#BlackOctober Reading List: The Russian Revolution and the African Diaspora

Otto Huiswoud (left) and Claude McKay (right) at the Fourth Congress of the Third International in Moscow in 1933. Photo: Claude McKay Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The Black October reading list is an invitation to think about the centennial of the Russian Revolution through the rich and expansive entanglements between the Black diaspora, Bolshevik Russia, and the Soviet Union. The readings below ground and expand upon the Black October online forum, which draws upon the expertise of scholars working in the fields of Black history and Soviet cultural studies. This reading list retains that interdisciplinarity, offering readings both on how Black intellectuals and activists responded to the Russian Revolution and on how Bolshevik Russia (and later the Soviet Union) imagined an international Black proletariat. Other topics include Afro-Asian solidarities (and the de-centering of Soviet Russia within global Marxism), Black Marxist feminist interpretations of the Russian Revolution (and its consequences), the impact of the Cold War on African independence movements, and the conceptualization of race (as distinct from national identity) in Russia and the Soviet Union. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but offers an introduction to the topic for readers interested in learning more. Feel free to add additional suggestions in the comments section. 

The Russian Revolution in the Black Radical Imaginary

Du Bois, W.E.B. “Colonialism and the Russian Revolution” New World Review 24:10 (1956) 18-21.

McKay, Claude. “Soviet Russia and the Negro.”

James, C.L.R.. World Revolution 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International.

Kelley, Robin D.G. “The Negro Question: Red Dreams of Black Liberation” in
Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination.

Rodney, Walter. 1917.

Russell, Shana. “‘I Wanted to See for Myself the First Land of Socialism’: Black American Women and the Russian Revolution.”

Imagining the Black Diaspora in Revolutionary Russia

Blakely, Allison. Russia and the Negro: Blacks in Russian History and Thought.

Bogdanov, Konstantin. “‘Negroes’ in the USSR. The Ethnography of an Imaginary Diaspora,” Forum for Anthropology and Culture 11 (2015) 97-134.

Clark, Katerina. “The Representation of the African American as Colonial Oppressed in Texts of the Soviet Interwar Years, The Russian Review 75:3 (July 2016) 368-385.

Forsdick, Charles and Christian Høgsbjerg. “Sergei Eisenstein and the Haitian Revolution: ‘The Confrontation Between Black and White Explodes Into Red,” History Workshop Journal 78:1 (October 2014) 157–185.

Kiaer, Christina. “African Americans in Soviet Socialist Realism: The Case of Aleksandr Deineka,” The Russian Review 75:3 (July 2016) 402-433.

Matusevich, Maxim. “An exotic subversive: Africa, Africans and the Soviet everyday,” Race & Class 49:57 (2008) 57-81.

McKay, John. True Songs of Freedom: Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Russian Culture and Society.

Eds. Nepomnyashchy, Svobodny, Trigos. Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness.

Black Writers, Artists, and Cultural Sojourners to the USSR

Baldwin, Kate A. Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain: Reading Encounters between Black and Red, 1922-1963.

Carew, Joy Gleason. Blacks, Reds, and Russians: Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise.

Lee, Steven. The Ethnic Avant Garde.

Matusevich, Maxim. “Journeys of Hope: African Diaspora and the Soviet Society,” African Diaspora 1:1 (2008) 53-85.

Mukherji, S. Ani., “‘Like Another Planet to the Darker Americans’: Black Cultural Work in 1930s Moscow” in Africa in Europe: Studies in Transnational Practice in the Long Twentieth Century.

The Soviet Afterlives of Black Sojourners

Ismailov, Hamid. The Underground [Novel].

Johnson-Artur, Liz. “Black in the USSR: the Children of Soviet Africa Search for their Own Identity,” The Calvert Journal (June 6, 2014).

Khanga, Yelena. Soul to Soul: A Black Russian Jewish Woman’s Search for Her Roots.

Salys, Rigmaila. “The Pattersons: Expatriate and Native Son,” The Russian Review 75:3 (July 2016) 434-456.

African American Communists and the Red Scare

Horne, Gerald.  Black Liberation/Red Scare: Ben Davis and the Communist Party.

McDuffie, Erik. “The March of Young Southern Black Women: Esther Cooper Jackson, Black Left Feminism, and the Personal and Political Costs of Cold War Repression” in Anticommunism and the African American Freedom Movement: Another Side of the Story.

