The Black Radical Tradition, as laid out by Cedric Robinson, is the tradition of Black leftist thought that serves as a resistance to racial capitalism. It’s the Black intellectual foray into the theories of Karl Marx. The Black Radical Tradition has one of the richest philosophical libraries in American history. Very few have heard of it, but you know the names of it’s luminaries.
The selected passages below are in long-form which is how I like to relay quotes because they carry greater context. This is by no means the summation of all there is to the Black Radical Tradition, but a mere appetizer of what’s out there.
In the Age of Trump, it is more important now than ever for Black people to reclaim this history. Racism that is reinforced by capital has done a number on our community. It has created many internal problems that we deal with. Problems revolving around trusting other black people, believing in black people, hating oneself, etc.
I view the Black Radical Tradition as mental kevlar armor in the struggle against white supremacy and plutocracy in America and should be required teaching for all parents to their black children.
1. Harry Haywood
In this quote here, Harry Haywood is describing…
2. Franz Fanon on Black Unity
In the above quote, Fanon talks about how African unity brought about an end to colonialism, and how that unity was splintered by various factions along religious and ethnic lines. I added the quote to express the reality that black unity is achievable and can be a powerful force, but won’t happen without a clear common goal and the drive to see the goal come into fruition. What will happen instead is the bourgeoisie, who have a lot more capitol, will use that capitol to make sure Black people stay divided.
We should go out of our way to not divide ourselves.
3. Huey Newton on Eldridge Cleaver and the Failings of the Black Panther Party
The important thing to take away from this quote is the importance of having movements that reflect the will of the community. We should also refrain from ‘either-or’ scenarios as solutions. When you say we can only do this or do that, you’re taking options off the table. I hear a lot of people making these types of arguments today. Our solutions should be open-ended and scalable
4. W.E.B. Du Bois on Forced Black Labor and the Black Slave-Worker
In the chapter these quotes come from, Du Bois speaks on the history of land and property rights in America in relation to forced black labor (slavery). He touches on the history of voting rights regarding black property owners pre-Civil War as well as the origin of the earliest white labor unions.
When it comes to the black radical tradition, we should all strive to understand the complex and abstract relationship between wealth and white domination. Understand the role that slavery played in reinforcing capitalism which allowed it to become the system that it is today.
The last two paragraphs are powerful. Du Bois says it was the black slave-worker, the founding stone of global capitalism, that brought America to Civil War! While I believe many people know this in the context of the abolition movement, what was really going on was a war to maintain control of capitol. The Civil War brought an end to an particular era of white male dominance, which is why new forms of oppression had to be created to maintain said socio-political dominance post-Civil War. It’s why racial progress has always been viewed negatively by a majority of white America. Progress for Blacks has always meant a loss of white socio-political dominance.
5. W.E.B. Du Bois on the Role of Poor Whites in the Origin of American Police
Du Bois speaks on the role poor whites, specifically poor white men, had on the formation of American policing. He writes about how wealthy Whites used poor Whites as a sort of buffer class to keep black people under control which is why many slave rebellions failed. It’s also part of the origin of the extreme desire for gun ownership among white people.
6. Cedric Robinson On the Destruction of the African Past
“The African became the more enduring “domestic enemy,” and consequently the object around which a more specific, particular, and exclusive conception of humanity was molded. The “Negro,” that is the color black, was both a negation of African an a unity of opposition to white. The construct of Negro, unlike the terms “African,” “Moor,” or “Ethiope” suggested no situatedness in time, that is history, or space, that is ethno- or politico-gepography.. The Negro had no civilization, no cultures, no religions, no history, no place, and finally no humanity that might command consideration….. …Slave labor, the slave trade, and their associated phenomena — markets for cheap commodities; shipbuilding and outfitting; mercantile and military naivies; cartography; banking; insurance; etc — profoundly altered the economies of those states directly or indirectly involved in the colonization and production by slave labor… ..Where previously the Blacks were a fearful phenomenon to Europeans because of their hostircal association with civilixations superior, dominant, and/or antagonistic to Western societies (the most recent being that of Islam), now the ideograph of Blacks came to signify a difference of species, an exploitable source of energy (labor power) both mindless to the organizational requirements of production and insensitive to the subhuman conditions of work.”
7. Cedric Robinson On the Myths of National History
“Founding myths were substituted for history. providing the appearance of historical narrative to what was in actuality part fact and part class-serving rationales….the formation of the American state provided no exception. The American Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the considerations raised in the Federalist Papers were all expressions of the interests and creed of the American bourgeoisie. Soon they were to be augmented by the muths of Frontier, the paternal Plantation, the competitive capitalism of the Yankee, the courage of the Plainsman, the Rugged Individual, the excitement of the American Industrial Revolution, the generosity of the Melting Pot. Such were the romantic fictions that came to constitute the social ideology of the nation’s bourgeoisie.”
8. Cedric Robinson On Slavery and Capitalism
American labor was a subsystem of world capitalism…Black labor became the foundation stone not only of the Southern social structure, but of Northern manufacture and commerce, of the English factory system, of European commerce, of buying and selling on a world-wide scale; new cities were built on the results of Black labor, and a new labor problem involving all white labor, arose both in Europe and America.