Who's a Black Revolutionary? (An Interview with Cedric Robinson)


{via Doc Searls}

A crucial interview with Cedric Robinson, author of "Black Marxism: The Making Of The Black Radical Tradition" (listed in Dr. Greg Carr's Recommended Reading #001, which you'll find in our Syllabus). Robinson is an expert on black resistance traditions and the history of Marxism. One of the main things his book does is point out the differences between Marxist ideology and black folks' revolutionary movements in order to illustrate that black folk have a unique tradition of resisting capitalism and white supremacy that stands on its own merits and becomes more powerful as it becomes more self-aware. This 1999 interview teases out some of the opinions he's developed about the trajectory of black struggle in the new millennium in light of his research. Here is the full interview. Below are some excerpts:

On Solidarity And Common Ground:
One conceit is class; another is determinancy; and another is the stage-construction of history. As Amilcar Cabral argued thirty years ago, class is not a world-historical phenomena enveloping the histories of all peoples; and culture and consciousness are as powerful in determining choice and behavior as the material reproduction of a society. Finally, the discrete stages of history which Marx borrowed from the Scottish Enlightenment of the 17th century hardly corresponds with any human history, even European’s.

On The Differences Between Resisters Of Capitalism:
But confrontations with Marx’s historical vision are also shaped by the social context in which they unfold. The Black Radical Tradition emerged in the belly of the beast, in a setting where physical and cultural problems were very immediate and the surveillance of Black radicals was omnipresent. Black radicals thus took slave society, colonial, and post-colonial society at its word and attempted to subvert in on this basis. Whereas Chinese Marxists, for example, saw capitalism and the West as an invasive force coming from without. The Chinese revolutionaries never conceded to the West its self-definition, and thus had a different relationship to Marx's historical vision.

On The Global Adoption Of Capitalism In Nations Of Color:
I believe it is necessary for the Black Radical Tradition to remain focused upon the cultural legacies that have provided for its strengths. The Tradition is most powerful when it draws on its own historical experiences while resisting the simplifications of Black nationalism. This protocol allows for the emergence and recognition of other radical traditions, drawing their own power from alternative historical experiences.

On China's Rise And The Role Of Race In Capitalism:
What is important to remember is that capital never develops according to pure market exigencies or rational calculus. Whatever the organization of capitalism may be and whoever constitutes its particular agencies, capitalism has a specific culture. As Aristotle first revealed, capital accumulation is essentially irrational. And as was the case in his time, race, ethnicity, and gender were powerful procedures for the conduct of accumulation and value appropriation.

On The So-Called Decline Of Revolutionary Movements:
I do not believe that the Black Radical Tradition is at a low point. For example, there are vanguard movements in the Tradition: think of the reception of Nelson Mandela in the US after his release from prison. He became a marker for the advance of the Black Radical Tradition as a whole in the minds of many Black Americans. On the other hand, local conditions in places like the US have not produced such world historical individuals in recent times.

But the world is dynamic, constantly changing, constantly creating new possibilities (see, for instance, how far revolutionary agendas were pursued by youth gangs in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco in the post-Civil Rights era). All over the US, Black Radicalism is manifesting itself in urban churches, in theory (i.e. doctrine) and practice (i.e. volunteerism). What will be the next phase, when the rule of law becomes transparently farcical, the Christian right achieves its fascist perfection, and the State acquires a predominantly carceral posture towards the majority of Blacks, Latinos, etc.?

On Black Studies:
Hegemonic control of Black Studies is as important to capital as any other field of knowledge production. The selective breeding of Black intellectuals in this country is even older than the appearance of the philanthropic Black colleges of the late 19th century; and the necessity of dominating Black knowledge production finds a template in the Gunnar Myrdahl enterprise in the years of World War II.

On White Studies:
Whiteness Studies deconstruct and decenter whiteness, showing that it is an artifice, that it has a history and one that does not go back very far. The best of the work (like George Lipsitz's The Possessive Investment in Whiteness) is an extension of radical Black Studies.

On Defining Oneself:
What name do you give to the nature of the Universe? There are some realms in which names, nomination, is premature. My only loyalties are to the morally just world; and my happiest and most stunning opportunity for raising hell with corruption and deceit are with other Black people. I suppose that makes me a part, an expression, of Black Radicalism.

On Pop Culture:
As someone fascinated with culture and its potentialities, interrogating film is another means of determining how popular cultures contest with mass cultures; the latter being stories about the world and human experience which are manufactured for the masses by elites. Aristotle once wrote that the many are wiser than the few. In the best sense of this observation, the conflict between social history and popular cultures, on the one hand, and induced memories of the past on the other may be the most important site of analysis in a civilization whose technicians can now design virtual reality. Under these changed circumstances it becomes even more imperative that we can distinguish authentic (historical) radicalism from imagined radicalism.