Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition

Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition

by Cedric J. Robinson

Marxist analyses tend to presuppose European models of history and experience that downplay the significance of black people and black communities as agents of change and resistance.

Black radicalism must be linked to the traditions of Africa and the unique experiences of blacks on western continents, Robinson argues, and any analyses of African American history need to acknowledge this.To illustrate his argument, Robinson traces the emergence of Marxist ideology in Europe, the resistance by blacks in historically oppressive environments, and the influence of both of these traditions on such important twentieth-century black radical thinkers as W.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 4.36
  • Pages: 480
  • Publish Date: January 24th 2000 by University of North Carolina Press
  • Isbn10: 0807848298
  • Isbn13: 9780807848296

What People Think about "Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition"

On the contrary, the character of capitalism can only be understood in the social and historical context of its appearance." 25 And because this is true, the age-old conceptions of race, enemy and exploitable other simply translated itself into new terms as the world changed: "As an enduring principle of European social order, the effects of racialism were bound to appear in the social expression of every strata of every European society no matter the structures upon which they were formed. He argues that ideologies have in fact "helped to abort those social and historical processes believed to be necessary and inevitable; have catalyzed rebellions and revolutions in often unlikely circumstances and among unlikely peoples; and have assisted in extraordinary historical achievement where failure was "objectively" immanent." 82 Only then do we return to race: In short, there were at least four distinct moments that must be apprehended in European racialism; two whose origins are to be found within the dialectic of European development, and two that are not: 1. Rather, it is a specifically African response to an oppression emergent from the immediate determinants of European development in the modern era and framed by orders of human exploitation woven into the interstices of European social life from the inception of Western civilization: 97 Robinson finds how this was ignored in a deep historical look at previous contacts between Blacks and whites, the shift of Blacks being seen as Islamic militants and soldiers to slaves and a very different set of stereotypes. He claims that such an absence shows that This was a revolutionary consciousness that proceeded from the whole historical experience of Black people and not merely from the social formations of capitalist slavery or the relations of production of colonialism. It becomes clear, then, that for the period between the mid-sixteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, it was an African tradition that grounded collective resistance by Blacks to slavery and colonial imperialism. Nowhere, not even in Russia, where a rebellious urban proletariat was a fraction of the mobilized working classes, had a bourgeois social order formed a precondition for revolutionary struggle. Revolutionary consciousness had formed in the process of antiimperialist and nationalist struggles, and the beginnings of resistance had often been initiated by ideological constructions remote from the proletarian consciousness that was a presumption of Marx's theory of revolution. The idiom of revolutionary consciousness had been historical and cultural rather than the "mirror of production." The oppositions that had struck most deeply at capitalist domination and imperialism had been those formed outside the logic of bourgeois hegemony. This section looks more at his critiques of Marxism, some interesting reflections on Black Jacobins and this interesting passage: "It implied (and James did not see this) that bourgeois culture and thought and ideology were irrelevant to the development of revolutionary consciousness among Black and other Third World peoples. There's this: For Wright, it was not sufficient for Black liberation that his people come to terms with the critique of capitalist society. The epistemological nature of historical materialism took bourgeois society on its own terms, that is, presuming the primacy of economic forces and structures.56 As such, the historical development from feudalism of the bourgeoisie as a class served as a logical model for the emergence of the proletariat as a negation of capitalist society. Even as early as 1937, he had begun to argue that it was necessary that Blacks transform the Marxist critique into an expression of their own emergence as a negation of Western capitalism. Just as important for him, however, was the realization that the racism of the American "white" working classes and their general ideological immaturity had abnegated the extent to which the conditions of capitalist production and relations alone could be held responsible for the social development of the American proletariat. 449 And my final quote which I believe deserves much thought: Western Marxism, in either of its two variants-critical-humanist or scientific-has proven insufficiently radical to expose and root out the racialist order that contaminates its analytic and philosophic applications or to come to effective terms with the implications of its own class origins.

This is an excellent theoretical and historical story about slavery, oppression, Marxism, and an intellectual history of Dubois, Wright and other black radicals. Then he moves to discuss the Haitian slave rebellion and the various rebellions in the states and how that was the genesis of black radicalism in this continent.

