As a tribute to the African Blood Brotherhood I am re-posting this article on my blog. The history of the ABB and the role of African Americans in the socialist movement should be of the utmost importance for all to research. -Carlito Rovira
The African Blood Brotherhood and the Proletarianization of Blacks in Amerika
By Comrade Tom Big Warrior (2010)
Reprinted from Right On! #1
The African Blood Brotherhood for African Liberation and Redemption (ABB) was the first Marxist, Revolutionary Black Nationalist organization in Amerika. Founded in 1917, it grew rapidly during the wave of white racist riots known as the “Red Summer of 1919,“ the ABB was a secret, armed, community self-defense-oriented society headquartered in Harlem.
Many of the “Blood Brothers” were combat vets who had fought in France in World War I. Many were workers, conscious of their proletarian class exploitation and oppression in capitalist society, as well as their caste oppression as “Negroes,” and national oppression as members of a nation of a new type defined by color and refined by slavery, terror and segregation.
The Nation of New Afrikans in Amerika, which was then a peasant nation concentrated in the cotton-producing “Black-Belt South,” was also evolving into a proletarian nation in the industrial centers and defined urban ghettos. The white riots were pogroms directed at these ghettos, which were expanding with the “Great Migration” from the South to the North and the West that had been encouraged by the need for industrial workers during the World War. Many of the white rioters were also returned war vets. There was also a big resurgence of the KKK at this time that peaked in the mid-1920s.
The urban Black proletarian had to be tough to survive. They were consigned to the dirtiest, most menial and demeaning jobs, and there was brutal competition for these jobs. The ghettos were overcrowded and transient, and Black on Black violence was rampant. Rubes from the country were sheep to slaughter for the lumpen criminals who preyed on them, and they kept coming as mechanization was displacing share-cropping in the South. Black workers quickly learned that whites who were not racist against them were probably class-conscious and Socialist. Militant unions like the IWW brought together workers of all ethnic backgrounds. But the core of leadership of the ABB was part of another migration from the Caribbean to the U.S., and particularly to Harlem.
The African Blood Brotherhood was the brain-child of Cyril Briggs, a light-skinned native of the Caribbean island of Nevis, where he was born in 1887. He migrated to New York on July 4th, 1905 and joined a growing community of West Indian Blacks in the city. That was the year of the first attempted revolution in Russia in which the Leninist Bolsheviks played a conspicuous role. The successful October Revolution of 1917 sent a shock wave around the world that was felt by oppressed people everywhere.
Lenin particularly had a lot to say to the colored peoples of the colonial and semi-colonial countries and directly to the Black people in Amerika. Eventually, the ABB was absorbed into the underground communist Workers Party of America (WPA) which evolved into the CPUSA. The communist party founded by the Russian Federation declared its stance on the Negro Question in 1920: “The Communist Party will carry on agitation among Negro workers to unite them with all class conscious workers.”
Leninism distinguished itself from earlier Marxism by its conscious commitment to the national liberation struggles of the colonial and subject peoples which Lenin recognized to be closely linked to the World Proletarian Socialist Revolution. The class conscious ABB veterans and West Indians shared an understanding of a wider world of exploitation and oppression than the “Jim Crow” South and the ghetto street corner, the world of global capitalist-imperialist empire and world proletarian socialist revolution – a world illuminated by Leninism.
The ABB was committed to the liberation of Afrika and the whole of the Afrikan Diaspora from white world supremacy and capitalist-imperialism and saw the necessity of overthrowing this system to end the racist oppression of Black people and other people of color. As the immediacy of defending the oppressed Black communities from the violence of vigilante white mobs subsided, the ABB comrades began to see more and more the need to win white comrades to fight against white racism in the overall workers movement and all strata of society and prepare the U.S. for proletarian socialist revolution.
Former ABB members formed the core of the CPUSA’s Black cadre, and they were rigorous in opposing white racism in the Party and the unions and mass organizations influenced by the Communist Party. In the 1920s & 30s, the Communist Party initiated work in the South, including forming sharecropper unions uniting both Black and poor whites and unions among southern textile workers.
This was the CP’s most revolutionary period – though it tended towards “left economism” and “dual unionism” — and a period when many Blacks were first exposed to Communist ideology and organization. The “Harlem Renaissance” saw a flowering of Black consciousness and culture, and most of the artists and intellectuals involved were strongly influenced by Marxism-Leninism and leftist ideas.
The World War had shaken things up and raised Black expectations. Most expected progressive changes after the war and were disappointed and frustrated by the resurgence of KKK activity and overall reactionary backlash that swept white Amerika. Large numbers turned to the new Communist Party looking for direction.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, news headlines focused on a group of Puerto Rican youth in New York City who used daring tactics and unusual forms of protest against racist oppression. These defiant and militant youths called themselves the Young Lords.
Their examples, and the mass movement from which they arose, continue to inspire young people, especially today as we see greater proof that the only solution to oppression is organization and struggle.
The Young Lords developed in Chicago during the 1950s. They were composed of unemployed students and working-class youth, who were among many street-youth organizations targeted by police and demonized as “gangs” by the capitalist-owned mass media.
These youths came from families compelled to leave Puerto Rico between the 1940s and 1960s as a result of the economic hardships caused by U.S. colonialism. They continued to experience oppression but under new social circumstances, as they became victims of extreme exploitation in factories, greedy slumlords, police brutality and by the viciousness of racist white gangs.
The Puerto Rican migration occurred during the same years the Civil Rights movement arose. The newly arrived Puerto Rican immigrants were impacted by the struggles of the African American people who also experienced the vile nature of racism in this country since chattel slavery. In many instances, Puerto Ricans identified with the demands of the Black Power movement.
In 1966, the Black Panther Party was formed. Panther leader Fred Hampton of Chicago sought to politicize the street organizations, particularly the Puerto Rican youths. The BPP’s efforts were successful when, in 1968, under the leadership of Jose Cha-Cha Jimenez, the Young Lords became a revolutionary political entity; they then became part of a fraternal alliance known as the Rainbow Coalition (unrelated to Jessie Jackson’s later Rainbow/PUSH Coalition), which also included the Brown Berets, I Wor Kuen, Young Patriots and the Black Panthers.
Young Lords in New York
On July 26, 1969 the Young Lords made their debut in New York City at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Cuban Revolution held at Tompkins Square Park in the Lower East Side. The Young Lords admired and supported the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro Ruz and Ernesto Che Guevara. Two months later the Lords opened an office on Madison Avenue in the East Harlem, “El Barrio” community.
For many years, Black and Latino people complained about the New York Sanitation Department’s double standards in trash pick up. White affluent areas were serviced properly with regular garbage pick-ups, while Black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods were left in unhealthy conditions.
In the summer of 1969, the Young Lords in New York began sweeping the streets and amassing large piles of garbage that were a nuisance to the community of East Harlem. Many people wondered about what the young, seemingly “good Samaritans” were up to. But the mystery did not last long.
In August 1969, the Young Lords used the garbage they had collected as the means to execute a political offensive with military tactics. Tons of trash were dumped and set ablaze across the main arteries of Manhattan to disrupt traffic, including on the affluent 5th Avenue. The Lords demanded an end to New York City’s racist municipal policies on sanitation. In neighborhoods where the “garbage offensive” was launched, the Lords galvanized community support; many joined the organization.
The mass media’s attacks on the Lords only worked in their favor. Within months, YLP chapters appeared in Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Jersey City, Boston and Milwaukee—cities with concentrations of Puerto Ricans. While mainly composed of Puerto Ricans, the organization also allowed members of other oppressed nationalities to join the Young Lords.
The Young Lords Party had a military-type structure with a process for recruitment and rules of discipline that were strictly enforced. The YLP believed that in order to defeat a politically and militarily sophisticated foe oppressed people had to prepare for their liberation by developing greater sophistication.
In the years following the Garbage Offensive, the Young Lords engaged in numerous campaigns that involved bold actions and drew widespread attention. One example was the physical takeover of the First Spanish Methodist Church on 111th Street. The Lords repeatedly pleaded with parishioners for space in order to feed hungry children, but to no avail. This church was closed throughout the week and only opened for a few hours for worshiping by a congregation that mostly lived out of town.
Backed by community sentiment, the Young Lords entered the church during a Sunday mass and expelled the congregation. Using the church as a base, the Young Lords operated a free childcare service, breakfast program and legal clinic. Medical services were also provided.
Disease and poor healthcare have long been an issue in the Puerto Rican community. Other actions taken by the YLP included the seizure of an unused tuberculosis testing truck, equipped with X-ray technology. After the truck was seized, the city was compelled to provide technicians to run the machine. The truck was then taken to East Harlem, where many people were tested for the lung ailment.
The Lords demanded that Lincoln Hospital, which served the people of the South Bronx, expand its services. Because this facility originated in the mid-1800s, when it treated even escaped slaves from the South, its facilities were outdated and did not meet the current needs of the people. An infestation of rats and roaches in the hospital further exacerbated the deplorable conditions.
In the early morning hours of July 14, 1970, about 100 members of the Young Lords boldly seized control of Lincoln Hospital. For 24 hours, the Young Lords and progressive medical professionals in the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement provided free medical services to community people. Today’s modern Lincoln Hospital—with its new facilities—is the result of a community struggle of which the Young Lords were in the leadership.
The Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization
In the summer of 1972, the Young Lords Party held its First Party Congress (and its last) in New York City. The event highlighted a new energy and direction for the organization. At this time, the membership voted to change the name from Young Lords Party to Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO). Moreover, the changes solidified Marxism-Leninism as the entity’s ideological and political premise.
However one may view this stage in the organization’s development, many things proved to be certain years later — the Young Lords/PRRWO was undergoing a process of deterioration unseen by its members. The attempts made to rejuvenate its existence with a new line of march at the 1972 Congress came a bit too late. Making an erroneous decision to establish chapters in Puerto Rico, losing its base of mass support in the community, aggravated by internal hostilities which were instigated by FBI Operation COINTELPRO activities, eventually sealed the death of the once powerful organization.
El Frente Unido – The United Front
One of the least talked about areas of work of the Young Lords/PRRWO was the collaborative relationship it had with other organizations also part of the Puerto Rican national liberation movement in the United States; These organizations were the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP), El Comite-MINP, Resistencia Puertorriqueña, the Puerto Rican Students Union (PRSU), and the Young Lords.
A great amount of the collaborative work these groups did jointly was centered around burning issues in Puerto Rico, such as the struggle to end the U.S. military’s practice bombings on the island of Culebra. Other issues compelling the joint work was the demand for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners, such as Carlos Feliciano, Edwardo “Pancho” Cruz and the 5 Puerto Rican Nationalists.
Other actions El Frente Unido committed work towards were protest demonstrations against injustices inflicted against Puerto Ricans and opposing the U.S. War in Vietnam. Grave mistakes were indeed made of a sectarian nature that eventually made the coalition vulnerable to the divide & conquer tactics by Operation COINTELPRO. But nevertheless, the attempts made by El Frente Unido provided the Puerto Rican struggle with a wealth of experience to benefit the long-range fight for national liberation.
