Black Panthter's Direct Militant Internationalism to Vietnam
What is anti-imperialism? Who is promoting anti-imperialist internationalism today? What is the historical experience of internationalism and how can struggles across the world apply this creatively to their conditions today? These are questions that need thorough investigation and answering in a time where frankly living internationalism is seemingly near dead. Why is internationalism so important? Without it, the struggle to end the single greatest source of poverty war and cultural oppression - white settler imperialism led by the usa - will never be defeated.
Therefore the below historical statement by Black Panther leader Huey Newton is so important. It is one form of concrete internationalism, but it is also a courageous and direct manifestation of internationalism in the context of international support to the Vietnamese in their resistance against the third successive imperialist occupation in so many decades by the usa.
The Black Panthers offered "an undetermined number of troops", troops meaning Black Panther members, who would have been on average very young Black sisters and brothers in the very early twenties.
The short letter offering volunteers to the Vietnamese resistance outlines the basic position of internationalism that drove the offer: "your struggle is also our struggle, for we recognize that our common enemy is the American imperialist who is the leader of international bourgeois domination. There is not one fascist or reactionary government in the world today that could stand without the support of United States imperialism. Therefore our problem is international, and we offer these troops in recognition of the necessity for inter-national alliances to deal with this problem."
This is the minimum theoretical approach of people who follow the legacy and teachings of of the Panthers, or Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Ngugi wa Thiong'o and others.
Huey Newton was a thoughtful revolutionary leader, sometimes to the detriment of his ability to actually lead the 10,000 strong Panther movement at its height. He was trying to grapple with the place of the Black revolution in the usa with the general socialist movement there and also how this relates to the international struggle. Working these things out is no easy task, and Huey Newton being one of the greatest revolutionaries to have emerged in the 1960s and 70s is easily forgiven for some of his shortcomings. Newton's concepts of inter-communalism and his reflections on the concept of nationality of the usa are interesting reflections, even if one doesn't wholly adhere to them.
Like for so many people and revolutionary movements and leaders, Vietnam was a defining struggle for socialism and against imperialism. The same goes for the Black Panthers. Many Panthers joined the party and movement after actually serving for the usa army of occupation in Vietnam and through their experiences there. The phenomenon of Black soldiers joining the Panthers was also due in some part to Vietnamese propaganda which kept reminding the Black soldiers that there fight was not against the Vietnamese one and the same with the Vietnamese against their common oppressors.
One well-known Panther from the New York branch - Geronimo 'Ji-Jaga' Pratt - served two tours in Vietnam for the usa army, was awarded two bronze stars, a silver star, and two purple hearts for his service, but then went on to play a senior role in the Panthers. On an aside, he was also the Godfather to Tupac Amaru Shakur (2Pac), and also spent 27 years in prison on a typical frame up against so many ex-Panthers. He passed away in June 2011 in Tanzania.
The Black Panthers have become a revolutionary legacy, like any others, that have become watered down by western capitalist consumerism and shallowness. Many people will adopt the personalities and symbolism of the Panthers as a fashion statement nearly, as radical chic, but know very little of what they were actually about.
The Black Panthers were dedicated to their communities and pioneered many community programs, 'Serve the People Programs' or 'Survival Programs pending revolution', but they were also dedicated militant Black and socialist revolutionaries with their hearts and souls serving the people and the international struggle.
They were the veritable daughters and sons of Malcolm X.
Sukant Chandan, Sons of Malcolm
PS: The Vietnamese greatly appreciated the offer of volunteers from Huey Newton and the Panthers, and respectfully declined stating that their two struggles were one and the same and that they would like the Panthers to focus on building a resistance to the war against Vietnam in the usa itself.
Letter to the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam
Huey P. Newton
August 29, 1970
In the spirit of international revolutionary solidarity the Black Panther Party hereby offers to the National Liberation Front and Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism. It is appropriate for the Black Panther Party to take this action at this time in recognition of the fact that your struggle is also our struggle, for we recognize that our common enemy is the American imperialist who is the leader of international bourgeois domination. There is not one fascist or reactionary government in the world today that could stand without the support of United States imperialism. Therefore our problem is international, and we offer these troops in recognition of the necessity for inter-national alliances to deal with this problem.
