The Black Bolsheviks

Rather than glorify (or even dignify) war on Memorial Day, here’s a tribute to solidarity – the opposite of war. Let’s uphold Edward Said’s ‘internationalism and cosmopolitan humanism’ and remember the Black Bolsheviks.

Paul Heideman: Cyril Briggs held no illusions in the country’s ruling class, on whom he placed the vast bulk of responsibility for the oppression that Black people faced. But the call to interracial struggle against capital seemed to him a risk not worth betting Black lives for.

By late 1919 (around the time the African Blood Brotherhood was founded), however, Briggs had begun to take more of an interest in Marxism and socialism. Undoubtedly influenced by the lively intellectual milieu of Harlem radicalism, in which political giants like Hubert Harrison regularly lectured on Marxist theory on street corners, Briggs began reading more deeply in Marxism.

[…] Briggs and the other Black radicals who looked to Russia did so because they believed that racism and colonialism could not be defeated without a total remaking of their society.

They came to this conclusion by a number of routes. The sheer scale and brutality of American white supremacy in those years, crystalized during the Red Summer of 1919, dealt a serious blow to the idea that racism could be eliminated either through Black Americans reforming their own behavior, as the followers of Booker T. Washington suggested, or through a gradual process of changing laws and changing minds, as was the strategy of the NAACP.

At the same time, the explosion of class struggle across the globe, from Italy to Russia to the U.S. (which witnessed the biggest strike wave in its history in 1919), helped make concrete the hope that another world was possible. In this context, Black radicals like Briggs saw the liberation of Black people as part of a global insurrection against oppression everywhere.

In today’s world, these kinds of massive ambitions for liberation are rare. Several decades of neoliberal assault, and the parallel weakening of movements for liberation, have made it much harder to imagine a worldwide fight against all forms of oppression.
The story of the African Blood Brotherhood, which recruited and trained the first generation of Black socialist cadre in the U.S. More here.

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