Internationalism

Peking Review and global anti-imperialist networks in the 1960s

This is a longer version of a conference I recently presented at the Amidst Empires conference at Flinders University last month. It is very much a work in progress, so feedback most welcome!

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There has been a significant amount of scholarship about the dissemination and influence of Maoist ideology (often referred to as Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought or just Mao Zedong Thought) across the globe, primarily by looking at the distribution and readership of Mao’s Little Red Book (Quotations of Chairman Mao), as well as other publications by the Foreign Language Press.[1] There is less scholarship on the Chinese publications for foreign consumption, Peking Review, China Pictorial and China Reconstructs. Cagdas Ungor, who has explored these journals in the most depth so far, has described these publications as part of a wider approach by the Chinese to situate themselves as an alternative anti-imperialist power to the Soviet Union between the 1950s and the 1970s. She has written:

Especially after the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s, when the country was isolated from the socialist bloc as well as the West, China was left with few other options to exert its influence abroad… Therefore the rise in the foreign propaganda output was very much related to the PRC regime’s desire to compensate for the unavailability of official connections.[2]

 The new communist government in China started publishing foreign language materials in the early 1950s, but a reconstitution of the Foreign Languages Press in 1952 led to a higher degree of specialisation amongst the publications produced by Peking.[3] China Pictorial, which had existed since 1951, was ‘intended as a mass publication aimed at overseas audiences with average education’, offering ‘a lot of colorful pictures’ and ‘very little textual material’.[4] China Reconstructs ‘had a similar focus on society, economy and culture’ as China Pictorial, but ‘only with more articles and fewer pictures’.[5]

However Peking Review was a much more explicitly political journal, ‘aimed at readers who had the highest political awareness and educational level’.[6] Ungar suggests that the journal was ‘readable only by the intellectual elite abroad, among them government officials, journalists, China experts, and college youth’,[7] but it was also diligently read by avowed Maoists in the global West, as well as some within the national liberation movements in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America (although Ungar argues that in the Third World, Peking Radio was much more effective). The journal was published in English, as well as in French, Spanish, German and Japanese.

This paper will explore how Peking Review was used to disseminate anti-imperialist ideology amongst Maoists and people sympathetic to China across the world during the 1960s and early 1970s. Although established in 1958, two years before the formal Sino-Soviet split, in the post-split environment, Peking Review was an important vehicle for publicising the idea of China as the vanguard of the global anti-imperialist movement. To varying degrees, the journal was distributed, read and ingested by Maoists in the Third World and the global West. 

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China and global anti-imperialism in the Cold War era

Alongside a number of Cold War diatribes on China’s influence in Africa and Asia, there has been a significant increase in scholarship on China’s internationalism between the 1950s and 1970s and its support for various anti-imperialist movements and postcolonial movements. Known as the ‘Third World’ during this period, China increasingly promoted itself as the anti-imperialist vanguard, separate from the ‘Second World’ of the Soviet sphere of influence, but appropriating rhetoric from the Soviet Union’s anti-imperial traditions and the postcolonial Non-Aligned Movement. As Arif Dirlik has written, the Sino-Soviet split and the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 ‘brought the People’s Republic to the centre of world radicalism and turned the Chinese revolutionary experience, embodied in Mao Zedong Thought, into a paradigm not only in the Third World… but also in the First’.[8] Robeson Taj Frazier has argued an awareness of race and racism became:

a primary lens through which China differentiated its model of global power from that of the United States and the Soviet Union, influenced oppressed populations of color, and increased the aura and power of Chinese communism on Chinese citizens.[9]

There has been debate over whether the Cultural Revolution created a sense of isolationism with China at the same time as pursuing a more internationalist outlook in China’s foreign affairs,[10] and an attempt to argue, as Julia Lovell has characterised, that ‘global Maoism was nothing to do with Chinese Maoism’.[11] However Lovell has suggested that China worked hard to ‘[disseminat[e] its soft power globally between 1949 and 1976’ and that the ‘stereotype of a closed-off, isolated Maoist China, shunned by the international community’ is false.[12] Dirlik has described the reach of Maoism in this era as spanning from ‘the Phillipines to Peru and Mexico, to India, Nepal and Turkey’ and to ‘the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Australia and Japan’[13] – although he does not mention Africa, particularly southern Africa, in places such as Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

In the United States, Maoism also a diverse influence, fostering a plethora of anti-revisionist and Maoist groups amongst the primarily white left, but also inspiring black, Asian and Latino radicalism. Keisha A. Brown has written:

Post 1949, the CCP foreign relations agenda placed American Blacks within the category of an oppressed peoples within the US… During the Cold War, the CCP placed the struggles of non-White people and countries into two main categories. The first is the broader general category aligning non-White continents (Asia, Africa, and Latin America are most often cited) in solidarity movements. The second is the more defined category of supporting specific oppressed countries in their struggles against some biased system or imperialist country…[14]

African-Americans were viewed as part of this second category, with the Chinese seeing them as ‘an entity within the larger international colored solidarity movement engaged in struggle with the common enemy of American imperialism’.[15] A number of scholars have outlined the inspiration that the China and Maoism gave to black radicals in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s,[16] and similar influence can be found other diaspora communities in the US,[17] as well as in Britain.[18]

For the left in the global West, Maoism became one of the entry points for anti-imperialist activism in the Cold War, alongside campaigns against apartheid in South Africa, against the Vietnam War, against US interventions in Latin America and against the oppression faced by indigenous people under settler colonialism. In the Anglophone world (Britain, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) as well as continental Europe (especially West Germany and France), a variety of anti-revisionist and Maoist groups emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike the Communist and Workers Parties that were associated with the Soviet Union, inheriting the relationship from the days of the Communist International and the Communist Information Bureau, the Maoist groups had varying degrees of affinity with the Chinese Communist Party and Peking had little organisational control over these groups, especially in the West. While its political, economic and military assistance to national liberation movements and postcolonial governments ensured a close relationship between China and the Third World, the CCP relied predominantly on ideology and propaganda to influence Western Maoists. The journal, Peking Review, was part of this attempt at gaining ideological influence.

