the career of Oliver C. Cox

Austin, Andrew austina at
Sun Jun 3 11:37:36 MDT 2001

To clarify, Cox see racism as a socio-attitudinal phenomenon. He sees the
racial system as an element of the superstructure, namely the legal system.
Unorganized violence is guided by racial  attitudes. All this was contained
in my last post (even if I did not use the base-superstructure metaphor).

The problem with this view is that racism is not a reflection of social
class, which is what is assumed in Cox's assumption of the
base-superstructure model. That Cox treats racism as a reflection of the
economic base is my strongest objection to his work.

Andrew Austin
Assistant Professor
Social Change and Development
2420 Nicolet Drive, MAC B310
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Green Bay, WI 54311-7001
(920) 465-2791

-----Original Message-----
From: George Snedeker [mailto:snedeker at]
Sent: Sunday, June 03, 2001 12:30 PM
To: marxism at
Subject: Re: the career of Oliver C. Cox

Cox treats racism as part of the superstructure of capitalism. it is a
justification for  exploitation of Black labor. this is a little more than
an "attitude." there are definite limits to Cox's approach, like the fact
that he did not see how the white working class benefited from racism. he
thought that poor whites were just manipulated by the ruling class.
----- Original Message -----
From: Austin, Andrew <austina at>
To: <marxism at>
Sent: Sunday, June 03, 2001 1:13 PM
Subject: RE: the career of Oliver C. Cox

> Snedeker: "Cox was the only important Black sociologist of the period who
> had no interest in participating in Gunner Myrdal's American Dilemma study
> of racism. He  objected to Myrdal's Idealist approach to the study of
> and set about developing his own Materialist analysis which he published
> This statement is hard for me to understand because Cox's approach to
> in Caste, Class, and Race strikes me as a form of idealism. For the most
> part, he reduces race to attitudes (much like Fields does--race is an
> illusion). (Cox's basic thesis is internally contradicted, so I am
> on his specific claims about what racism is. I don't have time to go into
> his borrowing and mutation of Furnivall's "plural society" concept.) In
> contrast, Myrdal's approach (as well as Doyle, Davis, the Gardners, and
> others working in the caste school of social relations) was not idealistic
> but a holistic approach that conceptualized racism much in the same
> as Gramsci conceptualized class, considering both coercive and consensual
> elements of class hegemony. The concerted attack on Myrdal has obscured
> basic ontology that he and others assumed in their scholarship, one quite
> workable from a historical materialist perspective, namely, that the
> structure of society determines the content of the law and the
> culture-ideological structure without reducing either politics or culture
> economics. At the same time, the school gives cultural-ideological forces
> significant role in determining history. And the caste school even bridges
> the structural and the instrumental by observing that white-ethnic elites
> control the machinery of society, the political, economic, and social
> resources, at the same time their power to do so is given by the
> structure.
> For example, the caste school argues that the racial system is not created
> by the law but that the law is a feature of the racial system. Because the
> law has a race-ethnic character it reinforces the racial structure. (All
> very dialectical.) In contrast, Cox argues that racism is for the most
> created and maintained by the law. He specifically says that blacks are
> controlled through culture-ideological forces. Blacks and whites stand in
> naked opposition to one another, he says--violence is the main form of
> racial control.
> And in all of this, ironically, Cox conceptualizes class as Myrdal's
> "American Creed," which for Myrdal is a culture-ideological system. Cox
> suggests that the U.S. Constitution "with certain amendments and
> abrogations...may become the fundamental law of a consummate democracy"
> 514 from the 1970 edition). One might ask at what point in changing the
> Constitution to create a "consummate democracy" could the U.S.
> be said to exist anymore?
> Incidentally, Cox claims that the situation of blacks is improving because
> the attack on the legal structure of race is permitting them to become
> integrated with white society. Here he is consistent, since it follows
> if the racial system is secured by state and legal violence and the
> of the state to prevent extralegal violence--what Cox calls "organized and
> unorganized violence"--then eliminating this system will end racism. This
> precisely what conservatives and most liberals have argued since the 1964
> Civil Rights Act, and this line of thinking represents what CRT scholars
> have dubbed the "standard civil rights discourse," which is itself a form
> racism (in this Cox was no doubt an unwitting participant--in all fairness
> to Cox, CRT scholarship operates as a much higher level of
> Andrew Austin
> Green Bay, WI

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