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Racial Capitalism and the Dark Proletariat

OUR IDEA OF RACIAL CAPITALISM, as Walter Johnson explains, comes from Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism (1983). But it has another lineage, one that predates Robinson even as it emerges from the same tradition of black radical thought to which he belonged.

In October 1979 an unsigned essay titled “Neo-Marxism and the Bogus Theory of ‘Racial Capitalism’” appeared in Ikwezi: A Black Liberation Journal of South African and Southern African Political Analysis. Published in London, the journal offered a radical alternative to the politics of both the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. Ikwezi’s take on racial capitalism is clear from the title: the concept is not to be celebrated and embraced as a critical counterweight to European Marxism. Instead it is a product of European Marxists’ attempts to co-opt and condition black liberation struggles in southern Africa.

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Boston Review
Winter 2017
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Dwayne Betts is a poet, memoirist, and teacher. His