Podcast: Is capitalism racist?
With Black Lives Matter protests raging around the world, the latest ourVoices documentary asks how we can build an economy based on repair, healing and justice.
ourVoices is a new podcast from openDemocracy's ourEconomy section, which explores the crisis of our economic system – and promotes intelligent debate about what should replace it.
The podcast brings together some of the most exciting thinkers from around the world, and gives a voice to those who are putting new economic ideas into practice from the ground up.
This episode takes a deep dive into how capitalist markets and nation-states perpetuate structural racism, and explores fresh ideas for how to transition to a new political economy based on repair, healing and justice.
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Laura Basu: The police murder of George Floyd in the US sparked Black Lives Matter protests in every continent in the world. Combined with the global pandemic and the climate catastrophe – both of which are highly racialised - they have led many people to fundamentally question the deepest structures of our political economy.
A recent article in the British magazine the Spectator, frets that the 34,000 people who have recently donated a million pounds to Black Lives Matter UK are unwittingly endorsing an organisation that ‘wants to dismantle capitalism’, thinks climate change is racist, wants to abolish prisons, wants to get rid of borders and wants to get rid of the police. But what if the 34,000 are not so unwitting, but actually agree with those ideas?
I’m Laura Basu, ourEconomy’s Europe Editor. I’ve been researching issues around racism and global capitalism for several years, so I decided to take on the intellectual challenge posed by the renewed racial justice movements.
In this episode of ourVoices, we’ll be taking a deep dive into how capitalist markets and nation-states perpetuate structural racism. And we’ll be looking at fresh ideas for how to transition to a new political economy based on repair, healing and justice.
We ask whether our political economic system – capitalism – is itself racist. And, if it is, what can we do about it?
[Clip: Eric Williams, Independence Day Address] [source]
Eric Williams was the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and a noted historian. His landmark 1944 study, ‘Capitalism and Slavery’, showed how the origins of capitalism are found not in the industriousness of Europeans, but in colonialism and slavery. They were the basis for what Karl Marx called ‘primitive accumulation’ – the violent enclosure of common resources into private property that was needed to kick off the industrial revolution.
Vijay Prashad, historian and director of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, explains:
Vijay Prashad: The origins of modern capitalism are not in Manchester, in Birmingham, in Sheffield. It's not because some enterprising British or Scottish person decided to set up a manufacturing unit in Sheffield to create cutlery. That's not the origin of capitalism. You know, that's what, for instance, Max Weber would like you to imagine in his book on The Protestant Work Ethic – as if it's because Protestants, unlike Catholics, decided to save and personal savings were gathered together, and that was the first down payment on the factories of the British Midlands. This is nonsense. I mean, we know that many cities in the UK were ports, and these ports had ships coming in which brought human beings who had been converted into commodities – what is I think, very poorly called slavery. And this trade in human beings meant that you got free labor in the colonies in the Caribbean, in the Americas, and so on. Where primary commodities were produced at very suppressed prices, these primary commodities in their sale brought huge profits and this profit margin is what created the capital sums for the emergence of capitalism. That's the origin of it. 30% of the British Midlands capital formation took place through the drain of wealth from India. So when people talk about how ingenious the British were and Adam Smith writing the Wealth of Nations, well, Adam, the Wealth of Nations, that's an interesting book, but what about the theft of certain nations against others? That would have been an interesting book.
Laura Basu: Haiti, which successfully resisted slavery, was forced to pay France an indemnity for its independence, worth ten times its national budget. The debt it accrued to pay the indemnity has been found to be directly responsible for the country's lack of public services and infrastructure to this day.
Other slaving countries, like Britain and the Netherlands, compensated not formerly enslaved people but slave owners when slavery was abolished. The interest on the loans Britain took out to pay this compensation in Jamaica wasn't paid off till 2015.
These are just some of the most obvious examples of how the racialised legacies of capitalism remain with us to this day. Prashad uses the analogy of a 100m race. If some of the contestants have a 50m head start, how can the others even begin to catch up?
