Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Linda Alcoff

Committee Members

Carol Gould

Frank Kirkland

John Pittman

Subject Categories

Ethics and Political Philosophy | History of Philosophy


Karl Marx, race, racism, Charles Mills, capitalism, slavery


In this dissertation I defend the claim that not only was Marx not an anti-black racist, he was an anti-anti-black racist, despite sometimes employing racist language and epithets. I prove this claim by adducing massive amounts of textual evidence from Marx and Engels’ writings, spanning their entire careers as writers and revolutionaries, where time and again they condemn black slavery and the slave-trade, look forward to and call for their abolition, and aim at a future of racial justice and equality for black people, as a component part of communist justice for all working people, under a communist mode of production. I thus show that Marx had a conception of communist justice, from which followed as a matter of course his endorsement of racial justice and equality for black workers.

In carrying out this project, I am contributing to the subfield of philosophy of race that has been engaged in a historical reexamination of Western canonical philosophers for their views on race and black people in particular. Much has been written about Kant in this connection, and some on Locke, Hume, Hegel, and others. But Marx has received scant attention. The most prominent philosopher to treat the topic of Marx and race was undoubtedly Charles Mills. But, I claim, Mills got Marx wrong. He wrote as if the only time Marx ever spoke about black people was when he was making racist remarks. Mills does not canvass the material I present here. I also demonstrate that outside of philosophy – in history, political science, anthropology, sociology, and so on – reading Marx as an anti-black racist and/or as one who ignored or misunderstood the relationship between black slavery and capitalism is also widespread. Thus, I also refute the claims of various non-philosophers who, like Mills, get Marx wrong on this issue.

Finally, by using Mills’ work as a foil, I seek to re-orient the sympathies of his many disciples. Mills was and is justly famous in philosophy and academia more broadly, and his work has reached and continues to reach a wide audience. Thus his characterization of Marx and Marxism as racist must have wide currency amongst those interested in race and racism, critical race theory, racial justice, black liberation and so on who rightly read and cite his work regularly. My secondary aim, then, is to bring to the attention of Mills’ followers this other – and in my view, correct – reading of Marx, so that they may reconsider the usefulness of Marx and Marxism for tackling issues of race, racism, and racial justice. Despite, as Mills has shown, liberalism’s ‘racial’ (i.e., racist) history, many may follow Mills in embracing a black radical version of liberalism that does not fundamentally challenge capitalist social relations, once they think Marx and Marxism are dumb on race and/or are sources of anti-black racism. Thus it is my hope that the claims I defend in this dissertation will go some way towards remedying this potential misperception on the part of Mills’ followers, and encouraging them to explore the Marxian paradigm in good faith, before they embrace a version of liberalism that inevitably must fail to challenge the capitalist world-order: a world-order that instituted and perpetuates global white supremacy (what Mills called ‘The Racial Contract’) under the guise of ‘liberalism.’

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