“THE CONTRIBUTION OF BLACK MARXISM IS UNIVERSAL”
Interview with Daniel Montanes Pico on Black Marxism and Decolonizing Thought in the English-speaking Caribbean
Daniel Montanes Pico (Madrid, 1986) received a degree in social and cultural anthropology from the University of Granada and an MA and PhD in Latin American Studies from UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). He regularly contributes as a columnist for Ojarasca, a scientific methodology application for indigenous affairs in La Hornada, and is currently a professor at UNAM. We will focus our conversation on his book, published by the Akal editors in October 2020, with illustrations by Agustin Vento Villate.
– What should we understand by black Marxism?
Black Marxism is a concept that refers to Marxist reflections made on the basis of the historical and social experience of the population classified as “black” in the capitalist system. This is an epistemological concept. If we think of this historical and social experience from a Marxist point of view, we must turn to fundamental issues such as the relationship between races and classes, slavery, plantation economics, etc. These types of thinking are mainly carried out by intellectuals categorized as “blacks” because they experience it first hand and have an immediate material need to think about resolving the oppression and oppression they suffer from. There are, however, some intellectuals in the “white” category who have contributed interesting research in this regard.
– And what are you trying to tell us when you assert that black Marxism is a “calibanization” of Marxism?
The “calibanization” of Marxism refers to the critical perception and processing of the Marxist tradition, in this case based on the historical and social experience of the population belonging to the category of “blacks” in the capitalist system. The word comes from “Caliban,” a character from Shakespeare’s The Tempest whose name is a combination of the words “Caribbean” and “cannibal.” Caliban is the son of a woman from Algeria who, while pregnant, was exiled to a desert island on charges of being a witch. Shortly after the birth of Caliban, a character named Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, exiled as a result of political intrigue, was shipwrecked on the island, and ended up on this uninhabited island with his daughter and servants. Having settled on the island, Prospero enslaves Caliban and Sycorax, his mother. Sycorax soon dies and Prospero brings Caliban up into slavery. Eventually, Caliban revolts against Prospero, accusing him of killing and mistreating his mother. In his rebuke, Caliban warns that he can only curse in the language of his captor, since he does not know or remember his original language, the language of his mother. The character’s story has been reconstructed as a metaphor for Afro-Caribbean and Latin American critical thought of the mid-20th century. Authors such as George Lamming, Aimé Sezer and Roberto Fernandez Retamar have identified Caliban’s revolt against Prospero as a metaphor for anti-colonial rebellion in the Caribbean and Latin America, as slaves and enslaved peoples who resist oppression and rebellion use the languages and concepts of those who colonized them.
Marxism, being the result of critical thinking, also proceeds from the historical and social experience of the Western society that colonized these territories. “Calibanizing Marxism” is a way of using Caliban’s metaphor, following the tradition of Afro-Caribbean and Latin American critical thought, to refer to the subversive and resistant use of Western thinking. Aimé Cesar and Roberto Fernandez Retamar defined Caliban as a metaphor for anti-colonial rebellion in the Caribbean and Latin America.
– From what epistemological and political point of reference does “black Marxism” begin?
The Epistemological Perspective of Black Marxism — Historical Materialism. Although there is criticism of certain Eurocentric positions that are presented in most of the studies of this tradition. Consequently, there is no monolithic historical and political perspective: we can say that this is an epistemological concept. Within black Marxism, we find many political positions, including Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist, Maoist, autonomist, pan-Africanist, national-populist, etc.
What unites those of us who fit into this concept of “Black Marxism”? First of all, the fact that we are able to comprehend the historical and social experience of the population classified as “blacks” in the capitalist system from the standpoint of open and unorthodox Marxism. This is an analytical perspective that does not have to coincide with the same political direction, perspective.
– By the way, who came up with this category? Are you using it in the same sense?
The term “black Marxism” has been used since the beginning of the 20th century in various circles of militant popular resistance to denote Marxists who classify themselves as “blacks” who consider their historical and social experience to be Marxist. But as an analytic category, it was first introduced by the African American thinker Cedric Robinson in the 1980s, in a work titled Black Marxism: The Rise of a Black Radical Tradition. In it, С. Robinson speaks of the existence of a “radical black tradition”, referring to the diverse historical and social spectrum of critical thought and the radical political liberation struggle of the population, which is considered “black” in the capitalist system. Within the framework of this tradition, anti-slavery and anti-colonial tendencies and battles are manifested. The awakening resistance of the oppressed socio-ethnic stratum of the population in the 16th century collided with the capitalist colonial realities that surrounded them, and realized their close connection with the racial issue. For Robinson, “black Marxism” occupied an important place in this tradition, it is from there that his analytical concepts come from to explain the close connection between capitalism and racism, such as “internal colonialism”, “world-system” or “racial capitalism”. They emphasize that capitalism in all its complexity cannot be understood without understanding the racial dimension. I consider myself a follower of the ideas and concepts of Cedric Robinson, which were later continued by other authors such as Anthony Boges, Angela Davis, Ruth Gilmore, etc. In their view of capitalism, they also assume that resistance to capitalism cannot be understood without understanding its racial dimension.