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An advertisement for Peking Review on the back cover of the SACP’s African Communist from 1963

Peking Review in Africa

Over the decade of the 1950s, Chinese publications, via the International Bookstore, slowly made their way into Africa, with a base set up in Nasser’s Egypt in 1957.[19] At this time, Ungor cites Chinese documents stating that book circulation in Africa had reached up to 210,000, before further growth in 1959 in West Africa as China established diplomatic relations in Guinea, Mali and Ghana.[20] Heavily subsidised by the Chinese government and also heavily discounted for readers in developing countries, Peking Review also reached East and Southern Africa, with records of it being sold in Zanzibar in the early 1960s for ‘low prices’, alongside airmail editions of Moscow News and other Chinese literature.[21] References to Peking Review in the South African journal New Age[22] (aligned the now underground South African Communist Party)[23] in the early 1960s reveals that the journal was read by activists in the apartheid regime, as well as by SACP exiles in London, demonstrated by references to (and advertisements for) the journal in African Communist journal.[24]

American journalist John K. Cooley wrote in 1963 that ‘Red China has a well-coordinated publication program aimed at Africa’, adding ‘[i]ts political backbone is the weekly review Peking Review’.[25] Colley described the distribution methods in Africa during the early 1960s:

Peking Review is given away in some areas, and sold at subscription rates ranging from about fifty cents to $1.25 a year in others. Local Chinese emissaries regularly compile address lists of key persons, who then receive free introductory copies. An African publisher who buys an additional subscription for himself or someone else receives a color calendar. A second extra subscription brings a Chinese scroll, and a third, a desk diary.[26]

We only have anecdotal evidence of the actual readership or influence of Peking Review in Africa, but more archival research and oral histories, particularly regarding the postcolonial governments in Tanzania, Angola and Zimbabwe, may shed more light in the future.

Peking Review in the global West

 There is a debate amongst scholars over the relationship between anti-revisionism in the global West and Maoist internationalism. Several scholars have argued that the first wave of Maoism in the West grew organically out of the resistance within the official Communist Parties towards the ‘revisionism’ of the international communist movement in the 1950s. Robin D.G. Kelley and Betsy Esch have written:

Maoism in the United States was exported from China. If anything, for those Maoists schooled in the Old Left, its source can be found in Khrushchev’s revelations at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party Soviet Union in 1956, which prompted an antirevisionist movement throughout the pro-Stalinist left.[27]

With regards to the early Maoist groups in Britain, Lawrence Parker has argued that those eventually formed the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) were anti-revisionists foremost and eventually became attracted to China because of its opposition to ‘peaceful co-existence’ and the Soviet Union.[28] Parker describes the CPB (M-L)’s leader Reg Birch as ‘a fairly typical CPGB trade unionist with a sprinkling of Maoist politics picked up after China broke with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s’.[29]

Julia Lovell further cites Richard Wolin on the organic and domestic origins of French Maoism and former Italian Maoist to suggest that the ‘dominant view of… Western Europe’s engagement with Maoism is to see it largely as a home-grown phenomenon’, describing this view of seeing Western Maoism as ‘an eccentric youthful experiment in alternative politics, an intellectual and cultural outburst divorced from China itself’.[30] However, as mentioned above, Lovell argues that China did have a conscious desire to build Maoist movements outside of China,[31] to build alternatives to the Soviet sphere of influence, but also to promote anti-imperialism across the Third World. Parker suggests that China ‘never sought to establish a functioning Maoist international, but rather worked through a set of bilateral links.’[32] Parker explained this process:

The CPC would bring sympathetic groups to China to meet leading figures; give them publicity; and provide such groups with political material for use in their own publications.[33]

This was the purpose of Peking Review in the global West.

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Peking Review and Maoism in the United States

The Maoist movement in the United States was possibly one of the largest in the West and most of the Chinese imported publications were distributed via Henry Noyes’ China Books and Periodicals in San Francisco, which, according to Cagdas Ungor, ‘remained… the only outlet for Chinese foreign language magazines and book in the US throughout the 1960s and most of the 1970s’.[34] Via Noyes’ bookstore, Chinese periodicals, including Peking Review, reached most urban places in the United States. The Hammer and Steel group in New England referred to Peking Review in a 1963 discussion of anti-semitism and racism, stating ‘The correct Marxist-Leninist policy of the Chinese Party on formerly oppressed nations and national minorities is implemented in that great nation’ and citing an article in the journal from the previous year.[35] On the other side of the country, the journal of the Communist Party of the USA (Marxist-Leninist), People’s Voice, reprinted articles from Peking Review, such as that included in the journal’s second issue (written after the Watts Rebellion in August 1965) on the ‘negro struggle’ and proclaiming ‘ALL ANTI-IMPERIALIST FORCES SUPPORT THE HEROIC STRUGGLE OF PEOPLE OF LOS ANGELES’.[36]

As mentioned above, there was a great enthusiasm in China for black radicalism in the United States during the mid-to-late 1960s. The August 1966 issue of Peking Review republished a statement from Mao Zedong made three years earlier ‘supporting the American Negroes in their just struggle against racial discrimination by US imperialism’, which proclaimed:

I call on the workers, peasants, revolutionary intellectuals, enlightened elements of the bourgeoisie and other enlightened persons of all colours in the world, whether white or black, yellow or brown, to unite to oppose the racial discrimination practised by US imperialism and support the American Negroes in their struggle against racial discrimination.[37]

The same issue had a statement made by black power proponent Robert Williams, who was a state visitor of China at the time, which aligned Maoism with black radicalism and thanked Mao for ‘his great and inspiring statement in support of our struggle’.[38] Williams enthused:

to our great Chinese brothers and true revolutionaries throughout the world, we revolutionary Afro-Americans vow that we shall take the torch of freedom and justice into the streets of racist America and we shall set the last great stronghold of Yankee imperialism ablaze with our battle cry of Black Power!…

Long live the militant friendship between the Chinese and revolutionary American people![39]

Peking Review had previously made similar statements and referred to Robert Williams as an authoritative figure on the black struggle in the United States.[40] However some Maoists disagreed with Peking Review’s line on Afro-American liberation, with the Hammer and Steel group criticising the Chinese in 1965 for listening to Robert Williams, rather than black Marxist-Leninists in the United States, such as Harry Haywood (as well as two CPUSA stalwarts, William Z. Foster and James W. Ford, who had promoted the ‘black belt’ thesis in the 1930s).[41] The group complained that ‘[m]ost of the people from the US that Peking Review quotes are middle class professional people who have little knowledge of the working class in our country and its revolutionary efforts in theory and organisation.’[42] The group argued that ‘Peking Review maintains that the Afro-American question is primarily one of “racial discrimination”’, but suggested that, using CPUSA literature from the 1940s, that the problem was not racial discrimination but national oppression.[43] The group also admonished the Chinese journal for describing the black struggle as a question of class, stating, ‘According to this logic the Afro-American must place their destiny in the hands of whites and wait for their inclinations’.[44]

While there were some disagreements between Maoists in the United States and the line advanced through Peking Review and other publications from China, particularly as the Cultural Revolution zigzagged throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, Peking Review was still promoted in various Maoist and black radical publications. For example, advertisements for Peking Review were published in The Black Panther and People’s Voice newspapers, while the American Communist Workers Movement (Marxist-Leninist) announced that all members should ‘distribute widely the Red Book, Five Articles by Chairman Mao, and Peking Review’.[45]

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Pic from The MAO Projekt.

