Racism is not structural

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The thesis of structural racism dissolves the central nexus of the fight against exploitation, between the world of capital and the world of work

There are concepts that present themselves as syntheses of emancipatory proposals, despite being subtle instruments for shaping consciences. They are embraced, consumed, reproduced, used in multiple areas of social communication. And just as they emerged, they end up becoming simple supporting actors, when they are overcome by new protagonists of the same quality, who come to inhabit the upper floors of ideological manipulation. These cases include, among many others, the concepts of “alter-worldism”, “empowerment”, “entrepreneurship”, “ecological revolution”, “self-sustaining economy”, “participatory society”, “non-governmental organizations”. (CARBONI & MAESTRI, 2005.)

“Structural racism” today occupies a prominent position in the sound car of these supposedly self-explanatory and emancipatory concepts, which have as a common denominator the denial of capital and large property as the foundation of modern forms of exploitation and discrimination. Concepts that deny and obscure the elementary truth that the struggle against the capitalist order, in the here and now, with the ultimate goal of its expropriation and control by society, is the only possibility of social emancipation, essential to interrupt the slide of humanity towards barbarism and eventually towards its extinction.

In 2019, Sílvio Almeida published structural racism, broad defense of identity proposals and the affirmation that entitles the book. “The central thesis is that the racism is always structural, that is, it is an element that integrates the economic and political organization of society.” “Racism provides the meaning, logic and technology for reproducing the sources of inequality and violence that shape contemporary social life.” (SILVIO: 2019, 15). This thesis and those related to it constitute proposals that, under apparent radicalism, dissolve, as noted, the central nexus of the struggle against exploitation, contributing to its consolidation, by proposing, on the fringe of eggs, a race struggle, between whites and blacks, in the place of class struggle, between the world of capital and the world of work. There is "a white world and a black world". The “relationship between blacks and whites” is violent and blacks have been exploited by whites, “for five hundred years”. (CARNEIRO: 2000, 24-9.) Needless to say, big capital is deeply moved by such proposals.

Racism is a general phenomenon

Racism is a widespread phenomenon in several contemporary societies, with terrible individual and social consequences. In the case of Brazil, it is mainly anti-black racism, as, in the case of Chile, racism anti-Mapuche. (BENGOA, 1996.) A reality that does not determine, in the two cases cited —as in so many others—, that racism assumes a “structural” character, in the full meaning of the term. There is no controversy about the meaning of the “structural” category. It refers to a trait, an element or a determination that belongs to the constituent and permanent essence of a phenomenon. That it does not integrate it, therefore, as a superficial or episodic element.

Therefore, restricting the period of analysis, it is necessary to know whether “racism” was and is part of the structural resources on which capitalism rested and rests its genesis, development and consolidation. For this, we will use the Marxist method of interpretation, as required by the topic under discussion. Marxism is not an arbitrary construction. It was born and developed as a method of social interpretation, to guide the oppressed in the struggle for emancipation from capitalist exploitation and from social, national, gender, racial, urban and rural contradictions, etc.

In the famous preface to Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859, Karl Marx summarily defined the mechanisms of the movement of history. (MARX: 2008, 45-50.) From the level of development of the material productive forces, that is, the means of production (raw materials, tools, etc.) and the workforce, social relations of production are established , tending to be necessary, which oppose, in a contradictory way, the holders-owners-controllers of the means of production to the direct producers, that is, to the workers.

It is the contradiction between opposing classes, reminds Marx, that makes history advance, when it advances, of course. “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to each other, had been waging an uninterrupted war, now open, now covert; a war that always ended, either in a revolutionary transformation of society as a whole, or in the destruction of the two contending classes.” (MARX & ENGELS, 2001.)

Structure or Mode of Production

Material productive forces and social relations of production constitute the structure of a society. That is, our object of discussion, in general and in particular. And it is the structure-mode of production that determines the process of production, distribution, circulation and consumption of goods produced by direct producers, giving rise, in this process, to superstructural formations that are tendentiously necessary: ​​forms of property; legal and political institutions, to which “specific social forms of consciousness correspond” — ideology, culture, religion, art, etc. It is in this last sphere that racist conceptions of the world materialize and inhabit, be they conscious, semi-conscious or unconscious.

