On November 4th, 2017, in celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Boston Socialist School, in conjunction with the Center for Marxist Education, hosted the panel discussion, “The Russian Revolution and the Black Liberation Movement”. The panel was brought together to discuss the impact of the Revolution on the Black Liberation Movement in the United States. The panel was moderated by Nicole Aschoff, Editor of Jacobin magazine. It featured Edward Carson, chair of the Boston chapter of the Communist Party USA, Nino Brown from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Johanna Fernandez from Baruch College, and Mark Solomon from the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy Journal.
Mark Solomon spoke on the historical relationship between the Soviet Union, The Black Liberation Movement in the U.S., and the American Communist Party. Mark emphasized the role in which Black organizations and Black radicals have historically played in socialist movement, as they fought capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy. Unfortunately, according to the speaker, the early 20th century Black activists and organizations didn’t receive the support and recognition of the importance and gravity of the Black struggle in America, among white radicals, including the Communist Party USA. The Soviet Union, under both Lenin and Stalin, understood the importance and necessary centrality of the Black struggle in the broader struggle against capitalism and colonialism. Pressure was applied on the American Communist Party to address its own racism, to become inclusive, and adopt the Black struggle as part of the platform. Moscow, early on the Revolution, started to provide moral and material support to Black radicals and communists in the U.S. Mark acknowledged how there are still some failures of white communists in America in their relationship with Black people.
Edward Carson spoke on the influence the Bolshevik Revolution had on Black radicals and intellectuals, such as W.E.B. Dubois, CLR James, and Claude Mckay. Edward outlined the political development of Dubois, from having Victorian and bourgeois sensibilities in the late 19th century, and, at one point even endorsing Woodrow Wilson for president. Eventually Dubois became a member of the Communist Party in 1961 and called for the end of capitalism. Part of this process, on top of his individual research and experience, was the influence of the Bolshevik Revolution. Early in his career, Edward notes, Dubois started to see the connections between racism in America, and the broader struggle against colonialism in Africa and Asia, connecting all struggles against white supremacy on a global level. After the October Revolution, as a means of connecting the struggle, Dubois even contextualized Black people in America as Bolsheviks (in similar fashion that CLR James had done at one point). One could see a strong Marxist influence with the release of Dubois’ Black Reconstruction, an extremely important work that revolutionized how America understood the Civil War and Reconstruction, dispelling popular racist myths of those periods, challenging the popular narrative.
Nino Brown started his discussion by pointing out the overwhelmingly white racial composition of the audience to show how much work needs to be done within so many socialist and communist circles. Speaking on the current generation, Nino pointed out the growing popularity of socialism, socialist ideas, and communism among millennials, even if many don’t even fully understand what those terms entail. In many ways, the Bolshevik Revolution is still relevant today, as the first successful socialist revolution in the world. He pointed out, that it is important to frame our understanding of socialist revolution not as a moment in history, but as a never ending revolutionary process. The revolution may have started in 1917, but it didn’t end until the fall of the Soviet Union and Russian embrace of capitalism in 1991. As the first society established by and for the workers, the Soviet Union was both a revolutionary model and source of inspiration for the rest of the oppressed world, and a source of material support for the working class and the oppressed worldwide. The Soviet Union was an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial project and therefore connected to the anti-colonial struggles of Africa and Asia. The Bolshevik Revolution had a huge impact on American socialists which pushed American leftists to the left, especially white leftists when it came to racial and anti-colonial issues. Soviets made the point that, without focusing on the most oppressed in America and without incorporating and supporting the Black Liberation Movement, the white working class would never become free.
Johanna Fernandez outlined the historical trajectory of the Black struggle from then end of the Civil War, through reconstruction, into the 20th century. Black people were centered in her analysis of the historical development of capitalism and colonialism. It was the unpaid labor of Black people that made capitalism possible; however by the mid-19th century, slavery became an impediment to the expansion of capitalism. Within the context of the U.S., this brought the question concerning western expansion and which mode of production would be imposed on the western lands to be conquered. This issue led to the Civil War and to the end of slavery. During Reconstruction, ad Black people started to make political and material gains in the South, a counter revolution by the planter class happened. The plantation class attacked Black folks through institutional means, such as criminalization and incarceration, and militant terrorism, with efforts like the KKK. Then came the compromise of 1877, when the whole American political system fully embraced white supremacy and started to undermine Black progress. At about the same time, the long depression hit. The capitalist world was in crisis as overproduction became an issue. European powers, however, came up with a solution: colonial expansion into Africa and Asia. The struggle against white supremacy in the Americas became, ever more so, connected to the struggles against colonialism around the globe. Colonialism also had an impact on the oppressed in America, as colonialism birthed scientific racism and eugenics as justification for European expansion, ideologies that the U.S. championed, turned into official policy through Jim Crow. With all these struggles connected, Black radicals saw themselves in the center of a larger global struggle against white supremacy and capitalism.
As Black radicals started to see themselves as part of an international struggle, they came together and started organizing. They faced obstacles not only in dealing with white supremacy, but also with white leftists. They saw themselves either shunned away from white radical spaces, or having racism downplayed as an issue. They started demanding white leftists to do better. Unfortunately, white leftists, many of whom were immigrants, didn’t understand the gravity and uniqueness of racism as a system of oppression that demanded its own attention outside of class. White leftists assumed that racism would automatically go away through class struggle.
In summation, the panelists expressed the importance and centrality of the Black Liberation Movement within the broader fight against capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy. There is no liberation without Black liberation. As for the Bolshevik Revolution, it was the first successful worker and oppressed led socialist revolution. Therefore it serves as model for practice and an inspiration for anti-colonial struggles everywhere, especially for the Black Liberation Movement. The Soviet Union understood the Black Liberation Movement’s importance, as should all socialist movements.