The ideology of the Young Lords Party
The YLP drew up a13-Point Program that outlined the group’s political objectives. It included independence for Puerto Rico, as well as liberation for all Latinos and other oppressed people, like the Palestinians. The Young Lords upheld the struggle against women’s oppression and eventually voiced support for the rights of LGBTQ people.
These young revolutionaries believed that the power of the people would eventually overwhelm the power of the oppressors. In that spirit, the YLP believed in the right of armed self-defense. This became evident in actions they took while patrolling the streets in areas they organized. Whenever the Young Lords witnessed the police arresting community residents, they would intervene to confront the racist cops and often liberated the prisoners.
In late 1970, YLP member Julio Roldan, who had been arrested at a demonstration in the Bronx and was pending arraignment, was found hung to death in his cell at the “Tombs” prison facility in lower Manhattan. During this era, many prisoners were found mysteriously dead in their cells, but prison officials always labeled them “suicides.”
The Young Lords responded to Roldan’s death with militancy, accusing the state of murder. Following a procession with Roldan’s coffin through East Harlem, the YLP returned to the First Spanish Methodist Church, which they had seized a year earlier—but this time, they came armed with shotguns and automatic weapons. They demanded an investigation into Roldan’s death. Deeply entrenched community support for the Young Lords prevented a gun battle, as government officials knew there would be an enormous political fallout if they initiated a police onslaught. The Young Lords held the church for three months.
There are many examples of heroism among these young revolutionaries—not only in New York or Chicago, but also in chapters formed in other cities where the Puerto Rican people rose up in struggle.
Women of the Young Lords
As with all movements of importance, it was the women of the Young Lords who served as the political backbone and spirit of the organization. At the height of the YLP’s development women comprised at least 40 percent of the membership in the organization. Their nobility and courageous leadership among the ranks was beyond exemplary.
However, respect and acceptance of their roles as leaders was met with resistance and obstacles often rooted in the oppressive traditions of male dominance. But the sisters were steadfast and formed the Women’s Collective, an internal organizational vehicle to enable launching the necessary fight against sexism in the Young Lords.
Yet, despite many internal battles, these sisters used the persuasiveness of politics and education to move forward the entire entity. We owe a debt of deep gratitude to all of these women.
As a result of their determination and work, many groups of women from international movements recognized them for their contributions against capitalism and its many forms of oppression.
The Young Lords were socialist youth
Shamefully, because the Young Lords no longer exists, diluted, non-revolutionary interpretations of that history persist today.
The YLP openly denounced the capitalist system and called for a socialist society; they increasingly gravitated towards the ideals of Marxism. The organization had mandatory study of revolutionary-Marxist literature, such as Mao Ste Tung’s “Red Book,” The Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels, The Wretched Of The Earth by Frantz Fanon, and so on.
Historical revisionism currently depicts the Young Lords and other frontline groups of the 1960’s-70’s as harmless to the capitalist system and irrelevant to the struggle for socialism today. In other words, despite historical versions that seek approval by the publishing houses of the mainstream the Young Lords were fundamentally revolutionaries and sought to smash the present social, economic and political order.
The Young Lords, like the Black Panther Party, attempted to build a highly disciplined organization. They understood that without the organizational sophistication of a vanguard party, revolution is impossible. It is precisely this lesson that revolutionaries today should embrace and emulate in order to realize the future victory of socialism.
Bourgeois political figures from both the Republican and Democratic Parties are now hung up about Bernie Sanders’ praises for Cuba’s sophisticated healthcare system.
Get over it — objective truth belongs to no one. The entire world is knowledgeable of Cuba’s prioritization of healthcare for its people. The advancements in medicine and accessability to healthcare are among the many achievements of the Cuban Revolution.
Needless to mention how many poor people in countries subjugated by U.S. and other imperialist powers have been able to be seen by medical doctors for the first time thanks to Cuba’s international medical programs.
Whatever you may opinionate about Bernie Sanders version of “socialism” his limited and mild praise for Cuba’s medical system was enough to throw every defender of the capitalist system into a feverish frenzy of anti-Communist hatred.
Why? Simply because Cuban medicine sheds a positive light on the Cuban Revolution led by its historical iconic figures Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz and Ernesto “Che” Guevara. It also sheds light on what is possible in a revolutionary socialist United States.
Before absorbing and mimicking the attacks of the right-wing against Bernie Sanders remarks let’s ask ourselves the following: Why is there such a sense of uncertainty and insecurity among the working poor in the United States when it comes to healthcare?
Everyday we hear Donald Trump threatening to cut Medicaid and Medicare while Democratic presidential candidates echo his views by expressing doubts or disapproval for everyone to receive healthcare — a fundamental human right.
We have yet to see how Bernie Sanders will withstand the onslaught of attacks for his comment recognizing Cuba’s medical achievements. However this controversy results, there are ways to criticize him from the left as opposed from the right. For those with critical views of Bernie Sanders’ version of “socialism” or “Democratic Socialism” we must distant our criticisms from those made by bourgeois elements on the political right.
To his credit, Bernie Sanders pointed to Cuba’s achievements, despite the criminal U.S. economic blockade against that country. His right to state an indisputable fact about Cuba is something we must defend him on, just as much as criticizing his positions that are conciliatory to capitalism.
Healthcare for all was made possible in Cuba simply because the country’s resources are no longer horded by a privileged and wealthy minority, like in the United States. The 1959 Cuban Revolution was launched to abolish that.
