Professor Adolf Reed Jr. argues in The limits of anti-racism that racism needs to be redefined on concrete and political terms. By redefining racism as a system that “stigmatized populations” by being “clustered on the bad side of
The Haitian Revolution: First successful slave revolt, and subject of CLR James' classic marxist text The Black Jacobins
the distribution of costs and benefits,” we begin to develop a more serious framework to view the problem. Seeing how the distribution of “costs” and “benefits” is itself racialized, adds a new framework challenging the old, played out Race vs. Class debate.
Most “anti-racist” left groups lack a serious understanding of how race penetrates and shapes the distribution of real world resources: energy-power, purchasing power, education, health services, etc. While anti-racist groups organize meetings to purge the internal white guilt of white activists to become “real anti-racist,” a school serving 100% students of color might have been closed down. Were the anti-racists there organizing against the school closure as an act against of racial oppression? No.
Has Marxism been a useable political framework that seriously challenges racism? Yes and No. Many Marxist militants of color have dedicated their lives to fighting both capitalism and racism. For example Nelson Peery, Harry Haywood, Ben Fletcher, CLR James, Claudia Jones, and Harry Chang all contributed greatly to an understanding of how Marxism and race relate. Oliver C Cox, Tomas Almaguer, and Theodore Allen are three outstanding academics who produced pioneering work, giving a historical and theoretical explanation of race and class as interwoven processes throughout American history.
Both Marxists and antiracists have a problem; it’s simple: they are separated. Marx created Marxism by synthesizing three sources: English Political Economy (Smith, Ricardo), German Idealism (Hegel) and Utopian Socialism (Fourier, Simon and Owen). The most mature work of Marx is Capital, where one the key points in the first volume, contrary to Smith’s argument, is that the source of surplus value is unpaid labor. Profits come from Surplus value. Ok, if that’s the case, how do we understand American Chattel Slavery, the Chinese railroad workers of the 1880s, and the Bracero program of World War II? What racial conditions were created and what surplus value was produced?
Were any of these five individuals listed above as the sources of Marxism non-white? No. So it’s about time there is an expansion of the theoretical roots of Marxism. As we can see there were key individuals that created and expanded earlier thought that Marx interwove to create his revolutionary framework. Before any Luxemburg versus Lenin, or Trotsky versus Stalin debate takes place, lets be a little imaginative and ponder the idea of what would happen to Marxism if Marx could talk with Malcolm X for a couple of days? Could Marx have had the theoretical prowess to begin his framework with four sources, one that included race? This obviously didn’t take place but it still represents a key task for today’s Marxist militants of color to accomplish.
Adolf Reed Jr.’s work contributes to the development of a political framework for activists to use that can help materialize the necessary historical project of synthesizing anti-racism and Marxism.
The Limits of Anti-racism
Adolph Reed Jr.
Antiracism is a favorite concept on the American left these days. Of course, all good sorts want to be against racism, but what does the word mean exactly?
The contemporary discourse of “antiracism” is focused much more on taxonomy than politics. It emphasizes the name by which we should call some strains of inequality—whether they should be broadly recognized as evidence of “racism”— over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them. And, no, neither “overcoming racism” nor “rejecting whiteness” qualifies as such a step any more than does waiting for the “revolution” or urging God’s heavenly intervention. If organizing a rally against racism seems at present to be a more substantive political act than attending a prayer vigil for world peace, that’s only because contemporary antiracist activists understand themselves to be employing the same tactics and pursuing the same ends as their predecessors in the period of high insurgency in the struggle against racial segregation.
This view, however, is mistaken. The postwar activism that reached its crescendo in the South as the “civil rights movement” wasn’t a movement against a generic “racism;” it was specifically and explicitly directed toward full citizenship rights for black Americans and against the system of racial segregation that defined a specific regime of explicitly racial subordination in the South. The 1940s March on Washington Movement was also directed against specific targets, like employment discrimination in defense production. Black Power era and post-Black Power era struggles similarly focused on combating specific inequalities and pursuing specific goals like the effective exercise of voting rights and specific programs of redistribution. Continue reading