By James Thompson
Racism is a tool which has been used by the capitalist class to exploit and oppress the working class. Racism has served the capitalists well in their efforts to suppress the wages and benefits of working people and increase the profits of the capitalists. Racism defines certain ethnic groups as “inferior” and this serves to justify the reduction of wages and benefits of these “inferior” workers. This is the most effective means by which the capitalists can increase their profits. A similar tool may be found in sexism. Sexism defines certain gender groups as inferior and this serves to justify the reduction of wages and benefits of women and LGBT people in order to increase profits.
Chauvinism, as we can see, only serves the interests of the capitalists. Chauvinism is used by the capitalists effectively to split and divide working people so that the interests of the capitalists can be easily won. Chauvinism serves as a distraction from the struggle against the capitalists and the capitalist system.
Here is Gus Hall’s 1975 report to the National Committee of the CPUSA as recorded in his classic book Fighting Racism:
“Monopoly’s Hammer Against All Workers
The economic crisis magnifies and brings into sharp focus all the contradictions of capitalism.
This is a moment to lay bare the class roots of economic and political policies. The crisis brings out the cruel and inhuman character of monopoly capitalism.
The present plant closings, layoffs and elimination of second and third shifts in many industries highlight the 200 year racial pattern of last to be hired and first to be fired. For proof of racist patterns one has only to note the overwhelming number of Black workers in many factory departments where the work is dirtiest and hardest, the large number of Black workers in the most dangerous occupations, and the greater number of white workers in skilled and higher paid jobs. Because of all this, the economic crisis is steeper and will last longer for Black, Puerto Rican and Chicano workers.
It does not take a depression to convince the victims of racism that they are oppressed and exploited. They are aware of this every moment of their lives. The problem is not to convince Black workers that they are victims of racism. The real problem is to convince white workers that so long as they are carriers of racism, so long as they acquiesce in or support racist practices against black workers, they are themselves victims of racism.
The crisis makes it easier to prove that the source of racism is the capitalist system of exploitation for corporate profit. The crisis presents new possibilities to convince white workers that racism is against their interests.
This is one of those moments when racism can be dealt a devastating blow. To land a blow, the struggle against racism must be integrated into the fabric of the struggles and issues arising from the economic crisis.
Certain elementary truths must be repeated at every turn of events. The class nature of racism is one. Racism is an ideological poison that induces white workers to act against their own interests. It is acceptance of rules set by the class enemy. It is letting the enemy con you into believing that you are better than your fellow workers. Racism is a device, a means by which corporations make extra profits from the work of the racially oppressed. It is also a means of increasing the rate of exploitation of the whole working class, squeezing higher profits from all workers. This is the starting point, the foundation upon which the struggle against racism can be built.
The decadent rich of the Roman Empire entertained themselves by having gladiators fight each other. It is not so different now. Wealthy US capitalists enrich themselves by having workers fight each other over jobs, housing and education, and now over layoffs and seniority. It is a basic truth that so long as workers fight each other they will not be in the strongest position to fight the bosses. So long as white workers support policies and practices of discrimination based on race against their fellow workers, there will be no class unity.
Unity is possible only on terms of equality, based on the old maxim that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.’ This is a fundamental starting point of a working-class outlook. The idea is elementary but basic.
White workers must draw some special lessons from this economic crisis. One such lesson is that past compliance with racist practices against their Black, Puerto Rican and Chicano brothers and sisters in the unions and shops has not given them job security. Millions of white workers are being laid off without any ceremony or compensation, despite their acquiescence to racism. They are joining Black workers on the unemployment lines. Support of racism has not stopped the escalation of prices and rents. On the contrary, their rents and taxes keep going up.
Their real wages, too, are cut by inflation; they too work in unsafe conditions; most white workers are victims of the same deteriorating urban conditions. While racism divides the workers, the corporations speed up production. The production line does not slow down where white workers toil.
Racism is one of the key factors making it possible for US corporations to maintain the highest rate of exploitation and highest profits in the world.
The gap between the average annual income of Black and white households has now reached the astronomical figure of $4640. Multiply this by the total number of Black households, and it is easy to see that this superexploitation results in something like $35 billion in extra profits each year. These super profits go into the coffers of the corporations which oppress the entire working class. By not fighting racism, white workers help the corporations pocket these extra profits. However, the extra profit monopoly capital rakes in as a result of racist policies and practices is greater than $35 billion.
The steel industry is a good example. Wages are based on job classification. Classifications one to eight pay between four dollars and five dollars per hour. Higher classifications pay around seven dollars per hour. There is no reasonable explanation why some jobs are in one or another classification. The system is a perfect structure for racist policies. Most Black workers are in the one to eight classifications. The Black workers-and also the white workers-in these classifications work for $4-$5 per hour. This is clearly a case where the steel corporations get extra profits from racist exploitation of Black workers, and also to a degree from white workers. It would serve the interests of white and Black workers to join in a struggle to put an end to the racist classification structure.
