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a set of beliefs, ideologies and social processes that discriminate against others on the basis of their supposed membership of a ‘racial’ group (see RACE, ETHNICITY). The term has been used in a variety of ways to describe both systems of thought and doctrines which justify the biological superiority of one social group over another, through to descriptions of practices and attitudes which produce racial DISCRIMINATION and disadvantage. The concept of racism is thoroughly reviewed by Robert Miles (Racism, 1989).

Writers such as Michael Banton (The Idea of Race, 1977) suggest that racism is a doctrine which asserts stable biological differences between groups standing in relationships of superiority and inferiority Other writers such as John Rex (Race and Ethnicity, 1986), Martin Barker (The New Racism, 1981) and Robert Miles (op. cit.) have variously argued that the essence of racism is the belief that there is a relationship between the membership of a socially created category and the possession of specific characteristics. The underlying explanation of these differences may be, for example, cultural, religious or historical, and need not be biological or pseudobiological. In Europe, varieties of racist ideology have been used to justify colonial exploitation, aggression against nations and oppression of minority groups. Most of these ideologies, according to Banton, shared assumptions that:

  1. variations in the behaviour and constitution of individuals were to be explained as the expression of different underlying biological types of a permanent kind;
  2. differences between these types explained variations in the cultures of human populations;
  3. the distinctive nature of these types explained the superiority of Europeans in general and ‘Aryans’ in particular;
  4. the friction between nations and individuals of different type arise from these innate characteristics.

Racism played a key part in the rise and dominance of German FASCISM. The German nation as a ‘pure RACE’ was alleged to require the elimination of the biologically distinct and inferior Jews if it were to survive. This virulent and crude racism led to the death of some six million Jews (see HOLOCAUST).

Miles argues that ‘the concept of racism should be used to refer to what can broadly be called an ideology … racism works by attributing meanings to certain phenotypical and/or genetic characteristics of human beings in such a way as to create a system of categorization, and by attributing additional (negatively evaluated) characteristics to the people sorted into these categories. This process of signification is therefore the basis for the creation of a hierarchy of groups, and for establishing criteria by which to include and exclude groups of people in the process of allocating resources and services.’

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the totality of antiscientific conceptions based on propositions concerning the physical and mental inequality of the races of man and the decisive influence of racial differences on the history and culture of human society. Characteristic of all varieties of racism are false, misanthropic ideas regarding the primordial division of people into higher and lower races. The higher races, which are alleged to be the sole creators of civilization, are destined to rule. The lower races, which are said to be incapable of creating or even assimilating high culture, are doomed to be the objects of exploitation.

Notions concerning the natural inequality of races emerged in slaveholding society, where they served as the justification for the social differences between the slaveholders and the slaves. During the Middle Ages the inequality of the social estates was supported by assertions of “blood” differences between the “aristocracy” and the common people. During the epoch of the primitive accumulation of capital (16th-18th centuries), when the European states first seized colonies, racism served the goals of inhuman exploitation, and it frequently provided the grounds for exterminating the American Indians, the Africans, and many peoples of southern Asia, Australia, and Oceania.

The first general “scholarly works” on racism appeared in the mid-19th century. J. A. de Gobineau’s Essay on the Inequality of Human Races declared that the fair-haired, blue-eyed Aryans were the “higher” race. According to Gobineau, the Aryans, the creators of all the high civilizations, survived in the “purest” form among the aristocracy of the Germanic peoples. Gobineau’s theory, which was based on the scientifically unfounded identification of races with language groups, became the cornerstone of many racist conceptions. J. C. Nott and G. R. Glid-don (USA) attempted to prove the racial inferiority of the Negroes from the standpoint of polygenism in the book Types of Mankind (1865). Later, racist ideas were closely associated with social Darwinism, whose exponents applied C. Darwin’s doctrine of natural selection and the struggle for survival to human society (G. Haycraft and B. Kidd of Great Britain, J. Lapouge of France, L. Woltman, H. Chamberlain, and O. Ammon of Germany, and M. Grant of the USA).

In their systems of thought the social Darwinists made extensive use of Malthusianism and the propositions of eugenics to prove the superiority of the hereditary attributes of the ruling classes to those of the working people, to demonstrate the usefulness of artificial selection of conjugal pairs for improving the race, and to show the need for the compulsory sterilization of those recognized as “genetically inferior.” All of these misanthropic assertions became particularly widespread during the epoch of imperialism in Great Britain, Germany, and the USA.

After World War I (1914–18) the “Nordic myth” became popular in reactionary circles, primarily in Germany. The myth asserted the superiority to all other races of the northern (Nordic) race of tall, long-headed blonds, who were said to be genetically linked with the Germanic-speaking peoples. The Nordic myth, a variant of racism based on conceptions associated with Gobineau and Lapouge, was popularized in the works of many German pseudoscientists who openly supported Nazism (H. Gunther, for example). However, because the majority of the Nazis, including Hitler, did not physically resemble the Nordic racial type, the ideologists of German fascism increasingly referred not to a race of long-headed, tall blonds but to a “northern racial spirit” or simply a “higher race,” which also included the Italian fascists and the Japanese militarists.

Under the Hitlerite dictatorship in Germany racism was made the official ideology of fascism and was used to justify the seizure of foreign territory, the physical annihilation of many millions of peaceful people (primarily in the USSR and the Slavic countries), and the incarceration, torture, and execution of German antifascists in concentration camps. Similar “racist practices” were carried out by the Japanese militarists in China and other Asian countries and by the Italian fascists in Ethiopia, Albania, and Greece.

