Collectively, in the Black Radical Tradition

As I traversed this week’s readings, I recognized overlapping accounts of Black freedom struggle as a method of collective praxis across space and time. Sarah Haley writes: “Late-capitalist law-and-order logics proliferate individualism and privatization as preeminent moral values that rationalize mass imprisonment by criminalizing the precarious.” Conversely, collectivity, as an anti-capitalist model of social formation, constitutes an abolitionist mode of being in relation. 

Cedric Robinson’s profound archaeology of Black radical organizing gives historical grounding to this tradition. Robinson cites Barbara Kopytoff’s observation that: “Wherever there were slave plantations, there was resistance in the form of runaways and slave revolts; and wherever mountains, swamps, or forests permitted the escaped slaves to gather, they formed communities.” (135) Through his transcontinental accounts of maroonage and revolt, Robinson traces the communitarian ethics developed through fugitive resistance to plantation slavery. Critical to his radicality is his attention to the precolonial and pre-American roots of these movements. “The transport of African labor to the mines and plantations of the Caribbean and subsequently to what would be known as the Americas meant also the transfer of African ontological and cosmological systems,” he writes, including “African presumptions of the organization and significance of social structure.” (122) 

Robinson, as such, could be said to be evoking a formative history of globalization from below. W. E. B. Du Bois’ writing is likewise fruitful in this regard. Du Bois intimates Afro-Asian entanglements when he links U.S. slavery with “cheaper and cheaper coolie labor in Asia and half-slave labor in African mines.” (41) For him, Reconstruction has yet to be completed. Prefiguring Hall’s argument that politics is always, at least in part, a cultural undertaking, he frames history’s revolutionary tenor within the project of global emancipation when he asserts that “…the rebuilding, whether it comes now or a century later, will and must go back to the basic principles of Reconstruction in the United States during 1867–1876—Land, Light and Leading for slaves black, brown, yellow and white, under a dictatorship of the proletariat.” (635)

Considering these words nearly “a century later,” I reflect that the U.S. has only ever been the shakiest of nomenclatures for a broader, though never less brutal, world system—“a modern world system of ‘racial capitalism’ dependent on slavery, violence, imperialism, and genocide,” as Robin D. G. Kelley explains in his introduction to Black Marxism. (xii) Thinking through this post’s guiding concerns of globalization and collectivity, I am brought to Kelley’s inspiring cerebrations on solidarity. We cannot “consent not to be a single being” (Glissant/Moten) without solidarity; solidarity is how Kelley activates critical ties between Black freedom, Indigenous sovereignty, Palestinian struggle, and beyond. Haley noted that: “Abolition’s temporality is the present continuous—the tense of a project that is ongoing and incomplete. It is also the subjunctive—the expression of what might be, what could have been, desire.” I realized this week that speculative histories demand speculative accounts of the present, and vice versa. Collectivity and solidarity are subjunctive moods—they express not just what might be, but how we can be. In this vein, Kelley’s commitment to dialectical critique as revolutionary love offers a particularly empowering intervention into the present continuous.


  • W. E. B. Du Bois, Chs. I-IV, XIV, and XVI-XVII, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (1935, 1962),
  • Cedric Robinson, Intro (Kelley) and Ch. 6 “Historical Archaeology,” Black Marxism: Making of the Black Radical Tradition (2000),
  • Stuart Hall, “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity” (1985)