Robinson Nation

Writing to a comrade in Malaysia about film analysis: there are huge debates about how race is used by particular groups as a smokescreen for varieties of class politics and differential privilege via a colour coded economic hierarchy, with a number of different places. In this scenario a range of different kinds of ‘cultural’ product are required to do a sort of duty to keep the hierarchy more or less in place: game shows, different newspapers, cultural programmes, festivals, markets, documentaries, faith and even NGO forums all add to the ways these things play out. Yet this is not even the beginning of nationalism, itself a colonial game that builds upon far older politics – of city states, development, migrations and trade, the anxiety of Europe along the trade routes, the former strength of Asia in the Indian ocean, the civilizations – India, China, Islam, Africa – all these had a major role in shaping understandings of, and therefore the shifts and changes in, nationalism. I am reading Cedric Robninson’s ‘Black Marxism’ tonight and the end of chapter three is great on this vis a vis Europe. Might be something in that for you too.

“At the very beginnings of European civilization (meaning literally the reappearance of urban life at the end of the first Christian millenium), the integration of the Germanic migrants with older European peoples resulted in a social order of domination from which a racial theory of order emerged; one from which the medieval nobilities would immerse themselves and their power in fictional histories, positing distinct racial origins for rulers and she dominated. The extension of slavery and the application of racism to non-European peoples as an organizing structure by first the ruling feudal strata and then the bourgeoisies of the 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries retained this practical habit, this social convention. And as we shall soon see in Part II, from the 17th Century on, English merchant capital (to cite an important example) appropriated African labor in precisely these terms, that is the same terms through which it had earlier absorbed Irish labour. Moreover, European raciaIism was to undergo a kind of doubling onto itself, for in between the era of intra-European racism which characterized the first appearance of European consciousness and the predatory era of African enslavement, is the almost entirely exogenous phenomenon of Islamic domination of the Mediterranean–the eventual fount of European revitalization and re-civilization. Independent of the historical meshings of European development but profoundly restricting that development – first in literally retarding European social development by isolating it from civil life, science, speculative thought, etc., and then, after four centuries, by accelerating its recovery from the 12th Century onwards – Musilm civilization mapped the contours of the European cultural renaissance. These events were to leave tell-tale marks on Western consciousness: the fear and hatred of ‘blackamoores'; the demonization of Islam; she transfiguration of Muharnmad the Prophet into the anti-Christ. Not surprisingly Europeans, shat is ‘Christendom’, still apprehended in experience recurrences of antipathy towards what became their shared phantasmagora.

In short, there were at least four distinct moments which must be apprehended in European racialism; two whose origins are to be found within the dialictic of European development, and two which are not:

1. the racial ordering of European society from its formative period which extends into the medieval and feudal ages as ‘blood’ and racial beliefs and

2. the Islamic, i.e. Arab, Persian, Turkish and African, domination of Mediterranean civilization and the consequent retarding of European social and cultural life: the Dark Ages.

3. the incorporation of African, Asian and peoples of the New World into the world system emerging from late feudalism and merchant capitalism.

4. the dialectic of colonialism, plantocratic slavery and resistance from the 16th Century forwards, and she formations of industrial labour and labour reserves” (Robinson 1981:83)

See HERE for Cedric’s talks in London.