Racism, ethnicity and class struggles in the Marxist debate

Gerald Wilde, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1971-2


Presentation of the newly released book

The issue of oppression has gained great centrality, visibility and diversity with regard to the struggles and conflicts of contemporary social life, which have assumed varied contents and forms, and mobilized activists and diversified movements. Historically, communists have not avoided the debate on racial, ethnic and colonial issues, and have waged important political and theoretical struggles, promoting, in addition, relevant discussions within the Third Communist International and a series of political and theoretical publications on such issues. .

The Congress of the Peoples of the East, convened by the Communist International and held in Baku (Azerbaijan) in 1920, was a decisive moment, orienting the international communist movement towards the central task of waging the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle in the most different parts of the world. . The resolutions of that Congress pointed as a political horizon: the “end of the division of humanity into oppressive peoples and oppressed peoples” and the “complete equality of all peoples and races, whatever the language they speak, the color of their skin and the religion they profess”.[I] Not by chance, these debates also emerged the aggregating synthesis proposed by Zinoviev to the well-known final motto of the Communist Manifesto, when he exhorted, to the applause of the communists present at the Congress, the slogan: “Proletarians of all countries and oppressed peoples of the entire world, unite”.

In the current situation, we understand that militancy and Marxist intellectuals should not neglect these struggles against oppression and its effective expressions in social reality. These agents are in a position to offer important contributions to this debate, considering their particularities, historicities and processes. In capitalism, the establishment of legal equality can be considered an advance and a conquest for the oppressed and exploited population when compared to the unequal law present in pre-capitalist societies. However, this is a formal equality, a “practical illusion”, which coexists and is anchored in a profound socioeconomic inequality. Because of this and the historically anti-egalitarian position of the ruling classes, not even the most basic of rights, civil rights, can be fully assured by the bourgeois State - which only reinforces the importance of the debate on oppressions in their relationship with issues of class exploitation and the need to guide it from a communist perspective.

It is possible to state that the social experience of oppressed populations and peoples has been combined, in a complex totality, with various mechanisms that contribute to intensify oppression, exploitation, violence and inequalities, engendering, contradictorily, for individuals and collectivities, new and old forms of struggle, plans and actions of resistance and identities that make it possible to fight and face forms of oppression.

It is no different with the ethnic-racial problem, it is articulated with questions of class, gender, generation, sexuality, religiosity, nationality, economic and social development, configuring a broad process of exclusion and mechanisms – sometimes subtle, sometimes perverse – of inequality, discrimination and prejudice that a Marxism sensitive to the contradictions of the present time and historical experience must take into account and combat, if it wants to be a political and intellectual force with its own voice and color in today's public debate.

Racism, as a social practice, penetrates institutions, reproduces itself in values ​​and ideas, combines and becomes complex in the set of social, economic and political relations, manifesting itself in racial inequalities, in different forms of power between racially distinct groups, in aesthetic, cultural and environmental ways. And racism, as a historical phenomenon, updates itself, makes and remakes itself, nourishes itself, combines and complexifies itself in the contradictions of each time and in the correlation of forces in each society. Racism, as a way of naturalizing differences and inequalities, has equally used and abused culture, nation, tradition, to establish hierarchies based on race. It is yesterday's racism, but still and above all today's racism, its contemporary aspect, which it is up to Marxism to problematize and face today.

With this idea in mind, we organized a dossier that intends to look into the interfaces between Marxism and ethnic/racial issues. In the initial invitation made to dozens of guests, we suggested a set of questions that we thought could contribute to minimally guide the debate that we wanted to foster.

We note that many of these guests who have developed extremely relevant debates and research on the issues addressed in this dossier, have expressed difficulties in sending their contributions within the deadlines that we initially stipulated. Although they were unable to send their reflections to this collection, we are grateful to everyone for the messages of support and encouragement for the publication and organization of this work. There will certainly be no lack of opportunities for new collective works to be organized with all these colleagues.

The initial questions that we presented to our guests and that guided the organization of this dossier were the following: (1) What is the specificity of the Marxist theoretical and political tradition in the debate on racism, anti-racism and ethnic-racial relations?; (2) From the Marxist point of view, how to theoretically and politically articulate racism, class, gender and sexuality?; (3) What place should the racial problematic occupy in an emancipatory/revolutionary struggle?; (4) What is the contribution of black Marxist intellectuals to the reflection on racism (inside and outside Brazil)?; (5) What is the place occupied by the ethnic/racial issue in Latin American Marxist thought?; (6) What are the points of proximity and contradiction of the Marxist anti-racist movement with the other currents of anti-racist movements?; (7) What is the place occupied by the ethnic/racial issue in the contemporary social struggle in the face of the extreme right offensive?

This dossier has 23 texts written by 26 authors and is divided into seven parts. In them, it will be possible to verify that, in addition to the aforementioned analytical reductionism, racism and its everyday manifestations are not mechanically subsumed under social class or the economy. Those who read the collection will find an analytical effort to combine, always taking into account the contradictions faced in each reality in which the reflection is woven, race/ethnicity with various expressions of oppression and exploitation, whose purpose articulates at the same time the most accurate and profound knowledge of reality with the intention of combating and transforming these different forms of inequality and oppression.