Peking Review and Maoism in West Germany

Owing to the fractured nature of communism in West Germany after the Communist Party of Germany was banned in 1956 and the spectre of East Germany looming over the West German left, Maoism in Germany gained a foothold in West Germany as it was able to present itself as a radical socialist alternative to Soviet-styled socialism on the other side of the Berlin Wall.[46] Like in the United States and France, Maoism heavily intersected with the student movement in West Germany, emerging from the Socialist German Student Union/League (SDS) and developing into the Red Guards (the name taken from the similar movement in China), then the Communist Party of Germany (Marxist-Leninist) (KPD (M-L)).

Rudi Dutschke, the student activist leader, enthused about China and the Cultural Revolution, using Peking Review (or Peking Runschau) to justify his arguments at times.[47] As Slobodian has explained, West German leftists took inspiration of the Chinese ideas of encirclement and ‘contradiction’, both promoted in Peking Review.[48] Encirclement developed an idea from Lin Biao (before his fall from his position in 1969)[49] of the ‘encircling the cities from the countryside’ onto the global stage, proposing that ‘the revolutionary struggles of the “world villages” were leading to an encirclement of the “world cities” of North America and Western Europe.’[50] While the idea of contradiction was that there were ‘multiple, fundamental national and international contradictions’, in which the Third World and its allies in China, as well as anti-imperialists in the West, stood in ‘primary contradiction’ to US imperialism.[51]

The Chinese started to publish the German language version of Peking Review in 1964, while the German language version of China Pictorial (China im Bild) had been published since 1956, but with the onset of the Cultural Revolution, it displayed a ‘clear Maoist agenda’ from 1966 onwards.[52] Unlike the United States, where Chinese publications were imported by an American bookseller and then distributed around the country, Chinese publications were initially smuggled into West Germany from the Chinese Embassy in East Berlin.[53] West German students ‘made day trips from West Berlin to the embassy’ to purchase wholesale copies of Peking Review and other Chinese publications, such as the Little Red Book.[54] As Quinn Slobodian has shown, Maoist publications were also popular amongst East German youth who looked to rebel against the state socialism of the GDR. An interest in Chinese literature from both sides of the Wall peaked in 1967, with the Chinese distributing ‘3000 packages monthly with 6000 issues of Peking Review and China im Bild’.[55]

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Peking Review and Maoism in New Zealand

The Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) gained notoriety as the only Western Communist Party to side with China in the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s. The CPNZ is an interesting case study in the use of Peking Review in building Maoist solidarity across the world. After Khrushchev’s Secret Speech in 1956, the CPNZ leadership, under the leader V.G. Wilcox, started to move against ‘revisionism’ in the international communist movement. Although its sister party the Communist Party of Australia (which was quite pro-Chinese in the 1950s) eventually returned to the Soviet sphere of influence, the CPNZ deliberately shifted closer to the Chinese and in March 1964, Peking Review published an article by Wilcox proclaiming their support for the Chinese and denouncing the Soviet Union.[56] This article praised Mao Zedong as a ‘great creative Marxist-Leninist leader’ and called the Soviet Union ‘the puny leaders of modern revisionism’.[57] Herbert Roth notes this article also came at a time when the Communist Parties in New Zealand and Australia were entering into joint talks, but this attack on the pro-Soviet communist movement, including the denunciation of the CPA, scuppered these talks.[58] Roth stated, ‘Wilcox in China adopted a hard, unyielding position which made any meaningful talks with the Australians impossible’.[59]

Throughout the 1960s, Peking Review published numerous articles by Wilcox and another CPNZ leading figure, Ray Nunes, dedicated to praising Chairman Mao and the Chinese Communist Party. However while the CPNZ’s Communist Review published a ‘high proportion’ of material from Chinese sources, these were more likely to be from domestic Chinese publications, such as the People’s Daily,[60] rather than Peking Review. Thus the articles by Wilcox and Nunes in Peking Review became vehicles for promoting pro-Chinese sentiment to other Maoist groups across the world, most likely in the global West, rather than for internal consumption in New Zealand by CPNZ members. Roth has written:

However negligible its influence within New Zealand, the NZCP is a most valuable asset to the Chinese leaders on the international scene…

The appreciation of New Zealand’s pro-Chinese stand is expressed in many ways: in heroes’ welcomes to New Zealand Communist leaders who visit Peking with increasing frequency, and in worldwide distribution of their writings, giving Latin Americans an opportunity to read La Firme Posicion del Partido Comunista de Nueva Zelandia, a ninety-page pamphlet by camarada V.G. Wilcox, while French readrs are provided with Aller Parmi le Peuple, a l’Assaut du Monopole by the same author.[61]

As the 1960s continued, the relationship between China and the CPNZ became increasingly mutually beneficial. The CPNZ relished the attention lavished upon it by the Chinese, while the Chinese used the CPNZ as an example of its ability to penetrate the international communist movement and attract Marxist-Leninists away from the Soviet sphere of influence.

In the 1970s

 By the mid-1970s, the outlook of the Chinese government had changed. Although the Cultural Revolution still raged on at home, China’s foreign policy shifted towards rapprochement with the United States and the cooling of its promotion of global anti-imperialism. China still maintained connections with some national liberation movements and postcolonial governments, such as the FLNA and UNITA in Angola, ZANU in Zimbabwe and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (amongst a number of others). This was done partly to counter Soviet influence in the Third World and to strengthen its own geopolitical hand.

Peking Review was still published, but became a weapon in the sectarian fights that occurred across most Western Maoist groups in the aftermath of Mao’s death in 1976, the end of the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four controversy.

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[1] Alexander C. Cook (ed.), Mao’s Little Red Book: A Global History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

[2] Cagdas Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade: Chinese Communist Propaganda Abroad (1949-1976), unpublished PhD thesis, Binghamton University/State University of New York (2009) p. 5.

[3] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, pp. 92-93.

[4] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 160.

[5] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 161.

[6] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 162.

[7] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 162.

[8] Arif Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong Thought and the Third World/Global South’, Interventions, 16/2 (2014) p. 246.

