The Black Left Tradition: Its Enduring Lessons and Insights

Photograph Source: Dr._Colleen_Morgan – CC BY 2.0

Malcolm X, in his classic autobiography, condemned the cruelty and domination that Asian Indians and the Chinese had faced under European colonization.

He stated, unequivocally, “[…] excepting the African slave trade, nowhere has history recorded any more unnecessary bestial and ruthless human carnage than the British suppression of the non-white Indian people.”

Despite, at times, being an extremely frustrating and contradictory political figure, preaching self-help while condemning King for somehow not being “radical” enough, a major consistency in Malcolm X’s worldview was his insistence that the struggle for justice was always a global one. That black people in the U.S. had much in common with Africans and Asians and others who had experienced similar types of abuse and exploitation.

“Expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights,” he exclaimed in his “Ballot or the Bullet” speech. “Take it into the United Nations, where our African brothers can throw their weight on our side, where our Asian brothers can throw their weight on our side, where our Latin-American brothers can throw their weight on our side, and where 800 million Chinamen are sitting there waiting to throw their weight on our side.”

After being shamed and alienated from the Nation of Islam, despite being the main reason for the NOI’s growing popularity, Malcolm X continued to evolve politically while maintaining his strident belief in internationalism. Prior to his assassination in front of his family and friends (one of the killers by the way now lives in a privileged area of Newark), Malcolm X’s sympathies toward a Pan-Africanist socialist politics had deepened. He had begun to see the limits of a “black radical tradition” that framed the struggle as solely between white and non-white, without any consideration of class and the complicity of conservatives and anti-communists abroad in serving U.S. empire.

As a Desi born and raised on the Northeast, having matured under the shadow of 9/11, the insights and evolution of thinkers like Malcolm X and black Leftists provided much needed-insight and validation regarding power and politics in the U.S. For instance, from a young age, absorbing what I was reading about African American history while being raised in areas that have a significant black and brown and later, East Asian and South Asian population, steered me away from developing a sense of hopelessness or a belief that somehow there is one way of being an American. You see this type of narrative in novels written by Asian American authors like Jhumpa Lahiri, who depict South Asian Americans “torn” between their “American” side and their “Indian” side.[1] Oftentimes, this internal conflict is situated against a backdrop of mainly middle to upper middle class white characters, who are stand-in for “American” culture and identity, and other groups, such as Asians, always being presented as the “outsiders/foreigner”. In reality, European Americans are obviously not indigenous to the continent, and many are far more recent to North America compared to the lineage of most African Americans, whose ancestors have been on these shores since the colonial era. Hence, I avoided the neurotic fate of certain Asian Americans, who seem to ignore African American history in the U.S., a.k.a. the actual history of the country and its “culture”.

Also, the tradition of the black Leftist thought has provided a bulwark against the feeling of sinking into a deep malaise, of believing that nothing can ever change and the best one could hope is to elect a certain political figure over another. That all I should do is stand still, whether it’s at the supermarket, rushing through errands half-awake (coffee running dry in my veins) or find a spot in some street and allow myself to sink into the asphalt, eventually buried under the white lines and gravel, to become part of the capitalist scenery. My ultimate form under capitalism itself.[2]

But how could I give up on progressive change when W.E.B. Du Bois had managed to cling to his faith in socialism and anti-imperialism up until he died while in exile in Ghana, after decades of hardship and feeling marginalized? How could I give up on myself and others when it would take generations of activists resisting and generating power from below to end Jim Crow?

At the height of the backlash following the attacks on the World Trade Center, there were tons of weird shit my parents and I and people in our community endured, from random white people yelling at us across the street (a hobby?) or in some random aisle at Costco (our second home). Usually, my parents would flip them off, while I would stand where I was, as I just seen Medusa, my fists clenched at my sides. One time, after someone had taunted them, my parents decided to grab my hand and leave without touching any of the samples. On the drive back, instead of their usual arguing over whether they needed that extra avocado or peach, they switched on the radio, the same weather and traffic reports repeating every few minutes.

