Anti-Racism as Communism, A Book Review

Retired philosophy professor and communist Paul Gomberg has written a truly revolutionary book about racism. By this I do not mean just that he believes the revolutionary destruction of capitalism is necessary to destroy racism, but that the breadth and depth of his presentation is truly unique. Gomberg not only describes the historical development of racism, but shows how capitalism cannot survive without it. He focuses primarily on ant-black racism as the dominant paradigm in US history, but the analysis carries over to other marginalized groups and nations.

Anti Racism as Communism

The author gives a detailed review of how racism enabled slavery, Jim Crow and the modern era of mass incarceration. All the while he recounts many stories of struggle against oppression and inequality and illustrates, with tales of particular movements and organizers, how communists gave the most successful leadership to reform victories by emphasizing anti-racism. Then he goes on to discuss different theories of racism and how to fight it, and finally how only a communist society can eliminate racism. At the end of each section he discusses lessons learned and conclusions to be drawn. Ultimately, Gomberg considers  the reasons that communist revolutions in the USSR and China made errors that determined their failure to create communist societies. In the end, he opts for “reasonable hope as opposed to reasonable despair” as we attempt to create communism and end racism.

Capitalism Creates Racism and Racist Attitudes Follow

The southern tobacco plantations of the US in the early 1600s relied on indentured English and Irish servants for labor. After Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, and as indentured servants became more expensive and outlived their terms of service, the planter class knew it needed cheaper, more controllable labor. They settled on the enslavement of Africans. In order to justify slavery, the Virginian ruling class then purposely and broadly began to disseminate the idea of black inferiority through laws, sermons, newspapers and schools, until all of white society gradually became convinced of its veracity. Only then did white workers adopt racist attitudes, and the working class was effectively divided. Thomas Jefferson published his justifications of racism only later in 1787, and many scientists and scholars have since followed in his path.

The Northern victory in the Civil War ended slavery and briefly allowed some black advancement and black and white cooperation. Capitalism, however, needed new methods to produce cotton, which by 1860 created 60% of US export wealth, and control black labor. The Jim Crow era saw terrorist groups like the KKK and vagrancy laws that made it possible to arrest almost any black person for just walking about and make him or her a convict laborer for years. Cotton exports rose to $639 million by 1911 and peaked in 1937, all depending on racism in production. Poorly developed Southern industry also required cheap labor in order to survive, and racism was required to justify the unequal conditions of labor.

Gomberg next explores the history and the growth of industrial labor struggles of 1870-1921 His aim is to demonstrate the importance of leadership by workers most oppressed by social injustice, particularly black workers, especially when they battle both racism and the oppression of all workers. He largely does this through recounting the personal tale of an early labor organizer of the United Mine Workers of America, Richard L Davis. Davis led many strikes and opposed both the racism of white miners and separatism of blacks and was critical of capitalism and wage slavery. Although he was eventually blacklisted by the mine owners, his struggle along with those of many others, established a significant presence of black miners. However, the UMWA leaders did not come to the understanding that as long as owners need to make profits, as long as capitalists held state power, no worker’s life would take priority.

The Communist Party (CP) saw the struggle for racist equality and black leadership as primary, fighting directly against Jim Crow, and until 1935 they also espoused the need for revolution.  One of their best known struggles was the defense of the Scottsboro boys in 1931, nine young black men falsely accused of attacking a white woman. This was the year that Birmingham worker Hosea Hudson, whose life is also detailed, joined the Party. The CP, even under legal restrictions like Taft-Hartley, organized masses of industrial workers, share croppers and community residents and built local class-conscious leadership.

Two very important developments before and after World War II affected this trajectory. In 1935, the Comintern, the international governing communist body led by the Soviet Union, adopted a strategy of cooperating with liberals in order to fight fascism, the united front. Thus CP organizers in the US joined less revolutionary mass organizations like the NAACP, churches, and the CIO.  Post war, the capitalists needed new ways to control workers, who were trained to fight and had been battling racism. The Taft-Hartley Law made it illegal for communists to lead labor unions, and the Smith Act made it a crime to advocate forceful overthrow of the government. Unions, stripped of communist leaders, essentially became partnerships between workers and bosses designed to keep capitalism running. The CP adopted a position of patriotism and said socialism would only come by the peaceful will of the majority.

The US government anti-communist crusade insured the continued super-exploitation of black workers and led to a resurgence of white supremacist ideology. In response, black identity politics grew in order to provide a sense of solidarity in opposing inequality and oppression. However, Gomberg stresses, although a white person may get a particular personal benefit out of racism, like being preferentially hired for a job, class struggle is undermined. Unified working class struggle is necessary for all workers to extract concessions from capitalism.

Some specific ways that inequality works are discussed, like the fact that US black infant mortality is 2.4 times that of whites and 30th in the world. However, white infant mortality, if taken alone, is 28th in the world. In other words, although whites are a little better off than blacks, the relative advantage of whites allows them to tolerate, and the capitalists to get away with, providing poor health care for everyone. Ultimately, we must learn to stop identifying ourselves by the color of our skin (or any other category like place of birth or religion) which label is put upon us in order to justify exploitation. We must learn to identify only as workers, even as we fight against racism. This process involves making sure our personal relationships are multiracial and that our struggles have multiracial leadership.

  Only Communism Can Create a Society Without Racism

 In summarizing a Marx-centered view of racism, Gomberg emphasizes that racism is created and enforced by an armed capitalist state for the purpose of dividing and exploiting workers. Racism is born via the laws, policies, ideas promoted by the ruling class – it does not originate in the minds of workers. Opposition to racism depends not just on one’s own physical characteristics but on one’s understanding of how racism is used against all workers. We must learn to discard the racist labels that are imposed upon us and build class consciousness instead. Having shown how essential racism is to capitalism, Gomberg then discusses how only a society where goods are produced for need, not profit – a communist society – can assure a society in which every person can develop their abilities and contribute to the good of all.

 In order to overcome our cynicism about how this could work in the real world, he delves in detail into the now evident errors of previous revolutions, primarily the Chinese. From Marx through the Soviet Union, the original idea of social change was that communism would evolve gradually after a period of a mixed economy that prioritized satisfying needs, such as food and industrialization. Thus wages and privileges for more expert workers and communist cadre were maintained, which undermined the whole communist ideal of equality. He, and we, must hope that understanding this fallacy in retrospect can enable us to do better next time. What is certain is that capitalism, through war, climate change and disease, will kill all or many of us. Attempting to build a communist world is our only hope to end racism, let alone survive. This book is an invaluable guide on that pathway.

 I will close by mentioning the book’s current unaffordable price ($120 at Amazon, $108 at Bloomsbury) and encourage readers to get their local libraries to acquire it for their book collections. This will encourage the publisher to produce it as a paperback or open access, so for now we need to get it into as many libraries as possible.


Title: Anti-Racism as Communism

Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

ISBN: 9781350257986

Price: $108 on Bloomsbury website

 Paul Gomberg, Research Associate, Department of Philosophy, University of California at Davis, Author, Anti-Racism as Communism

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Ellen Isaacs is a physician, anti-war and anti-capitalist activist, and co-editor of She can be reached at [email protected]

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