The Black Panthers and Red China

  The Black Panther Party was a political party and group of radical activists founded in 1966 that fought for Black rights in the United States at the grassroots level. Among many accomplishments, the Black Panther Party is credited with using direct combat to counter police violence in Black communities and establishing free lunch programs that would later be instituted nationwide by the United States government. The Black Panther Party understood the need for cross-cultural ties and solidarity.

Two core aspects of Black Panther ideology were “Black Internationalism” and a “Third World Marxist model”. These core tenants made the Party’s alliance with the California based “Red Guard Party” particularity viable. The California “Red Guard Party” was a group, primarily composed of Chinese Americans, that modeled themselves after radical efforts of the Cultural Revolution. This group developed close ties with the Black Panthers which led to an exchange in ideas and the eventual interest of Black Panther Party members in China’s struggle against imperialism. Pretty soon, Black Panthers began to quote and study Maoist principles. At one-point, Black Panther Party members sold “Quotations from Mao Zedong” in the streets.

Black Panther Party Members holding “Little Red Books”

It became common to hear quotations such as: “The Revolutionary capacity of the peasantry is not dependent on the proletariat” or “Leadership stems from the masses not from abstract realities” shouted on streets where Black Panthers stood (Kelly, Esch 12). It has even been said that the idea for the Black Panther Party’s revolutionary free school lunch programs was borrowed from the Chinese Communist Party’s people’s commune dining halls.

The Black Panthers Visit China

In the 1970s, female Black Panther Party Leader Elaine Brown came to China for a period of ten days and assisted in the translation of a number of works. After her visit, she was pleased with the nature of the struggle in China and saw the potential of China’s revolution. Her trip to China inspired other Black Panther Party members to follow.

Elaine Brown

In 1970, Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton was invited to China along with a delegation of Black Panther Party Members. At a press conference following his return to California, Newton described China as “…a sensation of freedom–as if a great weight had been lifted from my soul and I was able to be myself, without the defense of pretense or the need for explanation. I felt absolutely free for the first time in my life– completely free among my fellow men” (Kelly, Esch 12).

Black Panther Party Leader Huey Newton

For the Black Panthers, a struggle that examined material conditions at the time and place was necessary. The impact and importance of the Chinese Communist Party to the Black Panther Party would continue until the Party’s dissolution in the 1980s.

Black Panthers at press conference in San Francisco
The Black Panther Party at press conference after returning from China, 1971

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