There is a fundamental problem with capitalism

Interview with Rosane Borges
"Racism is a driving force of capitalism"

What role do ethnicity, skin color and gender play for Marx in his analysis of economic and social dynamics?

From Fábia Prates

Did Karl Marx see a factor in the conditions of exploitation through work in racist categories? Rosane Borges, a postdoctoral fellow in communication studies at the Institute of Communication and Art at the University of São Paulo, says no. The author of numerous books on the subject sees it as a “fault” of Marxist theory to look at the emergence of inequalities and hierarchies from the perspective of racism and sexism.

Ms. Borges, how does racism fit into the context of class exploitation and the reproductive structure of capitalism?
 
Racism is inherent in all forms of exploitation. Capitalism therefore establishes itself through racial hierarchies and needs them in order to deepen the expropriation on which it is based. The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze sees the concept of race as a ferment. Racism is the motive for incredible and immeasurable physical devastation, crimes and massacres. History teaches us that the motive for such crimes lies in forms of submission and domination.
 
The Cameroonian thinker Achille Mbembe, who teaches at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, recalls that at the beginning of capitalism the Atlantic slave trade of the 15th to 19th centuries led to all kinds of upheavals, such as the deprivation of self-determination of black people, that have been made into human objects, human commodities, and human currency.
 

In Brazil, despite the changes in the last few decades, blacks continue to occupy the least prestigious positions in the labor market and still largely occupy the position of those who have nothing.

Pink Borges


 
This violent transformation of bodies and subjectivities is the decisive beginning of capitalism under the paradigm of submission - a model of exploitation and expropriation over which the mantle of history has been laid. If we consider, with the least amount of attention, the roles of non-whites in the world, we recognize the class position of the subjugated that racism assigns them in the exploitative dynamic of capital. In Brazil, regardless of the changes in the last few decades, blacks continue to occupy the least prestigious positions in the labor market and still largely occupy the position of those who have nothing. So racism is a driving force behind capitalism.
 
How does Marxist theory stand on this question?
 
The Marxist theory operates a fundamental break: It deprives theology, divine law and biology of the interpretative sovereignty over inequalities and hierarchies. The social and economic theory, from which the Marxist postulates are derived, has expelled any connection to the world of the natural from the category of class, as one of the most important characteristics of modernity. All of this is reflected in new forms of conception of subject. The discourse between self-knowledge and identity only emerges in the course of modernity. Under the old conditions, honor was directly related to exclusion and a necessary inequality: in order for some to be honored, not all must have it. This selective character of honor can be seen well in Montesquieu's description of the monarchy.
 
Modern discourse undermines the concept of honor in favor of dignity in a universalistic and egalitarian sense. In contrast to honor, dignity assumes collective participation, which as a value is compatible with the emergence of democratic societies. Individual identity and authenticity emerge under the same political auspices. In hierarchical societies what we now call identity was determined by the social position of the individual and the roles or activities assigned to that position. All of these undoubtedly profound changes work towards the Marxist perception that the capitalist system of production and historical change are drivers of the role of individuals in society. But this upheaval carried out by Marx understood ethnic affiliation, skin color and gender, as indicated, to be given naturally and by no means as the result of social developments. The Brazilian sociologist Antonio Sérgio Guimarães reminds us that religion was not understood as a peculiarity of the capitalist system, but as something that preceded it.
 
So you would agree that Marx and Engels failed to see the complexities of racism within the contradictions of the class struggle?
 
I wouldn't say they don't notice it, but as I said, ethnicity, racism, gender and religion were seen as being related to nature and therefore irrelevant to the analysis of capitalist dynamics. Of course, as in every theory on the test stand of historical experience, there was an, so to speak, unplanned influence of the political anti-racist and anti-sexist struggle on the further developments of Marxism. A complete understanding of inequalities, poverty and exclusion is only possible through the indissoluble bond between “race”, class and gender.
 
How can we understand this complexity considering that both theories were formulated in the second half of the 19th century?
 
Slavery was seen as an obstacle to civilization in the context of the 19th century. But only in Western Europe with England and France as pioneers of a new form of political organization for European countries. It is precisely this bourgeois world that expands the exploitation of capital by intensifying slavery where forms of production that have already disappeared, such as slavery or serfdom of indigenous peoples or Africans, have survived in the West - in Africa or Asia. By taking on new forms and dynamics, ethnic archaisms were preserved in modern societies - a historical ruse: creating the “new man” without rejecting the archaisms of bygone times. In this coexistence of the two worlds, the role of gender, ethnicity or skin color in the game of preserving inequality and hierarchies in social theory as well as in the field of political action remained unprocessed. This is one of the postulates that definitely gave rise to black feminism.
 
In “Black Feminism and Marxism. Who owes what to whom? ”You conclude with the fact that we have to take into account the Marxist theory that it did not see the establishment of inequalities and hierarchies in connection with racism and sexism at the same time. What obligation arises from this and how is this bill to be settled?
 
I spoke of open accounts in response to allegedly Marxist, unfounded criticism that fails to take into account that the logic of capital, as one of Brazil's most important black feminists, the anthropologist Lélia Gonzalez, has very correctly stated, feeds on an irrefutable historical reality : Class exploitation and racial discrimination are basic elements in the struggle of men and women of subjugated skin color.

To stick with the term 'debt' and with regard to reductions and misunderstandings, the Marxist theory owes us to consider the emergence of inequalities and hierarchies also from the point of view of racism and sexism, two variants that are permanently at the service of triumph of capitalism. But since we think proactively, we dare to suggest that black feminisms are able to exert influence out of turn, to move in the breaches made by the Marxist repertoire [like great works of literature] and tools for diagnosing the stratification of To create classes that take greater account of the source material (racism and sexism) - realities that determine the lives of more than half of the world's population.
 

Pink Borges

is a journalist, professor and postdoctoral researcher in communication studies at the Institute of Communication and Art of the University of São Paulo. Among other things, she published: Esboços de um tempo presente (German for example: sketches of a present time; 2016), Espelho infiel: o negro no jornalismo brasileiro (for example: Deceptive Mirror: Blacks in Brazilian Journalism; 2004) and Mídia e Racismo (Media and Racism; 2012)]
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