Clarence J. Munford’s Race and Reparation: A Black Perspective for the 21st Century is important both for what it says and who says it. Munford is a major, if not well-known, historian of the African Diaspora. This work thinks in fundamental ways about race, class and civilization at the end of the twentieth century. It poses questions to which fundamental answers are sought. His previous work ranges from Production Relations, Class and Black Liberation (1978), through the three volumes The Black Ordeal of Slavery and Slave Trading in the French West Indies, 1652-1715 (1991). In between Munford has published articles on major theoretical and ideological issues confronting the struggles for Black freedom in the US and Africa. Munford’s formal training is in Marxism and historical materialism, having received his doctorate from Karl Marx University in the former GDR. This grounding brings him into the same intellectual and ideological zone occupied by the innovative Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney. In this respect Munford’s work attempts to merge Marxism with the national emancipatory aims of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora. Which is to say it asserts the centrality of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery to the rise of capitalism and the anti-slavery and national liberation struggles as central dimensions of world historic transformation. This stance is in opposition to positivist, critical and humanist Marxisms of Eastern and Western Europe. European Marxists have construed Marxism as an extension of Enlightenment philosophy and social theory1. Europe, therefore, is viewed as the center of human development. This tradition in Marxism was no where better articulated than by the leading thinkers of the German Social Democratic Party, especially Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstien.2 Marxist intellectuals like Maurice Dobb, moreover, conceptualized the emergence of capitalism in England as the outcome of completely internal social and economic dynamics, without reference to the international slave trade, slavery and colonialism. Critical and humanist Marxisms have focused on the European intellectual and psychological universes, with no recognition of anything non-European. The white intellectual and social universes, as a result, became the beginning and end of all things Marxist and all things revolutionary. However, the magnitude of the error of Eurocentrist Marxism is revealed when it is recognized that Europe itself and the white working class in particular are inconceivable outside of the context of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery. Specifically, the socio-historical and ideological emergence and construction of the white working class is predicated upon, and is predated by, modern chattel slavery and the construction of the global white supremacy system. Moreover, the spiritual and intellectual edifice of Europe is built upon a single ideological and philosophical purpose and foundation; the negation of Africa and blackness. Indeed, Europe, as it has come to be known, is inconceivable and cannot be explained or understood without reference to its non-European foundations, which are prior to it, and provided the material and spiritual conditions for its emergence.
Nineteenth century European socialists theoretically established the working class as the central revolutionary agency of modernity. And in so defining the working class and ascribing to it political and revolutionary potentialities, literally reinvented it. The proletariat as hegemon of world revolutionary transformation is, perhaps, the greatest theoretical achievement of European socialism. Munford (1996:153) suggests, however, that Lenin, of all Marxist of his time, understood that the white proletariat was civilizationally burdened by the baggage of white supremacy, itself the result of centuries of European oppression and exploitation of non-white peoples. On the other hand, Kautskyist Marxism turned the movement from insurrection to passivity and accommodation. Hence, it could grow and expand without posing the issue of radical change, thus either putting off to some future period, or totally revising, the idea of the proletariat as the agency of revolutionary change. Increasingly the SDP came to believe that capitalism would be able to restructure itself, continue to develop (with perhaps periodic, yet temporary crises) and extend its benefits to the working class. Eduard Bernstein eventually argued that human advance would occur through European capitalism; thus establishing the basis of an historic compromise between the European proletariat and bourgeoisie; a type of “end of history” through an end of the class struggle. By merging the working class movement with capitalism, racism and colonialism, the working class becomes a part of the global system of oppression based upon the color line. It is here worth noting that Du Bois’s (1915, 1925) concept of imperialism conceptualized a system whereby white workers viewed themselves as having a self-interest in colonialism, racism and wars of colonial suppression.
Munford in this current work presents us with an African centered philosophy of history and a theory of social and historical change rooted in Pan-African realities. In this regard, Munford strives to construct a philosophico-theoretical-ideological synthesis that inverts Eurocentrist social theory. He locates the central agency of historic change not in the European working class but the African, Asian and Latin American masses. In redefining the contending forces, naming them, deciding where the barricades are drawn and shaping an ideology to rationalize this reality, he seeks to give to thinkers and political leaders of Africa and the Diaspora a powerful, and in certain circumstances, decisive advantage, in the ideological contest with Europe.
For radical and revolutionary thinkers emerging from the national liberation movements in Africa, the Caribbean and the US, while Marxism provided a powerful intellectual apparatus in understanding Western societies, it failed in explaining the historically strategic questions surrounding the relationships of Europe and modern capitalism to peoples of color. Political questions, however, were even more difficult. How to assert, what would be considered “revisionist” and “nationalist” positions, while, at the same time, attempting to maintain alliances with revolutionary Marxist forces in nations like the USSR, the GDR and Cuba. What would be the ways of combining national cultures and traditions within the Marxist movement created other troubling issues. How to, in other words, be both an ally of the Marxist movements, but at the same time assert one’s ideological independence and even differences with them.