– I would like to ask you a question – about the subtitle of S. Robinson’s essay: “The Decolonizing Thought of the English-speaking Caribbean”. What is meant by decolonizing thinking? When does the decolonization of thought occur?
Decolonizing thinking is engaged in the analysis of colonialism – with the aim of combating it and eliminating it. This task includes anti-colonial tasks aimed at countering colonialism – and the prefix “de” also allows us to treat this task as a process of speaking, making sense of a given phenomenon, and not just as a denial or reaction. It is a process in the task of eliminating colonialism, which in all its dimensions develops the foundations of its own resistant thought. However, it should not be confused with ethnocentrism. Colonial processes leave in the territories that they have historically affected, those legacies that cannot be completely erased – after all, history cannot be denied. However, you can start from scratch, since many of these colonial legacies already constitute the history of subjects who have the experience and desire to go through the process of decolonization to the end.
Returning to the metaphor of Caliban, I want to note that it is about creating an independent thought of its own, and – this process can use categories and languages typical of colonial culture, but reworked in its own resistant and decolonizing way. Thus, black Marxism is decolonial Marxism in that it deals with the task of analyzing and eliminating colonialism in relation to black peoples, and at the same time decolonizing some Eurocentric elements typical of orthodox Marxist views, such as a linear and teleological view of history. , contempt for the peasantry and the revolutionary potential of peripheral societies.
– You say that, although they are related, the concept that we are commenting should not be confused with the postcolonial and decolonial paradigms that have emerged in the academic environment since the 1990s. What are their main differences?
The thinking about decolonization is as old and diverse as the current struggle for decolonization, as this thought arises in the process of struggle and is part of this struggle. As for capitalism and its colonial expansion, which began in the 16th century, the comprehension of them and the proposal of the postcolonial and decolonial paradigm of the last decades incorporate elements of some traditions of decolonizing thought, offering their fundamental academic systematization. This is in general terms. Although it is obvious that there was decolonial thinking associated with the academic environment, as well as modern postcolonial and decolonial thinking associated with social struggles in the process of decolonization. I believe that the main thing in understanding them is to see where each tradition comes from and what its fundamental basis is.
– What countries and territories will the English-speaking Caribbean currently cover? What is the origin of its inhabitants? Are all countries independent today?
Thanks for the question. It is very important. Here I need to elaborate on the lack of knowledge that exists in the context of this question. The English-speaking Caribbean is an area of the Caribbean Sea historically associated with British imperialism. We know little about this region in our context, and this in many cases leads to stereotypes. In general, this region evokes in the everyday perception sports, tourist, musical and financial associative ranks: singer Rihana from Barbados, Bob Marley from Jamaica, broker Usain Bolt from Jamaica, tourist cruises from the Virgin Islands. This is our image of the region, a deeply colonial image of a territory where you can sunbathe and sail on a yacht, consume prostitution (especially female and racial, but also racial male), smoke marijuana and dance reggae, and also enjoy economic benefits in the context of the existence of tax havens from illegal activities. Therefore, the idea and knowledge that social thinkers of a very high level come from here, who explain fundamental issues based on their realities, who are aware of the capitalist system at the global level, give us knowledge of universal significance. This is something that is little known. As for the territories … Currently, this region consists of those th, most of which are already independent countries – Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, Grenada, Bahamas, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize and Kitts and Nieves. These include others as well – which to this day remain “British Overseas Territories” included in the international list of non-autonomous territories covered by the UN mandate for decolonization. These are Bermuda, Anguilla, Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands. Historical studies show that these territories were inhabited by the Arawak and Taino population, which was exterminated in the process of European colonization – an absolute genocide. But not all of their representatives died. Exterminated? Perhaps you are exaggerating a little in the use of this adjective?
British colonialism imposed on the region a rigid economic, political and social system based on plantation structure, the effects of which persist to this day. These countries are home to 80% to 90% of the black population, mostly descendants of the slave population who coexist with a small proportion of the white population – the descendants of planters, landowners and artisans – who came from other British Asian colonies. Especially from India – now there are descendants of the so-called “hired servants” who arrived in these territories in the 19th century, when slavery was abolished, as a result of which there was not enough labor on the plantations. The Indians who arrived there ended up in conditions of “contract slavery.”
– You distinguish between indigenismo and indianismo. What are their main differences?
Indianism is a revolutionary and anti-colonial political-theoretical movement that emerged in the Andean region in the middle of the 20th century, inspiring many social movements in Latin America. It is a radical movement against the colonial capitalist structure that includes indigenous communities. They contrast their indigenous traditions, organized after the Patsukuaro Congress in 1940, with the colonial capitalist traditions of the state paternalist movement, the goal of which was to control indigenous communities and movements through “modernization policies.” The main difference between indigenismo and indianismo is that Indianism posits the struggle of indigenous peoples against capitalism and colonialism as a fundamental element of the liberation of these peoples.
– Are there any theoretical differences?
There are also theoretical differences: Indianismo analyzes the racial dimension of capitalism, while indigenismo places more emphasis on ethnocultural isolation. In the book, I mention Indianism in the foreword because I was introduced to the radical black tradition through this current. During a trip to Bolivia, I learned from Indianist groups that they were inspired by black Marxists in their movement. For example, the Aymara theorist Fausto Reinaga in the 1960s introduced the thoughts of authors such as Franz Fanon and Stokely Carmichael into political debates in the Andean region, which shows the links between the English-speaking and Hispanic post-colonial South in critical thinking, and not just the North-South, as this is often stated in academia.
