Time, Space and Race: On Clarence J. Munford’s Race and Civilization

RACE AND CIVILIZATION: Rebirth of Black Centrality (2001) is Clarence J. Munford’s sequel to Race and Reparation: A Black Perspective for the 21st Century (1996). He says of this current project, “I strive to weave together the scattered strands of my own thought, hoping to illuminate margins and cervices readers say were left murky in Race and Reparations.” The work is encyclopedic in scope and is a profound inquiry into matters of race, white supremacy, capitalism and black liberation. It is contemporary in that it deals with the current moment of race, class and national liberatory conflict. Munford seeks to produce a general theory of global white supremacy and a scientific African and African American centered worldview. It is a deeply political work. Its author refuses to hide behind academic double speak and word magic. It is unapologetically radical in that it aims to lay foundations for the ideological struggle against white supremacy and imperialism.

Munford defines his philosophical outlook and methodology as “civilizational historicism,” which he says is “a system of thought, a philosophy, an explanatory model with a specific purpose-a worldview of use value to Black folk (2001:1).” Munford hopes, therefore, that what he has produced will be translated into practical programs and strategies. To the extent that this work engages epistemological and methodological issues it does so finally from the standpoint of praxis. A fascinating outcome is aimed for, a practical metaphysics and a metaphysics of practice.

I EXAMINE THIS WORK PHILOSOPHICALLY and from a social theoretic perspective. Ideas of time, being and space will inform my approach.1 Indeed, it is African Being and Time in the historical space of European hegemony and African/African American resistance that is the context of this inquiry. I chose this angle of investigation in order to explore within the confines of Munford’s book, and for general social-theoretic and philosophical purposes connected to the project of African and African American liberation, questions of temporality and spatiality: and contrast Munford’s and my perspective to notions of progress as asserted in European thought since the Enlightenment. I therefore attempt to transgress, problematize, and invert the comfort zone of time as assumed in European-centered historiography and social theory.2 I argue that Munford is among those Africana historians striving to construct a new historiography of the African world. To do so, I suggest, requires a new understanding of Time, Being and Space; one which recognizes the malleability not just of Space and Being, but also of Time.

There are, on the other hand, the social structural levels, below the macro-historical level which Munford’s work investigates, where historical epochs are concretized; for instance, in the lives of individuals, small collectivities, such as tribal groups, rural communities; macro and meso level structures, such as socio-economic classes, as well as social fragments, such as the lumpen-proletariat, stranded populations, such as maroon communities, migrant populations and homeless communities, and further, in institutions, such as the racialized state, the Black Church, Negro colleges, political, cultural, business and economic institutions. These structural levels and their structuring modalities carry specific temporalities. Such angles of investigation are worked out in, among others, the theorizing of Franz Fanon, Kyriakos M. Kontopoulos, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Hortense Spillers and Lewis Gordon. It is possible to discover moments of compatibility and common practical proposals for these distinct levels of these critics’ theorizing and Munford’s robust macro-historicism. Moreover, discrete structural levels adhere to distinct time modalities and rhythms. Time, however, is a complicated measure of socio-historical movement. It is further complicated because it, conceivably, varies between groups based upon their place in the social system of domination and their status as oppressed or oppressors.

PROBLEMS OF THE PLASTICITY OF TIME can fit Munford’s project of periodizing historical time in epochs (the long wave study of history), and the rhythms and velocity of historical transformations. However, there is yet another investigative region that concerns logic. We might refer to this as the logic (or perhaps logics) of time and space. Here we enter into the problems understood within the realm of dialectical logic. When engaging levels of socio-historical being we confront distinct logics inherent to the structural level being investigated. We can, therefore, speak of dialectics within dialectics. Understanding the epistemology of this project is part of our engagement with dialectical reasoning; compelling a complexification of the project. In many instances turning and inverting it, and subjecting it to angles of observation not necessarily inherent to it. This essay attempts to begin that work.

Science figures prominently in this project. Munford’s effort embraces three commitments. First to truth as discoverable, secondly, to a materialist and objectivist concept of reality and thirdly, to a rationalist form of explanation. On all three counts Munford’s is a conventional approach to science. Side by side with this investment in scientific inquiry and explanation is the assertion of what he calls the deep structural level of explanation or what is in affect the historical a priori. This is that range of beliefs, values and structures that precede the moment to be investigated. They are what could be called structured structuring structures.3 The historical a priori is, for Munford, race. Race is the overarching or central dialectic in modern world history. Race is generative, or to use Munford’s designation, overdetermining, of other events and structures. At the level of explanation, race shapes explanation, and perception. Race as an explanatory category sets rules for the explanation of events. Race is, then, a structuring logic.4

MUNFORD’S EXPLANATORY MODALITY is a complicated mix of history, philosophy and science. It is composed of a three-level engagement with objective reality. First, Munford is committed to history as critical to social inquiry. In other words Time and temporality are critical to understanding the dynamics of socio-historical processes. Secondly, Munford’s philosophy of modern history is founded upon the assumption that history proceeds dialectically and that race and the conflict with white supremacy are central to its understanding. Thirdly, history can be a science; meaning patterns, laws and regularities and cause and affect in history are discoverable.”

