Understanding racial, sexual, linguistic and other forms of discrimination

23 November, 2020

anti-Irish xenophobia , 1893
Puck's caricature in 1893 of the American bourgeois classes' rejection of immigrants, then Irish.

Racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, machismo… the more or less systematic and inculturated discrimination of collectives is a monster of a thousand tentacles. New forms are constantly appearing. To seek in each of them a reason, a cause allowing a specific solution, will always be a sterile task. We must understand them as products of a totality which we must understand before we can fully understand their different historical manifestations.

1 The first observation is that historically there is no systemic and systematic discrimination that was not born from above, created by classes that at one point or another held different forms of political and economic power. Even if the discriminated collective subject remains discriminated throughout the ages, each change of mode of production with its consequent change of the class structure will transform the meaning of this discrimination. We saw this when we studied ancient and feudal anti-Semitism and compared it with that of the capitalist era: although some themes are recycled and reused they are no more than cultural atavisms, secondary connections that only give an apparent continuity of discourses on a substantially different basis in subjects, goals and means.

But even during the same historical phase, what is labeled as being the same thing can vary in nature from one context to another simply because the social class structure is different and the interests of the class promoting the discrimination are different: Nazi anti-Semitism is not the same as the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-Semitism, for instance, however hateful both may be and however much they went hand in hand and one fed off the other in the past.

Taking for granted this appearance of continuity in time and space is more than an error, it has a perverse effect: it is the argumentative base of identitarian theories such as patriarchy by feminism or, following the previous example, was instrumental in the theoretical elaboration of Zionism. In these and many other cases -from racialism to gay pride, including all minority nationalisms- the apparent continuity of the discriminatory narrative serves as the basis for the invention of a political subject that stands above history and social classes. A narrative that can only justify and confuse the nature of discrimination, presenting it as the result of a historical combat between political subjects in an epic struggle through the ages.

2 The second observation is that those who promoted these discriminations had something to gain from them. Resistance to the laws of female and child labor in the England of the Industrial Revolution, and to universal suffrage throughout Europe before the world war, was not innocent. There is a reason why the feminists of the time supported censitary suffrage if women owners were included in the electoral census, while the Marxists, with Rosa Luxemburg, August Bebel, and Clara Zetkin at the head, fought for universal suffrage and were not afraid to declare themselves anti-feminists. It was neither innocent nor coincidental that the first Andalusian industrial bourgeoisie of the XIX adopted the gypsies while their competitors promoted the latest attempts at expulsion and marginalization laws. Just as it is not the case today that the racist and xenophobic foci that have flourished in Spain since the 1990s are linked to the same class of agricultural owners that exploits African migrants. The relationship to and the profit of one and the other is so obvious that it is not even necessary to explain it.

3 No less important is the effect on the exploited of the percolation of the discriminatory ideology reaching them from above. The process described by some historians as the invention of the white race in the USA during slavery is very interesting. It is fundamentally a process of division of the exploited imposed from the owning classes that, in order to isolate the slave and the black proletarian ends up integrating -although not at first- even the Irish and Italian migrants in a collective white identity. The historical reality is that American racism was configured as a systematic process of divide and conquer in which brutality and violence became normalized past the emancipation of the slaves of the South, imposing segregation and shaping local institutions. The same employers, politicians, and officials who used savage violence to enforce their rule presented the exemptions from that same brutality as a privilege, as a special right linked to the status of a white worker living in a white neighborhood. The supposed white privilege is nothing but enjoyment of the average conditions of exploitation, converted by a racist system into an insidious division among the exploited and a debasing pride among the supposedly favored party. But was this system openly designed to divide the labor force and break its resistance so different from the effect of machismo among workers in countries without relevant racial minorities? Was it so different from the various discriminations on the basis of language imposed by European states on their minorities?

4 Everywhere, the overcoming of these discriminations has never come from the affirmation of discriminated collective identities. It has never been the product of the struggle of a confederation of discriminated subjects comprising the discriminated minorities within the classes promoting discrimination. But neither has it been, nor could it be, the result of an affirmation of an identity within the struggle of the workers. How could one overcome an artificial division by adopting it? That is why a (working) class feminism is as impossible as a (working) class nationalism or a (working) class racialism. The revolutionaries of the 19th and 20th centuries knew this well: The overcoming of discrimination is the result of the dissolution of all those identities, fabricated by the classes which gain from imposing discrimination, in the struggle of the workers as a class against the system which those discriminations serve.

Morality and discrimination

Poster of the year 1924. The proletarian titan associated with industrialization and progress destroys the clerical power… and its associated “identities”: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism.

The false privileges that discrimination claims to grant to workers who are not specifically marginalized for something, are debasing not in the essentialist sense of the Judeo-Christian blame and sin. To coexist and turn a blind eye to any discrimination is debasing because it represents the other workers as an amorphous conglomerate of people who manage as best they can to survive in an unbearable society, reproducing the environment of competition and enmity, the unhealthy spirit of capitalism. It is degrading, in the end, because it binds us to capitalist and anti-human moral of scarcity in which the overcoming of the current state of things cannot even be contemplated and where the only way to obtain satisfaction of needs is at the expense of our equals. It turns us into predators.

On the contrary, when during the struggle identities are dissolved, the logic of scarcity and misery also dissolves, abundance begins to be glimpsed, and to seem possible, fraternity ceases to be a word or an excuse. If the struggles of the revolutionary bourgeoisie allowed it to rise to nationhood, the struggles of the proletariat elevate the proleetariat to Humanity. It is that flash of consciousness and its consequences on the workers themselves that appear as emotion and enthusiasm in the accounts of those who lived through the Revolution in 1936 or the great mass strikes in the 1970s. This is all the magic of communist morality. It is the opposite of the mysticism of sororities, the racial brotherhoods or the national sentiment. It is not the celebration of specific particularities and pains shared among the exploited and the exploiters. It is the effect on the present of the struggle to overcome exploitation, the beginning itself of that overcoming.

The consequence of this is that nothing can be achieved against discrimination by trying to spread communist morality as if it were a recipe or a beauty trick. Communist morality is a dimension of class consciousness, it follows the struggles and grows with them. It is in the organization for the struggle and in the struggle to provide ourselves with a political organization, in the practice of what centralism e internationalism really mean, where and how discriminations are overcome, making the future possible from this same moment and place.

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