But the problem is not only one of the legacies of colonialism and slavery – far from it. Wealth continues to be drained from formally colonised peoples. Primitive accumulation – whereby things that used to be shared are stolen for private gain – is not something that happened only once, at the beginning of capitalism, but continues to this day, in the form of land grabs, ultra low wages paid to workers in supply chains, and debt.
Vijay Prashad: Wealth continues to be drained. Because most of the formerly colonised world, most of the world in the tropics region, continue to get immense pressure upon them, which makes it impossible for them to drive a resource agenda for their population. You have to borrow money, money that was stolen from you during colonialism. You have to borrow that money in order to manage your finances and you go deeper and deeper and deeper into debt. The debt crisis is the essence of the long term racial impact of capitalism. And today, the debt crisis, the burden on so called developing countries is over $11 trillion. There is no way these countries can ever pay it; and in the current Coronavirus recession it is an impossible payment for them. This year developing countries have to pay almost $4 trillion in debt servicing. That's not the $11 trillion principle. This is to service the debt, and it's not possible.
Laura Basu: While scholars like Prashad have come to the conclusion that our currently existing system of capitalism is racist, the question of whether capitalism is necessarily racist – whether it requires racism – is a thornier issue. In classical political economic theory it doesn’t – the only social divisions it requires are in terms of class. For Adam Smith, there were three social classes: landowners, wage earners, and capitalists. For Marx, there were two basic classes under capitalism – the capitalists who owned the means of production, and the workers who had to sell their labour-power for wages, and who produced the value that the capitalist took as profit.
And capitalism certainly didn’t invent racism, just as it didn’t invent sexism – they existed long before the advent of capitalism.
But, Cedric Robinson – who developed the theory of racial capitalism – showed that capitalism latches onto existing hierarchies in a society – like gender or race – exploits and exacerbates them, and creates new hierarchies. Without this ability to exploit existing divisions, the profit margins of the corporations that drive capitalism would be seriously undermined.
Dalia Gebrial is a PhD candidate at London School of Economics and editor at Novara Media. She explains how racial hierarchies are central to the way that work is organised under capitalism:
Dalia Gebrial: So my research looks predominately at work. We know that capitalism requires labour to reproduce itself – it requires different kinds of work, some more dangerous, exploitative and labour-intensive than others. Who does what kind of work is often tied to essentialised ideas about different parts of the working class. Racialisation is integral to the justificatory logic behind who is assigned the dirtiest, most poorly paid work – this is the social reproductive work, the cleaning, the maintenance, the childcare, the hard and often invisibilised labour. To ensure that this work is fulfilled at the level and cost required for the astronomical profits we see today, capitalism requires an endless supply of surplus labourers, whose precarious living conditions mean they rely on these jobs to survive. So to keep this system of hierarchy where some people do the dirty work that keep others sustained, you have to differentiate people into more worthy and less worthy, more human and less human, and with particular characteristics that make them seem ‘naturally suited’ to this work, all while concealing the fact that this differentiation is socially constructed.
Laura Basu: That differentiation is often expressed as race. The process of racialisation is very useful for creating those divisions and hierarchies among workers that mean that some can be pushed into doing the dirtiest work.
Dalia Gebrial: So that differentiation process has historically been enacted, and is currently enacted, in the form of race. Race is not fixed across space and time, it is socially constructed in different ways at different points in history. So race, and the process of constructing it – racialisation – is that malleable differentiating process that capitalism has used to portion the dirtiest work in our society, often the most vital reproductive work, but the least valued and the least well paid. This malleability is vital to how modern capitalism is able to organise labour power, and how it is able to adapt itself across different geographies while maintaining the ability to discipline certain groups into the worst forms of extractive labour.
Laura Basu: It is questionable whether capitalism could continue to function without the underpaying of wages, and other forms of primitive accumulation that rely on racial, gender, and other forms of social differentiation and hierarchy, that are so essential for the profit margins of corporations.
Vijay Prashad’s team, for example, calculates that if the Iphone was produced in the United States, each phone would cost up to $30,000.
The stark differences in wages and living standards between countries shows how important the nation-state is in perpetuating structural racism. We might sometimes think of capitalist markets and nation-states as somehow opposed, but in fact, the nation-state is a central frame through which racial capitalism is mediated.
For a start, the borders of the nation-state determine who has to do the low paid ‘dirty work’ Dalia Gebrial described earlier – both inside and outside of those borders. While capital is mostly free to move around the world, people are not. This means that some parts of the world accumulate a lot of surplus labour, as people aren’t free to move around looking for work. These are often formally colonised regions where there has been mass internal migration from rural to urban areas, often due to land grabs. Multinational corporations are then able to drive down wages in those regions, especially where unions aren’t strong. Those who do manage to migrate often find themselves without legal worker protections and are likewise forced into work with low wages and poor conditions.
Dalia Gebrial explains how borders divide nations-states from each other but also create internal divides. And these borders dictate who gets access to the spoils of empire.
Dalia Gebrial: As my friend Nadine El-Enany argues, immigration law has become a key way through which the boundaries around the spoils of empire are racialised. They are a key way of deciding who does and does not deserve access to the profits of the capitalist system. So in the British context, proximity to British nationhood, British citizenship, whether it’s legally, politically or socially, determines your rights to share in the wealth of British society which itself is built off global extraction. So in this way the nation-state has become the key locus of identity, of how we make sense of who deserves what in a globalised world. When we understand the construction of borders in this way, we can then see that the policing of movement and existence among and within nation states becomes a key way that resources are held and hoarded by a particular group of people. If you take the example of oil extraction from Nigeria, those resources are taken, and used to fuel development in countries like Britain. The Nigerian people, or the people displaced from Nigeria, are then given limited access to the outcomes from the exploitation of those natural resources – even if they come from down the road from where those resources were extracted. These resources, and the profits from them, are held by a geographically and socially specific group of people, the boundaries around which are in part constructed through racialisation.
Laura Basu: As well as the economic policies we have heard about, former colonial powers continue to pursue neo-colonial foreign policies abroad. Vijay Prashad gives the example of French policy in the Sahel region of Africa, where France has more than 5000 troops across Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. The region is facing insurgencies from different groups, some linked to AL-Qaeda and Islamic State. French troops have been in the region off and on ever since they occupied it in the 19th Century:
Vijay Prashad: Look at France. France is continuing a colonial policy in the Sahel region of Africa, from Niger right out to the Atlantic Ocean – there are French Special Forces in the Sahel, in Agadez. They're not there because of humanitarian purposes. In Niger is one of the largest holdings of yellowcake uranium. And there's a town in Niger which powers most of French power plants, and if you go to this town, the whole town is surrounded by French Special Forces. It’s at the gateway to the Sahel region, just north of Agadez. So that's what they're there for. They're also there, because they've decided – the French, the Americans and others – they've decided to create Europe's border, no longer at the Mediterranean Sea because they don't want Europeans to see pictures of people on boats trying to cross the Mediterranean. They've moved Europe's border to the Sahel. They've totally militarized that region. They are working with those governments. It's a French policy called G4 Sahel, where they've built a wall out there – blocking people moving up into Libya into Algeria and then crossing over. They want to stop them there.
Laura Basu: Neo-colonial foreign policy can create enforced migration, where in their new country those displaced people are racialised and forced into doing the ‘dirty work’ Dalia Gebrial describes.