[9] Robeson Taj Frazier, The East is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014) p. 11.

[10] See: Patrick Laboon, ‘Peaceful Co-Existence: Sino-African Relations and the Evolution of Maoist Internationalism’, unpublished MA thesis, University of California Santa Barbara (2016) p. 25; Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong Thought and the Third World/Global South’, p. 235

[11] Julia Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China: “Techniques of Hospitality” and International Image-Building in the People’s Republic, 1949-1976’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 25 (2015) p. 138.

[12] Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China’, p. 138.

[13] Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong Thought and the Third World/Global South’, pp. 246-247.

[14] Keisha A. Brown, ‘Blackness in Exile: W.E.B. Du Bois’ Role in the Formation of Representations of Blackness as Conceptualized by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’, Phylon, 53/2 (Winter 2016) p. 24.

[15] Brown, ‘Blackness in Exile’, p. 24.

[16] Robin D.G. Kelley & Betsy Esch, ‘Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution’, Souls (Fall 1999) pp. 6-41; Bill V. Mullen, ‘By the Book: Quotations From Chairman Mao and the Making of Afro-Asian Radicalism, 1966-1975’, in Cook (ed.), Mao’s Little Red Book, pp. 245-265.

[17] For the effect of Maoism on Asian Americans, see: Daryl J. Maeda, ‘Black Panthers, Red Guards and Chinamen: Constructing Asian American Identity Through Performing Blackness, 1969-1972’, American Quarterly, 57/4 (2005) pp. 1079-1103; Karen L. Ishizuka, Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties (London/New York: Verso, 2016) p. 43.

For the effect of Maoism on Latino radicals, see: Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, ‘History of the Development of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization’ (August 1974), Marxists Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-1/prrwo-history.htm (accessed 22 January, 2018); Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (London/New York: Verso, 2006) pp. 104-110.

[18] For the effect of Maoism on South Asian activists in Britain, see: DeWitt John, Indian Workers Associations in Britain (London: Oxford University Press, 1969) pp. 66-81; Sasha Josephides, ‘Organizational Splits and Political Ideology in the Indian Workers Associations’, in Pnina Werbner & Muhammad Anwar (eds), Black and Ethnic Leaderships in Britain: The Cultural Turn of Political Action (London: Routledge, 1991) pp. 253-276.

For the effect of Maoism on African-Caribbean activists in Britain, see: Rosaline Eleanor Wild, ‘“Black was the Colour of Our Fight”: Black Power in Britain, 1955-1976’, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sheffield (2008) pp. 94-95.

[19] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 209.

[20] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 209.

[21] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 211.

[22] ‘Oil for the Lamps of China’, New Age, 15 September, 1960, p. 2; ‘Indian Authorities Must Not Miscalculate’, New Age, 25 October, 1962, p. 7.

[23] Alan Wieder, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid (Auckland Park, SA: Jacana Media, 2013) p. 103.

[24] For example, see advertisement for Peking Review in African Communist (April-June 1963).

[25] John K. Cooley, East Wind Over Africa: Red China’s African Offensive (New York: Walker & Company, 1963) pp. 196-197.

[26] Cooley, East Wind Over Africa, p. 197.

[27] Kelley & Esch, ‘Black Like Mao’, p. 11.

[28] Lawrence Parker, The Kick Inside: Revolutionary Opposition in the CPGB, 1945-1991 (London: November Publications, 2012) p. 69.

[29] Parker, The Kick Inside, p. 63.

[30] Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China’, pp. 137-138.

[31] Lovell, ‘The Use of Foreigners in Mao-Era China’, p. 138.

[32] Parker, The Kick Inside, p. 44.

[33] Parker, The Kick Inside, p. 44.

[34] Ungor, ‘Reaching the Distant Comrade’, p. 241.

[35] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, April 1963, p. 3. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/hammer-and-steel/hs-4-63.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[36] People’s Voice, 30 August, 1965, p. 1. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/peoples-voice/pv-1-2.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[37] Mao Zedong, ‘Statement supporting the American Negroes in their just struggle against racial discrimination by US imperialism’, Peking Review, 12 August, 1966, pp. 12-13.

[38] Robert Williams, ‘Speech by US Negro Leader Robert Williams’, Peking Review, August 1966, p. 27.

[39] Williams, ‘Speech by US Negro Leader Robert Williams’, p. 27.

[40] For example, see: Mao Zedong, ‘Calling Upon the People of the World to Unite to Oppose Racial Discrimination by U.S. Imperialism and Support the American Negroes in Their Struggle Against Racial Discrimination’, Peking Review, 8 Aug, 1963, https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1963/PR1963-33a.htm (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[41] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, pp. 4-5. https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/hammer-and-steel/hs-9-65.pdf (accessed 27 January, 2018).

For further information on Harry Haywood, see: Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978).

[42] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, p. 5.

[43] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, p. 6.

[44] Hammer & Steel Newsletter, September 1965, p. 7.

[45] American Communist Workers Movement (Marxist-Leninist), ‘Youth and Students Unite!’, The Workers’ Advocat, 3/1 (13 November, 1972) https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-8/youth-students.htm (accessed 27 January, 2018).

[46] See: Quinn Slobodian, Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Timothy Scott Brown, West Germany and the Global Sixties: The Anti-Authoritarian Revolt, 1962-1978 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

[47] Slobodian, Foreign Front, p. 53.

[48] See: ‘Chairman Mao is the Red Sun in the Hearts of the People of the World’, Peking Review, 22 July, 1966, https://www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1966/PR1966-30e.htm (accessed 28 January, 2018); ‘People’s War is Invincible’, Peking Review, 14 July, 1967, p. 8; ‘Chairman Mao on Continuing the Revolution Under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, Peking Review, 26 September, 1969, p. 3-10.

[49] Frank Dikötter, The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History 1962-1976 (London: Bloomsbury, 2016) pp. 242-252.

[50] Slobodian, Foreign Front, p. 172.

[51] Slobodian, Foreign Front, p. 172.

[52] Sebastian Gehrig, ‘(Re-)Configuring Mao: Trajectories of a Culturo-Political Trend in West Germany’, Transcultural Studies, 2 (2011) p. 209.

[53] Gehrig, ‘(Re-)Configuring Mao’, p. 211.

[54] Quinn Slobodian, ‘Badge Books and Brand Books: The Mao Bible in East and West Germany’, in Cook (ed.), Mao’s Little Red Book, p. 220.