With the concern of showing part of the vitality of Marxist reflection and the relevance of works produced previously, we grouped and republished, in the first two parts, pioneering and classic texts in the Marxist debate about the ethnic-racial question and the struggles of indigenous and black peoples in America Latin America and Brazil. The first consists of articles by José Carlos Mariátegui, Hugo Pesce and Édison Carneiro, and the presentations and contextualizations of these texts prepared, respectively, by Danilla Aguiar and Gustavo Rossi. The second contains texts by two influential Brazilian intellectuals and activists in the debate on the racial issue in the country: Clóvis Moura and Lélia González.

The third part consists of an unpublished translation of the text by August Nimtz and three articles written by Diogo Valença de Azevedo Costa, Márcia da Silva Clemente and Deivison Mendes Faustino, which address, respectively, the contributions of Marx and Fanon to the debate on topics such as Eurocentrism, colonialism and anti-racism. Here, readers will be able to verify the diversity of analyzes and approaches on these issues, noting how such issues crossed discussions produced by intellectuals, activists, movements and parties that were inspired by the Marxist tradition.

The fourth part of the dossier contemplates historical debates carried out in the first decades of the 20th century by the communist movement and by Marxist intellectuals about the black question and the struggles of black people, and consists of an unpublished translation of the article by Hakim Adi, in addition to a text prepared by Iacy Maia Mata and Petrônio Domingues. In this section, it will be possible to observe how black internationalism gained analytical and political density from the creative and collective work built by Marxist intellectuals and militants.

The fifth part focuses on Marxist analyzes of the indigenous question and includes debates emerging from the mid-20th century to the present day in Latin America. This section is composed of articles by Jean Tible, Rodrigo Santaella Gonçalves, Jaime Ortega Reyna and Leandro Galastri. The texts gathered in this part show the complexity of the discussions and the theoretical and political challenges posed to the Latin American Marxist tradition in the perspective of overcoming oppression, by bringing into play the indigenous problem and its emancipatory potential.

In the sixth part, emphasis is given to the contributions of Brazilian Marxist and Communist intellectuals from the first half of the 20th century, Clóvis Moura and Florestan Fernandes to the problems related to the racial issue in Brazil. This section brings articles by Gabriel dos Santos Rocha, Daniele Cordeiro Motta, Maria de Fátima Souza da Silveira, Érika Mesquita and Weber Lopes Góes. The works listed here show some interpretive keys of Brazilian communists and also produced by these two great Marxist intellectuals who show some of their main theoretical and political concerns to overcome the ills experienced by the working class and the Brazilian black population.

In the last part, the dossier incorporates reflections on the relationship between capitalism and anti-racism, comprising articles by Wagner Miquéias F. Damasceno, Dennis de Oliveira and Wilson do Nascimento Barbosa. Here, the general argument can be summarized in the profound relationship between capitalism and racism as a way of accentuating domination and exploitation.

Certainly, a series of debates cannot be addressed in this dossier, but we believe that the articles published in this collection allow us to observe the critical fortune, limits and legacy of Marxism and the international communist movement in terms of the analysis of the relationship between racism , ethnicity and class struggles.

Readers will find, explicitly or implicitly, throughout the various articles that make up the dossier, the critique of liberal and culturalist anti-racism that seeks to restrict the racial issue to the universe of citizenship, consumption and cultural identity. They will also come across reflections that make it possible to problematize a deterministic reading of the racial issue, especially that which reduces it to a secondary phenomenon or mere epiphenomenon of the economy and class struggles.

In the Marxist tradition, in order to move away from this double reductionism, two premises are essential: to consider the historicity of the problematic approached, in our case, the racial question and its relation with other forms of oppression; and to elaborate a concrete analysis of the concrete situation (“the soul of Marxism's live”, as Lenin would say), that is, to try to observe how this problematic is combined, articulated and differentiated in the social experience of the oppressed populations.

We could not conclude this presentation without mentioning that the organization of this dossier relied on the collaboration of a few colleagues to whom we owe due thanks. We are grateful to Alexandre Pimenta and Muniz Ferreira, who provided us with the translation of texts originally published in English by Hakim Adi and August Nimtz, and to Luiz Brandão and Leandro Galastri for the technical revision of these translations. We also express gratitude to Alexandre Pimenta for creating the cover of this book. We thank Renata Gonçalves for suggesting the names of intellectuals and activists who were invited to send texts for the dossier; to Mariana Ramos de Morais for sending the digitized text by Édison Carneiro published in this dossier; to Fernando Alves da Silva for designing the book and for transcribing the articles by Clóvis Moura and Lélia González; and the editors of Marxism21 for all the support given to the organization of this book.

Finally, with this publication we intend not only to join existing efforts to reflect on racism and its related forms of oppression, but also to contribute, from a Marxist perspective, to thinking, discussing and facing contemporary forms of racism.

These and many other struggles continue!

*Danilo Enrico Martuscelli is professor of political science at the Federal University of Fronteira Sul (UFFS) and editor of the blog marxism21.

*Jair Batista da Silva is a professor at the Department of Sociology at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). Author, among other books, of Racism and Trade Unionism (Annablume).



Danilo Enrico Martuscelli & Jair Batista da Silva (eds). Racism, ethnicity and class struggles in the Marxist debate. São Paulo, marxismo21, 2021, e-book available at https://marxismo21.org/racismo-etnia-e-luta-de-classes-no-debate-marxista/



[I] On the Baku Congress, see: John Riddell, Vijay Prashad and Nazeef Mollah (eds.). Liberate the colonies! Communism and colonial freedom (1917-1924). New Delhi, Left Words Books, 2019.

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