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Capitalism and African American History

At the base of the South African and American systems of racial discrimination is an understanding and internalization of the structural implications of capitalism and its accompanying spirit. Applying Karl Marx’s and Adam Smith’s definition of capitalism in conjunction with Max Weber’s understanding of the “spirit of capitalism”, it is here affirmed that a golden thread of capitalist thought serves both as initiator and sustainer of ideals necessary for the systematic oppression of “black people” in both South Africa and the United States.

This oppression adheres to a cult of philosophy that is grounded in a doctrine of class determinacy characterized by racial particularization. Thus, parallel to the thread of capitalism evolves a sociological internalization of black inferiority that resides in the radicalization of class. This categorization of race is created and is constantly being reformed by the temporal adaptations of the capitalist. The adaptations and eugenic biases of South African and American capitalists are institutionalized within government and government comes to function as the apparatus through which the capitalist conditions societal economic relations in order to secure profits. A socio-historical argument will be developed based on the analysis of historical developments in both South Africa and the United States.

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Capitalism, in accordance with Marxian theory, is an economy or social structure in which a minority of society owns the means of production. Where capital is explained as the raw materials or machinery used in the production of “new instruments of labour,” the minority, termed the capitalists and identified as the bourgeois, utilize capital, the means of production, to create wealth.

In this economy, the Proletariat, the tradespeople, shopkeepers, and peasants; those who because of lack of capital is not able to compete in the capitalist economy, are forced to sell their labour as a commodity to the capitalists in order to survive. As far as capitalism is marked by the accumulation of wealth, Weberian doctrine in conjunction with Marxian classifications of the capitalist society provides a complete understanding of a uniquely western type of capitalism.

Proceeding from Weber’s understanding of profit and accumulation of wealth and consequently, the “spirit of capitalism” money becomes, “of [a] prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on.” Weber expands upon his definition of the Spirit of Capitalism when he writes:

It is thought of so purely as an end in itself, that from the point of view of the happiness of, or utility to, the single individual, it appears entirely transcendental and absolutely irrational. Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs.

What is of particular interest about the western capitalist and serves as the foundation for this thesis is the event of the “spirit of capitalism” as it is described above, coming to supplant traditional ethics of wealth. The development of wealth as an end in and of itself is intrinsic to understanding the complexities of the American slave establishment and consequently American segregation and South African apartheid.

The unconscionable pursuit of wealth by individuals has been a markedly Western capitalist tradition. Marx maintains that the discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.

The development of an attitude of avarice that directs the capitalist class into the perpetual pursuit of profit became an intrinsic defining characteristic of the capitalist ethos. Wealth became an end in and of itself; a diversion from this pursuit was considered irrational and socially aberrant behaviour. Smith takes this further and co-opts this understanding of the accumulation of wealth with the capitalist understanding of labour. Smith explains that every man is rich or poor according to the degree to which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of human life. But after the division of labour has once thoroughly taken place, it is but a very small part of these with which mans’ own labour can supply him. The far greater part of them he must derive from the labour of other people, and he must be rich or poor according to the quantity of that labour which he can command, or which he can afford to purchase.

As wealth is created out of man, and the tool man utilizes to create wealth is labour, applying the principles of capitalism, the proclivity for this system to be one of exploitation is readily perceivable.

Mats Lundahl in Apartheid in Theory and Practice maintains that the South African progression towards a system of apartheid can be divided into three phases. The first of which began in 1652 typified by mineral discoveries towards the latter half of the nineteenth century. He comments that during this phase land was the primary capital interest of the Afrikaners. The second phase, which Ludahl explains to have ended around World War I was characterized by the development of the South African labour market which involved the destruction of indigenous African lives, the monopolization of African lands by whites, and the forced entry of black Africans into the labour market. The Third and Final stage saw the introduction of the colour bar and lasted until the mid-1920s.

However, though all these processes are intrinsic to the development of a system of subjugation in South Africa, The apartheid economic structure of South Africa is a residual of the discovery of diamonds in 1867 and Gold in 1886. Stephen Lewis comments that diamonds and gold transformed the country from an agricultural and trading backwater to an economic resource of great value. They also set in motion the basic forces – economic. Legal, demographic and political – that have governed the development of South Africa.”

Afrikaners before they entered South Africa in 1652. Robert Scott Jaster writes that, although racial segregation was not a feature of frontier life, the settlers assumed and insisted upon white supremacy from the beginning.

By the 1940s the Afrikaners, who were known as the Boers or volks, developed a philosophy, grounded in Afrikaner nationalism, that proclaimed the Afrikaners to have been given a “unique and divinely inspired civilizing mission” . Much like in the United States the civilizing techniques used by Afrikaners were those of exploitation designed to capitalize on black labour. The capitalist greed of the Afrikaners did not begin to take form until the middle of the nineteenth century. The case of South African apartheid is unique and differentiated from the United State’s systems of black oppression in that its capitalist ideals came to be grounded in a deep sense of nationalism that transcended class division.

This is unique, not because it is a result of nationalism, as the United State’s system of slavery is also resultant from a sense of national preservation, however, it is unique because capitalist doctrine provided a venue for the accumulation of wealth for not only the capitalists but for white proletarians as well. In the United States, white proletarians through elevated vis-à-vis the position of black proletarians were nevertheless exploited by the American capitalist class. As a matter of fact, often the situation of the white proletarian and black proletarian would be manipulated so as to produce a competition in wage labour that would decrease wages and produce greater capital for capitalist wealth.

This is the primary point of divergence from the capitalist experience of both countries. The early experience of South African apartheid more or less reflected that of the United States, except with the ever-present conflict of providing for Afrikaner economic interest.

Capitalism in its nascent years in South Africa saw a pursuit of wealth that not only severely transgressed the rights of the black population but also exploited poor white labour. However with the election of the Nationalist Party and the sanctioning of apartheid this type of capitalism, that of the pursuit of wealth with disregard to the white proletariat transformed into one that white capitalist pursuit of wealth that sought to elevate all whites to the position of capitalists and to create a permanent white proletariat.

