Stream: (Re-)Conceptualising Marxist Theories of Racism

Only some years after post-racialism attempted, with one stroke of a pen, to declare racist oppression a thing of the past, contemporary racism seems to be more pervasive than ever in recent history. As Europe and the United States witness the rise of populist political movements with overt racist agendas, increasing anti-migrant, anti-Muslim, and antisemitic rhetoric has been accompanied by a wave of enforced discrimination and violence. In Europe, racist street violence against refugee housing have become a feature of everyday life while lethal police violence in the US is wreaking havoc within black communities.
In the light of these developments the lack of mass anti-racist movements in the West, particularly in Europe, is as striking as it is disastrous. With regard to the economic depression and austerity policies that have contributed to the revitalisation of popular racism, the weakness of anti-racism also hints at important shortcomings within left politics. These shortcomings, we contend, are in part the result of key problems within Marxist theory.
Historically, classical Marxism all too often reduced racism to an ideological weapon deployed by ruling elites to weaken the multi-ethnic working class. Claiming that racism would disappear with the establishment of a socialist society, such an account had the strategic effect of subsuming or ignoring, and sometimes actively opposing, demands by racialised minorities within the workers and other social movements. More recent contributions, on the contrary, increasingly recognize the complex interplay of race and class, including how class comes to be lived through racialising identifications. In examining, for example, the racist elements in historical working class and socialist formations, scholars have emphasized the capacity of racism to act as a form of social cement binding parts of the working class to their ruling elites and thereby contributing to the maintenance and consolidation of capitalist rule.
In light of the manifold manifestations of contemporary racism, and its reverberations in academic discourses, a systematic inquiry into the concept and theory of racism seems timely. While the Black Lives Matter movement challenges the notion of a post-racial America, anti-Muslim agitation in Europe and the United States is not solely based on the identity logics of race, but clings to traditional patterns of cultural racism. This concomitance of `racism without racists’ (as the perpetuation of racial discrimination in supposedly colour-blind societies) and `racism without races’ (as the essentialisation of cultural markers of difference) has inspired a diverse echo in social and political sciences, ranging from the renaissance of genetic (‘biosocial’) arguments to transhistorical models of racialisation.
Against this background, the conference stream wants to address crucial issues of contemporary racism analysis from a Marxist perspective. We invite paper proposals that attempt to sharpen our collective theoretical understanding of racism by:
- investigating the socio-historical preconditions for the emergence of racism and its reproduction;
- reassessing the insights as well as shortcomings of past and present Marxist approaches to the problem of racism;
- examining the various modalities of racism, including, but not limited to race, culture, religion to understand their conceptual relationship to each other and to racism more broadly;
- scrutinising the theoretical relationship of racism to other forms of social exclusion and oppression, particularly its intersections with relations of gender and sexuality;
- elaborating on the relationship of racism to the cohesion and reproduction of capitalist societies
- discussing the structural and institutional elements of racism and its reproduction in everyday social practices;
- compiling a historical record and analysis of contemporary anti-racist movements;
- developing theoretical frameworks for understanding the relationship of anti-racism to class struggle and left politics more broadly.
Organisers: Stefanie Affeldt, Malte Hinrichsen, Wulf D. Hund, Felix Lösing, Benjamin Opratko, Satnam Virdee