MUNFORD’S MUSCULAR and globalist approach to history challenges modern trends in social explanation that are ahistorical or only mildly historical. Epistemologies such as Cornel West’s (1989) prophetic pragmatism, the discursive relativism of Molefi Asante (1998) and Lucious Outlaw (1996), the black existentialism of Lewis Gordon (1995) or the psychoanalysis of Hortense Spillers (2003) fall among those epistemologies that permit discourses on oppression without suggesting logics and praxes to change it. By contrast, Munford seeks to link theory to ideology and social transformation. He eschews methodological individualism, in forms as varied as existentialism, rational choice theory and psychoanalysis, and asserts the centrality of historically constituted collectivities. In social theoretic terms, Munford engages historically constituted totalities as the object and subject of history and historical transformation.

Munford, finally, does not merely navigate the terrain of historical facts and events, but he is concerned with their organization, interpretation and critique. His epistemology is restless and located on the margins of mainstream and hegemonic discourses. He grapples with the problem of making epistemology practical and anchoring it to actual worlds of Africans. It centers itself in African Being and Time.1′ Civilizational historicism (Munford’s philosophical and methodological apparatus) is used to organize the field of investigation. This lens situates the investigator in the historical situation of black oppression and seeks to link the researcher to a historical body of ideas and methods of investigation that opposes black oppression. W.E.B. Du Bois is, for Munford, the critical predecessor to civilizational historicism. Munford’s robust commitment to science is Du Boisian, especially as it is encountered in such works as The Suppression of the African Slave Trade (1896) and Black Reconstruction (1935). And, like Du Bois, Munford is a foundational thinker. Which is to say he proceeds from stated assumptions, a discrete worldview, and a stated ideological stance. At the same time Munford constructs a multilayered approach to knowledge, attempting to capture the multiple determinations of the concrete realities of Africans.7

MUNFORD DEFINES THE EPISTEMIC MOMENT as one of inter-civilizational crisis, which is:

…brewing, maturing in the womb of the current international balance of power, in the belly of the global relations between races, as it were, a crisis destined to shatter the precarious “New World Order.” For Black folk, diasporan as well as African, the crux of the matter is global white supremacy. Over the next hundred years this emergency will, I predict, wrack the entire Earth. It will create wars, fuel the battle of ideas, rend traditional customs and tear at mores that, as the old usages, embody baseline moral values. The conflagration should most likely peak somewhere around the middle of the twenty-first century, culminating during its latter half.

WHILE ACKNOWLEDGING an intra-civlilizational crisis within Western, or white civilization, the main aspect of the 21st century will be a maturing contradiction between Western civilization and the civilizations of the non-Western world-the majority of humanity. The historical trajectory, which Munford’s dialectical analysis foresees is a change of epochs; from the epoch of white supremacy and European hegemony to one of global social justice generally, and black liberation particularly. While Munford’s concern is the dialectics of the “black-white” contradiction, he asserts there are “huge cultural, social psychological, philosophical, ideological, mass emotional, and even sexual morality chasms between white Western and Chinese and South Asian civilizations, for all the talk of economic cooperation and interdependence” (3). Japan, he says, is the most glaring example of the clash of cultures, in spite of imperialist framed designations of Japan as “deputy-Aryan.” We should add, only after World War II and only conditioned upon Japan’s ruling elite playing within the framework of Western economic, political and military interests did this occur. This overarching determination of the epoch by the issue of race fits the Du Boisian thesis concerning the problem of the epoch as the color line. As such, and here Munford falls completely within the Du Boisian framework, all other contradictions and “problems” of this epoch are connected to the problem of “the color line.”8 Indeed, even the trajectories of class and socio-economic modes of production will be shaped within the fold of this over determining set of contradictions.9

MUNFORD ARGUES that much of the Western ideological and philosophical heritage is unusable to Africans because of the overarching influence of white supremacy. On the other hand, “valuable precursory ideas are imbedded in early African and Asian worldviews.” He asserts:

Not only are the roots of modern ideology and mythology to he found there, but indispensable concepts including law-bound necessity, sequential determination, development by means of contentions engagement between opposites, and the historicity of all social, economic, scientific and technological phenomena. The building blocks of civilizational historicism go bark to the Kemetic Egyptians, and to India and China.

Munford’s point is that civilizational historicism does not prioritize the “West,” or European ideas, in evaluating ideas. There are longer, and for him, more productive and profound traditions outside of Europe. He proposes therefore, a new interpretation of the history of ideas in away that prioritizes the past, present and future contributions of Africa and Asia. This part of Munford’s project is noteworthy on two levels. First, it suggests that the European intellectual project should not be considered on its own terms, from within its own framework, and thus it raises the possibility of evaluating European ideas from the vantage point of non-European ideologies and philosophies. secondly, it seeks to appropriate to contemporary black intellectual and political projects the rich, non-racist, heritages of Africa and Asia. And thus to appropriate for a black liberationist project, non-European knowledge. In this respect, Munford is suggesting that the ideological struggle with white supremacy is an aspect of the larger civilizational struggle with the West.'” Munford proposes what is an epistemic revolution, rooted in a rejection Western ideology. And by examining the world through the highly developed lenses of Africa and Asia, he argues, a different civilizational dimension could be imparted to knowledge.

