Will Socialism End Racism?

Posted at — May 18, 2023

This is a follow-up to the post “Class and Race”.

There is a common, overly-simplistic argument sometimes put forward by Marxists that “socialism” will necessarily entail the elimination of racism. This is sort of true in the sense that eventually a socialist process that ends with the construction of communism (the elimination of all durable privileges) implies that at some point racism will be eliminated. This argument is usually based on the understanding that “race” is just something invented by Capitalists to divide workers.

However it is often used to argue for politics that do not explicitly deal with race.

We can diagnose the error with a materialist analysis of the situation. It is true that race is used to divide workers, but race (as an ideological construction) has a material existence, and must be destroyed materially.

Each racial concept, such as “the white race” or “the black race”, is an ideological construction (a piece of mental software) which exists materially in the brains of human beings. It is usually wired up to various institutional decision-making structures (e.g., the actions of policemen, judges, lending agents, hiring managers, etc.), and various social structures (how individuals associate, cultural traditions, consumption preferences, etc.).

Both the mental software and its connections to institutional and individual behavior are reproduced materially. This happens through schooling, media, person-to-person transmission of information, etc.

In order to eliminate racism, its material basis must be destroyed explicitly.

Now, note that attempting to undermine the material basis of racism (i.e., the existence of the mental software of race and its connections to institutional behavior), is necessarily an anti-capitalist struggle at the present moment (in the US for example).

Why? Because racism is a very important stabilizing element for capitalism. If it was substantially weakened, the profits afforded by super-exploitation of racial minorities would be diminished, working class unity would be increased, etc.

This is why one can say things like “racism will not be eliminated unless we eliminate capitalism”. But one should not get confused that this means we must wait to fight against racism until we end capitalism. In reality, it is probably impossible to end capitalism without fighting against racism, to weaken the capitalist class and strengthen the working class.

As capitalism is weakened, however, the fight to end racism (i.e., to destroy its material basis) will encounter much less resistance. It will still encounter resistance at the level of individuals still attached psychically to racial categories, but it will come into less direct conflict with the deep economic structure (the “base” in Marxist terms).