The terms “black radicalism” and “racial capitalism” have become buzzwords in the revitalised international discussion about race that has arisen in parallel with the Black Lives Matter movement since 2013. Indeed, the idea that capitalism is inherently linked to racism is a common sense among many left-wing activists. Nevertheless, how exactly to understand that link is no settled matter. In a recent seminar on racial capitalism, former Race & Class editor Arun Kundnani said of the concept, “We are still in the process of deciding what we mean by it”.1 The term has been taken on a range of meanings. These extend from the idea that capitalist firms actively downplay the racial disadvantage faced by black people, as a recent article on the Vox website suggested, to the sophisticated argument about the interaction between racism and capital in Gargi Bhattacharyya’s Rethinking Racial Capitalism(2018).2
However, the core concept was developed in the 1980s by the radical black scholar Cedric Robinson, and it is his version that this article will centre around. Kundnani has correctly pointed to the reasons behind the concept’s popularity on the left, which “lies in its apparent bridging of the economic and the cultural, of the class struggle and the struggle against white supremacy, allowing us to understand police and plantation violence as linked to capital accumulation”.3
Robinson developed the concept over a number of years. For him, “racial capitalism” meant that capitalism has been inseparably linked to ideas of race and racism throughout its history. Capitalism built up its wealth from the transatlantic slave trade and colonial exploitation. For Robinson, there is no such thing as non-racist capitalism. Because of this, he argues that a “black radicalism” is necessary; racially oppressed peoples, particularly those of African descent, have been exploited by the capitalist system since its foundation, and they are also key to liberation from it. He states that “racial regimes are constructed social systems in which race is proposed as a justification for the relations of power”.4
This article will examine how Robinson’s concept of racial capitalism developed, particularly in his central work, Black Marxism (1983). It will also look at his shifting and contradictory relationship with Marxist ideas. Robinson emerged from the black movement of the 1960s in the United States and was concerned with how capitalism, imperialism, class and race intersect. He looked to many activists and intellectuals from the black radical tradition who had been drawn to Marxism. Although he was highly critical of what he saw as the failures of Marxist theory around race, class and liberation, he has still inspired many who work within the revolutionary Marxist tradition. The activist and theorist Angela Davis, for instance, said that Robinson “challenged us to think about the role of black radical theorists and activists in shaping social and cultural histories”.5
Nevertheless, this article will critique Robinson’s ideas about Marxism in relation to three specific and important questions: whether racism pre-dated capitalism; whether the working class is a “universal” class, able to lead all oppressed people to freedom; and how a dialectical understanding of history relates to determinism. Where possible, I will look to black writers in the Marxist tradition to emphasise a vital recognition that emerges from a reading Robinson’s works: just how closely black theorists have been involved in developing Marxist theory.
Indeed, some of Robinson’s criticisms of Marxism can act as a corrective to reductionist attitudes in some strains of the left that relegate battles against oppression to matters that can be resolved simply through the class struggle. In some cases, these fights can even be seen as a distraction. The black Marxist Hubert Harrison described one example of such attitudes. When working as an organiser in 1912 for the American Socialist Party, which was then a significant organisation, he was outraged that it permitted racially segregated branches. He wrote, “Southernism or socialism—which? Is it to be the white half of the working class against the black half, or all of the working class together?”6 The party maintained segregation and lost Harrison. A more contemporary example is in modern-day France, where much of the left has gone along with an establishment Islamophobia that hides behind “secularism” and the supposedly progressive values of the French Republic. In the case of both the U.S. in the 1910s and France in the 21st century, the practical result is to drive a part of the working class away from socialist politics.
Ideas that link racism directly to capitalism can also provide a platform from which to critique currents in black politics that see reforming the system as a solution and downplay the importance of class. In Futures of Black Radicalism (2017), U.S. professor Darryl C Thomas, reflecting on Robinson’s ideas, argues that:
One of the consequences of neoliberal, globalised U.S. capitalism for many African Americans is a growing difference in life chances between poor and affluent blacks… a divide that is beginning to be reflected in black politics and black public opinion.7
In recent decades the anti-racist movement internationally has tended to break up into more specific interest groups in a way that reduces the possibility of solidarity. Perhaps the clearest example of this is American Descendants of Slavery, an organisation founded in 2016 that focuses on reparations for slavery but rejects solidarity with other racially oppressed groups such as migrants from Africa and the Caribbean.8 This kind of division is something that Robinson himself always rejected. For instance, writing on the fatal shooting of a black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, Robinson drew connections between the false justifications and lies issued by U.S. police and those issued by the Israeli army during its assualts on Gaza.9 His insistence on always looking to make such links is a key strength of his work.
Who was Cedric Robinson?
Robinson was born in 1940 in the black, working-class district of Oakland, California, which would later become the launchpad for the Black Panther Party. He was raised by his extended family during a great wave of black migration to the cities. In 1959—without the support of his school—he arrived at the University of California, Berkeley, to study social anthropology. Unaware of the racist assumptions made about black people:
He simply showed up…and stood in the registration line… Perhaps because he followed an international student, was dark skinned, and projected a sense of entitlement at a university with so few black students, the registrar assumed he was an African national and asked if his government planned to pay his fees.10
He got in, working to pay his way, and became a student activist. In 1961 when the U.S. organised the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of revolutionary Cuba, Robinson organised a protest. He also invited Malcolm X to speak on campus. Later, he completed a doctorate at Stanford University in California, although much of the work was undertaken while visiting the University of Sussex in South East England. These writings became his first book, The Terms of Order (1980), which argued against the hierarchical political structure that Robinson identified with the core of Western thought. In its place, he proposed a specifically “black radicalism”.11 He went on to become director of the Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Thomas describes the agenda that Robinson set while in this role:
He established workshops every weekend…to examine issues related to Marxism, anarchism, radical black politics, political theory, gender and feminism… Guest lecturers included C L R James, Robert Williams, James Boggs and Grace Boggs.12
Robinson wrote Black Marxism, his key text, while living in Cambridge, England. He worked with the Institute of Race Relations and activist intellectuals such as Ambalavaner Sivanandan, Paul Gilroy and C L R James, who were all central in developing anti-racist strategy and theory in Britain. The trip affected his political development. Race had become a central issue in British politics. An anti-racist movement developed that focused on “political blackness”: the oppression of non-white people who had faced colonisation, whether they were of African descent or Asian. Sivanandan, who was Sri Lankan, stressed particularly the links between culture, identity and resistance, saying, “We do not need a cultural identity for its own sake but to make use of positive aspects of our culture to forge correct alliances and fight the correct battles”.13
Black Marxism explores the relationship between racism, anti-racism and Marxism. The book is ambitious and wide-ranging; at its best, it is a celebration of people gaining agency over their own lives. It has sections on the development of capitalism, the working class and nationalism, but the strongest part looks in depth at the emergence of a black radical tradition over the past 500 years. It talks of people and ideas transported from Africa, and it examines maroon populations across the Americas—slaves who had escaped and mixed with local peoples. Robinson convincingly describes the significance of these communities and the ideological danger they posed to the institution of slavery:
All capitalists believed the brutality of the slave system to be a practical necessity. Maroon settlements like those of Jamaica, Cuba and North America had to be destroyed, or failing that, quarantined. They could not be allowed to contaminate a labour upon which so much depended.14
Many of Black Marxism’s themes are expanded in An Anthropology of Marxism(2001). This is a fascinating history of socialist thought and its interaction with dissident European Christianity, even though it is ultimately flawed by its reductionist view of Marxism. His Black Movements in America (1997) is also a valuable history and includes a detailed analysis of how class has affected the development of African American resistance. Robinson died in 2016, as a new anti-racist movement was starting to blossom. His major works are now back in print, alongside an illuminating new collection of his essays, On Racial Capitalism, Black Internationalism and Cultures of Resistance, which was published in 2019.
