Social Research Glossary
Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International, http://www.qualityresearchinternational.com/socialresearch/
This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.
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Black perspectives are the approaches to social analysis that derive from the experiences of oppression of non-white racial groups.
There are various alternative perspectives including assimilation, racial equality, radical and Marxist approaches.
The seminal text on Black Marxism is Cedric Robinson's 1983 book of the same name in which he 'attempts to map the historical and intellectual contours of the encounter of Marxism and Black radicalism, two programs for revolutionary change' )(Robinson, 1983, p. 1). Yet throughout, Robinson refers to Black radicalism rather than Black Marxism.
Radical Black perspectives are an array of critiques of the oppression of Black people in capitalism and imperialism.
Gale (2008) wrote of Black Marxism:
While theorists have noted the "anti-bourgeois tendencies in black cultures" (Duran 2005, p. 1), many of the Eurocentric assumptions that pervade Marxism are a challenge to the formulation of a black Marxist theory (see Robinson 1983). Whereas Marxism focuses heavily on the activism of a vanguard proletariat, black freedom struggles have revolved around a collective, albeit contested identity shaped by racism. In reaction, black Marxist thinkers have argued for a position that emphasizes "materialism over idealism" and acknowledges the centrality of race in the black experience (Campbell 1995, p. 420).
Akbar (undated) attempted to define the essence of Black Marxism:
The Black Marxist thesis
We have presented a variety of thinkers in an attempt to see what exactly is the Black Marxist position. Whilst we saw some differences between DuBois, James and Wright, I think that several shared beliefs between the three will allow us to distil a thesis for Black Marxism
Both DuBois and James explained and evidenced features of Marxist theory within racial struggles. Examples of these included primitive accumulation, dialectical materialism and exploitation. Both thought that blacks were capable of organising into a revolutionary class of 'black' proletarians. Additionally, both these writers recognised a particular racial component of capitalism as part of its nature, and showed how the racial struggles of firstly the San Domingue slaves and secondly the Negro slaves of the US went a step further in defining their opposition to capitalism. In both cases, the way that blacks organised their movements and on what terms gave it a distinctive racial feature that made the movement more than just a process of primitive accumulation, and hence irreducible to a class struggle. On the other hand, Wright (as well as the others) noticed several limitations in Marxist theory, certainly with regards to the racial struggle. Wright ultimately found it difficult to reconcile the classist features of Marxism with the racial components of black radicalism. As a result, Wright's suggestion was that we use Marxism for social analyses, but not as a model for revolution. We did also see that both DuBois and James recognised limitations in Marxism, which is why they made clear the way in which their positions were distinct. Given what we have said then, I propose the following to be an accurate formulation of Black Marxism.
The acceptance of the core features of Marxist theory with three conditions:
Chapman (2016) sums up the development of Black perspectives in the introduction to 'Black Radicalism in 20th-Century United States':
Throughout the 20th century, African Americans built on the efforts of their 19th-century predecessors to continue to challenge white supremacist patriarchy and their lowly status in the socioeconomic hierarchy. Aware of and active within the transatlantic political revolutions and social transformations that marked the dawn of modernism, black people in the United States conceived various radical political paradigms to redefine their social positions, assert their humanity and political rights, and reconfigure US and Western socioeconomic power structures. Antebellum African American activists had built a radical, gendered politics demanding slavery's immediate demise and the recognition of their rights as men, women, and citizens. In the wake of emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment, even as segregation was implemented and the New South arose, African Americans continued to shape political discourses to secure their freedom, demand sociocultural respect, and win economic justice. 20th-century black radicalism thus began in the late 19th century with versions of black nationalism, a vision of freedom secured by the dream of the bourgeois, patriarchal black home/homeland/nation/empire. As the 20th century progressed, Marcus Garvey built on this foundation as he transferred his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) from Jamaica to the United States. Simultaneously, other black people within the rural US South as well as the urban US North adapted Marxist critiques of capitalism and imperialism to their cultural outlook and socioeconomic circumstances to challenge their relegation to the bottom of the US economy and their status as the most exploitable and expendable of US laborers. Black activists often blended their Marxism with their nationalism to formulate their own revolutionary imaginary. Likewise, black feminism is often inextricable from black Marxism and black nationalism as radical black women recognized the intersecting oppression wrought by white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and the US state. For most of the 20th century, radical black feminists formulated their politics from within established organizations, challenging sexism while battling racial capitalism and white supremacy. In addition, while most often resident and active in the United States, black American radicals maintained an internationalist perspective, understanding themselves as members of a black diaspora, or pan-Africanist community, oppressed and exploited by intersecting capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, and white supremacy on a global scale. Therefore, black internationalism cuts across black radical ideologies as black people in the United States acted as global citizens and formed imagined and tangible alliances in the worldwide struggle against oppression.
Akbar, A, undated, 'On the need for Black Marxism: should we reinterpret Marxist theory for racial struggles?' available at https://www.academia.edu/27912224/On_the_Need_for_Black_Marxism_Should_we_reinterpret_Marxist_theory_for_racial_struggles, accessed 23 November 2019.
Campbell, H.G., 1995, 'C.L.R. James, Walter Rodney, and the Caribbean Intellectual', in Cudjoe, S.R and Cain, W.E. (Eds.), 1995, C. L. R. James: His Intellectual Legacies, pp. 405–431, Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press.
Chapman, E., 2016, 'Black Radicalism in 20th-Century United States', Oxford Bibiographies, available at https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780190280024/obo-9780190280024-0050.xml, last modified 28 June 2016, accessed 23 November 2019.
Duran, J., 2005, 'C.L.R. James, Social Identity, and the Black Rebellion', Philosophia Africana 8(1), pp. 1–10.
Gale, T., 2008, Marxism, Black, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, available at https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/marxism-black, accessed 23 November 2019.
Robinson, C.J., 1983, Black Marxism: The making of the Black radical tradition, London, Zed Press. A new edition with added Foreword published in 2000, Chapel Hill, University of Norh Carolina Press. Available at https://libcom.org/files/Black%20Marxism-Cedric%20J.%20Robinson.pdf, accessed 23 November 2019.
copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020
copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020