By the middle 1980’s, in the light of the crisis and eventual collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the USSR, Munford began to rethink his previous positions.3 This along with the psychological impact of the findings of Black Ordeal compelled him to question what he would later determine were civilizational foundations of white behavior that go deeper than capitalism and in fact precede it. In Black Ordeal he discovered what he defined as sado-racism that he was only able to explain in civilizational terms. The impact of this pro-active form of racism (that exceeds in both intensity and content, white prejudice) has long term and almost permanent civilizational impact upon whites of all classes. In this respect, they view the world, and Africans in particular, through the prism of, not just race, but the historically and socially specific racism Munford calls sado-racism. A form of racism constructed in the bowels of the slave ships and on the killing fields of plantation slavery. “Today no class of the white population of the United States and Canada is objectively revolutionary (469),” he will eventually assert in Race and Reparations. This is so due to the “overdetermining” impact of white racist civilization and its culture upon white workers. In other words, Munford asserts that civilization trumps class and class struggle. As such, in the crunch, white revolutionaries and white workers will unite with white capitalists on the basis of race rather than with non-white workers on the basis of class. And he warns, “Those who would overlook the racial barrier in favor of a class analysis, underestimate the depths of racism in the North American scene…Over and over again racism has choked Black-white mass solidarity before it has broken ground (471).”
It is the complexities of theory, ideology and politics that Munford has traversed in arriving at his current explanatory framework and its inevitable political conclusions. If Race and Reparation separates Munford from traditional European Marxisms4, it also distances him from Black social democrats and liberals like Manning Marable, Cornel West, Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates. And although Munford makes extraordinary efforts to tailor his project to fit within Afrocentrism and almost every articulation of post 1960’s Pan Africansim, I will argue that he has little in common with these trend either. Munford’s enterprise is a late twentieth century synthesis of revolutionary Marxism and Black Nationalism. His investment in Marxist historical materialism is as significant as his commitment to the centrality of Africa and Black folk to the history of capitalism. Both philosophical and political stances shape his understanding of history and social transformation. He rejects totally the liberal notions of history and progress that hold that Black liberation must be a trickle down from European social development and be defined in Eurocentric terms. For liberalism (and most Marxisms), whites lead Blacks, be they the white bourgeoisie or working class. Munford denies that European civilization and the European proletariat can lead humanity to the next stage of civilizational and social development. He passionately repudiates the idea that humanity will follow or be recipients of a trickle down from European science, technology and culture. In the end, he rejects completely the European model and most of European civilization.5 His nationalism is rooted in the radical nationalism of Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and W.E.B Du Bois. What Munford sets out to construct is a macro-historical and macro-sociological theory of African history. He uses a revised Marxist conceptual and language grid, linked to Pan-African nationalist political philosophy and practices. He provides enormous data to substantiate both his theory and the political and policy proposals he presents. Munford, ultimately, deploys theory and philosophy to guide ideology and politics.
The empirical foundations and the theoretical framework for the current work are found in Munford’s three volume The Black Ordeal of Slavery and Slave Trading in the French West Indies, 1625-1715 (1991). Munford (1991: vol.1.iii) asserts: “All the peoples of the New World’s Black Diaspora are variations on a single theme. All were sacrificed on the same alter of suffering, lived lives of endless travail, and for generations after generation saw their children’s lives soured to enable white people to take over the western hemisphere, settle in, grow rich and flourish-all were hostage to the birth of capitalism. The birth pangs of the birth of capitalism in the Americas were not merely contemporaneous with Black slavery, in the world historic sense they were synonymous.” The dialectic between what Munford refers to as ” the slave mode of extracting surplus labor from captive Africans, on the one side, and the profit exigencies of a nascent, seaborne capitalism, on the other”, gave to the capitalist mode of production in the Western Hemisphere an “indelible racist coloration”. By the time of volume III Munford would implicitly connect the capitalist mode of production to what he in Race and Reparations refers to as white civilization. “Under capitalism”, he tells us (1991:Vol III, 831), “labor is subject to the discipline of hunger through dismissal. At least this has been so most of the time in economically advanced social formations. But from the sixteenth deep into the nineteenth century pre-industrial capitalist slaveholding imposed labor discipline by the whip, pyre, rope and the rapist’s penis. The psychotic, slavering, white beast that swung the lash, fired the stake and wielded the castrator’s knife was no social aberration. He was rather the authentic offspring of an organic socioeconomic hybrid, and he lorded it over the plantation. The monster was parented socially by the marriage of manufactory capitalism with Western Hemisphere Black slavery.” As a result of this a distinct class arrangement would emerge in the Western Hemisphere, of two antagonistic classes, the slaves and slave owners (1982:115). Munford contends in Race and Reparations that, in fact, this basic class arrangement would take on an international character as capitalism moved from mercantile to industrial capitalism: white capitalists on one side and enslaved, colonized and semi-colonized labor on the other. This arrangement leads to a North South division of the world, which is a metaphor of a global division based upon the color line. Race, not class, Munford asserts, becomes the principle contradiction on a world scale. White workers and middle classes in this global arrangement become an intermediary class, whose principle allegiances are not to class but to race.