Robinson argues that capitalism can never be divorced from the racial concepts that grew up with it:
The development, organisation and expansion of capitalist society pursued essentially racial directions, and so too did social ideology. As a material force, then, it could be expected that racialism would inevitably permeate the social structures emergent from capitalism.15
He cites two broadly related reasons for this interrelated development of capitalism and racism. Firstly, capitalism emerged in Europe, where he argues there was already racial division of a kind unseen elsewhere in the world. According to Robinson:
The bourgeoisie…were drawn from particular ethnic and cultural groups; the European proletariat and the mercenaries of the leading states from others; its peasants from still other cultures; and its slaves from entirely different worlds. The tendency of European civilisation through capitalism was thus not to homogenise but to differentiate—to exaggerate regional, subcultural, and dialectical differences into “racial” ones.16
Secondly, in the centuries before industrial capitalism arose, mercantile capitalism was dominant, developing on the back of the transatlantic slave trade, with its racial exploitation and oppression of Africans. This too inseparably bound capitalism and racism together, producing racial capitalism.
Robinson came across the term “racial capitalism” in Britain. It was developed by South African Marxists to understand the apartheid regime.17 These theorists challenged an orthodoxy among South Africa’s opposition African National Congress (ANC) that apartheid was alien to capitalism. Instead, they argued that racism had been vital to the development of South African capitalism. Although this central position is convincing, the specific arguments—that parts of the South African economy remained pre-capitalist, allowing the super-exploitation of the black population—are less so.18
Robinson took this theory, which was originally intended to explain the peculiarities of South African apartheid, and generalised it to all capitalism. He argued from this that, “The historical development of world capitalism was influenced in a most fundamental way by the particularistic forces of racism and nationalism”.19 He concluded that a specifically European tendency to racialisation must have pre-dated capitalism, but also that it is inherent to the development of the system. One proposition following from this is that racism is not the oppression of black people by white but rather any systematic oppression on ethnic grounds.
This generalised theory was partly an evolution of ideas developed by the undeservedly little-remembered Oliver Cromwell Cox, a black American thinker. Robinson combines arguments from two periods in Cox’s career. The first is from his major work, Caste, Class and Race (1948).20 Robinson neatly summarises this argument: “Capitalism and racism were historical concomitants. As the executors of an expansionist world system, capitalists required racism in order to police and rationalise the exploitation of workers”.21 Cox argued that racism developed out of chattel slavery, rather than the trade in African slaves developing because of racism:
If white workers were available in sufficient numbers, they would have been substituted. As a matter of fact, part of the early demand for labour in the West Indies and on the mainland was filled by white servants, who were sometimes defined in exactly the same terms as those used to characterise the Africans.22
The plantation owners were driven by “a practical exploitative relationship with its socio-attitudinal facilitation—at that time only nascent race prejudice.” Racism and its associated structures developed with it and out of it. This closely echoes the description of the origin of chattel slavery of Africans put forward by the Trinidadian historian Eric Williams, who was himself influenced by C L R James:
The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the colour of the labourer, but the cheapness of the labour. As compared with Native American and white labour, Negro slavery was eminently superior.23
As the black U.S. historian W E B Du Bois bluntly put it in 1947, “It was Karl Marx who made the great unanswerable charge to the sources of capitalism in African slavery”.24 Williams and Cox each developed similar arguments built on the method developed by Marx and Friedrich Engels, who had themselves not written specifically about the origins of racism. It is not clear to what extent Williams and Cox were aware of one another’s work.25 Cox did not define himself as a Marxist, but commented that if his book sometimes seems Marxist, “It is not because we have taken the ideas of this justly famous writer as gospel, but because we have not discovered any other that could explain the facts so consistently”.26 At this point in Cox’s theoretical development, there was no distinction between the racism developing through capitalism and racial capitalism.
However, Cox went on to develop a theory of capitalism as a system in his later books, and this was a second source of arguments for Robinson.27 He examined early mercantile capitalist development, particularly through city-states such as Venice, and came to regard Marx’s analysis as crudely determinist due to its emphasis on the role of the proletariat. Cox considerably modified his position on the origins of racism, saying that the Marxist understanding was hampered by:
The rigid ideas concerning the role of industrial workers in modern revolutionary movements and the earlier Marxian predictions giving precedence to the more advanced capitalist nations in the succession of socialist revolutions.28
Cox saw Marxism as only concerning the development of industrial capitalism but not earlier mercantile systems, and thus alleged that racism pre-dated the emergence of capitalism. Robinson built upon this argument to suggest that there is a separate European dynamic of race:
Racism…has its genesis in the “internal” relations of European peoples. As part of the inventory of Western civilisation it would reverberate within and without, transferring its toll from the past to the present.29
He emphasises the “nascent race prejudice” referred to by Cox, seeing its emergence as coinciding with “the reappearance of urban life at the end of the first Christian millennium”.30 He also argued that outside factors, such as Islamic ideas, had no influence on slavery in Europe: “The traditions of European slavery were already quite ancient and quite elaborately rationalised by the time of the appearance of Islam in the 7th century”.31 However, this is an oversimplification. As historian of slavery Robin Blackburn has pointed out:
The gradual change in attitudes towards slavery in Western Europe was, like the notion of Christendom itself, deeply marked by confrontation with Islam. It was only after the Muslim advance to the heart of Europe that Christian doctrine began cautiously to modify its acceptance of the enslavement of believers.32
Slavery became marginal to most European economies in the Middle Ages, and so attitudes towards it changed.33 It was the emergence of powerful Islamic states that led to the idea of a separate Christendom, a Christian realm defined in opposition to Islam. The Islamic states banned the enslavement of co-religionists, which was then adopted by Christians.34 The ban did not survive the rise of the transatlantic slave trade, even though the idea that conversion might lead to freedom was still common among slaves in the 18th century.