Now, imagine what is possible if we were to be free of the parasitical capitalist class in this country. That is why we do not need a new president — we need a new system, where free healthcare, free education, housing for all, dignity and respect for humanity becomes the law.
Today, May 11, 2019 marks one year since the death of Ana Luz Lopez Betancourt, the woman whom I grew to love, respect, cherish and from whom I learned tremendously. After having a stroke months before many had hoped that Ana would heal. What resulted instead was an unexpected heart attack which eventually claimed her life. Being a witness to her suffering in those final moments became the greatest trauma that I have ever experienced.
Ana was a beautiful human being who had earned the respect and affection of many people, especially fellow poets and her students, many of whom were immigrants from various countries. She was a teacher of creative writing and assisted these students in the use of the English language for job applications. But her humanity was not strictly in her profession, Ana’s premise was selflessness on every level. If Ana were to see someone in need she would immediately step in to help.
Ana was a Buddhist who consciously practiced her spiritual beliefs by always making an extra effort to help others in need. Her humanism was undeniably expressed through her poetry. Ana wrote about love, sorrow, pain, joy, as well as poetic renditions of political themes in both English and Spanish.
Ana was very proud of her Puerto Rican heritage as well as for being an Afro-Boricua. She would always challenge the influences of white supremacy with individuals who demonstrated to be impacted when they would express anti-Black notions by tending to deny or downplay the African blood among Latino people.
And having been born in Puerto Rico, suffering the consequences of colonialism, Ana’s steadfast became inseparable from her contempt for the U.S. colonization of her homeland, especially in the last days of her life when it became apparent how U.S. colonial policy welcomed the destructive forces of Hurricane Maria, in order to intensify their rule. Ana lived with the hopes of living long enough to see Puerto Rico as a free and independent republic.
Surviving the trauma of Ana’s death was very difficult, especially with the death of my very best friend Andy McInerney who died six months later. But I was very fortunate to have many friends who came to my support at a moment when I needed it the most. The people whom I shall forever be grateful to were members of the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, most especially Johanna Fernandez, Sophia Williams, Gwen Debrow, Robyn Spensor, Rebekah McAlister, as well as Xen Medina, Mariana McDonald and my beloved dear friend Andy McInerney.
Ana shall always be remembered by many who grew to love her. And being that her convictions and morality also impacted me, which helped to strengthen my resolve in political struggle as well as making me a better man, Ana shall always have a very special place in my heart.
You say you’re disappointed – what on earth were you thinking about when Mueller was first appointed special counsel?
Sure the rulers are not homogeneous and are contentious among themselves, but keep in mind that it was an inquiry created by and approved by them. Mueller, who is also a Republican, is a staunch cadre of the ruling class, and is highly regarded by them. His military career and as Director of the FBI under both Republican and Democratic presidents confirms his complete loyalty to this system.
If there is a strict rule these villains in power live by is to protect the political integrity of the capitalist system. Mueller’s investigative mandate was not aimed to protect “democracy”, but rather, to protect a system of exploitation, social privilege and inequality.
Whose interest did you think the special counsel really represented? Certainly not our’s, the tens of millions of working class people who are being impacted by the policies of the Trump administration, and every administration that came before — which have acted consistently with the interest of the ruling class — a class interest that Democrats also represent. This fiasco was more like thieves investigating thieves.
Of course Trump should be indicted, most people in this country will agree. In fact, people are now speaking about the Mueller Report everywhere with the highest level of disappointment. But what Trump should have been investigated, indicted and imprisoned for goes beyond collusion — which many in the ruling class are also motivated to engage in for their business interest.
What Trump is indisputably guilty of is stepping up the full agenda of billionaires in this country, who conspire daily to execute an onslaught against poor working class, people of color.
What Trump is guilty of is working feverishly on eliminating the gains African Americans made during the Civil Rights movement and openly legitimizing traditional racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazies. He is also guilty of degrading Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Muslims, and other people of color. Special Council Mueller’s mandate did not include addressing questions of social oppression which are the unavoidable consequence of capitalist society.
Trump should also face criminal charges for plotting war against Venezuela; his disgusting and offensive disposition towards the Palestinian people when he established a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem; and his hurtful, chastising imperial behavior towards Puerto Rico, as thousands died horribly as a result of Hurricane Maria.
YES, Trump should be investigated, indicted and imprisoned, but by a people’s tribunal that can guarantee justice in the fullest sense, independent of financial interests and the intricate connections within the ruling class. Such would require a people’s revolutionary movement. Not only would Trump be held accountable for his criminal activities but so too would the capitalist system and the white supremacist movement which he represents.
The colonization of Puerto Rico began as a consequence of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Cuba, Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico were deemed as “spoils of war” — the result of Spain’s surrender to the United States. Puerto Rico was then colonized by a new tyrant. The island nation soon after became a staging ground for U.S. military ventures throughout the Caribbean and all of Latin America; a practice that continues to this day.
Throughout the history of the U.S. colonial presence in Puerto Rico outspoken advocates for independence have been the targets of Draconian measures. Members of the Nationalist Party lived under the constant threat of being blacklisted from employment, their homes firebombed, imprisonment, torture and being killed by the various repressive agencies.
U.S. colonial policy in Puerto Rico has always been administered with complete disregard for the wishes of the Puerto Rican people. It was precisely this disposition by the colonial rulers which brought about one of the most horrifying events in Puerto Rico’s history.
The Ponce Massacre
In the city of Ponce, a peaceful demonstration was planned for March 21, 1937. It was intended to commemorate the 1873 abolition of African chattel slavery in Puerto Rico and to demand the release of imprisoned Nationalist leader Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos.
