Communism and the Colour Line: Reflections on Black Bolshevism

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‘Red October’ and the birth of Soviet power in 1917 began to transform thinking around race and resistance, and the Communist International’s anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism deeply impressed at least a minority of Black radicals and fired their imaginations. If W.E.B. Du Bois had famously in 1903 asserted that ‘the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line’, Communism was now to be considered seriously as a possible solution. The Russian Revolution represented a potential beacon of hope at a time when Africans and people of African descent were suffering under the state racism of European colonial dictatorships and the violent terror of lynch-mobs in the Jim Crow United States. The aim of this essay is not to recount in detail the historical relationship between the Communist International and Black and colonial liberation, but to explore the uses of the inherently contested term ‘Black Bolshevism’ to describe this phenomenon. It will trace the growth in popularity of this term among scholars of ‘the Red and the Black’, before examining some of the strengths and limitations of ‘Black Bolshevism’ as a theoretical concept in relation to understanding the impact of 1917 among Black radicals, drawing on parallels with the related concept of ‘Black Jacobinism’ evoked by the Black Trinidadian Marxist C.L.R. James with respect to the Haitian Revolution of 1791.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Comintern and the Global South
Subtitle of host publicationGlobal Designs/Local Encounters
EditorsAnne Garland Mahler, Paolo Capuzzo
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781003154976
ISBN (Print)9780367724856
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2022


  • Russian Revolution
  • Communist International
  • Black liberation
  • Black Bolshevism
  • Black Jacobinism
  • Communism
  • Trotskyism


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