ADELAIDE - Phil Fitzpatrick is right to equate racism with economic oppression, as they clearly go hand in hand.
You do not need to be a Marxist to understand that neo-liberal capitalism relies upon the ability to exploit labour in order to flourish.
The basic theory underpinning capitalism as outlined by Adam Smith is that if each person is free to pursue his or her own economic best interests so the total economy must inevitably grow.
This is so because every economic exchange generates a profit which means that, over time, the total size of the economy will grow.
Smith was wise enough to understand that the role of government is to moderate the worst excesses of capitalism by, for example, preventing the emergence of gigantic monopolies or oligopolies and generally ensuring that economic activity was conducted fairly.
Karl Marx's contribution was to point out that capitalism is inherently exploitative.
It largely relies upon capitalists being able to convert the labour of their workforce into products and services which are sold at a profit, with profit being maximised by, amongst other things, labour costs being minimised.
Capitalists allow their workers to share in the wealth they create only to the minimum extent necessary to secure their cooperation in the production of goods and services for sale.
A person's colour is significant in this capitalist process because racism is a mechanism by which a defined group can be regarded as essentially ‘non-human’, thereby providing a philosophical or moral justification for their enslavement or some other form of exploitation.
This is why the founding fathers of the USA could proclaim that "all men are created equal" whilst at the same time acknowledging that this supposedly universal statement did not apply to black people because, as Phil Fitzpatrick mentioned, they were regarded as an inferior sort of human or even non-human.
Even at the time, the fundamental hypocrisy of this position was well understood and there was a vociferous anti-slavery movement, especially in the northern states.
It set the scene for the American Civil War because it created moral and economic tensions within the new republic that could not be resolved politically.
Papua New Guinea was spared the very worst form of European imperial capitalism and the associated racism.
This is so because, by the time PNG was being drawn into the modern world, most people regarded the routine racism of the past as unacceptable.
This is not to say that the exploration and pacification of PNG was without blemish, as this is clearly not the case.
But the Administration's basic position was that the population should be brought under the rule of law as humanely and non-violently as possible.
Thus while the Administration was, at some level at least, informed by a racist outlook, this was hugely modified by an insistence upon procedural fairness in applying the rule of law and a determination that the people should not be dispossessed of their land and so avoid the fate of many Africans who became refugees in their own country.
While what might be called petty racism was an underlying issue in PNG, the grotesquely systemic racism found in the pre-Civil War USA and many European colonies in Africa was not allowed to develop.
Also, the worst excesses of capitalism were not visited upon Papua New Guineans, with significant restrictions imposed upon colonists to ensure that the wholesale depredations of Africa were not repeated.
Thus was PNG spared the worst of either racism or capitalism and able to smoothly and peacefully transition from colonial dependency to full independence.
All that said, a problem for PNG now is to avoid becoming ensnared in a new form of economic colonialism which may turn out to be every bit as pernicious and destructive as overt racism.