Although permits were not required the organizers requested permission to have the event out of respect for the sympathetic mayor of Ponce. The organizers were granted a legal permit to proceed with their plans.
The notorious U.S. Army General Blanton Winship was appointed colonial governor by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Despite the “progressive” and “liberal” projections made by bourgeois historians and apologists, Roosevelt was just as brutal as any colonizing head of state acting with impunity. Boricuas suffered tremendously under the FDR administration and Gen. Blanton Winship’s racist implementation of colonial policy.
Outright brutality through military rule was the preferred form of administering colonialism. Winship tried everything possible to stop the scheduled nationalist event, including using blatant gangster-type methods aimed to intimidate.
In this period of intense repression, the U.S. government, through Winship, sought to stamp out all nationalist sentiments and the self-identity of the colonized nation — especially its quest for independence and self-determination.
On that Palm Sunday morning, hundreds of people — women, children and men — gathered at the town plaza, in defiance of the colonial government’s wishes. Among those who assembled were women dressed in all white who gathered as Nurses of the Republic; the mostly youth comprised Cadets of the Republic — the para-military wing of the Nationalist Party were present in uniform, black shirts and white pants; church congregations and others also formed their contingents.
A Nationalist color guard in military formation unveiled the outlawed Puerto Rican flag. With clenched fists in the air, the crowd began to sing “La Borinqueña” — the original (revolutionary) version of the national anthem of the Puerto Rican people.
At this point, the police had completely sealed off the area where the nationalist protest was gathering. With grenades, tear-gas bombs, carbine rifles and Tommy sub-machine guns, under the directions of Blanton Winship the police prepared for the bloody onslaught.
Once the crowd began to march, knowing that the mostly young participants were unarmed, the police did the unimaginable — they opened fire.
The barrage lasted about 13 minutes. The participants which included elderly and children helplessly attempted to escape the unexpected horror. People began to desperately run to save their lives from bullets flying everywhere. They screamed terrified witnessing the chaos and blood splattering bodies of compatriots who fell to the ground from gunshots wounds.
When the shooting ended, 21 people had been killed and over 200 wounded. The American Civil Liberties Union investigated the tragedy. It was concluded by forensic investigation that those who died were shot in the back. The event brought sadness and shock throughout Puerto Rico. The funeral procession for the martyrs was one of the largest in the country’s history — about 20,000 people attended.
The cruelty of the Ponce Massacre sheds light on the many heinous acts committed by the U.S. in Puerto Rico. Destruction, death, plunder and rape are the trademarks of colonialism. U.S. rulers perceive Puerto Ricans as expendable; let us not forget how modern times Washington officials allowed 4,743 Puerto Ricans to die from neglect, following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
“It was love for the freedom of our homeland — Puerto Rico,” Nationalist iconic figure Doña Isabel Rosado once said, “that gave strength to the martyrs of Ponce. Nothing in this world is more powerful than this emotion — not even the guns of the colonial assassins.”
And it is precisely this emotion that worries U.S. colonialism even to this day — an emotion that will prove fatal to them when the Puerto Rican masses eventually rise up to avenge the Ponce Massacre.
Changing the form of colonial rule
The nationalist movement that rose up in the first half of the 20th Century compelled the U.S. colonizers to change their methods of subjugating the people of Puerto Rico. Long after the Ponce Massacre, decades later into the present day, the U.S. colonizers became more sophisticated in their methods of domination.
By 1952, Washington, DC allowed some semblances of democracy, in an attempt to fool the people with illusions of self-determination and to disguise the exploitative nature of the colonial relationship before the eyes of the world.
The U.S. colonizers developed such a confidence in their new tactics of colonizing that they became willing to allow individuals of Puerto Rican origin, like the notorious Luis Muñoz Marin, to serve on the highest levels of government — as in years later — the U.S. House of Representative and Supreme Court.
The rulers have no problem granting Puerto Ricans visibility — what they have problems with is granting Puerto Ricans political power, that is, the right to independence. And because freedom is never granted from the “goodness” of an oppressor, it will require a revolutionary mass movement to obtain it.
The U.S. empire is more vulnerable than what most people realize; it has brought on itself enemies in all parts of the globe. We should feel assured that Boricuas will rise up in rebellion and win the historical struggle for independence. On that glorious future moment Puerto Ricans will make their contribution to the worldwide defeat of U.S. imperialism.
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was born on January 24, 1874 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He was a Black Puerto Rican scholar, historian, author and activist, who devoted his entire life to compiling vast collections of writings and art documenting significant events in Black history.
When Schomburg was just 8 years old he was told by a school teacher that Black people had no history. This assertion naturally bothered him for a long time. But as he gradually grew older, Schomburg found the teacher’s claim to make absolutely no sense. That encounter became Schomburg’s motivation which led him to set out and prove wrong such racist notions.
African chattel slavery also touched upon Puerto Rico, which became the consequence of Spanish colonialism in both Africa and Latin America. In 1527 the first slave revolt in Puerto Rico was among the bloodiest in the Western Hemisphere.
Despite the numerous contributions Schomburg made to the preservation of Black-Latino history, like many others he was not immune to anti-Black discrimination. Throughout his entire life, Schomburg experienced blatant racism, sadly within the Puerto Rican community as well.
Colorism, as an extension of white supremacy, often permeated conversations about “Los prietos” (the dark ones), “Pelo bueno y pelo malo” (good hair and bad hair), and so on. As in the United States, the not-so-hidden practices of racism has also existed in Puerto Rico and all of Latin America.
