From “International” Ambitions to “National” Action: How Revolutionary Russia Shaped African Liberation

ohn Reed’s journalistic testament of the Russian Revolution in the Ten Days That Shook the World promotes a ‘glorified’ picture of the revolution, most classically, as furnishing a global upshot of socialist politics. In the preface, he states, “No matter what one thinks of Bolshevism, it is undeniable that the Russian Revolution is one of the great events of human history, and the rise of the Bolsheviki [is] a phenomenon of world-wide importance.” [15] Reed seems to hold genuine confidence in the global ramifications of the Russian Revolution, which was, as most scholars attest, ‘caused by the struggle for international socialism.’ However, Reed’s work has been subject to popular debate by liberal scholars as having quite ‘dramatized’ features in his account of the historical moment — his work has received criticism of being a work of propaganda (especially given Vladimir Lenin’s praiseworthy introduction). Yet, Reed’s contribution is essential reading in Russian and Soviet historiography. Moreover, the discord among scholars about Reed’s work mirrors the two different world-views of the Russian Revolution, i.e., from the Western perspective (or Global North) and the “backward” East (or Global South). More closely, if we are to consider the world-wide importance of the Russian Revolution, there needs to be greater attention placed on Global South perspectives fitted within the national context. Perhaps, this view can open new considerations concerning how revolutionary and resistance movements in the underdeveloped world were influenced by the discourse and political action in Revolutionary Russia. Likewise, the impetus behind this discussion also aids in reshaping Soviet historiography by conceiving the Russian Revolution as a legitimate anti-colonial workers’ movement, instead of a mere “coup” fueled by ‘Bolshevik demagoguery.’

Later in Reed’s account, he cites the Peasant’s Congress, which is likely referring to the first All-Russian Congress of the Soviets held in June of 1917. He notes,

. . . this fraternal union of all the workers and all exploited, will consolidate the power conquered by them, that it will take all revolutionary measures to hasten the passing of the power into the hands of the working-class in other countries, and that it will assure in this manner the lasting accomplishment of a just peace and the victory of Socialism. [5]

There is no doubt in questioning Reed’s view of how communism triggered fear in Western Europe and America. Authorities saw the Russian Revolution as a ‘mobbish threat’ to elite rule, endangering the capitalist economy and worldwide advancements in industrialization. Redefining the Bolshevik’s intention as ‘scheming’ or as being a belligerent conspirator of Germany during the First World War serves to delegitimize the Russian revolutionary experience and trivializes real human emotions channeled through the organized masses. Historically, it hinders our ability to capture the Third World perspective.

Of course, the Russian Revolution “shook the world” in these ways. But one must center on who the Soviets were addressing in the aforementioned quote. The suggestion of the Russian Revolution as an inspiring moment that revitalizes consciousness among exploited groups around the world with the ‘passing of power into the hands of the laboring poor’ sends a powerful statement to the oppressed in the Third World (and non-Western world, broadly). This quote is likely speaking to those who had been drawn asunder during colonization and imperialism; this can be inferred in such a way due to Lenin’s early published research acknowledging the growth of global capitalism as a form of “imperial” dominance. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism draws on characterizing the financialization and globalization of the western driven economy as a leviathan. Thus, a view of Revolutionary Russia from the African perspective would be uniquely pertinent.[7]

For one, examining Walter Rodney’s collection of writings in The Russian Revolution: A View From the Third World provides invaluable historiographical insight in the form of post-colonial analysis on the Russian Revolution. His work brilliantly takes from the African perspective, their relationship to revolutionary socialism, and how their understanding of the Russian Revolution brought about national consciousness of liberation.

Henceforth, what this discussion will do is attempt to demonstrate how discourse in African national liberation was informed by the political and historical conditions of Revolutionary Russia. That the ‘worldly’ effects of the Russian Revolution inspired and prompted socialist revolutionary attitudes in nationalist form in Africa. Given the important historical context of colonization in Africa — from the Partition of Africa and Berlin Act in the nineteenth century, to African nationalism in the 1960s — we will observe how perspectives on Revolutionary Russia, both in its 1917 character and later Soviet schema, imparted nuance and shaped ideas surrounding African liberation. Taking this view shows how Revolutionary Russia shaped nationalist movements around the principles of social justice, nationalization, and national sovereignty (or self-determination).