The argument is that an autonomous, Black radical tradition exists outside of Western Marxism. This book offers an important corrective to hegemonic Western historiography and white Marxism.

This book is worth reading if you want a black radical critique of Marxism, a wide-spanning history of rebellious movements in the African diaspora, and a history of how three central black radical figures evolved out of orthodox Marxism to further the black radical tradition.

He explores the dynamics of racism & slavery & how the destruction of knowledge of our past was used as a means to construct a negative image of Africans, divorcing us from our history & traditions, passing on the same negative characteristics they would give to all whites that weren't of Anglo Saxon descent. Divorced from knowledge of their previous historical contact, with the rise of Christianity as the guide & leader of Europeans & their culture they constructed their own image of themselves & the world which was constantly challenged by the reality of African civilizations, Muslim civilizations & Asian civilizations. Muslim Civilizations were particularly important as with their rise & conquests, unlike their European counterparts would do later, they kept in tact the knowledge & histories of those they came in contact with or conquered. These legends in conjunction with the history of dehumanizing outsiders that goes back to the use of the term Barbarian by the Greeks would go on to serve the purpose of elevating themselves in their own eyes & laid the foundation for the racism that came with Transatlantic Slave Trade. It is through the combination of the historical roots of European racism, it's losing knowledge of previous historical contact, later re-introduction to Africans, the emergence of mercantile capitalism & it's transformation into industrial capitalism & it's need for "free" & cheap labor that lays the foundation for black radical traditions. He ties them all together to demonstrate the historical conditions that inform our liberation movements & make them distinct from what Marxism typically assumes to be working-class movements that would spring forth because of capitalism due to its Eurocentric influences. As Marxism tends to hold that historical conditions inform the movements, seeing as how the histories of labor for Europeans & Africans are similar but not even close to identical, the history given shows where missteps have occurred on assessing & recognizing how black liberation movements came to be & function. A good chunk of the focus is on the failure of their interactions or why some never came to be, mainly due to lack of understanding of the traditions & history that informed black radicals & how working class whites were averse to blacks in general & how they became pawns for northern industrialists for racism to keep them divided. "At the moment when a people begin to realize a meaning in their suffering, the civilization that engenders that suffering is doomed." It isn't just the conditions created by capitalism that inform the lives & any social eruptions that may spring forth, but also their beliefs, mores & morals, that usually stem from previous beliefs. All of these, these cultures, because of any breaks brought about via exploitation, colonialism & imperialism, survive & develop in defiance of that oppression.It has been so with any oppressed group as historically, with or without contact with Marxist thought, they have most often been able to push Marxism further than most western European radicals as their existence & experience show a unique contradiction with the system that spares them most illusions of assimilation. For Africans it has been that via slavery, colonialism & imperialism PLUS our struggles to keep our cultures in tact however we can & develop our own whereever we are displaced, all in defiance, that creates our black radical traditions.

Most people on the outside don't know this, but BU is a hotbed of radical political theory. Marxists who truly understand the full breadth of post-colonial theory accompanied by anarchism and who have actually taken the time to read Capital are a dying breed. There are maybe a half a dozen people in America who could have written a book like this without selling out to some sort of petty "Identity Politics" shenanigans.

Kelley's description of the book's momentous accomplishment, its range of erudition, and its radical challenge to Marxist theory proved a bit intimidating, and I resolved to return to the work when I could devote the appropriate amount of time to the encounter. To seize on a small but telling example, Robinson refers on multiple occasions to the 'contradiction between the mode of production and the relations of production.' Now, as anyone even basically familiar with Marxist theory would tell you, a mode of production is the result of a certain combination of the forces of production (technology and organization of the labor process) and the relations of production (how the exploiting class appropriates the surplus from the producing class). In short, Black Marxism is a book which relies for its effectiveness on its readership's ignorance of the object of its critique.

He argues that Black Nationalism is a continuation of these traditions and can and should fit into a Marxist critique of the world (a critique that includes an analysis of capitalism and how it gives rise to its own demise). It's the first book I've read that has made the case for third-world movements being the primary loci of struggle against capitalism.