Of all the revolutionary theoreticians, philosophers, and fighters in the history of the Communist movement, none has had as tangible, direct, and deep an impact on the struggle of the Black nation in the United States for emancipation from the bonds of national and economic exploitation and oppression as Mao Zedong. This peasants’ son from the world’s periphery, the semi-colony of Britain, France, the United States, and Japan, along with the revolutionary masses of China, dared to struggle and dared to win against those imperialists and against what Malcolm X called “Uncle Tom Chinese”, or Kuomintang (KMT) reactionaries, led by chief warlord Chiang Kai-Shek (Jiang Jieshi) who would see the masses of Chinese people enslaved and ground between the mountains of feudalism and imperialism. The Chinese people, led by Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party, sent the Japanese imperialists packing, chased the Americans and other colonial vampires out of their country, and drove Chiang and his gang of bandits and reactionary enemies of the people to the little island of Taiwan. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong climbed to the top of Tienanmen Square in Peking and announced, boldly, that “the Chinese people have stood up”. This alone was enough to make the black masses of the Americas and Africa, struggling for liberation from these same enemies themselves, pay close attention. The principle of deriving correct methods of work, correct ideas, and correct leadership from the masses, and relying on the masses in one’s particular area and adapting to particular conditions to build bases, gain the support of the masses, learn from the masses, and struggle for revolution and towards liberation was even more appealing to people who had been told that nothing good came from anything nonwhite their entire lives and to whom, thanks to the efforts of a myriad of revisionist, class reductionist, and white chauvinist if not outright white supremacist individuals and parties, Marxism often appeared as a dead and sterile thing exported lock, stock and barrel from Europe, and to be taken dogmatically and applied mechanically. Huey P. Newton, one of the founding members of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the most advanced revolutionary formation dedicated to black national liberation to date, read Mao’s work heavily (along with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Guevara, and many others), and came to the conclusion that
“Mao and Fanon and Guevara all saw clearly that the people had been stripped of their birthright and their dignity, not by philosophy and mere words, but at gunpoint. They had suffered a holdup by gangsters, and rape; for them, the only way to win freedom was to meet force with force.”
Although not citizens of a semi feudal country like China pre-1949, the Black masses in the United States too are an exploited and oppressed people, an oppressed nation, defined by our roots in mass kidnap from Africa, brutalization and naked, raw exploitation in the slave society, subsequently forced into debt peonage and semi-feudal conditions after the failure of the bourgeois democratic revolution (from the perspective of the masses of black enslaved people) that was Reconstruction, and racialized into the lowest segments of the proletariat after the Great Migration to the North. Currently, vast numbers of the black masses have found themselves semi or fully lumpenized (joining the ranks of the perpetually unemployed and criminal) in major part due to the export of manufacturing capital that formerly employed black workers to the Global South. In essence, we who are Black in the United States have been held up by the same gangsters that also pillaged and are still pillaging the masses of working people the world over, by force. The only thing that will root out and destroy this oppression and emancipate the masses of people the world over is to meet this oppressive force with people’s force, the world over, and to realize the universal correctness of political power being rooted in the ability to establish and wield force, people’s force to beat pig’s force. This Maoist principle was attractive to the Black revolutionaries of the 1960s, who had cut their teeth in the nonviolent Civil Rights Struggle and, through practice, learned the banality of a violently oppressed people applying nonviolence and appealing to the conscience of their enemies. Revolutionary people’s force needs revolutionary people’s theory, and that being applied the world over by the most oppressed and exploited masses of people is that of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
The Revolutionary Action Movement was formed by Black members of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in 1962. The black revolutionary leader of the Monroe, North Carolina, NAACP branch, R.F. Williams, who issued calls for Black people nationwide to arm themselves and be prepared to use weapons to defend themselves from white supremacist terror, had recently been forced into exile in Cuba by the fascistic tactics of the FBI and other government apparatus. The nascent RAM group initially was organized around studying Williams, discussing his work and his impact on the consciousness and practical struggle of the masses of Black people in the United States. RAM eventually began to develop links with people around the country, including Malcolm X, and also opened contact with R.F. Williams, who the group named