There are a number of documented, written works by Chinese scholars on the “black condition” in the United States. But, one of the most remembered is Mao Zedong’s 1968 speech, orated in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr’s death, A New Storm Against Imperialism.
The Chinese leader applauds the work of Dr.King as a “revolutionary force” that was met with “counter-revolutionary measures”. In full, he states that:
“Some days ago, Martin Luther King, the Afro-American clergyman, was suddenly assassinated by the U.S. imperialists. Martin Luther King was an exponent of nonviolence. Nevertheless, the U.S. imperialists did not on that account show any tolerance toward him, but used counter-revolutionary violence and killed him in cold blood. This has taught the broad masses of the Black people in the United States a profound lesson. It has touched off a new storm in their struggle against violent repression sweeping well over a hundred cities in the United States; a storm such as has never taken place before in the history of that country. It shows that an extremely powerful revolutionary force is latent in the more than twenty million Black Americans” (Peking Review 1968)
Mao Zedong’s use of language to describe the black condition is one and the same as that which was used to discuss China’s struggle against imperialism.
Mao Zedong clearly distinguishes the “broad mass of black people” from U.S. Imperialists. This statement, effectively, acknowledges that the unequal treatment of Black-Americans by imperialist forces in the U.S. created an environment in which Black-Americans did not have access to “American-ness”.
The term “imperialist” was frequently used in describing China’s struggle against the West, and later, the USSR. As a political term, the word “imperialist” indicated individuals, nations or actors that actively promoted forms of “social imperialism” in order to preserve the status quo. The term was popularized during the Marxist International Worker’s Movement of the 20th century. In understanding the use and definition of the word “imperialist”, we see that Mao Zedong understood the struggle of Black-Americans as one that was congruent to the Chinese struggle, and thus essential to the perpetuation of oppression by the ruling economic, social and political class.
Finally, Mao Ze Dong’s acknowledgment of Martin Luther King Jr. and his use of language in “A New Storm Against Imperialism” highlights an, often, overlooked fact about the late leader. That is that Martin Luther King Jr. was a democratic socialist. In fact, Dr. King read and supported the work of a number of academics with socialist sentiments including W.E.B. Dubois, Albert Einstein, and Eugene Debs.
In line with socialist thought, Dr.King recognized the need to address both black issues in the United States and class issues. In 1996 Dr. King went on record saying:
“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move towards democratic socialism.” — Speech to staff, 1966
Some might regard the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to appeal to and promote black leaders in this fashion as disingenuous and a pure ploy to gain support for the Communist Party abroad. But, the fact is that internationalism, or the recognition of the interconnected struggle of people across nations, nationalities and race and the need for collaboration, is a core tenant of Marxist and Maoist thought. Therefore, giving credit to socialist leaders that have done work for struggles in all areas was essential. The black struggle against imperialist forces in the United States during the 1960s was wrought through sacrifice and determination, Mao Zedong’s early acknowledgment of that on the international stage is a striking example of the CCPs early commitment to supporting the work of Black-Intellectuals in the United States.