A Contribution to the Ongoing Debate on Racism




Jan Makandal

(January 7, 2015)

We need to understand police brutality and racism, from a proletarian perspective.

The police force, in any social formation, is a part of the repressive institutions of the state apparatus for asserting the interest of the bourgeoisie. It is their job to repress us. They are objectively brutal when dealing with the popular masses. This brutality is an integrated part of class struggle. To argue that police brutality is simply a racist act is, for us, reformism. The police intervene to break strikes, infiltrate political organizations (like the Black Panthers, Weathermen and many others), and restrain marches not because of the dominant pigmentation of these groups, but because the police are there to keep the masses disorganized in order to allow the reproduction of capital. The police and all the other repressive institutions of bourgeois democracy are the guardian angels of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

We distinguish the theory of race from racism. For us, the theory of race is unscientific. Race (unlike racism) doesn’t exist. Race is a bourgeois theory with no biological basis. It is a racist theory because it implies the necessity for struggle on the basis of race…and the inevitable conclusion of race supremacy. We can visit the most sincere reactionary organizations on that matter: the KKK, Nation of Islam, Uhuru, remnant organizations of the ’60s, and so-called progressives who are using any opportunity to propagate and regurgitate these reactionary theories on race. By doing so, they are giving these theories certain legitimacy by showing political unity with them.

The application of a theory of race, and the eventual development of a political line based on race, leads inevitably to race supremacy. Any struggle is inevitably for the realization of political supremacy; class struggle is as well. Under capitalism, working class struggle is for the defeat of capitalism and the subsequent dominance of the proletariat. These classes have completely different ultimate objectives: for capital it is the reproduction of capitalism, and for the working class it is the abolition of classes.

In the US [colonies at the time], as soon as slaves were needed, class antagonism existed. It started from the enslavement and genocide of the indigenous people, and the kidnapping of Africans, their travel, and being sold…. It is from that antagonism that racism took root. It was not confined to a relation of production [the economic base] but existed also at the level of the superstructures. That antagonism is still not resolved, but is now being totally deformed due to the presence of the petite bourgeoisie, especially some slaves who successfully transferred to the petit bourgeoisie and even the bourgeoisie. To reduce that antagonism to its effect [racism], again, is reformism.

Slaves are not a race but a class.

Slaves should not be reduced to race, as our petit bourgeois (of all denominations) would want us to believe, especially our so-called Marxists. Slavery is defined, condensed and determined by the social relation of antagonistic class struggle. Race is a reactionary bourgeois theory for the interest of the bourgeoisie. Slaves are a class of people that were in an antagonistic relation with their masters, economically, politically and ideologically. Racism is an effect of that antagonism, a comportment of that antagonism at the ideological level.

In historical materialism we find two components in the ideological field: a] ideological system (structure and practices): the system of ideas, representations, theories, […] and b] the system of behaviors, attitudes, customs, ambitions, habits, […]

Racism is a system of comportments, a system of behaviors regulating in a very oppressive manner the fundamentally antagonistic class relation [and the relations among all classes] for the reproduction of the whole society, in the interest of the dominant classes. Racism is all about class relations and class antagonism. Some ideological behaviors [traditions, customs] do transcend different modes of production and have adapted to the existing mode of production.

Many so-called progressives hide behind a pseudo-critique of liberals, to promote their own version of liberalism. They are the inversion, the mirror version, of these liberals, unable to produce their own theories, objectively incapable of being autonomous.

Racism is not about race, but about class domination and class struggle. In the latest wave of marches, we had cops of all pigmentations and genders infiltrating, taking pictures of, attacking and arresting the marchers. It is not simply that they were doing their jobs; they were there defending the interest of the dominant classes.

One of the tendencies of the petite bourgeoisie is to take any phenomenon, any objective reality, and reduce it to its lowest definition in order to realize their own reformism. These charlatans disguise themselves as progressives. They want equality with the class that slaves (and now slave labor) have an antagonistic relation to—not the defeat of that class. They will reduce fundamental antagonism by calling it violence, but violence is merely an effect of class antagonism. Reducing the struggle to white privilege is in the interest of the capitalists class, because it justifies a political line of class collaboration via elections. These liberals are attempting to convince us that if we fight white privilege (without telling us the alternative), the world will be a better place. Their long view is limited to the tip of their noses; they can’t see any further than that, and as good servants of capital they are doing their best to educate us on their limited version.

Whether institutionalized or at the individual level, racism is an oppressive relation in the ideological field. It is not solely related to slavery. It is an ideological component of class antagonism in the contradiction of a social formation, functioning in the interest of the historical dominant classes. In Haiti, a social formation where 99.9 percent of the people have darker pigmentation, as a child I was taught that that the peasants were “big toes” (because they didn’t wear shoes), and that if we did not succeed in our education, then being a peasant represented a viable alternative. The theory of race is to be combated as a reactionary bourgeois theory. Racism, also, is to be combated, as ideological domination, an instrument of oppression with the aim of reducing the masses to their lowest worth while simultaneously augmenting domination and exploitation.

Racism is to be combated at two levels: in our struggle against capitalism, and as a contradiction among the masses. Racism is a comportment, an ideology, of class antagonism. It originated from that antagonism: slaves and slave owners, capital and labor. It is not only specific to the US social formation—Romans had slaves, Egypt had slaves, some African tribes had slaves, and England enslaved the Irish. The most advanced resolution of that form of class antagonism was revolution in Haiti, on January 1, 1804. In the US North, class antagonism was between capital and labor, and all the repressive laws were directed against the proletariat.

As we struggle against racism, our struggle will always take as its point of departure the determining factor: class antagonism.