Monday, July 23, 2012

Inseparable development of capitalism and racism

Readers will recall that earlier this year I was reading James & Grace Lee Boggs' 1974 book, Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century. Here is a passage from that excellent book, about the importance of racism to capitalism:
It is necessary to stress the inseparability of racism and capitalism in the specific historical development of this country, not in order to blame the capitalists and workers, but in order to rid ourselves of the widely held belief that racism has been an imperfection or wart on the face of capitalism in the United States.

Racism has been an integral part of the historical development of U.S. capitalism, enabling it to achieve the material abundance which has made it possible for Americans to pursue happiness and enjoy material comforts far beyond anyone's expectations or even imagination two hundred years ago. And whoever pretends that this is not so or that racism is some kind of "feudal remnant" which has stood in the way of U.S. capitalism developing productive forces without limit or of the common man's pursuit of material happiness, rather than the means by which these two goals have been achieved under U.S. capitalism, is propagating lies about the past and the present.

Today, because of the inseparable development of capitalism and racism, the main contradiction in the United States is the contradiction between its advanced technology and its political backwardness. We are a people who have been psychologically and morally damaged by the unlimited opportunities to pursue material happiness provided by the cancerous growth of the productive forces. As a result, the pursuit of happiness for most Americans means the rejection of the pain of responsibility and learning which is inseparable from human growth. Liberty has turned into license. Equality has become the homogenization of everybody at the lowest common denominator of the faceless anybody. Fraternity has become mass-man cheering and groaning at the various modern spectacles—sports, lotteries, and television give-aways.(p.181)
They talk about "U.S. capitalism", which for me is not a terribly meaningful distinction, in this case not least because of the crucial importance of racism to capitalism, period. Wallerstein demonstrates the extent to which the division of labor in the capitalist world-economy has always been racially organized, for the purposes in part of keeping workers separate.

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