If you thought the anti-Russia hysteria had reached a climax after the presidential election one year ago, the past weeks have shown that there is literally nothing the political establishment and media won’t pin on Russia. Now they’ve gone so far as to accuse Russian state and non-state actors of stoking racial tensions between police and communities of color by spending a whopping total of $80 on Facebook ads. If that doesn’t sound like much, it’s because it isn’t. Unfortunately websites that should know better, such as ColorLines and The Root, are spreading the corporate media’s line without question, attempting to tie it to the history of the Soviet Union and its stated support of anti-colonial movements across the globe in the 20th century.
ColorLines, which has been an invaluable source for news and information for the past decade, cites a report by NPR which alleges that various unnamed Russians intentionally stirred up racial turmoil (as if police brutality and mass incarceration needed to be pointed out to Black activists who’ve been focusing on these issues for years), echoing an opinion piece in The Root titled Russia’s Recent Facebook Ads Prove the Kremlin Never Loved Black People. Both pieces try to tie supposed meddling by someone living within the Russian Federation to the Soviet Union and the politics of the Cold War between the Soviets and the United States. In reality, the only true connection that can be drawn between then and now is that then anticommunist Cold Warriors quite literally accused the Civil Rights Movement of being a product of either the Soviet Union, or otherwise communists who were then living in the United States. This is eerily similar to the accusations arising today against unknown Russians accused of stoking urban uprisings and rebellions against police brutality. Southern segregationists and their allies in the North blamed both the Soviet Union and American communists who had no tangible connection to the Soviet Union for “stirring up ideas of liberation” in Black communities in the South and elsewhere in the first half of the 20th century for two purposes: (1) to stir up fear and resentment of two ideologies the U.S. adamantly opposed – socialism and equal rights (2) and to deny Black people their own agency, to make it appear as if they felt indignant towards a system that oppressed them and treated them as less than human only because some foreign ideologue told them to feel that way. It was a strategy used to tame and eliminate any hint of radicalism in organizations like the ACLU and the NAACP, the latter of which was initially hesitant to represent defendants accused of committing crimes in the Jim Crow South because of the harm they believed it would do to their organization’s reputation. In the 1930s the Communist Party USA didn’t hesitate to demand the release of the Scottsboro Boys who were framed by a racist court system for a crime which they did not commit. It has been said that the Communists did so for selfish reasons, but whether that’s true or not they were the first political organization to arrive on the right side of history.
Where NPR really goes off the rails is when they charge that communists were somehow pushing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to take more radical political stances before he was killed, when in reality his further radicalization was due not to Stalinist red agents, but to the witnessing of the violent atrocities his own government was committing in Vietnam, and the realization that racism and white supremacy were far more entrenched and institutionalized in the fabric of America than even he previously realized.
Peta Lindsay writes in her excellent rebuttal to The Root article that the attribution of anti-racist activism and rebellions to Russians or Soviets ignores the tireless work and dedication of great Black champions for equality and liberation such as Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois who went into exile from their home country due to its tyrannical racism and their being turned on by their own allies. Lindsay ends by quoting the 20th century author John Hope Franklin whose words from 1947 feel particularly relevant now that a non-revolutionary Russia is being blamed for racial tensions in the country. “Many American whites,” wrote Franklin, “freely suggested that foreign influences – especially… Bolshevik propaganda after the 1917 Russian Revolution – had caused blacks to fight back.” Franklin went on to counter this by asserting that “American blacks need no outsiders to awaken their sense of tremendous contradiction between America’s professed beliefs and its actual practices.” Through the actions and stances of people Bree Newsome and Colin Kaepernick, it’s apparent that Franklin’s assertion remains true 70 years after it was written.