Racism and State Formation in the Age of Absolutism

Satnam Virdee
This essay explores four questions through a critical dialogue with Black Marxist, Decolonial, and Political Marxist accounts of racism. First, is it possible to speak of racism before the advent of colonisation in the Americas? Second, what were the determinants for the production of these earlier modalities of racism? Third, who were the key actors responsible for the production of such racism? And fourth, what were the linkages between these developments and racisms that would unfold with the capitalist colonisation of the Americas? I contend that the historical formation of racism as a material force lies in the formation and dissolution of absolutist states in Western Europe between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. By demonstrating how the political cultures of Western European societies were suffused with the logic of racialisation prior to the colonisation of the Americas, the essay helps make transparent hitherto occluded connections between histories focusing on the internal racialisation of Europe and the racialisation of the European exterior. And in doing so, it establishes the constitutive part racism played in the emergence of capitalist modernity.