Did Marx Defend Black Slavery? On Jamaica and Labour in a Black Skin

In: Historical Materialism
Gregory Slack Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Middle Tennessee State University Murfreesboro, Tennessee USA

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Over the past 40 years a tradition of Marx interpretation has built up around a single passage concerning Black slavery in an 1853 letter from Marx to Engels, in order to demonstrate that Marx’s support for emancipation was conditional on the level of ‘civilisation’ attained by Black slaves. I will argue that this interpretation, which attempts to prove Marx’s racist defence of slavery, is overdetermined by an inattention to historical context and a hypersensitivity to Marx’s nineteenth-century epithets. This is important because the alleged anti-Black racism of Marx and the place Black workers occupy in his historical-materialist vision of class struggle are of the utmost significance for properly conceptualising the relationship between Marxism and Black liberation.

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