International Chairman in Cuba. This group was a serious attempt, the first, to synthesize revolutionary Black nationalism in the vein of Malcolm X and Robert F. Williams with Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, and forge links of solidarity with the liberation movements in colonized countries the world over. RAM also developed ties with veteran Communists, such as former CPUSA luminary Harry Haywood and Audley Moore, who helped develop, support, and educate the group’s cadre. The group’s 12 Point Program called for the development of Rifle Clubs, a national black student movement, propaganda, training centers and a national organization, and other things that essentially served to set it up as a sort of revolutionary vanguard for the Black nation in the United States. Essentially, the group’s leaders saw themselves as urban versions of the Chinese Red/People’s Liberation Army. Seeing is one thing, actually being is another. This group was rife with problems, issues and contradictions that served to alienate it from, instead of uniting it with, the masses of people on whom any revolution of the type that it planned on waging relied. The group had extremely poor gender practice, viewing making revolution as a “man’s job”, and the masses of women as auxiliaries, water-carriers, or in various support jobs. This male chauvinist line and behavior simply would not do for a vanguard force of the Black nation, where the liberation struggle that has been waged in various forms ever since the beginning of the slave society has been led in major part by women such as Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Nanny of Jamaica, and many others. For an organization claiming to be dedicated to struggling for the liberation of the Black nation in a vanguard role to wholesale neglect or artificially reduce the critical role of non-men and refuse to accept their leadership or critical role in making revolution is to, fundamentally, negate that organization’s place in the Black liberation struggle and certainly not entitle it to declare itself a “vanguard”, because non-men are the roots on which that liberation struggle is founded. Mao said that women hold up half the sky, in the Black nation, women hold up the sky and stop the ground from eroding away.
RAM also made critical strategic and tactical errors. The main focus of this group was on spectacular armed actions, confronting the government on an armed basis, and a generally heavily militaristic line. They famously declared that a people’s war could be won in 90 days, spent more time traveling around the country to various cities that had recently made insurrections, and generally put the gun in command of the party. Armed struggle, the highest form of struggle, is undoubtedly important and is the only way, in the final analysis, to win power for the people, but sole focus on the armed aspect of struggle while neglecting the masses’ day-to-day struggles is an adventurist and ultra-left recipe for defeat. For a people’s war to succeed, it must have base areas of support, where the people’s political power is developing and is in command. Police can’t come in base areas, and the army thinks twice. The people’s army relies on the masses and swims among them like fish swim through water, it does not stand apart and advance from its own desires. RAM took no concrete, lasting, and deep steps to develop revolutionary bases and people’s power, learn from and build among the masses, reach out to and forge serious and deep ties with other oppressed nationalities in the United States, and thus could not begin the process of making revolution and building power for the people. It failed to successfully apply the mass line, conduct day-to-day work, meet the needs of the people, or lead struggle on a mass basis. It antagonized, attacked and alienated as opposed to conducting principled struggle, there was no unity-criticism-unity, and it treated vacillating elements like the enemy. Cadre began getting arrested, breaking discipline by using drugs and alcohol excessively, picking fights with each other, and the organization had fallen apart by 1969, the first victim of J.Edgar Hoover’s Gestapo-type COINTELPRO machinations. Yet, its legacy stands as the first project that sought to lend the Black liberation struggle a scientific socialist and dialectical materialist character, even if it failed, this failure holds lessons for us today. We shouldn’t judge our past too harshly, we should judge ourselves harshly for failing to learn the lessons our predecessors laid out for us and in many cases paid for in blood or prison. Black communist revolutionaries that fail to build firm links with and rely on the masses, that fail to apply the mass line, that fail to put the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist weapon of proletarian feminist theory and practice in command, that put guns and spectacular actions in command instead of proletarian politics, and who fail to realize the universality of protracted struggle will not be successful in carrying out the tasks of the proletarian revolution. Failure to effectively translate theory into practice, derive new theory from practice, and unite with and rely on the broad masses of the people is the ultimate failure and this failure is a fate worse than death. Mao teaches:
To link oneself with the masses, one must act in accordance with the needs and wishes of the masses. All work done for the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual, however well-intentioned. It often happens that objectively the masses need a certain change, but subjectively they are not yet conscious of the need, not yet willing or determined to make the change. In such cases, we should wait patiently. We should not make the change until, through our work, most of the masses have become conscious of the need and are willing and determined to carry it out. Otherwise we shall isolate ourselves from the masses. Unless they are conscious and willing, any kind of work that requires their participation will turn out to be a mere formality and will fail…. There are two principles here: one is the actual needs of the masses rather than what we fancy they need, and the other is the wishes of the masses, who must make up their own minds instead of our making up their minds for them. – The United Front in Cultural Work
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded on October 15, 1966, in Oakland, California by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Seale was a former member of RAM, and Newton was a working class college student. Both took note of the consistent crimes and depredations committed against the black masses of Oakland, and had also been deeply studying the work of revolutionary theoreticians and leaders. Both were familiar with the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Fanon, and Mao, and were ready for practice. They together developed a 10 point program calling for an end to the robbery of the Black community by capitalists, shelter fit for human beings, the release of all black prisoners from government custody, and other demands centered from the analysis of the needs and wishes of the black masses. They also, like RAM, followed R.F. Williams’ line of armed self defense. The BPP sold copies of Quotations from Chairman Mao at local campuses to raise funds for the purchase of shotguns. This is significant, as the books sold extremely well. In May of 1966, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the highest advance of socialism to date, began in China, as the masses of people were mobilized to combat the revisionism and restoration of capitalism that had already claimed as its prize the Soviet Union. Seeing young Red Guards denouncing counterrevolutionaries, destroying vestiges of the old order, and firmly struggling against the restoration of capitalism in the country that their parents and grandparents had shed blood to liberate struck a fire in the hearts of students and youth in the United States and Europe, and the rest of the 1960s would be years of youth rebellion against capitalism, against imperialism, and against old things, old ideas, old practices and old customs across both the West and East. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense epitomized and united revolutionary black youth across the country, and had a mass base in black communities as diverse as Omaha, New York City, Washington, DC., East Saint Louis, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Kansas City. Unlike RAM, which operated in a secretive and clandestine fashion, the people saw and loved the Black Panther Party. The party began Serve the People programs, offering free food, healthcare, transportation to visit loved ones who were in prison, and clothing to the black masses in black districts all across the country. The Party also acquired prestige by militantly struggling against the police, conducting patrols of neighborhoods, educating black people about their constitutional rights, and generally irritating and frustrating the pigs’ designs to continue exploiting and harassing the black communities of this prisonhouse of nations. The Panthers also introduced millions of Black people to revolutionary theory and practice, and the need for a revolution. The power of the Party was so great that it even reached overseas to the Vietnam theatre of the American war against national liberation movements, with more black soldiers embracing the Panthers than the pig war. Many returned home and joined. The prestige and ability of the Panthers to move the masses was so great that pig chief J.Edgar Hoover declared them the greatest internal security threat to the United States.
The BPP had enough internal contradictions of its own. From its onset, the Party was oriented towards and organized around the lumpenproletariat, or the class of society that is comprised of pimps, drug dealers, thieves, and other criminals. This class in relation to the proletariat, the revolutionary class, is a parasitic one, one that robs, kills, and steals from the proletariat. Yet, Newton was keen on organizing the “brothers on the block”, or the people that hung around in pool rooms, bars, and other such places. The lumpenproletariat, under proletarian leadership, can in many cases be revolutionized. The Chinese Red Army was itself able to win over gangs of bandits and others of that sort. But, the lumpenproletariat itself is not a revolutionary class, and mistakes on this question lead to fatal issues.This lumpen line contributed to and fostered terribly bad gender practice within the party. If you’re organizing and admitting into your party pimps and others who had habits of abusing and seeing women as objects, subordinate to and inferior to men, and make no serious attempt to struggle with and genuinely rectify them, and make these pig men into new men by seriously employing the method of criticism-self criticism, you will have major and fatal problems.
Our aim in exposing errors and criticizing shortcomings, like that of a doctor curing a sickness, is solely to save the patient and not to doctor him to death. A person with appendicitis is saved when the surgeon removes his appendix. So long as a person who has made mistakes does not hide his sickness for fear of treatment or persist in his mistakes until he is beyond cure, so long as he honestly and sincerely wishes to be cured and to mend his ways, we should welcome him and cure his sickness so that he can become a good comrade. We can never succeed if we just let ourselves go and lash out at him. In treating an ideological or a political malady, one must never be rough and rash but must adopt the approach of “curing the sickness to save the patient”, which is the only correct and effective method.- Rectify the Party’s Style of Work
The BPP had a lot of sick patients who didn’t want to and wouldn’t be saved. This was a major insult to the Panther women who built and maintained the Serve the People programs and who made up a near majority of the party’s membership. There were fierce struggles over the role of women in the BPP, and the ball was dropped on several occasions. Perhaps if the Party didn’t make a strategy of organizing men from the lumpenproletariat first and foremost, and instead had developed mass organizations of working women? The BPP didn’t just orient towards the lumpen, however, it saw them as a vanguard, or the most advanced segment of the Black nation! The working class was seen as docile and weak. This mistake resulted in the admission of all sorts of people who had committed serious crimes against the people, such as the admitted and practically unrepentant serial rapist and abuser of women, Eldridge Cleaver. Cleaver had been admitted to the party, pushed the lumpen line heavily, and eventually gathered around himself a clique that pushed an ultraleftist, militaristic guerilla warfare line, which called the black masses into the streets to pick up guns and wage a war, one that probably wouldn’t have turned out in their favor. On the other hand, Huey Newton’s faction, centered in Oakland, placed primacy on “survival pending revolution”, after his release from prison, which was a euphemism for social democracy. Put down the gun, pick up the bag of food and take it across the street, and that’s all. Cleaver ended up in exile, with Newton threatening to have him thrown in jail, eventually returning to the United States and becoming a full on reactionary, complete with Mormonism and Republican Party affiliation. Newton presided over a withering and dying party, ripped to shreds primarily by internal conflicts and the mercilessly violent harassment of the FBI and other pig agencies, which hunted and executed Panther with especial gusto after the election of Richard Nixon to the Presidency in 1968. As a matter of fact, California police celebrated Nixon’s victory by shooting out the windows of a Black Panther Party office. Newton was murdered in 1989, 6 years after the Party disbanded itself after essentially becoming a left wing political alternative, with Elaine Brown fostering a close relationship with the California Democratic Party. Almost 20 years earlier, Newton was in Peking having dinner with Jiang Qing and conferring with Premier Zhou Enlai.
It’s 2016. The fascist Donald Trump, he who calls down beatings and violence on individuals who attend his rallies simply because they are Black or Brown or Muslim, who has expressed his willingness to use nuclear weapons on Europe (and Chicago), is a serious contender for President and has captured the Republican nomination. The country is polarizing sharply and rapidly, and many millions of desperate youth and working class people have lost their fear of the word “socialism”. How has the communist movement advanced since the 1960s? The universal ideology, theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, the highest stage of revolutionary ideology, theory and practice, was developed in the course of People’s War in Peru in the 1980s and early 1990s, and is currently being applied to carry out revolution in the Philippines and India. There are millions of communists around the world making revolution and constructing a new world for themselves after centuries of feudal domination, colonialism, and capitalist exploitation in the worst way. These communists are Marxist-Leninist-Maoists, and they ain’t European. In the United States, during the upheavals and struggles of the 1960s, tens of thousands of Black revolutionaries studied the Chinese experience, learned from the experience of that non-European country that had thrown off the beasts of capital, empire, and country-selling compradors, and made it their own struggle. We are now at a time when many black workers, students, and increasingly broad sections of the masses in general are seriously considering revolution again. Sick of America, sick of capitalism and all the trimmings, and ready for the higher stage of development. The mistakes of the last period, the abuse and maltreatment of revolutionary women, the adventurist gun and war worship lines that end people up like the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground, the bogging down in social democratic programs that give the Baptist Church a run for its money, the inability to apply the mass line and instead make up ideas in our own heads and try to foist them on the masses to our detriment and ultimate failure, impatience, ignorance of the basic concepts of protracted warfare, trying to rush a revolution and rushing into our graves or into prisons, and the treatment of potential friends among the masses as real enemies, are lessons for us in what not to do. This isn’t 1965. We are extremely fortunate that we have the benefit of hindsight to observe what our predecessors did wrong, what they did right, and the subsequent experiences of People’s Wars being fought and Marxism-Leninism-Maoism being applied all around the world to the benefit of millions. We can put proletarian feminism in command and beat down misogynoir, making a million Harriet Tubmans in the process. We can build base areas in the hoods and ghettoes, and make the Panthers’ wildest dreams come true. We have internet now, after all. We can build new institutions that the masses of people trust and use in lieu of pig institutions, built on their basis, not on that of the slavemaster and the landlord. We don’t need the police, we need us. We can make Darren Wilsons feel afraid to come in our neighborhoods, not the other way around. We can build strong solidarity and unity with other oppressed nationalities and progressive segments of the white proletariat instead of trying to struggle alone. We can build international links with experienced and veteran comrades and the masses the world over, learning from and teaching each other. It can be our time, if we’ll seize the time and learn the lessons of the past, and applying the universal theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to guide us to a revolutionary future.