The Importance of May 19
May 19th is an extremely important day for the New Afrikan national liberation/proletarian revolutionary movement, and the International Communist Movement as a whole. It’s so important that the May 19th Communist Organization, the last gasp of the Weather Underground in the United States, used the day in its name. Today marks the 95th birth anniversary of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, known to his people as Malcolm X. It marks the 130th birth anniversary of Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Vietnamese people in their struggle for national liberation and reunification after imperialists illegally partitioned the country and set up a puppet regime in the South. Finally, it marks the 99th birth anniversary of Yuri Kochiyama, proletarian revolutionary, progressive activist, and anti-imperialist activist whose experience as one of the thousands of Japanese descended people illegally incarcerated by the US imperialist regime during the Second World War left her with a profound class hatred of the order of things under which we continue to suffer.
Our dogmato-revisionists tell us that we should stick almost solely to the “Great Teachers and Leaders”, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Gonzalo. Everything else is supposed to be a mere supplement, a pimple on the ass of the established canon, used to get the attention of colonized people at best, and “revisionists, postmodernists, and opportunists” at worst. Recently they’ve applied the “postmodern/anti-Marxist” label to Frantz Fanon. However, only a foolish Black person would allow the children of their enemies to establish a canon for their liberation. It is important that Maoism applied to the concrete characteristics of New Afrikan people and other oppressed nationalities apply as much importance to the lessons of Brother Malcolm as we do Lenin and Mao, because our people have our own revolutionary traditions and well remembered historical leadership. This is why you see pictures of Malcolm X on the walls of our barber shops, and not Lenin or Stalin.
Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925. His father, Earl Little, was a member of the UNIA and a progressive activist, and a minister. His mother was Louise Little, a biracial woman of Grenadian extraction. His class roots were rural proletarian. Four of Malcolm’s uncles were murdered by colonizer violence. When Malcolm was very small, the family moved to Lansing, Michigan. Malcolm’s father was murdered by the Black Legion, beaten and laid across streetcar tracks, his body nearly cut in half. Social workers began to hound Malcolm’s family. Louise Little was a proud woman, and loathed the nitpicking colonizers who lingered around to probe into her family’s affairs, distributing bags of “not for sale” beans, rice, and other staples from the relief organizations and the government. Mrs. Little eventually suffered a mental breakdown and was committed to a state asylum, effectively splitting the family apart. This is a common situation in New Afrikan communities right up to this very day. My own family, my brothers and I, were very nearly separated by my single mother’s incarceration in 2007. Thankfully, my extended family stepped in, otherwise I would have grown out my adolescence in the atrocious foster care system where Black youth are beaten, abused, raped, and tormented. Many other members of my family, cousins, etc., have suffered through this system because of drugs, alcoholism, and the racist criminal injustice system.
Malcolm was sent to colonizer-run schools and was, in his own, words, treated as a mascot. He was extremely intelligent, yet was told by a racist teacher that he could never hope to become an attorney, which was his aspiration. He was instead told to strive to become a carpenter, because “Jesus was a carpenter”. So we see how the colonizer education system strips Black youth of their dignity and self-worth. Malcolm saw this as well, and he had a lifelong hatred of the settler-colonial system in the United States as a result. His own lived experience conditioned him. He moved to the East Coast, spending much of his time in New York City and Boston, where his father had a sister who lived on “Sugar Hill”, a petit bourgeois area in the city’s Black populated Roxbury district. Malcolm scorned the company of the petit-bourgeois youths that his Aunt Ella sought to introduce him to and began engaging in a lumpen lifestyle, peddling drugs and eventually moving on to operating a professional burglary ring. He was caught, and because white women were involved in the ring he received a heavy prison sentence, 10 years, in 1946. His early years in the prison system were marked by a profound hatred of religion as represented by the colonizer priests and chaplains that visited the prison, leading him to earn the nickname “Satan”. Eventually, through his relatives, he became a student of the Nation of Islam, which was a relatively new formation at the time, having been founded in Detroit in the midst of the Great Depression by a mysterious individual named Wallace D. Fard. This contact also inspired Malcolm to become a voracious reader. He deeply studied political philosophy, history, natural science, and religion, and began participating in debates, where he polished his soon to be renowned oratorical skills. Upon his release from prison, he was a full fledged activist in the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. In his capacity as a Minister, he founded mosques and established mass bases in cities up and down the East Coast, doing much of his work in the Harlem district of New York City.