The transtlantic trade reduced and removed whatever traditional rights unfree labourers had previously held. Ironically, this occurred alongside the rise of ideas of equality produced by the emergence of capitalism, which reconceived human beings as isolated individuals engaging in a set of contractual agreements with one another. This created an ideological contradiction in the institution of slavery that was papered over with the racist claim that black people were somehow inferior. For the plantation owners in the Americas, slaves could not be their equals in ability. This was a problem that had never troubled older societies, in which slaves could be administrators, soldiers or teachers. Robinson writes:
For the Negro to come into being all what was now required was an immediate cause, a specific purpose. The trade in African slaves, coming as it did as an extension of capitalism and racial arrogance, supplied both a powerful motive and a readily received object.35
The strength of this argument is that it links of racism and the creation of the “Negro” to the spread of slavery. However, it leaves out the way that as capitalism developed in Europe there was a shift in ideas about how different groups of people related to each other. Robinson’s invocation of the term “racial arrogance” suggests a division between “European” and “non-European” that does not seem to fit with either his account of internal ethnicisation or his picture of a society so recently overshadowed by more technically advanced Islamic civilisations.
The rise of the mercantile capitalist states suggested to Enlightenment thinkers at least an idea of equality, which was absent in the treatment of slaves and colonised subjects.36 Inequality was explained by racialisation. Such racialisation played a vital role in the slavery practiced in early capitalism, and incidentally chimes with Marx’s analysis. As Robinson says:
For Marx, slavery had been “the chief moment of primitive accumulation”, “an economic category of the highest importance’’. First, African workers had been transmuted by the perverted canons of mercantile capitalism into property. Then, African labour power as slave labour was integrated into the organic composition of 19th century manufacturing and industrial capitalism. This sustained the emergence of an extra-European world market within which the accumulation of capital was garnered for the further development of industrial production.37
What is black radicalism?
Robinson always emphasised that liberation involves self-activity and that black people were at the centre of the fight for their own freedom. Black Marxism includes extended sections on two black thinkers who were heavily influenced by Marxist ideas—W E B Du Bois and C L R James. Robinson rightly praises James’s The Black Jacobins, a chronicle of the victorious Haitian slave uprising in the 1790s, and Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction, which looks at the role of black people in the U.S. Civil War and its aftermath. Robinson saw the methods of social organisation and resistance arising in these periods as rooted in a historical black consciousness:
It was not…an understanding of the Europeans that preserved those Africans… Rather, it was the ability to conserve their native consciousness of the world from alien intrusion, the ability to imaginatively recreate a precedent metaphysic… This was the raw material of the black radical tradition…constructed from a shared philosophy developed in the African past and transmitted as culture, from which revolutionary consciousness was realised and the ideology of struggle formed.38
Although this is true, it must nevertheless be complemented, for instance, by James’s recognition of the influence of the ideas of the French Revolution on the Haitian rebels—his book’s eponymous “black Jacobins”.
Robinson had already discussed the idea that different notions of struggle and equality dominated in Africa. In Terms of Order he had talked of the opposition between the rigid hierarchies of the Western intellectual and cultural tradition—in which he included both the Enlightenment thinkers and Marx—and traditions in certain African “stateless societies” of organisation from below. Such societies show “the capacity of human beings to hold together their social structures without the authority of rulers or the presence of political leaders”.39 This marks an important democratic tradition that has influenced anti-racist and anti-colonial movements.
However, as Robinson discussed in other writings, there are also strong authoritarian traditions in parts of Africa. To take a relatively small area as an example, modern Guinea Bissau was subject to “the old Sudanic empires of Ghana (4th century to 11th century) and Mali (13th century to 17th century)”.40 Conversely, there are also traditions of non-hierarchal social organisation in various other parts of the world; for instance, in An Anthropology of Marxism, Robinson examines alternative European traditions, including various medieval religious heresies. This raises, but does not settle, the question of whether there is anything specifically black in the liberatory heart of “black radicalism”. Is this radicalism perhaps built instead upon longstanding traditions of resistance shared, for instance, with Native Americans and other racially oppressed groups?
Robinson does not claim to be a materialist thinker, and the definition of black radicalism he gives in Black Marxism’s conclusion is idealistic and perhaps even mystical. For that reason, it is also hard to dispute:
One black collective identity suffuses nationalisms. Harboured in the African diaspora there is a single historical identity that is in opposition to the systemic privations of racial capitalism. Ideologically, it cements pain to purpose, experience to expectation, consciousness to collective action. It deepens with each disappointment at false mediation and reconciliation, and is crystallised into ever-increasing cores by betrayal and repression.41
In fact, this interpretation of black radicalism contradicts some of Robinson’s strongest pieces of historical narrative. For instance, he argues that some of the strongest maroon communities were a mix of Africans, Native Americans and poor whites: “American maroon communities frequently acquired a multicultural and multiracial character”.42 As Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker argue, it was the unity between these different groups that most terrified the elites in the Americas and the Caribbean. Describing the cooperation between slaves, Irish “redshanks” and other poor whites in 17th century Barbados, they write:
In 1634 servants had conspired to kill their masters and make themselves free, then to take the first ship that came and go to sea as buccaneers… Cooperation between such redshanks and African slaves was a nightmare for the authorities. The Governor’s Council announced in 1655 that “there are several Irish servants and Negroes out in rebellion in ye thicketts and thereabouts.” This made a mockery of a law passed in 1652, “An Act to Restrain the Wanderings of Servants and Negroes”.43
Robinson recognises the importance of such events and demonstrates how laws were drawn up to separate the black population from other poor people. For instance, in Virginia:
In 1662 a law was passed preventing a child from inheriting its father’s status if the mother was a “Negro woman”; in 1667, another law prevented baptism from freeing “slaves by birth”; in 1680 a law was passed “for preventing Negro insurrections”; in 1692, another to aid the “more speedy prosecution of slaves committing capital crimes” established special courts for slave trials.44
Explaining how rulers isolated both free and enslaved black people from the white poor through the slave codes, Robinson also shows that this did not stop black people leading many insurrections in Virginia and South Carolina.45 However, he fails to rework his definition of black radicalism on the basis of these facts.