– Denying the existence of biological races, you assert that races exist in the form of social structures, and – long before the 19th century. These are social constructs that organize super-exploitative labor. A social construct without a real foundation? What distinguishes super-exploitative labor from the exploited worker?
Race is a social construct with a very real basis: the division of labor according to racist criteria. Why was work organized in this way at the dawn of capitalism? The Trinidadian intellectual Eric Williams, whom we discuss in detail in the book, explains this very well: the reason is pure pragmatism. For the capitalist relations that emerged with the emergence of new productive forces, for the representatives of the oppressive class, this was the easiest thing – what was at hand. The racial division of labor originates in the search for greater efficiency in the production and distribution of goods, which develops in the process of initial capital accumulation. Dividing the working class by skin color to increase efficiency in the production and distribution of goods has been very effective because it is very difficult for a person to avoid skin color segregation. There are other racial markers, but skin color has historically been one of the most fundamental. Over time, the over-exploitation of blacks has given rise to perceptions of their perceived inferiority, as their continued abuse must have been somehow justified. Thus arose the pseudoscientific idealist racist ideology of the 19th century, which justified the overexploitation of certain human groups by supposed natural, and even metaphysical, laws. But this ideology was preceded by centuries of superexploitation and the division of labor along racist criteria, which had been in place since the 16th century and were closely associated with the rise of capitalism.
– What you just described is an example of a very historical and very materialistic vision.
Yes, the view on the origins and significance of racism in the body of knowledge of black Marxism is very historical and very materialistic. Racism is understood here as something structural, and inherently originally owned by capitalism. Following the great expert on this debate, Afro-Puerto Rican thinker and social activist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, such a view is opposed to hegemonic idealistic approaches to the issue, which claim that racism is an idea that originated in the 19th century in the bourgeois elites in order to perpetuate his hegemony and divide the working class, as Michel Foucault, in particular, envisioned. Idealistic approaches that place an “ontologizing” emphasis on what racism means are common in postmodern thought. Although we also find it in “orthodox” versions of Marxism, which consider racism not structural, but only “superstructural”. This has important practical implications. If you believe that racism is essentially an idea or ideology that only secondarily has material consequences, then the anti-racist struggle should take place mainly at the level of ideas – morality, ethics, the world of the media, education, customs. And, allegedly, if they are changed, material, racial discrimination will also disappear. But if you, like black Marxists, think that racism is fundamentally a problem rooted in the structure of exploitation, then anti-racist struggle will have to take place mainly in the processes that generate it – racial division of labor, discriminatory systems of access to land, etc.
– As for the difference between exploitation and overexploitation …
The distinction between overexploitation and exploitation was taken up by Rui Mauro Marini, a prominent consistent Marxist from Brazil. For him, overexploitation is the basis of addiction and a characteristic feature of most work in peripheral societies. According to R. M. Marini, it is based on two fundamental questions: the expansion of exploitation in terms of intensity and operating time, i.e. what in the Marxist sense is called “absolute surplus value”; remuneration for labor is lower than the reproductive value of labor. That is, no matter how much you work, you will earn less than you need to survive — leading to a high proportion of the informal subsistence economy in peripheral societies. I address these issues in the book in connection with the dialectical-materialist understanding of racism. The vast majority of overexploited work in the world is associated with racial discrimination among the population. Racism is a major justification and an integral part of overexploitation.
On the other hand, simple exploitation without the prefix “over” is what characterizes most labor in central societies, where the level of exploitation is more closely related to the issue of relative surplus value, and the cost of labor is usually no lower than the cost of its reproduction. Typically, exploitation suffers from the working class, which is considered “white” in the so-called “first world” countries. The important point is that black Marxism shows us that super-exploitation is fully combined with exploitation in the cycle of capital accumulation on a global scale. Overexploitation of labor in the periphery contributes to the development of the productive forces of the central countries due mainly to the production of raw materials at low costs. This allows specialization and production diversification of the central countries, getting the opportunity to extract the relative surplus value of labor without the need to increase the intensity and time of work or reduce the cost of labor below the cost of its reproduction, which makes it possible to increase the rate of social tranquility and the possibility of relative encouragement of workers’ consumption. That is: the working class of the “first world”, primarily white. It is exploited only thanks to the super-exploitation of the labor of the working class of the Third World, primarily the non-white. It also allows for a division of labor at a global level that establishes material differences within the working class that discourage anti-capitalist actions coordinated by different objective material interests that arise in each sector. This is why black Marxists – for example, Trinidadian researcher Oliver Cox, the father of world systems theory (a question acknowledged by Wallerstein himself), whose work we scrutinize in the book – assume that the anti-capitalist revolution will objectively come from peripheral societies, since the white working class of the central societies are often reactionary on a global scale, and – and for a long time it was shaped so that it would defend its privileges, and in fact – the dubious privilege of being clearly exploited only against the background of general over-exploitation of labor in the periphery.
This marks a decisive turn away from orthodox Marxist theories, the main feature of which is the postulation that the revolution will come from central societies, which have more developed productive forces.