A third way that the nation-state enforces racial capitalism – this time within countries – is through what Charles Mills calls the ‘racial contract’. Charles Mills is a Professor of Philosophy at City University of New York. The likes of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau described western liberal democracies as being based on a kind of metaphorical social contract, where citizens agree to give up some of their freedoms in exchange for rights and protections from the state. Mills argues that this contract, however, is one based on racial exclusion and white supremacy, as black people were not entitled to those rights and privileges, and in fact the entitlements of a nation’s white members were based on the exclusion, dispossession and exploitation of racial others. That contract, therefore, is a racial contract. Mills was inspired by Carole Pateman’s work on the sexual contract:
Charles Mills: And Pateman says that's all very well as an ideal, but the reality is that women are not included as equals in the society that is created, in the polities that are created. They're sexually subordinated. So you know, you can't talk about a social contract in an inclusive sense. It's a social contract that has as part of it, a sexual contract with a different set of rules for men and for women. So that in effect the social contract, in so far as it’s egalitarian, it's an intra-male equality. So the guys agree to regard themselves as equal, and there's a contract among them to subordinate women and then this manifests itself of course, in women's lower legal status, social status, etc, etc. You can look at a long history of sex legislation, etc. So it's inspired by Carole’s book and I thought, well, this is great, you know, I mean, of course, it's bad, but it's great as a concept. Can you apply this to race? So in the case of race what you do is you say, let's look at the modern period. Let's look at European expansionism, imperialism, colonialism, white settler states, racial slavery, and it's clear that people of colour are not included as equals either. So in addition to being a sexual contract among men, it's a racial contract. So that then complicates it, because of course, it's really white men, even though you can have patriarchal systems among people of color, but in terms of people who have power over, it's not men in an unqualified way, it’s primarily white men. So the racial contract was then meant to say, if we're going to do political philosophy with a contact idea, we’re going to need to work with the sexual contract, and a racial contract. And what they have in common is that they are contracts of exclusion, rather than contracts of inclusion, they are contracts of oppression, rather than contracts of egalitarian inclusion, and what that immediately does, it gives you a far more accurate factual picture of the modern Western polity. So polities that are representing themselves as liberal, democratic and inclusive, are really sexist and racist.
Laura Basu: The continued state-sponsored killings of black people in the US are perhaps the most shocking and visible examples of the racial contract at work.
Mills identifies three principles of corrective justice to overcome the racial contract: end second class civic status, end racial exploitation and end interracial disrespect. For Mills, people of colour in western countries continue to have second class citizenship status in reality, if not on paper. In the US context, the routine killing of African Americans by the police, the mass incarceration of black men, and widespread voter suppression, are some of the most glaring examples of second class civic status.
Those calling to defund the police and abolish prisons argue that resources should instead be directed to health, housing, education and other areas instead, which could support the transition to first class citizenship.
Ending racial exploitation means reversing the ongoing economic effects of colonialism and slavery, including through reparations.
Lastly, ending interracial disrespect includes the current dismantling of monuments to slavers and colonists, and stopping black face, racial stereotyping, and the exclusion of people of colour from public discourse:
Charles Mills: And then finally, racial disrespect, this is in a lot of the stuff we've been seeing in terms of the symbolism of monuments. Because it's basically saying in the public sphere, here is this great Confederate hero who voted in order to keep slavery in existence, we attribute a lot of status to the guy – so what does that say to you black people? Well, clearly it shows that you did not deserve to be freed. So there's all these examples, monuments to Woodrow Wilson – a racist president, and so forth. You know, racism runs so deep in the US that it sort of permeates all these spheres, and on the level of symbolism, Native American sports mascots and team names and so forth. So there's all that symbolic stuff. But then in addition, there's things that have to do with, for example, representations of the body. So that a racially supremacist system also stigmatizes the bodies of those who do not belong to the privileged race. You then have a long history of disrespectful racist caricatures of the black body, and it manifests itself in ways that, the black body has to be disciplined when it appears in the public sphere.
Laura Basu: While some may criticise the focus of some of the protests on statues and other symbols, Mills shows how important respect is in itself. How can any group be expected to tolerate such overt gestures of degradation from the culture that they are part of? Language and symbols are not just about the ability to cause offense – they can be tools of oppression or of resistance.
That said, for Mills, it is important that the protests go beyond the level of respect, and embrace the other principles of corrective justice:
Charles Mills: Now, the question is this, however: are the changes going to be limited to the symbolic level, and not go very far in the substantive direction? The taking down of statues, the banning of the Confederate flag in public places, the renaming of institutions named after historical racist figures, all that is great. And you know, the symbolic is important in terms of sending a message to people, you are an equal in this society, not a stigmatized member. Nonetheless, the symbolic cannot substitute for the substantive. And the substantive means things like, as I said, this huge wealth gap, it means the difference in employment rates, black unemployment is usually even at the best of times about twice the rate of white unemployment. It means things like life expectancy and environmental racism, it means a radical reform of the educational system, which in the US is deeply segregated more than 60 years after the Brown versus Board of Education decision of 1954. So it’s unsurprising then that racism permeates the entire social order. The consequence of that is, to have remedial measures of racial justice will require a radical overturning of that order.