The National Party representing militant Afrikaner Dom unexpectedly won the election of 1948 and has remained in power ever since. Relying on the support of Afrikaner farmers and urban semiskilled workers, the Nationalists promised to make whites secure and prosperous by separating the races and maintaining power in Afrikaner hands. Modest wartime reforms of racial policy were to be abolished. The new government assured white farmers that they would continue to have access to low-cost black labour and that white workers in the towns would be protected from black competition.

Since Afrikaner ownership in mining, finance, banking, and manufacturing was minimal, the government decided to expand its control over the economy and use its influence and patronage to direct resources to the Afrikaner business. When the Nationalists took over in 1948, English-speaking whites had nearly twice the income per capita of Afrikaners, while even as late as 1960 English-speakers were three times as likely as Afrikaners to hold top jobs in commerce and industry. (Lewis 14)

Originally having an economy based on pastoral activities the evolving South African government had to create measures that would force blacks into the wage economy, two of these mechanisms were taxes and more powerful than taxes was land alienation. Lundahl writes that

As their land shrank, the Africans developed new livelihoods. Those who could avoid it did not accept going to the mines or becoming labourers on white farms. Between 1830 and 1870, a black peasantry emerged in South Africa. The response to the imposition of taxes and to the development of new wants requiring cash incomes…

The land alienation process involved forcibly taking lands from Africans and relocating them into Native reserves which, having no internal economic structure or resources provided no other mode of survival except wage labour in the Afrikaner and white European labour market. Africans were to exercise their political rights in their homelands but would have no such rights outside of their homelands. Originally the native reserves were established so that whites would have access to the commodity land, as that was the tool to produce capital, however as labour became of greater importance, the Native Reserves system which had existed since 1913 would be reformed to become a labour reserve for white employers. In 1985, 75% of the population was Africans, and all were allocated to one of ten homelands. Stephen Lewis records that,

Of South Africa’s 21.4 million Africans, 14 million were permanently living in the homelands. Another 1.5 million were living as migrant labourers, without their families, elsewhere in the country, but were permanently “domiciled” in the homelands. The remaining 5.9 million were more or less permanently resident in the white areas of South Africa, on farms or in segregated townships around the urban areas.

When in 1950 a government commission discovered that the homelands would need more land in order to become economically viable, instead of providing this commodity the government introduced a policy that allowed Africans to be “commuters or temporary residents in white South Africa. Black South Africans were to be regarded as “temporary sojourners,” on their own land. After the election of the National Party, they would extend the Native Reserves policy in order to lay the groundwork for apartheid.

Sales to British owned lands were prohibited in 1904 (law passed to increase labour supply). As is evidenced above the South African capitalist experience with apartheid was at first driven by the desire for capital in the form of land and subsequently transformed to the desire for commodities in the form of cheap labour. Whereas in the United States at one point black labour was the embodiment of a commodity as the capitalist owned the labourer, in South Africa blacks were always proletariats in that they sold their labour to capitalists. However nevertheless in both systems, extreme levels of exploitation occurred. In order to facilitate the end of securing capital wealth, capitalists used institutions and propaganda to secure power. This later will not only be shown to have divided the white and black proletariat into the United States and Africa, but it will also be shown how the process of indoctrination occurs.

Onwuzurike writes that apartheid policy can be said to have been built upon the eugenicist concept that emphasizes the superiority of the white race and the inferiority of a subordinate black race. This conception dictates the nature of association and relationship between white and black people the world over. The definition of apartheid and its implications suggest that white economic political, and social existence must have priority over black socioeconomic, political, and psychological aspirations.

As such, combined with Afrikaner nationalism, the capitalist greed and the psychological racial understood superiority of white South Africans became enmeshed. Stanley Uys writes that Apartheid, then, is the unique creation of Afrikaner Nationalism, which is the oldest nationalism on the African continent, reared under British imperialism. Afrikaner nationalism, according to its own historians, was firmly established 100 years ago, although its main impetus was derived from the South African War, 1899-1901, when the two Boer republics, the Transvaal and Orange Free State, fell to the superior forces of imperial Britain. The Nationalist Party’s general election victory over the late General Smuts in 1948 was Afrikaner Nationalism’s vengeance for the South African War. It was not apartheid that brought the Afrikaners to power, but their own nationalism. (Uys 14)

Though many capitalists desired to further capital interest by the integration of blacks into the economy which progressively began to happen with the Smuts government in the early twentieth century, Afrikaner nationalism won out, and capitalist policy would be tied with racial policy.

For Liberal historians, the most significant fact, and the central problem, of South African history was the remarkable persistence of the Afrikaner mentality and national character. In accounting for it they weighed inheritance and environment. They stressed the rigid Calvinism that the Dutch and French Huguenot settlers had brought with them in the seventeenth century; their almost total isolation from the liberalizing currents of European thought in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; their development of the habit of dominance over coloured slaves; their defiant rejection of British liberal humanitarianism in their Great Trek of the 1830s; their constitutions in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic, bluntly specifying “no equality in church and state”; their long struggle against both the harsh physical environment and the fierce resistance of Bantu-speaking Africans; the unification of all these strands into nationalism under the pressure of the British “imperial factor”; and the final hardening of Afrikaner reaction in the crucible of the Boer War. The history of the Afrikaner people was thus a succession of powerfully formative experiences. None of them, perhaps, was inevitable. But each made the outcome of the next more predictable. As Afrikaner nationalism gained impetus, so South Africa’s native population became more extreme. Segregation was thus the logical conclusion of the Afrikaner people’s peculiar history. (Cell 6)

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It is here reasoned that because of the influence of the white proletariat given the development of the South African economy as characterized by agriculture and a slow progression towards industrialization, the white procreates, the primary constituency of the Nationalist government had great influence over the economic policies of said government. AS such capitalist policies would proceed in a manner that compromised economic growth in order to secure greater wealth for whites over blacks. Again, Onwuzurike writes that the primary goal of apartheid is the enhancement of the white economic well-being and political stabilization through perpetual scapegoating of blacks and disorganization of their aspiration toward economic, political and psychological stability.

