An Exotic Subversive: Africa, Africans, and the Soviet Everyday
Race and Class, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 57-81, April 2008
Maxim Matusevich, Ph.D.
Department of History
The Leninist argument, that the class struggle of the European proletariat was intertwined with the liberation of the `toiling masses of the East', led to an official ideology of Soviet internationalism in which Africans occupied a special place. Depictions of the evils of racism in the US became a staple of Soviet popular culture and a number of black radicals, among them Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and Claude McKay, flocked to the Soviet Union in the 1920s-30s, inspired by the belief that a society free of racism had been created. While there was some truth to this view, people of African descent in the Soviet Union nevertheless experienced a condescending paternalism, reflected also in their cinematic portrayal and in popular literature and folklore. With the onset of the cold war, young Africans were encouraged to study in Russia, where they received a mixed reaction and, on account of occasional conflict with the authorities and Soviet cultural norms, became symbols of dissent against official Soviet culture. Later, in the perestroika period, Africa became a scapegoat for popular discontent amidst a worsening climate of racism.