This opinion piece should start by first noting that there is no enjoyment in racializing myself or the world around me. As a black man, I, of course, deal with struggles daily. People remind me of my skin color often and that I am living as, historically, a product of slavery. My white bourgeois friends are rarely overlooking my putative oppression, people who seem to enjoy waving me as a token for their grievances towards the West. Moreover, I face ostracisation for taking a critical stance with respect to Black Lives Matter (BLM).
I have written copious articles for respectable publications in the past. In them, I dodge the temptation of racializing the events to which I speak. “Why can’t you speak on behalf of the Black community?” is often a passing comment. “Why do you hide who you are?” Here, I wish to take the opportunity to do the very thing that I am often cajoled into—yet often resist—doing. As a black man and as a proud left-winger, much can be said about BLM. We can praise many of its constructive objectives, yes. Yet, we can say much more about its theoretical wrongdoings. It’s this last point I feel most sincerely elucidating.
BLM, as we all know, reached media stardom off the back of George Floyd’s heinous murder. The picture of Floyd floored and choked has become the avatar of racism in the West, particularly in the US. Dithers of protests are unfolding in many countries. We are seeing the defacement and even toppling of many statues of devilish historical figures. Furthermore, lots of us have donated to BLM. Yet, what so many people are paying no attention to is that they are likely bankrolling a number of radical organizations founded (and ran) by committed Marxists. Marxists committed to overturning capitalism. This might not sound all that grody. Capitalism has legions of problems squarely rooted in its ideological core.
I don’t intend to offer any dialectic of the various ways Marxism co-opted the BLM movement. By the same token, I don’t intend to offer an alternative political framework to Marxism with which the Black community can consort. Lastly, this is by no means a defense of Capitalism. As a staunch left-leaning writer, I have written extensively on the shortcomings of Capitalism and the need to either transmute Capitalism or divest it of any institutional standing. As a staunch anti-racist, it is also incumbent on me to call out movements that unwittingly institutionalize racist ideologies.
The Disrupting of the Western-Prescribed Nuclear Family Structure
Before exploring the BLM’s dally with Marxism, being a person of color means I have to tackle one of BLM’s “mission statements”. BLM in the US and its various iterations across the globe seem uniform in its desire to disrupt (or dismantle) the “Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”. The problem with this desideratum is that the desire for the Black community to rattle the Western-prescribed nuclear family has been a white agenda for a long time, causing many black families to tussle through life in single-parent homes.
The nuclear family is seen as a toxic white, capitalist hang-up. This is true within political debates of the last 40 years. Few asked what nuclear families did, and fewer asked how it prepared children for a modern capitalist economy. The fulcrum of the argument is that such families were, by and large, not black. “One must question the validity of the white middle-class lifestyle from its very foundation because it has already proven itself to be decadent and unworthy of emulation,” penned Joyce Ladner in her Tomorrow’s Tomorrow. Feminists also partake in the debate. Lamentation of the single-parent family structure not only becomes “racist” but also “sexist”. Feminists now view such a structure as a denial of female independence and sexuality. The corollary often brandished is that to lament the break-up of the nuclear family is further proof of the patriarchy’s grip.
When Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in 1965 on the coming toppling of the Black family, the out-of-wedlock birth rate was 25% among Black Americans. In 1991, 68% of Black children were born outside of marriage. In 2011, this number swelled to 72% of Black babies were born to unmarried mothers. This number grew further in 2015 when 77% of Black babies were born to unmarried mothers.
What are the implications of fracturing the nuclear family within the Black community? Has it, contrary to rebuffs, strengthened kinship within the Black community and empowered individual Black people? The evidence is incontrovertible. Poverty has only worsened, educational performance has retrogressed, and teen pregnancy rates have bloated. In short, 50+ years after the release of Moynihan’s report, we are, as Kay Hymowitz puts it, witnessing the birth of millions of fatherless babies and the entrenchment of an underclass.