Such capitalist policies are not only typified by land alienation of forced wage labour, examples of government institutionalization of eugenic capitalist sentiments, such policies as the 1953 Bantu Education Act and the Extensions of University Education Act of 1959 severely limited the education of blacks, supporting the colour bar established in mining industries to restrict blacks from acquiring skilled or semi-skilled positions. Others such as the Population Registration Act (1949) which required that all person’s races be recorded, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1950), the Immorality Act (1950) outlawed sexual intercourse between the races the Group Areas Act (1952) created the reference or passbook policy and the Native Laws Amendment Act (1992) which tightened the control over black movement and influx of labour.

As a result of this policy, unlike in the United States, South African economy started to stagnate. Likewise there developed a dearth of skilled labour. As whites were the minority in South Africa, unlike the United States, they could not fill all the labor requirements brought about by a rapidly industrializing economy.

Beneath the surface, however, several important economic forces were at work. The development of Bantu education and the use of the colour bar in apprenticeship was creating shortages of skills for the rapidly expanding economy. Administering and policing the apartheid system were absorbing increasing numbers of the available educated and skilled people, especially whites. The domestic market for mass consumption goods was not expanding as rapidly as it might have been because of the low and stagnant standards of living of the majority of the population.

It became clear that the initial design of the homelands policy would not work. The migratory and commuter worker system was not generating the necessary jobs, and the government increasingly recognized that the homelands were not economically viable. Furthermore, pressures exerted by the international community pushed the government toward local production of goods whose supply was threatened by past or future embargoes. (Lewis 16)

Economic policy underwent significant modifications as the impossibility of implementing single-minded segregation, or grand apartheid became increasingly clear. The main changes involved a growing recognition that economic activities had to be a move to the homelands, where a large proportion of the African population lived, that sill shortages engendered by racial restrictions were hamstringing economic growth, that the economy needed greater labour mobility, and that some Africans would have to be accepted as permanent residents in South Africa. (Lewis 17). The government’s vision gradually shifted toward what Hoernle had described as double-minded segregation. This involved the development of separate political and administrative institutions and viable economic units for Africans, regardless of whether this made economic sense for the country as a whole. (Lewis 17)

The progressive integration of black labour into the economy driven by a stagnant economy was sidetracked. When summarizing the Liberal thesis on capitalism and its understanding of South African apartheid, Lundahl comments that to liberals the consumer is colour blind. Consequently, this makes the capitalists/employers colour blind as such capitalists will seek to hire the cheapest labour regardless of colour.

Lundahl concludes,(I agree with this because proletariats took control of the government, capitalist in government supported by proletarians made capitalist policies…and adhered to the spirit of capitalism) In a competitive system, the latter will hire production factors, including labour, at the lowest possible cost. Racial discrimination simply increases costs by imposing restrictions on the supply of labour.

Therefore the capitalist class is opposed to apartheid. The apartheid system has instead been designed to protect white labour, especially the least qualified, from the competition with Africans who are prepared to work for lower wages’…since capitalists constitute a minority in South African society, they lack the political power to put an end to apartheid (THIS I DISAGREE WITH…ALL CAPITALISTS< QUESTION IS WHICH CAPITALISTS ARE WINNING).

Against this, the radicals have emphasized the complementarily between racial labour policies and white supremacy. In particular, it is argued that the capitalists benefit from production relations based on the repression of Africans. Racial discrimination in the labour market has persisted over time simply because it serves the economic interests of the white employers to preserve it because it is cost reducing. The economic development fueled apartheid policies, that has taken place in South Africa has simply reinforced white supremacy. (Lundahl 156)

“before the 1976 Soweto insurrection – apartheid and capitalism co-existed compatibly. The state maintained a highly regulated and cheap African labour supply on the one hand, and private enterprises adapted to racially organized labour markets and a divided political society on the other. But in the late 1970s, the implications of Soweto slowly became apparent, exposing the failure of the dual policy of repression and co-option, and forcing a reassessment of strategies of control”.

Marx understands competition between labourers as the mechanism that determines wages. However, he conjectured that the same competition that sustains capitalism would be the downfall of the capitalist economy. Marx explains that the essential condition for the existence, and for the sway of the bourgeois class, is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage labour. Wage labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers.

The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their involuntary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

However, Marx’s prediction that the association of labourers due to wage competition resulting in proletarian insurrection is offset in the American landscape by the prevalence of race antagonism. As blacks and whites became two separate proletarian classes, one of the sub-proletariat nature, the threat to American capitalism lessened as the sort of competition between the races was not of a unity producing quality. Jill Quadagno maintains,

I agree that the character of working-class politics has shaped the American welfare state. But I contend that the core issue is how working-class politics have been weakened by racial divisions, both in the workplace and in the community. In the work-place, trade union discrimination has been a barrier to labour organizing, while in the community, neighbourhood segregation has impeded class solidarity.

Race discrimination has been a barrier to labour resistance and organization as well as to class solidarity. However, this has more greatly affected the circumstances of the African American than the white American proletarian.