A social formation, that is, society (method of production + institutions + forms of social consciousness), in its process of historical development, is tendentially determined-coherent by a dominant mode of production, which subordinates secondary ones, when they exist. (GORENDER: 2010, 52-64.) Karl Marx recalled that, at “a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into contradiction with the existing relations of production”, opening up “then, a time of social revolution”, which gives way to the new mode of production. (MARX: 2008, 45-50.) In case the social revolution does not go to hell, and society with it, of course.

It is the form of appropriation of part of the work product of the direct producer — villager, slave, servant, commissioned, peasant, proletarian, etc. — by the controllers-holders-owners of the means of production that characterize the mode of production. It is, in a way, your soul. In the slave mode of production, the enslaver gives back to the captive a small part of what he produced, in the form of food, housing, etc. The capitalist appropriates the “surplus value”, that is, part of the value of the goods produced by the wage earner, by paying him a wage. (MANDEL: 1969, 123 et seq.)

The Whip and Unemployment

Above all, physical violence kept the captive subject to slave production, since he, free, could somehow establish himself as an independent producer. Classical and colonial slavery would not work without the overseer's whip and the slave militias. In capitalism, physical coercion is the limiting resource of social cohesion, since, in order to survive, the worker has no other alternative than to sell their labor power to the capitalist. Under capitalism, it is unemployment that works as a whip and a log. A reality masterfully synthesized with regard to the field by the formulation of José de Sousa Martins that: “In a regime of free lands, work had to be captive; in a regime of free labor, the land had to be captive.” (MARTINS, 1998.)

In general, capitalist production pursues increasing extraction of surplus value from workers, through the reduction of wages and working hours of increasing intensity and duration. The workers make an effort to resist this tendency, in the general context of State action that always interprets the dominant classes, even with unequal degrees of explicit and implicit violence. To increase the rate of surplus value, the capitalist also makes use of various extraordinary resources, employing more workers. flexible to super-exploitation: children, women, undocumented; foreigners; workers from backward regions of the country, discriminated against due to racism, nationality, religion, etc. (MARX: 2010, 168-229.)

Ernest Mandel refers to the use of foreign workers to super-exploit them and lower wages for the working class as a whole. “However, it is notorious that a large proportion of immigrant workers are unskilled labor, confined to the dirtiest, hardest and lowest paid jobs in metropolitan economies. Thus, a new stratification in the ranks of the proletariat between 'native' and 'foreign' workers is deliberately created by capital. This simultaneously provides employers with the means of keeping the wages of unskilled labor low, of arresting the development of the class consciousness of the proletariat by encouraging ethnic and regional particularisms, and of exploiting these artificial antagonisms to propagate xenophobia and racism in the working class. .” (MANDEL: 1985, 127.)

The various extraordinary means of super-exploitation of work can be used broadly or narrowly, significantly or moderately, intermittently, periodically or permanently. Or they may even not be used at all. What is essential in capitalist reproduction is the exploitation of labor power, and its unique characteristics are not essential. Because of this, although important, the peculiarities of the workforce are not structural elements, necessary, to the capitalist production process. They are conjunctural elements, even when they remain for a very long time and assume great importance.

Aristocracy and Plebs

Countries and productive branches started and consolidated their capitalist production by exploiting national workers, even though they could mediate differences in language, habits, etc., between the aristocracy of capital and the proletarian plebs. In these cases, capital did not make use of racism, in the sphere of production, as an instrument of super-exploitation, even when it eventually made use of female and child labor. The beginning of the industrialization of the Colonial Region of Rio Grande do Sul essentially took place with the surplus labor of the peasant economy of Italian-German origin. (LAZZAROTTO, 1981; HEREDIA, 1997.)

In some productive activities of mature capitalism, such as mining, female and child labor was not used, mainly due to the miners' struggle. Regions of Europe, mainly after World War II, incorporated foreigners under the same conditions as national workers, regarding wages, working conditions and, in some cases, social rights, when local labor was insufficient to supply the expansion productive. The fact of being able to use less or more and simply not needing to help yourself, registers the subordinate, and not structural, character of the extraordinary resources of super-exploitation of work, among them, racism, as proposed. However, these extraordinary resources can be of great importance for long periods of time for capitalist exploitation.

