The Russian Revolution is considered oneof the most critical events of the twentieth century. It was critical inEuropean history because it ended centuries of Russian imperial ruling and thestart of new social change under the guidance of Lenin. It’s impact not onlychanged European politics and society, but inspired global change. The RussianRevolution encouraged people to protest racism and imperialism, namelydisenfranchised black Americans and European colonial subjects. This revolutionpromised a world without class and racial oppression and exploitation.
In theUnited States, black Americans used the message of social, class, and racialequity influenced by this revolution, resulting in the Civil Rights Movement. I am going toexplore the impact that the Russian Revolution had on African Americans. In 1917, the world witnessed thecollapse of the Russian Empire. Tsar Nicholas II’s empire experienced economicstagnation, where the proletariat – the working class, farmers, and other wageearners – suffered from the Tsar’s policies (Hogsbjerg,2017).
This resulted inthe revolution, where Marxist socialists such as Vladimir Lenin, Leon Tolstoy, andthe Bolsheviks desired to form a government based on communist ideals. Lenin, aBolshevik leftist, rose to power and abolished the practice of the czaristrule. Lenin intended the working class, peasants, and soldiers to have moreinfluence in the new Soviet government. This distinction was important in thatthese groups of people were the main protestors. The first party were thepeasants, who made up most of the population in Russia.
They were excessivelypoor and could barely escape famine, second party was the rise of theindustrial working class. The working class consisted of people working in themines, factories and workshops. These people suffered from low wages, poor housingand many hazardous conditions in the workplace.
Lastly, the Russian peopledisapproved of Tsar Nicholas II, as he was more involved with his family thanthe matters of the state. These three factors would contribute to the rise ofRussian Revolution. This sparked the beginning of a new era in Russia, therevolution also influenced other class movements in countries around the world.This drastic end to the Romanov Dynasty – therefore, centuries of RussianImperial rule – instigated global movements, namely in the United States.
The Russian Revolution under Leninleadership, Russia withdrew from Europe and its imperialist conflict andresolved quickly in its own towards a communist system. This communist systemwould free Russia from class conflict and imperialist wars. The Russian peoplewere being oppressed by the Czarist government, just as African Americans werebeing oppressed by segregation, inequality and race in the United States. TheRussians had a dream about the revolution just like Martin Luther King who was a civil rights leader he had a dreamthat someday African Americans would have equality just like the white men.Throughout history African Americans have endured discrimination they were notallowed to attend the same school as the white folks, church or even samepublic restroom.
Imagine having to face discrimination on a daily base and thensociety wants you to live a segregate life no wonder a lot of African Americanaccepted the ideology of communism because they wanted a social change in theirsociety. The Communist party influence on African Americans came during a timewhen African Americans strived for a change. This change would consist of equalrights, hopes for optimism against racism, imperialism and exploitation. AfricanAmericans had little or no rights they were treated like peasants. Thecommunist regime gave African Americans high expectation for justice.
Theoppression of black people had been a fundamental part of capitalism in theUnited States. The fight for black freedom has gone through a correspondingseries of phases from slave rebellions to the abolitionist movement to thestruggle of black workers. Karl Marx explained, “Labor in the white skin cannever free itself as long as labor in the black skin is branded (Taylor,2011).
His words reflected the treatment of African Americans who were being ignoredon the consciousness of the white workers. Communism became a platform forAfrican American it worked in their favor it allowed for African Americans tostand up against social injustice and to have a voice in society. As we see inGlimore book ” The reddest of the Blacks” this book discusses about thepresence and influence of communism and its ideologies on black Americansduring the civil rights movement it also examines how communism affected theblack community leaders in the United States. Martin Luther King and thesouthern communist contribution to social justice in the southern states.African Americans in the south were fed up with society and wanted a socialchange and we see that 49 members of Charlotte who were brave and made thedecision to join the communist party to improve their lives.
Gilmore alsodiscusses about Martin Luther King acknowledges communism and he starts to work for racial justice during the Mccarthyera also the role of the FBI in regards to spying on African Americans. Anotherarticle where the communist intervened is in Robin, Kelley book “Hammer and Hoe” the storytakes place in Alabama during the 1930’s and we see the courage andperseverance of black communist workers underground in the dangerous south. Thecommunist party led about 5,000 tobacco workers they rallied around thedefendants in the infamous Scottsboro case, which would eventually set legalprecedents against all white juries. The story of Hammer and Hoe demonstratesthe important issue that fights can be won, racism cannot be overcome undercapitalism, which successfully uses police-state terrorism up to this day. Thesolution is that a revolution can overthrow a capitalist state and eliminateall oppression and exploitation of workers. Marxism is the understanding thatcapitalism is an economic system with two major classes.
One of the classesbeing capitalist and the other being the working class which is most of thepopulation. In this type of system, the profits were being made by payingemployees less wages and making them work in horrible conditions. Thecapitalist controlled means of production and this to Marx was exploitation ofworkers. Marx’s theory about capitalism in theUnited States focuses on attempts by capitalists to divide black and whiteworkers.
If white workers identify primarily as whites, rather than as workers,they will not act in their common class interests with black workers. The wayto end racial oppression and class exploitation is an interracial and unitedworking class. African Americans had been facing racismand the origins of this is traced back to the European conquest of theAmericas.
Racism in the United States is defined as the systematic oppressionof African-Americans and other people of color and the related ideology ofwhite supremacy and black inferiority. These two aspects of racism have shapedU.S. society even till today.
