CLARENCE J MUNFORD’S NEW THEORIZING ON IMPERIALISM AND ANTI-IMPERIALISM

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.

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, Political and Ideological Issues, US capitalism, empire and race. Bookmark the permalink.

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