A-Z of Black Radicalism

M is for Marxism

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

Marxism seems to have lost all meaning for many who criticise Black politics. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been called a Marxist for calling out racism, which is ironic given that the major problem with Marxism is its inability to truly account for the racist nature of society. Any position that criticises capitalism and argues for a sharing of economic resources is almost automatically seen as Marxist. But these far predate Marx and it is a feature of intellectual racism that we place yet another dead White man at the foundation of critical thought. Having said that Marxism is a radical politics that Black people have been heavily involved in developing.

Marxism has attracted so many Black people across Africa and the Diaspora because it calls for a revolution that will overturn the existing economy. Because we realise more than most that the very nature of the economy is the problem it is not a surprise we have joined efforts to overthrow it. Figures such as Otto Huiswood, Claudia Jones and Paul Robeson were hugely important in the development of the Communist Party USA. There have been more Marxist revolutions in Africa and the Caribbean than Europe, in nations like Grenada, Mozambique, Guinea and Angola. There is also a strong tradition of Black Marxism in Britain, and this is where the late Professor Stuart Hall was most influential. But there is a difference between Black Radicalism and Black people being involved in radical politics.

Black Marxism in the US was developing alongside movements such as the Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). So inspired by the success of the organisation to mobilise the Black poor, Marxist organisations such as the African Blood Brotherhood attempted to learn from the UNIA. The problem was that the same reason the UNIA was so successful is the reason that Marxism cannot deliver for the Black masses. Black radicalism is built on an analysis that sees racism as the basis of society with class oppression produced out of that fundamental relationship. For Marxism the opposite is true, so whilst there may be Black sections and a commitment to ending racial oppression the so called “Negro Question” is on the side lines of the struggle. It is assumed that communism will magically end racism, something we have seen is definitely not true in places like Cuba.

Marxism’s central problem is that imagines the White worker to be the hero of history, a vitally necessary part of the coming revolution. These ideas bleed into the work of revolutionary thinkers such as Franz Fanon who calls for the ‘sleeping beauty’ of history, the White worker, to awake and join with the global oppressed. This is a dangerous fantasy. The reality is that those in the West live in relative prosperity to the rest of the world because of racism. If we are looking for the White worker to join the struggle we will be waiting for forever after. Black Radicalism is based on the idea that we have the power to free ourselves, that the unity of Africa and the Diaspora is the basis of a revolutionary struggle that can overturn capitalism and build a society for all.


Hakim Adi Pan-Africanism and Communism

Angela Davis Freedom is a Constant Struggle

Claudia Jones Beyond Containment

Paul Robeson Here I Stand

Cedric Robinson Black Marxism

1 comment

  1. The author presents a caricature of Marxism as Euro-centric but then admits that its most progressive developments historically have been in the non-white world (not to mention China)? This isn’t a serious critique…

    Even going back to the theory’s roots, nowhere in Marx or Engels is there the holding up of “the White worker” as the protagonist of history. What is the evidence for this? One example: They strongly critiqued sections of the British proletariat and trade union leaders who sided with their rulers, while Marx and Engels took up the anti-colonial cause of the Irish (then racialized, as Robinson and others have described). British workers would never be free so long as Britain oppressed Ireland, they argued.

    Likewise, in Capital, Marx describes how white workers in the United States would never be free so long as labor was “branded in a black skin.” If readers are curious to read more about the nuances of Marx’s thought on this topic, and how Marx and Engels consistently centered anti-colonial struggles of their time, this article may be useful: https://monthlyreview.org/2020/07/01/marx-and-slavery/

    Similarly, it was Lenin who affirmed the A.B.B. position that socialist, revolutionary Black nationalism—i.e. self-determination of the Black belt—was key to the struggle for liberation in the US. Not part of the “sidelines.”

    Truth is, Marxism and scientific socialism is the ONLY theory equipped to dismantle white supremacy and overcome imperialism. This was acknowledged by everyone from Harry Haywood to RAM and the Black Panther Party.

    The race-based, anti-socialist ideology advocated by this bourgeois writer—squarely in the liberal mode of Ibram X. Kendi, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and other authors widely accepted by the establishment—opens the door for class collaboration, cultural nationalism, and capitulation to capitalism.

    Let’s actually heed Claudia Jones rather than name-drop: “It was out of my Jim Crow experiences as a young negro woman, experiences likewise born of working-class poverty that led me to join the Young Communist League and to choose the philosophy of my life, the science of Marxism-Leninism—that philosophy not only rejects racist ideas, but is the antithesis of them.”

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