The Rodney Paradigm

Walter Rodney revitalizes a consciousness among scholarly discourse in the West. Therefore, one of the most important goals of this discussion will be to establish Revolutionary Russia in terms of how Rodney historicizes its significance. In that, he analyzes modern forms of colonization and resistance as central themes in the Soviet experience. Attempting to do so helps to ground and legitimize such analysis in historical and political thought, not necessarily as activism, or anti-Western protest. Pointing to this helps uncover how prevailing paradigms in the academy still rely on Eurocentric perspectives in considering the impact of the Russian Revolution.

While there is significant praxis in Rodney’s work, his confrontation with Western centrality in Soviet historiography demonstrates the need for a community-oriented scholarship that enhances the anti-colonial view, as seen in Black Studies in the United States, and even Pan-African studies. Likewise, it deepens the richness of perspective from places covered the least in Western historiography. While African studies are continuing to expand throughout universities across the world, it is still noteworthy to problematize the perennial nature of stereotypes regarding African history.[6] Not only is mistaking Africa a problem in academia, media, and culture, but Russia (or Russian history) shares a similar burden of mistreatment. Therefore, reawakening the consciousness of oppressed societies through understanding popular mobilization and national liberation in the African context of the revolutionary socialist sense is crucial.

In fact, the consciousness paradigm becomes an exercise employed by Walter Rodney to prompt scholars to explore discourse regarding African liberation outside the European view.[16] The history of Africa, at least from the sixteenth century onward, undergoes a violent suppression by European colonial forces seeking to exploit its resources for advancement of Western civilization. This, in itself, has engendered Africanists to concentrate solely on African conditions such as the effects of European colonialism on slavery, local resistance, etcetera; all of which are vitally important for historians. The responses to these moments mainly analyze Africa’s conditional dependency on Western forces. Rodney attempts to upend this logos by evaluating Africa through the lens of Edward Said’s Theory of Orientalism, that Eastern viewpoints are often trivialized and patronized.

Rodney’s writings on the Russian Revolution present an exercise of rather judicious magnitude. He states

[I]t is . . . possible to test the limits of the assumption by penetrating more deeply into the process by which individuals in society come to rationalize their social relations and external environment. [16]

Of course, one can argue a plethora has already been coalesced in African history dealing with industrialization, world war, European interests and exchanges, and how all of these intertwined to affect the conditions of Africa and its people. While most scholarship has focused on historicization in African history and its relationship to Europe and America, little has been investigated on interpretation and acquiescence beyond that. Much of how the Russian Revolution has been analyzed in the twentieth century by referring back to its eighteenth century antecedents in the French Revolution of 1789, African national liberation might be something scholars should consider as needing a more holistic worldview stemming from Eastern revolutionary experiences, not just Western Europe.

Russian Socialism in African Political Thought

African nationalism began taking shape in various regions starting in 1919. This is quite significant given that the Russian Revolution started two years earlier, in 1917, and underwent a civil war that centered around a battle for national sovereignty from 1918 to approximately 1922/26. In looking at the African Nationalist movement of 1919–1935, we are able to understand how nationalism served a vital role in emphasizing the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. African nationalists had been informed by the geographical control imposed by European powers. European education equipped Africans with European models of state-formation and rule. Africans began to understand these “proto-states” (colonial structures) as agencies to help develop a sense of common belonging. In turn, consciousness concerning clans, social class, and nationalities became a central concern for political activities, especially in East Africa. This practice was known as siasa. Additionally, as James Coleman points out, the European imposed boundaries fostered a movement of racial consciousness that created new political identities despite Africa’s heterogeneous demography. As structure and process is concerned, therefore, Europe certainly conditioned the political geography. [2]