MUNFORD IS CERTAINLY CORRECT in associating the black liberationist ideological struggle within the larger civilizational struggle with white supremacy. His ideology contains this critical genealogical dimension: to take from European ideas what is their “rational kernel,” their scientific, rational discoveries, and dispense with their racist shell. All the same, one must also answer the questions, where do European ideas begin and where do they intersect with or are foreshadowed by Afro-Asiatic ones. There is no clear demarcation. For instance, Aristotle is a part of the Afro-Asiatic civilizational and ideological developments of the 4th century BG. Aristotle could be read from the standpoint of the influences of Kemetic ideas upon ancient Greece. In a profound sense ancient and Hellenistic Greece was European in the sense of being proto-European. But it was actually connected to the Afro-Asian civilizational complex of the ancient world.

Furthermore, the European Renaissance and Enlightenment draw upon African and Arab civilizational interventions into ancient ideas; especially the Muslim appropriation of early thinkers like Aristotle and Aquinas. Nor can we be unmindful of the African American tradition, which has, at its best, appropriated and reconfigured bourgeois liberal, radical, socialist and communist ideas in ways that advance them beyond what their European framers initially conceived.

In a larger and yet largely unexplored sense, what is historically specific to European intellectual history should not be universalized; nor should we designate and thus confuse, the historically unique (i.e., European social and intellectual development) with the historically inevitable. The sequence of experiences that shape this path should not be confused with the only possible, or the sole significant path of development. The longer African and Asian historical trajectories should, as Munford suggests, be mined for their usefulness to contemporary struggles. I would go further, and assert that we are in a position to do two things at once, to both discover the rational and progressive kernels of European thought and mine the histories of African and Asian thought, leading to what must be a new synthesis, superseding both sides dialectically, and prefiguring humanity’s possible future ideological trajectories.

In this synthesis, different ideological paths become actual possibilities. In the most fundamental sense, the ideological relationships between human beings can be actualized differently, as other thinkable worlds become possible. However, these possibilities become concrete realities conditioned upon a fundamental rupture with the global system of white supremacy.

THIS ORIENTATION away from a dependence upon Eurocentric modalities of thinking affects three critical areas of social scientific analysis: political economy, political or state theory and the theory of class conflict. In all three areas, traditional European scholarship assumes as normal, white hegemony and Western civilization. In each instance, therefore, the racial and civilizational dimensions of capital accumulation, state formation and class conflict are Western and white. It is this “normal social science” that Munford challenges. Take for instance political economy. Capital accumulation and wealth creation assume the centrality of the white proletariat and white capital. Moreover, Munford views the capitalist system itself, when understood as a system, as a consequence of a series of actions and intentions of white people. Munford would insist that the material and ideological conditions for the emergences of capital, the European and white American proletariat and thus the capitalist system itself was the basis of the conflict with Africans in the struggle to capture, enslave and colonize them and later to colonize much of Asia. That the capitalist socio-economic formation was forged in the conflict with Africans over enslavement and the appropriation of African labor power as profit, suggests a different historical account of the rise of Europe and America than the traditional European-centered ones. And while certainly there are multiple factors determining the realities of modern capitalism, its form and content, even in the current moment of globalization, are inconceivable without the decisive role of African labor.11 Europeans enter Africa with a worldview and certain civilizational predispositions; predisposing them to accumulate capital in the most genocidal manner, committing crimes against humanity never before seen.12 For Munford, then, capitalist accumulation is a racianated or racialized system of accumulation. Capitalism is therefore not merely a system of exploitation, but most profoundly a system of racianated exploitation. It is a mode of production that has benefited, albeit in stratified and differentiated fashion, white people and the system of white supremacy generally and exploited Africans and other peoples of color. It is in essence a racianated mode of production.13 It is folded into a discrete civilization and conditioned by discrete worldviews and ideologies. Its civilizational predispositions, Munford argues, separate Western civilization in the manner of the development of human relationships from the rest of humanity. Thus the class conflict, for Munford, is a secondary part of the larger conflict against Western or white civilization and the modes of production constructed to uphold it. According to Munford, the logics of 21st-century history are therefore determined by the struggles to overturn the system of white supremacy and its accompanying racialized systems of production.

ULTIMATELY, Munford’s project stands or falls on the strength of its philosophical, especially its epistemological, foundations. The core philosophical issue is whether the central problem for the organization and evaluation of knowledge is race. And whether race, understood as physical race or as a social construction, is the overdetermining structure of modernity. Munford answers in the affirmative. Claims concerning macro-historical truth in his construal are overdetermined by race. This because race, especially as it organizes and is organized by the system of global white supremacy and its structures and mechanisms, is the generative structure of the modern epoch.

