COX, Oliver Cromwell

CoxOliver Cromwell Cox was born in Trinidad in 1901. He took his first degree in law at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1928. After suffering from a bout of poliomyelitis that had lasting consequences for his mobility, he changed his career plans from the practice of law to academic social science. He did a Masters in Economics at the University of Chicago in 1932 before switching to Sociology with a PhD in 1938, also from the University of Chicago. As a consequence of segregation, he was denied employment at ‘historically white’ institutions and his first job was at Wiley College in Texas, from where he went to the Tuskegee Institute (founded by Booker T. Washington) in 1944, moving to Lincoln University in Missouri in 1949 where he remained for the rest of his career. He died in 1974.


Cox was a prolific writer and author of books on the nature of capitalism and race relations: Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics (1948), The Foundations of Capitalism (1959), Capitalism and American Leadership (1962), and Race Relations: Elements and Social Dynamics (1976). He was a major figure in the intellectual movement of ‘black Marxism’. His first book, Caste, Class and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics, however, stands out as a landmark of sociological analysis that defies intellectual categorisation and exists alongside Weber’s Economy and Society as a classic of the field, sadly neglected compared to the latter, but ultimately surpassing it in terms of its analysis of the concepts of caste, class and race. Published in 1948 it was written in response to an emerging interest in (white) sociology in understanding race in the US through the lens of ‘caste’, as was proposed by Gunnar Myrdal in his American Dilemma (1944). While other black academics – including those who worked with Myrdal, such as Ralph Bunche – preferred class analysis to the language of caste, it was left to Cox to provide a detailed examination of caste, class and race that went beyond rebuttal to provide a systematic sociological examination of the different systems of caste, class and race and the intersections among them.


Essential Reading

Cox, Oliver Cromwell (1948) Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics Monthly Review Press: New York

James, CLR (2016) ‘The Class Basis of the Race Question in the United States‘ New Politics Vol:XV-4 – this is a transcribed lecture by James on Oliver Cromwell Cox


Further reading:

Adolph Reed Jr (2001) ‘Race and Class in the Work of Oliver Cromwell Cox’ Monthly Review 52(9), February 2001.

Herbert M. Hunter and Sameer Y. Abraham, (1987) Race, Class, and the World System: The Sociology of Oliver C. Cox,  New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.

Cedric J. Robinson (1983) Black Marxism: The Making of the Radical Tradition, London: Zed Press.



Submitted by John Holmwood


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