Mao Zedong: On Martin Luther King & the Struggle of Black People

When Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, Black people took to the streets of America lighting the skies with flames of rebellion and sorrow. There was at that time a revolutionary country that worked as a beacon for the oppressed: Revolutionary China, then in the high tides of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. One leader in the world spoke out clearly and boldly on the significance and bitterness of Kings murder... the communist leader Mao Zedong. Here is the text of that statement which circled the world.

Statement by  Mao Zedong Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China

In Support of the Afro-American Struggle Against Violent Repression

April 16, 1968


Some days ago, Martin Luther King, the Afro-American clergyman, was suddenly assassinated by the U.S. imperialists. Martin Luther King was an exponent of nonviolence. Nevertheless, the U.S. imperialists did not on that account show any tolerance toward him, but used counter-revolutionary violence and killed him in cold blood. This has taught the broad masses of the Black people in the United States a profound lesson. It has touched off a new storm in their struggle against violent repression sweeping well over a hundred cities in the United States, a storm such as has never taken place before in the history of that country. It shows that an extremely powerful revolutionary force is latent in the more than twenty million Black Americans.

The storm of Afro-American struggle taking place within the United States is a striking manifestation of the comprehensive political and economic crisis now gripping U.S. imperialism. It is dealing a telling blow to U.S. imperialism, which is beset with difficulties at home and abroad.

The Afro-American struggle is not only a struggle waged by the exploited and oppressed Black people for freedom and emancipation, it is also a new clarion call to all the exploited and oppressed people of the United States to fight against the barbarous rule of the monopoly capitalist class. It is a tremendous aid and inspiration to the struggle of the people throughout the world against U.S. imperialism and to the struggle of the Vietnamese people against U.S. imperialism. On behalf of the Chinese people, I hereby express resolute support for the just struggle of the Black people in the United States.

Racial discrimination in the United States is a product of the colonialist and imperialist system. The contradiction between the Black masses in the United States and the U.S. ruling circles is a class contradiction. Only by overthrowing the reactionary rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class and destroying the colonialist and imperialist system can the Black people in the United States win complete emancipation. The Black masses and the masses of white working people in the United States have common interests and common objectives to struggle for. Therefore, the Afro-American struggle is winning sympathy and support from increasing numbers of white working people and progessives in the United States. The struggle of the Black people in the United States is bound to merge with the American workers’ movement, and this will eventually end the criminal rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class.

In 1963, in the “Statement Supporting the Afro-Americans in Their Just Struggle Against Racial Discrimination by U.S. Imperialism,” I said that the “the evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of Negroes and the trade in Negroes, and it will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the Black people.” I still maintain this view.

At present, the world revolution has entered a great new era. The struggle of the Black people in the United States for emancipation is a component part of the general struggle of al the people of the world against U.S. imperialism, a component part of the contemporary world revolution. I call on the workers, peasants, and revolutionary intellectuals of all countries and all who are willing to fight against U.S. imperialism to take action and extend strong support to the struggle of the Black people in the United States! People of the whole world, unite still more closely and launch a sustained and vigorous offensive against our common enemy, U.S. imperialism, and its accomplices! It can be said with certainty that the complete collapse of colonialism, imperialism, and all systems of exploitation, and the complete emancipation of all the oppressed peoples and nations of the world are not far off.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - G

    I always loved that poster with the Mao quote, which used to hang upon the once vibrant and decorated walls of the RCP's local Revolution bookstore. Unfortunately, today, and perhaps indicative of their political changes, the walls are now mostly barren, empty, except Bob Avakian, including an actual neon "Bob Avakian."

    I wonder where this poster can now be purchased. I was looking for the large Marx poster, but couldn't find a source (it also used to hang on the walls of the bookstore, and was also sold, along with many posters).

  • Guest - rise up

    I'm not familiar with the history of the Bob Avakian sign, but I remember the walls being a beehive of rebellion in an atmosphere of volunteer consensus. Now volunteers are no longer allowed to hang anything without prior authorization. The whole process has been chillingly unprincipled.

  • Guest - nigel olin

    Hey...I might be confused but from my readings of wikipedia Mao killed millions in his "political cleansings" . so what if he said some humanistic things otherwise?

  • Guest - G

    Can you care to quote exactly what the claim is on Wikipedia, so we can look at that? I read it, and it doesn't say "Mao killed millions in this political cleansings." Before debating any of these issues, its good to have a precise formulation of the exact claim being made, since this is a complex area of history, with lots of distortions. I'm afraid that your post above falls into such distortions.