“The growing agricultural needs of the towns, cities, and mining centres called forth an African peasantry, which in time was suppressed by white commercial farmers (in alliance with the mining houses) seeking to eliminated competition and dislodge labour from villages for their own uses. By the 1920s, the owners of large estates had uprooted the black peasantry and superseded white subsistence farmers, assuming control over food production. With their dominance assured, capitalist farmers acquired labour through a tenancy and squatting rather than wages until the 1960s when the tenancy was displaced by wage-labour markets.” (James 390)

The mining industries also launched the manufacturing and service sectors, wherein white workers were protected by customary and legal color bars from African competition. Fear of ‘swamping’ intensified during World War II, when the rapid expansion of the manufacturing sector attracted a flow of Africans to the cities and assisted the victory of the NP and its infamous policy of apartheid. This, the argument runs, sought simultaneously to maximize the exploitation of black labour, and to contain and reverse the political and economic implications of the growing importance of African workers by harassing them in cities, regulating their access to labour markets, disrupting their trade unions, and removing them to their ‘homelands’. (James 390)

The Color bar was established at the beginning of the twentieth century and was cemented by the 1920s. Africans were prohibited from acquiring skilled and semi-skilled job positions.

“Afrikaner and English supporters with legislation and administrative rulings. Its “civilized labour policy” involved paying whites at a higher rate than blacks for doing unskilled and semiskilled jobs. The policy was adopted in the Civil service and complimented the colour bar in the mines (Lewis 11)

The system of migrant labour and controls on the movements of black South Africans, an economic and sociopolitical mechanism over the black population that is more than a century old, has had a fundamental effect on all aspects of South Africa’s society and economy. The system depends on the combination of a lack of economic alternatives for black workers, especially those domiciled homelands, and control of the movement of blacks to and within white areas of the country. Its effects also depend on other factors, especially the policies on job reservation, education and training, and settlement by black workers. As a result, rather than free markets, sustained by a full range of segregation instruments. (Lewis 51)

In the early years of the diamond and gold booms, the demand for labour was so great that to avoid competitive bidding for African labour, the mining companies decided to combine forces in joint recruiting efforts. As in other parts of Africa during the colonial period, taxes were imposed on the indigenous population; the need to pay taxes required them to work in the wage economy, this inducing a supply of labour. A major cooperative effort was made to recruit for the gold mines from outside South Africa and to recruit widely enough throughout southern Africa that demand would not bid up the wage rate. (Lewis 52)

The formation of the 1924 Pact government constituted a victory for white labour and Afrikaner farmers. Its programs skewed the demand for labour toward whites and limited the flow of black labour into all sectors except agriculture – thus assuring cheap labour to the farmers. The principal capitalist interests at the time were mining, and the shareholding in the mines was substantially in foreign lands. The combination of wage policies, tariff protection, job reservation, and restrictions on the movement of black workers effectively subsidized white agriculture and labour at the expense of mining interests and of the black population generally. (Lewis 53)

Both the government and parastatals retained various forms of job preference for whites. Major parts of the influx control system were eliminated, making it possible for Africans who were not citizens of the homeland to move to urban areas, although not to white neighbourhoods, since the Group Areas Act remained law. (Lewis 55)

An important part of the background to the erection of the legally founded colour bar may be found in the ‘poor white problem’ and its connection with increasing urbanization. For different reasons, a push was exerted on approximately one out of eight of the white population to leave the countryside. Rural life had difficulties in adapting to increased population pressure. Agricultural methods were poor. Not only the Africans but the European farmers as well were facing a serious erosion problem. The system of inheritance as given by Roman-Dutch law made for an uneconomic subdivision of farms. Many failed to adapt to the changed requirements imposed by the increasing commercialization of agriculture following the mineral discoveries. (Lundahl 110)

The poor whites (Afrikaners in their majority) were forced to leave the countryside to seek work in town. There, however, lacking the education and training necessary for holding skilled positions, they had to face the stern competition of other racial groups, mainly the Africans, who were prepared to work at comparatively low wages – in a situation where labour costs were the dominating consideration in the mines and on the farms. As could be expected, this soon led to industrial unrest. The first trade unions (craft unions) had been founded by the British immigrants in the late nineteenth century, and white trade unionism soon spread into the Rand mines. The mine owners strongly resisted, and the two parties clashed. (Lundahl 110)

The white workers won a victory in 1911, when the Mines and Works Regulation Act established the colour bar in mining, reserving the best jobs for Europeans, but the mine owners continued to oppose trade unionism, and a series of strikes in 1913-14 ended with military intervention and defeat for the unions. In spite of this setback, attempts by the mine owners to minimize labour costs by substituting black labour for white in skilled positions were thwarted by the unions.

A court decision had declared the colour bar in the Mines Act ultra vires, but in 1918 a status quo agreement was concluded between the Chamber of Mines and the South African Industrial Federation whereby the colour bar was to be maintained. (Lundahl 110)

The strike failed, and a Mining Industry Board concluded that the abolition of the status quo agreement was justified. Many whites lost their jobs, and a majority had to see their wages lowered. Africans were promoted to higher levels and wage costs were cut in the mining industry. These effects were only short-run, however. The white miners had not lost the battle. All of them had votes and used them, in 1924, to bring in a joint Labour/Nationalist government into power. The Pact Government immediately passed three laws that definitely re-established to colour bar. From 1924 on, the basic cleavage of the labour market was ensured. (Lundahl 111)

The most important act was the 1926 Mines and Works Amendment Act which restored and reinforced the 1911 Act so as to legalize the colour bar in mining. The second one was the Industrial Conciliation act arbitration for industries with organized (white) labor. The definition of employees used in this act was such as to exclude the majority of Africans from the right to bargaining. The third and last act was the 1925 Wage Act whereby a Wage Board was established to recommend minimum wages and working conditions (to be approved by the Minister of Labour) for unorganized labour. In practice, the Wage Board turned into a mechanism to prevent wage increases for Africans. (Lundahl 111)

Between 1973 and 1976 white rule suffered several serious blows. In the Durban strikes of 1973, black workers for the first time flexed their muscles in a massive illegal strike. In 1974 the Portuguese buffer states of Mozambique and Angola collapsed. The Soweto uprising of 1976 signalled the beginning of broad-based black resistance. To survive in the changing political environment the NP government developed a series of new responses. The 1977 White Paper on Defense encapsulated the belief of the security establishment that the country faced a total onslaught on virtually every area of society. The Botha government, which came to power in 1978, broke with the past in openly seeking the support of the English-speaking captains of industry to strengthen the state and persuade the African working class to see the political and economic order as legitimate. The Botha government also vigorously sought to attract black allies, trying to co-opt them into consultative structures and to induce them to “govern” their own communities and help administer the state. To facilitate this, the government reduced explicit white privilege and symbolic domination. State security and development imperatives began to take precedence over narrow ethnic concerns. The period between the mid-1970s to the end of the 1980s saw the narrowing of the racial salary gap. (Gilomee 538)

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Capitalism from the days of slavery would create a chasm in the relationships between the races that would blind both sides to the exploitation of the capitalist class. However, unlike white America, the situation of the African American population would be more drastically affected by the sanctions of a capitalist racialized state apparatus.

The question then becomes how was the capitalist race psychology developed in the United States and what is the relationship between slavery and capitalism as the American slave, by virtue of his bondage, is not a member of the proletariat. This question can be answered in simple terms. The slave in his person, unlike the proletarian, is the commodity labour power. Whereas the proletarian sells his labour-power, the slave simply is labour power; he exists as a commodity that can be sold from one individual to another. The slave does not own his labour-power; his labour is a commodity of his owner. Kronberger is cited by Smith as proclaiming, “They make tallow out of cattle and money out of men.” This statement rings true in attempting to understand the relationship between capitalism and American slavery. Capitalism was at the base of the Americans, particularly the Southern slave economy. Sanctioned by government policy, white men were given free rein of investment with their commodity power of black slave labour.

The American capitalist world of accumulation of wealth was driven by the labour power of African American slaves. The production of such staples as rice, sugar, and cotton further ingrained the establishment of slavery into the American psyche. After the American Revolution, a movement towards the emancipation of slaves was a rather realistic development, however, after the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, which made cotton profitable, slavery received a new lease on life. Robin Kelley maintains that, the sale and transportation of black people in the United States thus became big business. What had once taken place mostly on the African continent – the theft of people, the rending of families – now took place with vulgar regularity before the eyes and ears of American whites and blacks.

As Marable concludes, “each advance in white freedom was purchased by black enslavement.”

Moving on to how race psychology extends from this capitalist structure; scholars from the inception of slavery have argued about the profitability of the slave system. This debate becomes of interest when one seeks to understand the deep psychological development of racism in the United States as a result of capitalist greed. While Adam Smith maintained that slavery was not a profitable system as it lacked incentives, and consequently production suffered, an argument that is also introduced in the South African case, both Thomas Sowell and Robert Fogel argue that slavery was profitable. Fogel argues that,

The purchase of slaves was generally a highly profitable investment which yielded rates of return that compared favourably with the most outstanding investment opportunities in manufacturing.”

Thomas Sowell, on the other hand, expands on this understanding of slavery, and though agreeing that slavery was a profitable system, he believes that slavery was profitable for only the slave-owning class, a minority class within the American socio-economic stratification of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He argues, we have already noted some of those costs – loss of freedom and diversity of views, repelling many people with skills and resources valuable to the region – but more generally, it is apparent empirically that the incomes of the white population of the United States have been lowest in that region which slavery has existed within the south, those parts in which slavery was particularly concentrated (Mississippi, Alabama, and other deep south states) have long had the very lowest incomes among white Southerners.

As such, one wonders what the proletariat class of the American society gained from the establishment of slavery. Scholars often note that the lower classes were more enthusiastic and endearing of slavery then the slave owners themselves. Once we enter upon this stage of discussion, the unique development of the marginalization of African Americans as a monolithic group of inferiors begins to appear. Out of the American capitalist institution of slavery developed a psyche that with capitalism and the capitalist spirit would serve to subvert the economic development of African Americans.

Slavery has been in existence since before the birth of Jesus Christ. Throughout all of its existence in such places as Rome, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean there did not occur the drastic demarcation of slavery to a particular race of people as occurred in the United States. This phenomenon and discrepancy between the American institution of slavery and others rests in the ideological function of slave labor providing for capitalist profits challenging the mythical foundations of the American society. Mark A. Roelofs has two understandings of American government and society that accurately denotes the interaction of capitalist interests and the development of a racial class. Rolfs identifies the American ethos as being composed of myth and ideology. The myth of the American government is the “conglomeration of the saga, crisis, and mission” . Myth is real to the American public; it is what provides for the identity of the nation.

The function of myth is to reassert the American identity in relative comparative terms to the world of nations. Ideology on the other hand is the day-to-day realistic operations of the American government. It is the process by which the American government governs. Manning Marable best illustrates the myth and ideology component of American society as it relates to capitalism when he writes,

American capitalism is preserved by two essential and integral factors: fraud and force. Fraud is the ideological and cultural hegemony of the capitalist creed: that enterprise is free and competition exists for all in the marketplace; that success is available for all who work hard, accumulate capital, and participate as voters in the electoral process; the democratic government is dependent upon the freedom to own private property.

Blacks, Latinos and white workers are barraged daily with illusions about the inherent justice and equal opportunity within the American system…Beneath the velvet glove of fraud exists the iron fists of force. For reasons of history, Black people are more aware than whites of this delicate dichotomy between consensus vs. coercion. The essence of slavery was coercion of the most primitive kind.

In other slave systems provisions were made to humanize and protect slaves as in the case of Rome, or the government under which slavery existed was authoritarian and as such slavery was a natural extension of the state and did not need justification, as in Latin America. However, in the United States, a reconciliation of the myth and ideology needed to take place. America as a democratic nation symbolizing liberty and universal rights, from the inception of slavery, had difficulty with reconciling notions of freedom to the inhumane practice of human bondage. Jefferson called this “American Dilemma…justice in conflict with avarice and oppression”. In the interest of capitalism, the American government and society reconciled the irreconcilable notions of slavery and liberty through a rapacious verdict that classified blacks as lacking humanity. Consequently, assisted by a white establishment, the white population internalized Africans as non-human, barbaric beasts, who benefited from the institutional confinements of slavery. Sowell argues, what the experience of the post-revolutionary period suggests is that the ideals of the country made extreme racism necessary for slavery to be perpetuated (Sowell 20).

