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I want to distinguish my position from the kind of class analysis that Robin Kelley so rightly skewers in his essay from , "Looking Extremely Backward." Kelley's argument has several components. He wishes to critique the kind of class analysis that repudiates identity politics for a class politics that can unite people instead of dividing them. He finds this analysis specious. For one, it replaces identity politics rooted in the fight against racism and sexism with an identity politics presumably rooted in universalist concerns--here the referent is either the Enlightenment or class as a unifying category--but really rooted in its own identity politics--one taking whiteness and American patriotism as normative. Kelley rightly takes these particular defenders of "class analysis" to be collapsing class analysis with "majoritarianism"--and "the majority of Americans we are told are white and heterosexual."
1. This essay will focus on Cedric Robinson's magisterial yet underanalyzed work , which has recently been re-released by University of North Carolina Press with both a new preface by Robinson and new foreword by the distinguished historian Robin D. G. Kelley. Robinson's work is my focus in great part because of its incredible ambitiousness, totalizing sweep and scrupulous research (as Kelley notes, the footnotes "could have been a separate book altogether"). Unlike those writing in a post-Marxist tradition, Robinson does not reject Marxism by setting mini narratives against grand narratives. Given the unavoidability of "the global," this post-Marxist fetish of the local has itself lost credibility. Robinson opposes the Marxian grand narrative with a grand narrative of his own. He thus poses a significant challenge to historical materialism, but it is a challenge that historical materialism, properly interpreted, meets.
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2. The point of my essay, quite bluntly, is to show that Robinson is wrong about Marxism and that Robinson is not alone, the errors he makes being fundamental not only to current theorizing about race and class, my two principal concerns, but also to current theorizing about gender, culture, "relative autonomy" and causal explanations of oppression and exploitation. So while this essay focuses on , it will, by way of contextualizing it for the present, discuss as well and in some detail the work of Kelley--especially his foreword--and labor historian David Roediger. In my conclusion, I will suggest further affinities between Robinson's work and a wide range of contemporary theorists who in their various ways recapitulate many of Robinson's premises.
4. Marxism properly interpreted emphasizes the primacy of class in a number of senses. One, of course, is the primacy of the working class as a revolutionary agent--a primacy which does not, as often thought, render women and people of color "secondary." Such an equation of white male and working class, as well as a corresponding division between a "white" male working class identity and all the others, whose identity is thereby viewed as either primarily one of gender and race or hybrid, is a view this essay contests all along the way. The primacy of class means that building a multiracial, multi-gendered international working-class organization or organizations should be the goal of any revolutionary movement: the primacy of class puts the fight against racism and sexism at the center. The intelligibility of this position is rooted in the primacy of class analysis for understanding the structural determinants of race, gender and class oppression. Oppression is multiple and intersecting but its causes are not.
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121. I have tried to demonstrate in this essay that the complex amalgam, this package of often interlinked concepts, is deeply problematic and in its explanations of racism and inequality does not fare all that well against a properly interpreted noneconomic determinist historical materialism. I think this particular rival package to historical materialism does underwrite nationalisms of various sorts. In his essay on racism from the same issue of the that produced Robin Kelley's comments discussed above, Manning Marable acknowledges his own ambivalence towards nationalism, arguing that while nationalism is essential in the fight against racism, it nevertheless means "mobilizing people around a concept that is morally repugnant and shouldn't exist." It does exist of course. And it is very much felt. But it is hard for me not to see Marable's own comment as evidence of the incoherence that surrounds the concept of nationalism in our time--for, in essence, it is morally repugnant and shouldn't exist because it performs all the functions of racism, yet is simultaneously necessary to the fight against it. I have tried to suggest in this essay that one big reason for the power of nationalist discourse is that it rests at least partially on an uncharitable reading of historical materialism that amounts to a serious mischaracterization.
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President Obama's Marxist-Leninist Economics: Fact And …
In chapter nine of (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), the chapter co-written by Kelley, Earl Lewis and Vincent Harding, Kelley et al. write, describing the politics of DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement based in Detroit), the following:
Jul 26, 2012 · Mark Hendrickson Contributor
118. Baker reads Marxism as a technological determinism that not only marginalizes black women but murders them, eliminating their reproductive function, thus performing a kind of hysterectomy. In the narrative of historical materialism, women are superfluous even for reproduction since "if the way of class consciousness implied by a Marxian critique is pursued then the future will produce an afroamerican modern man birthed in mechanical glory from the womb of the machine." The machine is the "sign of the possibility of male proletarian bonding across racial lines." A bond that necessitates "a violent repudiation of the domestic black woman" and all women for "a Marxian problematic forces the writer to devalue women." Conversely, "if a nationalist history is privileged, black men of the future, as well as those of the folk past, will continue to be of woman born" (Appiah and Gates, p. 218).
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The experiential versus the systemic is a false dichotomy that some of the best Marxian work soundly deconstructs--Thompson being a notable example. It is a close relative of the culture/class split this essay critiques. Plus, the whole point of politics as I see it is to achieve or realize common interests that are nevertheless rooted in somewhat disparate experience.
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117. Houston Baker, in his essay on Richard Wright's , argues that the discourse of historical materialism is what explains Wright's sexism, his exclusion of black women performed by the narrative: "the negative account of black women in is not simply a function of a simplistic assignment of occupational roles. . . . " It was the result of a lack and "what he lacked was immunity to the lure of a peculiarly materialist historiography."
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