Cornel West's "Race and Social Theory: Towards a Genealogical Materialist Analysis" first appeared in The Year Left Vol. 2: Towards a Rainbow Socialism - Essays on Race, Ethnicity, Class, and Gender, edited by Mike Davis, Manning Marable, Fred Pfeil, and Michael Sprinker, and published by Verso in 1987.
(Cornel West, 1988, via The SCI-Arc Media Archive)
In this field of inquiry, sociological theory has still to find its way, by a difficult effort of theoretical clarification, through the Scylla of a reductionism which must deny almost everything in order to explain something, and the Charybdis of a pluralism which is so mesmerized by 'everything’ that it cannot explain anything. To those willing to labour on, the vocation remains an open one. - Stuart Hall
We live in the midst of a pervasive and profound crisis of North Atlantic civilization whose symptoms include the threat of nuclear annihilation, extensive class inequality, brutal state repression, subtle bureaucratic surveillance, widespread homophobia, technological abuse of nature and rampant racism and patriarchy. In this essay, I shall focus on a small yet significant aspect of this crisis: the specific forms of Afro-American oppression. It is important to stress that one can more fully understand this part only in light of the whole crisis, and that one’s conception of the whole crisis should be shaped by one's grasp of this part. In other words, the time has passed when the so-called ‘race question’ can be relegated to secondary or tertiary theoretical significance. In fact, to take seriously the multi-leveled oppression of peoples of color is to raise fundamental questions regarding the very conditions for the possibility of the modern West, the diverse forms and styles of European rationality and the character of the prevailing modern secular mythologies of nationalism, professionalism, scientism, consumerism and sexual hedonism that guide everyday practices around the world.
One of the greatest aspects of living in London is its diversity, but at the same time the city is striated by racial politics. In London, as throughout the UK, people from BAME groups have been historically much more likely to be in poverty than white British people, as well as suffer from housing deprivation, homelessness and inferior access to healthcare and education. Meanwhile, racist violence is on the rise, with state racisms against ‘Muslimness’, an institutionally racist police and the ‘extreme centre’ of the British political elite enforcing tensions between race, class and nation in a context of increasing immigration and numerous global crises.
In response to all of this, Verso, Compass and Novara Media will be co-hosting a panel that focuses on living in London and some of the intersecting oppressions that increasingly define it. On 23rd March at Foyles bookshop, London, Novara Media's Aaron Bastani will chair a discussion with Liz Fekete, Director of the Institute of Race Relations and author of the forthcoming Fault Lines (Verso, 2017), Ash Sarkar, also from Novara Media and activist and academic Adam Elliott-Cooper.
We’re running a competition to win 10 pairs of tickets to this event. Simply email enquiries AT verso.co.uk with the answer to this easy question: What is the name of Paul Coates’ publisher in Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Beautiful Struggle? Winners will be picked at random. The competition is open only to UK residents and will end on Wednesday 16th March, 4pm GMT.
Read Parts I and II of Manning Marable's 1985 analysis of the dynamics of party realignment and racial polarization in American electoral politics here.
(Ronald Reagan delivers his acceptance speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention, via Wikimedia Commons)
A preliminary anatomy of the 6 November 1984 election results seemed to give Reagan a resounding mandate. The president received 59 percent of the popular vote, and carried popular majorities in 49 states. Predictably, Reagan did best in constituencies controlled by the far right, or among those who had benefited most from the administration’s economic policies. The incumbent received strong support from voters identifying themselves as ideological conservatives (81 percent), voters with annual incomes between $35,000 and $50,000 (67 percent); Mondale’s core support came from African-Americans (90 percent), Jewish Americans (66–70 percent), Hispanics (65 percent), unemployed workers (68 percent), lesbians and gay men (60 to 80 percent). Reagan’s reelection can be attributed to the continued erosion of partisan loyalties among the various segments of the Democratic coalition. One-third of the voters who supported Hart in the Democratic primaries switched to Reagan in the general election. Voters between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine, who had given Reagan only 43 percent of their votes in 1980, produced 58 percent for the Republican in 1984. About 49 percent of all Catholic voters — who constituted 26 percent of the total electorate — had supported Reagan in 1980; their 1984 vote for the president increased to 55 percent, despite the presence of a Catholic, Ferraro, on the Democratic ticket. One of Mondale’s greatest disappointments was the inability of organized labor leaders to produce a substantial majority for the Democrats. After exerting “maximum energy” to guarantee a level of support of 65 percent or more, only 57 percent of all union members backed Mondale. Among all blue-collar workers, union and non-union, Reagan received 53 percent of the vote.
The reelection of President Ronald Reagan in 1984 was not a watershed in American electoral history, but it did accelerate deep trends in popular political culture which could produce an authoritarian social order in the very near future. This chapter is an examination of various political currents and social blocs competing for power within the bourgeois state apparatus. Although there is a brief overview of the political dynamics of the Democratic Party primaries, the emergence of the Rainbow Coalition of Jesse Jackson, and the general election, my principal concern here is to examine the increased racial polarization within elements of both the American left and right as part of a broader process of electoral political realignment of the party system. Most Marxists seriously underestimate the presence of racism as an ideological and social factor of major significance in the shape of both American conservative and liberal centrist politics — in the pursuit of US foreign policies, particularly in the Caribbean and Africa, and as an impediment to the development of a mass left alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties. Although class prefigures all social relations, the burden of race is a powerful and omnipresent element that has helped to dictate the directions of contemporary politics.
The experiences of women of colour in left-wing anti-austerity movements in Britain and the Black Lives Matter movements in the United States highlight the persistent problem of our erasure in these supposedly radical democratic spaces. Women of colour’s struggles to have our intersectional social justice claims taken seriously by ‘allies’ exposes the fragility, and in some cases, the impossibility, of building solidarity across race, class, gender, sexuality and other categories of difference in protest movements.
(Photograph: Liberated Souls Wordpress)