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Published on Aug 18, 2019
Our Annual Lecture 2018 took place at the Undisciplining conference, with Professor Satnam Virdee (University of Glasgow) and with responses from Dr Sivamohan Valluvan (University of Warwick) and Professor Bev Skeggs (London School of Economics and Political Science).
Undergirded by the perspective of historical materialism in dialogue with black Marxism and Marxist feminism, this lecture constructs an account demonstrating the significance of racism to the making of modernity.
The analytic returns of unthinking Eurocentric sociologies in favour of a more unified historical social scientific approach include the unmasking of the intimate relationship between capitalism, class struggles and racism, particularly how capitalist rule advanced through a process of differentiation and hierarchical re-ordering of the global proletariat.
From the 17th-century colonization of Virginia to Victorian Britain and beyond, racism formed an indispensable weapon in the armoury of the state elites, used to contain the class struggles waged by subaltern populations with a view to making the system safe for capital accumulation. Additionally, situating an account of racism within the unfolding story of historical capitalism as against the postcolonial tendency to locate it within the civilizational encounter between the West and the Rest helps make transparent the plurality of racisms, including the racialization of parts of the European proletariat. This explanation of the structuring force of racism and the differentiated ways in which the proletariat has been incorporated into capitalist relations of domination has important implications for emancipatory politics. A race-blind politics risks leaving untouched the injustices produced by historic and contemporaneous racisms.
Instead, an alternative approach is proposed, one that invites movements to wilfully entangle demands for economic justice with anti-racism and thereby embrace and demystify the differences inscribed into the collective body of the proletariat by capitalism.