Revolution#131, June 1, 2008


The article in last week’s issue, “Response to Obama’s ‘Speech on Race’ Part 3: The Sixties, the System, and the Real Solution,” included a list of several factors that conditioned and gave rise to changes that took place in the U.S. in the 1960s in the situation for Black people. The first point in that list noted “international pressures facing U.S. imperialism.” However, to really understand the context in which the Sixties erupted in the U.S., those international factors need to be explored in more depth. They included contention with the Soviet Union, the upsurge of national liberation struggles around the world, and revolutionary China. As the article noted, during this period, the U.S. was portraying itself as the “great democracy,” in contrast to earlier colonial powers like Britain and France in the Third World. But the U.S. was also contending with the influence of the Soviet Union when it was a socialist country, looked to by people around the world for great accomplishments. This challenge, for example, was part of the framework for the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the long-established principle of “separate but (so-called) equal” that formally legalized the Jim Crow system in the South. The Soviet Union maintained credibility as an opponent of racism and imperialism even after capitalism was restored and the nature of that society changed radically in the mid-1950s. As the Soviet Union emerged as a contending imperialist power, socialist in name, but imperialist in reality, it pointed to the oppression of Black people in the U.S. to argue that alignment with the Soviet bloc represented a supposedly “liberating” alternative to the U.S. All this posed real problems for U.S. imperialism, and influenced some of the changes in U.S. laws and policies in the 1950s and ’60s—it was part of the whole complex mix of factors through which the struggle of Black people and the movements of the Sixties within the U.S. emerged.  

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