Marxism and Black Liberation Study Series

August 2015, Parts 1 & 3

The Vermont ISO will host a study series this August to explore questions relating to Marxism, race, class, and Black liberation in the US. The series (parts 1 & 3) is the first installment of a longer seven-part national educational series on Black liberation, designed for ISO members to develop a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of these questions. The series assumes members have read Ahmed Shawki’s Socialism and Black Liberation. Many of the readings are available at

For more information about the ISO, Marxist self-education and our anti-racism organizing, call 802-490-3875 or contact

Capitalism and the Production of Racism

Audio & video from

Further reading:

  • Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, Racecraft (Verso, 2012).
  • Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery


1) Slavery and prejudice existed before capitalism. Why do Marxists argue that racism is tied to the rise of capitalism and slavery?

2) Would Ted Allen agree with Frederick Douglass’s quote? “The hostility between the whites and blacks of the South is easily explained. It has its root and sap in the relation of slavery, and was incited on both sides by the poor whites and the blacks by putting enmity between them. They divided both to conquer each.[Slaveholders denounced emancipation as] tending to put the white working man on an equality with Blacks, and by this means, they succeed in drawing off the minds of the poor whites from the real fact, that by the rich slave-master, they are already regarded as but a single remove from equality with the slave.”

3) What was the political economy of Southern racism?

4) How does Marxism explain how racism functions in society today?


Part 3
The Role the Black working class plays in building a strong proletarian movement

  • Du Bois, W. E. B. (1935). Black reconstruction: An essay toward a history of the part which black folk played in the attempt to reconstruct democracy in America, 1860-1880. Harcourt, Brace and Company. Chapters 1-4, Chapter 14, 17.
  • C.L.R. James “The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the U.S.”
  • Manning Marable, “The Crisis of the Black Working Class” in How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (Haymarket Books, forthcoming)
  • Marvin Surkin and Dan Georgakas, Detroit I Do Mind Dying (Haymarket, 2012). Chapters 2, 4 and 5.

Audio & video from


1) Is DuBois’ concept of the “psychological wage” useful for understanding the dynamics of racism today?

2) Marable discusses the transition of the Black working class from being primarily engaged in agriculture to being engaged in industry and services. What impact did that transformation have on Black politics?

3) How would you explain the relationship between Black workers and trade unions? Were unions allies or enemies of Black workers?

4) What is the relationship between the Black struggle and the wider class struggle? How has this changed historically?

5) DRUM leader Mike Hamlin argued: “Whites in America don’t act like workers. They don’t act like a proletariat. They act like racists. And that’s why I think Blacks have to continue to have Black organizations independent of whites.” Do you agree with Hamlin?