Ezekiel Vergara

Speaker: Ezekiel Vergara, PhD Student in Philosophy

Discussant: Akira Drake Rodriguez and Lance Freeman


  1. The United States continues to have a complicated relationship with race. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, the United States had “Two-hundred fifty years of slavery,” which was followed by “Ninety years of Jim Crow [laws]” that subordinated Black Americans. These historical injustices have prompted calls that monetary reparations ought to be paid to the descendants of Black Americans. However, many disapprove of reparations, given its redistributive, perhaps even communist, nature. The belief that communism would result from reparations, or is somehow linked to reparations, helps explain some of the hesitance surrounding reparations.
  2. This disapproval of reparations, stemming from an opposition to communist redistribution, assumes that communists would support reparations. This assumption, though, is too hasty. Namely, it remains an open question as to whether a communist, like Karl Marx, would support reparations. In this paper, I hope to answer the following question: (1) Ought a communist, like Karl Marx, support monetary reparations for Black Americans?
  3. In this paper, I provide two arguments as to why Marx would not support reparations for Black Americans.
  4. First, I consider a moral argument. Normally, this sort of argument would appeal to normative concepts, like “good” and “right.” In Marx’s writings, though, clearly moralized language is often absent. Thus, in order to provide a moral answer to the aforementioned question, one must appeal to a concept in Marx’s philosophy that can ground normative claims. In light of this, I turn to Marx’s notion of “species-being,” which presents individuals as inherently social. According to a normative reading of species-being, because individuals are inherently pro-social, individuals ought to be pro-social; moreover, individuals ought not be anti-social. I argue that Marx would not support reparations because monetary reparations make reference to the rights-bearing individuals. According to Marx, the rights-bearing individual stands opposed to others in an anti-social manner, and thereby is alienated from his species-being. Because rights, such as that to reparations, forestall human species-being, I suggest that Marx would not favor reparations.
  5. This reading, though, takes Marx to be making normative claims. Allen Wood, however, prominently argues that Marx does not make normative claims. If Wood is correct, then a moral argument would misinterpret Marx and render an unsound conclusion. Given Wood’s argument, I provide a non-moral, Marxist argument against reparations.
  6. On this second argument, I posit that Marx would not support reparations because reparations can be understood as a form of bourgeois ideology. I adopt Tommie Shelby’s view of “ideology,” which stipulates that “ideology” most basically relates to “beliefs.” This view, I argue, aligns well with Marx’s view, given that Marx relates “ideology” to “intellectual force” and “mental production.” I utilize Shelby’s understanding of ideology to advance the claim that bourgeois ideology undermines a prudential imperative, violating the “ought of prudence,” which stipulates that individuals should strive to have true beliefs. Reparations violate the ought of prudence in two ways. First, I suggest that ideological beliefs as epistemically deficient, appealing to non-cognitive motives. Second, I maintain that ideological beliefs contribute to false consciousness, which perpetuates bourgeois rule.