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E San Juan - Problems in the Marxist Project of Theorizing Race

E San Juan - Problems in the Marxist Project of Theorizing Race

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Published by Che Brandes-Tuka
On race and class reductionism
On race and class reductionism

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Published by: Che Brandes-Tuka on Nov 27, 2013
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01/09/2014

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Rethinking
MARXISM Volume
2,
Number
2
Summer 1989)
Problems in the Marxist Project of Theorizing Race
E.
Sun
Juan,
Jr.
With the nationwide eruption of racist violence in the last ten years-witness the Atlanta murders, the furor over Bernhard Goetz from 1984 to 1987, the racial confrontations in university campuses from Stanford and Wisconsin to Massachusetts, the Miami ghetto rebellion Watts
dkjd
vu? ,
and recently the Central Park gang rape which occasioned the outburst of “lynch mob mentalityand the formulaic invocation of law and order-the centrality of race in any program for socialist transformation can no longer be shirked. Nor can it be dismissed by quoting, for the nth time, Marx’s dictum: “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white
skin
where
in
the black it
is
branded” Foster 1973, 196). Indeed, class struggle cannot preempt, or leap over, the color line which W. E. B. DuBois pronounced as the decisive battlefront of this century and surely of the next. From the thirties to the sixties, Western Marxism has always subsumed racial conflicts to the class problematic. With the post-World War
II
emer- gence of Third World nations led by Marxist-inspired vanguardsxhina, Vietnam, Korea, and later Cuba, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Angola- and the birth of the Black liberation movement in the sixties, the dialectic of race and class has been catapulted for the first time onto the center stage of the political-ideological arena. The famous 1968 Kerner report
on
urban riots, the
Report
of
the
National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders,
in
 D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ U ni v e r si t y  of  T o r o n t o]  A t : 22 :27 20  D e c e mb e r 2010
 
Theorizing Race
59
the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination, crystallized the urgency of the issue. Writing about “Marxism and the Negro,” Harold Cruse, among numerous protagonists, lambasted orthodox Marxists particularly Trotskyites) for “failing to deal with the race question in America” 1968, 151), thus succumbing to “mechanistic materialism.” Since then, a raft of Marxist- Leninist organizations, progressive intellectuals, and independent left publications has debated the thematics of the race-class nexus throughout a whole period see Progressive Labor party [1970] and Loren [1977], among others). Before a resolution could break the impasse, the reactionary tide of Reaganism swept in just as the Empire’s outposts were again being challenged in Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Philippines, and South Africa.
1
It might be useful to remind ourselves, at the outset, how the standard Soviet manual,
Fundamentals
of
Marxism-Leninism,
consistently asserts the primacy
of
class over nation, race, or ethnicity. Gus Hall, General Secretary of the Communist party
USA,
condemns racism as “a deliberate strategy [of monopoly capital] for super-profits” 1972, 145)
so
that to overthrow this racist system, Blacks and other minorities should unite with the majority white working class. Radical economists also echoed this sacrosanct doctrine. Michael Reich, for example, noted that “racism is a key mechanism for the stabilization of capitalism and the legitimization of inequality”; racial conflict “obfuscates class interests.” Rooted in the capitalist system, racism weakens workers’ unity and promotes powerlessness and alienation within “an individualistic and competitive ethos” Reich 1972, 320). Clearly class polarization, not race, is the central determinant.1 Even younger radical economists, perhaps influenced by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s
Monopoly Capital
1966), subscribed to the primacy of class over race. Howard Sherman, for instance, concluded his survey of the statistics on Blacks by asserting that the function of racism was “to justify economic exploitation,” to find a scapegoat for all social problems, to divide the oppressed
so
that the elite can rule 1972, 180-81). Sherman urged white radicals to unite with their Black counterparts to build a viable socialist movement, a call echoed by Michael Lemer, a
1
That the program
for
Black capitalism and independent community development cannot succeed unless
“the
systemic oppression
of
the
economic system is ended,” has
been
persuasively documented again by William Tabb
1988).
 D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ U ni v e r si t y  of  T o r o n t o]  A t : 22 :27 20  D e c e mb e r 2010
 
6
Sun
Juan
founder of the New American Movement, who noted that “racism in this country has acquired an independent life” 1973,201). This was preceded by historian Eugene Genovese’s 1968 speech
to
the Students for a Democratic Society where he argued that racism is not just a class question but is implicated in the right of Blacks and other peoples to self-determination Genovese 1971). Amid the protracted crisis of Western Marxism, in particular the privileging of the proletariat as the chief revolutionary agent for socialist transformation, the salience of race manifested itself in the Left’s rhetorical prioritizing of the democratic principle
of
self-determination for all peoples, especially those subjugated by racist neocolonial elites Smith 1979). We can measure the profound mutation
of
the conventional Marxist tendency to sublate and valorize every social force or phenomenon within a
productivist-economistic
model
in
the last three decades by comparing the arguments of two Marxists, Oliver Cromwell Cox’s
Caste, Class and Race
1948) and Robert Blamer’s
Racial Oppression in America
1972), both epochal discourses in the archive of
U.S.
race relations. Long acclaimed as the classic Marxist analysis of race relations, Cox’s book aimed principally
to
refute the habitual academic conflation
of
race with caste e.g., Montagu 1962), the widely influential Chicago sociology of race relations cycle Robert Park), and Gunnar Myrdal’s thesis of “cumulative causation” propounded in
An American Dilemma
1944). Cox elaborates his fundamental premise that racial antagonism is essentially political class struggle. Racial categorization arose with capitalism
in
order to facilitate the differential commercialization and exploitation of the labor of certain racially marked groups. Ultimately race relations are class conflicts. Shackled by this obsolescent if still canonical view of ideology as epiphenomena1 superstructure, Cox discounts racism as “a system of rationalization” not worthy of analysis contrasted with the “material social fact”
of
class relations. Cognized as race prejudice, racism is “the socio- attitudinal concomitant of the racial-exploitative practice of a ruling class in a capitalistic society” 1948, 321, 470).
To
the Negro people Cox ascribes an “abiding urge. ..to assimilate” and thus dismisses outright their impulse to solidarity based
on
religion, culture, or commonality of experience. Michael Banton correctly faults Cox for overestimating “the integration of the capitalist system” and underestimating the “independence of beliefs
in
social processes” 1987,152; see also Sweezy 1953). What is worth exploring, however, is Cox’s notion of an ethnic system based
on
culture and physical diversity) coexisting with political and social class conflicts which would allow the analyst to appraise how Blacks not
only
 D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ U ni v e r si t y  of  T o r o n t o]  A t : 22 :27 20  D e c e mb e r 2010

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