However, Africa’s political plight went beyond the European parameters left behind by the Partition of Africa. It also had been influenced by the various international events of the time. The First World War, most significantly, had been a crucial causal factor in determining how Africans viewed the rest of the world — especially regarding imperialism, and Africans’ return home after deployment. Years earlier, Russia had endured a similar situation. Russia’s pre-revolution economy had a significant dependency on Western Europe in order to help stimulate industry and railway construction. This reliance on European to aid in Russia’s industrial sector had certainly played a role in the fermentation of militant insurgency, as Russian workers, rural farmers, and peasants had been intertwined in the system of capital dependence. Despite Russia being an empire before the Revolution, it had owed significant money from loans provided by Western Europe and lacked industrial power. Walter Rodney attributes this to the implications of Czarist Russia being conscripted to capitalist imperialism emblematic of the First World War. This, of course, led to the Russian Revolution, and the formation of the Soviet Union, a nation ruled by regional representatives of worker organizations. Moreover, as the Soviet Union formed, the Communist International of 1919 (Comintern) had officially began transnational advocacy for independence among exploited people.[14] What made the Comintern of 1919 unique was that it admitted that “world revolution” was not imminent. This meant that societies would need to struggle to realize their own revolutionary capabilities. This is a peculiar nuance that is rarely explained, as it suggests that liberation in the socialist context would need to be realized and determined in a way that is fostered by a particular national culture or society — not something necessarily universally attained. This diverges from the general consensus of international communism that asserts socialist revolution is inevitable. These encouragements, nevertheless, led to greater movements for liberation, which addressed some of the plight of the Global South.

While scholars like Oloruntimehin and Ibrahim insist on defining African nationalism of 1919–1935 as an offshoot of European educated Africans — or elite Africans who received European education — we must see how such a claim limits wider understanding of how Africans sought national autonomy. Admittedly, they do delve deep in discussing how Western European knowledge and education played a role in bolstering African interests in the context of institutional democratic norms. However, their claims also serve as an immediate constraint to seeing how Eastern revolutionary moments informed African radical politics.

It was not until Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) had developed in the United States to address the conditions of Africans inside and outside of America did the focus shift toward more radical lines of thinking.

The work of the UNIA had led to anti-imperialist movements headed by the League Against Imperialism of Central and South America, the Caribbean, and parts of Asia, which advocated for national independence in 1927. These organizations, collectively, emphasized the rejection of interventionism imposed by Europe and America in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. Of course, these organizations led to the development of Pan-Africanist movements and social organizations aimed at emphasizing African national culture as a primary tool to leverage societies seeking autonomy from colonial powers. A look into Garvey’s philosophy, nevertheless, should shed more light into the type of nationalism that would surface in Africa. [2]

For one, the UNIA movement began in 1922 and the organization experienced the spawning of several chapters. Many attribute Garvey’s work to be the precursor of the Black Nationalist movement en masse, most famously carried forth by Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam in 1960s America. Garvey’s mission, though, took on a spiritual and economic duality that encouraged a sense of radical pride. One of Garvey’s mottos had been “One God! One Aim! One Destiny!” [9] One can immediately detect the nationalist sentiment in this phrase as it calls on the terms “God, unity, and destiny.” Yet, it is widely known that religiosity played a vital role in the development of African independence with the promotion of continent-wide literacy that helped undo draconian bondage. It is no wonder why Garvey made it a point to draw on the scriptures. Garvey did face push back for his use of religious themes to agitate liberation, as Christianity was a remanent of Europe’s colonial presence. [17]

But what uniquely placed Garvey’s organizational methods in a position of influence during the first nationalist phase of Africa (1919–35) was how his religiosity was driven by economic disaffection, not religious conviction alone. He recalled the thousands of Africans of Western society who had been left behind after returning home from the First World War. Massive poverty and violence had become prevalent in African communities. This demonstrated how economic needs were being ignored by politicians. The only way to remedy this problem, for him, was to racialize the disparity. His vision of Black Nationalism had encompassed three main components: unity, African cultural pride, and autonomy.

Garvey believed that in order to fully obtain equality, Africans must band together as a unified front of their own, and function independently, without reliance on white political leaders. The UNIA would later go on to address the exploitation of African countries as depicted above of Garvey meeting with officials from Sierra Leone as they send a political message to European imperialists. Participants are dressed as colonial figures to display how Africans “must” take power back from Europeans and become their own colonial leaders — so to speak — so that they can become a functioning power determined by their own political will. One can see how Garvey could be criticized, though, given the use of European colonial garb to depict African independence. However, the majority of Africans would be able to understand more clearly the motivation of UNIA if depicted in these simple and relative fashions. The irony speaks greater volume than sophisticated protest.