Though not articulated by Munford, his explanatory system can be defined as a race/class/civilization paradigm, where civilization and race are prior to, and determine class struggle and economics. Put another way, civilizational categories and analyses supercedes economic categories and analyses and civilization contradictions and conflicts go beyond the class struggle as traditionally posed in European Marxism. Here is how Munford articulates matters:
Not many analyst have wanted to deal with the notion that racism can be embedded at the civilization level. There has been the tendency, therefore, to regard white racism merely as a kind of supplement, a corollary and addendum, at best a consolidation and replenishment factor. Racism has been viewed as a means to ‘divide the working class along color lines.’ Never was it seen as the kernel or germ cell of capitalism. White thinkers shied away from asking the ominous question-is racism a fundamental political-economy category of the white dominated capitalist mode of production? There was an unwillingness to look for a racist context in white social development. That would have meant distinguishing what is objectively necessary in white racist civilization from that which is merely possible. Of course, we are not talking about any rigid determinism like that based on belief in divine predestination, and which leads to fatalism. Meant instead is recognition that every cause has it effect, that the racism inherent in white civilization must effect all social phenomena. Racism needs to be scrutinized as something more than merely a specification of Black slavery, as more than a mode of slavery’s existence. It is not enough to view it merely as a means of perpetuating and consolidating and intensifying the exploitation of slave labor and after emancipation, merely as a tool to set Black and white wage-earners at each others’ throats. Racism has served those purposes, yet it is much more. The status of racist ideology as a rationalization and implementers of slave and segregation practices, need not blind us to the pre-of racial prejudices in the minds of the very first white slavers to appear on the African cost in the fifteenth century (8).
Here is where Munford makes the break with orthodox European political economy. First, race, he insists, must be viewed as a material relation of production. Second, the civilizational preconditions of race preceded capitalism. Third, there is “a racist context in white social development”. While the empirical referents for these assertions are Black Ordeal, Munford goes beyond the empirical to the explanatory level. To do this he challenges traditional western assumptions and explanatory designs concerning social reality. These he will contend are Eurocentric with few, if any, references to slavery and its decisive role in the emergence of capitalism and modern European societies. European social theory, he argues, has operated at two levels: the socio-economic base and the political/ideological superstructure. There is, he asserts a third level, “that is senior to both the superstructure and the socio-economic foundations (10).” This is the civilization level, which “projects a priori causation (ibid)”. Civilization he says, “set limits for social behavior, it draws configurations, it creates the ‘paradigm’ (ibid).” This is what is called civilization-level causation.6 civilizational determinations, Munford insists, are ultimate or primary determinations, which shape and override socio-economic and superstructural level determinations. Munford proposes, in this regard, a strategic inversion of European social theory; rather than class determining race relations, race determines class. While social class, politics and ideology are either socio-economic or superstructural categories; race is a civilizational category. Race, therefore, both determines and contextualizes class relationships. Race, moreover, has historical and explanatory primacy (as a civilizational causation) over class. Hence, for Munford, the entire array of class, social and ideological relationships and behaviors are ultimately determined by civilizational causative factors, chief among them race. Viewing reality through the lens of civilization and race, he suggests, allows for a deeper and wider explanatory framework. Moreover, as a consequence of this procedure, Africans and African Americans are introduced into historical explanation as strategic agents of social transformation and their own liberation; as well as being central to the emergence of modern capitalism and its elimination. Civilization, he argues, is a more comprehensive and intelligible unit for understanding human behavior. “We preferred the history of civilization, not class struggle, as the stage for conflict and interaction among people. Instead of feudal lords versus serfs, or the bourgeoisie versus the proletariat, we made the major historical component something African, European, Pre-Columbian American, Chinese, Indian subcontinental, and such like (50).” This he insists allows him to concentrate more fruitfully on the total package.
“As a general rule,” Munford (11) argues, “disharmony between civilizational-level values on the one hand, and socio-economic and superstructural tendencies on the other, is temporary, apparent rather than real, and socially disruptive.” The primacy of civilization explains “the consequences of the Africanness of the men and women who survived the Middle Passage and the ‘seasoning’ (12).” On the other side Western civilization is inherently racist. Put another way Western Civilization is white civilization, defined by the “generality of racism in Western civilization (15).” He makes the following exceptions to the general rule, “But no civilization is a featureless monolith without countervailing influences, and the very principle of bedrock determination allows for non-characteristic trends and influences which do not fit with the basic features of the civilization (14).” Therefore, certain whites may for religious reasons, and a calculated sense of self-interest, reject racism. These good whites have never been decisive. “From the ideological perspective, the essence of white culture was fixed by the attitudes of the ruling elite and those ruling ideas were racist (15).” All of this said, Munford pays homage to white civilization’s enlightened contributors like Beethoven, Mozart, Da Vinci and Picasso, Newton and Einstein. Third world thinkers and activist, he points out have found inspiration in Marx and Lenin. Neither does he reject the achievements of Western medicine and immunology; nor the leaps into the cosmos through space travel. These, unfortunately, are nullified by “a counter-tradition that has always been the stronger, because it is more in tune with the true values of white civilization (23).” In the end, “Five centuries of white supremacy have given world history a racist character. The once vaunted class contradictions have been subsumed under the racial contradiction, swallowed up in race conflict. While the question of power within most African states may well have to be sorted out on the basis of class struggle, we are concerned here with the fundamental international racial-color contradiction between white supremacy and Black empowerment. The fight against white racism-not class struggle-now functions as the driving force of the development of society. Third World peoples are the only remaining global revolutionary force (25).” Contemporary racism, in the end, has become white world supremacy. Racism, he argues, is securely planted among white masses. And rejecting the Marxist notion that once the economic foundations that are served by racism are eliminated the function of racism will be eliminated, he says, “The popularity of white racism is such that it would be certain to live on in some form, even long after the economic soil which nourishes it were destroyed (33).” Moreover, “the racist predisposition would survive among ordinary whites in the guise of perverted sexual lusts, sick fantasies, aversions to ‘Negroid’ racial features, and genocidal urges. It is too firmly seated in white cultural patterns and languages to enable European civilization-conditioned Caucasians to encounter large numbers of African-derived people without hostility and contempt (ibid).”
