Saturday, January 7, 2012

Noam Chomsky on capitalism and anti-racism

from Big business supports anti-racism - Chomsky [Archive] - The Phora:
See, capitalism is not fundamentally racist -- it can exploit racism for its purposes, but racism isn't built into it. Capitalism basically wants people to be interchangable cogs, and differences among them, such as on the basis of race, usually are not functional. I mean, they may be functional for a period, like if you want a super exploited workforce or something, but those situations are kind of anomalous. Over the long term, you can expect capitalism to be anti-racist -- just because its anti-human. And race is in fact a human characterstic -- there's no reason why it should be a negative characteristic, but it is a human characteristic. So therefore identifications based on race interfere with the basic ideal that people should be available just as consumers and producers, interchangable cogs who will purchase all the junk that's produced -- that's their ultimate function, and any other properties they might have are kind of irrelevent, and usually a nuisance.


  1. For a contrasting thought, here's Gerda Lerna from _Why History Matters_:

    "Patriarchy is a system of dominance based on the "invention" that arbitrary differences among people can be used to construct categories by which the unequal distribution of resources and power by small elites over large and diverse populations can be justified, explained and made acceptable to those exploited. In short, "difference" can be used to create and maintain power. The differences used can be based on race, class, sex, physical makeup or any other arbitrary distinction, body image, sexual preference....

    Lastly, we need to keep a basic principle in mind: It is not "difference" that is the problem. It is dominance justified by appeals to constructed differences that is the problem. "

  2. What strikes me is that Lerner's assigning to patriarchy all the traits of hierarchy.

    Patriarchy is simple: men oppress women. Engels and Marx both noticed that. When Engels was a young man, he wrote in 1844: "If the rule of the wife over her husband—a natural consequence of the factory system—is unnatural, then the former rule of the husband over the wife must also have been unnatural."

    When he was older, writing The Origin of the Family, he said, "In an old unpublished manuscript, written by Marx and myself in 1846, I find the words: “The first division of labor is that between man and woman for the propagation of children.” And today I can add: The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male."

    My problem with movements that name themselves as the opposite of what they oppose--feminism versus patriarchy, antiracism versus racism, etc.--is that their names show they've accepted the validity of the constructed differences. For me, it's much simpler to be an egalitarian and oppose all constructed differences. It makes it easy to see that Obama's opposition to racism and Clinton's opposition to sexism are irrelevant to the workings of capitalism.

  3. The notion of people as interchangable cogs sounds very egalitarian to me. I associate capitalism with extreme inequality, though. What am I misunderstanding?

  4. Argentum, Chomsky's using a bit of shorthand there--"the people" are the workers, who are treated as interchangable cogs. Under capitalism, life's very different for the capitalists. I suppose you could say everyone's interchangeable under capitalism within their class, but so long as there's a class system, even if capitalists managed to get rid of racial, gender, ethnic, religious, and every other form of inequality anyone could name, there would still be economic inequality.

    1. Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying. The distinction between racism and capitalism is a thought provoking insight. When discussing racism, I always end up saying that the real problem is economic inequality. But I see now that I am conflating two separate issues. I should read more Chomsky.