The slave trade created much of the wealthsubsequently invested in textile, shipbuilding and other emerging capitalistenterprises in the Northeast United States and Europe. Marxists call this the”primitive accumulation of capital” (Taylor, 2011). The ideology of blackinferiority developed as a rationalization or justification for slavery; it wasnot the cause of slavery. This racist ideology spreads throughout the United States.During the 1930s the Communist Partybecame very significant and popular in the black working class. The CommunistParty’s work in the Scottsboro Boys case, showed that they wanted AfricanAmericans to have equality in society.
In the case of the Scottsboro boys wherethe communist party defended nine young black men falsely accused of raping twowhite women in Alabama, this horrible situation was the key to developing theirbase among African Americans. The communist party was also involved in anothercase as we see in Lloyd Brown’s “Iron City” this article narrates the story ofa group of incarcerated African Americans communist and the relationship theyhave with a man named Lonnie James, who is wrongfully accused and sentenced todeath for the murder of a white drug store owner. Lonnie confesses to themurder he did not commit because he understands the judicial process and racismtargeting African Americans. One of the prisoners understands the racistimplications of Lonnie imprisonment identifies this interrogation as “legallynching” and compares it to the Scottsboro boys, the racist practices of thelegal system prompt the intervention of the Communist party. During theScottsboro Boy case they were the first political party to help and this was totheir advantage.
This is during a time where the term communism has a taintedimage in the south Thecommunist party used the failure of capitalism and used this case to show theysupport for African American equality. The Communist party then launched anationwide “Free the Scottsboro Boys” campaign (Sorensen, 2004). Theideology of the communist party paved the way for what would become the civilrights movements of the 1960 they also were responsible for the emergingAfrican Americans and white working class leaders who would play a role in thecivil rights and black power movements. The communist party wanted for AfricanAmerican to have equality but, being associated with the party had itsconsequences people were blacklisted and also under surveillance by the FBI for many years. We see thisin the case of Paul Robeson. In the article “Paul Robeson and the Black Press” theworld’s famous man Paul Robeson who was an African-American athlete, actor and forthe civil rights of people around the world. He rose to prominence in a timewhen segregation was legal in the United States, and Black people were beinglynched by racist mobs, especially in the South. In this article the UnitedStates government has banned PaulRobeson from traveling overseas.
Robeson was known as a communist sympathizerand the government feared his actions so during the student peace conferencethat was held in Paris in 1949, Robeson was vocal about the mistreatment of AfricanAmericans questioned why African Americans had to fight in the army when theUnited States could not even tolerate racism within its own country. This wasat a time when the cold war was happening and the tension between the UnitedStates and Russia was intense and anyone who had something negative to sayabout the United States faced backlash. In the case of Robeson he wasaddressing an issue about racism because of his outspokenness, he was accusedby the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of being a Communist.Robeson saw this as an attack on the democratic rights of everyone who workedfor international friendship and for equality.
This almost ended Robeson careerand the government condoned his actions by confiscating his passport in anattempt to stop Robeson from talking and writing about the issues that AfricanAmericans faced in the United States and the colonies. During the Hooveradministration Robeson was under the watchful eye of the FBI and it would takehim eight years to obtain his passport back. Communism effected people indifferent ways some people benefitted like in the case of Scottsboro boys andsome people like Robeson it backfired on them. Another activist that we covered in classis Angela Davis her work has intrigued me and she is fascinated person to learnabout. Angela Davis was born on January 26.
1944 in Birmingham Alabama she wasan educator, scholar and politician. Davis upbringing paved the way for her tobe involved in the civil rights movement. Her mother was an active member ofthe NAACP, when it was dangerous to be openly associated with the organizationbecause of its civil rights activities.
Davis went on to get her masters fromNew York University. While she was attending New York University she was introduced to theideas of socialism and communism, joining a Marxist-Leninist. Davis was astrong believer in the communist party and spoke on how communism was great forAfrican Americans. Angela Davis stated,”the only path of liberation for black people is that which leads towardcomplete and radical overthrow of the capitalist class.” (Chandler, pg.50).
Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s tradeand industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by thestate. Her knowledge on communist made her strive for equal rights and thisallowed her to make speeches across the country. By 1980 she became the VicePresident of the Communist Party this allowed for Davis help to raise awarenessof the Communist Party within the African American community (Joseph, 2006).Angela Davis, she went on to be the founder of the National Alliance AgainstRacist and Political Oppression. In the wake of the collapse of the SovietUnion Davis and others formed a dissenting wing of the U.S. Communist Party andchallenged the party to reject Leninism and take a more moderate stance; whenit failed to do so they split from the CPUSA, defining themselves as democraticsocialists and taking the name Committees of Correspondence forDemocracy and Socialism in 2000.
. The communist movementpaved the way for civil rights movement and we see it broke down barriers like segregation, and introduceda legislation like in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka which allowedblack people to be equal to white people. The RussianRevolution was just the beginning of a series of events that occurred inhistory that would pave the way in aspiring African Americans to stand up andfight against optimism and racism.
The ideologies of Marxism and theinvolvement of the communist party in the Scottsboro boys greatly influencedthe black movement and made the world aware about the conflict that African Americanswere facing not just within the United States but worldwide. The outcome ofrevolution gave us many amazing activist and political figures such as AngelaDavis and Paul Robeson outspoken nature and activism helped others understandcommunism and this paved the way for future leader that we have seen in thecivil rights movement.