Laura Basu: For Vijay Prashad, the removal of statues is important, but the protests need to go further, both to forge more international solidarity, and to address current racial injustices driven by contemporary capitalism.
Vijay Prashad: It's true, write on Churchill statue racist, he was a racist. That's actually a description. That's not a value judgment. He was a racist, you know, I think he would have admitted to it. He was a racist, and he was genocidal. The things he wrote about the people of Waziristan – scary! I mean, it's actually scary to read Churchill. So that's him, you know, that's fine. Now let's say, okay, you're going after Churchill, you've written racist on the statue. What are the implications of this for countries around the world? You know, what are the implications of this for the rest of humankind? I mean, if you're worried or upset by human slavery and enslavement, let's ask the question – what impact did this have on the African continent?
Laura Basu: Belgian protesters targeted the statue of King Leopold II, who brutalised what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in the late nineteenth century. Prashad says it’s right to attack the statue, but the more recent history of neo-colonialism should also be remembered. Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of Congo – a democratic, anti-colonialist and pan-Africanist independence leader – was tortured and assassinated in 1961 in a coup supported by Belgium and the US. The dictator Joseph Mobutu who ruled the country from 1965 till 1997 with the backing of western countries, destablised the entire region, leading to conflict that by the time it ended in 2003 had killed 5.4 million people.
But the story doesn’t end there. Prashad emphasises the role not just of politicians but of multinational corporations in modern day colonial exploitation. Glencore, a Swiss multinational listed on the London Stock Exchange, is the biggest mining company in the world and has a strong presence in the DRC, which is Africa’s largest copper producer and the source of half the world’s cobalt. Glencore has been accused of environmental pollution, poisoning rivers, and allowing child labour in its African mines, and has faced several investigations into bribery and corruption.
Vijay Prashad: There are two kinds of statues. One is a statue of a person who had a terrible record in the past. The other is the headquarters of a multinational company that continues to do what those statues did in the past. So what about bringing down the headquarters of the multinational company? I would like to see that, you know, I would like to see the protest movement escalate further to demand the cancellation of the debt. And I would like to see them write 'racist' in front of the Glencore headquarters and bring it down.
Laura Basu: Prashad would like to see more international solidarity in western protest movements – for example that the yellow jackets or ‘gilets jaunes’ in France stand with protesters in the Sahel against French military presence in the region. Or that those committed to racial justice in the global north support anti-imperialist struggles like the Landless Workers movement in Brazil, or the popular movement being built by the Socialist Party of Zambia against the exploitation of the copper belt by European and Australian firms. Indigenous struggles to reclaim land expropriated in the process of colonisation, and against ongoing land grabs and forest evictions, are at the heart of the decolonial movement.
For Prashad, it is not possible to overcome either white supremacy or patriarchy within capitalism – the structures are too entrenched and too important to its functioning. A new economy will have to be built, and for Prashad, that economy should be socialist:
Vijay Prashad: We socially labor. Some of us get paid, some don't get paid, but we're all laboring. Whether I'm taking care of my kid or I'm earning a wage, I'm laboring socially, we produce the world socially, but the wealth that we produce is privately accumulated. And that to me, is the greatest source of suffering in the world, is that there is social labor and private accumulation. That's how I define capitalism. What I would like to see is a system where we socially labor, and we share the fruits of our social labor, and that name, you can give socialism. So it's a very simple distinction. You know, I don't think anybody would disagree except hardcore defenders of capitalism, who don't accept that we socially labor. You see, they think that there are some geniuses that have great ideas and therefore they should be rewarded for their ideas. I don't think that's the case. You know, I don't think there's a great genius – look at this pandemic, suddenly human labor is withdrawn, the system has collapsed. You know, why isn't Elon Musk able to make goods from his brain? He can't, he needs human labor. So in that sense, I would like to see a system where our social labor, the wealth of it is shared socially, and you want to call it socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it is fine by me, as long as our social labor is shared socially.