[55] Quinn Slobodian, ‘The Maoist Enemy: China’s Challenge in 1960s East Germany’, Journal of Contemporary History, 51/3 (2016) p. 654.

[56] V.G. Wilcox, ‘V.G. Wilcox’s Speech at Party School in Canton’, Peking Review, 20 March, 1964, pp. 14-21.

[57] Wilcox, ‘V.G. Wilcox’s Speech at Party School in Canton’, p. 21.

[58] Herbert Roth, ‘Moscow, Peking and NZ Communists’, Politics, 4/2 (1969) p. 177.

[59] Roth, ‘Moscow, Peking and NZ Communists’, p. 177.

[60] R.H. Brookes, ‘The CPNZ and the Sino-Soviet Split’, Political Science, 17/2 (1965) p. 6.

[61] Herbert Roth, ‘Fragmentation on the Left’, Comment, 27 (June 1966) p. 16.

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London Recruits: Please help fund doco on ‘secret war against Apartheid’

This is an appeal to help raise money to fund the completion of this documentary on the British activists who travelled to South Africa in the late 1960s to undertake secret missions to help the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. Here’s a message from the film makers:

New documentary feature London Recruits tells the stories of the young women and men who undertook clandestine missions in the struggle to overthrow apartheid. Kept secret for decades, with your help, the nail-biting stories of those who risked all in taking on one of the 20th century’s most feared and brutal regimes will be told on the big screen for the first time.

The filmmakers behind London Recruits have launched a Kickstarter appeal to raise the final injection of funds needed to finish the project. Money raised with enable them to shoot reconstruction scenes, film remaining interviews, excavate further archives and build visual effects.

By backing London Recruits you will play and integral role in the project and help get the story of solidarity and internationalism to the big screen. Donate by October 1st. (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/londonrecruits/london-recruits

Keep up to date with the project on Twitter (https://twitter.com/LondonRecruits) and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/londonrecruits/)

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If you can, do donate to the film’s Kickstarter. A book recounting these stories of those who went on these secret missions was published in 2012 by Merlin Press. Do check that out as well!

I may post more on this next week, as I am just going through the papers of Ronnie Kasrils that were recently deposited at the Historical Papers Research Archive at Wits in Johannesburg.

For those on academia.edu, join my feedback session on transnational communism & anti-racism in WWII

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I just thought I’d post this there for anyone on academia.edu and has an interest in transnational communist history. I am currently running a feedback session on the site for my paper ‘”Our Soldiers Need Guns!” Communists and the Enlistment of Black Soldiers in the Second World War in South Africa, Australia and the United States’. If you have an academia.edu profile, you can ask to join the session and provide feedback for the next 6 days. I have already had some really good comments from various scholars, but would be very interested to hear from others, particularly those with a knowledge of Australian left history. So come join the academic fun!

Picture credit: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2016/jan/24/racial-harmony-in-a-marxist-utopia-how-the-soviet-union-capitalised-on-us-discrimination-in-pictures

CFP FOR EDITED VOLUME ON HISTORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN FAR LEFT

CPA pamphlet

Evan Smith (Flinders University), Matthew Worley (University of Reading) and Jon Piccini (University of Queensland) are calling for chapter proposals for an edited volume on the Australian far left in the post-war era (1945 to the present). Expanding on our work looking at the history of the British far left, we believe that a survey of the exciting new work being done of the far left in Australia and its influence on wider Australian political history is due.

We are currently seeking chapter proposals on the following topics:

  • The CPA and Cold War espionage
  • 1956 for the Australian left
  • The peace/nuclear disarmament movement
  • The student left and the anti-Vietnam War movement
  • Radical Marxism since the 1960s (Trotskyism, Maoism, anti-revisionism)
  • Anarchism in Australia
  • ASIO and the new left
  • The left and Indigenous rights
  • The left and the women’s movement
  • The left and gay rights
  • The anti-apartheid movement in Australia
  • Nationalism and internationalism on the far left
  • Trade unionism, the ALP and the left
  • The Green Bans
  • Environmentalism and the Greens as a ‘left’ party
  • Or any other aspect of the Australian far left if suitably interesting.

We welcome proposals from both scholars and activists, but emphasise that chapters must be presented in an academic format, written ‘objectively’ and with references to primary source materials.

An internationally recognised publisher has already shown interest in publishing the collection.

300 word abstracts and a short bio should be sent to: evan.smith@flinders.edu.au (Please CC in m.worley@reading.ac.uk and Jon.Piccini@uqconnect.edu.au into all emails)

Please email any editor with any further questions.

DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS – 4 APRIL, 2016

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Rhodesia, the UDI and the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1960s

This is a continuation of my research into how the Communist Party of Great Britain campaigned around the issue of national liberation and majority African rule in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, looking at the period from the breakup of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland to the aftermath of the UDI. Today is the 50th anniversary of Ian Smith’s  Unilateral Declaration of Independence (11 November, 1965), which is often forgotten when compared with the other historical anniversaries that the day represents.

A CPGB pamphlet from the late 1960s

The role of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) within the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) in Britain is well documented and it is generally acknowledged that while a number of key personnel within the AAM were members of the CPGB, these Party members did not try to assert the Communist Party’s perspective on South Africa onto the Movement. Inspired at this moment in its history by the idea of ‘broad popular alliance’ (CPGB 1968: 1), the Communist Party emphasised that it was willing to work alongside other progressive organisations and social movements and not try to dominate them. This meant working with potential allies in the Labour Party, the trade union movement, progressive Christian groups, various other left-wing groups and non-aligned anti-apartheid activists. While critics of the AAM attempted to portray it as a communist front, the influence of the CPGB at the leadership level was greatly limited.

However in an adjacent conflict to the fight against apartheid in South Africa, the Zimbabwean war of national liberation, the Communist Party was less constrained by the AAM and promoted its own line on the Zimbabwean struggle, influenced by a reading of the struggle as part of a wider conflict in the Cold War period. The CPGB saw South Africa and Rhodesia as two arenas of the same battle against capitalism and imperialism being waged in Southern Africa, also taking in Mozambique and Angola. From the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith in 1965 to the elections held under African majority rule in 1980, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe was viewed by the CPGB as the ‘weakest link’ in the chain of the imperialist system and an important battle against racial oppression on the road to fight against apartheid.

In the year prior to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Smith regime, leader of the Communist Party’s International Department, Idris Cox (1964a: 38), wrote in Marxism Today:

Within the past seven years the number of independent states in Africa has trebled… With the exception of South Africa (which is ‘independent’ only for the European minority) these independent states account for over 80 per cent of the African territory, and 85 per cent of its population.

After Harold Macmillan’s ‘winds of change’ speech in South Africa in 1960, decolonisation amongst Britain’s African colonies rapidly increased so that by 1965, the only British colony left on the continent was the Dominion of Southern Rhodesia. Rhodesia (as it was also known) was joined by the Republic of South Africa (which had left the Commonwealth in 1960) and by the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique. These four nations formed a bloc of imperialist states where white racial supremacy mixed with anti-communism to maintain ‘Western civilisation’ in the face of the broader decolonisation movement and as part of the global West in the Cold War. When declaring Rhodesia’s UDI in late 1965, Smith described the action as striking ‘a blow for the preservation of justice, civilization and Christianity’, rhetorically asking, ‘does anyone believe that Rhodesia would be the last target of the communists of the Afro-Asian block?’ (The Times, 12 November, 1965).

In an attempt to delay potential problems with the seemingly inevitable transition to majority African rule in their southern African colonies, the Conservative Government in Britain had overseen the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953, which combined both Southern and Northern Rhodesia, as well as the protectorate of Nyasaland. By 1963, this federation had collapsed, leaving Southern Rhodesia as one of the few imperialist states in Africa that maintained rule by the white minority, denying the majority African population many political and social rights. Resistant to pressures from the British government (and other members of the Commonwealth) to integrate the African population into the body politic of the former settler colony, the Rhodesian Front (RF), under the leadership of Ian Smith, promoted that Southern Rhodesia (increasingly referred to as just Rhodesia) should remain a white-ruled Dominion. Formally taking power in 1964, Smith’s RF initiated the beginnings of a fight against the emergent national liberation movements inside the country, awoken by the slow collapse of the Federation since the early 1960s. Criticised by the incoming Labour government under Harold Wilson, Smith announced the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in November 1965, withdrawing Rhodesia from the Commonwealth and initiating a long battle against majority African rule.

The Communist Party had long been involved in anti-colonial and anti-imperialist politics in Africa and in the Party’s publicity material for the 1964 general election, proudly stated:

The Communist Party is the only political party which has always opposed imperialism and all forms of colonial rule and exploitation. It fully supports the efforts of the colonial and newly independent peoples.

We have stood consistently by the peoples of Africa and Asia, and never hesitated in that cause to oppose our own Government and condemn the actions of our own military forces (CPGB 1964a: 2).

As the Federation broke up in the early 1960s, the Communist Party saw Southern Rhodesia on the cusp of either majority African rule or joining ‘the familiar henchmen of imperialism’, such as the UK, the USA and South Africa (Buckle, 1962: 374). The head of the Party’s International Department, Idris Cox (1963: 229), declared that ‘[t]he Federation is now dead’ and predicted that ‘[s]ooner or later Southern Rhodesia will become independent – but not under European minority rule’, proclaiming that independence ‘must be democratic independence under African majority rule’. After the transition to majority African rule by Nyasaland (Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), the Communists saw Southern Rhodesia as the next to fall and would leave apartheid South Africa vulnerable and isolated. Support for the national liberation forces in Southern Rhodesia became paramount to defeating imperialism and colonialism on the African continent, with Jack Woddis (1963: 776) writing, ‘it would be no exaggeration to say that Southern Rhodesia is one of the most dangerous explosions points in Africa.’ By the following May, Cox (1964b: 291) stated that if Smith maintained his position on resisting majority African rule, there would be ‘more violence and bloodshed in Southern Rhodesia and would be ‘another “trouble spot”’ for the British (following from the counter-insurgencies in Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus).

The Communist Party put its support behind the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), a national liberation organisation established in the early 1960s and led by Joshua Nkomo. Despite being banned by the Smith government, ZAPU first agitated against white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia, calling for the mobilisation of the African population and demanding the British and the UN intervene in negotiations with the regime. Before the UDI in late 1965, the demands of ZAPU were:

  1. Suspend immediately the Constitution of the Colony.
  2. Order the release of Joshua Nkomo and all other political prisoners.
  3. Appoint an Executive pending the calling of a Constitutional Conference.
  4. Make available units of the British forces for emergency action against any attempted act of treason by the white minority Smith Government against the Crown (as cited in, Cox 1964: 292).

However the resistance of the Smith regime to any form of negotiations of the prospect of majority African rule and the persecution of the national liberation movement in Southern Rhodesia led ZAPU to take up the idea of the armed struggle, establishing the military wing the Zimbabwe People’s Republic Army (ZIPRA) in 1964 in Zambia. ZAPU formed links with the African National Congress (ANC), exiled from South Africa, and both organisations were supported by the Soviet Union. The ANC, along with the South African Communist Party (SACP), had adopted the notion of the armed struggle in the early 1960s, with the formation of its military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) in December 1961. This served as a framework for ZAPU/ZIPRA and the two organisations would fight together against the Rhodesian and South African armed forces in the near future (such as the raids on Wankie in 1967).

The CPGB published a statement by ZAPU in the fortnightly journal Comment in September 1964, which called for people to support either ‘Smith and his fascist group’ or ‘the majority, who are the Africans, led by Mr. Nkomo’, declaring ‘[t]here is no question of pedalling in the neutral zone’ (ZAPU 1964: 566). Taking inspiration from the anti-fascist struggles of the Second World War (as well as the armed struggle advocated by the ANC), ZAPU (1964: 566) argued that if the Smith regime was unwilling to negotiate on the issues of democracy and ending ‘the venom of minority rule’, it would fight to liberate the majority African population ‘from the yoke injustice, domination [and] exploitation’. The statement ended with this declaration:

We cannot condone violence and bloodshed nor can we condemn it, for there is no course left in Zimbabwe. The people have been frustrated so much that they cannot see any other course open but the REVOLUTIONARY WAY! GO ON FREEDOM FIGHTERS – FOR IN OUR BATTLE THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS!!

At this moment in 1964-65, Rhodesia seemed to be at a turning point – it was either going go the way of the other British colonies in Africa, such as Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Kenya and Tanganyika (later Tanzania), who all gained independence and majority African rule in the early 1960s, or it was either going to join South Africa, South-West Africa and the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique as part of a network of imperialist states ruled by a white minority. The Communist Party (1964b: 562) noted the two options open to Rhodesia, posing the question, ‘shall white minority domination continue or shall democracy prevail and the country advance to independence based on the rule of the African majority?’ And it was once again felt that Rhodesia was the lynchpin of the imperialist system in Southern Africa, which, if it fell to majority African rule, would put enormous pressure on the existing imperialist states. The Party saw the Dominion as such, writing:

Imperialism sees Southern Rhodesia as the central bastion in the line of colonialist strongholds stretching across the southern part of the African continent, linking the Portuguese colonies of Angola in the west and Mozambique in the East (CPGB 1964b: 562).

