Black Lives Matter, Capitalism, and European White Supremacy


Columbus beheaded at Smithsonian Institute

Statue of Columbus beheaded at Boston’s North End Park

Racism as it erupted into global consciousness in recent days to confront a growing mass movement, is the surface manifestation of a much deeper problem – capitalism. There is no aspect of genetic difference including skin colour that signifies the natural inferiority or superiority of any given people. There is no biological thing called ‘race’. Humans share the same genes. We are the Human Race. The ideology, racism, that exists today was born of white supremacy and serves to reproduce it today. It was the social invention of early European capitalists to provide a religious alibi for the conquest of non-European peoples from the 15th century and remains as the ideology of white supremacy today.

Some history

Prior to the rise of class society social relations were based on kinship in which labour was collective and its products shared equally. When men overthrew the kinship mode and took control of women’s reproductive power, they formed a ruling class, exploiting the unpaid labour of women as a sex-class – i.e. Patriarchy. The Slave mode of production followed. In ancient Greece for example, men who had become landowners, exploited the unpaid labour of slaves and women. Feudal society (aka the Tributary mode of production) spanning most continents in many forms from the middle ages, was a hierarchy of classes/castes stratifying peasants at the bottom to the aristocracy at the top where the unpaid labour of producers flowed upwards as ‘tribute’.

In all of these pre-capitalist modes, physical characteristics including skin colour were incidental and irrelevant to the reproduction of the social relations of society.  European capitalism, succeeding these other modes, incorporated them into itself as subordinate modes. But it alone had the distinction of inventing racism to justify its conquest of non-European peoples and its occupation and plunder of their natural resources and wealth as the basis for founding a new and expanding, global, capitalist mode of production.

Why Europe?

China was the only Tributary mode in Asia with the wealth to back exploration of new trade routes, but it never went further than East Africa. There is no evidence that Chinese reached the ‘new world’. Was China sufficiently rich to not need new sources of wealth? Not necessarily as the Emperors feared the expense of such ventures. So, while China siphoned ‘tribute’ upwards from the smaller states under their influence which extended through the Indian Ocean it did not venture further. The explanation is probably that the Chinese form of Tributary mode was highly integrated with a strong warrior class and a Confucian bureaucracy controlling commerce and trade and averse to adventures.

The European feudal fiefdoms, by contrast, stuck on a bleak peninsular jutting into the Atlantic, were relatively impoverished, and gained little from internal wars of conquest. This allowed the new bourgeoisie, the middle-class merchants in the market towns and ports, the freedom to trade outside Europe and to expand their wealth. The solution was for merchant adventurers to win Royal patronage to ‘discover’ and invade ‘new lands’ to enrich both the Monarchy and the rising bourgeoisie.

They sought sources of wealth, in particular gold and silver that would boost the limited money supply and stimulate European capitalism. Here is the significance of Columbus, the Genovese sailor who hired out his services to the Spanish crown to sail to Asia and accidentally ‘discover’ the ‘new world’ named after his countryman Amerigo Vespucci. Europe now had its opportunity to turn a faltering capitalist market into a world empire. No wonder the white fascist mobs today are trying to stop anti-racists and anti-fascists from knocking Columbus off his pedestal wherever he is found surveying the new Eurocentric world.

Here is the origin of racism as we know it today

The feudal patrons of these European merchant adventurers were blessed with the divine right to rule under the Catholic church. Unlike the Confucian bureaucracy, the Vatican backed these voyages of discovery for new wealth as a ‘civilising mission’. The plunder of nature’s wealth was glorified as the saving of souls. When popular resistance was met, the Church decided that the inhabitants had no ‘souls’ and that genocide was God’s work.

Such hypocrisy sanctioned the adventurers treating the indigenous peoples as sub-human in need of conversion to Christianity to save them from their sins of laziness, violence, lack of intelligence etc.  Coincidentally, these ‘heathen’ were of darker skin shade than the Europeans, so that dark skin colour became a marker of racial inferiority in the expansion of colonies. From that point on genocide, slavery and other forms of oppression necessary to guarantee profits was done in the name of the racist white supremacy.