This civilizational procedure leads Munford to explain the history and political economy of capitalism as an inevitable outcome of white civilization. It leads him to the conclusion that capitalism is parasitic upon Africans and other peoples of color; producing a welfare system for whites. Moreover, slavery and colonialism created the material conditions for white abundance and leisure. The civilization procedure and the subordination of the class struggle to race and civilization is confirmed, Munford argues, by events after 1989 in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The richer West was bound to win the Cold War, he asserts. This because East and West shared common civiliztional foundations, both “belong to white civilization-from which overriding impulses flow, urges that are racist in nature (153).” It was, he tells us, only a matter of time before the populist racist sentiments kicked in compelling the Russian and Eastern European masses to demand a return within the white supremacy system headed by the West. “Before his death, the great revolutionary Lenin himself,” Munford contends, ” came to realize that the image of the ‘noble and unprejudiced white proletarian’ was a hollow myth. Much of the pathos of his final years sprang from his attempt to contend politically with white workers whose racial instincts were as base as any white capitalist’s (153).” What sank the Russian Revolution after less than seventy-five years was its lack of “the proper civilization base to work with (155).” Munford further argues that the window of opportunity provided for the West European proletariat by the Russian Revolution was allowed to pass as Communist Parties failed to seize the revolutionary moment. These parties, like the trade unions, eventually became consumed by opportunism and careerism. The general tendency to reaction in the white world has two causes, he tells us: the first is civilizational and the second is based in a general rule of politics. There is a political precept that sets a time limit in which revolutionary parties must achieve power. That window of opportunity is 20 to 30 years, after which they shed their revolutionary integrity for opportunism and careerism. These two factors, Munford argues, predisposes the West to reaction that, at the end of the twentieth century, overrides class struggle and class-consciousness. Hence, the possibility of European revolutionary change on the order of the October Revolution, which will bring about a strategic break with white supremacy, is no longer an historical probability. This being the case, the motive forces of world historic change are in the non-white world and are in an inevitable conflict with the white world. This arises from the failure of the Russian Revolution to pass on its initial spirit and aims to succeeding generations, or to spread to the West. As a consequence, the center of world history is outside white civilization. In fact, Munford argues, when confronted by the revolutionary transformative urges of the non-white world, whites of all class unite to defend white world supremacy. He concludes, the winds of change that took place in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1992 were a racist counterrevolution and that “the only lesson of value left to learn from the version of socialism that held sway in eastern Europe and the USSR is that reaction and racism are immensely popular among white masses everywhere. The fall of European Communism showed the egoism of white workers. It indicated stubborn refusal to espouse racial equality and friendship with non-whites (162).” These events in the East were only demonstrative of what had been observed in the West, that white workers have a material interest, not in class solidarity with non-whites, but in solidarity with white capitalist in a unified civilization front. Munford cites a long history of white solidarity in US history, including Jacksonian Democracy, the Fugitive Slave Act, the Homestead Act, the defeat of Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the more recent betrayals in the move of working class whites to the political right. Munford insists, “Poor whites fronted for the new bosses in the post-Bellum South and were the mainstay of Jim Crow until its partial dismantling during the 1960s. Today the role of the old Southern poor whites has been taken over, in large part, by a racial hierarchy of occupation based on ethnicity (179).” However, the political economic underpinning of ethnicity is race hierarchy in jobs, where Blacks and other peoples of color are consigned to the hardest, most dangerous, least skilled and lowest paid jobs.
Munford will go on to describe what can only be termed a racist terrorist dictatorship over African Americans whose labor is increasingly redundant under conditions of the scientific and technological revolution and the globalization of capitalist relationships of production. High unemployment and the lumpenization and criminalization of Black males are the new form that white supremacy has taken in the US. As long as Black people in their majority were in the South sharecropping, tenant farming, performing convict-lease labor and under debt peonage and neoslavery, “the incidence of unemployment in Black America remained less sensitive to the business cycle (81).” During the depths of the Great Depression a few northern Blacks ‘escaped joblessness’ because racist social custom dictated that shining shoes, for instance, was so lowly an occupation it had to be restricted to Blacks. The racist differential in unemployment and the permanent state of Depression for Blacks kicked in when the majority of Blacks were in the North and a part of the industrial work force. As many authors have shown the Jim Crow system was transferred to Northern urban ghettos. In fact modern Jim Crow is urban ghettoization, combined with low and semi-skilled industrial and service sector jobs, high unemployment and astronomical poverty.7 Both white capitalists and white unions, Munford points out, enforce this arrangement. “We were banned from unions (84),” he tells us. “Despite lip-service to Black-white worker solidarity, AFL and CIO both permitted their locals to keep lily-white clauses.” This system Munford argues was profitable to both white labor and capital. “The profit boom which extended from 1948 to 1968” he points out, “was caused by the wage differentials to the disadvantage of Black workers (84).” However as the profit boom came to a close and through the decades of the ’70’s. 80’s and 90’s Black industrial labor declined to disastrous levels. Black workers, traditionally consigned to the most difficult, hottest and dirtiest jobs were now being eliminated altogether. A new racist division of labor was cemented, where “businessmen argued that the growing high tech component of production made it possible for the first time in U.S. history to do without Black unskilled and semi-skilled labor, i.e. since a lot it was no longer needed as a source of profit, Black labor was ‘de-valorized’ (86).” Millions of Black males have been cast upon history’s scrap heap and thrown into jails. The stark reality, Munford states is that “Inner-city youths, most black and Latino males, have been doomed to exclusion from the productive process by the very evolution of the American economy in the last decade of the twentieth century.” Moreover, “the organic process of restructuring US domestic production often termed ‘deindustrialization,’ has marginalized the huge third of black America called the ‘underclass.’ Thus after the creation of big city concentrations of Black industrial workers from Southern rural raw material in the first half of the twentieth century, the process reversed in the second half of the century (92).”