– You also argue in your book that, unlike what happens to thinkers who are at the origins of philosophical thought, such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant or Hegel, the authors of the Third World usually use a slight disclaimer in which they tend to completely deny them. Oliver Cox, for example, believes that pride, submission, and denial are attitudes that most Eurocentric people, whether European or not, carry, are carriers of this type of scientific paradigm. In your opinion, who is more inclined to operate with this kind of unequal? If, in your opinion, Eurocentrism is still widespread among the European or North American intelligentsia.
Eurocentrism is a global problem. It is historically rooted in North South America, Africa and Asia – in fact, everywhere, and much stronger than many think. We can see this in all indicators of academic citations. Thought itself bears a large degree of mechanical continuity to Eurocentrism, continuing in this sense to dominate the concepts and ways of thinking of peripheral societies, despite the fact that they arose as a result of scientific reflection and analysis of special life experience. However, despite this, on the periphery there are countless traditions of very interesting thought for understanding various problems of the world that are invisible and unknown to thinkers with paradigmatic Eurocentrism. And when some thinker from the periphery manages to break through the academic siege and the siege of publicistic media, thanks to his original, extraordinary way of thinking, having fallen into a number of authors considered by the general scientific and public audience, most often he rather soon finds himself crushed by the Eurocentric mechanics of thinking.
A case in point is such impressive thinkers as Franz Fanon and Fausto Reinaga, who are considered to be “reverse racists” because of their some risky comments. For example, about the structurally privileged place, which in the countries of developed capitalism is occupied by the white population. By labeling them as “reverse racists,” traditional academics reject all of their core ideas. There are many examples of such distortions. For example, in line with the postmodern positions prevailing in the academic scientific world, such extraordinary peripheral authors as C.L.R. James and Stuart Hall. As a result, the radical and revolutionary Marxist positions in the ongoing research of these two thinkers were “brought to the common denominator of the“ postcolonial ”authors. They, in the opinion of representatives of the postmodernist direction dominating in the academic paradigm, are characterized by the vector of “decolonization of culture in complete isolation from it”.
– In your book you assert that some Western thinkers historically have a tendency to appropriate the thinking of representatives of the peoples of peripheral countries, you call this “epistemic extrativism.” Also in your book you quote K. Marx from “Capital”: “Working with white skin cannot be emancipated where working with black skin is stigmatized.” Could you give examples of epistemic extractivism here?
The idea of epistemic extractivism was developed by Ramon Grossfoguel, followed by such indigenous and Latin American intellectuals as Eliane Simpson, Alberto Acosta and Sylvia Rivera Cusicanchi. This idea brings us not only to the global contemporary, but also to the historical problem. Ramon Grossvoguel quotes George Salib, from his work Islamic Science and the Creation of the European Renaissance, where it is argued that many of the great scientific achievements of the European Renaissance were based on historically developed models of exact science in Muslim countries. According to Salib, historically it happened that the representatives of the European culture of the Renaissance, when transferring a number of technical, mathematical and other scientific moments discovered in the Muslim East, did not pay attention to the fact that there was an appropriation, copying of discoveries in science that occurred in the East. As a result, they went down in history as European discoveries and inventions.
– For example?..
In the work I mentioned above, George Saliba refers primarily to astronomical knowledge that has arisen in the educated circles of Islamic societies. For example, he claims that the discoveries in the field of astronomy copied from there became fundamental for the formulation of Copernicus’ heliocentric theory.
Another remarkable example of modern epistemic extractivism is the many pharmaceutical discoveries that belonged to the indigenous peoples of the colonized territories. As a result of the history of colonization, patents for these pharmaceutical discoveries were obtained by representatives of Western European traditional medicine.
It must be said that the environment for this is the existence of an academic barrier; when an intellectual who enjoys racial or sexual privileges says the same thing as one who does not enjoy these privileges, in the academic world there is a clear preference for the former. There are several striking examples of this, and one of the most famous is the example of Michel Foucault – when historically it happened that, despite the fact that in different peripheral cultures there were traditions that preceded the development of progressive feminist thought in Western thinking, the preference for recognition innovation in the development of feminist thought was given to him.
Something similar can also be seen in the case of many of the ideas contained in the diverse decolonial and postcolonial approaches set forth by indigenous and black intellectuals decades ago. However, no one quotes them and no one among the representatives of the Western academic scientific tradition pays attention to them. In our book, we give several such examples: Oliver Cox’s theory of world systems, Harry Haywood’s theory of internal colonialism, the idea of colonial power by Cedric Robinson … In this context, as Ramon Grosfoguel dispassionately and ruthlessly judges in various and decolonial thinkers from renowned universities in the global North represent many of the ideas that have been developed over decades by the decolonization movements as if they were their own.
– Two questions about the latter. First, the theory of world-systems is often attributed to the great American thinker Immanuel Wallerstein. Then he would need to resort to plagiarism without pointing to the previous sources of the given theory?