In fact, Garvey reached many grieving communities of color. His legacy impacted thousands in the Global South. Rodney notes how Garvey’s ideas had diffused throughout Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The major anti-colonial movements in Guyana had also been inspired by what came to be known as Garveyism. In fact, Guyana became the first socialist government in the Caribbean. This should prompt scholars to consider how Garvey was informed by the Russian Revolution in his fashioning of early Black Nationalism. How much of Garvey’s ideas were driven by Russia’s radical socialism? In short, the answer is some.[16]

Firstly, W.E.B. Du Bois’ economic viewpoints influenced Garvey’s view of disproportionality. Du Bois had been a lifelong devotee of Marxist thought, who in his writings, contributed to the theoretical framework of Pan-Africanism.[10] Not to mention, Du Bois’s travels to the Soviet Union helped apprise his theories on African American labor relations. Some of his later comments “On Stalin” also point to his proclivities concerning Revolutionary Russia and the importance of social unity through collective agenda-setting.[18]

Du Bois claimed a psychological wage of whiteness kept white and black working people from organizing in their own interests during the nineteenth century. In a lecture about the connection between race and labor, he discussed how the democratic process changed due to changing perceptions of race. Society wrestled with universal suffrage, women’s rights, and rights for blacks. Du Bois points out that in his era, the new suspect on the horizon is socialism for speculators. These ideas undergirded the mainstream discourse of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement of how prejudices regarding race had been tied to economic struggle. Yet, these ideas did not become foundational because of Western adoption, but rather from the Eastern revolutionary experiences and organizations of early Soviet Russia. In fact, Du Bois had learned from the Comintern as seen in his comments regarding the “Black Belt.”

The black belt of the Congo, Haiti, and Jamaica, like a red arrow, up into the heart of white America . . . I have seen slaves ruling in Chicago and they did not do nearly as bad as princes in Russia . . . How truly you have put it! Workers unite, men cry, while in truth always thinkers who do not work have tried to unite workers who do not think. Only working thinkers can unite thinking workers. [10]

As Mullen finds, Du Bois became more optimistic about the possibilities of black people after being radicalized by Russia’s socialism, both in its 1917 revolution and in its later Stalinist form. There is no denying that such radicalism rubbed off on Garvey and his contemporaries given Du Bois’ impact in shaping Garvey’s racial theory within the condition of economic struggle.

In fact, second, and probably most important to consider, are some of Garvey’s views on Lenin. During Lenin’s death, Garvey provided the most visible insight into the events of the Russian Revolution in New York City. He stated

One of Russia’s greatest men, one of the world’s greatest characters, and probably the greatest man in the world between 1917 and 1924, when he breathed his last and took his flight from this world… We as Negroes mourn for Lenin because Russia promised great hope not only for Negroes but to the weaker people of the world. [8]

Here, we can see how Garvey had been able to hone Lenin as a catalytic figure in addressing the needs of vulnerable peoples. Being that one of Garvey’s aims was on remedying the failure to assist blacks returning from the War, it is important to note that the group known as the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) had been composed of many returning black soldiers who found themselves to identify with communism after experiencing the violence and brutality of ‘a capitalist’ war. [1]

This group had cooperated with the UNIA up to approximately 1922. Eventually, Garvey’s position in UNIA became vulnerable because of his eventual rejection of Bolshevism. Disagreements would arise most strikingly between Garvey and Cyril V. Briggs, who headed the ABB. Briggs wanted a more communist approach to black liberation coupled with a direct alliance with the Bolshevik Party. In contrast, Garvey wanted a more liberal approach that emphasized social democracy. Despite the UNIA’s reluctance to join in the ABB’s recognition of the Bolshevik Party, the ABB spawned The Crusader which served as a medium for the racially oppressed. Despite how pro-Bolshevik the magazine might have been, it had been consequential in advocating self-determination for Africa’s exploited societies. [4] By speaking to common people of color, The Crusader contained articles addressing “Negros in Brazil,” “Hairi and the Black Star Line,” “The Congo State,” and many others. Collectively, the articles fostered the belief in militant self-defense and antiracism. [13]

