the science of physical anthropology.

Slavery itself was overthrown in the Civil War and Re­con­struc­tion. But the needs of the Amer­ican cap­ital­ists for compulsory agricultural labor in the South remained. A new semi-cap­ital­istic mode of ag­ri­cul­ture grew up in which the semi-slave con­di­tion of the freed Negroes was made permanent by the re-establishment of the social re­la­tions of slavery: color dis­crim­ina­tion buttressed by seg­re­ga­tion and race preju­dice.

Race thus became a fetish of Amer­ican cap­ital­ism, a system of special ex­ploi­ta­tion based upon the social re­la­tions and cus­toms of a previous mode of pro­duc­tion, which had itself been an abomination to society. Stripped of scientific jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, what then remains of race? Race is a re­la­tion between people based upon the needs of cap­ital­ist ex­ploi­ta­tion. The race concept in anthropology grew out of the social re­la­tions of slavery. It was congealed by the adap­ta­tion of these obsolete social re­la­tions to the needs of cap­ital­ist pro­duc­tion.

The concept of race has now been overthrown in biological science. But race as the keystone of ex­ploi­ta­tion remains. Race is a social re­la­tion and has only a social reality.

5.  The Form of Race Relations

The basic form of race re­la­tions is seg­re­ga­tion. In the colonial coun­tries it is expressed by the vol­un­tary self-seg­re­ga­tion of the white agents of empire. But it would be an error to judge race re­la­tions as a whole by their expressions in colonial ex­ploi­ta­tion. Race re­la­tions in the colonies are derived primarily from the existence of the race ques­tion in America and par­ticu­lar­ly in the United States.

In the colonies the ques­tion of race is de­pen­dent upon the specific needs of colonial ex­ploi­ta­tion. In the United States special ex­ploi­ta­tion is de­pen­dent upon race re­la­tions. In the colonies race is de­pen­dent upon ex­ploi­ta­tion, but here the ex­ploi­ta­tion is de­pen­dent upon race.

In this country race re­la­tions take the form of the compulsory seg­re­ga­tion of Negroes. The intensity of seg­re­ga­tion and of all the secondary race re­la­tions which flow from it determine the extent of the special ex­ploi­ta­tion. By and large, in the North and West, where seg­re­ga­tion is less intensive than in the South, the degree of special ex­ploi­ta­tion of Negroes is far lower. Without seg­re­ga­tion, dis­crim­ina­tion and race re­la­tions would soon disappear.