CAPITALISM, COMMUNISM, CLASS & RACE
The greatest fallacy in all considerations of race and class in South Africa is that capitalism promotes racism and class division. On the contrary, it breaks down race and class barriers with unparalleled efficiency. It does so because they are bad for profits. Capitalism is not only the greatest economic system that has ever existed but is the most powerful force for liberating mankind from the shackles and chains of past prejudice, including those of race and class.
The most fulsome ever praise for capitalism comes not from an American business school, not from Milton Friedman, but from a romantic philosopher of a poetic bent. Speaking of the creative energy unleashed by capitalism, he writes:
The bourgeoisie (capitalist class), during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
Speaking of the way in which capitalism liberated man from past servitude, he writes:
The bourgeoisie, whenever it has gotten the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”
This poetic writer is, of course, Karl Marx, and these are extracts from “The Communist Manifesto”. It is an interesting booklet, in part perceptive and true, in part complete nonsense, but always vivid and fun. The passages above are accurate and important descriptions of the enormous benefits of capitalism. Particularly telling is his remark that capitalism has released man from his “natural superiors”. This is fundamental to understanding why capitalism has been so successful and why it is so hated by certain sections of the population.
Here is the mystery of capitalism. It is by far the most successful economic system we know and has brought unprecedented prosperity, especially to the poor. But it is seldom praised and usually denigrated. Capitalism has proved a wonderful success, communism a disastrous failure, yet there are there are countless political parties around the world with “communist” in their names and I don’t know one with “capitalist” in its name.
In every radio phone-in programme in South Africa that discusses our economic problems (poverty, unemployment, low growth etc), most of the callers will blame capitalism. Capitalism is the demon, the fount of all evil, the dark force behind apartheid and imperialism, the reason for our woes – such is the nonsense we hear day after day. Why?
To know why capitalism is hated, you must know what capitalism is. It is nothing other than the development of people trading naturally with each other. The reason our species, Homo Sapiens, came to dominate the world is trade. Man is essentially a trading ape. That is why he is so successful. Other animals may co-operate with each other but only man trades.
We began trading food, axe heads, skins, fire, decorations and fish hooks, and ended up trading motor vehicles and power stations. With trade came the division of labour, which caused a huge increase in human brain power by linking brains together in what the writer Matt Ridley calls “the collective intelligence”.
People traded with each other naturally, and offered each other goods and services. Then over time, usually accidentally, various institutions were added to make trade wider and larger. These included legal systems ensuring property rights and contract, central banks, insurance and limited companies. The result was capitalism. The key thing is to understand that capitalism is natural. It is a manifestation of human nature. And this is precisely why it is so hated. People hate capitalism because people hate human nature.
Down the ages there has always been a class of people who despise the traders and look down their noses at those who make wealth. They think money is naughty. They believe that anyone who engages in business is greedy, vulgar and immoral. Their religions regard trading and making profits as sinful. They hate the idea of ordinary people freely doing business amongst each other. They hate the notion of ordinary people owning property. They hate the thought of an ordinary man freely selling his labour to another ordinary man. This class of people, who believe they are in Marx’s apt phrase “natural superiors”, want to control other people and tell them what to do. They want to curb trade and hobble business. They regard all private employees as exploiters. They want everyone to conform to their edicts and commands, and to comply with their plans.
This class of “natural superiors” includes kings, chiefs, barons, presidents, prime ministers, commissars, fuhrers, university academics, lawyers, generals and heads of police. During the Middle Ages in Europe, they were firmly in control with their feudal system. The ordinary people were serfs who did not own land and were wholly reliant on the favours of their lords. Capitalism smashed the feudal system, as Marx describes so well. Ordinary people took over from the Barons and Dukes. The Barons and Dukes were outraged. “I’m the Earl of Huntingdon and you’re only a grubby little engineer from Birmingham! How dare you become richer and more important than me?” So the natural superiors staged a comeback. They produced the most reactionary ideology in history.
This reactionary ideology is of course Marxism. Marxism is fundamentally a call for a return to feudalism. Under Marxism, ordinary people are not be allowed to own land, which is held by a new ruling class now called “Commissars” and “General Secretaries” instead of Kings and Barons but serving the same function. It is ironic that Marx himself mocks the “natural superiors” when that is the class to which he so obviously belongs and which he wants to restore to power.
Marxism is profoundly snobbish. It reveres a natural ruling class and despises ordinary people, especially the working classes. Every time a Marxist government takes power, the working classes are trampled into the dirt, where the Marxist rulers feel they belong. All around the world, working people always try to flee from a communist country to a capitalist one, and never the other way round. Marx never worked in a factory in his whole life, and probably never set foot in one. The same is true of Lenin, Mao, Castro and all the other Marxist leaders. The snobbery of Marxism has deep appeal to snobs in every community. Since the greatest concentration of snobs is always in the universities, it is no wonder than Marxism has such a hold among academics.
In South Africa history you can see with dramatic intensity the struggles between the ideologies of the “natural rulers”, including Marxism, and the natural forces of capitalism.