  • Nigel:

    Mao led a civil war, then a radical land reform and a series of unique political movements that led to the liberation of a quarter of humanity -- and the existence of a remarkable socialist society in China for decades.

    The charge that he "killed millions" is absurd and false -- though (of course) many people fought and died in the course of the Chinese revolution (in their uprising against Japanese occupation, in the struggle to overthrow feudal landlords in China's country side, and so on.)

    One of the key techniques of anti-communists is to claim (and pretend) that Communists are little different from Hitler or Nazism. Hitler did order the killing of millions (Jews, communists and gypsies in the German death camps and elsewhere). Similarly the U.S. did kill large numbers of people in reckless and criminal ways (destroying two Japanese civilians cities during World WAr 2, killing millions of Indochinese people during the Vietnam War, and so on).

    But in fact, communist revolution has nothing in common with war crimes such as the Nazis or the U.S. carried out. Mao did not "kill millions" -- and the claims that he did are not based on facts.

    Feel free to post quotes or questions you have, so we can discuss this more deeply.

  • Guest - Timo

    I think now may be a good time to discus the great leap forward where is in my experience people try to claim that Mao killed millions. People try to oversimplify a complex series of events in which a combination of natural disasters along with different human factors lead to a horrible famine. People try to pin what happened down on Mao alone and make it seem as if Mao directly went about killing millions of people. This is done by not explaining what happened, giving you a end result, massive famine and then giving a scape goat, Mao.

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i>People try to pin what happened down on Mao alone and make it seem as if Mao directly went about killing millions of people. This is done by not explaining what happened, giving you a end result, massive famine and then giving a scape goat, Mao.</i>

    The way I usually deal with this kind of red-baiting is to demand that there be a consistent standard for the way capitalism is judged and the way communism is judged.

    For example, if Communism is responsible for people in China who died of famine, then why isn't capitalism responsible for the way people died of famine in Ireland in 1847? After all, Lord Russell shut down the relief programs Peel and the Tories set up because they believed that they would interfere with the market. If the Great Leap Forward is responsible for the deaths of millions in China, then so is British imperialism, as is described by Mike Davis in his book "Late Victorian Holocausts."

    Of course this still only brings me to the point where I'm willing to see a "moral equivalence" between communism and capitalism. Arguing that "the British empire was just as bad" isn't an argument for communism. It's an argument for a more sophisticated reading of history.

  • Guest - Stanley W. Rogouski

    <i>One of the key techniques of anti-communists is to claim (and pretend) that Communists are little different from Hitler or Nazism. Hitler did order the killing of millions (Jews, communists and gypsies in the German death camps and elsewhere). Similarly the U.S. did kill large numbers of people in reckless and criminal ways (destroying two Japanese civilians cities during World WAr 2, killing millions of Indochinese people during the Vietnam War, and so on).</i>

    It's interesting how the American/British alliance with Stalin during WWII has been all but erased from the American collective unconcious.

    If Stalin really was worse than Hitler, then why weren't we allied with Hitler against Stalin? There are people (eg Pat Buchanan) who would argue just that. But the vast majority of Americans won't.

    Similarly, you can wear a Mao or a Che shirt in most of America and not be considered a particularly horrible person. But if you wore a Hitler shirt, you would.

    Even more, if you made a movie like "Inglorious Basterds" about a Miami Cuban death squad scalping commies for Christ, you'd probably bomb at the box office.

    Does this mean that American society is "leftist?" Or does it mean that even at its most anti-communist, American liberalism still sees Marxism as a good ideal gone wrong and not a fundamentally evil ideal the way it sees Nazism?

    On the other other hand, racism is once again perfectly respectable in American society. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are on TV and the radio for hours a day.

    But if you put a TV show on the air advocating for Canadian style single payer health care the corporations would kill it in a few weeks.

  • Guest - G

    I agree with the tact of applying the same standards to the capitalist world, and then look at their "body count" because it exposes the double standard. This doesn't touch on the the other profound differences, either, with what one society was trying to do.

    And, while bringing up the potato famine of Ireland if fair game, there is one almost perfect side by side comparison of a capitalist country that was in a very similar situation, economically, as that of China, during the same historical period: India. A comparative study was made between them by an economist who specializes in that area of study, Amartya Sen.

    Noam Chomsky references this study, below, in a section that is worth quoting at length since his is taking on exactly this familiar form of anti-communism:

    "...we might want to turn to the other half of Sen's India-China comparison, which somehow never seems to surface despite the emphasis Sen placed on it. He observes that India and China had "similarities that were quite striking" when development planning began 50 years ago, including death rates. "But there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India" (in education and other social indicators as well). He estimates the excess of mortality in India over China to be close to 4 million a year: "India seems to manage to fill its cupboard with more skeletons every eight years than China put there in its years of shame," 1958-1961 (Dreze and Sen).