These tensions in Robinson’s approach gesture to debates about how racism is constructed. British sociologist Stuart Hall argued that it is not possible to look at either race or racism as unitary and static. Although both have certain unchanging features, “More significant are the ways in which these general features are modified and transformed by the historical specificity of the contexts and environments in which they become active”.46 Thus, in order to understand shifts in racial formations, cultural identities and racism, it is always necessary to examine wider societal interactions within capitalism. Hall applies this understanding very powerfully in his description of the moral panic about the threat of “mugging” in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mugging was created as a crime that could be blamed particularly on young black men, making them the focus of a response to economic and social crisis.47 Something similar can be seen more recently with refugees and the government’s use of the anti-immigrant “hostile environment” in the health service, housing and employment.48 As Gargi Bhattacharyya writes in Rethinking Racial Capitalism:
Racial capitalism is not an account of how capitalism treats different “racial groups”. It is an account of how the world made through racism shapes patterns of capitalist development. In this, racial capitalism is better understood as a variety of racecraft in the economic realm.49
Bhattacharyya uses the term “racecraft” to refer to an understanding of racism developed by the Marxist thinkers Karen Fields and Barbara Fields. Fields and Fields argued that whatever the origins of ideas of race, racism is a systematic form of oppression that shifts to accommodate societal changes.50 In my view, this interpretation gives a solid basis for developing ideas of racial capitalism. It is also one that chimes with Williams’s and James’s arguments that develop a Marxist understanding of the evolution of racism within capitalism. Fields and Fields write:
Racism and class inequality in the U.S. have always been part of the same phenomenon. African Americans began their history in slavery. This was a class system so abnormal by the time of the American Revolution that it required an extraordinary ideological rationale—which has ever since gone by the name race—to fit plausibly into supposedly republican institutions.51
The possibility of unity between black people and other exploited groups in the U.S. concerned Du Bois, who Robinson writes about at length in Black Marxism, thoughout his long life. As Robinson shows, Du Bois was both drawn towards and resistant to the politics of the U.S. Communist Party (CPUSA). For some time, he believed that the success of racism meant that the interests of white and black workers were divided to such an extent that in the 1930s they were separate and distinct proletariats. In “Marxism and the Negro Problem” (1933), he wrote stingingly about the white American Federation of Labor trade union leadership:
They have no excuse of illiteracy or religion to veil their deliberate intention to keep Negroes and Mexicans and other elements of common labour in a lower proletariat, as subservient to their interests as theirs are to those of capital.52
However, the experience of CPUSA organising showed Du Bois that this was not the case. As Robin Kelley argues in his study of the CPUSA’s activities in Alabama:
Racial divisions were far more fluid, and Southern working-class consciousness far more complex, than most historians have realised. The African Americans who made up the Alabama radical movement experienced and opposed race and class oppression as a totality.53
Robinson is right to focus on Du Bois’s masterpiece, Black Reconstruction. This work is a detailed exploration of the periods leading up to and following the U.S. Civil War, uncovering the black radical tradition that operated in this era. Du Bois decisively disproved the establishment tale that black people had idly sat by while whites fought over their status. He showed that black slaves had risen up and that they had common interests with poor Southern whites, but he also described how racial capitalism made “two groups of workers with practically identical interests…hate and fear each other so deeply”.54
Robinson describes Du Bois’s achievement in Black Reconstruction as having been that, “undaunted by the fact that he was already on forbidden terrain in the thinking of Hegel, Marx and his own American contemporaries”, he “ventured further, uncovering the tradition” of black radicalism.55 Indeed, Du Bois’s magnificent book did expand the bounds of Marxist historiography. However, its discussion of black people is hardly “forbidden terrain” within Marxist thought. Marx himself had frequently pointed to black slavery as a weak link in capitalism and a key site of resistance. Even before Civil War had started, Marx wrote to Engels, highlighting the revolts against slavery in U.S. and comparing their importance to the struggle to end Tsarist serfdom: “The most momentous thing happening in the world today is, on the one hand, the movement among the slaves in America…and the movement among the slaves in Russia, on the other”.56
Robinson’s theoretical disagreements with Marxism
Robinson directly challenges what he sees as Marx’s views on several issues that have an important bearing on the question of race, and it is to these that I now turn. I will concentrate Robinson’s discussions of the origins of racism, the role of the working class and the question of the dialectic. Although these might seem to represent very different aspects of Robinson’s thought, they are nevertheless all connected to his interpretation of the role of determinism in Marxist thought.
Robinson, taking his lead from Cox’s later writings, believed that racism had developed before capitalism, and that it was therefore a specifically European phenomenon. Yet, simultaneously, he sees the development of racism as dialectically intertwined with the development of capitalism. Various pre-existing prejudices had to be modified and reworked over a couple of hundred years in order to create the horrific racism of the late 18th century. This involved considerable shifts in ways of thinking, which were expressed in, for instance, the laws in the Caribbean and American colonies that divided black from white.57
Undoubtedly, Marx’s and Engels’s analyses of the rapidly changing world system were incomplete and have required extension, correction and updating. Indeed, one reason that Marx never completed Capital was his attempt to keep up with developments concering the non-European world—both actual contemporary events in the 19th century and discoveries being made at that time about earlier social systems.58 It is because Robinson seriously engages with Marxism that his occasional disregard for what Marx wrote is so frustrating. Because Robinson describes what he sees as fundamental problems with Marxism, I will focus very clearly on what Marx and Engels actually wrote.
The origin and role of capitalism
Let us begin with Robinson’s engagement with Marx’s ideas about the origins of capitalism. Robinson argues that Marx believed:
Unlike previous (“precapitalist”, Marxists would say) modes of production, capitalism could not conceal or justify exploitation through ideology. So the extraordinary comprehension of human society of which we are now capable is both a consequence of an accident of birth and the ineluctable accretion of productive forces over millennia. The premise, however, that alone of all social orders, capitalist society unmasks itself, relegates all social understanding before the capitalist era mired in the ideological muck of their own eras.59
Robinson thus argues that, according to Marx, capitalism creates “a coherent ordering of things”, demystifying the world and social relations.60 Such an understanding seems to present capitalism as a clean break with previous forms of social organisation, and implies that the forms of consciousness produced by it are superior to other, earlier ones. Robinson did not believe that capitalism involved such a total change in social relations.
However, there are real problems with Robinson’s interpretation of Marx here. Marx did not argue that capitalism completely demystified social relations, but rather that it actually created its own distinct forms of mystification. For instance, the exploitation of the working class is disguised by the the contract between worker and capitalist, which seems to be a result of fair negotiation between two people within the framework of legal equality. This mystifies and obscures the true nature of capitalist social relations.
