File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1996/96-11-13.154, message 79

Date: Tue, 12 Nov 96 08:34:34 GMT
Subject: Re: M-I: Racism and the nation state; Sexism and the Family

Justin writes:
> Adam is right that "racism" as prejudice against persons classified as
> being in different "races" is fairly new, probably roughly contemporaneous
> with the rise of capitalism. The modern notion of racial differences as
> based in biology is probably 19th century, when wthere was finally a
> biology to base it it. That does not mean that racisim is caused by
> capitalism, although it is shaped by capitalism.
> Hatred of, prejudicwe against, and oppression of other groups marked by
> distinctive ethnic characteristics is of course very old. Odten it has
> been accompanied with beliefs that are analogous to racist beliefs about
> the natural inferiority of the other groups. Think of the Hebrews and the
> Caannanites, the Greeks and the "barbarians," the Romans and everybody
> else. Or, to take the example Adam and Wes discuss, the Norman French and
> the ANglo-Saxons.

I am not at all sure you are right about this, Justin.

Most of these are NOT ethnic characteristics in the sense we would 
understand them today. Greeks vs Barbarians certainly wasn't : Greeks
used "Barbarian" as a cultural description. The later pharoahs were Greek
AND Black skinned. Similarly, the point about the Norman French - these
were NOT particularly ETHNICALLY different from the people they ruled
- they were French speaking VIKINGS. They had just picked up a new
language and culture on their travels ( a peculiar characteristic 
of the Norman Vikings - in Sicily, they assimilated Mediterranean 
culture ).

The idea of race, as some inherited characteristic, arose with the
nation state and is identified with it. When nation states came into
being, they invented for themselves fake national charecteristics and
fake national histories going back millenia. Turks in todays world
cannot become Greeks by setting up a town council and learning Greek.
In the ancient world, they could and did.

Having said this, I take Wes' point on board : of course capitalist
nation states take up whatever cultural histories happen to be
convenient and convert these into "national" characteristics, however
insane they might be ( eg kilts in Scotland ). This includes
inventing a national language where none exists, and pretending
this language has an unbroken continuity with ancient ones ( modern
Hebrew, modern Greek, etc ).


Adam Rose


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