Knowledge is a matter of which side of the ideology of white supremacy one sits. Hence, truth for white supremacy is different than for anti-white supremacists. There are few if any universal social truths therefore. Knowledge, for Munford, is dynamic and emergent, rather than static and universal. Its dynamic and emergentist qualities are connected to the fact that humans, in making themselves, create truth and knowledge, as well as the contexts of knowledge. In this respect Munford’s thinking is dialectical. It is here that his thinking converges with Marxism in its Leninist form.14 Munford, however, ventures a bold relativism, one that renders a severe critique of European-centeredness and Europe’s claim to universality. In this regard Munford’s philosophical approach is centered upon epistemological concerns-what do we know and how do we come to know what we know?-yet with the condition that a praxis of resistance informs the discovery and presentation of truth and determines the subjective location of the investigator. However, the active intervention of the subject of knowledge, or the knower, is constantly reshaping the objects of knowledge. Knowing is therefore a process. However, Munford sees ideology as a central part of epistemology. We know the world, in this construal, not as pure thinkers or scientists, but as ideologically conditioned and determined agents. This dialectic between epistemology and ideology suggests that knowledge be viewed as an active part of the world transformative project.15 For Munford an African-centered philosophy must acknowledge its roots in the anti-white supremacist struggle. And must differentiate itself from the complex of white worldviews, which he variously identifies as white civilization and white supremacy. While Munford’s epistemology is dialectical and materialist and his ideology is anti-white supremacist and black liberationist his methodology is civilizational historicism.

METHODOLOGY is the central organizing dynamic of Munford’s work. Civilizational historicism, he insists, is secular and anti-fundamentalist and anti-dogmatic. Methodology is on one hand the mode of acquiring truth. On the other is the explanatory framework for evaluating and interpreting knowledge. Historical change and historical events and human behavior are explained through civilizational historicism. While Munford asserts that civilizational historicism is a political philosophy, I believe, after a close reading of the text, that it is a methodology for explaining large patterns of human behavior. First Munford acknowledges that history “has always been an invention.” And “is never an exact reconstruction of events.” And, finally “[h]istory is a project, but never a neutral colorblind project. In the American context it is always race conscious” (6). As a macro-historical project, civilizational historicism seeks to periodize African history and “pinpoint turning points.” And lastly, civilizational historicism “unfolds in conformity with objective regularities, rooted in the relationship of one group to another” and “history’s patterns are the large and long-range manifestations of human action” (9).

From a methodological standpoint Munford is compelled to engage two distinct yet interconnected and mutually dependent levels. First is the historical a priori-that is, civilization and second, history itself. The historical a priori is all those things that shape human action, the intentional and unintentional, the conscious and subconscious, the real and the magical or surreal. History is the narrative of those events. Thus the historical a priori is the structural side of the methodology and the historical narrative is the presentation of the concrete forms and processes inherent to a particular epoch.16

THIS LEADS US TO A DISCUSSION of historical ontology. I consider civilizational historicism to be a form of historical ontology.17 Historical ontology is a way of speaking about and understanding social phenomena, as they exist in historical time. Civilizational historicism is a way of understanding African historical Being understood in African historical time. It seems that Munford’s method works best in this robust relativist manner, especially as it links Time and Being to the unique and specified historical space occupied by Africans in the epoch beginning with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, the historical a priori, i.e., the civilizational dimension, would insist upon pinpointing those beliefs, values, modes of production, culture, etc. that precede the African holocaust of slavery and colonialism.

In modern history European cultures and peoples have congealed as a white civilization that stands apart from the rest of humanity. The racialization of civilizations (not just peoples) is the decisive outcome of the socio-historical processes associated with modernity. Therefore, white civilization, and the civilizational commitment to and predisposition among the majority of the world’s white people to white supremacy, overdetermine the modern epoch. Civilization in practical methodological terms is the totality of those things that are the historical a priori; it is what is considered the deep structure. The historical object to be understood is the specific dialectics of African Time and Being conditioned by African civilization and by its negation, white supremacy and European capitalism.

Civilizational historicism tries to avoid the pitfalls of essentialism so often associated with certain forms of Afro-centrism, while preserving the category of essentiality as a part of the understanding of reality and the working up of knowledge. More importantly, what Munford seeks to capture in the historical a priori, are those conditions that determine the historical moment, or the historical epoch. The historical a priori of white or European civilization for Munford is white supremacy, on one side, and African civilization on the other. In other words, white civilization exists as a dialectical relationship between white supremacy and African civilization.18

THERE ARE SOME who have found Munford’s turn to a sharper focus upon race as the central dynamic in modern world history to be a retreat from his views found in such works as Production Relations and Black Liberation. I am sure that Munford views his work, starting with Black Ordeal and Race and Reparations and the current volume, to be further developments of his understanding of history and the evolution of historiography. Race and Civilization does not retreat on matters of a materialist historiography, the uses of political economic categories and analysis, or on his ideological commitments to black liberation. What we have is an evolution of a project that started when Munford was a graduate student in the former German Democratic Republic. At the same time theories and methodologies can mutate and change. This is reflected in the history of individual and collective human thought. These variations and mutations, the processes of ideational evolutions, occur within historical contexts, and are advanced as thinkers with specific race, class and national locations mature. The scientific and intellectual maturation of thinkers is a necessary part of innovation within research programs. If nothing else, the logic of the notion of the centrality of black liberation to world history compels a scientific flexibility and innovation. Moreover, all theories should be regularly be subjected to critique and reexamination.