In order to stress that capitalism did not involve such a clean and clear break with the past, Robinson emphasises that a series of capitalisms had actually evolved prior to industrial capitalism. These included, for instance, the mercantile capitalism of Venice. This is an important point for Robinson because he views Marx as having privileged the industrial phase of capitalism as “the singular and unprecedented historical development of modern human society”.61 Robinson’s claim that Marx identified capitalism with industrialism is important because racism certainly did pre-date this stage of capitalist development. This allows him to argue:
The historical development of world capitalism was influenced in a most fundamental way by the particularistic forces of racism and nationalism. This could only be true if the social, psychological, and cultural origins of racism and nationalism both anticipated capitalism in time and formed a piece of those events that contributed directly to its organisation of production and exchange.62
However, once again there are big problems with Robinson’s account of Marx’s ideas here. Although Marx did examine the growth of industrial capital in depth, he certainly did not see this as the only form of capitalism, and he did not dismiss earlier forms either. In Capital, for example, he looks at both “usurer’s capital and merchant’s capital”, examining how these were key to the economic and ideological development of the system.63 Indeed, he also emphasised the differences between various bourgeois social formations, calling it naive “to apply the standard of the 14th century to the relations of production prevailing in the 19th century”.
A related argument is Robinson’s claim that Marx effectively separates an understanding of slavery from his analysis of capitalism. Much of the disagreement centres on the role of slavery in what Capital refers to as the “primitive accumulation of capital”. Robinson argues that Marx tossed slavery into the “abyss signified by precapitalist, non-capitalist and primitive accumulation”, seeing it as somehow outside of the dynamics of the capitalist system.64 However, this misunderstands the concept of primitive accumulation and its role in Marx’s thought. These misunderstandings are perhaps compounded by some of Marx’s literary devices in the chapter of Capital entitled “The So-called Primitive Accumulation”. This chapter opens with an ironic discussion of Adam Smith’s interpretation of how some came to be wealthy, which serves merely to legitimate the division of society into classes. Nevertheless, Marx’s actual description of the mechanisms for the primitive accumulation of the foundational capital necessary to set the capitalist system in motion are quite different. These included the colonisation of the Americas, the enslavement of Africans and the confiscation of the communal forms of property that existed in feudal peasant communities. Even though these are not the same as the “classic” form of exploitation in which a capitalist creams off surplus labour from a worker, they were nonetheless still guided by capitalist imperatives of profit-making. Slavery, colonial plunder and other forms of primitive accumulation were thus internal to the logic of capital for Marx.65
Marx’s understanding that primitive accumulation was very much internal to the dynamics of capitalism are expressed in some of his concrete historical analyses of of colonialism and enslavement. John Bellamy Foster and others have recently written excellently on Marx’s view of slavery in the U.S. and its integration with capitalism. They argue:
In volume 3 of Capital, Marx pointed to the vast surplus labour expropriated from slaves, and the fact that the slaves themselves were a form of capital asset, forming the basis of fictitious or speculative capital. Therefore, there seemed to be little doubt, in his estimation, that the plantation economy of the antebellum South was, as far as economic concerns alone were considered, enormously profitable. This included the market for the breeding of slaves.66
During the Civil War, Marx was also very clear that the outcome of the conflict would have an important impact on the development of the capitalist system. If the South succeeded in seceding from the United States, he explained, the racialisation of capitalism would be deepened:
The slave system would infect the whole Union. In the Northern states, where Negro slavery is unworkable in practice, the white working class would be gradually depressed to the level of helotry.67
The proletariat as a “universal” class
A second important issue over which Robinson mounts an argument with Marx is the question of the role of the working class in history. Robinson’s concerns are partially animated by the emergence of new forms of resistance to imperialism in the 20th century. These included guerrilla wars and other forms of anti-colonial struggle that are not directly related to the struggle of the industrial working class. Robinson argues that Marxists’ focus on “the proletariat as the revolutionary subject” and “the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie” makes Marxism unfit to deal with the 20th century; this is “an era for which it was not prepared”.68
Of course, these claims sits awkwardly alongside the fact that Marxism’s approach to racial issues and the colonial world did in fact make it attractive to black radicals of the 20th century. Grace Campbell, who in 1923 became the first black woman to join the CPUSA, explained, “My interest in Communism was inspired by the national policy of the Russian Bolsheviks and the anti-imperialist orientation of the Soviet state”.69 Yet Robinson’s arguments seem to better reflect the ideas of French post-structuralist philosopher Michel Foucault than those of black militants such as Campbell. Foucault, in a passage quoted by Robinson, states, “Marxism exists in 19th century thought like a fish in water. That is, it is unable to breathe anywhere else”.70
Somewhat duplicitously, such arguments suggest that Marxism was a suitable radical ideology for the 19th century and is simply now outdated. However, those who deploy these claims often tend to believe that Marx was actually wrong back in the 19th century as well. Robinson argues that because of the persistence of slavery and other forms of unfree labour such as “peonage and serfdom” during the development of capitalism, it was never actually the case that “working class consciousness” amounted to the “negation of bourgeois culture”.71 Other social forces, such as those resisting imperialism, might play such a role instead. Because capitalism developed as a system of worldwide exploitation, it was never a “closed system” that existed in an isolated condition in Europe; other, global revolutionary forces must be taken into account.
These arguments are very important because of the role that deterministic and reductive accounts of social development have played in the history of Marxist thought. The reformist tradition associated with the Second International of mass socialist parties that existed prior to the First World War, and the Stalinist tradition that emerged from the ideology of the Soviet bureaucracy after the reversal of the gains of the Russian Revolution, are both characterised by a stageist theory of history. In this view, historical development in each separate country moves through a set of predetermined phases. Within each phase, a specific class is central for historical progression to the next stage. Thus, the capitalist class was an oppositional force in feudal society that ultimately conducted a revolutionary struggle to overthrow the aristocracy and create a new form of society. Similarly, the working class is the force that will ultimately overthrow capitalism and create socialism.
Although such approaches reflect the real stress that Marx put on the power and potential of the working class, they also exclude other strata in society from the revolutionary process. In practice, this led to the disregarding or subordination of anti-imperialist struggles.