Immanuel Wallerstein is one of the great First World theorists who can be described as representatives of white critical thinkers who respect Third World authors. He always gave an account and realized what a huge and decisive influence on his thinking had such representatives of “black Marxism” as Franz Fanon, or – Walter Rodney, with whom I. Wallerstein personally collaborated several times. In the case of Oliver Cox – I. Wallerstein directly recognizes him as “the father of the theory of world systems” – in his article “Oliver Cox as an analyst of world systems”. Also, in one of the last books Wallerstein published before his recent death, The World System and Africa (2017), the great thinker collects and recognizes some of the contributions of black Marxists that were critical to his thinking.
– Can you name us a representative of the well-known university tradition in the global North, who would present as their own ideas developed by the authors of the decolonization movement?
A number of such thinkers have recently been identified in their books by Sylvia Rivera Kusikanki and Ramón Grossvoguel, for example, they have references to Walter Mignolo, a renowned professor of decolonial theory at Duke University. Rivera Kushikanka’s accusations against Walter Mignolo can be found in his book, Reflections on Decolonizing Practices and Discourses (Cusicanqui Ch’ixinakax utxiwa, 2010). In addition, there is about this in an interview with Luis Martinez Andrade for the Metapolítica magazine, published in 2013, – “Taking the critical thinking of the colonized seriously in all its complexity.”
And regarding the quotation from Marx … Marx’s phrase is fantastic … Currently, research is being conducted on Marx’s views on the issues of determining race and class, which in his discourse were much more progressive and detailed than is usually thought. Marx miraculously synthesizes in just one aforementioned quotation, in one sentence, the whole depth of the problems of the racial division of labor and the definition of super-exploitation and exploitation. The fact is that historically it so happened that in the works published during Karl Marx’s life, these questions are not particularly developed – you need to dig in his manuscripts to find his developments, expressed by him as hypotheses and guesses; he did not have time to systematically work them out. But these hypotheses were later deeply developed by black Marxism. In this sense, it is recommended to read authors such as Enrique Dussel, Alvaro Garcia Liner.
– Were there still representatives of the traditional academic paradigm, shall we say, “sensitive” to the realities of decolonization? What can you say, for example, about the statement of Olympia de Gouge, which dates from 1788: “I have always been interested in the unfortunate fate of blacks. My knowledge was just beginning to develop at an age when children hardly think, when the appearance of a black woman, whom I first saw, made me think about her skin color. Those to whom I was then able to turn did not satisfy my curiosity or my understanding, since they treated people of a different skin color than theirs, like animals, or like people who were cursed by God. But as I got older, I clearly saw that it was the power of prejudice that had doomed them to this terrible slavery … “
This is, in my opinion, absolutely correct to illustrate the issue we are discussing. Olympia de Gouge is also one of the first activists in history in the struggle for women’s rights, an active participant in the French Revolution. It was for her struggle for women’s rights that she was guillotined by the counter-revolutionaries. The example you gave is very important: Olympia de Gouge is a heroine of the Great French Revolution. As the historian Carol Patman has shown in one of her works, she fought to convey the idea of the need to fight for equality, freedom and brotherhood not only to oppressed women, but also to children growing up without fathers, who were handed over to an orphanage by their impoverished mothers in France. (K. Patman’s book “The Sexual Contract”).
The solidarity of Western progressives and thinkers towards colonial and racial oppression has been a historical trend. In the event that these were women, rare at that time, fighting for revolutionary and progressive values, this tendency was even more pronounced, because their historically established oppression on the basis of gender gave women the opportunity to be more sensitive to the problem of oppression by race. There are many historical examples of this. In this context, I am reminded of the historical figure of Gonzalo Guerrero, a Spanish colonizer who was shipwrecked on the Yucatan coast in the 16th century. Mayan communities helped him survive the shipwreck. When the Spanish armed invasion of Yucatan began, he mobilized everyone to fight him. Gonzalo Guerrero gave up his privileges as “white”, embracing the local culture and spirituality as his own. Having made a traditional military tattoo on his body and pierced his ears – in the style of Mayan culture – he led the defense of the Indian communities in the Yucatan from the arbitrariness perpetrated by the Spaniards in the territories of traditional Indian residence. Ultimately, Gonzalo Guerrero gave his life in the battles of the Indian resistance against the Spanish invasion, of which he was originally a part. In the history of the region, Bartolomé de las Casas is also always mentioned as the “protector of the Indians”, but he defended the Indians, perceiving them as the local labor force necessary for the Spanish Empire in the near future. In addition, he was interested in the fate of the Indian communities from the point of view of the further possibility of expanding the sacred “mission of evangelization” – in relation to these “peoples without religion”. Rather, he was an imperial manager who took economic care of the Indian labor force not to disappear. The true defender of the interests of the Mayan communities destroyed in the Yucatan in history is the amazing figure of Gonzalo Guerrero, not Las Casas! In our time, there are also great figures of Western scientific-critical thought who are sensitive to this issue. These are Sylvia Federici, Boaventura Sousa Santos and Immanuel Wallerstein already mentioned here. It seems to me to think that there can be no reason for the privileged “whites” to act against the foundations of the oppressive system that sustain those privileges is an overly mechanistic take on history. At present, the question of what role whites play in the anti-colonial and anti-racist struggle is already a subject for another discussion, because we can fall into paternalism, speak “on behalf of”. This is also happening, and we must be careful. Therefore, I believe that our role in this, if we ever have it, is to be in the rear of the anti-colonial struggle.
