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The idea of the “fetish” stigmatized African gods. Marx formulated the theory of historical materialism during an era of not only anti-Semitism in Europe but also European settler colonialism and the moral struggle over the fairness of enslaving Africans. Enlightenment advocates of bourgeois rights used African gods, described as “fetishes,” as metaphors to criticize their European opponents in debates over tariffs, democracy, consumerism, and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Marx's advocacy of industrial workers' rights borrowed this ethnocentric vocabulary and took for granted both the virtue of settler colonialism and anti-Abolitionist representations of the enslaved African. This Afro-Atlantic backdrop of Marx's ideas and activism have been overlooked for too long.

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