Briggs discusses the unraveling disagreement with UNIA further in “The Negro Convention,” a brief article featured in The Toiler. The ABB delegation demanded an immediate endorsement of the Soviet Union at the Second Negro Convention held on 1 August, 1921. At the convention, Briggs labeled Garvey a religious fanatic. To Briggs, the correct way to raise exploited Africans from the constraint of exploitation was advocating for a complete break with previous European culture. In order to implement Soviet style socialism in the context of Black liberation, he turned to the political events during the Russian Revolution where the Bolsheviks summarily executed counterrevolutionaries seeking to overturn the proletariat. For the Bolsheviks, this was a matter of expedience and justice. [3]

While the socialist question seems minuscule on a macro level, the microcosm of disagreement is actually quite important in terms of demonstrating the discussions happening at the time surrounding the relationship between Africans and national liberation. Leading figures of the movement like Garvey and Briggs were debating the benefits of radical ideas like socialism present in Revolutionary Russia from 1917–1922. Additionally, they were taking advantage of the important innovations of the printing press to disseminate radical ideas for followers. Utilizing mediums like The Crusader likely had informative power in African communities, as newspapers of all types became more mainstream among the population. The literary genre of The Crusader, however, led to the circulation of anti-colonial and ant-imperialist literature. Perhaps even fostering anti-liberal attitudes amongst readers.[3]

Though, this debate speaks to a broader interpretation of Marxism. In gauging praxis of class mobilization, Rodney notes how class struggle bears weight to the existing divide of interpretation as seen between Garvey and Briggs. “When is a class ready to perform revolutionary functions?” This is exactly what Garvey and Briggs had been debating in terms of exploited Africans. Both looked to Revolutionary Russia as some sort of guide in determining the eventual rupture of African nationalism, and its later iteration in the 1960s toward full independence.

Nevertheless, Rodney’s writing concerning the interpretive divide of socialism and the events of the Russian Revolution lends to how black intellectuals viewed the Bolsheviks, which happened to be of importance to the movement. Rodney notes how popular sentiment in Western discourse errs on “bourgeois” notions that delegitimize the Bolsheviks as “prematurely achieving power.” This in itself fails the interpretative exercise that Rodney advocates. Rodney points to Raphael Abramovitch’s famous research primarily to demonstrate this tilted view. From there, he urges the need to understand the revolutionary scenario in Russia as a struggle between an oppressor and oppressed — in other words, in a social class juxtaposition. Rodney claims

The case had already been proved against the Bolsheviks. This technique of untested but assumed premises is a very important one used by bourgeois historians and social scientists. [16]

State Formation and Implications

The 1920s produced a particular discursive element to the question of national independence. What we can gather based on conversations between Du Bois, Garvey, Briggs, and Rodney, is that socialism and the political formulations of Soviet Russia played a role in informing political radicalism and the construction of discourse regarding national consciousness for Africans. This would later serve as the foundation of African nationalism seen later in the 1960s providing African countries with independence. As independence grew in propensity, Soviet perspectives on Africa helped influence policy and government in Africa. Julius Nyerere’s political philosophy on Tanzanian socialism is a great example.

First, understanding NDR theory (National Democratic Revolution) and its relationship to Marxism-Leninism is an important matter. NDR constitutionalism is a Marxist approach to understanding the national question. In that, it follows from the precepts of developmental nationalism and takes from the theories of socialism as part of an economic and developmental agenda. Furthermore, as Glaser notes, its early formulations began from the interpretation of the Bolshevik Revolution and follows from Bolshevik appropriation to anti-colonial nationalists of Russia. The Russian Revolution itself establishes a framework for African anti-colonial forces to latch on to.