At the height of the anti-Asian hate crime wave, following Trump’s unabashed anti-China rhetoric (which Biden has gloriously maintained in honor of tradition of course), the anxiety and hopelessness returned, resurfaced, as I worried over my friends and others in our area. After the shooting in Atlanta, where most of the victims had been working class Asian women, there were moments when all we wanted to do was stay indoors more so than we already been committed, boarding up our souls until the storm passed and Andrew Yang would leave us be. Huddled inside on the weekends, binging on jellies and cookies while convincing ourselves we’ll buy a Peloton someday, even though we could barely afford the rent.

But A. Philip Randolph, the prominent labor unionist, who challenged FDR to do more for working people, for fellow African Americans when others told him not to, had said, “Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given; it is exacted.”

The U.S. has been…

founded on dispossession and violence. What some of us are experiencing now, whether it be anti-Asian hate or the rise of the right-wing in higher office, is a culmination of hundreds of years of U.S. domestic and foreign policy.

None of it, as some within the black radical tradition would argue, is new.

“Racism is racism. And the Islamophobia that we’re witnessing now is growing on the terrain that has been created by so many decades and centuries of anti-black racism and anti-indigenous racism,” Angela Davis had said following Trump’s inauguration.

Certainly, under certain administrations, the oppression that we face can be more intense. Take, for example, the presidency of Reagan, whose coalition included defenders of South African apartheid, white evangelicals who believed AIDS was god’s judgement, and of course, business interests willing to plunge the world into debt and crisis for an extra cent of profit. Reagan’s policies, in turn, punished the poor and non-white, helping pave the wave for fascism in many parts of the globe, such as Latin America.

But the rise of Reagan wasn’t a break from wonderful and idealistic American tradition whereby people were treated fairly and received the care and dignity they deserved. It was under the Clinton administration where we witnessed the explicit demonization of so-called “welfare queens”, poor women working multiple jobs while in need of some extra financial help. Under Obama, we witnessed continued support for U.S.-backed regimes across the globe, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Following WWII, there was a similar wave of suspicion of mainly Chinese Americans and Chinese immigrants who expressed any support for the communist revolution in China. The FBI and law enforcement mobilized against the Chinese American community, rounding people up, disappearing them for days, possibly forever. This, of course, was routine for others as well, especially for African Americans who spoke up for themselves, even if they weren’t necessarily socialist or radical.

Martin Luther King Jr., as he transitioned from being a Great Society liberal into more of a social democrat, stated,

“We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights, an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We have been in a reform movement…But after Selma and the voting rights bill, we moved into a new era, which must be the era of revolution. We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power.”[3]

Society at-large must change for oppression and exploitation to truly end and to never reappear as they do now, with such venom and magnitude. Imagine government policies that include government bureaucrats delivering food and other services, which would include working class and poor Asian Americans, the most vulnerable to attack. Imagine a public safety force that includes members from the community trained in protecting people from assailants and builds collective unity across neighborhoods to rally against such hatred and violence.

Imagine a society in which the right-wing are diminished in their power and their ability to mobilize hate, which necessitates the complete annihilation of their media infrastructure by government and repression of their leading political figures.

As Du Bois understood, especially near the end of his life, for mass oppression and exploitation to finally end, social movements must seize upon government institutions and leverage them to change society itself. Electing African American, Asian American and Latino Americans who do not have this goal in mind will always be insufficient, and sometimes, counterproductive. A way to trick the masses into thinking hope and change is on its way within the contemporary political framework of bourgeois democracy and capital.[4]

The struggle for racial liberation must be…

connected to a broader struggle against capitalism and all that it breeds, including colonialism and empire.

“Communism—the effort to give all men what they need and to ask of each the best they can contribute—this is the only way of human life,” Du Bois expressed in his older and wiser age as he accepted membership into the U.S. communist party.[5]

Although there are a multitude of tendencies that some would like to lump under the rubric of the “black radical tradition” (ranging from liberal to cultural nationalist), the black Left strand has the most relevancy and insight to offer, especially in regard to political economy and power.

The black Left, which gradually emerged after the crushing of Reconstruction governments by white mobs and politicians eager to retain their influence, would realize that unless capitalism is also dismantled, the vast majority of black and non-white, would not live free or in dignity.[6] There are certainly various strands also within the black Left discussing what version of socialism, libertarian socialism or Marxism or a combination thereof, but overall, this strand of the black radical tradition recognizes that capitalists are the enemy of freedom.