The American government in its day-to-day operation functioned as the apparatus through which society was both entrenched with racist ideals as well as performed the enforcement of those ideals. At the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787, representatives were concerned with the establishment of a strong government, which was at the time serviced by the maintenance of slavery. The “inalienable rights” of Afro-Americans were irrelevant.

The capitalist entrenchment of the American infrastructure with propaganda attesting to the inferiority and bestiality of blacks served to establish a psyche whose temporal form, dependent on the reconciliation of the American myth of liberty to the American ideology of capitalist interest, served in a bifurcation of the American proletariat. For the whites, blacks came to be a source of self-esteem and comfort for their proletarian status, thus relegating blacks to the category of a sub-proletarian existence.

This development cushioned the white proletariat while serving capitalist ends by making available necessary commodities for the avid accumulation of wealth with a lack of proletarian insurrection. As slaves gained freedom and rights a “white backlash”; “a white resistance to the acceptance of the Negro as a human being” resisted the full integration of blacks into the American economy. In describing a relationship with one of his owners Mrs. Auld, who gave Douglass his first lessons in reading Douglass recounts, the kind heart had but a short time to remain such. That fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice made all of the sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon…Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me.

It is here argued that the development of the American understanding of the Negro as non-human became of the prolific sort. Whether resulting from dissemination, from colonial sentiments of race, or from the occurrence of similar processes in other western nations, it is evident that the understanding of black as inferior was implanted into the psyche of Afrikaners before they entered South Africa in 1652. Robert Scott Jaster writes that, although racial segregation was not a feature of frontier life, the settlers assumed and insisted upon white supremacy from the beginning.

By the 1940s the Afrikaners, who were known as the Boers or volks, developed a philosophy, grounded in Afrikaner nationalism, that proclaimed Afrikaners to be on a “divinely inspired civilizing mission”. Much like in the United States the civilizing techniques used by Afrikaners were those of exploitation designed to capitalize on black labour. The capitalist greed of the Afrikaners did not begin to take form until the middle of the nineteenth century. The process and institutionalization of apartheid in Africa were gradual. Unlike in the United States where slavery was immediately integrated into the economic structure of the United States, apartheid did not take form in Africa until the early twentieth century and then it was not cemented until the election of the Nationalist Party in 1948. This is where the dynamics of capitalism in the two nations differ.

In describing the capitalist process in South Africa in the following paragraphs it will become evident that though similar processes occurred, that is progressive exploitation of black labour and the justification of that exploitation in sociological terms, it will be evident that the structural application of these processes differed to an extreme extent due to the relative rate of industrialization and market-driven development of both nations as well as the ecological factors, such as blacks being the majority of the population in Africa, whereas in the United States they are the minority.

(By 1809 had the passing of the Hottentot Code, which limited the movements of the Lhoikhoi, precursor to apartheid in the mid twentieth century) …apartheid = series of laws prohibiting the advancement of blacks in South Africa

Reconstruction was a time in American history that experienced a level of Black political leadership in American government that has yet to be surpassed. However, this same time period also witnessed the greatest level of black oppression. Through the mediums of government institutionalization of racism and white acts of terrorism, the interest of the capitalist would confirm the situation of the American Negro to serving the ends of profit and the accumulation of wealth. With manumission in 1863 and successive developments, African Americans became members of the proletariat.

However, very rapidly the emancipated slave, encountering capitalist greed and the now deeply psychologically rooted understanding of the American Negro as sub-human was relegated to a nascent existence as sub-proletarian. Instead of the fulfillment of the Emancipation promise of 40 acres and a mule, blacks entered a society hostile to black advancement, a state apparatus that did not recognize black rights, and a labour market that exploited black labour in order to drive down wages and maintain slave production levels. The slaves unprepared for freedom and survival in a rapidly maturing capitalist society found themselves subject to the greed of white capitalists, their propaganda and the bile of white American proletarians.

Consequent to emancipation the American Negro gained agency over the commodity power of his/her labour power. However, the white apparatus, conscious of the implications of black liberation, rapidly sanctioned laws that guaranteed the subjugation of black labour to not only white capitalists but to the whims of white proletarians. In 1865 a number of regulations that restricted the movement of blacks known as the Black Codes were instituted in order to ensure the subordination of black labour. These laws, enacted by politicians controlled by the capitalist class and the American race ideology authorized the imprisonment of blacks for three primary reasons:

Any violation of segregation codes monitoring public behaviour or activity; any violation of laws governing capitalist agricultural production; and any infraction (misdemeanours and non-capital felonies) against whites.”

In addition to imprisonment, black prisoners were often leased to white capitalists for extended periods of uncompensated labour. Aside from such schemes as the Black Codes and black vagrancy laws, with white land ownership and monopoly over societal infrastructures of education, finance and governance blacks had no other option but to sell their labour to white capitalists and be subject to white proletarian abuses. Continuously kept in debt through the sharecropping systems and vagrancy laws, blacks experienced a type of slavery that mirrored their previous circumstances of bondage with the exception of a missing mechanistic level of protection previously inherent to the slave capitalist substructure. Now the emancipated slave in his person was no longer a valued commodity to an owner and as such could be dispensed of in accordance to the will of any individual in the American society.