“The peculiar history of capital accumulation sealed our fate in many ways (91),” Munford argues. This “in the land in which-sometime between 1890 and 1919-capital found it wise to spare white workers from the extortion of excess profits, instead targeting Black and other workers of color as the source of enormous super-profits. America is the country in which the white middle and working classes joined hands with the lords of capital in exploiting and repressing the Black community-repression manifested of late in the ‘prisonization’ of the black male (91).” Munford continues, “Should white capital find it can no longer profit from Black male labor, it may challenge these men’s right to exist as human beings. The ultra-Right already growls that ‘America should rid itself of non-white drones who handicap it in competition with Germany and Japan’ (92).” And as the year 2050 approaches when demographers predict a non-white majority in the US Munford proposes what might be the white Right’s answer: “White supremacy must then either cede power to the New Majority of Blacks and other people of color, or scrap our current white serving majoritarian democracy as obsolete, in favor of white minority rule along the model of, say, South African apartheid. The latter option would require outright fascist dictatorship, quarantine of non-white communities and wholesale slaughter of Black resisters (92).” Already, the author points out, Blacks live in a virtual police state. Incarceration, he says, is the house that economic restructuring built (328). The criminalization of Black males also involves the “Willy Hortonization” of Black leaders, targeting them for harassment and imprisonment (351). The criminalization of Blacks has the support of most whites. Two of every three whites believe “cops are tops”, expressing full confidence in them and admiring the way they hold back the tide of Black and Afro-Latino lawbreakers. “Nearly half of the white population (46%) had been fully convinced that big city police treat Blacks as fairly and as courteously as they treat whites, Almost three-quarters love the ‘fairness’ of white judges and believe the courts to be absolutely impartial in racial matters (354).” And the future looks even more ominous, “Whites aged 18 to 30 during the 1990s were more anti-Black than their ‘Baby Boomer’ parents, aged 30 to 49 (354).” This, and the situation of Africa, where the “continent lies prostrate, her people starving, sick with diseases designed in foreign laboratories, weltering in bloody retribalism (372),” defies the European derived concept of class analysis and class struggle. This failure demands that Blacks look elsewhere; primarily to their own history and resources. Therefore, a “Black-led coalition of people of color are tactics aimed at fragmenting the white mainstream along its natural fault lines (456).” He calls for a “complexion criterion” when choosing allies; that is dark skinned Latinos and Native Americans first.
Munford, in this light, proposes a twenty-first century nationalist/Pan-Africanist/Afrocentrist political stance. His twenty-first century Pan Africanism is rooted in a strategic vision of the next century and an Afrocentric concept of realpolitik. Decisive to the success of Pan-Africanism is the achievement of African military parity with the world’s Great Powers. “The moment has come for a remodeled Pan-Africanism, tailored to the twenty-first century. Required now is a revolutionary new Black supra-nationalism, tall enough to look beyond tribal friction, island snobbishness, and Diaspora myopia (408).” Potential allies are China and India. “The Chinese example shows how a large, relatively weak, once brutally semi-colonized Third World country can muster the economic and military power to assert real independence (409).” “Pan-Africanism is Black internationalism, now and for the future (410),” Munford insists. “Equality for Black folk worldwide can come only through the emergence of some Black nations as Great Powers,” he (399) contends. At the end of the day, “the coming century may see the price of white supremacy soar to international racial warfare (404).” Furthermore, “the contradiction between the North and South is the main contradiction in today’s world. Elimination of white ‘Northern’ supremacy must top twenty-first century Pan-Africanism’s docket, and head the historical agenda of the whole world.” Continental and Diasporan Africans, he demands, must in the next century focus upon the achievement of real economic, political and military power on a world scale. None of these, he says, will be attained painlessly. “In fact, there is the sobering possibility of a series of wars extending over several generations. Comparable historical changes have seldom occurred without strife and conquest (405).” History is cruel, he let’s us know. Pan-Africanist must break free of any allusions about white folk. “White folk around the globe have repudiated socialism. In Russia they threw the Soviet baby out with the bath water of communism. Yet socialism was the only potentially non-racist political economy white civilization ever produced. These events strengthen Pan-African suspicion of white men bearing ideological ‘gifts’…Most white-derived ideas about political economy are poisonous to Black folk…(409).”
Munford’s Pan African vision includes as a basic part reparations, for both Blacks on the continent and in the Diaspora. However, the achievement of power and reparation in the US is founded on Munford’s personal belief that “an epochal recasting of American social life extending over decades (433),” will occur. It is into this situation that he conceives the demands for reparation taking on greater force. He construes reparations as “encompassing affirmative action, employment equity, race-conscious quotas, parity, minority set-asides, equality of results, free, state of the art health care and above all legislated and government-administered remittances of assets and monies. A reparations program might also include a family income plan (FIP) .”
