This special issue responds to ongoing debates around what has been termed ‘identity politics’. We aim to intervene in what are make-or-break questions for the Left today. Specifically, we wish to provoke further interrogative but comradely conversation that works towards breaking-down the wedge between vulgar economism and vulgar culturalism. Critically, we maintain that just as all identity categories are spatially and temporally contingent – socially constructed, yet naturalised – so too is this current bifurcation between ‘class politics’ and ‘identity politics’. Ultimately, we call for an intellectual and organisational embracing of the complexity of identity as it figures in contemporary conditions; being a core organising-principle of capitalism as it functions today, a paradigm that Leftist struggle can be organised through and around – and yet all with a recognition of the necessity of historicising, and ultimately abolishing, these categories along with capitalism itself.
Racial Capitalism from Colonial Slavery to Postcolonial Migration
A reconsideration of the crucial historical role of slavery in the consolidation of the global regime of capital accumulation provides a vital source of Marxian critique for our postcolonial present. The Atlantic slave trade literally transformed African men and women into human commodities. The reduction of human beings into human commodities, or ‘human capital’ — indeed, into labour and nothing but labour — which was the very essence of modern slavery, served as a necessary predicate for the consolidation and perfecting of what
The New World Group and the Critique of Capitalism
This paper examines the critique of capitalism provided by the New World Group. Emerging from the West Indian Society for the Study of Social Issues at The University of The West Indies, Mona, the Group was formed in 1963 specifically to address the reformation of social and political forces in the wake of Caribbean territories gaining formal independence from European colonial powers.
On Jamaica and Labour in a Black Skin
Over the past 40 years a tradition of Marx interpretation has built up around a single passage concerning black slavery in an 1853 letter from Marx to Engels, in order to demonstrate that Marx’s support for emancipation was conditional on the level of ‘civilization’ attained by black slaves. I will argue that this interpretation, which attempts to prove Marx’s racist defense of slavery, is overdetermined by an inattention to historical context and a hypersensitivity to Marx’s nineteenth-century epithets.
This article uses Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism and subsequent theories of reification to understand the social-construction of race. Race is typically defined as a socially-constituted category that is misattributed as a natural one. The goal of this article, in contrast, is to explain how this misattribution arises. In addition to this main objective, the article uses this explanation of race to contest recent attempts that locate the ‘persistent entanglement’ of race and capital in their functional relationship. Finally, the article engages with related, commodity-based theories of race and racism and concludes with thoughts on what the socially-constructed category of race can teach us about the nature of value and capitalism.
Migration, Race, and Class Today
This paper addresses the role of global migration and the nature of national borders within the co-constitution of class and race. We begin with Marx’s critique of the value-form – a critique that rests upon a distinction between the ‘essence’ of social reality and its immediate appearances.
Steamship labour, colonial racecraft and Bombay’s Sidi jamAt
In the late nineteenth century freedpeople rescued from slaving boats on the Indian Ocean by British anti-slavery cruisers were sent to Bombay, where many of the young men found employment as stokers in the stokehold of P&O steamships. British administrators discussed the future of freed “Africans” strictly as profitable sources of labour. Freedpeople however went on to form their own Muslim communities or jamãt in Bombay known as Sidis or Habshis.
This paper asks how whether and how caste fits into a global history of racial capitalism? The misidentification of caste as custom has long misled analysts and thwarted solidarities. Drawing on the insights of two important literatures, this paper seeks to remedy that misdiagnosis and show that 1) caste abolition must be central to any effective anti-capitalist politics in South Asia, 2) a focus on ‘local’ systems of racialization like caste is necessary in any history of global racial capitalism.
A Contingent or Necessary Relationship
Anti-racist debate today remains polarized between “class reductionist” (any attempt to address racial disparities reinforces capitalist class relations) and “liberal identity” (disparities in racial representation can be resolved without questioning class inequality) politics.
A Marxist Humanist Perspective
The emergence of a new generation of antiracist activists and theorists seeking to advance an anticapitalist agenda creates a new vantage point of reexamining how racism relates to the logic of capital. This essay explores sources in the work of Marx, twentieth century Marxists, and Frantz Fanon that can provide direction for overcoming the binary of class and race.
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