Perceiving African American labor as a threat, assisted by the white state capitalist motivated apparatus, white proletarians instituted a reign of terror that has progressively through the ages taken less obtrusive forms. With the shift of African Americans moving up north, there also occurred a tremendous shift in the terrorist tactics of the white American society to keep blacks subjected to a characterized sub-proletarian stratum. Marable points out that, the informal, vigilante-inspired techniques to suppress Blacks were no longer practical. Therefore, beginning with the Great Depression, and especially after 1945, white racists began to rely almost exclusively on the state apparatus to carry out the battle for white supremacy.

See also  On Affirmative Action in America

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1932, his presidency is known for the institution of the first comprehensive American social welfare program. However, his programs did not provide advancement opportunities for the African American population. Rather it served as a medium through which racialized capitalist ideals could further take root into the credence of American societal, political, and economic ideology. Jill Quadagno has argued that, “as Roosevelt sought to stabilize his unwieldy coalition of northern workers and white southerners by refusing to back legislation abolishing lynching or poll taxes and by weaving racial inequality into his new welfare state,” the advancement of African Americans were undermined.

The most poignant area in which racial cleavages are apparent in Roosevelt’s New Deal is in his Housing legislation. The New Deal reinforced the entrenchment of the separation of white and black America through the housing. The first government intervention in the housing market was in 1934 with the National Housing Act. This act made available low down payments, extended loan maturities, and regulated interest rates in order to make the purchase of homes more affordable for working-class families. Subsequently, the National Housing act established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) whose purpose was to ensure defaults on loans. However, the regulations of the FHA would quickly turn into what would come be termed redlining. Quadagno writes:

In practice, economic soundness was translated into “redlining”: a red line was literally drawn around areas of cities considered risky for economic or racial reasons. Redlining meant that most black families were ineligible for federally insured loans. Until 1949 the FHA also encouraged the use of restrictive covenants banning African Americans from given neighbourhoods and refused to insure mortgages in integrated neighbourhoods. Thanks to FHA, no bank would insure loans in the ghetto, and few African Americans could live outside it.

Real estate brokers, realtors, lenders and private builders constantly manipulated legislation in search of profit. Capitalizing on the situation of the Negro and race politics those involved in the housing market eventually created a situation of segregation in housing that facilitated additional hindrances to African American advancement. It developed so that whites and blacks no longer lived in the same neighbourhoods. During Post World War II as blacks migrated in greater numbers to the cities local officials and builders cooperated in making certain that blacks were kept separate from whites. “zoning ordinances specifying where people could live and restrictive covenants – private agreements to exclude designated minority groups – created separate black and white neighbourhoods. Any attempt by African Americans to cross the colour line triggered sustained and often violent resistance from whites. In Detroit alone between 1945 and 1965 more than 200 violent incidents occurred in racially transitional.

Franklin describes a situation where real-estate agents:

used it [the act] to demolish black neighbourhoods that threatened white business districts or other valuable property, and then, to satisfy the federal mandate, they offered living quarters to displaced black families in new high-density housing projects. In the end, urban “redevelopment” was used to carry out widespread slum clearance and destroyed more housing than it replaced.

After 1968, after the passing of the Fair (Opening) Housing Act the blatant discrimination in housing would change and become more subtle and underground. Instead of blatant refusals, black buyers might be quoted a higher price, or told that the apartment of the house is not available. This process gradually leads up to the ghettoization of black America. For a short amount of time, the ghettos of black America were cites of progressive black economic activity. “The rise of a large, segregated black community in the north seemed to offer the fulfillment of Washington’s dreams.

The ghetto constituted a city within a city that supported a parallel economy of black-owned banks, real-estate companies, newspapers, shops, stores, theatres, nightclubs, and factories.” However, the Great depression would see the destruction of this black progressive time period. With blacks being the last hired and the first fired, consumerism decreased, and the black ghetto communities entered a recession from which they never recovered. The black ghetto progressively became a place of festering crime, violence, and drugs. The phenomenon of the bequeathal of poverty particularly endemic to the urban African American population is initiated through the gradual process of ghettoization. Marable writes, at the highest level of underdevelopment, the daily life of the Black poor becomes a continuous problematic, an unresolved set of dilemmas which confront each person at the most elementary core of their existence. The patterns of degradation are almost unrelenting, and thrust upon every individual and family a series of unavoidable choices which tend to dehumanize and destroy many of their efforts to create social stability or collective political integrity .

As a result of the impact of the depression, family ties began to weaken as mothers worked long hours, fathers deserted families, and under less supervision, delinquency rates among youth began to rise. Comparable to this as well was an increase of welfare dependency. In the economic infrastructure evolved a ghetto economy. Marable explains that:

The pimp is one typical representative of inner-city underdevelopment within the sub-proletariat, the personification of the individualistic hustler. He accumulates petty capital by brutalizing young women, who sell their sexuality on the open market to (usually white middle-class male) “consumers”. Methods of “labour discipline” invariably include naked force – rape, threats, physical and psychological assaults.

Women who are coerced or who accept these crude terms of “employment” are expected to deliver a certain number of tricks with “John’s” per hour, day and week. Police in the ghettos are usually an integral part of the trade and expect a regular cut from the women’s profits for tolerating the traffic in their precincts. Local black and white entrepreneurs in the inner city motel and hotel business find room to expand and even survive by orienting services to accommodate prostitution. The profits are also used to underwrite other illicit activities, from the ghetto’s omnipresent drug traffic in elementary and secondary schools to small-time fencing operations.

Lynching serves as evidence of ……………by the American capitalist system. Primarily motivated and performed by the proletariat, but often directed and motivated by capitalists, race supremacy groups, such as the infamous Ku Klux Klan actively molested and harassed African Americans. Lynching, along with government sanction abuses of black labour, replaces the institution of slavery for the capitalist as a mechanism to check and control black labour and movement. Marable explains lynching in this manner, from the nineteenth to the late twentieth century, the modern auto-da-fe parallels the development and maturation of capitalism in an oppressive, biracial society.