Arturo Schomburg was instrumental in documenting the role of African people in the cultural development of the Puerto Rican nation. The psychic, spirituality, linguistics, diet, music and dance of Puerto Rico pointed to the contributions made by Africans. Schomburg proudly identified as an Afroborinqueño (Afro-Puerto Rican).
Harlem Renaissance & Puerto Rico’s independence struggle
Schomburg became a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance. He collaborated with famous individuals like Langston Hughes, Alain Leroy Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois and other pillars of that movement. The Harlem Renaissance succeeded in challenging the ideological facets of white supremacy through the literary, visual and performing arts. It was an exciting and enlightening period in history for the African diaspora, following the struggles to end the horrors of slavery.
Thanks to the powerful momentum inspired by Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) Black people now had relative freedom to develop culturally, economically and politically in the surroundings of a white racist society. This was the setting in which Arturo Schomburg was able to make his contributions to Black history.
Before moving to New York City, at 17 years old, Schomburg was a leader in the secret Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico. This organization was created several years before Schomburg’s birth for launching the 1868 anti-slavery & pro-independence revolt known as El Grito De Lares. Although the attempt to rid Spanish colonialism failed, the Revolutionary Committee continued to exist clandestinely.
Throughout his life Schomburg remained a firm advocate for Puerto Rico’s independence. In fact, he was the founder of Las Dos Alas (The Two Wings), an organization in New York City devoted to the independence cause of Puerto Rico and Cuba. In 1895 Schomburg partook in a meeting with other freedom fighters like Manuel Besosa and Juan de Mata Terreforte at the Chimney Corner Hall to discuss and approve what became today’s official Puerto Rican Flag.
But as the 19th Century came to a close with the U.S. military invasion and occupation of both Cuba and Puerto Rico, these conditions caused the independence movement in both countries to enter a period of stagnation. As a result, Schomburg and other like-minded activists who resided outside of Cuba and Puerto Rico, began to re-vise their activities based on the change in the climate of imperialism.
Schomburg’s shift in central focus
As the persecution of Black people in the United States intensified, with the extension of Jim Crow laws, lynching and white racist riots presenting a dangerous and menacing setting, coupled by Schomburg’s childhood memory of a demeaning comment made to him by a school teacher, raised his commitment to the idea of affirming the validity and truth of Black history.
Ridiculing the racist fables about the origins and history of Black people became Schomburg’s central focus. His noble quest eventually proved the extent of white supremacy’s corruption and baseless reasoning for existing.
Once in New York City, and for the remainder of his life, Schomburg collected large amounts of materials relevant to the history of Africa and the African diaspora. His work unavoidably brought to light the falsehood of white historians who interpreted the history of human social development strictly from a European perspective, thus concealing what are the African people’s pivotal role in that process.
Although Arturo Schomburg never proclaimed to be a revolutionary, his academic achievements coupled with such fervent passion to preserve and protect the historic culture of the Diaspora shows otherwise. Long after his death, Schomburg’s accomplishments continue to shatter racist myths.
His devotion to raise Black history to its rightful grandeur contributed immensely to the ideological struggle against white supremacy, thus, adding to the majestic qualities of Black nationalism.
Moreover, Schomburg was a consistent leader of debunking the dangerous narratives of racial superiority that ushered in social Darwinism and Eugenics. These world perspectives were often used by capitalists to politically hinder and divide working class people.
The vast and beautiful collection of literature and art materials he compiled throughout his life are permanently housed at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center For Research of Black Culture, located at 515 Malcolm X Blvd, in Harlem, NYC.
Arturo Afonso Schomburg shall be remembered for his bold intellectual defiance and as a hero of the oppressed. His lifelong contributions has strengthen the legitimacy of Puerto Rico’s independence cause as well as the historical struggle for Black liberation. Schomburg’s’ life embodied the epitome of Black & Puerto Rican solidarity.
On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1958, the revolutionary guerilla army of the July 26 Movement, under the leadership of Comandante Fidel Castro Ruz, entered the capital city of Havana, Cuba. This was the final act in the overthrow of the notorious U.S.-sponsored Fulgencio Batista regime.
The closer the guerilla army approached the city on foot, horseback and vehicles, the more frantic the oppressors of the Cuban people became. Their world of lavishness with cocktails drinks on hand was abruptly disrupted. Mafia gangsters, prostitution pimps, drug peddlers, casino club owners, operatives of the CIA and other imperialist agencies, high ranking military and police officials as well as top bureaucrats of Batista’s government, were all crowding Havana’s airport in a desparate rush to leave Cuba, to avoid capture by the revolutionaries.
This event marked the dawn of a new era in that country’s history which sent shock waves throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Cuban Revolution has had a tremendous impact on political circumstances in Latin America, the Caribbean and the entire world ever since.
Cuba has been a staunch advocate of Puerto Rico’s right to independence and has brought to light at the world arena the horrendous nature of the U.S. colonial presence; it provided political and logistical support to the Palestinian liberation struggle as well as sending thousands of Cuban troops to Africa in an effort to assist freedom fighters there in their quest. The most notable example of Cuba’s solidarity with Africa’s freedom struggle is the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. In a combined effort with the Angolan military the Cuban Army surrounded and smashed the racist apartheid South African Army.
Of the most notable of Cuba’s acts of humanitarianism is its creation of the Latin American School of Medicine. Students from poor and oppressed communities from the United States and Third World countries, who otherwise could not financially afford it, are provided with a free education to become medical doctors, paid for by the Cuban government.
And to demonstrate how serious the Cuban Revolution is about its own convictions and sense of humanity, many people in poor countries have received desperately needed medical attention for the first time thanks to Cuba’s well-known international medical program. Cuba has sent thousands of medical professionals to the poorest communities throughout the globe to heal and prevent deceases, even under the most dangerous circumstances.