Clarence J. Munford’s book takes the reader quite a distance, from philosophy and theory of history to real politics and reparations. Indeed, Munford seeks to develop theory to serve practice and collective struggle. What he, therefore presents the reader with is a philosophico-theoretical-ideological package. Although it is a unified whole, each of its components can be looked at and evaluated separately for its strengths and weaknesses. Munford has constructed a rational explanatory system rooted in the history, current conditions, and possibilities of revolutionary change in the African world. In this sense his project is Pan-Africanist . It also is a synthesis that draws on Marxism and Pan Africanism. However, the reviewer cannot overlook the contradictions inherent to any synthesis.
The civilization procedure seeks deeper level explanation; and by so doing asserts a distinct Afrocentric theory of history and historical events. Munford’s procedure is in several ways similar to French structuralism.8 European anthropologists seeking to understand the deeper meanings inherent to non-white cultures first deployed structuralism as a way to define deeply held, almost permanent values and beliefs of peoples. French Marxism a generation ago embraced a form of what came to be called Marxist structuralism. Louis Althusser (1970) was the central figure in this movement. The entire language that Munford uses of levels of determinations and over and under determination is clearly related to structuralism. Munford present levels of determination hierarchically and historically. In other words, the socio-economic base and deeply held civilizational values and beliefs overdetermine the political ideological superstructure of society. Hence civilization overdetermines economics and predisposes both collective and individual behavior at the social and ideological levels in predetermined and predictable directions. At the same time, the socio-economic and political ideological superstructures of society underdetermine civilization. While Munford does acknowledge that there can be contradictions in and between various levels, short of a profound revolutionary rupture, static, predetermined and predictable relationships and patterns of interaction are in place. At the same time he views these levels as existing within historical contexts, or historical epochs. Within this also is a concept of crises. For instance, Munford points to either actual or possible crises in the world system and in particular nations.
And while Munford speaks of political, economic and other social crises and even the possibilities of crises between civilizational level events and economic events, there is not once a mention or discussion of civilizational crises. Epochal events of the twentieth century like World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, World War II, the Chinese Revolution, the Afro-Asiatic national liberation movements have created a deep civilizational crisis in the West. Cultural pessimism and existentialism, the search for meaning in life and the emergence of a sense of the absurdity of life are manifestations of this civilizational crisis. Some would argue that it is far deeper than the economic and political crises and have longer-term significance then they.9 Moreover, many critics of pop culture in the West view it as a response to the crisis of civilization on the one side and an attempt by media and cultural manipulators to use pop culture to disguise a deeper sense of meaninglessness of the masses of whites. This level of crisis would have deep meaning in the context of profound economic or political crises.
Operating from within his paradigm it would be useful for Munford to articulate the civilizational dimensions of the North South contradiction as distinct from what are immediate economic and political conflicts. For instance, language, cultural appropriation of non-Western values and the ideological dimensions of civilization should be explored. The clash of civilizations (see Huntington, 1996 and Fukuyama, 1992),10 must be elaborated in concrete historical terms. It is also important to acknowledge that even proponents of white supremacy acknowledge civilization contradictions and conflicts. Fukuyama (1992) understood the Cold War with the Soviet Union in essentially civilizational terms. For him the end of the Cold War can be understood as the end of history and the end of the civilizational challenge to the West. On the other hand, the end of the Cold War, Huntington (1996) suggests, has intensified what he defines as the clash of civilizations. The opposite of the view held by Fukuyama. Munford, in contrast to these thinkers, makes a strong case when arguing that at the heart of the conflict of civilizations is the matter of color and white supremacy. Hence, the civilizational crisis has not been resolved, as suggested by Fukuyama, nor does it occur in a colorblind multipolar world as suggested by Huntington. Race for Munford, is the central dynamic of European civilization and white supremacy defines its global system. Inevitably the conflict of civilizations is the conflict over race.
The civilization procedure, with all of its philosophical and explanatory strengths, has a tendency to give inordinate weight to the ultimate civiliztional causations of events, without paying close enough attention to actual events and contradictions themselves. Day to day events are viewed primarily as manifestations of deeper civilization events. In such an approach, the question remains how does one deal with immediate economic and political issues? Munford’s paradigm is convincing as an explanation of the general movement of history and the level at which the contradictions of history are most profound. It faces problems in dealing with the conflict of classes. It is plausible to contend that civilizational events overdetermine economic and political events, but this is not the same as arguing that they are in the process negated. Somehow the conflict and contradictions of class must find a more dynamic place in Munford’s paradigm. No matter how timid and inconsistent the white proletariat and middle classes are in opposing white capitalists and in expressing unity with non-white workers, it would appear that the objective division between white capitalist and white workers continues to assert itself and to be of strategic and tactical benefit to Black liberation. Perhaps Munford is correct in asserting that the class conflict must not define the nature of the Black world struggle, however, it must be factored into any consideration of global realities. No matter how one cuts it, it would seem that if not the motor force of history, the class struggle is a motor force in contemporary history. And, therefore, economic contradictions will continue to assert themselves at every level of social reality.
Which leads to another issue: is the fault line between North and South most sharply drawn at the level of civilization or at the level of economics and politics or all of the above simultaneously? And if so, how? Flowing from this set of questions Munford must clarify whether he believes that a civilizationally appropriate form of capitalist development should occur in Africa. Which then raises the question of the forms and content of the class struggle in Africa. Will capitalism in Africa not align itself with capitalism in Europe and Asia to the detriment of the African masses? Presently in Africa, the main form of the internal class conflict focuses at the ideological and political levels. It is, as Munford suggests, determined in large measure by the North South conflict. However, it has its own internal dynamics as the recent struggles in the former Zaire indicate.