The common riposte is that it’s not the collapse of the nuclear family that we should blame. Rather, the institutional structures are blameworthy insofar as they famish black families by deprivation of the economic possibilities of maintaining a nuclear family. Marian Wright Edelman makes this famous argument. Instead of framing the discussion around individual mothers/fathers responsible for rearing children, the (unforgivable) group oppression is emphasized. Of course, these groups were framed by Edelman as living in generic, ill-defined, and never-to-be-analyzed “families”.
Hymowitz offers great commentary on Edelman’s argument. While Edelman sees the collapsing ghetto family as a welcome occurrence, people see it “as a kind of natural event, like drought, beyond human control and judgment”. This only shored up the increasingly long-standing attitudes in the West toward Black people. Such attitudes de-autonomize Black people and view their behaviors as products of a predominately white-controlled super-structure.
It seems to be uncontroversial—and rightly so—that there are unacceptable racial biases that have become institutionalized. Toxic white hang-ups have infected almost every aspect of the Western political, and social structure. Yet, abandoning the either/or position seems to be a necessary move for effective mobility within the Black community. The problem is that both sides of the debate have become co-opted by political movements. The effort to dismantle institutional racism is co-opted by the Left. The effort to expound personal responsibility—to condescendingly get our “houses in order,” if you will—becomes the rallying call of the Right.
The emergence of an increasingly bloated underclass and the ghettoization of the Black community present two problems. First, it plays into the hands of a margin of white people who still brood over racist ideals. Second, it mobilizes a political system that transfigures white-enlightenment ideals of racial subtypes. Additionally, it goes so far as to tokenize the Black community. The political system evoked here is Marxism.
Out with Capitalism and in with Marxism
Before an effective dialectic can be offered, readers will surely be asking at this point: “What even is racism anyway?” An intractable problem, no doubt, but are we to define racism adhering to an institutional understanding? In this case, only white people can be racist. After all, adhering to the idea of cultural hegemony, white people are the ones with power. Or is it, instead, how UNESCO defines in it its 1967 statement on Race and Racial Prejudice? In it, we see racism defined as “arranging groups hierarchically in terms of psychological and cultural characteristics that are immutable and innate”. Following this definition, racism means attributing innate inferior and superior character traits to human groups.
Erik van Ree, in his Marx and Engel’s Theory of History: Making Sense of the Race Factor, makes an important point regarding racism. Classically understood, “racism works under the assumption that certain superficial phenotypical characteristics such as skin color are hereditarily correlated with inferior or superior character traits”. Yet, skin-colour types of groups, such as ethnicities or even social classes, are subject to “racialization” also. This explains why people brandish the term “racism” in such a conceptually all-encompassing way. Showing hostility towards a social class can, and often does, result in the term “racist” being brandished.
Racism as we know it in the West, which is to say, the major historical movements that define who we are in the 21st century, has its roots in the Enlightenment. Carl Linnaeus, the Count of Buffon, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, and Carl Linnaeus are two notable figures who, following in the footsteps of Georges Cuvier, use skin-colour variations to classify human beings. Here, humanity finds itself categorized by certain character traits and afforded hierarchical ranks. White people occupy the top (of course), and Black people occupy the very bottom.
The argument gestured at this point should be fairly obvious. Marx and Engels come from the Enlightenment period and, as such, not only share in the racist attitudes of the West at the time but also theorize within a racialist (if not racist) white man’s world. Is there any evidence to support these claims?
Is Marxism Racist?
There are various statements that both Marx and Engels make that justify adjudging their views as racist. Erik van Ree focuses on six important passages in his article, but I wish to draw out merely two. The first is located in the first volume of Marx’s Capital. Here Marx says, “Not counting the more or less developed form of social production, the productivity of labor continues to be tied to natural conditions. These are all traceable to the nature of man himself, race, etc., and to nature surrounding him [emphasis added]”.
