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Publisher's Summary

In this ambitious work, first published in 1983, Cedric Robinson demonstrates that efforts to understand Black people's history of resistance solely through the prism of Marxist theory are incomplete and inaccurate. Marxist analyses tend to presuppose European models of history and experience that downplay the significance of Black people and Black communities as agents of change and resistance. Black radicalism, Robinson argues, must be linked to the traditions of Africa and the unique experiences of Blacks on Western continents, and any analyses of African American history need to acknowledge this.

To illustrate his argument, Robinson traces the emergence of Marxist ideology in Europe, the resistance by Blacks in historically oppressive environments, and the influence of both of these traditions on such important twentieth-century Black radical thinkers as W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James, and Richard Wright. This revised and updated third edition includes a new preface by Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, and a new foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley.

©1983 Cedric J. Robinson; Preface to the second edition copyright 2000 by The University of North Carolina Press; Foreword to the third edition copyright 2020 by Robin D. G. Kelley; Preface to the third edition copyright 2020 by Damien Sojoyner and Tiffany Willoughby-Herard (P)2022 Tantor

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"Racial Capitalism"

Cedric J. Robinson’s Black Marxism is first a history of Black people appearing in historical texts as far back as Herodotus (c. 484 – c. 425 BCE) in ancient Greece, and second a history of “the collisions of the Black and white ‘races’ beginning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.” Robinson’s thesis connects the evolution of capitalism to its roots in racism (racialism) understood in broad terms to comprise the subjugation of one class/group/nation/race by another (the Irish by the English in the nineteenth century, for example). He uses the term “racial capitalism” to express this process—the necessity of opposing classes for the function of capitalism. As a result, “racialism,” he says, “would inevitably permeate the social structures emergent from capitalism.” Keynes attributed the slow change in the “standard of life of the average man” until the beginning of the eighteenth century to “the remarkable absence of important technical improvements and to the failure of capital to accumulate.” Capital is accumulated, in Marx’s view, through the accretion of “surplus labor” which is the extra time a worker “must add to the working time necessary for his own maintenance . . . in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owners of the means of production.” Robinson ties capitalism’s early exploitation of surplus labor to slave labor and the slave trade noting, “historically, slavery was a critical foundation for capitalism.” Robinson traces the forced transport of Black people from Africa (the diaspora) to Europe, as well as Central, South, and North America as a foundation of early capitalism (and slavery as its form of “primitive accumulation” of capital). In his discussions of slavery, Robinson stresses the sense of the enslaved people with respect to their captors in terms of the slaves’ resistance, hostility, and defiance of the masters—their “Black radicalism.” As Robinson’s text approaches the twentieth century and the influence of Marx, his focus narrows to the significance and character of specific Black leaders including W. E. B. Du Bois, C. L. R. James, and Richard Wright and their respective connections to Marxism’s diverse interpretations. Marxism, says Robinson, “has proven insufficiently radical to expose and root out the racialist order that contaminates its analytic and philosophic applications or to come to effective terms with the implications of its own class origins.”

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