In 1917–18, the Bolsheviks offered to recognize national self-determination for non-Russians who were formerly part of the old Russian Empire. Of course, this led to a spate of contradictions and conflicts epitomized in the Russian Civil War, and most famously argued between Stalin and Trotsky. Yet, this policy helped promote the idea that the Soviets were anti-colonial and open to acknowledging local and regional struggles. The two main features of how colonial societies could take power in this particular Marxist sense included (i) how capitalism had not fulfilled its historical promise to advance the modern economy, and (ii) the identification of sources of oppression in colonial or neocolonial domination, not merely class conflict. [5]

This is important to note since African societies would not exactly conceptualize social class in the Marxist sense due to their underdevelopment and ethnic factionalism. This fact is later seen in how, as Glaser states, “Soviet theorists began to think of these new states as states of ‘socialist orientation’ capable of reaching socialism by a ‘non-capitalist’ path.” Nikolai Fedorenko, a corresponding member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences said in a speech to the United Nations in 1964, that the Soviet Union would begin to emphasize bilateral agreements in African countries based on the historical precedent of acknowledging anti-colonial struggle.

The very first foreign policy acts of the young Soviet Republic showed the peoples of colonies and dependent territories that the relations between big and small peoples, between strong and weak states may be not only those of supremacy and subordination but also those of friendship and equality.

In relating to the plight of African countries struggling for independence, Fedorenko noted how colonialism by the Tsar was put to an end by the Russian Revolution and that socialism is an “instructive” example for colonial countries. He also added that the Soviet’s approach would temporarily strengthen national unity between ethnic territories due to its encouragement of African states to build nationalized sectors of the economy. Fedorenko was advising a long ensuing historical trend that fit within NDR constitutionalism. The Soviets argued that national liberation revolutions were an essential constituency of the broader socialist agenda in the Third World. [12]

The national liberation agenda of Tanzania reflects these Soviet encouragements. In that, helping to build state-owned services and sectors strengthened national independence for many African states. Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa philosophy is a direct offshoot of the theories of Black Nationalism and Soviet inspired anti-colonial socialism.

In a speech to the Uganda People’s Congress in 1968, Nyerere notes the importance of modernization. He states

A modern government has to help the people to modernize their agriculture; it has to help them to get clean water supplies. It has to organize and provide education and health services — and so on. [11]

While his speech outlines the need for services like healthcare, he also promotes reestablishing the production of agriculture. These objectives were similarly Soviet as well in 1917. But what becomes even more comparatively homogenous with Soviet policy goals can be seen in how how Nyerere’s solution becomes directly in line with democratic centralism.

. . . the party has also to ensure that the government stays in close touch with the feelings, the difficulties and the aspirations of the people. It has to speak for the people. And it has to educate the people and help them to see what the governments actions mean in terms of their own future security and their own future opportunities.

The party would play a direct role in linking people to their labor, and in turn, people with their civic structures. While political parties have a general purpose of representation, we see here how Nyerere presents a more centralized interpretation of party function, which flows directly from people’s agency. This can be gathered since Nyerere claims “a party which is rooted in the hearts of people, which has its devoted workers in the villages and the towns throughout the country — only such a party can tell government what are the people’s purposes, and whether they are being carried out effectively.” [11]

However, the political form in Tanzania is also unique to its national and demographic condition as much as it is informed by Revolutionary Russia. In a policy booklet published in 1968 entitled Freedom and Development, Nyerere links the people of Tanzania’s freedom with the development of the country as a whole. This demonstrates how national culture was just as important as political egalitarianism. He establishes first and foremost the importance of a “national freedom” which he defines as “the ability of citizens . . . to determine their own future, and to govern themselves without interference from non-Tanzanians.” This is a profound testament to the convictions of African independence, broadly speaking. One of the major goals of African national liberation was to break free from European colonial domination, and in many ways, Nyerere establishes such freedom through the principle of self-determination. Second, he proclaims that freedom goes beyond national sovereignty as he asserts rights surrounding free speech and individual freedoms. All of which are tied to freedom from poverty, hunger and disease. Though, these freedoms are dependent, according to Nyerere, on structural development. For him, “development brings freedom.” This coincides with his insistence on internal state building, i.e., the development of the individual through collective labor and education, and also development of goods and services that serve the people.

