Three Tensions in the Theory of Racial Capitalism

Three Tensions in the Theory of Racial Capitalism

Go J.

Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, Chicago, USA

ID of the Article:

For citation:

Go J. Three Tensions in the Theory of Racial Capitalism. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. 2021. No 6. P. 14-23


In this essay the author assesses the relevance of scholarship on racial capitalism for sociological theory and highlights three tensions within the existing literature: (1) whether “race” as opposed to other forms of difference is the primary mode of differentiation in capitalism, (2) whether deficiencies in existing theory warrant the new concept “racial capitalism”, and (3) whether the connection between race and capitalism is a contingent or logical necessity. Existing discussions of racial capitalism implicitly or explicitly raise these tensions, but they do not adequately resolve them. Nonetheless, they remain important for generating further theory and research.

foreign sociology; racial capitalism; racism; capitalism; Marxism


Anderson K.B. (2010) Marx at the Margins. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bourdieu P., Wacquant L. (1999) On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason. Theory, Culture & Society. Vol. 16. No. 1: 41–58. DOI: 10.1177/026327699016001003.

Calhoun C. (1995) Critical Social Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Camp J., Heatherton C., Karuka M. (2019) A Response to Nancy Fraser. Politics/Letters. May 20. Retrieved November 29, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

Chakrabarty D. (1993) Marx after Marxism: A Subaltern Historian’s Perspective. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 28. No. 22: 1094–1096.

Cheng W. (2013) Strategic Orientalism: Racial Capitalism and the Problem of ‘Asianness’. African Identities. Vol. 11. No. 2: 148–158. DOI: 10.1080/14725843.2013.797284.

Dawson M. (2018) Racial Capitalism and Democratic Crisis. Insights from the Social Sciences. December 4. Retrieved November 28, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

DuBois W.E.B. (1935) Black Reconstruction in America. New York: Russell & Russell.

Federici S. (2018) Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women. Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Foster J.B., Holleman H., Clark B. (2020) Marx and Slavery. Monthly Review. Vol. 72. No. 3: 96–117.

Fraser N. (2019) Is Capitalism Necessarily Racist? Politics/Letters. Retrieved November 28, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

Gilmore R.W. (2015) The Worrying State of the Anti-prison Movement. Social Justice. February 23. Retrieved November 29, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

Hartsock N. (1983) The Feminist Standpoint: Developing the Ground for a Specifically Feminist Historical Materialism. In: Harding S., Hintikka M.B. (eds) Discovering Reality. Boston: D. Reidel: 283–310.

Harvey D. (2014) Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hudson P.J. (2018) Racial Capitalism and the Dark Proletariat. Boston Review. February 20. Retrieved November 28, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

Jessop B. (1990) State Theory: Putting Capitalist States in Their Place. University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Johnson W. (2018) To Remake the World: Slavery, Racial Capitalism, and Justice. Boston Review. February 20. Retrieved November 28, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

Johnson W. (2020) The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States. New York: Basic Books.

Kelley R.D.G. (2017) What Did Cedric Robinson Mean by Racial Capitalism? Boston Review. January 12. Retrieved November 28, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

Lebowitz M. (2006) The Politics of Assumption, the Assumption of Politics. Historical Materialism. Vol. 14. No. 2: 29–47. DOI: 10.1163/156920606777829212.

Legassick M., Hemson D. (1976) Foreign Investment and the Reproduction of Racial Capitalism in South Africa. London: Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Lemann N. (2020) Is Capitalism Racist? The New Yorker. May 25.

Leong N. (2013) Racial Capitalism. Harvard Law Review. Vol. 126. No. 8: 2151–2226. DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2009877.

Loveman M. (1999) Is ‘Race’ Essential? American Sociological Review. Vol. 64. No. 6: 891–898. DOI: 10.2307/2657409.

Marx K. (1906) Capital. New York: The Modern Library.

McCarthy M. (2016) Silent Compulsions: Capitalist Markets and Race. Studies in Political Economy. Vol. 97. No. 2: 195–205. DOI: 10.1080/07078552.2016.1211155.

Melamed J. (2015) Racial Capitalism. Critical Ethnic Studies. Vol. 1. No. 1: 76–85. DOI: 10.5749/ jcritethnstud.1.1.0076.

Nupen C. (1972) Opening Address to the 56th NUSAS Congress. JSTOR Primary Sources. Retrieved November 28, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

Omi M., Winant H. (1986) Racial Formation in the United States. New York: Routledge.

Pirtle W. (2020) Racial Capitalism: A Fundamental Cause of Novel Coronavirus Pandemic Inequities in the United States. Health Education & Behavior. Vol. 47. No. 4: 504–508. DOI: 10.1177/1090198120922942.

Postone M. (1996) Time, Labor and Social Domination. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ralph M., Singhal M. (2019) Racial Capitalism. Theory & Society. Vol. 48. No. 6: 851–881. DOI: 10.1007/ s11186-019-09367-z.

Robinson C. (2000) Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Roediger D. (2017) Class, Race and Marxism. New York: Verso.

Smallwood S. (2018) What Slavery Tells us about Marx. Boston Review. February 21. Retrieved November 28, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

Táíwò O.O., Bright L.K. (2020) A Response to Michael Walzer. Dissent. August 7. Retrieved November 28, 2020. URL: (accessed 15.04.2021).

Taylor K.-Y. (2016) From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Chicago: Haymarket.

Virdee S. (2019) Racialized Capitalism: An Account of its Contested Origins and Consolidation. Sociological Review. Vol. 67. No. 1: 3–27. DOI: 10.1177/0038026118820293.

Walzer M. (2020) A Note on Racial Capitalism. Dissent. July 29. Retrieved November 28, 2020. URL: https://www. (accessed 15.04.2021).

Wimmer A. (2015) Race-Centrism: A Critique and a Research Agenda. Ethnic and Racial Studies. Vol. 38. No. 13: 2186–2205. DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2015.1058510.

Content No 6, 2021