Research

I am currently at work on a monograph entitled America’s Russia: The Bolshevik Revolution, Racial Socialism, and US Print Culture, 1886-1924. This book project is a study of the durable cultural effects that cohered in the US through its relationship with the nascent Soviet Union at the intersections of racialization and radical politics. Specifically, this project examines the linkages between, among, and within entangled aspects of difference, such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, through the prism of the Bolshevik Revolution as represented within the periodical press.

By analyzing reportage, imaginative literatures, and advertisements of the period, I outline how early-twentieth-century conservative forces in the US mobilized against movements for racial equality, gender parity, and economic justice by deploying the specter of communism to conflate non-whiteness with activist politics in an attempt to circumscribe both. I then explore the myriad ways that leftwing American and US-based writers of various races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and creeds recognized and reworked this conflation in the service of liberation, decolonization, women’s rights, and social equality under the lodestar of an avowedly antiracist and antisexist Bolshevik Russia.

Beyond historical value, America’s Russia is also charged with contemporary currency. During the 2016 election, of course, the “question of Russia” returned forcefully to the center of US political debate. In the half decade since, the US has experienced amplified anti-immigrant sentiment, the increasing prominence of socialist politicians and platforms, an explosion of racialized violence toward Asians and Jews, and massive protests against the enduring precarity of Black lives.

But this recent history also rhymes. A century earlier, similar issues dominated headlines: The US government passed the “Immigration Act of 1917,” creating the “Asiatic Barred Zone” that outlawed peoples all the way from the Middle East to Southeast Asia along with “anarchists” and “political radicals.” At the same time, anti-Semites rallied against what they called the “Judeo-Bolshevik threat” emanating from Russia, and the Red Summer of 1919 shocked millions of Americans with spectacular violence that conjoined more than three dozen nationwide anti-Black riots to the fierce antiradicalism of the nation’s first formal “Red Scare.”

As white mobs murdered African Americans and destroyed their homes and businesses from the South Side of Chicago to the cotton fields of Arkansas, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (abetted by a young J. Edgar Hoover) deported thousands of putative radicals, usually without evidence aside from their ethnicity or place of birth. Many organizers of this terror against people of color blamed communist infiltration for Black resistance, and AG Palmer’s political arrests targeted mostly Jewish, Slavic, and Italian immigrants (groups largely viewed as non-white at the time).

However, numerous studies of this period have continued to treat these events as relatively distinct moments of antiradical ardor and racist violence, respectively. America’s Russia argues that the century-spanning incidents above are not only profoundly intertwined, but also underscore a largely hidden cultural history of the American century at the intersections of race, radical politics, and representations of Russia. Obscured in part by the parameters of Cold War historiography that emerged after World War II, this earlier cultural link between the Soviets and the US helps explain our current moment, wherein reinvigorated nativism, anti-Semitism, red-baiting, racialized violence, and fears of foreign infiltration have returned to the fore.