Malcolm X was a speaker in wide demand, spreading the line of the NoI on television and radio shows and giving widely attended lectures and speeches all across the country. His focus on politics eventually aroused the ire of Elijah Muhammad, whose clique also envied his association with the Nation. This clique believed that Malcolm was eclipsing the “Messenger”, as Muhammad was called. Malcolm’s critique of the invitation of the fascist George Lincoln Rockwell to a Nation event also made him more than a few enemies as well. The final straw, however, was Muhammad’s dictatorial decision to “silence” Malcolm X after the “Chickens coming home to roost” comment Malcolm made after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Malcolm eventually broke, publicly, with the Nation (after exposing Elijah Muhammad’s hypocritical fathering of children out of wedlock) and began traveling through Africa and the Middle East. He rejected the narrow reactionary bourgeois nationalist/racialist rhetoric of the Nation of Islam, and began adopting and promoting a pan-African, socialist politics. He praised Fidel Castro (who he met when he was still with the Nation), Che Guevara, Mao Zedong and other revolutionaries. His political line continued to sharpen, and his organizing took on a particularly socialist character. However, contradictions with the Nation continued to sharpen, and this organization saw fit to “silence” Malcolm in the flesh, which figures affiliated with the movement did on February 21, 1965, shooting him to death in front of an audience at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. Comrade Yuri Kochiyama held him as he died. There is a myriad of conspiracy theories and rumors swirling around the assassination that I will not delve into in this article. Safe to say, the FBI was more than happy at Malcolm’s physical demise, even if they had no direct role to play in the murder. Like Mao said, there is always a Left and a Right. The Right within the NoI had an interest in purging the Left, represented by Malcolm, through force. He stood in stark contrast to their bourgeois nationalist and ridiculous racialist pseudoscience, and embarrassed “the Messenger of Allah on Earth”. Yet his speeches and writings and example went on to inspire generations of proletarian revolutionaries and activists. You hear people rapping about Malcolm, not Lenin. His main lessons were the encouragement of armed struggle for New Afrikan people, proletarian nationalism, anti-imperialism, pan-Afrikanism, and opposition to electoral politics and reformist measures delivered by the settler-colonial state. Maoism applied to New Afrikan conditions takes all these lessons to heart, applies them, and upholds Malcolm X as a figure just as important as Mao.
Ho Chi Minh:
Ho Chi Minh was born on May 19, 1890. His father was a Confucian scholar and district magistrate who refused to work for the French colonizers. “Uncle Ho”, as he was known to the world, traveled widely. He lived for a time in the United States, where he listened to UNIA speakers and was influenced heavily by nascent Pan-Afrikan thought and also the armed resistance of New Afrikan people during the bloody years spanning 1917–1919. He wrote:
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. 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 Negroes, having learned during the war that they are a force if united, are no longer allowing their kinsmen to be beaten or murdered with impunity. In July 1919, in Washington, they stood up to the Klan and a wild mob. The battle raged in the capital for four days. In August, they fought for five days against the Klan and the mob in Chicago. Seven regiments were mobilized to restore order. In September, the government was obliged to send federal troops to Omaha to put down similar strife. In various other states the Negroes defend themselves no less energetically. — “On Lynching and the Ku Klux Klan”
He also visited France, studying there and also playing a major role in the formation of the PCF (Communist Party of France), which became notorious for being the seminal social-imperialist, revisionist party. It sought to obstruct Malcolm X’s visit to the country, took a chauvinist position on the Algerian liberation struggle, and was rightly taken to task by Fanon’s colleague, Aimé Cesaire, in his resignation letter. Cesaire wrote:
That what I want is that Marxism and communism be placed in the service of black peoples, and not black peoples in the service of Marxism and communism. That the doctrine and the movement would be made to fit men, not men to fit the doctrine or the movement. And, to be clear, this is valid not only for communists. If I were Christian or Muslim, I would say the same thing. I would say that no doctrine is worthwhile unless rethought by us, rethought for us, converted to us. This would seem to go without saying. And yet, as the facts are, it does not go without saying. There is a veritable Copernican revolution to be imposed here, so ingrained in Europe (from the extreme right to the extreme left) is the habit of doing for us, arranging for us, thinking for us — in short, the habit of challenging our possession of this right to initiative of which I have just spoken, which is, at the end of the day, the right to personality. This is no doubt the essence of the issue.