“We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism. You fight capitalism with socialism,” said Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party.[7]

At the core of any capitalist society, including when reformed, is exploitation. Exploitation in capitalism, according to Marx whose ideas are taken up by segments of the black Left, occurs when a working person never receives just compensation for the hours they put at the workplace, or while Zooming for the seventh meeting in a row, eyes melting like a Dali painting. This is how profits are generated by “entrepreneurs”. By finding ways to squeeze out as many hours of work from us, hours that will never be paid for.

This level of injustice remains, even as company boardrooms are diversified.

Since Nixon, there has been a competing strand with the black Left that preaches the idea that entrepreneurialism and owning capital shall pave the way toward liberation. The Black Panther Party had called this version of politics as “porkchop” nationalism. It is understandable, to a degree, why some non-white people in the U.S. might believe in the idea that if we owned our own businesses, etc. we can finally achieve some leverage for ourselves.

Yet, as black socialists and black communists have argued, even if there were more black and brown people owning businesses, it just means such people are now in the role of being an exploiter of someone else’s labor. It would be elevating some of us into the role of an oppressor.

More importantly, to truly address the needs and interests of a vast majority of people of color, there must be a redistribution of land and other resources, as well as universal housing, healthcare, and food. This will never be possible under capitalism since its major backers and various sycophants require a significant number of people to be desperate and economically insecure to be willing to sell their labor.

In the contemporary era, there is now a contingent of people of color, who are willing to espouse progressive-ish ideals without any criticism of the broader capitalist order and the need for socialism. Such people have gained some power, as elected officials and as faces of major corporations, while the black Left has faced repression and the Left overall has been weakened over the past few decades.

Glen Ford, the prominent journalist and political commentator, had written[8],

“However, the decisive blow to the Black movement for self-determination and against U.S. imperialism was delivered by forces internal to the Black community. It came from a class that had not been concerned about justice in any civilizational sense, but only about getting rid of Jim Crow—American apartheid—so that they could also walk the halls of the empire and live the corporate life. Their vehicle—the only one that was open to this Black aspiring class—was the Democratic Party, because the other party was busy transforming itself into the White Man’s Party. With very few exceptions, this was a class for itself, consumed by a mission of “representationalism”. They wanted no part in social transformation; they wanted only to be represented in the upper echelons of corporate, governmental, and symbolic media power. Their agenda was solely concerned with their own upward mobility. They were not about justice or peace.”

The same must be said of upwardly mobile Asians and Latinos, who elide major discussions over class, to preserve what they’ve managed to gain. They’re the ones who express the idea that what we need are more non-white cops, non-white “entrepreneurs” who may say the right things occasionally, such as anti-Asian hate is “bad” and that we should all “do more” for the “community”. Utilizing terms that are generic enough to not upset anyone in power or working people in the crowd who still look forward to a day when it’s them with the power to yell at another for stacking the Cheerios the wrong way.

Andrew Yang is a figure that jumps to mind.[9] Like Kamala Harris, who is part Indian American, Yang hasn’t necessarily garnered the support he would need at the national level to win government office. However, Yang himself embodies a type of Asian American politics that is extremely narrow in its critique, but can draw a considerable number of people with its sheen of an “outsider” politics, a politics of being a “free thinker”, of caring about what groups of people like Asian Americans are going through (Yang has spoken out on anti-Asian hate, although absurdly so), that speaks of racial discrimination, while linking change to investing in local business and “free enterprise”. Again, there are reasons why people are drawn into the whirling cesspool of Yang-ism or Harris ideology, with people having faced discrimination, and lacking resources, and at times, feeling as if one’s needs are rarely spoken of by “traditional” leaders, a.k.a. white political figures, whether liberal or conservative.

Still, as we’re seeing now, with more representation in business, in government, and with major companies themselves, like Amazon claiming to side with movements like BLM, none of it has altered the waking nightmare for the vast majority of us.[10] Working people inside Amazon internment camps, many of them people of color, continue to work under horrid conditions. Black and brown cops continue to shoot and murder poor and working class black and brown peoples. Institutions like ICE include Latino officers, and yet, when someone is deemed “illegal”, they’re still stripped of their humanity and tossed inside a cage (a policy that has persisted under Biden and Harris).

The wealth divide among Asian Americans has expanded over the years, with many in its “middle class” also on thin ice, with costs of living constantly rising. The majority of the Asian diaspora is still struggling and mired in generational poverty. Many are now immigrating to the U.S., to find themselves trapped in low-wage work.

A man owning the local Patel Cash & Carry is not saving us. In fact, that man is looking out for his main interest, which is profit, at the expense of nearly everyone.

“You show me a capitalist, I’ll show you a bloodsucker,” Malcolm X had said, as he started to see more clearly through the fog of black capitalism.

Assata Shakur, the famed revolutionary who currently lives in exile in socialist Cuba, expressed, “Capitalism meant that rich businessmen owned the wealth, while socialism meant that the people who made the wealth owned it.”

Still, how do we achieve this liberation that’s more robust and systemic? The black Left also have some answers on this. Though, it’s important to not copy and paste from decades ago. It is important to stray somewhat from pure rhetoric and idealism.[11]

There is a universal class struggle but…

it is not instinctive or innate among working people.

There remains a shared interest among working people, whether white-collar or blue-collar, employed or unemployed, whether African American, Latino, Asian or white. Capitalism must be dismantled, its power and influence vastly reduced, for any of us to truly live in dignity and respect. For any of us to no longer be victimized by levels of instability that capitalism produces, like we’re seeing now with a perpetual global recession teetering on depression, and Covid-19 accelerating declining living and working conditions under neoliberalism. There have been moments of “boom”, and yet, we’re always a few years away from a complete financial collapse and misery.

Back in 2011-2012, when I was living in the D.C. metro area, I went to Prince George’s County, predominantly middle class and African American. There, I found houses foreclosed on, notices on screen doors, all the while new condominiums had been built in the heart of D.C. It was the same in other places I’ve been, especially areas closer to home, where houses stand vacant, the kind you picture as a stand-in for the “American Dream”, in neighborhoods that are black and brown. Prior to Covid-19, there would be individuals in the business community or local leaders claiming everything was alright. That those who couldn’t follow through on their mortgage would somehow recover, and that the economy was “booming”. Which it was. But only for some.

It is in our objective interests, as non-white people, to fight for a socialist society whereby housing and healthcare are a universal right, not some commodity for someone else to profit from. Whereby everyone, regardless of immigration status and gender, will labor only for social need, not for some product to be sold. It is in our objective interests to develop a socialist society where people do not need to worry over an economic “boom or bust” to have what they need to live, to feel fully human.

But the aspiration does not change reality as is. Although many would benefit from the ending of capitalism as our dominant political form, the fight to win and maintain socialism can feel elusive. Most often, as black Left organizers have known, people can feel ambivalent or are concerned with immediate interests, like paying the rent on time.

For black Leftists, like Du Bois, segments of white America, including those in its working class, have also actively worked against liberatory movements. During Reconstruction, it was white elites and segments of ordinary white people who led violent attacks and coups against governments that were responsive to the needs and interests of African Americans and poor whites.

“The landholders had one recourse, and that was to draw the color line and convince the native-born white voter that his interests lay with the planter-class and were opposed to those of the Northern interloper and the Negro,” he stated in his classic, Black Reconstruction.

Differing from white socialists and some communists and people of color who are far too steeped in idealism, Du Bois and others emphasized how white working people will rarely see themselves as part of a socialist struggle for power and resources. Essentially, white identarian politics, which has been sustained through material incentives such as banks providing cheaper loans for those racialized as “white” so they can buy homes or businesses providing them better pay compared to their non-white counterpart, can form a steep barrier toward achieving class struggle politics.

The concept of “whiteness” does mutate over time, to now include Italian Americans and others who had been previously discriminated against (ironically by other Europeans no less). But this doesn’t alter the fact that those who prioritize their whiteness above all other concerns, or imagine themselves as “white workers” are the vanguard of right-wing movements in the U.S.[12]

Currently, white Americans are the bedrock of right-wing politics, from voting for conservatives who rant and rave about “CRT”[13], to supporting policies, like ending legal immigration, that are meant to hurt and traumatize others. This has been their legacy, since Jim Crow.

bell hooks noted in the late 1990s and early 2000s, after the GOP had become captured by white animus,

“Indeed, in the not so distant past the psychological and economic self-esteem of the white working class and the white poor has been significantly bolstered by the class politics of white supremacy. Currently, we are witnessing a resurgence of white supremacist thinking among disenfranchised classes of white people. These extremist groups respond to misinformation circulated by privileged whites that suggests that black people are getting ahead financially because of government policies like affirmative action, and they are taught to blame black folks for their plight.”

There are sections of white America that are too far gone, even when it comes to class appeals, and instead, must be confronted, and defeated. The lengths it would take to attract such segments of the working class, especially those wandering within its “middle class” (think someone who still works for a wage but at some tech firm or someone who is a cop with a pension), would strip away all principle and reason for having a socialist struggle in the first place.

Historically, there has been a deeper engagement among various Latino, Asian, and African American segments of the U.S. population, in terms of fighting for critical progressive demands and resources, such as access to better schools, houses, and pay, and access to political protections, like voting. There has been an insistence among the black Left for various groups to see how interconnected we are. Although we experience varying levels of violence and oppression based on how we’ve been racialized, as non-white, or non-Anglo people, we all share in some level of being dehumanized and diminished.[14]

But that understanding too can become obscured or steered away from developing into a socialist and more radical consciousness. Currently, most people of color who are registered to vote are trending toward the Democrats, or have been. But that also means a growing number of people of color are being convinced that their answer to the economic and political crises we’ve been in can be found in voting for relatively moderate or even center-right, such as Biden, candidates. During the latest Democrat primary, older African American voters across the south have formed a conservative bulwark within Democrat party politics. Other groups, such as Latinos[15], are already showing signs of shifting rightward, with mostly men admitting in polls a renewed interest in voting for Trump in the next presidential election cycle. There have been segments of Asians too, trending rightward, or like most people of color, not voting at all.

In the aftermath of 9/11, I witnessed people in my own community conforming to a dominant political discourse about the American Dream and politics abroad, staying silent on international issues, running into the arms of neoliberal Democrats. For those of us who’ve “made it” into the “middle class”, I’ve seen many too willing to pretend issues affecting the most marginal among us, such as lower-income workers, women and non-men, the undocumented, as insignificant and must be dismissed.[16]

“My class allegiance and solidarity will always be with working people, folk of all classes, who see money as useful insomuch as it enhances our well-being,” hooks also stated, “The time will come when wealth will be redistributed, when the workers of the world will once again unite—standing for economic justice—for a world where we can all have enough to live fully and well.”[17]

Today, the white population is also very much split in ways it’s never been. More whites have been willing to stand up for such issues as racial injustice, however muddled. And some are harking back to the labor struggles of the past, as seen in their own battles for better wages and protections now.

In my own time organizing, I have met white comrades who suffer as working people and at the same time, push ahead, and are willing to learn and take in new information. In some ways, the deteriorating conditions we’re faced with, which have impacted non-white working communities for far longer, are now driving whites away from their previously held myths about themselves and about the country.

For various groups of color, it’s been true as well that many are turning away from neoliberal politics as well, or are more invested in other type of politics that confront the situation they’re mired in. This too is reflected in the number of people of color still in unions, and others who have turned their attention to progressive electoral campaigns and other types of institutions, like Black Lives Matter. There is a resurgent movement among indigenous peoples for land and resource that should inspire anyone.

Many people of color, regardless of the ethnic or racial group they’re in, that I’ve organized alongside t are serious about combining our efforts in defeating capitalism. And are clear in the need for unity.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor stated, in the aftermath of Trump’s election, “There actually has to be a political argument articulated for solidarity, and not just solidarity because it is good and makes us feel better about ourselves, but because it is an indispensable political strategy for us to defend what we have, let alone to mount a movement for reform.”

Without solidarity, without the willingness to fight for people we do not know, up until the end of capitalism and the birth of a new more humane world, our efforts for liberation will fall apart. Our enemies, from white vigilantes to business owners to social conservatives, will unify and alienate us. Without solidarity, we shall be outmaneuvered, and left bickering.

But this belief in solidarity is not easy to internalize. It took me years of others pushing me to get to where I am now. Even then, I can feel myself regressing. The resentment seeping through. The stress eroding my sense of connection to others, as I’m too busy working, clinging to what savings and sanity I have.

We must think beyond our individual-level traumas and hardships if humanity has any chance of surviving. To accept this, however, might be an impossibility, as crises grow worse, as people grow desperate. As we’ve been encouraged to be our best “selves”, constantly being told that only those we know can be relied on, can be trusted. That believing in something bigger than what’s before us is immaturity, especially if it’s about an international class struggle.

We have been transformed into fragmented beings, even those of us who would be inclined to believe in something more. Incoherent and flailing. Just trying our best to feel somewhat happy and in one piece.


international. The fight for liberation necessitates an end to capitalism in its global incarnation known as imperialism.

Claudia Jones, the prominent Marxist feminist who would be deported during the Red Scare despite living in the U.S. for much of her life, identified the struggle for liberation and socialism as on a global scale.

“We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic system of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products and not for the profit of the bosses.”

When Europe was at the height of its powers, with its various companies sailing forth, stealing land, extracting resources, much of the globe was plunged into the abyss. Any attempts at liberation were repressed for European capitalist domination to persist.

Following the end of WWII, the U.S., relatively unscathed from the physical toll of the war, stepped up to fill the void the Europeans had left behind. By then, the U.S. was already a colonizing force, having dispossessed indigenous peoples of their lands, and invading countries like Haiti whenever U.S. financial interests were at stake.

But after WWII, the U.S.’s expansion of capitalism intensified. There were more invasions to follow, but also, coups and other forms of disruption in countries across Africa, Latin American, and Asia, the most infamous example in U.S. bombing and destruction of Vietnam.

The U.S. also cultivated ties with local anti-communist forces across the globe, ranging from social conservatives in parts of Asia to pro-capitalist nationalists in Africa and Latin America.[18]

Shakur explains,

Both the democratic party and the republican party are controlled by millionaires. They are interested in holding on to their power, while i was interested in taking it away. They were interested in supporting fascist dictatorships in South and Central America, while i wanted to see them overthrown. They were interested in supporting racist, fascist regimes in Africa while i was interested in seeing them overthrown. They were interested in defeating the Viet Cong and i was interested in seeing them win their liberation.

Since WWII, the U.S. and its multinational corporations have been the vanguard of counterrevolution globally. Those who have opposed the global capitalist system that the U.S. and its allies have erected, through institutions like the International Monetary Fund, are isolated from critical resources, like Venezuela being denied their own money hoarded in U.S. and European banks.

For multinationals to remain free to take what they desire, to dump toxins in the waters around places like Somalia, to access cheap labor in Bangladesh and Central America, the U.S. government cannot become invested in liberation. For the multinationals to roam and rule like Kaiju, the U.S. government cannot ever become communist, or communist-adjacent.

An anti-imperialist critique has been slipping from our mainstream political discourse in the last few decades, including among progressives and Leftists.[19] Currently, the Biden administration has continued to protect allies like Saudi Arabia, a regime notorious for promoting reactionary politics across regions, and preserving a global system that prioritizes profiteering and unmitigated self-interest as consumers, while a pandemic rages on.

Such questions about empire have been broached by BLM and the DSA, but still, a large swath of Americans have not incorporated anti-imperialism into their concept of racial, gender, or some forms of economic justice. Thus, some could conceive of a Green New Deal without shutting down U.S. military bases, or praise and support black and brown military leaders, such as Colin Powell, disregarding his role in the bloody suppression of poor people globally.

Freedom reigns, a version of it. The freedom to be included into the global machinations dominating the globe, as businessmen or believers in “free enterprise” and Elon Musk’s hyperloops.

In India, the country my parents are from (though they’ve now spent more time living and working in the U.S.), this has been the case over the last several years, close to a decade, with Indians in the middle-class trading in socialist ideals for consumerism. The Congress party and the Left failed in resisting capitalism and in restricting the influence of its own capitalist and pro-capitalist constituencies.

