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The Black Reconstruction of Class Analysis: Du Bois and the Black World School of Political Economy

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Abstract:

This paper traces Du Bois’s contributions to a school of political economy that developed among a group of early to mid-twentieth century black thinkers who sought to adapt class analysis to the particular realities of black workers globally. From Marcus Garvey to Frantz Fanon, a number of black radicals associated with two historical movements—socialism and Pan Africanism—attempted to marry the two projects by elucidating the nature of the intersection of class with race as perhaps the central problem of political theory for people of color. Their thought arose out of the material conditions of the exploitation of the working class of the African world, as Marxian political economy of labor grew out of the material realities of the Western European and North American (white) working class. Rather than starting from the vantage point of the European and American industrial proletariat, as in traditional class analysis, these theorists took the standpoint of nonindustrial workers of color.

Black Reconstruction constituted the central work in the articulation of this alternative class analysis. In it, Du Bois puts forward an understanding of the historical formation of the world’s working class considerably more complex than that in classical English/Marxian political economy. In place of the unidirectional movement envisioned by proletarianization, he recognized in global class formation a bi-directional process rooted in the development of the world economy. This standpoint yields not a working class dominated by the movement of peasantry (or pre-proletariat) to proletariat, but by a vastly larger one comprised of workers more reminiscent, in crucial respects, of the peasantry that Marxian class analysis made its starting point. In doing so, Du Bois puts forward an interpretative framework that comprehends the world historic importance of race—a category traditional class analysis essentially ignores.

The body of thought put forward by Du Bois and his fellow radical theorists represents an important, though neglected, contribution to the political economy of labor. In reconfiguring class analysis to inextricably tie race to class, their conception does more than show the ways in which race is “the modality in which” class “is lived,” as Paul Gilroy aptly expresses Stuart Hall’s proposition. It simultaneously repairs the Eurocentrism of the history of the working class, displaces notions of core and periphery in theorizations of the world economy, and provides a conceptual basis for black world history by integrally connecting that of Africa and its diaspora.
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Association:
Name: 94th Annual Convention
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http://www.asalh.org


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p377692_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Griffler, Keith. "The Black Reconstruction of Class Analysis: Du Bois and the Black World School of Political Economy" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 94th Annual Convention, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, Cincinnati, Ohio, <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p377692_index.html>

APA Citation:

Griffler, K. "The Black Reconstruction of Class Analysis: Du Bois and the Black World School of Political Economy" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 94th Annual Convention, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, Cincinnati, Ohio <Not Available>. 2014-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p377692_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: This paper traces Du Bois’s contributions to a school of political economy that developed among a group of early to mid-twentieth century black thinkers who sought to adapt class analysis to the particular realities of black workers globally. From Marcus Garvey to Frantz Fanon, a number of black radicals associated with two historical movements—socialism and Pan Africanism—attempted to marry the two projects by elucidating the nature of the intersection of class with race as perhaps the central problem of political theory for people of color. Their thought arose out of the material conditions of the exploitation of the working class of the African world, as Marxian political economy of labor grew out of the material realities of the Western European and North American (white) working class. Rather than starting from the vantage point of the European and American industrial proletariat, as in traditional class analysis, these theorists took the standpoint of nonindustrial workers of color.

Black Reconstruction constituted the central work in the articulation of this alternative class analysis. In it, Du Bois puts forward an understanding of the historical formation of the world’s working class considerably more complex than that in classical English/Marxian political economy. In place of the unidirectional movement envisioned by proletarianization, he recognized in global class formation a bi-directional process rooted in the development of the world economy. This standpoint yields not a working class dominated by the movement of peasantry (or pre-proletariat) to proletariat, but by a vastly larger one comprised of workers more reminiscent, in crucial respects, of the peasantry that Marxian class analysis made its starting point. In doing so, Du Bois puts forward an interpretative framework that comprehends the world historic importance of race—a category traditional class analysis essentially ignores.

The body of thought put forward by Du Bois and his fellow radical theorists represents an important, though neglected, contribution to the political economy of labor. In reconfiguring class analysis to inextricably tie race to class, their conception does more than show the ways in which race is “the modality in which” class “is lived,” as Paul Gilroy aptly expresses Stuart Hall’s proposition. It simultaneously repairs the Eurocentrism of the history of the working class, displaces notions of core and periphery in theorizations of the world economy, and provides a conceptual basis for black world history by integrally connecting that of Africa and its diaspora.


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