BASEES Annual Conference 2022

The British Roots of Soviet Racism

Fri8  Apr05:00pm(20 mins)
CWB Syndicate Room 2


Thom Loyd


Interest in Soviet entanglements with Africa has grown in the past few years. Much of this scholarship has focused on identifying the shortcomings of Soviet internationalism, pointing to instances of racism against African students as evidence that official anti-racism failed to extirpate popular prejudice.

Much of the evidence of popular anti-black racism comes from a relatively small group of African student memoirs published in the West during the 1960s. However, little work has been done to excavate the origins of these stories in Britain’s Cold War information warfare campaign.

In this paper, I argue that in soliciting, editing, producing, and disseminating these accounts of African life in the Soviet Union, the British government continues to shape our understanding of race and racism in the Soviet Union in the twenty-first century. It is not that the accounts are inaccurate. However, Western-produced accounts narrowed the scope of subsequent scholarly inquiry to a discussion of racism as an individual act, a failure of Soviet citizens to learn the lessons of Soviet internationalism.

Instead, by casting our net wider beyond the intellectual horizons of British propagandists, I argue we get closer to an understanding of the way in which Soviet popular racism grew out of and was tacitly supported by the logic of late socialism. Viewed in this light, anti-black racism was not a failure of individuals, but a bug of the late-Soviet project.