Increased exploitation and racist patterns in the steel industry are closely related to the toadying, class collaborationist policies pursued by Abel and his gang in the leadership of the steel union.
Workers in the North and West of our country face the old problem of runaway shops moving to the South. Corporations move their operations to Southern states because of the 200-year-old wage differential between North and South. Southern wage scales are lower because Southern workers are largely unorganized. They are unorganized mainly because of the influence of racism among white workers.
Because of racism, class consciousness is at a low level. There are few trade unions, which are a basic requirement for a struggle to wipe out the regional wage differential, which in turn would then put an end to runaway shops.
The Southern wage differential is a source of extra profits from Black and also white workers. Lower wages are paid both to Black and white workers in the South.
A new problem US workers face is the transfer of production facilities to lower wage areas of the world by multinational corporations.
The dual culprits are imperialism and racism. The winner in both cases is the corporations.
Many changes are taking place in the South. There is significant progress towards working-class unity. Black and white workers are uniting in local trade unions. But even during the last months there have been elections in some big unorganized shops where the issue has been between a union and no union. The votes have been close. But in a number of cases the workers voted for no union. Racism still blinds many white workers to their class interests. When white workers vote against unions, they are victims of their own racism.
What is the working-class approach to resolving the problems that have surfaced during the economic crisis? The “gladiators” must unite and turn the struggle against the corporate monsters. The working class must take up the battle against all layoffs. This must include the demand for a shorter workweek with no cut in pay. It must include a prohibition on the closing of plants. Let union committees run the plants! Workers must fight to establish a limit to speedup. There must be a united struggle for government programs to build houses and apartments, schools and hospitals. Such programs would not only create jobs, but would provide decent housing for every family, quality, integrated schools and hospital beds for all who need them.
Such a struggle is in the interest of the entire working class. It would turn the struggle against the real foe-monopoly capitalism.
This would create the basis for unity, but it would still not eliminate racist inequality.
In order to wipe out the effects of racism, white workers must join in the fight for special adjustments. There must be special steps taken to erase inequalities due to past hiring and promotion practices. Workers must fight to end the maneuvering by the bosses and many trade union leaders to bypass the Fairfield decision. They must fight to reject any “consent agreements” which leave overall racist patterns intact. In order to wipe out discrimination in housing, all workers must fight for a government program that will make a decent house or apartment a reality for every family, wherever they choose to live. In order to carry out such adjustments it is necessary to work out concrete steps that meet the problems in each situation. How to approach these adjustments is a key question in molding working-class unity.
The economic crisis has brought these questions into sharp focus. The capitalist establishment is definitely not interested in their solution. They continue their racist policies. They rejoice in the fact that layoffs are creating new obstacles to labor unity and stimulating new racist attitudes and divisions.
Next year will mark the 200th year since the people of the colonies declared their independence from British colonial rule. It will also be the 200th year of oppression of the Black community in this country-first under slavery and then under a special system of discrimination and ghettoization. The question is not only to end discrimination. It is necessary to establish true equality, to wipe out the effects of 200 years of discrimination. There must be special adjustments to compensate for the centuries of racist oppression.
In industry, adjustments must be made in hiring, training and promotion. The economic depression has made this question more urgent.
These are not simple matters. But it is easier to convince white workers of the need for special adjustments when it is placed in the overall framework of the struggle against monopoly capitalism. When the overall struggle is against the class enemy; when the basic demands go in the direction of making the corporations pay; then it is easier to help white workers see their class interests in the fight against racism. Then it is easier to help white workers see the need for special adjustments that also call on them to make personal adjustments.
On the basis of this working-class approach to the struggle against racism in the economic structure, it is possible to simultaneously take on the ideological monster of racism. Once white workers see racism as a tool of the corporations, a means to exploit the working class as a whole, they will see racism as their enemy as well.
This struggle against racism is very much in keeping with the patterns of world developments. Peoples throughout the world have made great strides in repelling racism. The United Nations resolution condemning racism in all its forms reflects the growing strength of the antiracist forces-in the first place the countries of socialism.
The economic crisis of world capitalism brings into sharp focus the fact that there are no economic crises in the socialist countries. Socialism eliminates the causes of crises. The socialist countries stand out in sharp contrast to capitalism because they have not only erased racism, but they have destroyed its roots. The socialist countries are setting an example of life without race prejudice or race hatred.
Struggle is a stimulant of thought. A confrontation compels one to ask: Who is my enemy? What is the ideology, the politics of my enemy? The answers lead workers to a deeper class consciousness. Struggle forces workers to think in terms of class unity, and to recognize obstacles to unity, such as racism and class collaboration.
Each experience with class battle is a spark, a spur to class consciousness. But left to itself the spark never ignites into a flame, the tendency never reaches its potential. By itself the process is one of trial and error.
The crisis makes working-class unity an absolute and urgent necessity. The main obstacle to this unity is racism. It is the most effective weapon that monopoly capital has against the United States working-class. This is the moment to uproot, to reject this poison brewed in the ideological cauldrons of Big Business.”