Why capitalism needs racism

January 24, 2010

The recent murder of Nitin Garg highlighted continuing violence against Indian students. It has led some to ask "Is Australia a racist country?" and put others on the defensive about Australia's racist image.

The ongoing Northern Territory intervention, which required the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the demonisation and persecution of refugees by both government and opposition politicians suggests that racism is alive in Australia.

The following article is from the new and updated What Resistance Stands For, which Resistance branches around the country will launch in coming weeks.

To find out more, order your copy, or attend a launch near you, visit www.resistance.org.au.


The capitalist social pyramid is black at the base and white at the top. In South Africa, until apartheid was formally abolished in 1994, this pyramid was legally sanctioned. Elsewhere, while slavery and segregation have been outlawed, the richest people are still the whitest and the poorest are the blackest.

Racism suits capitalism because it's an important way of justifying economic discrimination. It's no accident that wherever you find racism, someone seems to be making money from it.

Racist ideas help capitalism get away with super-exploiting racial and ethnic minorities, and all non-white people.

"Those Arabs" or "Those Asians", we're told, "are used to doing dirty, hard work, and they'll be glad to get a job at all."

Or when unemployment is on the rise, it's always handy to blame "Asians", or whichever ethnic group is being demonised at the time, for taking jobs away from "real" Australians.

And when governments in the rich countries impose welfare funding or wage cuts on working people, they always start by targeting the most vulnerable groups — non-Anglo migrants or indigenous people. International students are often the first to cop attacks on higher education.

Racism fosters the idea that the massive under-development and deprivation faced by the people of the Third World is "their fault". This leads to acceptance of the idea that, while rich countries should give some aid or loans, it should be tied to the recipient government agreeing to terms favourable to the donor countries, including huge interest charges.

Without racist and nationalist ideas prevalent in the populations of imperialist countries, people would be less likely to accept as "natural" or "inevitable" the huge inequalities between the First and Third Worlds or endorse wars on Third World peoples who resist imperialist domination.

In other words, racism is a way for the capitalist class to divide ordinary people from each other, within and between countries: divide and rule.

Attacks on Aboriginal rights

The first historically significant act of British colonisation in Australia was the widespread dispossession of Australia's Aboriginal people of their land and customs. Australia was declared "terra nullius" — empty land, belonging to nobody. Never mind the hundreds of Aboriginal tribes, the British ruling class wanted another colony — a new source of raw materials.

Aboriginal land rights are a direct threat to Australia's capitalists. The uranium-rich land of central Australia is coveted by government and private mining corporations alike. A potential source of huge wealth for some, this land grab for private profit stands in direct conflict with the granting of land rights and ownership to Aboriginal people. This explains the continual push by governments, on behalf of corporations, for land grabs and attacks on Aboriginal self-determination.

The theft of Aboriginal land is justified with racism. Oppression of Australia's Indigenous people has led to endemic poverty, bad health and low life expectancy for many. The current incarceration rates for Australia's Aboriginal people are five times higher than for blacks under apartheid South Africa.

On June 21, 2007, the then-John Howard government announced that it was "taking control" of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, claiming it was rescuing children from abuse described in the Little Children are Sacred report.

Under the Northern Territory intervention, police and the army, along with federal government workers, were sent to "prescribed" Aboriginal communities to enforce the compulsory quarantining of all welfare payments and an Aboriginal-only prohibition on the use of alcohol and pornography. To carry out such a racist policy, the government had to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act. It also passed laws allowing it to seize Aboriginal land at any time.

Combating child abuse, or genuinely addressing any of the crises caused by discrimination against Aboriginal people, was never the aim of the Northern Territory intervention. The government wanted to break up Aboriginal communities and remove people from their land.

This racist policy was not only continued by the Kevin Rudd Labor government — it was expanded.


Similarly, there is bipartisan support for Islamophobia — fear of, and hostility towards, Muslims. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Islamophobia has been encouraged by Western governments.

Muslims — and people of "Middle Eastern appearance" — have been systematically portrayed in the corporate media as "terrorists" or "potential terrorists". This new racist push to demonise people of a particular religion or region relies on fear and ignorance to succeed.

Whipping up this racism to divide the mostly non-Muslim populations of Western countries from their Muslim sisters and brothers is especially necessary for the capitalist rulers given the majority opposition in the West to their governments' wars of occupation in the Middle East.

Creating fear and paranoia against minorities also helps governments to undermine civil liberties more generally, and therefore weaken other movements for progressive or radical social change.

For example, while the current focus of Australia's so-called anti-terror laws is on supporters of resistance and national liberation movements in the Third World, the laws could very easily be used against people who do not agree with other aspects of government policy.

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