‘The Human Ocean of the Colored Races’: Interwar Black Internationalism, Marxism, and Permanent Revolution

Owen Walsh* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the international Communist movement after the Russian Revolution, Black radical opponents of racism, colonialism, and capitalism entered a productive dialogue with European socialist revolutionism. This tradition was itself shaped by decades of theoretical disagreement around the relationship between historical development and socialist revolution. Common to the leading figures of Europe’s revolutionary Left (Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky) was an emphasis on the uninterrupted continuity of democratic and socialist revolutions in the epoch of imperialism. ‘Permanent revolution’ became a phrase associated exclusively with Trotskyists, but many Communists in different traditions professed affiliation with a flexible and revolutionary version of Marxism. As such, though the language of uninterrupted or permanent revolution was often absent from Black Marxist writing in the 1920s and 1930s, writers such as Claude McKay, Grace Campbell, C.L.R. James, and W.E.B. Du Bois articulated Marxist perspectives on Black oppression that similarly transcended rigid and economist versions of Marxism. Their additional emphasis was on the vanguard role of anticolonial radicals in the world revolution. As Black internationalists appropriated Marxism, they deployed a logic that helps to connect revolutionary theory in Europe with the intellectual work of radical Black internationalists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-517
Number of pages15
JournalLabor History
Issue number4
Early online date2 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2022

Bibliographical note

open access via T&F agreement
Thanks are due to Christian Hogsbjerg, for providing useful comments on an earlier draft of this piece, and to the two reviewers at Labor History.
The author(s) reported that there is no funding associated with the work featured in this article.


  • Internatiolism
  • Marxim
  • Communism
  • Claude McKay
  • anticolonialism
  • Trotskyism


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