Cuba has also provided a safe haven to many political refugees sought by the agencies of imperialism, like Puerto Rican freedom fighter William Morales and Black Panther sister Assata Shakur. Cuba has also been a firm supporter for the release of political prisoners in the U.S., like Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Justice now had a new meaning, defined by the revolutionary aspirations of the oppressed. Uniformed villains of the Batista military and police who once tortured, murdered and raped the people were rounded up and brought to face criminal charges. Tribunals were held throughout the country for all to witness and participate in a completely new form of justice — people’s justice — in which victims partook by providing testimony and in deciding the fate of these overthrown government officials.
Thanks to the Cuban Revolution the people were no longer deprived of free healthcare, free education, and access to food. Such are the vital necessities denied to the working poor here in the United States.
60 years have past and the Cuban people remain firm on defending their right to self-determination. They have been exemplary in their resilience in the face of repeated U.S. government attempts to undermine their sovereignty. These attempts include terrorist actions on Cuba’s tourist industry, CIA subversive attempts to incite counterrevolutionary activities within the country, 600 known attempts on the life of the late Fidel Castro Ruz, and a continuous economic blockade that still continues to this day.
Despite these acts of aggression and Washington’s 60 years propaganda war aimed to demonize the revolution, no one can deny Cuba’s achievements in eradicating illiteracy, advancements in medical science, food production & agriculture, housing development and the infrastructure.
Cuba’s revolutionary leadership has prioritized the needs of the people and continues to make good on its pledge never to allow foreign exploiters, oppressors and conquerors to return the country back to the suffering that once existed under the domination of the United States.
So as we celebrate the coming of the new year, we should salute the Cuban people on their glorious anniversary. And may the year 2019 bring us here in the United States a step closer to a world without exploitation, deprivation, oppression and racist violence.
It saddens me to announce that on the evening of Monday, December 10, 2018, long time revolutionary activist Andy McInerney passed away after losing a long battle with cancer. As if it wasn’t enough losing my sweetheart & love of my life, Ana Lopez Betancourt, in the month of May 2018, I now grieve another major loss, my very best friend, brother and comrade, Andy McInerney.
Andy was a professor at Bronx Community College in New York. He will surely be missed by the many whom he taught as well as his colleagues who partook in struggles for bettering college level education and for increasing the benefits and salaries of professors.
Andy was a communist. He was always fascinated when learning about the liberation struggles of oppressed people. He was adamant about white progressives today requiring to have the same disposition John Brown once had against African chattel slavery, if they sincierely claim being anti-racist. I always had respect for Andy, since I envisioned him fighting alongside John Brown if he were to live during the 1859 attack on Harpers Ferry.
As a person of white origin himself, Andy was critical of white leftists who tended to show inconsistencies of conviction, by being soft and evasive of criticizing white privilege and white entitlement. He viewed that kind of behavior unforgiving and a not-so-hidden expression of white supremacist ideology.
Andy and I became good friends during our mutual experience in Workers World Party and in the Party for Socialism & Liberation. It was in our experiences in these entities where our collaboration first grew to the finest pitch, which later on continued.
Wherever Andy found himself, whether organizing events on campus or mobilizing for mass demonstrations, he always sought ways to promote and apply Marxist-Leninist theory. He recognized that his moral obligation was to build in the present in preparation for the future battle for socialism in the United States.
Andy was indeed a revolutionary who also contributed to my own political development. In 1991 when I first met him the world revolutionary movement went into disarray, resulting from the impact the collapse of the Soviet Union was having everywhere.
He was an optimist, even under dim circumstances. He always told me that the collapse of the Soviet Union was only a temporary victory for imperialism and that we should maintain our course in building for revolution in this country regardless.
Andy understood that throughout history such phenomenon also occurred with other social & economic systems. It was Andy who told me “not to worry” and enlightened me to how the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in France was equivalent to the restoration of capitalism in Russia. Bonaparte restored the political power of the monarchy that was defeated by the 1789 French Revolution.
Andy was of Irish descent. He demonstrated the utmost respect to me when he discovered that I was a Young Lord and a Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalist. In our exchanges we strengthened each other’s understanding of the Irish-Puerto Rican connection. It was Andy who first made me aware that Irish revolutionary James Connolly had asked Puerto Rican Nationalist leader Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos to draw up a draft for the Constitution of a free Irish republic.
There is much more that can be said about Andy McInerney. He touched the hearts of so many people. His greatest trait which describes his finest qualities as a human being was his incredible love and respect for teaching and learning, a fundamental requirement for what it takes to be a revolutionary. Andy’s disposition came with an eagerness to learn and pass the knowledge on to others.
I will miss you my dear brother and comrade, Andy McInerney. You were always there for me during the thick and thin. There is much about you that I will cherish and feel honored that you were in my life. And above all, I shall eternally be grateful to you for helping me strengthen my resolve to keep fighting until this social system of oppression is finally smashed by the will of the vast majority of oppressed and exploited people.
In a coordinated effort between the Illinois State Attorney’s Office, Cook County Police Department, the Chicago Police Department and the FBI, a heavily armed assault was launched on Fred Hampton’s residence, in the morning hours of December 4, 1969. With a vicious sense of racist hatred and no regard for human life, police fired their weapons at will through a wall separating the hallway from the apartment. The two revolutionaries were killed.
In the days that followed, law enforcement officials were quick to reinvent the facts. They claimed that the occupants of the apartment fired guns at police. Their story never held water. Evidence gathered from the forensic investigation and other inquiries pointed exclusively to police savagery in the attack.