As Ian Smith consolidated his hold on power in Rhodesia, he proposed that the country’s 1961 Constitution allowed for him to claim its independence from the British Commonwealth and maintain white minority rule. Both sides of the British government attempted to bring Smith back from the brink of declaring the UDI during 1965 and called for a compromise, with Smith retaining the 1961 Constitution, but allowing for Africans to have the vote. Jack Woddis (1965: 358), the future Head of the International Department, wrote that this was no suitable compromise as ‘the African people and their organisations and leaders have repeatedly rejected the 1961 Constitution… and have emphasised time and again that they will never accept this constitution as the basis for independence’. But on 11 November, 1965, Smith pronounced Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence and refused to impose majority African rule, declaring that the British and the other constituent parts of the former Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland had tried ‘to foist the same dogma [of ‘racial harmony’] on to Rhodesia’ (The Times, 12 November, 1965).

Writing in the CPGB aligned journal Labour Monthly, R. Palme Dutt (1965: 529-530; 541) described the UDI as a ‘fascist type’ and ‘racialist’ coup by the Smith regime and likened the British government’s reaction as akin to the policy of appeasement of the 1930s. The UDI, Dutt argued, was a counter-revolutionary and ‘rearguard action of a fanatical racialist minority’ against the ‘advancing African Revolution’, but one which was ‘doomed to defeat’ as European imperialism was removed from the African continent by the forces of national liberation. He declared that the ‘interests of African freedom and of world peace demand the unconditional defeat and destruction of the racialist regime in Rhodesia’, looking to ZAPU and the country’s neighbouring African-led governments to intervene. Like others, Dutt saw the struggle for majority African rule in Rhodesia as part of a struggle against racism and imperialism in the rest of Southern Africa, writing:

The question of Rhodesia cannot finally be separated from the question of South Africa and of the Portuguese colonies. The fight to end racial servitude and win democratic freedom in these territories is a common fight… It is a common battle of all the African peoples, as proclaimed already by all the independent African governments, with support of all the progressive peoples of the world, of the socialist nations, the newly independent states outside Africa, and of all who support these common anti-imperialist aims in the imperialist countries. 

However support for this by the British trade unions was lacking at the time, beyond affiliation to the MCF and support for an embargo for South Africa, with Dutt thus imploring, ‘it is the vital interest of the British labour movement to play its full part in this common fight’.

In an emergency resolution passed at the CPGB’s 29th National Congress in November 1965, the Party made three demands on the issue of Rhodesia:

  1. The removal of the illegal Smith Government in Southern Rhodesia;
  2. Release of all political prisoners and those in detention;
  3. Suspension of the 1961 constitution, and a fully representative conference to frame a new constitution based on universal adult suffrage and majority rule (CPGB 1965: 64).

Furthermore the resolution expressed ‘firm solidarity’ with ZAPU which it described as ‘the spearhead of the African liberation movement in Southern Rhodesia’. Like Dutt’s conclusion, the resolution called for members of the CPGB ‘to do their utmost to win the organised labour movement to bring the maximum pressure to bear upon the Wilson Government to put these measures into effect’.

There seemed to be general consensus in Britain and in Africa that the Smith regime, with the oil embargo, pressure from the United Nations and the national liberation campaign being waged by both ZAPU and ZANU, would not be able to hold out for long on its own. Harold Wilson, perhaps infamously, declared that Rhodesia would feel the brunt of sanctions ‘within weeks, not months’ (Cited in, Coggins 2006: 371). This initial enthusiasm was tempered by the failure of the Wankie Raids by the ANC and ZAPU, when the armed wings of both organisations, the MK and ZIPRA, attempted to attack the Smith regime within its borders (to create a communication link between ANC camps in Botswana and Zambia) and were repelled by the Rhodesian Army, with assistance from the South African Defence Force (SADF) (Ralinala, et. al. 2004). By the late 1960s, the Rhodesian ‘bush war’ seemed headed for a stalemate, and further negotiations between Wilson and Smith (the Tiger and Fearless talks) failed to break the political deadlock.

At this stage, the international campaign for solidarity with the national liberation forces in Zimbabwe shifted, believing that the armed struggle and co-operation between the ANC and ZAPU would intensify in the late 1960s – as shown in the Marxism Today from September 1969 below. This is covered in the other posts that I have written on the subject.

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REFERENCES

Buckle, D. (1962) ‘The United Nations and Southern Rhodesia’, Labour Monthly (August) pp. 372-376.

Coggins, R. (2006) ‘Wilson and Rhodesia: UDI and British Policy Towards Africa’, Contemporary British History, 20/3, pp. 363-381.

Cox, I. (1963) ‘The Real Issue in Southern Rhodesia’, Comment (April 13) p. 229.

  • (1964a) ‘Socialist Ideas in Africa’, Marxism Today (February) pp. 38-45.
  • (1964b) ‘Zero Hour in Southern Rhodesia, Comment (May 9) pp. 291-292.

CPGB (1964a) ‘Finish with Colonialism! Draft for General Election’, CP/CENT/EC/09/08, LHASC.

  • (1964b) ‘Salazar – Smith – Verwoerd’, Comment (September 5) p. 562.
  • (1965) ‘Emergency Resolution: Southern Rhodesia’, in CPGB, 29th Communist Party Congress Report (London: CPGB pamphlet) p. 64.
  • (1968) The British Road to Socialism (London: CPGB pamphlet).
  • (1969) International Affairs Bulletin: Rhodesia Special Issue, 3/4 (January/February) CP/CENT/INT/08/08, LHASC.

Gurney, C. (2000) ‘“A Great Cause”: The Origins of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, June 1959-March 1960’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 26/1 (March) pp. 123-144.

Ralinala, R.M, et. al. (2004) ‘The Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns’, in South African Democracy Education Trust (eds), The Road to Democracy in South Africa: Volume 1, 1960-1970 (Arcadia, SA: UniSA Press) pp. 479-540.

Woddis, J. (1963) ‘What Next for Southern Rhodesia?’, Comment (December 7) pp. 776-778.

  • (1965) ‘Rhodesia’s 1961 Constitution’, Marxism Today (December) pp. 358-364.

ZAPU (1964) ‘The Revolution Gripping Zimbabwe’, Comment (September 7) p. 566.