FURTHERMORE, the objects of race inquiry themselves are constantly evolving and mutating. Races, as Du Bois understood, are dynamic historically constituted social and cultural groups. Races are subject to mutations, sometimes quite dramatic ones. Just as races mutate, so do racial identities. Methodologies must similarly evolve and mutate to account for this. The idea of absolute and unchanged epistemologies and methodologies goes against the grain of scientific and philosophical inquiry. Thomas Kuhn drew attention to this, capturing the mutability and changes of paradigms, including at times the emergence of revolutionary and subversive paradigms. Imre Lakatos spoke of the evolutionary processes whereby research programs and the research landscape experience challenges that lead them to new revolutionary research programs and new possibilities for thought and research. Munford’s work seems to be part of the evolutionary process of changing the ways we think and do research on Africans.

MOST OFTEN, historical research and historical writing proceeds quite conventionally. It is then quite simply a narrative, often without explicitly stating its philosophical or ideological commitments. In this respect the historical object and historian are unified, and reified together. There has been recently a trend to a more existential historical narrative. This modality proceeds often through biography. There is a surrealistic turn where history is a type of narrative about dreams and visions. Some construct black history and being as encounters with absurdity as a way of explaining black consciousness in its encounters with white supremacy. Marxist historiography, historical materialism, is more often seen in its influence upon conventional and existential narratives of black history than as a full-blown project. Each of these stances, the absurdist existentialist and the Marxist, at its best, suggests a moment in the attempt to capture the historical object/subject-African and African American resistance. In certain senses each manifests a political moment. In the current situation of scientific and scholarly efforts to explain race and black oppression the angles of observation have been multiplied. However, the richness of academic discourse is often limited by the convention of seeking to stand above ideology and deep commitments. This is especially the case for black thinkers who are more closely policed by the academic gatekeepers and thought police in the elite white academy. This desire not to appear to be “one-sided” lends itself to reification and solipsism. A good part of this goes under the banner of post-structuralism and postmodernism. However, each suspends concerns with the object of history and turns to a single-minded engagement with its subject. They possess a concern with the subject in ways that suggest the only verifiable reality is subjective. Munford’s materialist historiography and his insistence upon the crucial role of political economy in macro social explanation is his way of countering this trend.19

AMONG MORE RECENT black academic philosophers none has been so committed to existentialism or phenomenological inquiry as has Lewis Gordon [see especially his Fanon and the Crisis of European Man (1995)]. By placing Gordon’s historiography along side Munford’s it is possible to explore the revolutionary possibilities of both. Munford’s project is a radical one, rooted in political economy, historical materialism and structuralism. Munford seeks to provide through the philosophy and methodology of civilizational historicism a way to investigate global white supremacy and black liberation. For Munford the critical dialectic is between white supremacy and black liberation. Munford deploys structuralism in two ways. First to designate what is in effect the historical a priori, white supremacy, and secondly to pinpoint white supremacy as the generative mechanism of the modern world. To restate, the historical a priori is that set of conditions, what Munford designates civilization, which precedes and determines the current historical epoch. The historical a priori is itself historically constituted, and congeals as that set of generative structures that are determinative of the present moment in history. This moment for Munford is defined as the epoch of global white supremacy. Its foundation is white civilization. In the West the decisive dialectic is between white supremacy and black liberation. Blacks include Africans, Caribbean, Central and South Americans and European blacks. Globally there is an unresolved dialectic contradiction between white supremacy and peoples of color generally. The maturing of this contradiction defines the revolutionary process itself and the future of humanity. It is apparent that Munford’s work draws upon Marxism and at the same time supersedes it.20 Munford reconfigures Marxism and structuralism to produce a new social science he designates civilizational historicism. A social science that is ideologically partisan to the cause of black liberation.

GORDON CONFIGURES social science as a science of the human being. Gordon appropriates an existential reading of Marxism from Sartre and Fanon. Phenomenology is Gordon’s method of investigation. Gordon wishes to study the human being in the current epoch, that is, before she/he is fully human. Indeed, Gordon’s project is historical to the extent it is concerned with the historical a priori, which for Gordon is the individual under conditions of limited possibilities, or in conditions of racial subordination and domination. Gordon’s ideological commitments are to humanity, i.e., human liberation, which can occur as a consequence of the revolutionary transformation of the conditions of human existence. However, this process must begin with the transformation of human consciousness. In the first instance this demands the undermining of bad faith as the principle condition of white consciousness. To the extent that Gordon’s project engages history it is as micro history, biography or the history of consciousness. This is Fanonian and Foucaultian at the same time.

“WHITE CIVILIZATION and European culture” insists Frantz Fanon, “have forced an existential deviation on the Negro.” W.E.B Du Bois argues that from within the folds of this Fanonian “existential deviation” the Negro invents himself through resistance. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction should be read as a study of how this resistance determined, or indeed, overdetermined, the geography of American history, where the conflict is triangular at the level of political events (the North, the South, and the Negro). As this conflict exemplifies, the ongoing dialectic of race and white supremacy, of white oppression and black liberation, is at its core. For both Du Bois and Fanon, the issue is the epistemology of African Being. Du Bois sees African American Being as historically constituted in the vortex of resistance and race conflict and Fanon observes the psychological and identity problems created by white supremacy for Africans. Each is an instance of explaining African Being; each asserts an epistemology of Black Being. Munford draws on each, but uses methods of analysis associated with Du Bois’s historicism. What we end with is the understanding that African reality is complex, demanding complex theories and methods, requiring multiple angles of observation. African reality is the result of multiple determinations, some specific to the African world and African consciousness, others to global realities.