– I am tempted to enter into a debate about Bartolomé de Las Casas here, but I think it is not worth touching on the subject here. However, I cannot fail to mention that one of his theses concerning the ideology of mixed marriage was deeply perverted afterwards. What supports this twisted idea? Why did it happen?
I have summarized my critical position on the figure of Bartolomé Las Casas in an article entitled “Nations without Religion: The Fallacy of the Valladolid Controversy.” It is available on the Internet, but I think that we really better leave this topic for another day … As for his “ideology of mixed marriage”, I believe that this is a completely racist concept. According to her, a mestizo is a person who is a mixture of two supposed races. I am the son of my mother from Madrid and my father, who is Uruguayan, so I can be considered a mestizo, right? But no. I am not considered a mestizo because both my mother and my father were white. But if my father was “colored”, then, even though my authentic culture is Madrid, I would then be considered either mestizo or mestizo ….
So we’re talking about a racial concept here, not a cultural one. Cultural confusion is as old as humanity itself, and in today’s globalized society it is raised to a cubic degree. But when we talk about mixed marriages, we understand that we are not talking about that. Especially when we talk about mixed marriages, which are like the ideology of nations such as Mexico, Brazil or Colombia. Here the idea of “mixed marriages” acts as a perverse ideology that betrays the idea of harmony and a cultural “melting pot”. Ultimately, it serves to disguise the prevailing everyday racism. We are all Mexicans, we are all mestizo, yeah. But those of us who are dominated by the desire to achieve the goals of the West, who enjoy many social, political and economic privileges over the rest, cannot be considered representatives of a single people. This ideology is rooted in the depths of the historical process of colonization, when the invaders systematically raped indigenous and black women and had children with them. Colonial caste paintings represent up to 16 types of “mixed marriages”. They are an excellent example of how the synthesis of social, economic, political and legal privilege combined the basis of racial criteria. Unfortunately, this has not changed fundamentally. In the book, we discuss this issue in relation to black Marxism: its representatives condemn the entire “ideology of mulatization”, which also serves to legitimize differences within the interracial working class, which is subjected to overexploitation in our countries. They have always opposed the institutionalized racial division of society in order to prevent the emergence of broad socio-ethnic alliances that the reactionary forces can use against the struggle against colonial power and white supremacy.
– Another thesis that you defend in your book: Black Marxism should be viewed as a critical reception and rethinking of Marxist postulates – within the framework of the traditions of the anti-colonial struggle of black movements. Critical rethinking or confirmation of what Marxist postulates are meant here?
Here we mean that black Marxism is fundamentally included in the liberation movements of the black population. There are exceptions to the general trend of “Black Marxist” views, for example, in the person of an author like Harry Heywood, who has made a bid to remain within the framework of traditional Marxist political structures. But this is not the rule. The perception of Marxist postulates, which is characteristic of the main representatives of “black Marxism” concerns the peripheral context of social struggle. Therefore, referring to the method of historical materialism and critical political economics, it takes very diverse forms. It is about taking the fundamental theoretical and methodological foundations of Marxist theory and resorting to understanding them through the prism of various historical and social experiences – which, in the end, often breaks the framework of the usual perception of Marxism for many, and also expands the themes that were little studied. The idea of critical perception and rethinking of one’s own experience and context is primary and fundamental here. Because there are many blacks who are Marxists, but at the same time – they can defend orthodox hypotheses about the significance of racism, about the place of peripheral societies in the world revolution. As we have said, “Black Marxism” is an epistemological concept that goes beyond the problem of the color of the theorizing person’s skin.
– There are many authors that you talk about in detail in your book, most of whom are unknown to many of us. Why? What explains the ignorance in this area? Disinterest? Lack of translations? Are we very provincial?
There is a fundamental reason: racism. In this case, racism also manifests itself in the academic field. Most of the recognized intellectuals are white people from the First World, especially men, who are adherents of sexism and racism to one degree or another. It is important to understand that racism, sexism, as well as other artificially imposed frames and stereotypes that separate people in society, are part of the structure of capitalism and, obviously, part of the structure of the world of academic science, which in general does not have the courage to go beyond the structure of capitalism. … Commitment to capital accumulation is not a provincial problem. But “de facto” even in this environment – the majority of “white” authors from different European countries and from the United States know about the serious contribution of representatives of black Marxism to science, study their works. But usually they tend to biasedly perceive the position of these researchers as a view “from the other side.” After all, when the thought of negative, polarized representatives of the intellectual environment, equivalent to ethnocultural characteristics, is recognized throughout the world, this is because it does not create problems for the status quo. The academic scientific environment, which is also dominated by the currently accepted multiculturalist logic of multicultural tolerance, “absorbs” the work of these authors. This, postulated by the usual logic, the concession of certain, mainly small academic spaces, to the power of racial sectors is acceptable to everyone, since it does not pose problems for the system as a whole. At the same time, the very phenomenon of radical thinking of intellectuals from third world countries is still unknown even in higher schools and universities in third world countries. This academic racism is expressed in different ways: in the absence of translations, in disinterest, etc. Now we are trying to make the authors of the school of black Marxism famous – we translate their works, try to disseminate and publish them more widely. And, believe me, this is a very difficult task, since we meet obstacles at every step.