Colonialism and imperialism are quite separate things from capitalism. A capitalist country might or might not acquire colonies. This is decided by politicians, adventurers, missionaries and soldiers, not businessmen and capitalists. Switzerland, a highly developed capitalist country, became very rich with no colonies at all.
Portugal, with enormous colonies, remained poor. The Boer War was an imperialist war not a capitalist one. The capitalist mine owners could have made just as big profits under Kruger as under Milner. It is true that the capitalist Dutch East India Company did set up the original settlement at the Cape to victual its ships but thereafter colonization grew for political reasons.
In 1922 came the most violent clash between communism and capitalism in South African history. This was the Rand Revolt on the gold mines. Over 200 people were killed. The cause of the conflict is deeply revealing about the natures of communism and capitalism.
The capitalist mine workers wanted to end the colour bar on the mines and allow black mine-workers to get skilled and supervisory positions. The white workers objected furiously; they wanted to reserve these positions for whites. Both sides were being true to their causes.
The capitalists were utterly consistent in wanting to remove racial barriers. They wanted to do so because this would reduce their labour costs and increase their profits. Profits, as Marx pointed out, are colour blind. A pure capitalist cannot see the colour of a man’s skin. All he can see is his productivity and his salary. The capitalist sees men as individuals, and judges each by his ability to increase his profits.
The white workers, too, were being consistent - with their Marxist beliefs. Marxism sees people not as individuals but as longing to groups or classes. The enemy is not an individual who has done something wrong but a class of faceless beings that has inherited some historical sin. They are condemned not for what they have done but what they are.
Every Marxist government attacks whole groups of people – kulaks, capitalist roaders, bourgeois parasites or whatever. It is perfectly logical to extend the hatred from a class of people to a race of people, which is just what Marxists do. The white workers saw the black workers as an enemy grouping, and they saw the mine owners as siding with this enemy. This enemy group would take their jobs and reduce their wages. Perfect Marxist logic.
So the white workers went to war against the capitalists under the banner, “Workers of the World Unite, and Fight for a White South Africa!” Some were executed on Smuts’ gallows singing the Red Flag. I have little doubt that their ideas then were an inspiration to the men who founded apartheid 26 years later.
Apartheid was a socialist ideology. The main idea was to justify white minority rule but hatred of capitalism was an important part. In 1919, at a National Party convention, General Hertzog, speaking in praise of the 1917 Russian Revolution had said, “Why do they want to suppress and kill Bolshevism today? Because freedom of the people is death to capitalism and imperialism. Don’t let us be afraid of Bolshevism.” The National Party government had massive state control and merely tolerated a degree of capitalism because it couldn’t do without it. The horrible Pass Laws were similar to those in the USSR and other Marxist states.
Natural capitalist forces kept undermining the structures of apartheid. Apartheid laws, especially on the movement of labour and job reservation, were very bad for profits, and so were progressively ignored. The acute shortage of white labour naturally increased demand for black labour. The capitalist bosses were never exactly lion-hearted in publicly opposing apartheid – capitalists are always political cowards – but the silent, remorseless tides of capitalism itself gradually swept it away. Eventually the masters of apartheid accepted that apartheid was economically unworkable and gave it up.
In 1994, an undemocratic apartheid government that hated capitalism was replaced with a democratic ANC government that hates capitalism. The National Party contained members who implemented policies similar to communism. The ANC alliance contains members who are actually communists. Communist ideas have dominated ANC thinking for decades, and still do. And this is why our country is in such a mess now. This is why there is such ghastly levels of poverty and unemployment. We just don’t have enough capitalism.
We are now ruled by those “natural superiors” who despise trade and business. They have passed dreadful labour laws that prevent poor people from becoming employers. These laws shut the poor out of the formal economy. They have passed apartheid-style racial legislation, such as the Employment Equity Act, that brings back compulsory racial classification and forces us to consider people not as individual human beings but by race groups. They have made the cost of doing business prohibitively high, thus choking the fruitful, enriching forces of capitalism that Marx so vividly described.
Wherever it is allowed to flourish, capitalism brings freedom and prosperity, and smashes down barriers of race and class. Wherever it has come to power, communism brings tyranny and poverty, and enforces the barriers of race and class. Communism also causes terrible inequality. I’d guess that Communist North Korea is now the most unequal society on Earth (but I don’t think anyone knows its Gini coefficient).
There is a one word solution to most of South Africa’s problems: capitalism. The beauty of this solution is that it is so simple to implement. You don’t have to design or plan or build anything. All you have to do is break the chains and ties, and release the “colossal productive forces” of capitalism. The greatest hero of the second half of 20th Century, Deng Xiaoping, did just this in China, with spectacular success. He simply set market forces free. We should follow his example. He was a communist after all, so our communist leaders need not feel shy about doing so.
Andrew Kenny. 15 December 2015
1. My Communist Manifesto quotes come the 1937 edition, which has an introduction by Trotsky.
2. The Matt Ridley quote is from his wonderful book, The Rational Optimist, from which I have drawn some ideas for this article.
3. Hertzog quote from The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era” by Irina Filatova and Apollon Davidson.