THESE DETERMINATIONS, however, rather than being static, are fluid and changing. There is a dynamic and complex interaction of forces, processes and events that determine African Time and Being. What Munford does is to insist that through historical and political economic analysis, anchored in an ideological commitment to black liberation a new movement for liberation is possible. “Multiple determinativeness” expresses the existence of multiple possibilities within the framework of dialectical complexity. “Dialectical complexity” denotes a heterarchical or multiple, rather than a hierarchical, system of determinations and causation. In a moment of acute and dynamic dialectical complexity (what Stephen Jay Gould calls punctuated equilibrium) the situation tends to instability and fluidity, yielding conditions for revolutionary ruptures within the global social system.21 In an earlier review of Munford’s work I stated:

Thus a profound revolutionary crisis, of the type Munford suggests is necessary to undermine the global white supremacist system, will involve a situation where, conceivably, civilizational events and levels conflict with political and ideological events; where economic events and civilizational events conflict. Here the moment is determined heterarchically, rather than hierarchically. Rather than single determinations, there are multiple determinations, where the movement of the system is determined not from its equilibrium state, or balance, but far from equilibrium; by what has been referred to as chaotic dynamics.

In the end this is what civilizational historicism seeks to understand and explain.


1. There are several significant bodies of philosophy that can be appropriated to this project. Among them are classical works within the field of existentialist philosophy. Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness are valuable because of their explorations of the time and being dialectic at the level of the individual’s engagement with the moment, or the epoch. However, at the level at which Munford operates, Hegel’s Logic is unavoidable. Munford is well aware of Hegel’s profound impact upon historiography, especially as it concerns history as a dialectical process. But then there is Fanon whose “sociogeny” (1967:11) or sociogenetic analysis is acutely attuned to time. Writing in Black Skin While Mash, he says, “The architecture of this work is rooted in the temporal. Every human problem must be considered from the standpoint of time” (12). Ian Hacking’s uses of Foucault are a helpful intervention into our understanding of micro-historical processes, location and situating the observer. Molefi Asante’s Afrocentrism is a postmodern situational or location theory. Centrism in his understanding is a way for the observer to locate for her/himself the appropriate angle for engaging the objects of analysis.

2. As I have noted in endnote 1 there are important existential interrogations of the modern European concept of time and progress. However, the natural sciences, from relativity theory and quantum mechanics, to evolutionary biology and population genetics, interrogate time. A very significant contribution to this is Stephen Jay Gould’s work, especially his magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002). What I suggest about the particularity of space-time realities as they are encountered in socio-historical time and sociostructural time, Gould calls “time tiering” (see especially pp. 1320-1332 and the section “The Paradox of the First Tier: Towards A General Theory of Tiers of Time”). He insists that from a theoretical standpoint such a recognition allows for both macro-structural and phenomenological levels of investigation. His point is that not only does time express itself differently dependent upon the structural level, but that we encounter distinct modalities of time in the course of scientific investigation. Time tiering is necessary in understanding stratified social structures and how social classes, races, nations and other social collectives understand and are conscious of social structure and social transformation.

3. Once rational explanation references notions such as the a priori we are immediately in the realm of Kantianism and ultimately structuralism. With Munford the issue is not merely to explain the modalities of rational thought, but to construct a practical way of discussing and explaining racial oppression. Ian Hacking asserts that the historical a priori “points at conditions on the possibility of knowledge (2003:5).” For Munford the historical a priori is race and white supremacy: the conditions that make possible the structures of the modern world or current epoch, and thus condition the boundaries of explanation. This is what Bourdieu calls structuring structures, which overdetermine the conditions of knowledge.

4. My understanding of the modalities of structural, structuration, macro and micro logics is highly influenced by Kyriakos M Kontopulos’s The Logics of Social Structure (1993). His evaluation of the seminal nature of the work of Pierre Bourdieu, especially his Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977) has been important to my analysis of structuration theory and micro-logical and meso-logical analysis. In particular Bourdieu’s drawing the attention of theorists to the possibilities of understanding the behaviors of socio-historical structures as heterarchical rather than solely hierarchical. This appropriation of Marx’s idea of the multiple determinations of concrete historical reality is the significant point for me. Marx’s formulation suggests a heterarchical determination of reality. There is a dynamic dialectic sense of things wherein the structuring process, or structuration, takes place through a process of multiple indeterminacies. Hence, determination through indeterminacies. In this account the strategic intervention of agents, in Munford’s case collective agents identified as races, are critical to the structuration process. The deep structural level, the level of civilization, is possibly a dynamic structure, which is subject to the logics of structuration and indeterminacy. Civilization, Munford’s deep structure, should be subject to the same possibilities of determination through multiple indeterminacies as are other structures. This possibility seems to be a necessary consideration if the possibility of revolutionary disjuncture is to become a possibility. Indeed, the moment of revolutionary rupture is at this precise moment of instability.

5. Rather than local, folk, or micro-history, Munford believes that macro or global historical analysis is appropriate to a scientific African historiography and to coming forward with practical solutions to this global problem. This epistemology of history differs profoundly from, let us say, existentialism, phenomenology and psychoanalytical methods of approaching history.

