Volume 5, 2007
Democracy, Racism, and Prisons
Marx, Capitalism, and Race
Cedric J. Robinson and others have criticized “Marxism” for “its inability to comprehend either the racial character of capitalism…or mass movements outside Europe.” Whatever the merits of this criticism for “standard Marxism,” Marx’s own thought is neither “economistic” nor Eurocentric, it does not deny historical agency to the struggle against anti-black racism in its own right, and it does not reduce that struggle to the European class struggle. By exploring Marx’s Civil War journalism and correspondence as well as his critique of political economy, this essay demonstrates that Marx’s philosophy of liberation conceptualizes the revolutionary struggle to abolish slavery as an epoch-making worldhistorical freedom struggle, both as a Black liberation movement and also as a necessary
condition for the development of the international working class. A little known Blackled revolt in Bolivar, Missouri in 1859 is Marx’s clue to the meaning and significance of the American Civil War.