At the same time the struggle of the African American people is unavoidably linked to the wide front of struggles and contradictions in the US political economy. It is worth noting, as Brenda Gayle Plummer (1996) insists, that African Americans have tended to view the world through the lens of their domestic struggles. This does not deny internationalism, but conditions it. Which raises the issue of how, in practical terms, to confront what Du Bois observed is double consciousness among African Americans. Double consciousness suggests multiple identities and, from an objective standpoint, mutually interacting connections and relationships within the US economy, polity and culture. Thus, how is the internationalism or Pan-Africanism of African Americans expressed given their intertwining, albeit at the lowest and most oppressed levels, within the US working class? African American workers share many similar struggles with white workers, a reality they daily confront. Blacks tend, moreover, to often be the most militant elements of strikes and trade union struggles. Black workers, for instance, are acutely conscious of their interest in maintaining some form of democracy in the US and preventing fascism from emerging. It would appear necessary, therefore, to understand Pan-African consciousness as being framed by these essential realities of class and race in the US context. These are issues having to do with the modes and forms of transitional struggle and the nature of both objective and subjective alliances.
Finally, there is the issue of socio-economic formations, or modes of production. Will the outcome of the long North South struggle lead to a world divided by two distinct modes of production, one North and capitalist and one South and, maybe, socialist? Beyond parity in matters economic, political and military, what else defines this conflict? What mode of production, or socio-economic formation will arise from the prolonged North South struggle? Take for example the Black majorities in South Africa and Brazil: should not Munford propose something in terms of the next stage of struggle and the socio-economic formation which should come forth? Does Munford propose something completely new and completely different from socialism? And if so, what?
Questions having to do with modes of production and socio-economic formations raise critical ideological issues within Pan-Africanism and the African world. Should a theory of social transformation undifferentiatedly treat all nationalisms as progressive? Are post 1960’s cultural nationalisms equally as progressive as revolutionary nationalism? Should Senghor’s negritude and Mobutu’s authenticity be placed alongside the progressive nationalism of Nkrumah, Cabral and Sekou Toure? And if so how and upon what principles? Or take, for example, Garveyism, which is conservative nationalism and Pan-Africanism; how should it be viewed? Not only did Garvey find it convenient to meet with the KKK, but believed that British imperialism was best able to rule Africa. His conservative Anglophone nationalism would be at odds with progressive modern day Afrocentrism and what Munford defines as revolutionary Pan-Africanism. 11 And within the inevitable contest of ideas among Pan-Africanists how should the intellectual and ideological heritage of W.E.B Du Bois be treated?
However, beyond nationalism, one cannot underestimate the protest tradition of the Black movement that extends back to Paul Cuffy and Richard Allen, through David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W.E.B Du Bois and Martin Luther King, among others. Nor can it be overlooked that a significant dimension of all progressive Black nationalisms has been the protest element. The cultural nationalist element in the African American context, on the other hand, has tended to askew protest in the interest of culture and institution building. The protest dimension of our struggle, however, remains a durable resource both in the Civil Rights and nationalist traditions and would seem to have continuing value. Munford seems to overlook it as passé.
All of this said, Munford has written an important work. His ideas for the twenty-first century are still in formation. Their strengths are in the bold way they confront the realities of race and civilization. Their critique of European social theory, along with the innovative way they define the historic agency of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora, lays the foundation for a new theoretical understanding of Black liberation. The weakness of Munford’s project at this stage is rooted in an all or nothing sense of the confrontations between North and South. In realistic terms Africans or Africans in the Diaspora will struggle for the ultimate civilizational issues to the extent they are connected to immediate day-to-day issues. They will form alliances rooted in those struggles. In the course of this, perhaps, the deeper civilizational causations of events will become known. This being said there is no doubt the questions Munford presents will become part of the discourse on the future of Black folk.
1 It should be noted that in modern European thought Marxism is but one of the radical traditions that claim to be advancing the Enlightenment. There is a radical or left libertarian trend as well. Noam Chomsky is the best know exemplar of this position (see Barsky, 1997:chapter 3). Chomsky (1987:152) advances 17th and 18th century rationalism and liberalism, where the principle of individual freedom is primary. He says, “the principles of people like von Humboldt and Adam Smith and others were that people should be free.” And, again he says he looks forward to “a day when these various strands [of 17th and 18th century rationalism and liberalism] will be brought together within the framework of libertarian socialism , a social form that barely exists today though its elements can be perceived: in the guarantee of individual rights that has achieved it highest form-though still tragically flawed-in the Western democracies; the Israeli kibbutzim; in the experiments with workers councils in Yugoslavia; in the effort to awaken popular consciousness and create a new involvement in the social process which is a fundamental element in the Third World revolutions, coexisting uneasily with indefensible authoritarian practices.”
2 Donald Sassoon (1997:5) argues that popular or ‘vulgar Marxism’ was an interpretation that was designed to strongly appeal to trade union leaders of the working class movement. Marxism in its popular rendering was adapted to the needs of the European working class and explained its organization into larger units of production. Sassoon (ibid:8) suggests Class consciousness was constructed by political activists, just as nationalism was constructed by nationalists, feminism by feminist and racism by racist.”