– You have divided your book into six sections: World System, Imperialism, Slavery, Plantations, Races, Feminism. Why exactly these six topics? What is the criterion in this division, as well as the most important?
Yes, these are roughly the main themes that I find in the works of the school of black Marxism – the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean. I decided to organize ideas by topic and author – in a discourse of didactic and pedagogical effort. The book looks like a study guide: after reading the introduction, it is not necessary to follow the order of the chapters: you can freely move from one to the other to see various aspects of the research of these thinkers, their scientific innovations. The idea is that students and researchers were able to approach the study of a new mental space for them, focusing on different topics, definitely more identifying some topics – with some of them, others, in accordance with their interests – with other names. And then they can take certain thoughts as a basis for creating their own research routes, or – the proof of the hypotheses put forward by them, in turn. That is, take this new layer of scientific research for you as a source of knowledge, as a theoretical basis, designed to make the necessary changes to move forward in the logic that is usually applied to this type of thinking – which is usually viewed as an “object” of study. Here we propose to take them as a starting point for new research, as we take the legacy of Aristotle, Plato, Marx, Foucault, Bourdieu …
The only problem with this kind of didactic systematization is that sometimes we resort to a certain type of classification, but this is more so. But we still prefer to present information in this way, since it is a very little-known topic. If we were to write in the style of a narrative essay, this type of writing would be less accessible to people unfamiliar with the context. Also, as I think, the priority for us is the desire that the coverage of the works of these authors would get more publicity. That is, the main thing in our presentation of the material is to make known the thinking of unknown and deservedly considered great intellectuals by us in our context, but by no means that I, as I interpret this or that work of these authors.
– In the Conclusions section, you assure that academic and intellectual racism continues to this day – and often – not only with unabated but also with superior vigor, despite the fact that the postcolonial and decolonial perspectives that we talked about earlier , are currently popular, in fact – fashionable. How can this energy be explained? Does this also happen in a Marxist or libertarian academic environment?
Absolutely. This is what we have already commented on. Postcolonial and decolonial approaches are in vogue now, and everyone reads in universities, Marxist and libertarian circles of university professors from the global North who speak on this topic. But the thinking of the minor and racial subjects promoting these views remains largely unknown and invisible. And when we turn to the origins of the social struggle for decolonization, where many ideas emerged that are now fashionable within these postcolonial and decolonial approaches, we find that they are often much more radical than we thought. If we can convey this, we can better understand these ideas, because the context of the struggle and the problems from which it arises is very important for them to better understand the contemporary realities of the third world.
– Did racism continue to exist in what you call “state capitalist systems”? For example, is there racism in Cuba?
The question is of principle, and for two important reasons. First, because the theory of “state capitalism” was created by one of the authors, on the coverage of the scientific work of which we worked in this book. This is the Trinidadian Afro-Caribbean Marxist C.L.R James, who conducted his scientific research in collaboration with the Russian Marxist philosopher Raya Dunaevskaya. This is a very little-known fact, and in the book we talk in detail about how this idea emerged from the hands of prominent figures of unorthodox Marxism of the first half of the twentieth century. The idea of “state capitalism” was crucial for discussing the profound revolutionary implications of the experience of “really existing socialisms.” Whether we agree with the hypothesis or not, this is a major contribution we recognize to intellectual debate. However, few people know that it was created in collaboration between a Russian woman and a black man from the Caribbean.
– But when it comes to the countries of Eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Union, it is known that the idea of “state capitalism” was spread among us by the French Marxist philosopher Charles Bettelheim. Isn’t he usually credited with the paternity hypothesis?
C.L.R James and Raya Dunaevskaya presented the hypothesis of state capitalism, especially important for the analysis of the economic model of the USSR, in the early 1940s as part of a debate in Trotskyist circles in the United States. More openly, they made the first comprehensive publication on this topic in 1947, in a work entitled “The Invasion of the Socialist Society.” Then they insisted on their terminology also in the common work – “State Capitalism and the World Revolution”, 1950. Raya Dunaevskaya herself tells how the process of creating and developing an idea took place in an article in one of the issues of the magazine “News and Letters” for 1972. It is called “The Johnson Forest Tendency, or Theory of State Capitalism, 1941-1951.” Explaining its ramifications, she explains that the idea came to Europe through contact with Cornelius Castoriadis. I don’t know how Charles Bettelheim came to this hypothesis, but I don’t think he developed it until the 1950s. Therefore, I doubt that we can attribute to him the “fatherhood” of the idea. His investigation, as far as I could understand, was found in a publication called Johnson Trend-Forest, by CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya.
-By the way, although I will deviate a little from the interview script in my question, but still – why did we find ourselves absolutely unknown to such an interesting Marxist as Raya Dunaevskaya?
As far as I understand, the reason for this is pure sexism. This, as it were, does not exist, because there are no translations of her works, which we could find in different publishers and at popular prices. Raya Dunaevskaya was a great philosopher of modern Marxist humanism, and she worked much earlier, and her research is deeper than the work of Sartre and others. In my opinion, something similar happened with the legacy of the great Rosa Luxemburg – some time before her texts became more readable. Important in this context is the fact that Raya Dunaevskaya has an excellent book on the significance of the figure of Rosa Luxemburg. This work is called “Rosa Luxemburg: The Liberation of Women and the Marxist Philosophy of the Revolution”, which has been translated into Spanish. In our language, which I know, there is only one serious study of the figure of Rai Dunaevskaya, carried out by Yevgeny Gogol, who worked with her in the United States, this book was recently published in Mexico, where Yevgeny lives, this is a very interesting book. recommended work “Raya Dunaevskaya: Philosopher of Marxism-Humanism”.