Technically, the term is often used to describe the hanging of a person outside the legal sanction of the police and criminal justice system. Historically, and in actual practice, it is the ultimate use of coercion against blacks to ensure white supremacy. The forms it assumes – hanging by the neck, shooting, castration, burning at the stake, or other spontaneous and random forms of violence – is secondary to the actual terror it evokes among the black masses, and the perverse satisfaction it derives for white racists. Lynching is a racists society that becomes a legitimate means to check the activities of the entire Black population in economics, culture and politics.

Experiencing economic amnesia in the South, as a result of the centuries of uncompensated labour, and after years of selling labour power to agricultural capitalists and subjected to white acts of terrorism, towards the end of the 19th century, blacks started migrating north. Prior to the twentieth century, 90% of the African American population lived in the South, by 1940 that percentage had decreased to 77% and would continue to decrease until a majority of African Americans would live in the north. As a result of the high labour demands of wartime factories in the North, the failure of the cotton market in the south, the boll weevil, the failure of black banks, and oppressive politics of white lynch mobs, African Americans started migrating towards the cities en masse . Likewise, from 1890 until the early twentieth century, a majority of African Americans worked in agriculture; this would change in the twentieth century as well. Though black migration to the cities began in the late nineteenth century, the black industrial class was not created until the massive migrations of 1915 and 1940.

The black migration served the needs of industrial capitalists. African American willingness to take low-level positions characterized by subhuman wages and exorbitant working hours greatly provided for the capitalists’ objective in procuring maximum profit. Here race politics vis-à-vis capitalism becomes even more complex than that of slavery or reconstruction. In addition, similar to their nascent involvement in the capitalist Reconstruction economy African American labor, resulting from racially particularized societal sanctions, drove down wages. Manning Marable accounts that, when blacks performed identical tasks that whites carried out, they were paid less than ‘white wages.’ Even when blacks acquired technical skills and advanced education, they were still paid much less than whites who possessed inferior abilities. At every level of employment, white capitalists accumulated higher profits from blacks’ labor than they gained from the labor of whites.

Thus with black proletarian labour being cheaper than white proletarian labour and more accessible, this greatly challenged the position of white labourers. Hence, the black worker becomes placed in between a rock and a hard place, at one end their exists the white capitalist exploiter, on the other end there exists the white proletariat who desires to keep blacks from entering the industry.

Dubois records, for a hundred years, beginning in the Thirties and Forties of the nineteenth century, the white labourers of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York beat, murdered and drove away fellow-workers because they were black and had to work for what they could get. Seventy years ago in New York, the centre of the new American labour movement, white labourers hanged black ones to lamp posts instead of helping to free them from the worst of modern slavery. In Chicago and St. Louis, New Orleans and San Francisco, black men still carry the scars of the bitter hatred of white labourers for them.

Here again, is evident the effects of race psychology. What again is ironic about this process is that the race ideology had become so deeply rooted that it was more important that blacks remain in their caste status rather than a cohesive labour movement be formed. Instead of uniting, the white worker preferred to maintain a status quo the psychological cushioning that he received from black subjugated proletarian labour. In the early twentieth century going into the years of the great depression, many scholars argue that it was the white labourer that kept blacks out of the most powerful unions as well as limiting blacks in such areas as low-cost housing. “No Jobs for Niggers Until Every White Man has a Job” and “Niggers, back to the cotton fields – city jobs are for white folks,” were slogans often espoused by white industrial labourers.

Such circumstances lead Du Bois to conclude that the Negro’s fight to enter organized industry has made little headway. No Negro, no matter what his ability, can be a member of any [of] the railway unions. He cannot be an engineer, fireman, conductor, switchman, brakeman, or yardman. If he organizes separately, he may, as in the case of the Negro Firemen’s Union, be assaulted and even killed by white firemen. As in the case of the Pullman Porter’s Union, he may receive empty recognition without any voice or collective help.

What greatly reveals the illogical rift created by the process of the reconciliation of the American ideology of capitalism and the myth of American liberty is the refusal of white proletarians to combine their efforts with blacks against a common enemy, the American capitalist. This phenomenon will be to a greater and more prominent degree demonstrated during the years of industrialization, however this rift between the black sub-proletariat and the white proletariat is evident even at the start of Reconstruction.

The white proletariat faced similar oppressive economic circumstances that black proletarians of the time faced. An example of the shared oppression of white proletarians and black proletarians is in the crop lien system of the South. This system is characterized by a lien mortgage being issued to poor white and black farmers for crops that are or will be planted. Randolph describes this system in this manner:

The poor farmer being in need of provision for his family until harvest time borrows money on his plant, and sometimes unplanted crop, from a big merchant or bank. The rate of interest is so high, sometimes as high as 1000 percent on the dollar. According to the comptroller of Currency John Skelton Williams, the farmer is unable to pay the interest to say nothing about the principal.

The farmer’s inability to meet his note results in the loss of his farm. He then becomes a farm tenant and works upon the métier system…This crop-lien system is profitable to the bankers of the South. Both white and black farmers are fleeced by this financial system. But blacks and white farmers won’t combine against a common foe on account of race prejudice. Race antagonism then is profitable to those who own the farms, mills, railroads, and banks.

Randolph goes on to comment that “the capitalist want profits, they don’t care who makes them for them.” The hand of the capitalist is seen throughout these developments. Yet again, In an article entitled Lynching: Capitalism Its Cause; Socialism its Cure, Phillip A. Randolph assesses the role of the capitalist in this manner:

Capitalism is upheld by the Republican and Democratic parties of the North, South, East and West. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party has ever condemned peonage or lynching. They cannot. They are owned by capitalists…The white church is paid to reach the Christianity of lynch law profits. The press is owned and controlled by the employing class and it is used to influence the minds of the races; to foment race hatred, it gives wide circulation to that insidious doctrine of the Negroes being the hewers of wood and drawers of water for white men. It features in bold headlines such titles as “lynch the black brute,” “young white girl raped by black burly fiend,” etc.

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