We Are Not What We Seem: Black Nationalism and Class Struggle in the American Century

By Rod Bush | Go to book overview

4
World War I and
the Deepening and Blackening
of American Radicalism

War causes disruptions in the institutional fabric that allow oppressed social strata to make demands on their ruler. In some cases the state is so weakened that oppressed strata can be mobilized to attempt to seize control of the state. This is precisely what happened during the First World War and its aftermath, which profoundly unsettled the existing social order. Not only were the state structures of various members of the interstate system weakened and thus more open to challenge than during normal times, but also the mentalities of the populace were profoundly affected by the experience of the war. This far-ranging change in mentalities included, as is often the case in such truly world scale upheavals, an openness to the experience of other groups struggling for freedom, justice, and self-determination.

This was obviously the case in czarist Russia, where a government discredited by a costly war fell to a social movement that included a substantial number of soldiers returning from the war front. Many regarded the period following the First World War as the long-heralded proletarian revolution predicted by Marx, as the working class in various parts of Europe rose up in revolt (for example, the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Dublin, mass strikes in Germany and Austria, army mutinies in France, the Russian Revolution, the Shop Stewards' Movement in England, the establishment of a Soviet Republic in Hungary, a workers' rising in Berlin that was supported by soldiers, the occupation of factories by workers in northern Italy, and the establishment of an Independent Workers' Republic in Finland).1

Although the revolt of the European working class was ultimately suppressed, the social movements of this period (in particular the Russian Revolution of 1917) gave birth to the Third (or Communist)

-83-

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