4. Marxism properly interpreted emphasizes the primacy of class in a number of senses. One, of course, is the primacy of the working class as a revolutionary agent--a primacy which does not, as often thought, render women and people of color "secondary." Such an equation of white male and working class, as well as a corresponding division between a "white" male working class identity and all the others, whose identity is thereby viewed as either primarily one of gender and race or hybrid, is a view this essay contests all along the way. The primacy of class means that building a multiracial, multi-gendered international working-class organization or organizations should be the goal of any revolutionary movement: the primacy of class puts the fight against racism and sexism at the center. The intelligibility of this position is rooted in the primacy of class analysis for understanding the structural determinants of race, gender and class oppression. Oppression is multiple and intersecting but its causes are not.
74. It is clear that these writers are responding to the perceived inadequacy of the structure/agency split they see inhabiting Marxist theory. It is also clear that they see some notion of the autonomy of culture, the irreducibility of culture to class, as warranted. And there seems to be something like a shared debt to E. P. Thompson, or if not exactly debt then reference point. It has been my point throughout this essay that the class/culture split, however interpreted, is a reification, and thus produces explanatory aporias that historical materialism can overcome.
Most analytical, interpretive, or persuasive essays tend to follow the samebasic pattern. This page should help you formulate effective outlines for mostof the essays that you will write.
1. This essay will focus on Cedric Robinson's magisterial yet underanalyzed work , which has recently been re-released by University of North Carolina Press with both a new preface by Robinson and new foreword by the distinguished historian Robin D. G. Kelley. Robinson's work is my focus in great part because of its incredible ambitiousness, totalizing sweep and scrupulous research (as Kelley notes, the footnotes "could have been a separate book altogether"). Unlike those writing in a post-Marxist tradition, Robinson does not reject Marxism by setting mini narratives against grand narratives. Given the unavoidability of "the global," this post-Marxist fetish of the local has itself lost credibility. Robinson opposes the Marxian grand narrative with a grand narrative of his own. He thus poses a significant challenge to historical materialism, but it is a challenge that historical materialism, properly interpreted, meets.
77. It ought to be said that Robinson himself would not interpret his own lines as consonant with historical materialism in great part due to his conflation of class analysis with capitalism (understood, as mentioned at the start of this essay, "as an objective process") and his insistence not only that racism preceded capitalism (a point with which, as I've emphasized, historical materialists should agree) but that racism and capitalism did not, in Kelley's words, "break from the old order but rather evolved from it to produce a modern world system of 'racial capitalism'" (xiii).
121. I have tried to demonstrate in this essay that the complex amalgam, this package of often interlinked concepts, is deeply problematic and in its explanations of racism and inequality does not fare all that well against a properly interpreted noneconomic determinist historical materialism. I think this particular rival package to historical materialism does underwrite nationalisms of various sorts. In his essay on racism from the same issue of the that produced Robin Kelley's comments discussed above, Manning Marable acknowledges his own ambivalence towards nationalism, arguing that while nationalism is essential in the fight against racism, it nevertheless means "mobilizing people around a concept that is morally repugnant and shouldn't exist." It does exist of course. And it is very much felt. But it is hard for me not to see Marable's own comment as evidence of the incoherence that surrounds the concept of nationalism in our time--for, in essence, it is morally repugnant and shouldn't exist because it performs all the functions of racism, yet is simultaneously necessary to the fight against it. I have tried to suggest in this essay that one big reason for the power of nationalist discourse is that it rests at least partially on an uncharitable reading of historical materialism that amounts to a serious mischaracterization.