Classism or Marxism and Democratic Socialism?

David Gillborn (2008, p. 13) may be right when he asserts that ‘the best critical race theorists are passionate about ... classism’. But while challenging the oppression of people that is based on their social class (classism) is extremely important, and is championed by Marxists, the fundamental point is to also challenge the exploitation of workers at the point of production, for therein lies the economic relationship that sustains and nurtures the capitalist system. While I am critical of CRT, I would like to reiterate that the purpose of this book is to not to divide, but to unite. My intention has not been to question the ideological or political integrity of Critical Race Theorists, but to open up comradely discussion in the light of the entry of CRT into British Academia. In chapter 6 of this volume, I discussed David Gillborn’s reluctance to engage in debate with Marxists. However, there seem to be some contradictions in his position, because he has also argued that ‘the best way ahead may simply be to make use of analytical tools as and when they seem most revealing’ (Gillborn 2008, p. 38). This is followed up by the assertion that Marxists (presumably) will not be amenable to this. He states: ‘this will not satisfy people who seek to fetishize a single concept or theory above all else’ (ibid.) He then goes on to emphasize what he sees as central tenets of CRT. He quotes Kimberle Crenshaw (1995, p. 377) as follows:

Through an awareness of intersectionality, we can better acknowledge and ground the differences among us and negotiate the means by which these differences will find expression in constructing group politics (cited in Gillborn 2008, p. 38).

To make matters even more confusing, Gillborn (ibid.) then cites David Stovall (2006, p. 257) as stating that ‘[a]rguing across conference tables is useless’, that our work must be done ‘on the frontline with communities committed to change’ and that ‘neither race nor class exists as static phenomena’.

For Marxists, there is a need for both arguing across conference tables and working on the frontline with communities committed to change. Dare I urge Gillborn, in a comradely way, to reconsider this reluctance to talk with Marxists, and, in so doing, perhaps address himself to some of the strengths of Marxism?

As noted in the Introduction to this volume, it was Max Weber who is credited as being the first prominent sociologist to dispute Marx’s arguments in a serious way. Since then, there have been many other academics who have sought ways to challenge Marx and Marxism, Critical Race Theorists, being among the most recent. There will no doubt be many others. Marxists will continue to meet these challenges. Marxism is not, as some would have it, a moribund set of beliefs and practice. On the contrary, as noted in chapter 6 of this volume, Jean-Paul Sartre (1960) has described Marxism as a ‘living philosophy’. To Sartre’s observation, Crystal Bartolovich (2002, p. 20) has added, Marxism is not ‘simply a discourse nor a body of (academic) knowledge’ but a living project. As I have stressed, the Bolivarian misiones are classic examples of social democracy rather than socialism. It is important to recognise that no one can foresee what direction the Bolivarian Revolution will take. Like other revolutions, it may be defeated or it could be hijacked. The Bolivarian Revolution is firmly placed in the dialectics of socialist struggle. Indeed, the full effect of the Bolivarian Revolution on cuba, and the emerging struggles in other parts of South America and possibly the rest of the world are yet to be seen.

Whether or not, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela remains a capitalist country, or proves to be the latest example of an attempt to nurture that living project remains to be seen. It will certainly not be the last. The struggle against capital and Empire will continue unabated. As Hugo Chavez put it in a speech to the United Nations (cited in Ali 2008, p. 293):

We reaffirm our infinite faith in humankind. We are thirsty for peace and justice in order to survive as a species. Simon Bolivar, founding father of our country and guide to our revolution swore to never allow his hands to be idle or his soul rest until he had broken the shackles which bound us to the empire. Now is the time not to allow our hands to be idle or our souls to rest until we save humanity.

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