    In both cases, the outcomes have to do with the "ideological predispositions" of the political systems: for China, relatively equitable distribution of medical resources, including rural health services, and public distribution of food, all lacking in India. This was before 1979, when "the downward trend in mortality [in China] has been at least halted, and possibly reversed," thanks to the market reforms instituted that year.

    Overcoming amnesia, suppose we now apply the methodology of the Black Book and its reviewers to the full story, not just the doctrinally acceptable half. We therefore conclude that in India the democratic capitalist "experiment" since 1947 has caused more deaths than in the entire history of the "colossal, wholly failed...experiment" of Communism everywhere since 1917: over 100 million deaths by 1979, tens of millions more since, in India alone. The "criminal indictment" of the "democratic capitalist experiment" becomes harsher still if we turn to its effects after the fall of Communism: millions of corpses in Russia, to take one case, as Russia followed the confident prescription of the World Bank that "Countries that liberalise rapidly and extensively turn around more quickly [than those that do not]," returning to something like what it had been before World War I, a picture familiar throughout the "third world." But "you can't make an omelette without broken eggs," as Stalin would have said. The indictment becomes far harsher if we consider these vast areas that remained under Western tutelage, yielding a truly "colossal" record of skeletons and "absolutely futile, pointless and inexplicable suffering" (Ryan). The indictment takes on further force when we add to the account the countries devastated by the direct assaults of Western power, and its clients, during the same years."

    So just comparing it with India alone, we find India has MILLIONS of more deaths per year attributable to the capitalist system in India, over what China suffered through. Yet, since when is India demonized as being worse than Hitler, killing millions, etc?

    A short intro about this Indian economist, he won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, and is currently the Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, and a fellow at the University of Cambridge, known as the "the Mother Teresa of Economics" for his work on famine, human development theory, welfare economics, the underlying mechanisms of poverty, gender inequality, and political liberalism. Amartya Sen's books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He is a trustee of Economists for Peace and Security. As of today he has received over 80 honorary doctorates. There is more that can be said of him, but you get the picture, he is a credible and respected figure in his field, and his figures are not disputed.

  • Guest - nigel

    u know i wasnt trying to say anything like that im not a child , i came looking at this board bc im a communist though i guess not the same as every communist lol. i had heard the report of millions dead in political cleansings from multiple people. but not that i thought my sources were infallible . i asked also bc i was curious about the origin of the political cleasning millions dead thing. was there any truth to it?

  • Guest - Tobin

    Really good contributions - it's a tragedy that US Gestapo and einsatzgruppen smashed the Panthers - I am not dogmatic about revolution - It does not always mean armed struggle to qualify. Communists wedded to physical - but use according to circumstances - fact that there has been plenty of circumstances does not detract from historical contingencies. Nepalese Maoists used it for 10 in PWW - then is 2006 adapted to war on political terrain, after concrete analyis....
    [<em>Moderator snip</em>]
    US is huge white lynch mob, trying to pass as nation state. Slavery, genocide, dispossesion, it is a sick society with brutal history. Only language fascists understand is counter violence to their violence. Mao was right in 68 and still is. Kill them abroad and kill them at home. Panthers were heroic vanguard - that's is why there were liquidated.
    Congratulations on this reminder.
    [<em>Moderator snip</em>]

  • Guest - Big Oil

    <blockquote>"we find India has MILLIONS of more deaths per year attributable to the capitalist system in India"</blockquote>

    That's frankly a bunch of nonsense.

    The Indian government was almost completely socialist until 1991 and and even now is a mixture of socialism and capitalism.

    China opened up it's markets much earlier than India and had faster GDP growth. Many of the corporations are completely government owned. Per capita GDP wise, India is only 10 years behind China. Yes, China is ahead in overall HDI indicators due to the incompetence of some Indian states, but those differences will become insignificant in 10-15 years. China has far worse income disparity than India (per the GINI index 44 versus 34). China is actually more capitalist than India today.

  • <b>moderator note:</b>

    We often routinely remove commentary from conservative voices on this site -- not because such arguments should be engaged (in other forums) but because (in this forum) they distract from our discussion (which is focused among revolutionaries and communists).

    But because "Big Oil's" comments are thoughtful and contain relevant facts, we will an exception.

