In an article written in late January-early February 1913, under the title "Russians and Negroes", Vladimir Ilyich Lenin attempts a brief comparison between the then situation of the black people in the United States and the Russian people under the tsarist regime.
The article, signed by Lenin as "W", was written during a period of severe censorship. It was first published in 1925 in "Krasnaya Niva" magazine.
Russians and Negroes
What a strange comparison, the reader may think. How can a race be compared with a nation?
It is a permissible comparison. The Negroes were the last to be freed from slavery, and they still bear, more than anyone else, the cruel marks of slavery—even in advanced countries—for capitalism has no “room” for other than legal emancipation, and even the latter it curtails in every possible way.
With regard to the Russians, history has it that they were “almost” freed from serf bondage in 1861. It was about the same time, following the civil war against the American slaveowners, that North America’s Negroes were freed from slavery,
The emancipation of the American slaves took place in a less “reformative” manner than that of the Russian slaves.
That is why today, half a century later, the Russians still show many more traces of slavery than the Negroes. Indeed, it would be more accurate to speak of institutions and not merely of traces. But in this short article we shall limit ourselves to a little illustration of what we have said, namely, the question of literacy. It is known that illiteracy is one of the marks of slavery. In a country oppressed by pashas, Purishkeviches and their like, the majority of the population cannot be literate.
In Russia there are 73 per cent of illiterates, exclusive of children under nine years of age.
Among the U.S. Negroes, there were (in 1900) 44.5 per cent of illiterates.
Such a scandalously high percentage of illiterates is a disgrace to a civilised, advanced country like the North American Republic. Furthermore, everyone knows that the position of the Negroes in America in general is one unworthy of a civilised country—capitalism cannot give either complete emancipation or even complete equality.
It is instructive that among the whites in America the proportion of illiterates is not more than 6 per cent. But if we divide America into what were formerly slave-holding areas (an American “Russia”) and non-slave-holding areas (an American non-Russia), we shall find 11–12 per cent of illiterates among the whites in the former and 4–6 per cent in the latter areas!
The proportion of illiterates among the whites is twice as high in the former slave-holding areas. It is not only the Negroes that show traces of slavery!
Shame on America for the plight of the Negroes!
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1975,
Moscow, Volume 18, pages 543-544 /via marxists.org