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Left Voice - June 2020

Racism Cannot Be Eradicated without Eradicating Capitalism

This year, Juneteenth comes just as the fight against racism in the United States and around the world has taken a new turn. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops has sparked an uprising against the structural racism that was begun in 1619, when the first Africans were brought as slaves to Virginia. This structural racism was not resolved with the Civil War.

For weeks, in the midst of a global pandemic, the streets of cities across the country have been filled with people of all races, ages, genders, and socioeconomic statuses, demanding change. These protests, by calling the police as an institution into question, are questioning a key component of capitalism — since the police are the armed force of the capitalist state and serve to uphold capitalist property relations.

Capitalism is inherently racist. In the United States, structural racism is the direct legacy of slavery. Once slaves were freed, the Southerners who were no longer able to enslave people legally, as well as the Northern industrial capitalists, began a systematic recreation of Black oppression to guarantee their profits throughout the United States. Black people became the bottom rung of a growing working class. They were unable to unionize, paid the lowest wages, and kept out of key jobs. Attempts at Black capitalism were systematically crushed, like the Tulsa white supremacist uprising that burned Black small businesses.

After the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted in 1865, formally abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude in the entire United States (and thus going further than the Emancipation Proclamation), Black Codes, state-sanctioned white supremacist violence, and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan all began. Black people were subjected to involuntary labor throughout the South as states and their cops refused to enforce statutes meant to prevent such circumstances. And then there are prisons.

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country, and more than one-third of the prison population is Black people — who are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. Capitalism uses this imprisoned population as slave labor, doing all sorts of work at pennies on the dollar or for no pay at all to feed the capitalist profit-making machine.

Racism is a tool the capitalists wield with great skill; they enforce it with laws and the police. As long as capitalism exists, the capitalists will seek to elevate some people and denigrate others, sowing divisions to deflect attention away from a common enemy.

Thus, the fight to eradicate capitalism is inextricably linked with the fight against racism, and vice versa: the anti-racist struggle is the struggle for socialism.

Lenin saw the Civil War as a revolutionary war. In a “Letter to American Workers” in 1918, he wrote words that resonate with as much relevance today as they did less than a year after the Russian Revolution. He began by celebrating the “revolutionary tradition” of the American proletariat, and pointed to “the immense, world-historic, progressive and revolutionary significance of the American Civil War of 1863-65!” And like Marx before him, he explained that the fight against the enslavement of Black people in the United States is linked to the fight against wage slavery.

The representatives of the bourgeoisie understand that for the sake of overthrowing Negro slavery, of overthrowing the rule of the slaveowners, it was worth letting the country go through long years of civil war … But now, when we are confronted with the vastly greater task of overthrowing capitalist wage-slavery, of overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie — now, the representatives and defenders of the bourgeoisie, and also the reformist socialists who have been frightened by the bourgeoisie and are shunning the revolution, cannot and do not want to understand that civil war is necessary and legitimate.

The American workers will not follow the bourgeoisie. They will be with us, for civil war against the bourgeoisie. The whole history of the world and of the American labor movement strengthens my conviction that this is so.

We can honor Juneteenth in 2020 by taking deliberate steps to liberate humanity from capitalism and the institutional racism that feeds its profits. ...
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