    However it is worth noting that I suspect no one here thinks india was ever socialist -- because of different definitions of socialism. (I.e. for communists, state ownership is not indicative of socialism per se.)

  • Guest - kazembe

    I have a question about the translation of Mao's article. I noticed that there is a transition from "Negro" to "Black" in the final paragraph. Does anyone know if this was done consciously? It would be quite a sweep if Mao "got" the moment folks where living in, when Black folks actually transformed from Negro to Black.

  • Guest - Gary


    I think "Negro" and "Black" would be the same in Chinese, given that "negro" in simply "black" in Spanish. In Japanese, kokujin (koku = black, jin = person) is used, and I'm pretty sure the same compound of characters in used in Chinese.

  • From what I know this change in translation and English-language usage was done very consciously.

    Mao's first statements on Black liberation (from 1963) used the word Negro (as did the rest of the world). By the time we get to 1968, this document is using two simultaneous terms "Black" and "Afro-American" -- responding to the arguments, and practices of leading revolutionary forces among the African American people.

    Mao was not (himself) an English speaker -- so the language nuances were not directly his. And they (naturally) didn't appear in Chinese in some parallel way. But Mao was leading his forces to consciously explore and elevate revolutionary trends -- and to break with the contrary views of the "mainstream' communist movement. Mao was not giving props and support to the official Communist party in the U.S. - but to the revolutionary forces (and black nationalists) who had arisen in quite sharp opposition to the CP's workerism and liberal integrationism.

    One of the key questions under debate was whether Black people were a distinct nationality, and whether their struggle was a national struggle for liberation. Mao was careful not to declare a specific theoretical verdict (are they a nation or not? Is independence as a new nation-state a possibility?). But his statements viewed African American people <em>as a people</em> -- a distinct historically-community of people -- whose fight for liberation was rocking the system (and the world).

    And that leadership, that fight to uncover and support revolutionary possibilities, is what produced statements that were nuanced in their revolutionary vibe -- right down to the level of language. (And Mao was careful not to impose a new orthodox language through his statement -- he was careful to use <em>different</em> terms for Black people, not simply anoint one.

    So yes, it is precisely the case that Mao (and his forces conducting translation) "got" the language change -- in the sense that they were very aware of the shifting usage and the importance of specific terms for revolutionaries among the African American people.

    I assume one significant conduit for those important nuances was Robert Williams (who was in China at that point, was involved in the issuing of this statement, and was himself making transitions in language usage.) But there were a number of other people involved in English translation for the Chinese Maoists and their team was quite sophisticated and consciously supportive of the revolutionary currents among Black people (and therefore to their terminology).

    It is worth noting that this language change was also in sharp opposition to the conservative insistence on old terminology among some on the left -- notably the CPUSA and the CLP, who often still insisted on the term Negro.

  • Guest - Gary

    Did a little investigation. As I suspected, the term in Chinese that Mao used was hei-ren, literally "black person." The decision to render this in English as "Negro" or "Black" must have been based on politico-linguistic advice from people like Williams. But there are no words in East Asian languages to capture the differences of connotation between the two English words.

    Of course MLK was still at the time of his death routinely using the term "Negro," and while it was pointedly rejected by the Black Power Movement, it has not been disavowed as inherently disparaging (United Negro College Fund, etc). The current popularity of the term "African-American" is largely (as I recall it) the result of the efforts of the Rev. Jesse Jackson to find an alternative to Black or Afro-American and establish a parallel to terms like Japanese-American or Italian-American.

  • Guest - Mike E

    African American (without the hyphen, for some reason) was adopted widely at the urging of Jesse Jackson at the height (fleeting) of his influence after two 1980s presidential campaigns. It was controversial among radical people (precisely because it injected American into the mix) but it is now generally a term used by virtually everyone.

    The competing terms had emerged from the 60s -- i.e. Black people and Afro-American. Afro-American faded, and died a cultural death (following Negro, which was preceded by Colored.) Black people is still in wide use (though i suspect it may be aging and generational). There is also a mainstream use of the term "blacks" (which is often written in lower case) -- a term I find grating and dismissive (and seems structured to discuss Black people without fully conceding that they are a people.)

    Also New Afrikan, the term used by the wing of revolutionary Black nationalists most closely associated with the demand for territorial independence (Free the Land!) -- who emerged from the organization Republic of New Afrika. It is not widely used outside their periphery.

    The term POC (People of Color) is also in use -- and has the weakness of seeming to imply that people of many distinct oppressed nationalities form some single blended category. This generally goes against the grain of communist analysis (which for many reasons sees Guatamalans as a distinct people compared to Salvadorans, or immigrant Nigerians as distinct from African American people, and so on).

