My friend Professor Jaylon Williams and I exchanged a series of emails today regarding his new book project in which he hopes to examine the historical roots of Marxism in negro institutions circa 1930; Jaylon was telling me how amazed he was at the extent of such philosophical thinking in the agrarian South; he also noted that the peasant state of the southern negro reflected that of the Chinese peasantry before the rise of Mao Zedong; I told Jaylon that I was a bit surprised by this seeing that southern blacks, according to my previous readings, had always been drawn to the work ethic of capitalism. I furthered my response by noting the continued draw to Booker T. Washington’s self-help notion. This of course was no more than an extension of the rugged individualism that dominated American economic thought; however, there was a vanguard of black intellectuals that saw an inevitable flaw in American capitalism due to its oppression of southern blacks. This topic is one still discussed at a few private secondary schools and colleges that offer courses in black studies. I have thought about such a course, but I suspect that is years away.
Amherst College’s history department offers a course on this topic:
The seminar traces in historical perspective the relationship between Black radicalism and Marxist thought. Since the late nineteenth century, Black diasporic intellectuals have found in Western Marxism, particularly its internationalist discourse, theory of class formation, and historical materialist analysis, the recipes for critical inquiry and radical politics. Their engagement with Marxism and socialist theory, however, has not precluded tensions and new theoretical resolutions. Black intellectuals from various generations have questioned “classical” Marxism’s economic reductionism, simplistic understanding of peasant politics, and dismissal of political struggles outside metropolitan regions. For writers such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Frantz Fanon, and C.L.R. James, Western Marxism has failed to account for the racial character of capitalism or to provide a historical narrative of blacks’ emancipatory politics. Students will acquire a basic knowledge of Marxist theory, and a historical understanding of Black Marxism by analyzing the works from two generations of intellectuals: the modernist and Pan-Africanist generation (Du Bois, Wright, James, Oliver Cromwell Cox, and Eric Williams), and the New Left generation (Frantz Fanon, Amiri Baraka, Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, Stuart Hall, Angela Davis, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o). One class meeting per week. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester