What follows is a presentation on the Western left’s solidarity with the Chinese Revolution and the People’s Republic of China over the years, and the motivation for setting up Friends of Socialist China. It was delivered at the the Fifteenth Forum of the World Association for Political Economy (hosted by the Shanghai International Studies University, China, and held online on 18-19 December 2021), and was jointly written by Friends of Socialist China’s co-editors.
The accompanying slides can be found at SlideShare.
On behalf of Friends of Socialist China, I would like to express our thanks to the World Association of Political Economy for inviting us to participate in this important conference and to extend our greetings to all our fellow participants.
Friends of Socialist China was formed in May 2021 by a small group of activists in Britain and the USA with a long record in the progressive movement and specifically of solidarity with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese revolution.
Our analysis of our tasks and our understanding of our work flow from the basic tenets of Marxism, starting from the observation by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto that, unlike other parties in the working-class movement, communists bring to the fore the interests of the working class as a whole, independent of all nationality. This premise was further elaborated and developed by Mao Zedong, who noted that the people of countries yet to win their liberation have a duty to support the socialist countries, whilst the socialist countries have the responsibility to support the countries and peoples who are still struggling for their liberation.
Writing in 1968, the great Korean revolutionary Kim Il Sung expressed this idea very powerfully: “As the forces of capital are international, so the liberation struggle of the peoples is an international movement. The revolutionary struggles of the peoples in all countries have the relationship of supporting and complementing each other and joining together in one stream of world revolution. The revolution which has emerged victorious should assist the revolutions of those countries which are not yet triumphant with its experiences and examples and render active support to the liberation struggle of the world’s peoples with its political, economic and military power, while the peoples in the countries which have not yet won their revolutions should struggle more actively to defend the victorious revolutions of other countries against the imperialist policy of strangulation and hasten victory for their own revolutions.”
Although there have been ebbs and flows, the most advanced sections of the working class and progressive movements in the imperialist countries have a long history of active solidarity and identification with the Chinese revolution.
Although by no means exclusively, in the United States this solidarity and identification has long been particularly expressed from within the African American community.
Having visited Shanghai in 1934, the famous African-American poet Langston Hughes sounded a call to arms with his ‘Roar China’ in 1938. Its militant call echoes to this day:
Break the chains of the East,
Child slaves in the factories!
Smash the iron gates of the Concessions!
Smash the pious doors of the missionary houses!
Smash the revolving doors of the Jim Crow YMCAs.
Crush the enemies of land and bread and freedom!
Stand up and roar, China!
You know what you want!
The only way to get it is
To take it!
The great African-American communist and artist Paul Robeson became known for his powerful rendition in Chinese of the ‘March of the Volunteers’, the song that was to become, and remains, the national anthem of the People’s Republic. Robeson first recorded the song in 1941, with a chorus made up of Chinese workers in New York. The proceeds from the gramophone record went to support China’s war effort against Japanese invasion.
The sociologist Dr WEB DuBois, one of the greatest scholars of the 20th century, forged a profound friendship with Comrade Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders. Speaking in Beijing in February 1959, on the occasion of his 91st birthday, Dr DuBois addressed the people of Africa:
“China is flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood. China is coloured and knows to what a coloured skin in this modern world subjects its owner. But China knows more, much more than this: she knows what to do about it. She can take the insults of the United States and still hold her head high. She can make her own machines or go without machines, when America refuses to sell her American manufactures, even though it hurts American industry, and throws her workers out of jobs. China does not need American nor British missionaries to teach her religion and scare her with tales of hell. China has been in hell too long, not to believe in a heaven of her own making. This she is doing.”
Another great African-American leader who forged a personal friendship with Mao Zedong was Robert F Williams, together with his wife Mabel. As leaders of the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), they were among the first to openly advocate armed self-defence in the face of racist terror. It was in response to Williams’ request that, in August 1963, Chairman Mao issued his famous statement that concluded:
“The evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of black people and the trade in black people, and it will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the black people.”
In his ‘Message to the Grassroots’, Malcolm X, another outstanding militant leader, invoking a term widely used by African-Americans to denote those who adopt an obsequious attitude towards their oppressors, spoke of the Chinese revolution as follows:
“The Chinese Revolution, they wanted land. They threw the British out, along with the Uncle Tom Chinese… No more Toms in China. Today, it’s one of the toughest, roughest, most feared countries on this earth by the white man, because there are no Uncle Toms over there.”
Malcolm X took great inspiration from the courage and persistence of China’s revolutionaries, and felt that oppressed nations and nationalities throughout the world could learn from it. He once remarked: “The Chinese fought for their independence. They became militant right from the outset. I admire the stand of China and the stand of Mao Zedong.”
Later in the 1960s and the early 1970s, the Black Panther Party in particular prioritised support for socialist China and actively studied and disseminated Mao Zedong Thought. Recalling a visit to China in 1971, at the head of a party delegation, Huey P Newton was to write that setting foot in the liberated territory was the first time in his life that he felt completely free.
This lineage from the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s through the Black Panther Party to the present constitutes, in many respects, a natural identification, as African American workers may be said to constitute the proletarian vanguard in the US ‘prison house of nations and nationalities’.
And this proletarian vanguard has historically and inevitably given a lead to all the advanced forces in the United States. The Black Panther Party’s staunch support for socialist China was, for example, taken up by similar movements among all the oppressed nations and communities in the US, in particular the Young Lords Party, formed by working class Puerto Rican youth. The inspiration of China’s revolution was also instrumental in the development of the New Communist Movement in the US.
In Britain, the leaders of the Chartists, the first modern working-class movement, opposed the Opium Wars waged against China in the 1840s and predicted that the Chinese people would ultimately be victorious in their struggle against colonialism.
Dr Jenny Clegg writes that:
“This hope was, some twenty years later, to inspire a young British naval officer, named Augustus Lindley, who resigned his commission to fight on the side of the Taiping peasant rebels. In 1863, aged only 20, Lindley engaged in the dramatic capture of one of Britain’s best Yangzi gunships, the Firefly, which was handed to the Taiping leaders. Lindley’s two volume ‘History of the Taiping Rebellion’ undoubtedly left a mark of anti-imperialism within the British Labour movement – a legacy ignited by the ‘Hands Off China’ campaign of the 1920s.”
These pioneers indeed provided a historical precedent for such later initiatives as the Hands off China Campaign (1925-27), the Friends of the Chinese People (1927-1937), the China Campaign Committee (1937-49) and the Britain-China Friendship Association (1949-1960s), in which the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) played an indispensable role.
And as in the United States, it was again the political representatives of oppressed peoples who came to play an outstanding role in supporting and defending the People’s Republic, be it on the part of the outstanding Trinidadian communist Claudia Jones or of such organisations as the Indian Workers’ Association, its equivalent bodies among Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Kashmiri workers, the Black Unity and Freedom Party, the Black Panther Movement and many others. Very often out of the sight and hearing of much of the predominantly white left, they collectively constituted the mass proletarian base for China friendship and solidarity in Britain, from the early 1960s onwards.
In taking up our tasks today, therefore, these are the uncompromising anti-imperialist, socialist and Marxist traditions that we seek to defend, apply and carry forward.
However, these positive traditions need to be contrasted to the objectively pro-imperialist left, whose standpoint is often articulated as ‘Neither Washington nor Beijing’. There are those groups on the left in Britain and the US that consider China to be “a rising imperialist power in the world system that oversees the exploitation of its own population … and increasingly exploits Third World countries in pursuit of raw materials and outlets for its exports.” One group has even gone so far as to describe China as being “functionally little different from, and in any case not better than, a fascist regime.” They equate the US and China as aggressive, capitalist, imperialist powers, and put forward the slogan ‘Neither Washington nor Beijing, but international socialism’.
In contrast, we in Friends of Socialist China regard the workers’ state – and within that its proletarian vanguard party and that party’s leadership core – as the highest political expression of the international working class and its interests.
The global advance to socialism is essential if humanity is to survive and flourish. Humanity needs socialism in order to prevent climate breakdown, end poverty, establish global peace and work towards ending all forms of oppression. We believe that the record of China and all the socialist countries is overwhelmingly positive; that socialism has been able to – or has the potential to – solve many of humanity’s most burning issues; that the most impressive advances in people’s living conditions have occurred under socialist systems.
We support all states building, aspiring or orienting towards, socialism, but foreground China in particular, not least because its size and level of development give it an objectively critical role in the global transition to socialism.
Furthermore, given its continued peaceful rise and the implied threat this presents to the US-led imperialist system, it is being subjected to an intense and escalating New Cold War. This in turn carries with it the danger of an actual world war and as such, in the nuclear age, constitutes an existential threat to humanity.
Such are the imperatives that have impelled the formation of Friends of Socialist China. In just a little over six months our message has reached many tens of thousands around the world. We have held a number of online events, including our launch event on China’s successes in poverty alleviation; a joint celebration (with Britain’s socialist daily newspaper the Morning Star) of the centenary of the CPC; a webinar exploring the propaganda war against China; and most recently a Summit for Socialist Democracy, held the day after Biden’s Summit for Democracy, and featuring speakers from China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and Venezuela. Each of these events has received several thousands of views. We have developed a substantial social media presence, and our co-editors often appear on and write for Chinese media including CGTN and Xinhua.
Thank you very much for your attention. We wish you success in your work and struggles and look forward to close and friendly cooperation.