positions: east asia cultures critique 11.1 (2003) 217-239
—W. E. B. Du Bois, Crisis, 1930
—W. E. B. Du Bois, "I Sing to China," 1959
W. E. B. Du Bois's lifelong advocacy for the liberation and independence of Asian countries is both the least appreciated aspect of his political career and the one perhaps most central to its leftist trajectory. Between his support for Japan in its 1904 war with Russia and his second and final trip to Maoist China in 1959, Asia was for Du Bois a literal and figurative site of his intellectual evolution from "fabian socialist" (Adolph Reed) to revolutionary Marxist. Asia was the twin pole of Du Bois's black intellectual world: after 1900, he imagined the U.S. "color line" as the "world color line," extending into China, Japan, and India, and he considered Pan-Africanism and Pan-Asianism as mutually constituting global struggles. Du Bois's attention to and support for radical Indian political movements near the turn of the century was likewise his first serious intellectual identification with Marxian politics. Thus it is not surprising that during and after World War I, Du Bois found himself in the midst of a national, and international, debate over the relationship of Asia and Asian national movements to the West, including Africa. Indeed by 1921 Du Bois had become the target of and impetus for arguments within the United States over two vitally linked discourses enveloping this debate: orientalism and Eurocentric race theory, on one hand, and bolshevism and anticommunism on the other.
This essay will explore Du Bois's writings during this period as a means of measuring his role in and contribution to these debates. In particular, it will examine Du Bois's 1928 novel Dark Princess as a symbolic configuration of Du Bois's political engagement with three central movements and events of the interwar era: the Indian home rule and national movements, the emergence of black radicalism in the United States, and the role of black and Asian radicals in revising Soviet policy on both "Negro" and Asian liberation during the formation of the third International after 1919 and the crucial 1922 and 1928 Cominterns in Moscow. Dark Princess, I will argue, is Du Bois's attempt to synthesize these events as they unfolded in Moscow, Berlin, China, India, and the United States, the sites most prominent on Dark Princess's geopolitical map. In addition, the novel demonstrates Du Bois transforming his famous metaphor of "double consciousness" into a trope for the most hotly debated political questions of his time for radicals: proletarian internationalism and the role and function of the nation. Finally, it reveals how Du Bois's conception of orientalism was wedded to a patriarchal or paternal ideology inflected by contemporary debates about female subalterns in the United States and India in particular, and by Du Bois's own romantic conceptions of the Asiatic.
The significance of Du Bois's political project in Dark Princess is thus several-fold. First, it marks a continuation and departure in the history of African American intellectual engagement with the discourse of orientalism, an engagement crucial for later generations of African American radicals and intellectuals. Second, it demonstrates the scope and depth of African American participation in internationalist political debates during and after World War I, a history recently beginning to be re-revealed. Third, it predicts a series of political decisions and maneuvers by black and Asian radicals away from the trajectory of an "American century" toward a...