Woods, Jeff. Black Struggle, Red Scare: Segregation and Anti-Communism in the South, 1948-1968.

Zeigler, James. Red Scare Racism and Cold War Black Radicalism.

Black Feminists and the Soviet Union

Davies, Carole Boyce. Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones

Gilyard, Keith. Louise Thompson Patterson: A Life of Struggle for Justice.

Gore, Dayo. Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War.

Harris, Lashawn. “Running with the Reds: African American Women and the Communist Party in the Great Depression” Journal of African American History 94:1 (Winter 2009) 21-43.

Lorde, Audre, ”Notes from a Trip to Russia,” in Sister/Outsider.

McDuffie, Erik. Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of the Black Left.

Umoren, Imaobong. “Anti-Fascism and the Development of Global Race Women, 1928-1945” Callaloo 39:1 (Winter 2016) 151-165.

African Independence During the Cold War

Adi, Hakim. Pan-Africanism and Communism: The Communist International, Africa and the Diaspora, 1919-1939.

Namikas, Lise. Battleground Africa: Cold War in the Congo 1960-1965.

Popescu, Monica, Cedric Tolliver and Julie Tolliver (eds). Alternative Solidarities: Black Diasporas and Cultural Alliances during the Cold War.

Popescu, Monica. “On the Margins of the Black Atlantic: Angola, the Second World, and the Cold War.” Research in African Literatures, 45:3 (Fall 2014) 91-109.

Sissako, Abderrahmane. “Rostov-Luanda.” [Film]

Afro-Asian Communist Ties

Djagalov, Rossen and Masha Salazkina. “Tashkent ‘68” Tashkent ‘68: A Cinematic Contact Zone,” Slavic Review 75:2 (Summer 2016) 279-298.

Frazier, Taj Robeson. The East Is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination.

Ho, Fred and Bill V. Mullen (eds). Afro-Asia: Revolutionary Political and Cultural Connections Between African-American and Asian-Americans.

Etsch, Betsy and Robin D.G. Kelley. “Black Like Mao, red China and black revolution,” Souls 1:4 (1999) 6-41.

Makalani, Minkah. In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939.

Moore, David Chioni. “Colored Dispatches from the Uzbek Border: Langston Hughes’ Relevance, 1933-2002,” Callaloo 25:4 (2002) 1115:1135.

Wilson, Jennifer. “Queer Harlem, Queer Tashkent: Langston Hughes’s ‘Boy Dancers of Uzbekistan,” Slavic Review 76:3 (Fall 2017) 637-646.

Wright, Richard. The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference.

The Concept of Race in Russia

Cvetkovski, Roland and Alexis Hofmeister. An Empire of Others: Making Ethnographic Knowledge in Imperial Russia.

Law, Ian. Red Racisms: Racism and Communist and Post-Communist Contexts.

Slavic Review 61: 1 (Spring 2002) (special issue on race).

Zakharov, Nikolay. Race and Racism in Russia: Mapping Global Racisms.

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Jennifer Wilson and Jennifer Suchland

Jennifer Wilson is a Postdoctoral Fellow for Academic Diversity in the Department of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She specializes in the nexus of radical political thought and literature in 19th-century Russia with an emphasis on gender, sexuality, and race. She is currently at work on two book manuscripts: Radical Chastity: Abstinence and the Political Imagination in 19th-century Russian Literature and Writing the Black Atlantic in Imperial Russia. Follow her on Twitter @JenLouiseWilson. Jennifer Suchland is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures at Ohio State University. Her work is interdisciplinary and focuses on how rights categories emerge, evolve and circulate culturally and through law. Her most recent publication, Economies of Violence (Duke University Press, 2015), is a genealogy of human trafficking discourse in and through the end of the Cold War. Follow her on Twitter @mightykale.

Comments on “#BlackOctober Reading List: The Russian Revolution and the African Diaspora

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    Thank you for putting together this fabulous resource list. Many times I have students who are interested in doing further research into some of these areas and this list will be extremely helpful to them.

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    Alex La Guma, _A Soviet Journey: A Critical Annotated Edition_ . Foreword by Ngugi wa Thiongo. Preface by Blanche La Guma. Edited and Introduced by Christopher J. Lee. Critical Africana Studies Series. Lexington Books, 2017 [1978]. Originally published by Progress Publishers in Moscow, this is the longest firsthand account of the Soviet Union by an African writer!

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    Amazing bibliography. Thank you for posting it!

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