Since some folks still believe that there is “no war but class war” – I submit the following points:
1. There comes a time where one needs to realize that the profit motive lacks explanatory power in the face of anti-blackness. Orthodox Marxists routinely make the intellectually facile argument that seizing the means of production is the panacea for a civilization steeped in racism. This claim is absurd – as it presupposes that violence against black people is always, or mostly, motivated by a running ledger. Violence against black people is often counterproductive from the perspective of capital. For example, David Eltis (1999) argues that it would have been more economically efficient for Europeans to enslave other Europeans – because the excursions to and from Africa were more expensive. So obviously, racial slavery could not have been about extracting profit by deploying the most cost-effective methods. This means that other variables are operating beneath the surface of anti-blackness: those which can only be described as symbolic and ontological. Put simply: whiteness is the position which marks a class of people who were deemed too precious to enslave. Blackness is the position which marks a class of “people” who were deserving of slavery. were too precious to enslave. Anti-blackness is that which organizes the human’s sense of being. Just consider the ways the phrase “Black Lives Matter” gave rise to all other similarly structured phrases: “Blue Lives Matter”, “All Lives Matter”, etc. These parasitic statements are made legible because they deny black claims to life. Therefore, a classless society is not the same as a raceless one. Making alterations to the political economy of capitalism without re-organizing the symbolic economy of humanity, which is sutured by race, is not a revolution at all. It is, rather, a guarantee that anti-blackness will remain under communism.
2. Even if I were being overly-generous and decided to grant leverage to Eric Williams, C.L.R. James and the countless other prominent scholars who contend that class exploitation gave birth to racism, their conclusion would still be false. I take issue with the genetic fallacy inherent in their line of reasoning. It is illogical to draw a conclusion based solely on the origin of the phenomena in question, as opposed to its current meaning. Stating that racism has class origins does not address the fact that it became unhinged from its so-called base. Irrespective of racism’s “roots,” white supremacy and anti-blackness are NOW organizing principles in and of themselves. Racism cannot be reduced to a reflex of capital – it is a structure with material consequences. The tendency of describing anti-blackness as purely or predominantly “ideological” or “individual” in nature (i.e. bigotry, prejudice, bias, etc) demonstrates a failure to grapple with structural racism. The corpse of Michael Brown laying in the street for hours – riddled with holes from police bullets – had a material reality. The open casket of Emmett Till – displaying the torture flesh of the child – had a material reality.
3. Many Marxists still theorize in the tradition of unraced and unsexed positionality. The terms “working class” and “labor” are offered as inherently objective – as if they are automatically free from racial and/or sexual bias. Upon further analysis, this perspective is exposed as a problematic continuation of oppression. It is important to understand the mechanisms of the power structures we seek to destroy. The idea of race – and by extension, the process of racialization – was created by Europeans to label those who were deemed ‘other’ – namely, Native Americans and Africans they came in “contact” with. This means that whiteness was established as the baseline and norm for humanity; while simultaneously rendering it invisible. In keeping with the Enlightenment’s principle of objectivity, whiteness is the identity that denies itself as an identity – which means that racial identities are attributed to everyone but whites. This is what those who rail against ‘identity politics’ fail to understand. Whiteness is a deeply biased position that masquerades as a universal fact in the best interest of everyone. So when ya’ll speak of the “working class” and “labor” as objective, you are actually saying the world population needs to rally around whiteness and masculinity.
4. That being stated, the working class is an identity. The working class does not simply float adrift from language, meaning, or social reality – it is the creation of racialized and sexualized beings. The world is, and has been, dominated by white males. Subordinating racism and heteropatriarchy as merely superstructural side effects of class exploitation ensures that the revolution will be led by white males and create a new world for white males.
5. Folks who theorize in this vein are yet to take inventory of the racial and sexual demographics of their favorite scholars and activists. The Mount Rushmore of Marxists – Marx, Engels, and Lenin – were all men from Europe. None of these individuals suffered racial or sexual oppression, and many of their writings on these topics reflect as much. Exploitation was their sole axis of suffering – so of course – it was easy to conclude that the political economy was the engine of society. This is not to say that a Marxist analyses only applies to the European context. Rather, this is to say that Orthodox Marxism (“no war but class war”) lacks explanatory power in the face of anti-blackness.
6. A slightly more sophisticated Marxist will seek to circumvent accusations of racism by citing someone black on the topic. A fan-favorite that is often circulated as a meme is the following statement from Malcolm X: “you cannot have capitalism without racism.” The archive of oppressive regimes over the past four centuries testifies to this fact. While what Malcolm X said was important, we should also meditate on what he did not say. Declaring that we ‘cannot have capitalism without racism’ highlights only ONE side of an equation: namely, that the ruling class depends on racism. Nothing in Malcolm X’s statement shall be construed to mean that racism requires capitalism. In fact, racism pre-dates capitalism by at least 150 years. We can now re-deploy Malcolm X’s statement with a friendly amendment: you cannot have capitalism without racism, but you CAN have racism without capitalism.
7. Understanding and dismantling anti-blackness requires a paradigmatic shift. The concepts of alienation and class are insufficient in grappling with the colonial subaltern. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon (1961) critiques and recasts the orthodox Marxist perspective. He writes:
“When you examine at close quarters the colonial context, it is evident that what parcels out the world is to begin with the fact of belonging to or not belonging to a given race, a given species. In the colonies, the economic substructure is also a superstructure. The cause is the consequence: you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich. This is why Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched every time we have to do with the colonial problem. Everything up to and including pre-capitalist society, so well explained by Marx, must here be thought out again.” (p. 40)
Racism is not simply a consequence of a nefarious ruling elite playing “divide and rule” to extract surplus value from foreign lands. It is also – and at times – the decisive factor in colonial contexts. Fanon amends the typical base/superstructure calculus to address the particularities of anti-blackness in the colonies. As a result, we must dispense with the class reductive attempt to universalize the particular experiences of Europeans.