The utter defeat of fascism inflicted a crushing blow to racism and its bloody practices and completely exposed the misanthropic essence of the myth of the “higher German race.”

After World War II (1939–45) the adherents of racism attempted to “prove” the mental inferiority of various racial groups by means of tests of intellectual capabilities (the intelligence quotient, or IQ). This trend is associated with the American psychologists H. Garrett, A. M. Shuey, and A. R. Jensen. The results of the tests were actually predetermined not by the racial affiliation of the subjects but by their social status and by their living and working conditions (for example, O. Klineberg, Race and Psychology, 1956).

In contemporary capitalist countries (particularly the Republic of South Africa and Rhodesia) racism is used to justify racial discrimination, segregation, and in many instances, even genocide. In the USA the struggle against the theory and practice of racism is growing stronger among Negroes and Indians, as well as among progressive strata of white Americans.

In the Republic of South Africa and Rhodesia, there are laws and actively implemented prohibitive and repressive measures intended to prevent social contact and marriage between whites, on the one hand, and blacks and Cape Colored, on the other. The implementation of a policy of segregation and apartheid in these countries has been accompanied by bloody incidents, killings, and harsh persecution of the opponents of racism. Of the 22 million inhabitants of the Republic of South Africa (1970), only the whites (3.8 million, or about 20 percent of the population) enjoy the full rights of citizens. The rest of the population, including Africans, Cape Colored (mestizos), and Asian émigrés (chiefly Indians), are subjected to legally established discrimination in all aspects of labor and everyday life. Similar conditions prevail in Rhodesia, where racism is proclaimed the official ideology and is intended to perpetuate the rule of the European minority (less than 300,000) over the African majority (more than 4 million).

In many other countries different varieties of racism are used to substantiate various nationalistic conceptions and to inflame hostility between peoples. Before the downfall of the fascist dictatorship in Portugal (1974), the indigenous African populations of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau were subjected to racial discrimination. The antiscientific myth of the existence of a single Jewish nation (natsiia, nation in the historical sense) is part of the arsenal of Zionism.

In Canada the Eskimo, Indians, and African émigrés are the targets of racial discrimination. In Australia the aborigines (about 80,000) are subjected to racial discrimination. After World War II discrimination grew more intense in Great Britain against “colored” immigrants from the British Commonwealth (more than 1.5 million in 1974). Joining the ideologists of imperialism and seeking to substantiate their own great-power policies, the Maoists propagandize their theory of the racial unity of the peoples of Asia and the exclusiveness of China, which is alleged to be the hegemon of world history.

The sociopolitical and scientific struggle against all varieties of racism emerged simultaneously with the appearance of racist works. Progressive public figures, writers, and scholars from all countries are actively involved in the struggle against racism, the complete untenability of which has been demonstrated by data gathered by the various social and natural sciences, anthropology, ethnology, and other disciplines that study races and peoples. The morphological and physiological attributes distinguishing the races from each other are of little significance for the general biological evolution and historical development of man.

History provides evidence that socioeconomic and cultural progress are the result not of a population’s racial composition but its social system. The practice of building socialism and communism in the USSR, with its extremely diverse racial composition, demonstrates the complete groundlessness of the conception of the existence of higher and lower races and of the notion that race is a determinant of the historical process. Additional evidence against racist ideas is provided by the economic and cultural successes of the other socialist states of Europe, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Korean Democratic People’s Republic, Cuba, and the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the populations of which belong to different races and include many mixed and transitional groups.

The 21st session of the UN General Assembly passed a resolution under which March 21 is observed as an international day of struggle for the elimination of racial discrimination, in memory of the victims of the Sharpeville massacre (1960) and shootings in other South African cities. Conferences of experts and specialists convened by UNESCO in Moscow (1964) and Paris (1967) condemned all forms of racism. The 25th session of the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution confirming the UN’s “firm determination to achieve the complete elimination of racial discrimination and racism, against which the conscience and sense of justice of all of humanity rebel” (Document A[RLS] 2646 [XXV], Dec. 4, 1970). The year 1971 was proclaimed the International Year to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, and 1974–84 was declared the decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination.

The struggle against racism is an integral part of the political and ideological struggle between the world of capitalism and the world of socialism, between the exploiter classes and the working people, and between the imperialists and the nations that have recently won independence.


Nauka o rasakh i rasizm (collection of articles). Moscow-Leningrad, 1938.
Anglo-amerikanskaia etnografiia na sluzhbe imperializma (collection of articles). Moscow, 1951.
Roginskii, Ia. Ia., and M. G. Levin. “Rasizm i ego sotsial’nye korni.” In Antropologiia. Moscow, 1963.
Protiv rasizma [collection of articles]. Moscow, 1966.
Dokumenty oblichaiut rasizm. Moscow, 1968.
“Net!”—rasizmu. Moscow, 1969.
Narody protiv rasizma. Moscow, 1970.
Cheboksarov, N. N., and I. A. Cheboksarova. “Obshchestvennoe razvitie chelovechestva i rasy.” In their book Narody, rasy, kul’tury. Moscow, 1971.
Rasy i narody, fascs. 1–5. Moscow, 1971–74.
Winston, H. “Ob”edinit’ usiliia v bor’be s rasizmom.” Problemy mira i sotsializma, 1974, no. 5.
Races and Peoples: Contemporary Ethnic and Racial Problems. Moscow, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.