6. In my “Being an African in the World: The Du Boisian Epistemology” (2000) I attempt to demonstrate how Du Bois shaped his scholarship as investigations of African Being and African Time. I have argued this represented a transgessive intervention into traditional metaphysics and ontology. I here suggest that Du Bois was attempting to make epistemology practical. This linking of epistemology to social change for Du Bois occurred through concretizing it and though Du Bois did not state it in this way, linking it to ideology. Du Bois, for instance, argues that history is propaganda. I take his use of the word propaganda to mean what we would call ideology.

7. This notion of the multiple determination of the concrete is taken form Karl Marx’s Grundrisse (1973). It is worth noting that the turn from a concern with the concrete or the material world, as it were, and a turn to primary concern with the subjective and psychological is a modality of doing the human sciences most associated with post structuralism, surrealism, magical realism and certain forms of existentialism. It represents a certain suspension of the concrete in order to “better understand the subject of history.” An important aspect of this turn is the linguistic turn and hermeneutics, or narrative interpretation.

8. Three recent studies show (and these certainly are only representative of a large and growing field), the global nature of the color line and its determining role in constructing the modern epoch and the world economic and political systems. Gerald Horne’s Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (2004), Paul Kramer’s “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule between the British and United States Empires, 1880-1910″ (March, 2002) and Joseph K. Inikori, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade Economic Development, (2002). Each is a type of revisionist history in that it expands our understanding of the role of race in events as divergent as Japan’s war in the Pacific 1937-1945, the slave trade and slavery and the creation of the modern British economy and race and race ideology and the Atlantic alliance and empire.

9. Gerald Home makes a parallel point. In a number of essays and now in his Race War: While Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (2004), he asserts that Asia in the 21st century constitutes a central, if not the central, location of the struggle against white supremacy. Munford would suggest that the struggle against white supremacy in the current moment will, of necessity, be Afro-Asiatic. He believes that a worldview in keeping with African and African American interest and struggle is what is required. Asians will, of course, construct the world and science in terms that reflect their interests and specific encounters with global white supremacy.

10. Again it must be stated that Munford considers Western civilization to be a marker for white civilization, whose essence he defines as white supremacist.

11. Walter Rodney’s thesis concerning the destructive dialectics that this encounter occasioned for Africans is worth considering. At the end of the day, the African social structure and modes of production were not undeveloped, but ruined. Hence, for the world capitalist system to develop, Africa and Africans had to be ruined. Advancing a thesis similar to Rodney’s (1970, 1981), Joseph Inikori (2002) presents a study demonstrating that English industrialization could not have taken place and experienced its profound and accelerated growth without the wealth accumulated in the transAtlantic Slave trade and plantation slavery in the “New World.” Manning Marable (1983) appropriated Rodney’s thesis and applied it to Black America, arguing that American capitalism forces underdevelopment upon Black America.

12. It is worth noting Munford’s three-volume study, The Black Ordeal of Slavery and Slave Trading in the French West Indies, 1625-1715 (1991), which documents the genocidal nature of the initial accumulation of European capital on the backs of the exploitation of Africans. Munford here argues that the modern forms of racism were forged in the process of slave trading. Munford calls its most virulent form sadoracism.

13. This idea of a racialized system, or racianated processes of social and institutional behavior, can mean several things. In its most robust formulation it means that race trumps class and social structures in explaining the nature and functioning of the system. A less robust position might suggest an inherent dialectic between race, class, gender and nation (see Patricia Hill Collins (2000) for a discussion of intersectionality). This less robust claim might support a certain form of black Marxism that understands class as being filtered through race and race being filtered through class the notion of the race/class dialectic. There is a liberal/ social democratic version of this race/class dialectic associated with the research of William Julius Wilson. His version goes so far as to claim that race as a social category is declining in significance in United States race and class relationships. Lastly, there is a functionalist view that has Marxist and liberal variants that argues that race and racism are merely super-structural, ideological or belief system variables. In this version racism is not fundamental to the operations and functions of the system.

14. This trend remains a rich area of approaches to issues of dialectics and the modalities of the transformation of material reality, especially social relationships. It is generally associated with the Soviet Academy and its leading philosophers, particularly E. V. Ilyenkov [The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx’s Capital (1982)] and T. I. Oizerman [Problems in the History of Philosophy (1973) and The Main Trends in Philosophy (1988)]. The emphasis placed upon materiality, temporality, knowability, and totalities, at least from the standpoint of social theory, overcomes the problems of idealist metaphysics addressed by pragmatism. Lenin’s most important philosophical observations are found in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism and Philosophical Notebooks, in particular his Notebooks on Hegel’s Logic.

15. Richard Rorty (see Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature [1979]) and neo-pragmatism’s critique of positivism is precisely at the point where positivism denies the need for a practical metaphysics that establishes modalities of praxis and engagement with the world. The problem with neo-pragmatism is that it discards foundations of thought and explanation all together. Among these are not just metaphysical foundations, but ideological foundations as well. Lewis Gordon’s reading of Fanon [see Fanon and the Crisis of European Man (1995)] moves in a parallel direction to Cornel West’s prophetic pragmatism [see The American Evasion of Philosophy (1989)]. In one or another way micro level human relationships, micro power dynamics and culture, rather than rationality and foundations define the philosophical project.