“By changing the economic base, one revolutionizes, more or less quickly, the entire immense superstructure erected on it” – recalled Marx. (MARX: 2008, 45-50.) In inter-modal transitions, from classical slavery to feudalism, from feudalism to capitalism, etc., the forms of property; legal and administrative institutions; the ideological, cultural, religious complexes, etc., proper to the superseded socio-economic orders, give rise to new superstructural determinations, corresponding to the new dominant mode of production.

The new superstructure, in its most diverse expressions, is usually fed with material from the outdated superstructural complex, metamorphosed according to its needs. However, when it comes to realities that collide head-on with the new order, they are overcome, keeping at most ghostly cultural remnants of them. An extreme example: in primitive modes of production, anthropophagy was supported by consolidated cultural-ideological elaborations. These conceptions and traditions have remained, until today, in a symbolic form, in the communion of the Eucharist. (MAESTRI, 2013.)

racism and racism

It was not the “Enlightenment”, but the slaveholding Greece, which created the “civilized and barbarian” dichotomy, which unfolded into “civilized and savage”, into “civilized and primitive”, etc. (ALMEIDA: 2019, 19.) In antiquity, with the consolidation of the slave mode of production, the systematic exploitation of the enslaved worker by the enslaver produced institutions and proposals of difference in nature between the free man and the slave, which normalized, justified and consolidated that form of social relation of production. Plato and, above all, Aristotle rationalized and refined the practical views of the slaveholders of their times, creating essentialist world readings that would maintain their performative character, adapted to new times, until the mid-19th century. (ARISTÓTELES, 1957; SCHIROLLO: 1979, 184 .)

In the context of the construction of ideological representations consistent with the slave society, a narrative was created about an inferior nature of the enslaved that would be expressed in their lack of civilization, and, since always, in their physical characteristics, even when they practically did not exist. For the Italian Catholic theologian and philosopher Aegidius Romanus (c.1247-1316), the nature of semi-bestial man, destined by birth to slavery, was expressed in his inability to fully distinguish himself from animals “by food, clothing, speech and the means of defence”. The fact that he had no laws and government was also proof of his essential limitation. (SAUNDERS: 1994, 75 and 67).

Modern slavery only spread and generalized, but did not create, the racial disqualification of black Africans. It makes no sense to propose it as a product of the construction of the “liberal-enlightenment project”. (ALMEIDA: 2019, 20.) On August 8, 1444, at the gates of the village of Lagos, in southern Portugal, the royal chronicler Gomes Eanes de Zurara described the first large distribution of men and women captured on the Atlantic coast of Africa to serve as captives. At that time, in Portugal, the slavery of Moors was hegemonic and there was no relationship between skin color and captivity. “[…] it was a wonderful [extraordinary] thing to see […] there were some of reasonable whiteness, fremoses [beautiful] and close; others less white, who wanted to look like pardos; others as black as Ethiopians [tiopiates], so disaffected in their faces as in their bodies, that it almost seemed, to the men who were waiting for them, that they were seeing the images of the lower hemisphere.” (we highlight) (ZURARA: 1973, 122.) The color black would become an excellent justification for slavery, serving as a sign of inferiority. It is in this process that anti-Black racism emerges.

In its apparent permanence, and even in the context of its resilience to transformation, typical of religions, Catholicism was constituted as the dominant creed in Roman slavery, in feudalism, in capitalism. That is, in three modes of production that gave rise to structurally diverse social formations. Catholicism ensured apparent continuity while substantially transforming itself as it adapted under the pressure of the new dominant socio-economic organizations. He resolutely supported slave, feudal and capitalist forms of exploitation. Without this plasticity, it would not have remained the dominant religion of the Western world, even if it had been broken into several aspects. We can witness the same process in relation to Law, Literature, Visual Arts, etc. Anti-black racism experienced a similar process.