3 In the article “Marxism and the History of Africa: Reading Walter Rodney”(1982) Munford critiques Rodney’s conceptualization of African history from the standpoint of orthodox Marxism. Munford argues, “As profound a thinker and as anti-imperialist as he was, Walter Rodney nonetheless made theoretical mistakes. Although he considered himself to be within the broad framework of the Marxist tradition, his conclusions were not always consistent with the science of historical materialism. In fact, some were anti-historical materialist (1982:124).” He would also say, “In principal Rodney agreed that social class has been the decisive element in the history of the world. But as a practicing historian, he vacillated as to whether class is the essential feature of African history (ibid:125).” Munford, as we will see, in Race and Reparations will also deny that class is “the essential feature of African history”.
4 I here use the concept Marxisms to denote the many trends within contemporary Marxism. For a discussion of the diversity of trends see Martin Jay (1984). The Western Marxist concept of totality and universality emerged from a fiercely Eurocentrist and Enlightenment paradigm.
5 See endnote 1 for an example of how this extreme Eurocentrism is articulated by a leading left liberal , or radical libertarian. Europe and European civilization, in this view, are in the vanguard of humanity. European values are the model for humanity and will in the end save humanity. Noam Chomsky’s radical libertarianism and Francis Fukuyama’s centrist liberalism carry similar, if not identical, ideas about the centrality and supremacy of European values and European history.
6 It is necessary to get beyond what is here an essentially functionalist conception of civilization. That is to argue from the standpoint of what civilization does, or how it functions. There must at some point be an explanation of the basic elements or mechanisms of civilization. Here I would suggest that language is the central and most basic mechanism of civilization. Language is more than and more profound then a mere system of communication; it is an indispensable internal civilizational dynamic, necessary to expressing and unleashing the spiritual and creative energies of civilizations. European civilization in its linguistic practices and structures reveal its profound racist essence. For instance, evil is black, virtue is white. Linguists have discovered many more examples.
7 Professor Robert Rhodes of the University of Ohio defines this as a new lumpentry system. A system, which includes the large populations of essentially racially oppressed peoples who live in deep poverty and long term or permanent unemployment. One third of Black people are considered part of this population. Some estimates are that 2 billion people on a global scale comprise this general lumpentry system. I prefer the notion general lumpentry system because it more accurately describes those populations that extend beyond the traditional lumpenproletariat or déclassé .It is also more than an aggregate of individuals thrown out of economic production and forced to beg, and live a life of crime. These are now the marginalized and ruined poor plus the lumpen. I reject the concept underclass because it carries with it the baggage of culture of poverty and blame the victim theories, when in fact what is described is actually a new social and class category emerging from the globalization of capitalism and the new technology. Jacqueline Jones has aptly referred to these as stranded populations.
8 French structuralism in its sociologistic and Marxian versions (as against its mentalist and anthropological versions) seeks to discover organizing principles of social life. Principles are viewed as the deep underlying and determining facts of social totalities. What Munford implies is a hierarchy of determinations starting with civilization as a set of deeply held, hard to change values and dispositions. These are what Althusser (1970) would term “structuring structures”. What Munford does, which is not present in Althusser, is to include deep structures as a component of historical transformation. Historicity is important for Munford’s paradigm because of the sense of crisis, revolutionary rupture and discontinuity and break within structures and systems and their transition to a new level of the whole, which he ultimately wishes to (indeed, has to) explain. Thus, while never explicitly stated, Munford’s procedure involves the diachronic sense of structures/levels, that is, viewing them in historical time; and equally a synchronic sense of structures, that is, viewing structures/levels like the civilizational, socio-economic and political/ideological interacting upon one another at the same time in time. However, it remains to be seen whether Munford’s paradigm can acknowledge multiple determinations interacting in non-hierarchical relations. While this is clearly not the time or place to expound upon methodological issues, it is worth noting that non-hierarchical relations are possible and, I would argue, can explain the complexities of revolutionary transition which Munford discusses. In particular I find Kontopoulos’s (1993:55) discussion of heterarchies helpful. Rather than single determinations ordered hierarchically (in Munford’s case from the bottom, or foundation, upward), we can speak of multiple or interacting determinations. Hence, as Kontopoulos puts it, “heterarchies involve multiple access, multiple linkages and multiple determinations.” This conceptualization of determinations, and what is dialectical complexity, will work better with Munford’s implicit sense of crisis and revolutionary rupture. 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 a state of equilibrium, or balanced , but far from equilibrium; what has been referred to as chaotic dynamics.
9 Existentialism and now neo-pragmatism, a la Richard Rorty and Cornel West, are efforts to come to terms with this civilizational crisis. West, for instance, talks constantly of confronting the absurd and expresses a profound pessimism concerning black culture’s ability to overcome or work out of the crisis of civilization of the West. He sees a growing nihilism among, especially, young Blacks. On the other hand Francis Fukuyama (1992) views the end of the Cold War as having resolved the crisis of values and thus the civilizational crisis of the West. History and civilization return to their normal paths of evolution, according to him.
10 Samuel P. Huntington coming from a white supremacist direction also conceptualizes civilization as the essential category of social life in the wake of the end of the Cold War. He states, “In the post-Cold War world for the first time in history global politics has become multipolar and multicivilizational (1996:22) And, finally, “In this new world the most pervasive, important and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between peoples belonging to different cultural entities (ibid:28).” It is apparent from the overall text that Huntington uses culture and civilization interchangeably. It is also clear that he would agree with Munford’s assessment that civilization trumps class struggle. What he does not do is to link these larger struggles to the struggle against white supremacy as a global system.
11 I have argued elsewhere that academic Afrocentrists have become more interested in tenure and scholarship within the framework of prestigious white universities. Its central aim has become multiculturalism, rather than radical social transformation. (see “A Short History of Propaganda”)
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