A very different understanding of political change was put forward by Leon Trotsky, the Russian Marxist theorist. Trotsky rejected the idea of one pre-determined stage of development following another that characterised the Stalinist distortion version of Marxism.72 He argued that the accomplishment of socialism was possible among colonised and semi-colonised people through what he referred to as “permanent revolution”. Although permanent revolution would have to involve the working class taking a leading role in the revolutionary process, Trotsky also saw that other social forces such as the peasantry and national liberation movements could also play a role. This understanding of revolutionary possibilities and strategy was based on an analysis of uneven and combined development:
Historical backwardness does not imply a simple reproduction of the development of advanced countries, England or France, with a delay of one, two, or three centuries. It engenders an entirely new “combined” social formation in which the latest conquests of capitalist technique and structure root themselves into relations of feudal or pre-feudal barbarism, transforming and subjecting them and creating peculiar relations of classes.73
Critics of Trotsky’s view might complain that it still centres on the agency of the proletariat, which is too often identified with white, male, European industrial workers. Yet as Joseph Choonara has argued in this journal, the working class is bigger, more international and more diverse than at any time in history:
Around 1.8 billion people now engage in wage labour, an increase of 600 million since 2000. Not only is the working class vast, it is also more concentrated in towns and cities than ever before. The urban share of the global population has, since 2000, risen from 47 percent to 56 percent—an extra 1.4 billion people live in urban settings compared to two decades ago… For example, Chile’s urban labour force rose from 3.7 million in 1990 to 7.3 million in 2018, Ecuador’s from 3.3 million in 2000 to 5.1 million in 2018.74
The question of whether the working class is a universal class—capable of leading all other oppressed social strata towards liberation—necessarily involves reckoning with the disparity between its potential and its actuality. This is an issue that is underplayed by deterministic views of history. Marx’s argument that the working class is the key to universal liberation in no way implies that it is immune to prejudices such as racism. Unfortunately, Robinson fails to see the tensions between potential and actuality as a productive one. For instance, he notes Marx’s well-known claim, “The English working class will never accomplish anything before England has got rid of Ireland”.75 Here, Marx is asserting that the English working class of the 19th century was hamstrung by its allegiance to British imperialism and its animosity towards the conquered Irish people, who formed a large part of the industrial workforce in England. Marx stresses that a central task of any revolutionary movement would be to challenge and undermine racism within the working class, and that it cannot take political power without doing so. However, Robinson sees things differently. He endorses Marx’s statement that racism undermined the revolutionary capacity of English workers, but then simply underlines the level of anti-Irish sentiment in 19th century England. This effectively dismisses the revolutionary potential of the working class.
Nevertheless, there are good reasons to view the working class as a universal class with the power to lead all oppressed people to liberation. Hal Draper has summed up Marx’s reasons for considering the proletariat fit for this task:
The working class is atomised when it is unorganised. Class organisation brings class characteristics to the fore and, as a function of organisation, class characteristics increasingly take precedence over merely individual reactions, the greater the scale of mass involvement.76
This process means that, even though anti-Irish racism was certainly an important fact in the English working class of the 19th century, the first mass working class movement—the Chartists—had two very prominent Irish leaders, Feargus O’Connor and Bronterre O’Brien.77 Similarly the Chartists’ leader in London, William Cuffay, was a black man and an example of the black radical tradition in Britain; indeed, his last name is probably an anglicisation of the Twi name Kofi.78 This phenomena of people from racially oppressed groups coming to the fore during periods of heightened struggle is a constant feature in the history of capitalism. Note, for instance, how the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power movement revitalised the wider U.S. left. Similarly, many of the leaders of the Russian revolution in 1917 were from the heavily persecuted Jewish population—including Leon Trotsky, Grigori Zinoviev and Karl Radek.
These considerations show that Marxism is a flexible theory. It can account for the importance of European industrial development and the emergence of an industrial working class in the historical trajectory of capitalism. However, it also has the theoretical resources to understand changes in the working class, such as its massive growth in the Global South, and the revolutionary potentials of social strata outside the working class. Of course, Marxism tries to develop an understanding of how Western capitalism came to dominate, but this is hardly a simple case of Eurocentrism. Attempts to understand how European societies came to dominate the rest of the world and shape global economic and social development have a long history. From the 17th century onwards, thinkers in the Ottoman Empire and across the Muslim world thinkers tried to explain how Islamic civilisation became overshadowed by the West:
The beginnings of Muslim modernist thought resulted from this soul-searching inquiry. The “Fathers of Muslim Modernism”—Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī, Muhammad Abduh in Egypt, and Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan in India—attempted to provide a response and thus revive and renew their people.79
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the subsequent technical modernisation of Japan were entirely presaged on a section of the ruling class moving to develop along the lines of Europe to avoid being dominated by Western powers, as happened to China after its defeat in the Opium Wars.80 The sort of contradictions that can be produced by such questions of uneven economic development were exemplified by James Africanus Horton. Horton was an African from Sierra Leone who took up a leading position in the British navy in the region; the imperial government trained Africans for the practical reason that Europeans tended to die of tropical diseases. In 1868 he published his West African Countries and Peoples, arguing that West African colonies should be granted dominion status within the British Empire. Horton is a highly contradictory figure; he was furious at the systematic racism of empire, but he saw the adoption of European civilisation as the way forward for Africa. He is now little more than a historical footnote, but his life does show the real choices that existed for people faced with imperialism in the 19th century.
Finally, it should be noted that these issues are also related to the question of whether capitalism needs to constantly renew itself by exploiting non-capitalist social formations. The idea that “primitive accumulation” of capital is actually a permanent and central feature of capitalism has enjoyed a long pedigree within the Marxist tradition. It was developed by Rosa Luxemburg in the early 20th century, but has more recently been discussed by the Marxist geographer David Harvey. Harvey talks of the exploitation of “non-capitalist social formations or some sectors within capitalism that has not yet been proletarianised”.81 This includes such diverse capitalist exploits as the privatisation of publically owned services, the sale of social housing stocks and the confiscation of land from indigenous people. Harvey has argued that, in the modern world, this kind of “accumulation by dispossession” has “moved to the fore as the primary contradiction within the imperialist organisation of capital accumulation”.82 This gels well with Robinson’s belief, shared by many post-colonial theorists, that the working class cannot be a universal class because some of the most important areas of exploitation lie outside capitalism. However, Harvey’s arguments have been convincingly challenged, for instance, by Chris Harman in this journal.83
Hegel, Marx and dialectical philosophy
A third and final important issue over which Robinson attacks Marx is the question of dialectical philosophy. Even many of those who regard themselves as Marxists see the notion of dialectical thinking as either an early aberration or an unnecessary bolt-on to Marx’s ideas. However, the understanding of motion and contradiction in the dialectical method, which Marx developed from his engagement with the German philosopher G W F Hegel, is key to understanding the dynamic of the modern world. Although the Marxist theory of ideology was developed more systematically by later thinkers such as Georg Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, it is implicit in Marx’s writing. An understanding of change through contradiction is particularly important when considering ideas of race as a specific form of ideology. How can capitalism both make us more alike, drawing the world’s population into the two opposing camps of the bourgeoise and the proletariat, but simultaneously develop national differences that cause people to see themselves as increasingly dissimilar? The answer is that capitalism is a system that develops through such contradictions; think, for instance, of how capitalism emphasises individual choice and yet makes life across the globe increasingly homogenous. The ideology of racism emerges to justify inequality in a society that expouses the equality of all people. Thus, far from being a hangover from pre-capitalist ideology, it is a phenomenon that developed out of capitalism’s internal contradictions.