Who Exploits Black People in Brazil

Colonial slavery gave rise to and consolidated anti-black racism, a singular moment in the millenary history of slave exploitation. During this long period, there was no ethnic group that was monopolized or semi-monopolized as a seedbed for captives. However, racism was not the central mechanism of labor exploitation, even in colonial slavery, since social cohesion, as proposed, was imposed by the violence exercised over those who owned the labor. status legal of slave. So much so that the existence of Afro-descendant and African enslavers was a relatively common phenomenon in Brazilian slavery. (LUNA, 1981.) With the Abolition, in 1888, on the contrary, racism became an important element in the maintenance of social discipline and for the super-exploitation of work, since all workers became free men, capable of negotiate the sale of its workforce, under the permanent action of harsh and varied constraints, including racism.

Understanding the role of racism in the context of capitalism, in general, and contemporary Brazilian society, in particular, is fundamental to the social struggle. Due to lack of space, this is not the time to discuss, in detail, the role and who suffers from anti-black racism in Brazil. However, it is indisputable that they are particularly affected by racism, especially women and men with a strong Afro-descendancy, especially when they belong to the popular classes. We did not have in Brazil the US discrimination based on the “drop of blood” principle. It is also true that the nonsense about the exploitation of the black population by the white population in Brazil is indefensible, a theory equally applauded by big capital and its representatives. (MAESTRI: 2021, 19-27.) We have seen that the structural mechanism of capitalist reproduction is the exploitation of the workforce in general, with racism serving to eventually produce a marginal exploitation, albeit, in many cases, significant.

Capital, we know, has no color, even if, until today, its holders have been white women and men and, currently, more and more, yellow, with the undeniable displacement of the heart of the world economy towards the East — Japan, China, India, etc. And, in its frantic race, capital has exploited and continues to exploit multitudes of white workers and, now, as just proposed, more and more oriental workers. The population of China and India together exceeds the population of Africa and the three Americas. And in China, home to the world's largest working class, there is strong ethnic homogeneity, with over 90% Han Chinese. Ethnic exploitation, in the immense country, subsists as a real phenomenon, but very secondary. (DINUCCI, 1975, 27. )

The Origins of Racial Inequality

In Brazil, with a black population possibly around 10%, higher than proposed by the 2010 Census, there are, in absolute numbers, more white workers exploited by capital than black workers, since the population considered white would exceed 47% of inhabitants of the country that year. However, black male and female workers are relatively subject to greater exploitation, as they disproportionately comprise the most exploited factions in the world of work. This situation is certainly born of historical reasons, anchored in slavery, reinforced and perpetuated by the deleterious action of racism used, as we have seen, as a marginal but significant tool for capitalist super-exploitation.

          Slavery is indisputably the determining origin of the current situation of popular black communities in Brazil. One year before the Abolition, there were still 720 male and female captives. You released, on May 13, 1888, they joined the communities of freedmen, free blacks, etc., in general also strongly lacking in material and immaterial goods. It was a social group that was almost unanimously illiterate, with little command of the so-called cultured language, with few professional skills, with extremely fragile family ties. A community severely lacking in almost everything and under permanent pressure from racist prejudices and practices. (CONRAD: 1975.) The blacks of those decades and later who reached real social progression tended to confuse themselves even ethnically with the so-called white community.

Roughly speaking, the black community merged with the working class, white, brown, cabocla, etc., suffering their victories and defeats, always having racism as a negative handicap. General exploitation was exercised by the class that owned the means of production (property), generally white or perceived as such, which tended to reproduce itself as the dominant class, mainly through the transmission of property, the alpha and omega of the social structure of domination and social exploitation.

The black community participated in all workers' and popular struggles in post-Abolition Brazil, in which black leaders often stood out, sometimes as major protagonists, as in the case of the sailors' revolt of 1910. Black workers they are structural and indissoluble components of the world of work in Brazil, permeated by multiple diversities — of gender, color, region, etc. For this reason, they indissolubly share the great demands of the working class as a whole for the inalienable rights to housing, education, health, leisure, security.