In the work’s third volume, compiled by Engels from texts written in 1863–1867, Marx notes that “under the influence of numerous different empirical circumstances, natural conditions, racial conditions, extrinsic historical influences, etc., the same economic basis […] can become operative in endless variations and shades [emphasis added]”. A few pages later we see Marx writing, “The possibility of a degree of economic development is given here, though of course depending on favorable circumstances, hereditary racial character, etc.”. The important point we should extract here is that the production system is established upon certain “natural conditions”.
People often argue that “race,” as used in 19th-century parlance, doesn’t refer to what it does today. In this case, it could be argued that I am committing an informal fallacy of quoting out of context. The word “race” once referred to any sort of human collective–nations, inhabitants of a particular region, or even social classes. Thus, it shouldn’t be viewed as significant that within Marxism, there are various instances of the term “race”. Viewing the imputing of the term “racist” can thus hardly be convincing. The crux, however, is that the human groups to which Marx and Engels are referring as “races” are defined as having specific biologically-defined identities. Additionally, these biologically defined identities resulted in differing economic potential.
Marxism and Racial Superiority
Engels went as far as to observe in Origin of the Family that the rich meat and milk diet of the “Aryans and Semites” might explain the “superior development of both races”. Erik Van Ree offers judicious commentary here. He remarks that Marx and Engels are quite explicit in highlighting that the productivity of labor and general economic development hinges on a country’s racial conditions: “Some races would be more naturally capable of boosting production than others”.
It’s clear that Marx and Engels believed “races” differed in their innate levels of viability and energy. Moreover, these two things reportedly offer different performance levels in the productivity of labor. Marx and Engels even went so far as to prize “European races” more than non-Europeans. The kernel of how to discredit Marxism as an appropriate mobility tool for an effective anti-racist movement is simple. As documented in Engels to Laura Lafargue, both Marx and Engels maintain especially negative views of black-skinned people who were seen as comparable to animals.
Of course, and for the purposes of intellectual balance, both are known champions of the abolition movement. Yet, in an 1853 letter to Engels, Marx opines about Jamaica’s longstanding history of having imported “new negro slaves”, occasioning a population predominately comprising of “newly imported barbarians”. He goes further: the “present negro generation in America [represents] an indigenous product, more or less turned into Yankees, English speaking, etc., and therefore becomes capable of emancipation”.
The Black community, Marxism and BLM
We’re worthy of emancipation, according to Marx, not because of some natural human rights but because we’ve become capable of emancipation. What should we in the Black community and the diaspora supporting BLM think of this? If they find some time to unbraid themselves from fashioning more single-parent Black families by disrupting the nuclear family (pun intended), they’ll realize they occupy a strange position. It would be vexing and a huge feat of mental gymnastics to depreciate any integral standing as both a Marxist and a proud member of the Black community. I’m surely going out on a limb here, but my Black brothers and sisters have been hoodwinked into an inherently racist philosophy.
Evading any accusations of committing a genetic fallacy, it would be impartial of me to clarify something. Members of BLM are not racist by extension since Marx and Engels are racist. Moreover, members of BLM are not racist by extension of BLM co-founder and her fellow organisers being Marxists. My point is simply that Marxism contains views theoretically antithetical to BLM’s anti-racist cause. This is fine, you might argue. Yet, I personally decry any collateral that offers incredulity to my identity as an autonomous Black Man.
It’s easier to unwittingly cleave to a monolithic movement than carp at “minor” theoretical discrepancies. The fine print is that the foundations of Marxism postulate that only through ratifying the white identity can we, as Black people, stand on an equal footing as white people. This belies the credibility of BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors who laughably refers to herself and her fellow organizers as “trained Marxists.” The academisation of Black issues appears to only ratify white Marxist doctrine.
Marxism has been imputed as a philosophy for white bourgeois intellectuals rooted in the neo-racism of the Enlightenment. It’s not difficult to see why. More difficult to answer is the question of why we cannot disentangle ourselves from the white man’s frame of reference.