Hegel’s philosophy, from which Marx developed his ideas about dialectics, emerged from the rapid and radical social change triggered by the French Revolution. In his Phenomenology of Spirit, for example, Hegel discusses episodes in the French Revolution, such as the Jacobin’s Reign of Terror, as expressions of the dialectical development of various contradictory “shapes of consciousness”. Importantly, Hegel understood these social changes in an idealistic manner: as products of shifts in the forms of social consciousness that human societies instantiate. Ultimately, he understood these shifts as happening within the all-encompassing consciousness that he refers to as Geist (spirit):
A new product of the spirit is being prepared. Philosophy’s chief task is to welcome it and grant it recognition, while others, impotently resisting, cling to the past and the majority unconsciously constitute the masses in which it manifests itself.84
Although Marx took up Hegel’s idea that history is a product of the tension between contradictions that are instantiated by social forces and forms of consciousness, he also inverted Hegel’s idealism. Instead of seeing social structures and processes as a result of the work of Geist, Marx argues that various forms of consciousness emerge within the framework of a material organisation of society. This material organisation is itself contradictory, involving tensions, for instance, between the forces of technological development and the existing modes of exploitation, which hold back technical innovation.
Robinson’s critique of Marx’s relationship Hegel is paradoxical. His first approach is to attack Marx for being too caught up in the thought of Hegel, and thus having succumbed to Eurocentrism. Indeed, Hegel assigned a special importance to Europe, seeing Ancient Greece as the originator of “freedom” and supporting colonialism. Moreover, he was completely dismissive of much of the non-European world. After a short discussion of Africa in his Philosophy 0f History, he writes, “At this point we leave Africa, not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the world; it has no movement or development”.85 Yet as I have argued above, building upon theories of how Europe came to predominance is not Eurocentric in itself. Marx’s appropriation of Hegel would only be Eurocentric if he had replicated Hegel’s conceits about European superiority, which he did not.
Conversely, however, An Anthropology of Marxism celebrates Hegel’s anger at capitalist development, which he sees as a materialist impulse, and then suggests that Marx had ignored this in order to dismiss Hegel as a “mystical idealist”. Thus Robinson argues that Marx actually minimised his debt to Hegel.86 This is a strange allegation, not just because it flatly contradicts Robinson’s earlier attacks, but also because Marx never hid his admiration for Hegel:
When I was working on the first volume of Capital… I openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker… The mystification from which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner.87
The truth is that Marx was as much against the reductivism of crude materialism as he was crude idealism. Indeed, Marx’s early thought was shaped by its confrontation with both Hegelian idealism and determinist materialism. His Theses on Feuerbach open with a critique of crude materialism:
The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism…is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism— which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.88
Black radicalism today
Any political theory is an interaction with developments in the world and cannot afford to be static. Marx died just as European empires were about to occupy much of Africa. Many of the responses to colonialism by the theorists of the Second International were deeply inadequate; this includes Eduard Bernstein’s support for German colonialism and Karl Kautsky’s acquiescence in imperialism in the First World War. At the International’s 1907 Stuttgart conference, Lenin was outraged that many of the German delegation favoured a “socialist colonial policy”.89 Much of Robinson’s critique relates to those who developed Marxism after the deaths of Marx and Engels, and he does note that “mechanistic or vulgar Marxists have understood the political in terms much more shallow and much less ambiguous than Marx himself”.90 Nevertheless, he does not always maintain this distinction in his analysis, often blurring the lines between Marx’s ideas and those of his later interpretors. Moreover, Robinson tends to approach Marx’s ideas in a reductive and one-sided fashion, and to see the later development of concepts that are already found in Marx as somehow fundamental breaks with Marxism.
Du Bois wrote in 1935 that “the emancipation of man is the emancipation of labour and the emancipation of that majority of workers who are yellow, brown and black”.91 The danger is that Robinson introduces an essentialism into his definition of black identity that tends to pull away from his call for anti-capitalist, anti-racist unity. This can lead to the idea that socialists form a “white left”, and that there is an inherent dynamic among black people that leads to unity, regardless of class. Nevertheless, Robinson’s ideas can also inspire a coming together of different groups in order to fight racism, especially when he talks about the origins of racism in an evolutionary and non-essentialist manner. Often, his writing is subtle, illuminating and powerful. For example, writing about Virginia at the turn of the 18th century, he explains:
The invention of the idea of a race, along with the idea of ineradicable differences between races, made it possible for people…to believe simultaneously in “liberty” and “freedom” for themselves and in their right to dominate and to oppress others.92
The revival of Robinson’s idea of black radicalism and current discussions about racial capitalism are important and positive. Nevertheless, it is also important to contest some of his positions, particularly those that might lead new activists to dismiss Marxist analysis as deterministic or Eurocentric. Marxism has an incredibly important position in the history of black thought and anti-racist movements.
Many of the black thinkers Robinson admired, such as James and Du Bois, retained a deep connection to the theoretical tools of Marxism. In 1989, during his last interview, James argued:
Marxist theory is a scientific, intellectual theory such as the world has never seen before, and properly used…always with the feeling that history brings things new, that you didn’t see before, with the basic Marxist guide you can manage.93
Of course, recognising the importance of the Marxist tradition does not imply that all analysis that claims to be within that tradition is valid. Yet an engagement with Marxist ideas will be much more productive for those organising the anti-racist struggle today than an engagement with the post-modernist views that suffuse, for example, post-colonial theory. Such theories typically overlook the huge expansion of the global working class, arguing that different oppressed social groups are not cut across essentially by class interests and thus have many divergent and contradictory interests.
Returning to talking in terms of class in a Marxist sense does not mean reducing everything to economic determinism. There is a real need to emphasise the power of the working class and the culpability of capitalism in the maintainence and renewal of racism. The struggle against racism might then reach its logical conclusion with the upending of the whole capitalist system.
The 2020 Black Lives Matter movement has shown both the importance of black radicalism and how it can work with other forces, including white people who want to challenge racism. The power of multiracial demonstrations has been shown everywhere from Portland, Oregon—one of the whitest cities in the US—to Bristol in South West England. Theoretical frameworks for understanding and fighting racism can be judged by their success—both in terms of the number of people mobilised and the effects they achieve. As Angela Davis recently said:
Marxism, from my perspective, has always been both a method and an object of criticism. Consequently, I don’t necessarily see the terms “Marxism” and “Black Marxism” as oppositional.94
Of course, questions of identity and how it is informed are important, and an understanding of identities as being fluid and in a constant process of creation is very useful. Those West Indians hit by the government’s appalling treatment of them during the Windrush scandal had been part of forging a new sense of what it is to be British over the past 70 years. The common sense conception of Britishness that has emerged out of their struggles helped to raise wider questions about the Tories’s “hostile environment” policies.
