History of Racial Capitalism in Africa: Violence, Ideology, and Practice

  • Madalitso Zililo Phiri
Part of the Palgrave Handbooks in IPE book series (PHIPE)


The ascendancy of the global capitalist regime in Africa ushered in by colonial capitalist modernity altered the continent’s political, social, economic, and power relations through violence, plunder, and dispossession. This chapter asks the following question: what kind of society was produced when Africans were incorporated in the specificities of the global capitalist regime? The aim of this chapter is to advance a theoretical understanding of the evolution in Africa by revisiting the social science debates in Africa’s twentieth century. This quest is not a novel task, as classic Marxists, neo-Marxists, and liberals have debated this age-old question. While such scholarship emphasized class struggle as a sine qua non to overthrow bourgeois societies, the chapter draws on a discursive idea of history and analogy from critical radical pan-Africanist scholarship. Central to capitalist expansion and colonial modernity was the extension of property rights and commodification of the African body. The chapter argues that capitalism needs to be understood as a violent ideology, which was cemented when European societies shifted from feudalism to a new mode of production in the 1500s. Capitalism was further entrenched as ideas of social Darwinism gained momentum throughout its evolution. Capitalism as a world system is predicated on anti-Black racism and dismemberment of Africans from the global human canon, which has ramifications for Africa’s contemporary political economy of development.


  1. Acemoglu, Daron, and James Robinson. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. London: Profile Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  2. Ake, Claude. 1976. The Congruence of Political Economies and Ideologies in Africa. In The Political Economy of Contemporary Africa, ed. Peter Gutkind and Immanuel Wallerstein, 198–211. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  3. Amin, S. 1972. Underdevelopment and Dependence in Black Africa-Origins and Contemporary Forms. The Journal of Modern African Studies 10 (4): 503–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. ———. 1974. Accumulation and Development: A Theoretical Model. Review of African Political Economy 1 (1): 9–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. ———. 2014. Understanding the Political Economy of Contemporary Africa. African Development 40 (1): 15–36.Google Scholar
  6. Cooper, Fredrick. 2002. Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dabashi, Hamid. 2015. Can Non-Europeans Think? London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  8. Du Bois, William E.B. 1965. The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History. New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  9. Dussel, Enrique. 1996. The Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor and the Philosophy of Liberation. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  10. Ferguson, Niall. 2003a. Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  11. ———. 2003b. Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 2011. Civilization: The West and the Rest. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  13. ———. 2017. The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
  14. Freund, Bill. 2019. Twentieth-Century South Africa: A Developmental History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gilley, Bruce. 2017. The Case for Colonialism. Third World Quarterly.
  16. Hudson, Peter. 2018. Racial Capitalism and the Dark Proletariat. Boston Review, February 20, 1–6.Google Scholar
  17. Kelley, Robin D. G. 2017. What Did Cedric Robinson Mean by Racial Capitalism? Boston Review, January 12, 1–5.Google Scholar
  18. Legassick, Martin. 1974. South Africa: Capital Accumulation and Violence. Economy and Society 3 (3): 253–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lenin, Vladimir I. 1964. The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Moscow: Progress Publishers.Google Scholar
  20. Mafeje, Archie. 1991. The Theory and Ethnography of African Social Formations: The Case of the Interlacustrine Kingdoms. Dakar: Council for Development of Economic and Social Research in Africa.Google Scholar
  21. ———. 2002. Democratic Governance and New Democracy in Africa: Agenda for the Future. Prepared for the presentation at the African Forum for Envisioning Africa held in Nairobi, Kenya, 26–29 April 2002.Google Scholar
  22. ———. 2003. The Agrarian Question, Access to Land, and Peasant Responses in Sub-Saharan Africa. United Nations Institute for Social Development. Geneva United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.Google Scholar
  23. Magubane, Bernard. 1976. The Evolution of the Class Structure in Africa. In The Political Economy of Contemporary Africa, ed. Peter Gutkind and Immanuel Wallerstein, 169–197. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 1996. The Making of a Racist State: British Imperialism and the Union of South Africa, 1875–1910. Trenton: Africa World Press.Google Scholar
  25. Mamdani, Mahmood. 2001. When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. ———. 2004. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  27. Moon, Parker T. 1926. Imperialism and World Politics. New York: The Macmillan Company.Google Scholar
  28. Moyo, Dambisa. 2009. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
  29. ———. 2012. Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  30. ———. 2018. Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth and How to Fix It. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  31. Mudimbe, Valentin-Yves. 1988. The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  32. ———. 1994. The Idea of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ngugi. 2009. Recovering our Memory: South Africa in the Black Imagination. The Fourth Steve Biko Annual Lecture at the University of Cape Town, 12 September 2003. In The Steve Biko Memorial Lectures 2000–2008, 51–72. Johannesburg: Steve Biko Foundation/Macmillan.Google Scholar
  34. Nyoka, Bongani. 2016. Bernard Magubane’s The Making of a Racist State Revisited: 20 Years On. Journal of Black Studies 47 (8): 903–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Polanyi, Karl. 1944. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Massachusetts: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  36. Robinson, Cedric. 1983. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. London: Zed Press.Google Scholar
  37. ———. 2019 [2001]. An Anthropology of Marxism. 2nd ed. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  38. Rodney, Walter. 1972. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London/Dar es Salaam: Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications/Tanzania Publishing House.Google Scholar
  39. Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. London: Routledge & Keagan Paul Ltd.Google Scholar
  40. ———. 1993. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  41. Taeusch, C.F. 1935. What Is ‘Capitalism’? International Journal of Ethics 45 (2): 221–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Terreblanche, Sampie. 2002. A History of Inequality in South Africa, 1652–2002. Scottsville: University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Press.Google Scholar
  43. ———. 2014. Western Empires, Christianity, and the Inequalities between the West and the Rest: 1500–2010. Johannesburg: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  44. Williams, Eric. 1944. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  45. Wolpe, Harold. 1972. Capitalism and Cheap Labour in South Africa: From Segregation to Apartheid. Economy and Society 1 (4): 425–456.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wood, Ellen M. 2002. The Origins of Capitalism: A Longer View. New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Madalitso Zililo Phiri
    • 1
  1. 1.University of South AfricaPretoriaSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations