May 19th is a significant day for all people who wish for liberation, who understand the need for war, and are committed to the idea of a world beyond this one where US Empire stands on top of the world’s people extracting their very lives for an opulent and degenerate life of the big bourgeoisie.
The lives of Ho Chi Minh, Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), and Yuri Kochiyama provide for us the experience of fighters who have lived and died going up against imperialism and fought broadly for the world’s people. Oddly these three remarkable figures, born on the same day have an interconnectedness in their lives which is quite concrete. They lived in the tumultuous time of anti-colonial struggle and communist inspired revolution.
This marked their lives and their practice. Particularly the dimensions of all three of their lives mark a certain solidarity of the world’s people in a moment where US Imperialism and the colonial remnants of the wounded European powers were under attack from the insurgent people of the world’s oppressed majority. Particularly what needs to be highlighted is the Afro-Asian connection here.
This revolutionary internationalist spirit was led by the world’s oppressed nationalities and colonial people’s, engaged in armed struggle and joined in an auxiliary role a section of the most advanced working people and intellectuals in the metropoles. More to the point the historical accident of these three figures being born on the same day gives us the great opportunity to illustrate, by way of example, the need for revolutionary thought, practice, and ultimately will and spirit which brings to issue the problematic of liberation for the world’s oppressed and exploited majority faced with a structurally decaying white supremacist system.
The legacy of the two comrades Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X were not lost years after their death when communist militants and insurgents actively named themselves the May 19th Communist Organization (M19CO) which combined forces of former Weather, BLA, and others to work as a advanced detachment of a revolutionary character.
This piece hopes to clarify, within the perspective of a proletarian internationalism, the lives of these three figures in their intersections of the general struggle of the world’s oppressed and exploited majority. To detail in particular an Afro-Asian solidarity in a time of anti-colonial struggle, the influence of this in regards to each of these individuals political transformations, and the general struggle for self-determination of oppressed nationality people.
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh was a Vietnamese Marxist-Leninist. He was born in 1890 to an educated family. His father was a Confucian scholar and a magistrate under the King who had resigned in protest of the colonial domination of the country. Ho attended a school in the city of Hue where he learned under a French curriculum, a school where General Giap (commander of Vietnamese Liberation Army) later attended. He later taught briefly at another school.
He ended up working and travelling the world as a cook in a streamliner ship. Most of Ho’s life in the years of 1912 and 1918 is unknown. He had lived in Harlem and attended the meetings of Marcus Garvey’s organization and speeches according to himself. He was certainly influenced by Garvey and the struggle of the New Afrikan people in the Western hemisphere, particularly in the United States. He had even penned an article in 1924 on the KKK and its oppression of New Afrikan people he writes
It is well known that the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family. It is well known that the spread of capitalism and the discovery of the New World had as an immediate result the rebirth of slavery, which was for centuries a scourge for the Negroes and a bitter disgrace for mankind. What everyone does not perhaps know is that after sixty-five years of so-called emancipation, American Negroes still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings, of which the most cruel and horrible is the custom of lynching… The victory of the Federal Government had just freed the Negroes and made them citizens.
The agriculture of the South – deprived of its Black labor, was short of hands. Former landlords were exposed to ruin. The Klansmen proclaimed the principle of the supremacy of the white race. Anti-Negro was their only policy. The agrarian and slaveholding bourgeoisie saw in the Klan a useful agent, almost a savior. They gave it all the help in their power.
At this point of writing the article, Ho Chi Minh has already joined the international communist movement after attempts to secure the rights of self-determination through the Allies Versaille Peace Treaty at the end of World War II. Ho is a prominent figure within the Communist movement arguing against the national chauvinism of the European Communist parties in not giving any serious attention to the colonies of their home countries.
In a report to the Comintern he states …Comrade Stalin spoke of the viewpoint which held that the European proletarians can achieve success without a direct alliance with the liberation movement in the colonies. And he considered this a counter-revolutionary viewpoint. But if we judge from practice to make our theoretical examination, we are entitled to say that our big Parties, excepting the Soviet Communist Party, still hold the above-mentioned viewpoint because they are inactive in this matter… As for our Communist Parties in Great Britain, Holland, Belgium and other countries – what have they done to cope with the colonial invasions perpetrated by the bourgeois. class of their countries?
What have they done from the day they accepted Lenin’s political programme to educate the working class of their countries in the spirit of just internationalism, and that of close contact with the working. masses in the colonies? What our Parties have done in this domain is almost worthless. As for me, I was born in a French colony, and am a member of the French Communist Party, and I am very sorry to say that our Communist Party has done hardly anything for the colonies.
Ho Chi Minh would end up returning to Vietnam helped to form the Indochinese Communist Party and leading the struggle for Vietnamese liberation. The struggle of the heroic Vietnamese people under the Communist Party leadership would end up shattering two imperialist powers, and providing a strong basis and impetus for the whole world’s people to rise against the racist imperialist system.
Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
Malik El-Shabazz, or as we popularly know him, Malcolm X was a black nationalist figure throughout the civil rights era of struggle. Malcolm and other black nationalist figures are ingrained by the earlier movement of the UNIA and the syncretic groupings which had preached black self-determination and opposed participation within the white supremacist structure.
Such refusal saw Elijah Muhammad put to jail for refusing the draft. Malcolm himself spoke his mind too truthfully when he told the draft staff that he couldn’t wait to get his hands on guns and kill crackers. When Malcolm X became a minister of Nation of Islam he was immediately a target of investigation of the state.
Malcolm already in the middle of 1950 was also speaking out in support or understanding of the anti-colonial struggles, even Vietnam (which then was fighting French colonialism). Malcolm was making transitions throughout his life which brought him from a black nationalist and conservative worldview he had inherited from the Nation of Islam to a more internationalist world view. He began drawing lessons from the anti-colonial struggles which can be seen in his speech on the Ballot or the Bullet.
I just want to give you a little briefing on guerrilla warfare because, before you know it, before you know it. It takes heart to be a guerrilla warrior because you’re on your own. In conventional warfare you have tanks and a whole lot of other people with you to back you up—planes over your head and all that kind of stuff.
But a guerrilla is on his own. All you have is a rifle, some sneakers and a bowl of rice, and that’s all you need—and a lot of heart. The Japanese on some of those islands in the Pacific, when the American soldiers landed, one Japanese sometimes could hold the whole army off. He’d just wait until the sun went down, and when the sun went down they were all equal. He would take his little blade and slip from bush to bush, and from American to American.
The white soldiers couldn’t cope with that. Whenever you see a white soldier that fought in the Pacific, he has the shakes, he has a nervous condition, because they scared him to death. The same thing happened to the French up in French Indochina. People who just a few years previously were rice farmers got together and ran the heavily-mechanized French army out of Indochina. You don’t need it—modern warfare today won’t work. This is the day of the guerrilla.
They did the same thing in Algeria. Algerians, who were nothing but Bedouins, took a rine and sneaked off to the hills, and de Gaulle and all of his highfalutin’ war machinery couldn’t defeat those guerrillas. Nowhere on this earth does the white man win in a guerrilla warfare. It’s not his speed.
Just as guerrilla warfare is prevailing in Asia and in parts of Africa and in parts of Latin America, you’ve got to be mighty naive, or you’ve got to play the black man cheap, if you don’t think some day he’s going to wake up and find that it’s got to be the ballot or the bullet.
What Malcolm was drawing an analytic lesson from in the struggle against imperialism and colonialism is the legacy of People’s War. That is a weakly equipped force can beat a superior force with modern weaponry. That, as Mao has stated, the imperialists are paper tigers who can be defeated even on the plane of war provided that you rely upon the people.
Though Malcolm here even utilizes the Japanese as an example, sardonically relying on those even the American bourgeoisie have lionized as brave fierce fighters, why were the Americans eventually the winner against Japanese Imperialism? Japan didn’t rely upon the people of the East, it oppressed them, therefore it had no backing from the people in its war with America besides the nationalist sentiment of its own people.
Against French imperialism, Algerian and Vietnamese people defeated the stronger country because they waged a protracted war relying on the people. So here Malcolm’s emerging thought of ballot or bullet was encouraged by the national liberation struggles. Malcolm was unfortunately assassinated by agents of US Imperialism and proto-fascist forces in 1964.
However as a figure he helped move thousands of the most advanced black fighters and youth in the liberation struggle towards a black nationalism with a militant internationalist perspective. How Malcolm shaped the discourse of a new emerging militancy among all liberation fighters in the country can be seen readily afterwards in the formations created which combined revolutionary communist politics with black nationalist aspirations – Black Panther Party, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Congress of Afrikan People which upheld Malcolm X and adopted a Marxist-Leninist Mao Zedong Thought inspired politics. Even radically transforming the thought of young white revolutionaries in Students for a Democratic Society which began moving closer to Maoism and organizations like I Wor Kuen (Chinese-American Communist Organization), Young Lords Party (Puerto Rican Nationalist Organization influenced and developed into a MLM organization).
Yuri Kochiyama is a figure less well known then the last two, and she is still alive today at the age of 91. We recommend for those unfamiliar with her life to read the interview conducted by the Revolutionary Worker , the former paper of the Revolutionary Communist Party-USA. Mrs. Kochiyama spent a good portion of her young adult life in a concentration camp of Japanese people in the US, 70% were citizens.
Yuri moved with her husband to Harlem in 1960 and was already active in human rights work. She met Malcolm X and began working with him around human rights projects, was a member of his Organization for Afro-American Unity, and was present when Malcolm was murdered. Yuri was also a participant in taking over the statue of liberty with Puerto Rican independence activists. She was pivotal in the movements to free Mumia and end nuclear proliferation. She has been a consistent friend of the people. She has prominently defended the revolutions in both the Philippines, Peru, and elsewhere and is keeping it strong approaching her 90s.
Despite the very small active base of Japanese-Americans involved in struggle for liberation, Yuri is an important figure and worker for liberation precisely because while jettisoned by the persecution and internment of her own family and community, she actively took up the struggle of the world’s majority.
Where today much of AAPI work and discourse is based in quite petty-bourgeois identerianism – issues of microagressions, visibility, etc. – she stands as a figure that breaks from the superficial and aims towards the core of imperialism. Particularly her relationship to other national liberation organizations fighting for self-determination, as a working active figure within this milieu, set her apart from many others.
Be Brave Fighters, Fight National Oppression, Grasp Internationalism
We leave off with three points of analysis that can be drawn from these figures’ lives:
1) Fighters for revolution and liberation must be brave against the intent of the state to crush us out. Revolution depends on the masses of people concretely, and we’re often childish and foolish figures in comparison to the masses themselves. However dedication and immersion into the people, learning from them, and committing oneself to struggle can allow us to help organize and lead the masses against the reactionary classes.
While these three figures are mere individuals, remarkable figures they’re in history, precisely because of their dedication of their life in fighting colonialism and imperialism concretely. But this means one needs to prepare for struggle and emulate characters by virtue of revolutionary practice, not mere idolization. How many young people we know today who laud these figures but yet actively do nothing with their relative freedom to conduct work for liberation?
This idol culture must be changed and it can only be done so by looking reality in the face with them about our position today. These figures had no special caliber above anyone else and are made of flesh and bone. Ho lived his life in obscurity and in perpetual hiding losing all sorts of privilege to be gained if he simply bought in with colonialism. Malcolm ended up being murdered by the agents of US imperialism and proto-fascists for standing his ground in fighting for new organizational direction of an emerging Black liberation movement.
Yuri Kochiyama has spent all her decades fighting alongside the people, driven by her solidarity with those who face the harsh repression of the state. It is hard to brave such things and harder to stay committed towards transformation which means liberation for the world’s oppressed and exploited majority. There are of course many questions that need be answered; however it is certain that we won’t win anything if we keep to an impoverished line that refuses to ultimately commit to the prospects of losing one’s life in this struggle.
And with those have too much to lose or perhaps are too frightened at the prospect of such things, there needs to be a network of support to those comrades who are ultimately heading towards this direction and already face the state. Revolution is in the end not a dinner party. It is where one class overthrows and liquidates another, how will that happen?
2) In the struggle for liberation there needs to be recognition that while the structure of world imperialism has changed and there has been significant gains made by the world’s oppressed in fighting colonialism, much of this has taken a new structure that protects the old form of colonialism or more simply has even regressed back to the old.
Throughout the world US imperialism has its bases, is fighting war and preparing for new ones, is cooperating with its puppet states in putting down insurrections and people’s wars. National liberation and the right to self-determination is still on the table, but perhaps the character of it has changed significantly considering the degeneration of some of these movements themselves into comprador agents of neo-liberalism.
In the new struggle for division of the world with BRICS against the old European States, a new scramble for Africa itself, etc. We must defend the right of people to self-determination against colonialism in Puerto Rico for example, against neo-colonialism throughout much of the world including the Philippines. In the territorial United States this struggle still continues in the struggle for the rights of oppressed nations, including that of self-determination, among New Afrikan people in the South, Chican@s and other Latin@s in the Southwest, Indigenous peoples’ throughout the continent, and of course in each internal colonial ghettos of the urban cities.
3) Internationalism means the whole world comes first. That is we need to fight against perspectives of provincialism, localism, and even nationalism in our work because they are not compatible with a revolutionary strategy for liberation. This is not contradictory of course with fighting for national liberation and the right of self-determination.
Mao Zedong said one can be patriotic but must be an internationalist at the same time. Closing our world view to a particular people, to a particular problem, is in the end drawing ourselves to a communitarianism which can turn reactionary. We need to place the issue of internationalism in the forefront so we can assess and strike decisive blows to the enemy, which is a world system of imperialism at this stage – not simply local reactionaries.
We need to make aim armed with a worldview to deliver blow after blow against the enemy strategically and to unite with those comrades around the world who are engaged in concrete manifestations of global class struggle against imperialism. With those who are nationalists but not yet internationalists (let alone communists) we can and should unite to fight against imperialism but also challenge their worldview and hopefully win people over in struggle and change their position to that of patriotism, of love for their community of people, combined with internationalism.
It is incorrect for those of us who are internationalists who are part of an oppressed nationality community to simply up and leave those communities for something else. It is in the end a line which renders us unable to grasp the oppressed majority and link with them in their struggles and experiences to fight for liberation.
Comrades and friends!
We are fighting a capitalist world system we call imperialism. It is a system of exploitation and oppression. It is a system of exploitation of working classes, national and colonial oppression, and the submission of women under men; It is descriptively and characteristically a class system of exploitation which is white supremacist, patriarchal-masculinist, and heterosexist.
Study the lives of Ho Chi Minh, Malcolm X, and Yuri Kochiyama!
All Power to the People!
Smash the State!