Race Prejudice - WHY? Who benefits from it?


Race Prejudice
Who benefits from it?
The text of a leaflet distributed in 1957
by the Socialist Labor Party of America

A major problem besetting U.S. society, and one that is justifiably receiving an enormous amount of attention, is the problem of race prejudice -- a sickness that infects all of our society to a greater or lesser degree.

The whole subject of race is one that usually evokes more heat than light, more blinding passion than constructive thought and sober reflection. There are those who think a solution to the problem will never be found; others believe the solution will come, but gradually, over a long time. And still others, scornful of "gradualism," want a showdown on the issue now, at least as regards civil rights.

The Socialist Labor Party takes a unique position in this matter.


To those who throw up their hands and say race prejudice always was and always will be one of mankind's burdens, we say, "You are dead wrong!" Race hatred is not an ancient and inherent thing. On the contrary, all this prejudice, and the very concept of race, is the product of the modern era, of the era we call capitalism. There were other fears, other hatreds, other prejudices, but before the capitalist era man never discriminated against his fellow man because of the color of his skin. And, as they are wrong who say "race prejudice always was," so they are wrong who say it "always will be."

To those who look for a gradual solution to the race problem, the Socialist Labor Party recalls that this also was the hope of the German Jews. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Jews were forced to live in segregated ghettos. But gradually their condition improved. They were freed from the ghettos. Little by little they acquired civil rights. By World War I, Jews served as officers in the Kaiser's army, and other Jews were prominent in science, art, finance and even in government. Then, in a single terrifying decade, the gains of two centuries were wiped out. And German Jewry was all but exterminated by the capitalist reaction we call Nazism.

We Socialists hold there is a lesson in the tragic experience of the German Jews -- a lesson especially for those who imagine the solution to the race problem will come gradually. It is a lesson that once again points to the capitalist system as a breeding ground for race prejudice.

To our fellow Americans who want a showdown on the race issue now, especially as regards civil rights, we say, first of all, that as Socialists, as men and women bent on bringing to birth a world of freedom, peace and brotherhood, we feel a deep sympathy for all who resist the degradation and who urge proscription of racial discrimination. We applaud their militant spirit. And we believe in the moral lightness of their cause.


Nevertheless, candor compels us to point out that the struggle for civil rights is essentially a struggle against an effect; it does not get at the cause of the race problem. And as long as the cause remains, the evil also remains. It may be dormant for a time, but it will continue to add poison to the body politic.

What is the cause of racism?

We have already pointed out that race prejudice is peculiarly a product of the capitalist era. Now the question is: What is it in the capitalist system that breeds this social evil? The Socialist Labor Party has examined this question with scientific thoroughness. It has studied the history of the claims and theories of racial superiority and inferiority. It has followed the trail of evidence carefully, and this trail has invariably led back to people who gain material benefits from the conflicts and divisions created by race prejudice and race discrimination.

To learn who these people are we ask you to follow us in a brief definition of the term -- capitalism.

Under capitalism the means of social production -- land, factories, mines, mills, railroads, etc. -- are owned privately by a relatively small class of capitalists. The great majority of the people own no tools of their own, and in order to live they have to go to the capitalists hat in hand and sell their ability to work as a commodity. Now this is quite a deal for the capitalists. They buy this labor, or labor power, at the market price. But the workers produce a good deal more than is represented by their market price -- four or five times more. In the science of political economy we call the difference between what the workers get paid in wages and what they produce "surplus value." The capitalist takes this. Of course, he doesn't put it all in his own pocket. He has to divide with the landlord, the banker, the legal fraternity, the tax collector, the insurance capitalists, the advertising capitalist and a lot of other hangers-on of capitalism.

But this is the way the exploitation of labor takes place.


Now, then, we think it is self-evident that the less the capitalist has to pay for this labor, that is less wages, the more he can take for himself. It's like dividing an apple in two parts -- if one part is smaller, the other part is larger. This brings us very close to one of the reasons why Negroes and certain other racial minorities are segregated and humiliated and held down to a status of second-class citizenship. To put it bluntly, by forcing racial minorities into submissive patterns of behavior the ruling class supplies itself with a pool of cheap, unresisting labor.

This is one way the capitalists benefit from race prejudice and race discrimination. But there is another, more subtle way. We have shown that labor's product is divided between the wages paid to the workers and the surplus value taken by the capitalists. We said it's like dividing an apple -- if one part is smaller, then the other part is larger, and vice versa. Now, by the very nature of things there is a struggle between the capitalists and workers over this division. The capitalists, either because they are forced by competitive compulsions, or out of sheer profit hunger, constantly try in one way or another to increase their share. Contrariwise, the workers resist and strive to maintain their living standards, and even improve them. Here we can see the focal point of the class struggle that rages in modern society.

We Socialists hold that this struggle is irrepressible and irreconcilable. It can be ended only when the workers, male and female, Negro and white, skilled and unskilled, Catholic, Protestant and Jew, unite as a class to put an end to capitalist exploitation,

The point is this -- race prejudice is one of the most insidious, and effective devices ever invented to keep the workers divided and fighting each other.


Another factor to be noted is the competitive nature of capitalism. And it isn't just the capitalists who are competing against each other; the workers also are cast in the role of competitors. They must compete for jobs. Now, then, the fewer the number of workers competing for the jobs, say of carpenters, the better chance each man has. And one way to keep the competition down is just to keep Negroes and Puerto Ricans, and other minorities who are easily identified by the color of their skins, out of the carpenter market.

Of course, there has got to be some justification for such discrimination. So we find it in the myths that circulate about races. These myths and libels are not looked at too carefully. They are believed when it serves one's material interests to believe them.

And so the working class is kept divided, the capitalist class remains in the saddle -- and the outmoded capitalist system keeps all of society in turmoil and conflict, postponing the day of international peace and social harmony.

What is the answer? How is man to win fulfillment of his dream of human brotherhood? How is he to purge his mind of prejudice and to realize that the color of a man's skin has no more real significance than whether a man is tall or short or fat or thin or blond or brunette?


There is but one way. That is to remove the capitalist cause of race prejudice, and to lay a sound economic foundation for human brotherhood.

How do you lay such a foundation?

Well, the Socialist Labor Party says that first of all we must outlaw private ownership of the land and industries. We must make the means of social production the property of all the people socially. Then, instead of producing things for sale and profit, we will carry on production to satisfy human needs. In short, we replace the competition and strife of capitalism with the cooperation and collective interests of Socialism.

The Socialist Labor Party alone has a program for ending race prejudice and for building Socialism in America. We urge you to study it.