 

#BlackPantherWoman: Black Power, gender and limits of transnationalism – a guest post by Jon Piccini

Once again, Jon Piccini (University of Queensland) has written a splendid piece on the recently shown documentary Black Panther Woman and I’m delighted that this blog is able to post it. Jon also wrote this piece on Anne Summers’ Damned Whores and God’s Police a few months ago.

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The airing of Blackfella Film’s Black Panther Woman on SBS is significant for a few reasons. It highlights sexual crimes and violence within what academics broadly call the ‘New Left’ – those social movements of the 1960s and 1970s which challenged the capitalist/racial/gender/sexual status quo. As the film’s protagonist, Marlene Cummins, notes: “the thing is that violence on women permeates the whole of society: white or black”, and sexist/patriarchal values infused these social movements as well.

Here, I want to look briefly at the construction of masculinity in these movements and how this provided the political foundations for such violence. Secondly, I want to draw out some of the interesting parallels between Cummins’ trip to New York in the film, and similar trips taken by radical aboriginal activists in the 1970s.

Masculinity was at the centre of the 1960s revolts. For the white student left, heroic, handsome figures like Cuban-Argentine revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara were the epitome of a rebellious masculinity, and groups such as Students for a Democratic Society in America (and of course similar groups in Australia) were overwhelmingly led by males who relegated women to menial secretarial or typing jobs – much as women were in the workforce and society at large. Sara Evans has described well how the second wave feminist movement emerged not only out of a rebellion against sexist society – but the continuation of these practices within the white left and indeed the black civil rights movement.

For the ‘coloured’ left, masculinity was equally vital, but for a whole range of other reasons. For black power radicals in the United States, black men had been robbed of their masculinity by the dehumanisation of slavery and their continued status as colonial subjects. If black men had been emasculated and feminised by colonial white society, then the enactment of a proud black masculinity was seen as vital to the reclaiming of this. Such an ideology left little space for women. Stokely Charmical famously commented that the place of black women in the movement was “prone” – women’s place was to ascribe to traditional feminine values and faithfully serve their men – including being effective sexual chattels – so as to not contribute to the colonist’s emasculation.

As Black Panther Woman highlights, this hideous gender politics travelled across the Pacific to Australia alongside the whole package of Black Panther Party iconography, lexicon and practice – fusing with a pre-existing sexism and unofficial code of silence. The place of women in the Black Panther and broader civil rights/black power movement has been reassessed in recent decades, with quite a bit of academic work now existing exploring the importance of both well-known women radicals like Kathleen Cleaver, and the lesser known activists whose day-to-day work was vital to the success of these movements. Marlene’s story of political dedication amidst such personal pain is sobering and heart wrenching, highlighting a gap in our understanding of the reality of sexual violence within New Left movements.

The documentary was also fascinating from another perspective – that of the global imagination of radicals during the period. Marlene’s obvious pleasure at being invited to New York to attend a gathering of Black Panther-inspired radicals from around the world is a fascinating mirroring of the experience of another indigenous woman travelling to America forty-five years earlier – Patsy Kruger. Kruger, 30 years old and president of the Victorian branch of the Aboriginals Advancement League, was invited along with four other Australians – Bruce McGuinness, Solomon Belear, Jack Davis and Bob Maza – to attend a the 1970 Congress of African People’s in Atlanta, Georgia. Thankfully for historians, the five recorded their thoughts on the trip in a now very-rare book on the trip.

Upon receiving the invitation to travel to the congress, Kruger recalled thinking “my feeling good could know no bounds”. Interviewed by The Age before her departure, Patsy explained a bit of why she felt such excitement: “Intelligent, vocal and articulate, [Kruger] is determined to learn all she can…about how best to start a revolution for Aboriginal rights in Australia.” This desire to learn from black activists in the USA was mirrored by other travellers, many of whom had already begun using the rhetoric of Black Power in the few years previously to express their frustration at the failure of the 1967 referendum to engender any real change. As Kruger put it, white Australians were

apathetic, selfish or self-centred… oh, they have a conscience about it. They proved that in the 1967 referendum. But they subdued it and didn’t really go to the basic problems of the Aboriginals.

Yet, the visit to the United States actually delivered only mixed results for the travellers. Kruger recalls the Congress of African People’s being a terrific experience, having “met, talked and lived with black brothers and sisters in the struggle, mostly from North America, but also from the United Caribbean, South America, Asia and Africa”. Cummins enjoys a similar euphoria in the documentary, being surrounded by activists from around the world united by a sense of (now somewhat nostalgic) attachment to ideals of Black Nationalism.

The significance of this level of contact for aboriginal activists in the 1970s cannot be overstated – for many activists of colour around the world seemed just as unaware of their existence as white Australians pretended to be. Aboriginal activist Bobbi Sykes remembers going to a famous black political bookstore in Harlem, New York, only to be told “that there weren’t any blacks in Australia. Hence no Black Australia section”. Kruger described leaving the conference as a “sister in the struggle for the liberation of black people wherever they are and whoever they are”.

Yet, these important contacts and lessons also highlighted for some the impracticability of global connections. Cummins’ narrative is one of holus bolus transition of Black Panther ideas from America to Australia – but the reality was much more complex. Bob Maza, for example, reflected in a later interview how:

The black situation in the USA made me realise that if our black movement here in Australia is going to be left in the hands of whatever ego-trippers there are around… then we are going to head the same way that the black Americans did.

Maza’s injunction was clear – ultra masculine and violent rhetoric would lead to splintering of the working (if tenuous and contested) coalition in Australia between black and white activists.

On a different note, Jack Davis argued that the experience of black Americans, victims of transportation and slavery yet now a significant part of American life, could not really relate to Australian Aborigines, who had been in Australia “since the creation” and had little purchase on public life. Bob Bellear struck a similar chord, noting how “the thing is that blacks in Australia… can’t equate the problems of this country, the problems of class struggle, the problems of racism in this country with problems in any other part of the world”. “[T]he problem…is getting blacks just to know about each other, in such a vast country as this”, Bellear suggested, and thus overseas experiences should only be of secondary concern.

While debated, the importance of overseas travel to the movements of the 1960s and 1970s cannot be contested, as Cummins’ final uniting with her co-thinkers across the world in Black Panther Woman so splendidly demonstrates. Equally, her gut-wrenching story of sexual abuse is a telling lesson and cautionary tale for those of us who want to make political use of the past.

Jon Piccini is a historian of social movements. His book, Global Radicals: Transnational protest, Australia and the 1960s is forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan. He tweets at @JonPiccini.