Laura Basu: But, it can’t be taken for granted that a new economy would automatically correct for racial injustice. For that, it would need to be consciously reparative. Financial reparations might be the first step towards a reparative economy, but a truly reparative economy goes even further. It means reimagining the kind of societies we want to live in, and what it means for us to live together. Gargi Bhattacharyya is a professor of sociology at the University of East London, and author of the book Rethinking Racial Capitalism. I asked her for her thoughts on reparations:
Gargi Bhattacharyya: I think that's a really necessary conversation. But I think part of the politics are in the conversation, because it's a whole conversation about what can be rectified through economic means. And through that, a kind of opening up of questions about what economic rights and economic well-being are. So I think it's like lots of abolitionist needles, you wedge in the needle, and then the whole wasp's nest is shaken up.
So, in some ways, I think that an anti-capitalist politics and an anti-capitalist economics needs to have a strand in which we debate what reparations would be. But that's not an op ed length kind of document. That's a whole set of practice, about if we were to build the new world that we are all dreaming of, one aspect would be what would be repaired, and that includes economic repair. And then that requires us to think differently, just as we must think differently about the nation-state and our rights to move, we then need to think differently about our rights to live. And then what recompense would be. Actually, I don't think an economic contract can fix the harm. What can you pay for genocide? Or generational dispossession or enslavement, ethnic cleansing, no, there isn't a price. Whatever price you'd give is not the price. And I'm not even talking about who you pay the price to. But to rebuild economic relations in which you stop thinking of transaction, value extraction, accumulation, and instead start to think about mutuality, survival and repair. That's a new world of economic life. And I think that's a shared project for all of us.
Laura Basu: Part of the politics are in the conversation because once we start calculating what is owed, we begin to realise that only a complete transformation could accomplish it.
For Ron Daniels of the National African American Reparations Commission and Ronald Galvin of the Democracy Collaborative, the important question is not how much must be paid, but rather how much must change. In the US context, they say that the system of racial capitalism must be overturned and replaced with ‘a democratic and reparative economy.’
Ronald Galvin: At the Democracy Collaborative, we’ve been doing some thinking around reparations as an immediate response to trauma as an event. But then also, what a democratic, reparative economy would actually look like. And, what we mean by that is, assuming that humans – no matter who we are – we are going to do damage at some point, despite our best intentions, what would it look like to actually have a democratic economy that is naturally and reflexively reparative? That would actually, as a consequence of its operations, would actually seek out trauma and harm and seek to repair it, just as a natural reflex? [source]
Laura Basu: They cite black-led democratic economic projects like Cooperation Jackson, the Ujima Project, the Boston Impact Initiative, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, and The Atlanta Wealth Building Initiative as the roots of this new economy.
In an era of mass bailouts for big business, one proposal they share for a reparative economy is for the public to take an ownership stake in those companies. An audit of the companies’ role in historical colonialism and current neo-colonialism would be a condition of the bailout. The public could then decide what reparative actions should be taken. This could include funds supporting black-led co-operatives, universal basic income, community land trusts, green economy initiatives, and even movements to defund the police and build black civic and political power.
These are the conversations that also urgently need to be had on the global level. International solidarity with the kinds of anti-imperialist and decolonial struggles discussed earlier is a necessary step towards building that global reparative economy.
Seeing as borders are central tools of racial capitalism, opening state borders would also be an important part of the conversation about what a global reparative economy would look like. For the very rich, there are already open borders – over 100 countries offer so-called ‘golden passports’ in exchange for millions, or sometimes hundreds of thousands, in investment into the country.