16. Alfred Schmidt’s History and Structure: An Essay on Hegelian-Marxist Structuralist Theories of History (1983) parallels Munford’s methodology. The notion of reality consisting of both structure and dialectics is key to Schmidt’s understanding of dialectics. In Munford’s and Schmidt’s construal the pragmatist and hermeneutic preoccupation with thinking without foundations defies the possibility of scientific knowledge. Pragmatism, in contrast to Schmidt’s view, is about talk and not the modalities of social transformation.

17. I have encountered the term “historical ontology” in the works of the philosopher Ian Hacking (2003). His is a philosophical investigation of the uses of history in understanding the genealogies of ideas. His project is rooted in a Foucaultian understanding of the contexts and sociology of ideas. The existential philosopher Martin Heidegger precedes Foucault in attempting to understand the historical conditionalities of Being and what Hacking calls the historical ontological. Munford inverts the idealist and subjectivist stance of Heidegger, Foucault and Hacking by designating historical Being as historically constituted concrete collectives, i.e., races, civilizations, classes and nations.

18. In Black Skin White Mask (1967:12) Fanon identifies ” a massive psycho existential complex,” that is European or white civilization. Its existence assumes the African, or African civilization, as objects of white history. By removing the African from history as subject or agent you distort her/his historical consciousness, designating it false or pathology consciousness, or as with Hegel, outside of history, because the African stands outside world consciousness, lacking human identity. Munford’s project assumes the centrality of what Fanon recognizes, the centrality of black folk to the existence of the white world system and their centrality to its destruction. Lewis Gordon, in Franz Fanon and the Crisis of European Man, understands his own intellectual project as a disruptive intervention into European consciousness in the Fanonian sense. Gordon believes the study and clarification of black and white consciousness will be a contribution to white supremacy’s downfall.

19. The turn to the centrality of the fictive in understanding black realities in some ways suggests this turn. Moreover, the modern ways of constructing the novel using surrealism and magical realism is a way of taking the characters of the novel away from objective historical reality and inventing them out of imagined, sometimes improvised, absurdist realities. Objective history is suspended for the sake of the novel. The concerns are with the characters’ understandings or their confusions with their multiple subjective or psychological realities.

20. Here it is useful to recall Oliver Cromwell Cox’s Caste, Class and Race (1948). Munford’s work in some ways can be read as a discussion with Cox’s class-race dialectic, where class and class conflict determine race relationships. Michael Banton (1987:171-175) locates Cox’s work in the European class project and places it within the context of European epistemological concerns. It can be shown that what Cox wishes to explain is different from what Munford seeks to explain. They differ moreover, in how they identify the principal events in history. For Cox the explanandum is class and class conflict; for Munford it is race and the conflict with global white supremacy. For Cox history is dialectically understood as the history of class conflict; for Munford modern history is the history of race conflict. At the same time, Cox’s work has its genealogy in black Marxism of the 1920s and 30s, especially the works of Abrams Harris, E. Franklin Frazier and Ralph Bundle (see Holloway, Confronting the Veil).

21. In a review of Munford’s Race, and Reparation I argued that his civilizational procedure predisposes analysis to a hierarchical, top-down, modality and towards reliance upon single determinations. This cause-effect, linear or deductive nomological approach to explanation does not easily or readily grasp the complexity of socio-historical realities, their heterarchical or multideterminative nature, in a situation of dialectical complexity and rapid movement and change in all levels of the global system. In many respects as the global system of white supremacy and capitalism has become interconnected and is intertwined with civilizational, economic and ideological events and processes in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and therefore become more complex, we are forced to adopt less deterministic modes of explaining this system. Rather than strict causalities, we are dealing more often with probabilities and far from equilibrium dynamics.

Works Cited

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_____. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan from the French (New York: Vintage, 1977).

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Collins, Patricia Hill, “Gender, Black Feminism, and Black Political Economy.” In The Annals of The American Academy of Political and Social Science (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2000).

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Inikori, Joseph E., Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Kramer, Paul, “Empires, Exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: Race and Rule Between the British and the United States Empires, 1880-1910.” In The Journal of American History (2002). Online http://www.historycooperative. org/journals/jah88.4/kramer.html.

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Marable, Manning, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1983 [2000]).

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Monteiro, Anthony, “Being an African in the World: The Du Boisian Epistemology.” In The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2000).

_____ . 2000(b). “Prolegomenon to a Sociology of the Du Boisian Episteme” MS.

_____. 1999. “Race, Class and Civilization: On Clarence J. Munford’s Race, and Reparations,” Black Scholar, Vol. 29, No. 1.

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Rodney, Walter, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1981).

_____. A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970).

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Schmidt, Alfred, History and Structure: An Essay on Hegelian-Marxist and Structuralist Theories of History. Translated by Jeffrey Herf (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982).

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Copyright Black World Foundation Fall 2004

About Anthony Monteiro

I am a activist and scholar who is a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Temple University.
This entry was posted in Black Intellectual, Political and Ideological Issues, BOOK REVIEWS, LOGIC , METHODOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY. Bookmark the permalink.

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