Sociologists have been involved in an enduring debate as to whether social inequality based on class and that based on race intersect, in a Capitalist system. This paper aims to argue in favor of this proposition. The basis for this argument lies in the fact that since the global expansion of Capitalism has been made possible by a racist divide-and-conquer approach taken by the global elite since the mid-17th century.
Those who opine that social inequality based on race is merely a coincidence, tend to have their convictions rooted in their beliefs about the efficiency of capitalism; that capitalism rewards those who put the effort to make the best of their opportunities, in an unbiased market (Mania et. al, 2013). However, for most Marxist Sociologists, both racism and capitalism developed together, reinforcing one another in a single exploitative system. Capitalism, has great expansionary potential, for both economic growth and moving beyond national boundaries. These sociologists reckon that this very nature of capitalism stems from the need to expand into new markets, in search of raw materials, investment opportunities, and a cheaper labor (Lenin, 1917). Capitalism is a system created on the philosophy that humans are inherently greedy. Therefore, Capitalism at its highest stage is a manifestation of greed at its highest intensity.
To elaborate on this, we shall analyze Capitalism, in its infant stages as existing in free competition, where the forces of demand and supply determine the allocation of, and the need for, resources in an economy. All else being equal, this allocation of resources should be efficient, and everyone should be satisfied. However, as the scale through which capital governs the economy widens, all else is not equal- some people tend to be greedier than others. This inequality in the varying levels of greed is represented by a transition from free competition to monopoly. Thus, as Capitalism develops from cub to a mature predator, it is on the lookout for prey which it can devour.
Lenin defines Capitalism Imperialism as “a definite and very high stage of its development” which comes as “the replacement of capitalist free competition by capitalist monopoly”. The term “imperialism” was first used in the 1830s to recall Napoleonic ambitions. It gained its core contemporary meaning around the turn of the century as a description of the feverish colonial expansion of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the United States, and Italy (Strang, 2001). This colonial expansion came not only from an economic need to expand, but also from the political rivalry that existed among some of these nations. Thus, ideology permeated the need for expansion.
European overseas expansion transitioned, crudely, from the colonial stage to the imperial. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, seagoing powers constructed networks of colonial enclaves along the route to the East Indies. Less than fifty years after the voyages of Columbus, the conquistadors had decimated the Incan and Aztec empires and were sending gold and silver back to Spain (Strang, 2001). The Justifications for doing so came in colonial arguments that these people were “barbaric and uncivilized”, and that civilization needed to be brought to these “pagans”.
In the two hundred years following that, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands colonized virtually the whole of the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the North Atlantic seaboard (Strang, 2001).
Next, came the imperial stage of capitalism. According to Lenin (1917), the development of capitalist imperialism came with five features. The first was that the concentration of capital and production had developed into such a high stage that it played a significant role in socio-economic life. The second was that financial oligarchy was created by the merging of bank capital with financial capital. In other words, a select few, also known as the global elite, owned and the majority of wealth and therefore, the allocation of it. Third, the export of capital, man-made resources required for the production of even more wealth, gained more importance than the export of commodities. As a result of this came the fourth element, the formation of monopolist capitalist associations such as cartels, syndicates and trusts to create value for the elite. The aggregation of the aforementioned factors of imperialism inspired the fifth element: territorial division of the world amongst European powers, without the inclusion of any representatives from the divided territories (Lenin, 1917).
In the absence of an enforceable legal order, states are motivated to expand when possible or endure decline relative to more aggressive states (Strang, 2001). We shall focus on European imperialist expansion into Africa.
Slave trade, for centuries was Europe’s primary connection to Africa. Prisoners of war were sold to European Capitalists as slaves. These slaves possessed prowess in farming techniques and were a source of cheap labor for the European colonizers of the Americas. Since slaves could be easily and profitably obtained by the establishment of coastal slave castles, in collaboration with West African rulers, and trading centers, European slave traders saw no need to establish formal colonies in order to conduct their business (Bishop, 2013).
This extended period of a slavery-centered relationship between Europe and Africa strongly influenced European sensibilities toward Africans (Bishop, 2013). Africans were described as “primitive, static and asleep”. And so, the Europeans decided to take advantage of this and, ambush african states with maximum gun and breech loading rifles to make colonies of them. This came as a result of the miscalculations on the part of African leaders, in the faith they had in the Europeans for fair exchange, and that they were more technologically equipped and advanced than the Europeans they had encountered in the 15th century (Boahen, 1985).
We shall take a look developments of racist notions which people of European descent used to justify the rape of Africa during this period of Imperialism/ Colonialism.
In the United States, the coexistence of free labor in the North and slavery in the South, proved to be disastrous, drawing an especially harsh race line between blacks and whites. The very concept of whiteness became associated with the notion of freedom and free labor, while blacks were seen as naturally servile. White workers divided themselves from blacks (and other racially defined workers), believing that capitalists could use coerced and politically disabled workers to undermine their interests. Thus a deep division emerged in the working class, along racial lines. The racism of the white working class can be seen as a secondary phenomenon, arising from the ability of capitalists to engage in the super-exploitation of workers of color (Mania et. al, 2013) .
Although written at the end of the nineteenth century about Asia, Rudyard Kipling’s famous phrase “the White Man’s Burden,” also known as “the civilizing mission” in French and Portuguese, was an increasingly important impetus for imperial conquest in Africa throughout the nineteenth century as Europeans felt that Europe had a moral or religious obligation to bring civilization to those whom they perceived as uncivilized, pagan Africans (Bishop, 2013) . It helped pave the way for European imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century by establishing race as the basis for social distinctions, rights, and hierarchy, thus creating and maintaining an attitude of racial superiority that led to the dual vision of Africa as a barbarous land to be saved by Europe’s civilizing influence and as a geographic space without institutions, governments, or societies advanced enough to claim a place at the negotiating table during the Berlin Conference.