In speaking to the uniqueness of Tanzania, Nyerere’s ideas were publicly backed up not by Marxism completely, but also by biblical proverbs. Nyerere stated

For the proverb tells the truth in this matter: you can drive a donkey to water, but you cannot make it drink.

Given the large population of Christians in Tanzania, he used the proverb to explain how national and collective consciousness shouldn’t be necessarily forced in a political sense, but inspired by spiritual will. This concurrently followed from his insistence on the importance of education and leadership roles in the community. Despite later economic decline, Rodger Yeager’s popular assessment of Tanzania’s governmental system shows how Nyerere’s revolution brought forth progress in a number of areas such as education, healthcare, and social stability. [19]


This discussion set out to demonstrate how Revolutionary Russia informed theories behind African nationalism. Historically speaking, Africa’s imperial subjectivity mirrored the draconian constraints that the Tsar waged on the people of Russia. Additionally, Africa had been underdeveloped and repressed by internal and external forces, Russia was too. Also, while African thinkers began contemplating social and economic justice as a means to address pervasive racism in Western society, Russia was fashioning an egalitarian system of equality. Both aimed toward revolution in the national context in order to rid control from its former colonial regime. In concluding this discussion, we find that leading African thinkers saw Revolutionary Russia as an inspiration and guide to facilitate its movement toward liberation.

Furthermore, this essay functions as a historiographical composition that seeks to upend overused viewpoints concerning Russia and Africa. Likewise, it also aims to demonstrate how Africans did not merely rely on what it learned from Western Europeans, but also, what came from their admiration for Eastern revolutionary ideals. We find that radical ideas inherited by African thinkers were in tune with Soviet style socialism and the political events of the Russian Revolution. From Garvey to Briggs, these ideas molded the parlance of African independence and led to newly established societies based on national sovereignty and egalitarianism as seen in Nyerere’s Tanzanian socialism.

African national liberation was informed in considerable measure by political and historical conditions of Revolutionary Russia. My hope is that this can open new considerations in how theories surrounding independence and resistance movements in the underdeveloped world were influenced by the political ideas of the Soviet promise for proletarian liberation.


  1. “Black and Red.” TCNJ | The College of New Jersey.
  2. Boahen, A. Adu. General History of Africa. 7, 7. London: Currey, 1990.
  3. Briggs, Cyrill. “The Negro Convention.” The Toiler 4, no. 190 (October 1921), 13–14.
  4. “The Crusader (1918–1922) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed.” | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed.
  5. Glaser, Daryl. “National Democratic Revolution Meets Constitutional Democracy.” The Unresolved National Question in South Africa (n.d.), 274–296.
  6. Keim, Curtis. Mistaking Africa Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind. 2018.
  7. Lenin, V.I. “Lenin: Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.” Marxists Internet Archive.
  8. Lowell B. Denny, III. “The Bolshevik Revolution: Unacknowledged Inspiration of Liberation Movements Everywhere.” People’s World. Last modified November 9, 2017.
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  10. Mullen, Bill. W.E.B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Color Line. 2017.
  11. Nyerere, Julius K. Man and Development. Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press, 1975.
  12. Ogunbadejo, Oye. “Soviet Politics in Africa.” African Affairs 79, no. 316 (1980), 297–325.
  13. Perkins, William E., and Cyril V. Briggs. “The Crusader.” The Journal of American History 75, no. 4 (1989), 1358.
  14. Ransome, Arthur. “Russia in 1919 — Chapter 27.” Marxists Internet Archive.
  15. Reed, John. Ten Days That Shook the World: His Explosive Account of the Russian Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977.
  16. Rodney, Walter. The Russian Revolution: A View from the Third World. 2018.
  17. Sithole, Ndabangini. “African Nationalism and Christianity.” Transition, no. 10 (1963), 37.
  18. W. E. B. Du Bois. “On Stalin.” Marxists Internet Archive. Last modified March 16, 1953.
  19. Yeager, Rodger. Tanzania, an African experiment. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press, 1982.

M. A. Iasilli is receiving his doctorate in history at St. John’s University in Queens, NY, where he also teaches World History. His research investigates state-formation in the Soviet Union and the intricacies of revolutionary socialism.

Vi veri universum vivus vici: politics, history, and the occasional pop-culture.

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