There exists a Chinese communism. Without being very familiar with it, I have a very strong prejudice in its favour. And I expect it not to slip into the monstrous errors that have disfigured European communism. But I am also interested, and more so, in seeing the budding and blossoming of the African variety of communism. It would undoubtedly offer us useful, valuable, and original variants, and I am sure our older wisdoms would add nuance to or complete them on points of doctrine. — Letter to Maurice Thorez
No doubt young Ho Chi Minh would applaud this critique coming from the periphery, the exploited majority of the world which the PCF trafficked with.
Ho Chi Minh later went to Moscow from Paris and began work on behalf of the Comintern and studied at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East. He later lived in China, working with the CCP and learning important organizational and military skills that would serve well in the coming struggles in his homeland.
Ho became leader of the Viet Minh forces in 1941. Vietnam was occupied by the Japanese, who sought to dominate all of East Asia through economic coercion and, more often than not, brute force. The Japanese were driven out, and the French sought to recolonize Vietnam. They too were driven out in 1954 after the victory of the people at Dien Bien Phu. Soon came the South Vietnam puppet regime, and the Americans to back it up. They too would fall. Through application of the principles of People’s War, relying on the strength and revolutionary tradition of the Vietnamese people, and conscious support of the progressive and revolutionary people of the world, most notably the Black Panther Party, inspired more by Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon than by Mao, the Vietnamese people were ultimately victorious and reunified their country through force in 1975. Unfortunately, Uncle Ho died in 1969 and did not live to see his homeland reunified.
Ho Chi Minh earned his place as a revolutionary leader through his travels, his struggles against chauvinism and settler-colonial complicity in the metropole, and his love of his people. He cultivated a lifelong relationship with the New Afrikan people through living among us and learning from our leadership in his formative period, when he was working as a baker in New York City and living in our capital, Harlem. Maoists should look to Uncle Ho as a theoretician that applied Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of his country, as a proletarian internationalist, and as an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial icon.
Yuri Kochiyama was born on May 19, 1921 to Japanese immigrants in San Pedro, California. Her family was illegally interned by the United States government as “enemy aliens” during the Second World War (while the European Theater of the war against Nazi Germany was led by a German-American named Eisenhower). Upon her release, Kochiyama moved to Harlem and became an activist, working with CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). She met Malcolm X in 1963 and established close ties with him. She was present at the moment of his death, being photographed cradling his head in her arms. Far from disorienting and jading her, she became even more of a revolutionary activist, fostering an intense class rage against the system and the politics that led to her being detained. The government declared her an enemy of the state, so she decided that she would become an enemy of the settler-colonial, fascist American state. She met revolutionary R.F. Williams of Monroe, North Carolina fame, and converted to Islam. She worked on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal and other political prisoners, mentored Asian radicals across the country, and later in life was a stalwart supporter of the People’s War in Peru, joining a delegation to Peru sponsored by the (revisionist) RCP-USA in the 1980s. She also was a long-time anti-war activist, correctly identifying both Gulf Wars as US imperialist machinations to directly secure the petroleum resources of the Middle East and generate more imperialist superprofits for multinational corporations such as Halliburton and Exxon-Mobil. The US Government under Barack Obama attempted to white wash her image, portraying her as a harmless pacifist “activist”, much as they did to her mentor and comrade in arms Malcolm X. The people, however, know the truth and applaud the real Comrade Yuri Kochiyama.
This anniversary marks the births of three giants. Maoists must synthesize their struggles, body of work, and lives into our broader canon to ensure that the revolution we are building is rooted in the broadest possible experience, not a mechanistic application of “great teachers” rooted in dogmatism. Far from being “eclecticism” as our dogmato-revisionists claim, this is Maoism as a science — taking the broadest and best experiences of the revolutionary movement and applying it to our analysis of history, concrete conditions, and class struggle in the United States and the world. May 19th is a day that should be upheld by all Maoists and progressives across the world, just as May 1 is.