With regard to Cuba … Reflecting on what is happening to racism in the midst of a long revolutionary experience, it is very interesting to test the hypotheses of black Marxists. If we believe that racism is a structural phenomenon, then when in the process of revolutionary transformation we transform the structure, in principle, racism should disappear. I believe that the experience of real and existing societies with a socialist socio-political formation has significantly advanced the problem of the disappearance of racism. In the case of Cuba, the 1959 revolution was able to effectively equalize access to land, housing, education between black and white populations, as well as equalize wages. And this happened in a country whose society before the revolution was historically deeply hierarchical in racial terms. Structural racism has practically disappeared in Cuba thanks to revolutionary experiences and transformations that have influenced not only social relations, but also rebuilt the social order at the symbolic level. However, the remnants of racism in some forms continued to exist for a long time, perhaps more ideologically than structurally. But while Cuba has an African-majority population with fewer resources in general, the economic gap between white and non-white populations is much lower than in any other country in Latin America. I believe that the case of Cuba is a big step forward in the anti-racist and anti-capitalist struggle. But we must not forget that this is just an island in the middle of the capitalist world. Therefore, when it comes to finally overcoming the vestiges of racism in Cuba, there is a dynamic that, unfortunately, is still influenced by the cycles of capital accumulation. In any case, I am not an expert in this matter at all. I have colleagues in Cuba who wrote critically and very interestingly on this topic – Valterio Carbonel, Zuleica Romay, Julio Cesar Guanche, Felix Valdes, Rosa Campoalegre, Esteban Morales, Mario Castillo, and many others. In this sense, within the framework of our conversation, I want to take the opportunity to say that the world of black Marxism is gigantic, and in my book about it I have covered only a small part of it. Due to its scale of the phenomenon, – a more complete compensation for the gap that exists relatively worthy of assessment of the contribution to the world thought of black Marxism, can be carried out only in a team. Therefore, we continue to work on this task, through various connections and social establishing constant communication with intellectuals from Latin America, Europe, USA and Africa. There are many people who know more about certain contexts of Black Marxism.
– Tell me, is it possible to talk about libertarian thought, apart from black Marxism?
Yes of course. By the way, note that there is an article on Wikipedia on “black anarchism”, but nothing – on “black Marxism”. There are published books on this topic, especially in English, that I have been able to read, but I admit that by and large I do not really understand the depth of this issue very deeply. In general terms, I can say that anti-racist reflection, like anti-patriarchal reflection, has more weight and importance in the libertarian movement than in Marxist circles. In any case, this question, as well as the question of intersection of the aforementioned problems, is taken more seriously in the libertarian movement. In any case, I believe that the analytical contribution of the representatives of black Marxism is intended for all of humanity, I am sure that for libertarian thought it would be very fruitful to know these proposals, as they put the racial issue at the center of the debate about power. And power is a fundamental theme of libertarian thought like no other tradition of thought. I believe that these contributions can be very useful for libertarian thought, black Marxism helps us to better understand the world in which we all live, they are not just contributions to discussions within tradition and Marxist circles.
– Thank you, I will not waste your time anymore. Although, perhaps you want to add something else at the end of our fruitful conversation?
Yes, I would like to end by insisting on two things. First, the contribution of black Marxism is universal. In publishing this book, we did not try to divide folklore, exotic or ethnic thought, but rather focused on that sphere in the review of the problems of black Marxism, its contribution that helps us to better understand modern capitalism – and it cannot be considered in all its complexity. if ignored by its racial dimension. In Spain, we have tried to give several courses in this subject, even for free. However, the administration of educational institutions eventually closed the doors to these attempts – because they considered the subject “very specific” and assumed that it would be of interest only to the “colored” or black population. This is a big mistake. Is it a narrow specificity – attempts to view the global dimension of capital through the prism of its dismemberment by a racial issue that affects all classes at the global level? The racial dimension of capitalism should be of interest to all those who want to learn more about capitalism in order to be able to resist it. Black Marxism helps us get out of the trap of thinking that the racial issue is just a problem of culture and identity, which are relevant mainly for cultural and postmodern approaches. In conclusion, I want to capture the attention of your audience, and this is important – that black Marxism is part of a very broad tradition, which we could call “Marxism of the Global South.” At the same time, the South is a metaphor for the systemic over-exploitation of not only a large number of countries into the world, but also for certain large-scale social strata in the countries of the first world, whose marginalization in our time not only remains at the same level, but, possibly, is increasing. Therefore, black Marxism divides the space and reflects the problems of various non-Eurocentric Marxist movements – from Mariátegui, Dolores Cuacango, Ernesto Guevara, Marini and Vanya Bambirra – to Mao, Ho Chi Minh or Utsa Patnaik.
interviewed by Salvador Lopez Arnal