THE RACIST FOUNDATIONS OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND THE WHITE WORKING CLASS

Not many analyst have wanted to deal with the notion that racism can be embedded at the civilization level. There has been the tendency, therefore, to regard white racism merely as a kind of supplement, a corollary and addendum, at best a consolidation and replenishment factor. Racism has been viewed as a means to ‘divide the working class along color lines.’ Never was it seen as the kernel or germ cell of capitalism. White thinkers shied away from asking the ominous question-is racism a fundamental political-economy category of the white dominated capitalist mode of production? There was an unwillingness to look for a racist context in white social development. That would have meant distinguishing what is objectively necessary in white racist civilization from that which is merely possible. Of course, we are not talking about any rigid determinism like that based on belief in divine predestination, and which leads to fatalism. Meant instead is recognition that every cause has it effect, that the racism inherent in white civilization must effect all social phenomena. Racism needs to be scrutinized as something more than merely a specification of Black slavery, as more than a mode of slavery’s existence. It is not enough to view it merely as a means of perpetuating and consolidating and intensifying the exploitation of slave labor and after emancipation, merely as a tool to set Black and white wage-earners at each others’ throats. Racism has served those purposes, yet it is much more. The status of racist ideology as a rationalization and implementers of slave and segregation practices, need not blind us to the pre-of racial prejudices in the minds of the very first white slavers to appear on the African cost in the fifteenth century (8).
Here is where Munford makes the break with orthodox European political economy. First, race, he insists, must be viewed as a material relation of production. Second, the civilizational preconditions of race preceded capitalism. Third, there is “a racist context in white social development”. While the empirical referents for these assertions are Black Ordeal, Munford goes beyond the empirical to the explanatory level. To do this he challenges traditional western assumptions and explanatory designs concerning social reality. These he will contend are Eurocentric with few, if any, references to slavery and its decisive role in the emergence of capitalism and modern European societies. European social theory, he argues, has operated at two levels: the socio-economic base and the political/ideological superstructure. There is, he asserts a third level, “that is senior to both the superstructure and the socio-economic foundations (10).” This is the civilization level, which “projects a priori causation (ibid)”. Civilization he says, “set limits for social behavior, it draws configurations, it creates the ‘paradigm’ (ibid).” This is what is called civilization-level causation.6 civilizational determinations, Munford insists, are ultimate or primary determinations, which shape and override socio-economic and superstructural level determinations. Munford proposes, in this regard, a strategic inversion of European social theory; rather than class determining race relations, race determines class. While social class, politics and ideology are either socio-economic or superstructural categories; race is a civilizational category. Race, therefore, both determines and contextualizes class relationships. Race, moreover, has historical and explanatory primacy (as a civilizational causation) over class. Hence, for Munford, the entire array of class, social and ideological relationships and behaviors are ultimately determined by civilizational causative factors, chief among them race. Viewing reality through the lens of civilization and race, he suggests, allows for a deeper and wider explanatory framework. Moreover, as a consequence of this procedure, Africans and African Americans are introduced into historical explanation as strategic agents of social transformation and their own liberation; as well as being central to the emergence of modern capitalism and its elimination. Civilization, he argues, is a more comprehensive and intelligible unit for understanding human behavior. “We preferred the history of civilization, not class struggle, as the stage for conflict and interaction among people. Instead of feudal lords versus serfs, or the bourgeoisie versus the proletariat, we made the major historical component something African, European, Pre-Columbian American, Chinese, Indian subcontinental, and such like (50).” This he insists allows him to concentrate more fruitfully on the total package.
“As a general rule,” Munford (11) argues, “disharmony between civilizational-level values on the one hand, and socio-economic and superstructural tendencies on the other, is temporary, apparent rather than real, and socially disruptive.” The primacy of civilization explains “the consequences of the Africanness of the men and women who survived the Middle Passage and the ‘seasoning’ (12).” On the other side Western civilization is inherently racist. Put another way Western Civilization is white civilization, defined by the “generality of racism in Western civilization (15).” He makes the following exceptions to the general rule, “But no civilization is a featureless monolith without countervailing influences, and the very principle of bedrock determination allows for non-characteristic trends and influences which do not fit with the basic features of the civilization (14).” Therefore, certain whites may for religious reasons, and a calculated sense of self-interest, reject racism. These good whites have never been decisive. “From the ideological perspective, the essence of white culture was fixed by the attitudes of the ruling elite and those ruling ideas were racist (15).” All of this said, Munford pays homage to white civilization’s enlightened contributors like Beethoven, Mozart, Da Vinci and Picasso, Newton and Einstein. Third world thinkers and activist, he points out have found inspiration in Marx and Lenin. Neither does he reject the achievements of Western medicine and immunology; nor the leaps into the cosmos through space travel. These, unfortunately, are nullified by “a counter-tradition that has always been the stronger, because it is more in tune with the true values of white civilization (23).” In the end, “Five centuries of white supremacy have given world history a racist character. The once vaunted class contradictions have been subsumed under the racial contradiction, swallowed up in race conflict. While the question of power within most African states may well have to be sorted out on the basis of class struggle, we are concerned here with the fundamental international racial-color contradiction between white supremacy and Black empowerment. The fight against white racism-not class struggle-now functions as the driving force of the development of society. Third World peoples are the only remaining global revolutionary force (25).” Contemporary racism, in the end, has become white world supremacy. Racism, he argues, is securely planted among white masses. And rejecting the Marxist notion that once the economic foundations that are served by racism are eliminated the function of racism will be eliminated, he says, “The popularity of white racism is such that it would be certain to live on in some form, even long after the economic soil which nourishes it were destroyed (33).” Moreover, “the racist predisposition would survive among ordinary whites in the guise of perverted sexual lusts, sick fantasies, aversions to ‘Negroid’ racial features, and genocidal urges. It is too firmly seated in white cultural patterns and languages to enable European civilization-conditioned Caucasians to encounter large numbers of African-derived people without hostility and contempt (ibid).”

About Anthony Monteiro

I am a activist and scholar who is a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Temple University.
This entry was posted in Black Intellectual, Political and Ideological Issues, Political and Ideological Issues, US capitalism, empire and race. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s