Indigenous peoples were exterminated, and their lands stolen and the survivors enslaved. Africans were captured and transported to the Americas to perform slave labour. It is this history of the 500 years of racist oppression of blacks as slaves and their ‘liberation’ as wage slaves that in the US today leaves Blacks, alongside native Americans, the most oppressed sections of the US working class. It is this ongoing unresolved oppression, symbolized as lynching, that led inexorably to the killing of George Floyd and countless other blacks in the US.

The question arises: how can the Black Lives Matter movement be turned into a mass movement that reverses the process of European white supremacy of the Americas including slavery, unless it destroys the historic roots of the rise of capitalism and its global terminal crisis today? It is fitting that those who paid the highest price for the founding of European capitalism should lead the fight to bring an end to decadent capitalism today, made the more urgent and necessary as that system is in irrevocable decline and threatens to destroy humanity.

So, what is to be done to make this possible?

To win, the black liberation struggle has to unite with all other sections of the working class, most importantly indigenous peoples, Asian workers and women, and all others who today are the millions of migrant and displaced workers who experience historic and special oppression. As the awareness grows, white workers who historically have shared some of the economic advantages of white supremacy have to reject racism and unite as allies, rather than opponents of, black liberation.

Those who still subscribe to white supremacy, and who today oppose the BLM movement, are a fertile ground of recruitment by fascist vigilante militias, and must be defeated.  The division in the white working class can only be overcome by white workers uniting alongside black workers and their allies to smash a fascist movement before it becomes a major threat.

So far, in response to the lynching of George Floyd, this unity is building, much more so than in previous periods of struggle, and in much greater numbers than those actively defending white supremacy. But there is a long way to go. The capitalist state cannot tolerate the rise of an anti-racist movement that morphs into an anti-capitalist movement that threatens its class rule. The police, the military and fascist paramilitaries will be set against this movement. To defeat the forces of reaction we must work to resolve all divisions within the working class that weaken its power to smash fascism.

Within the wider working class, comprising all those who must live off their own labour, there are other historic divisions that must be overcome to unite the class. Of the pre-capitalist modes of production incorporated into capitalism two are critical, women as a sex-class of domestic labourers, and petty commodity producers. Both forms of historic exploitation persist alongside wage-labour and can be ended only by uniting to overthrow capitalism.

Uniting Sex, Race and Class

As we have seen, women as a sex-class originated when men took control of women’s reproduction and consigned them to domestic slavery along with male slaves in the Slave mode of production. The fact that some women were wives of slave owners did not mean they could escape their subordination as a sex-class. In the Tributary mode, this subordinate role continued, embedded in the class or caste structure from bottom to top. Under capitalism women have won equal rights to work outside the home but are not equal in practice because they remain largely responsible for unpaid domestic labour and are therefore doubly oppressed.

Petty commodity producers originated as a sub-mode of the Tributary mode. They are the self-employed who produce commodities with their own family labour for sale on the market. They are not small capitalists as they do not employ other workers whose labour they live off. Under capitalism they include peasants, poor farmers, small traders, servants, contract workers, taxi drivers etc and many are really disguised wage workers. Most are self-employed only because there is no secure wage-labour available. As individuals they have no financial security or power to survive economic crises and for that reason, have a class interest in overthrowing capitalist social relations and creating a socialist society.

Both forms of labour contain an unpaid element of value that ends up as the profits of banks or employers and are thus formally exploited labour. Along with this economic relationship their political and social rights are far from equal so that both forms are also specially oppressed. As a result, they have a strong interest shared by all other components of the working class, to break with the dominant social relations of capitalism by means of socialist revolution.

All of these forms of labour have a common denominator in that they all produce unpaid labour value for capital and are subject to increasing exploitation and oppression as capitalism faces its terminal crisis. They share a common fate of having their labour power stripped from them along with their living standards. Their lives are all threatened by the collapse of the capitalist system as the result of a compound crises manifest as plague, flood, fire, famine, and ultimately human extinction. The fight against racism is the fight against white supremacy; is the fight against gender oppression; is the fight against capitalist exploitation and oppression!

Workers Unite! It is your historic destiny to overthrow capitalism and build the socialist future!