Is Critical Race Theory (CRT) Marxist? I see this claim multiple times per day. On the one hand, there’s a sense in which nearly every modern social theory is working within a loosely “Marxist” sociological tradition; sociology itself is the intellectual legacy of, primarily, Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Émile Durkheim. On the other hand, Marxist social theory is far removed from Marx’s own metaphysical, economic, and political ideology—not to mention far removed from Leninism, Stalinism, or Maoism. Further, and as an added complication to answering this question, CRT scholars simply don’t write much about Marx or Marxism, despite being treated like his ideological puppets.
Nevertheless, there is a sense in which contestation with Marxism in the arena of law was formative in the development of Critical Race Theory. But in order to properly tell this story, and hopefully answer our question in the process, it is first necessary to understand how Critical Legal Studies (CLS) related to Marxism; for, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, Critical Race Theory might best be understood as a “spin-off” of CLS, having been distinguished as an unique movement by its alignment and misalignment therewith. In the words of Kimberlé Crenshaw,
The seventh post in my series, The Christian and Critical Race Theory, is now up on The Front Porch!
In short, the “race intervention in a critical space” that is Critical Race Theory was deeply and inescapably informed by the tension between the (literal) life and death commitment to traditional Civil Rights ideology and the postmodern critique inherited from Critical Legal Studies.
Please take a look and let me know what you think!
Part 1: “The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 1: A Survey of the ‘Traditional Civil Rights Discourse’”
Part 2: “The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 2: The Segregationist Discourse and Civil Rights Retrenchment”
Part 3: “The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 3: A Bridge: Dr. Derrick Bell”
Part 4: “The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 4: Alan Freeman and the Contribution of CLS“
Part 5: “The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 5: A Misalignment of Frames: Integrationism“
Part 6: “The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 6: A Misalignment of Frames: The ‘New Right’”
Part 7: “The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 7: A Race Intervention Into Critical Legal Studies“
Part 8: “The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 8: the Harvard Story and the Birth of ‘Critical Race Theory’”
Interlude: “The Christian and CRT, an Interlude: The Most Segregated Hour and Liberal Integrationism”
And if you want to go back to Critical Theory more broadly, please start here: “Christianity and Critical Theory, Part 1: Marx and Frankfurt”
More to come!
In our last post, we considered Dr. Trueman’s claim that CRT “relies on the concept of false consciousness—the notion that the oppressors control society so completely that the oppressed believe their own interests are served by the status quo,” concluding that CRT has taught much the opposite. We further suggested that Trueman might be succumbing to the same Eurocentric reading of the Civil Rights inspired critical tradition that led CLS to “trash” rights discourse. The unique voice of color, due to “double consciousness,” was suggested as remedy.
Today we move onto his fourth claim. (I will note that these posts are intended to be read in order; please see Part 1 for the general introduction to the series.)
(4) “Critical race theory is the Marxist horse, ridden by the jockey of identity politics rather than the jockey of class warfare”; that is, CRT simply replaced the role of “class” in Marxism with “race” (as Trueman’s offensive Mao example is supposed to illustrate).
Carl Trueman’s claim here is all too familiar to CRT theorists. One of the first major critiques of CRT came from within the ranks of Critical Legal Studies (CLS), the movement from which CRT emerged in the late 1980s, and it was precisely this claim.