Lenin’s essays on national self-determination and anti-colonial struggles are well known. Much less so are his earlier remarks on the process of internal colonisation of the Russian Empire’s ‘free’ borderlands. Oppressed nations are conspicuously absent in those writings, which feature a comparative analysis of the shared destiny of Russian serfs and American slaves. This urges us to look afresh at Lenin’s later identification between the experience of Asian and African people subjected to the yoke of European imperialism and that of African Americans considering themselves as colonised from within. Finally, Langston Hughes’s narrative of his journey to Soviet Central Asia in the early 1930s offers a valuable perspective for re-examining the emancipation of the former Russian Empire’s ‘coloured people’ after 1917, and its limits.