However, the idea that the radicalism needed to challenge structural racism is located only among people of African descent is disarming. The notion that there is something in the African DNA that makes it more radical can lead to dead ends, including looking to black politicans such as Barack Obama. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has written, “The hopes initially vested in Obama, who has instead acted to silence and quell black rebellion, have bought the question to the fore: can we get free in America?”95
The two central aspects of Robinson’s theory belong together. It is not enough to record that capitalism is a racist system; the black radicalism that has constantly resisted it since its beginnings must also be recalled. If Robinson’s ideas are used to disavow Marxism, this risks isolating that black radicalism from the great theoretical insights offered by the deepest thinkers in the Marxist tradition: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Du Bois, James, Hubert Harrison, Claudia Jones, Angela Davis, Stuart Hall and others. These voices are lost to black radical thought if the current of radical anti-racism within the Marxist tradition is denied. As Robinson himself said:
The black radical tradition was an accretion, over generations, of collective intelligence gathered from struggle. In the daily encounters and petty resistances to domination, slaves had acquired a sense of the calculus of oppression as well as its overt organisation and instrumentation. These experiences lent themselves to a means of preparation for more epic resistance movements.96
Ken Olende is researching a PhD on “Rethinking ‘blackness’ as a racial identity” at Brighton University. He has previously worked as a tutor for the Workers’ Educational Association, a journalist on Socialist Worker and editor of Unite Against Fascism’s Unity magazine.
1 Kundnani made the comment at the online “What is Racial Capitalism?” seminar, organised by the Havens Wright Center for Social Justice on 15 October 2020.
2 Illing, 2019. The vogue for the idea of racial capitalism has also fuelled recent discussions in U.S. journals Monthly Review and Boston Review. See Boston Review’s “Race Capitalism Justice” issue (winter 2017) and Monthly Review’s “Racial Capitalism“ issue (July-August 2020).
3 Kundnani, 2020.
4 Robinson, 2012, pxii.
5 Johnson and Lubin, 2017, p241.
6 Perry, 2009, p183.
7 Thomas, 2017, p5.
9 Robinson, 2019a, p354.
10 Kelley, 2016.
11 For more details, see Kelley, 2016.
12 Thomas, 2005, pp2-3.
13 Sivanandan, 1990, p76.
14 Robinson, 2000, p140.
15 Robinson, 2000, p9.
16 Robinson, 2000, p25.
17 See for instance the Anti-Apartheid Movement pamphlet Foreign Investment and the Reproduction of Racial Capitalism in South Africa, which may have been the first to use the term “racial capitalism”—Legassick and Hemson, 1976.
18 Variations on the theory were put forward by Harold Wolpe, Neville Alexander and others. Alex Callinicos critiqued them at some length in his South Africa Between Reform and Revolution. See Callinicos, 1988, pp84-88.
19 Robinson, 2000, p9.
20 Cox, 1970.
21 Robinson, 2019a, p79.
22 Cox, 1970, p332.
23 Williams, 1964, p19-20.
24 Du Bois, 1965, p56.
25 A single footnote in Cox’s book refers to Williams, listing him as one of three writers who saw the slave trade from Africa developing because of the productivity of the enslaved African workers—Cox, 1970, p338.
26 Cox, 1970, pxi. He later retreated from the book’s more radical aspects, seeing change emerging within existing U.S. society. His last book, Race Relations, is very much about how black people can advance within the existing system through a “slow, but irrepressible rise toward social integration and justice”—Cox, 1976, p289.
27 In this period, Cox’s arguments foreshadow Immanuel Wallerstein’s world system theory—see Hier, 2001, pp69-86.
28 Cox, 1964, p218.
29 Robinson, 2000, p9.
30 Robinson, 2000, p67.
31 Robinson, 2000, p95.
32 Blackburn, 1997, p42.
33 Blackburn, 2011, p15.
34 Blackburn, 1997, p44.
35 Robinson, 2000, p100.
36 See Harman, 1999, p242-246.
37 Robinson, 2000, p113.
38 Robinson, 2000, p309.
39 Robinson, 2016, p185.
40 Robinson, 2019a, p310.
41 Robinson, 2000, p317.
42 Robinson, 1997, p13.
43 Linebaugh and Rediker, 2000, pp125-126.
44 Robinson, 1997, p3.
45 Robinson, 1997, p9.
46 Hall, 1996, p435.
47 See Hall and others, 2013.
48 See Olende, 2020.
49 Bhattacharyya, 2018, p103.
50 Fields and Fields, 2012.
51 Fields and Fields, 2012, p266.
52 Du Bois, 1933, p103.
53 Kelley, 1990, pxiii.
54 Du Bois, 1998, p700.
55 Robinson, 2000, pxxxii.
56 Quoted in Anderson, 2010, p85.
57 See, for example, my article on the development of racist ideology in the U.S. for more detail—Olende 2017.
58 See Anderson, 2010, p196-236.
59 Robinson, 2019b, 19.
60 Robinson, 2000, pxxviii.
61 Robinson, 2019b, p82.
62 Robinson, 2000, p9.
63 Marx, 1976, p914.
64 Robinson, 2000, pxxix.
65 Marx, 1976, p873-875.
66 Foster, Holleman and Clark, 2020, p107.
67 Quoted in Anderson, 2010, p90. The term “helot” can refer to a slave or a serf.
68 Robinson, 2000, p43.
69 McDuffie, 2011, p34.
70 Robinson, 2016, p213 and Robinson, 2019b, p88. For the original source, see Foucault, 1994, p261.
71 Robinson, 2000, p4.
72 One example of this is the understanding of South African society during apartheid that was developed by the ANC, which is discussed above.
73 Trotsky, 1938.
74 Choonara, 2019, p23.
75 Robinson, 2000, p41.
76 Draper, 1978, p40.
77 Foot, 2012, p115.
78 Chase, 2007, p305. Twi is a language spoken by several million people in central and southern Ghana.
79 Quoted in Margulies, 2018, p108.
80 Harman, 1999, p365.
81 Quoted in Harman, 2007, p102.
82 Harman, 2007, p116.
83 Harman, 2007.
84 Quoted in Sullivan and Gluckstein, 2020, p9.
85 Hegel, 2001, 117.
86 Robinson, 2019b, p81.
87 Marx, 1976, p102.
88 Marx and Engels, 1970, p121. See also Anderson, 1995, pp12-15.
89 Lenin, 1907.
90 Robinson, 2016, p3.
91 Du Bois, 1998, p16.
92 Robinson, 2019a, p140.
93 James and Fitzpatrick, 1989.
94 Johnson and Lubin, 2017, p246.
95 Taylor, 2016, p218.
96 Robinson, 2000, pxxx.
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