Racism and Fragility

The socio-economic integration of the black community in the post-Abolition period took place under the weight of its marked material and immaterial fragility, added to racism. There were —there are— productive activities in which skin color had, in general, little impact in terms of hiring and salary, such as agriculture, pastoralism, civil construction, the manufacturing industry, etc. Especially in so-called non-productive activities, historical discrimination persisted that strongly alienated the black population, with emphasis on commerce and other public services.

A few decades ago, job advertisements, especially for commerce and related activities, demanded “good looks”, a euphemism for essentially suggesting that blacks were not accepted. Even today, such a requirement can weigh on hiring, assuming a wider range of exclusions: candidates who are fat, too thin, too tall, too short, too ugly, tattooed, etc. Being handsome and beautiful can be a positive differentiating factor when this type of hiring is made. It is not uncommon for the selection to be made invisibly or unclearly by the Personnel Department or by the employer.

Access to the public service by public service examination or enlistment has been a space for traditional social insertion for the black community, with emphasis on the police forces, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, etc. Despite the strong black component in the armed forces and police, senior black officers are rare. The public education network welcomes black male and female teachers, with no barriers to promotions, which are mainly —still— due to training and seniority. The same does not occur in private schools, not just those aimed at the elite.

Deleterious Action

Even though it is not structural to the capitalist order, in Brazilian society, racism exerts a strong deleterious action, in terms of social inclusion, at different levels, in important sectors of the black community. We did not include in this synthetic analysis the so-called “brown” population, since its addition to the “black” population, which has been done with political-ideological purposes, hides the population that really suffers from racism in Brazil. We had a large number of brown generals and we have them at present. Like the celebrated Floriano Peixoto, in the Old Republic, or General H. Mourão, beyond caboclo. the “malandragem” of the “black”.

The fight against Brazilian racism demands, in an unavoidable way, a specific and general program, which there is no way to discuss here. It is, however, an issue that needs a broad and narrow, complex and objective approach, due to the multifaceted characteristics of the country. In this agenda, for example, the unconditional defense of national, regional and municipal public companies, which are in accelerated destruction, and the fight for their expansion and democratization, for the reasons mentioned, have been totally neglected.

It is strongly in the interest of the large black community to retreat from the private economic space, and not the insertion of individuals in it, as is usually proposed nowadays —the so-called black entrepreneurship. To become, even occasionally and in a subordinate way, part of the ruling classes, means to become an exploiter. We have seen that, in Brazilian slavery, we had a not inconsiderable number of black slave owners, the form of property on which social progression depended at the time.

General and Private

Black identity leaders commonly verbalize the proposal that it is impossible to reduce the demands of the black population to an economic agenda. Which is relatively true. However, no one can deny the essential determination of economic claims. A decent minimum wage would allow for an enormous leap in quality in the general conditions of existence of black communities, which would not be restricted only to the economic aspects of life, spreading to practically everyone else, in an unequal way. Even more so because black workers are the ones who proportionally receive this wage of oppression in greater numbers, the greatest mechanism of super-exploitation of work in Brazil, when they receive it in full.

That is why it is imperative that the workers, all united and therefore strengthened, raise and advance claims of a universal nature, for all exploited people, without exception, which thus reach the whole of the exploited and marginalized black population, and not just a privileged few. The success of some is not a remedy for the misery of countless others. A general program that must be associated with particular demands, of all kinds, with emphasis on the permanent and intransigent struggle against multiple expressions, concepts, practices, etc. racist and sexist, deeply rooted in Brazilian society.

Racism also affects the black middle social segments, which must be interpreted, in its relativity, by the programs of the world of work, in the essential march towards social emancipation, in the here, in the now and in the future. It is imperative, therefore, that the just claims of the black middle segments be defended, as well as those of the white middle segments. However, they cannot be presented as programs for the emancipation of a substantial part or the whole of the national community. Claims that propose conjunctural improvements for small communities and singular individuals, through punctual and often utopian modifications of today's despotic society, contribute, in an unavoidable way, to the consolidation of a capitalist order already in its senile stage. And that is precisely what big business wants and supports.

* Mario Maestri is a historian. Author, among other books, of Revolution and counter-revolution in Brazil: 1500-2019.

We are grateful for the readings of linguist Florence Carboni and historian Luciano Pimentel


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