Such alliances will advance the struggle toward the final act of dealing with American imperialism. The Black Panther Party views the United States as the "city" of the world, while we view the nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America as the"countryside" of the world. The developing countries are like the Sierra Maestra in Cuba and the United States is like Havana. We note that in Cuba the people's army set up bases in the Sierra Maestra and choked off Havana because it was dependent upon the raw materials of the countryside. After they won all the battles in this countryside the last and final act was for the people to march upon Havana.
The Black Panther Party believes that the revolutionary process will operate in a similar fashion on an international level. A small ruling circle of seventy-six major companies controls the American economy. This elite not only exploits and oppresses Black people within the United States; they are exploiting and oppressing everyone in the world because of the overdeveloped nature of capitalism. Having expanded industry within the United States until it can grow no more, and depleting the raw materials of this nation, they have run amuck abroad in their attempts to extend their economic domination. To end this oppression we must liberate the developing nation-the countryside of the world- and then our final act will be the strike against the "city". As one nation is liberated elsewhere it gives us a better chance to be free here.
The Black Panther Party recognizes that we have certain national problems confined to the continental United States, but we are also aware that while our oppressor has domestic problems these do not stop him from oppressing people all over the world. Therefore we will keep fighting and resisting within the "city" so as to cause as much turmoil as possible and aid our brothers by dividing the troops of the ruling circle.
The Black Panther Party offers these troops because we are the vanguard party of revolutionary internationalists who give up all claim to nationalism. We take this position because the United States has acted in a very chauvinistic manner and lost its claim to nationalism. The United States is an empire which has raped the world to build its wealth here. Therefore the United States is not a nation. It is a government of international capitalists and inasmuch as they have exploited the world to accumulate wealth this country belongs to the world. The Black Panther Party contends that the United States lost its right to claim nation-hood when it used its nationalism as a chauvinistic base to become an empire.
On the other hand, the developing countries have every right to claim nation-hood, because they have not exploited anyone. The nationalism of which they speak is simply their rightful claim to autonomy, self-determination and a liberated base from which to fight the international bourgeoisie.
The Black Panther Party supports the claim to nationhood of the developing countries and we embrace their struggle from our position as revolutionary inter-nationalists. We cannot be nationalists when our country is not a nation but an empire. We contend that it is time to open the gates of this country and share the technological knowledge and wealth with the peoples of the world.
History has bestowed upon the Black Panther Party the obligation to take these steps and thereby advance Marxism-Leninism to an even higher level along the path to a socialist state, and then a non-state. This obligation springs both from the dialectical forces in operation at this time and our history as an oppressed Black colony. The fact that our ancestors were kidnapped and forced to come to the United States has destroyed our feeling of nationhood. Because our long cultural heritage was broken we have come to rely less on our history for guidance, and seek our guidance from the future. Everything we do is based upon functionalism and pragmatism, and because we look to the future for salvation we are in a position to become the most progressive and dynamic people on the earth. constantly in motion and progressing, rather than becoming stagnated by the bonds of the past.
Taking these things under consideration, it is no accident that the vanguard party-without chauvinism or a sense of nationhood-should be the Black Panther Party. Our struggle for liberation is based upon justice and equality for all men. Thus we are interested in the people of any territory where the crack of the oppressor's whip may be heard. We have the historical obligation to take the concept of internationalism to its final conclusion-the destruction of statehood itself. This will lead us into the era where the withering away of the state will occur and men will extend their hand in friendship throughout the world.
This is the world view of the Black Panther Party and in the spirit of revolutionary internationalism, solidarity and friendship we offer these troops to the National Liberation Front and Provisional Government of South Vietnam and to the people of the world.
[Source: To Die for the People by Huey P. Newton. (1970) pp.90-93]