The levels of state bordering we see today is a relatively new phenomenon. At the same time, some regions of the world are already experimenting with open borders, most obviously, the EU. Gargi Bhattacharyya explains:
Gargi Bhattacharyya: Bordering is a central technique of global racial capitalism. It may be that different nation states are themselves placed in a hierarchy of power and influence and domination in that global system of bordering. But the answer is not to let – even though I did laugh when Bangladesh said “Haha, you Europeans, you'll have to be quarantined now” [laughs] – the answer is not to allow the Global South to say, it’s our turn to be nasty border guards... That can't be our vision. Our vision must be to say that not only the prevention of movement, but be the guiding of the speed and direction of movement of human beings around the world – that's one of the ways in which capitalist death and racial capitalist death is enacted upon us. That's what racism means. So, course if someone calls me Paki on the bus, I think they're racist, but the racism I care about is not so much the woman on the bus – I wish she would unlearn it but she said it – but the racism which says these populations are disposable, expendable, and we will shop them around the world and make them stop here. A million in Chittagong. However, many in Calais. Some will die in the water. All this monitoring of movement, actually in human history, it's relatively recent that we even have the kind of techniques to do that.
And, significant parts of the world are constantly in a process of experimenting with semi open borders within a region. Europe has that kind of experiment. Europe has a difficulty because it wants it both ways. It wants free movement for some and absolute bordering for others. That's what makes it a trickier but the experiment in free movement is kind of saying you know what, maybe bordering isn't the top action of the nation-state, maybe that's not the characteristic, maybe we can just stop it because we think something else is more important, like staying alive.
Laura Basu: How a world with open borders or no borders at all can be achieved, how it would function and what it would look like are all unknowns. What would nation-states look like in such a world? Would they even exist? What about first nations, indigenous communities that continually have their boundaries violated by racial capitalism, how would they ensure their sovereignty in a reparative economy without state borders? Again, part of the politics is in the conversation, which can help prise open the can of worms of our political economy and reveal the need for transformation at the deepest level.
This is a time of danger and extreme uncertainty, but for many, it is also a time of hope and change. For Bhattacharyya, we are living in a moment of historical possibility:
Gargi Bhattacharyya: We're not quite there yet. The talk, the action, the goals, they're not quite in alignment. We're not a big mass movement where someone's going to loudspeaker the agenda at the top, maybe somewhere in Washington or London or Delhi, wherever, and everyone hears it. It's not the call to prayer. That's not how we're organized. But there's something happening simultaneously in different places. A slight stretching out between how you articulate our understanding of unbearable injustice, and how we mobilize as a mixed group against that. I think actually in similar ways, some of the stuff against sexual violence and India seemed to have moments of it, some of the stuff against anti gay laws in India seem to have moments of it. Some of the stuff against sexual violence in different parts of the world have these little moments when the particular claim suddenly reaches into people's heads and hearts and political imagination. So it becomes much larger and can spread. And then people are suddenly able to very, very quickly make these alliances between a whole range of different claims.
I think there's a kind of openness to how urgent the situation is. Our collective survival is really under question. And that when people come together, sometimes momentarily, sometimes for longer to say, actually, my survival is your survival, there's no difference between them. Almost regardless of the ways in which they articulate that claim, as long as it is about – this is our slow or quick death and to escape it we must do this thing together – that seems to me what the anticapitalist subject looks like for us right now. I think people know each other and see each other, and even if they don't speak in those words, it's already happening. So I think it even doesn't matter if we write about it or not, because it's already being lived, it’s there.
Laura Basu: Throughout this ourVoices documentary, we’ve seen how the origins of capitalism and the industrial revolution lie in colonialism and slavery, and how racialised processes of exploitation continue to fuel our global and domestic economies – through land grabs, debt, and ultra low wages.
Rather than being something biological, race is socially constructed, and the process of racialisation helps create hierarchies among people and places, which sustain the profit margins of corporations.
Though we might think of the state and the market as being in opposition to each other, in fact capitalism couldn’t function without nation-states, and the nation-state is one of the key actors of racial capitalism, through bordering, neo-colonial foreign policy, and the racial contract.
And, we’ve heard ideas for overcoming the racial contract and building a new, reparative economy, through international solidarity, economic democracy, and tackling borders.
As Gargi Bhattacharyya said, this time of climate catastrophe, coronavirus pandemic, and confrontation with racial capitalism, is about fighting for our collective survival. Our struggles are all connected. This is the time for us to come together, forge those alliances, and, together, build the new world that we are all dreaming of.
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