The shaping of a leader
Like millions of African Americans, Hampton’s parents left the South during the Great Migration of the 1930’s to look for a better life and flee the constant threat of racist terror. They settled in Maywood, Ill., a suburb of Chicago where they worked at the Argo Starch Company.
Hampton was attracted to books, and took it upon himself to read the speeches and writings of Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Dubois, Joan Elbert, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and others. He gained a reputation for his knowledge of Black history and began to sense the need for struggle.
As a student at Proviso East High School, he noticed that most of the students who failed were Black. Hampton began to speak out against the school administration for not providing tutoring and remedial programs for students. He was also critical of the fact that the faculty and administration were all white when one-fourth of the student body was Black.
Hampton challenged the school’s exclusive racist practice of nominating only white girls to compete for “Miss Homecoming Queen.” He organized a protest, walk-out and school boycott. As a result, the following year Black female students were included in this contest.
Fred Hampton was respected by white and Black students alike. The year after he graduated from Proviso East, a school administrator requested his help to calm racial tensions among students.
An event that likely affected the young Fred Hampton, much as it affected most of Chicago’s Black community, was the 1955 gruesome lynching of Emmett Till. The 14-year-old Till was visiting family in Mississippi when he was abducted and killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Till was the son of family friends and neighbors of the Hamptons.
While Hampton was in the NAACP, the Black Panther Party was opening chapters across the country and becoming a prominent force in the Black liberation struggle. Hampton began to absorb and understand the revolutionary content of the Panthers’ political perspective, and joined. He soon demonstrated his leadership abilities and became deputy chairman of the party’s Illinois chapter.
His disposition and skills as a speaker earned Hampton a moral authority. His political achievements included brokering peace with the supposed “street gangs” of Chicago, amongst them the Puerto Rican group the Young Lords. Hampton was instrumental in transforming the Young Lords into a revolutionary political organization.
The white, racist U.S. ruling class was appalled. How dare the descendants of African slaves call themselves socialists and aim to achieve Black people’s right to reparations! Even more daring was the Black Panther Party’s call for the overthrow of capitalism—a demand the ruling class could never tolerate. Their ability to forge unity in struggle was a threat in itself.
All this was happening while resentment for the war in Vietnam was on the rise. The men of privilege and wealth, with a stake in preserving the imperialist system, grew apprehensive the more it became apparent that a mass revolutionary movement was arising.
Hampton valued the need for a multinational revolutionary struggle, and organized the original Rainbow Coalition comprised of the I Wor Kuen of the Asian community, the Brown Berets of the Mexican community, the poor white workers of the Young Patriots, the Young Lords and the Black Panthers. The Black Panther Party set standards for waging struggle. Their enthusiastic projection of socialism allowed many to envision its relevance to African Americans and other oppressed nationalities.
Operation COINTELPRO, an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program, was established in the mid-1950’s to deter the development of any movement deemed a threat to the existing social, economic and political order. It remained secret until 1971, when courageous anti-repression/anti-war activists broke into an FBI field office in Media, Pa., and confiscated files revealing the hidden operation.
As the Civil Rights movement advanced—galvanizing strength from all sectors of the population, breaking the despicable Jim Crow laws and compelling the U.S. Congress to pass other progressive legislation—the FBI increasingly turned its attention to the Black liberation struggle.
The slanderous editorials against the Panthers in the capitalist-owned mass media, combined with Hoover’s frequent verbal attacks, reflected the wishes of the ruling class who sought the complete destruction of the Black Panther Party and the ideals it embodied. Internal FBI memos show that the government had a special interest in Hampton’s political activities and his associations; Chicago police were encouraged by the FBI to find a way to lock up Hampton.
These circumstances compelled the government to destroy the Black Panther Party.
“The greatest threat to national security”
The Black Panther Party openly advocated for socialist revolution, and openly supported the Chinese and Cuban revolutions. The Panthers’ breakfast program for children, among other social programs, underlined their commitment to meet the needs of communities that received nothing but oppression and neglect from the government.
Prior to Hampton’s death, police raided the Panthers’ Chicago office on three separate occasions. William O’Neal, Fred Hampton’s bodyguard, was a police informant who was instructed to draw up a floor plan of the targeted apartment weeks earlier. Law enforcement used the information gathered by O’Neal to murder Hampton.
The staunch anti-capitalist stance of these young revolutionaries who declared themselves Marxist-Leninists made them the target of the most ruthless, racist elements in power. On numerous occasions, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover expressed a special disdain for the Black struggle, particularly towards Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Many were not surprised when Hoover declared the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to national security.”
Hampton’s murder was part of a pattern of police raids, false imprisonment and executions of Black Panthers. COINTELPRO documents proved that assassination of Black leaders was among its aims. Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party had to be eliminated simply because they had touched upon capitalism’s greatest weakness—the decisiveness and strength that a multi-national movement has in a battle against this system.
The Black Panther Party arose from the struggles of the African American people, historically the most oppressed and exploited group in the United States. They symbolized hope and received the greatest affection. They attributed Black oppression to the capitalist system, and dared to pick up arms against the state. The militancy and defiance of these young revolutionaries deeply impacted the Civil Rights and socialist movements.
Hampton and the Black Panthers believed all would benefit if the banner of the struggle against racism and national oppression was taken up by the white masses as their own. Hampton knew that it was possible to smash the racial barriers created by capitalism to divide and conquer the working class. His confidence was based on the strong belief that this system provides the motivation for all to unite and engage in revolutionary struggle.
Long live the memory of Fred Hampton & Mark Clark!