  • Guest - Mike E

    Another note on this statement:

    One thing we can learn from this is the truly masterful dialectics.

    It is hard to recapture today how disliked and discredited King was (in 1968) among the revolutionary sections of the black liberation struggle. His insistence on nonviolence and his insistence on confining politics to what was acceptable to the liberal imperialists caused him to be seen as an obstacle, more than an ally, by revolutionary forces.

    And yet, at his death, something deep and profound moved among Black people -- his assassination was a sign of the hard hard resistance (in this society and system) to the most moderate and carefully calibrated calls for basic equality and decency. There as a sentiment 'If they would kill him, then ...." among the most radical. And there was a deep wrenching grief among those whose hopes were associated with his work.

    Mao's statement works brilliantly to unite with the grief and anger of the people, without identifying closely (not identifying at all!) with the moderate and nonviolent politics flowing from King's strategic view..

    This is a communist analysis of the assassination of a significant reformist figure. It clearly and fundamentally stands with the people -- their rage, their grief, their frustration, their disillusionment, their extremely controversial decision to light a hundred U.S. cities on fire. And it casts a light, in a non-patronizing way, on the possible road to liberation -- while giving a sense of deep and heartfelt solidarity.

    Line by line, this is a profound work. What it says. What it chooses not to say. How it navigates complex contradictions. What it points toward (without dogmatic prescription), what it leaves for the African American people's revolutionary forces <em>themselves</em> to resolve.

    It is worth reading closely -- in the Althusserian sense of "the second read": First you let it wash over you. You read for how it affects and instructs you. But then you give it a close read: to learn its method, so see what "it is doing," to understand where it goes, and where it does not go. Whose voice are we hearing? And how does this voice view itself, and the struggle, and the people?

    We need to write like this -- (not as the head of a socialist state speaking on a distant struggle) -- as communists who grasp deeply the tapestry of a moment, who have done our work, who are looking at the overall, and who (in a deep and generous way) are embracing the best among the oppressed while expressing a <em>communist</em> ethos and politics.

  • Guest - mlw

    seeing as mao and company are part of the han dominating continuum that currently runs china then the above quote by him might as well be pot to kettle, particularly when the us has more or less improved, china...not so much.

  • Guest - Mike E

    @ MLW:

    <blockquote>"mao and company are part of the han dominating continuum that currently runs china..."</blockquote>

    Let's just say that your comment strikes me to be deeply uninformed. It also exemplifies the kind of superficial dismissal of communist experience that serves to reinforce the anti-communist falsehoods that saturate the air around us.

    If you want to elaborate your belief, certainly there are others here who can help excavate why they think is wrong.

    You might start by looking over my <a href="/" rel="nofollow">work on Tibet</a> -- which lays out Mao's rather visionary view (fought through over decades) of how to liberate minority nationalities in China, in the context of a revolution that had its initial basis among peasants within the Han core areas. There are real and difficult contradictions involved. And that history is not well served by quick, snarky and unsubstantiated quips.

    * * * * * * * *
    Further on the value of this statement. It says:

    <blockquote>"The Black masses and the masses of white working people in the United States have common interests and common objectives to struggle for. Therefore, the Afro-American struggle is winning sympathy and support from increasing numbers of white working people and progessives in the United States. The struggle of the Black people in the United States is bound to merge with the American workers’ movement, and this will eventually end the criminal rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class."</blockquote>

    I probably don't have to tell most people how controversial these these still are -- one sentence after another.

    It lays out a view that has been extremely important: that there are multiple wellsprings of potential revolutionary politics in the U.S., and victory requires a coming-together from different places over common goals. This view is (to put it mildly) not fashionable in some quarters -- especially among those who assume that different interests inherently (permanently) divide the people, and who make divisive challenges the core of their tactics, and who (frankly) haven't the slightest interest in seeing a revolution happen (but are endlessly focused on process in an endless sequence of petty moments).

    Understanding that there are different sources -- a potentially broad movement of poor and working people for socialism, and a movement of oppressed nationalities for liberation from white supremacy -- and that they can be unified (in fundamental and historic ways) in a common struggle for socialism... this is both deep (in my opinion) and something that could use to be studied and understood much more widely today.

  • Guest - skepoet

    Similarly Mao's line on Taiwan prior to the Nationalists taking it is actually quite illuminating when compared to current PRC practice.

  • Skepoet:

    I suspect that most people reading your comment don't have much sense of what you are referring to or what position you are taking. I know it is unclear to me.

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