Now, the country is fully in the grip of rightwing leaders, who promote themselves as the “authentic” voices of the “authentic” Indian.[20] They too play into the idea that the previous leaders and Leftists have been too “Western”, as if caring for women’s rights, for Dalits, for Muslims, for the poor, to believe in freedom of expression and redistribution of power is unique to Europe somehow, the same continent that ruined the continent through brutality and cunning.[21]

“Revolutionaries in Africa understood that the question of African liberation was not just a question of race, that even if they managed to get rid of the white colonialists, if they didn’t rid themselves of the capitalistic economic structure, the white colonialists would simply be replaced by Black neocolonialists” Shakur analyzed decades ago, before the fall of the Soviet Union, which would only lead to more reactionaries[22] elevated into positions of power across the world.

The Fight for Freedom and Liberation Is…


Since Europeans landed on North America and began the world-altering importation of enslaved Africans, there has always been a level of struggle and resistance against oppression. From the enslaved leading rebellions to the formation of Haiti to the downfall of Jim Crow.

There have been times when such resistance could’ve felt insignificant, but the black Left, its most prominent representatives/proponents, have always known the threat to the status quo when black and brown and oppressed and exploited peoples unite. That the status quo itself does change, does alter itself, according to the pressure from below. That history is not one unyielding timeline of grief and failing.

Donna Murch, historian, writes in Living For The City, about the Black Panther Party and the fear they struck among the establishment, including the FBI,

“Cosponsoring candidates with the Peace and Freedom Party demonstrated the [Black Panther Party’s] significant inroads into largely white anti-war and Left circles. The Panthers’ ability to build not only black unity but cross-racial solidarity inspired particular alarm.”

But if the black Left has been correct about the need for labor solidarity and international anti-imperialist struggle, then how must we proceed? Covid-19 has been an obstacle that the Black Panther Party, Assata Shakur, and communist movements in the colonized world had not faced. That and impending climate disaster, which as some have pointed out, has been the larger capitalist market failure in human history.

“As Malcolm stressed, we are not responsible for our oppression, but we must be responsible for our own liberation,” said Audre Lorde, black feminist who would also visit the Soviet Union and championed the socialist struggles in Grenada.

A few years ago, right after the unrest in Ferguson, a friend and I journeyed to St. Louis, with the intent of seeing for ourselves the community that had done so much to be heard amidst police repression and neoliberal disregard. Obama, at the time, did his usual “both sides” should “calm” down, somehow ignoring the armored police vehicles that rolled through.

When we arrived, I spent some time in Ferguson, speaking to residents about what had happened. As one would’ve expected, many had been frustrated by the local economy, by the police, by how they’d been treated. Some simply wanted to continue their lives, and others were planning to move away.

Ferguson, overall, very much reminded my friend (also Desi) and I of some of the suburbs in and around New Jersey. In fact, as most cities across the U.S. become more gentrified, many people who are struggling, many of whom are non-white, have spilled into the surrounding areas.

“There was no doubt about it, our people would one day be free,” said Shakur, “The cowboys and bandits didn’t own the world.”

Hagiography is unhelpful. Words alone don’t change the fact that new forms of “bandits” rule over us now.

But the world system, global capitalism, is staggering. Those who rule, especially the business elite, are clearly not as competent as they once were. The paranoid white mobs, foaming at the mouth constantly, are running themselves down with anger and stress. Their bile eating at their insides.

In Ferguson, on our last full day there, I finally was able to find the plaque commemorating where Michael Brown was murdered. An older woman in the area, which was mainly trees, some houses, and apartment buildings lined against each other like Tetris, showed me where the plaque was before returning to their own apartment, away from the glaring sun. She said people would come through for the plaque. I did feel odd for also doing so, almost like a voyeur. I was, after all, a middle-class person from a part of New Jersey where we didn’t face this same level of explicit violence.

Still, as I peered down at the plaque, at his name emblazoned, I could think about the times I too had been frisked and pulled over. I could remember some of the anger. I could picture friends of mine, people I cared about who would certainly face worse than I.

It was clear, regardless of how our issues and experiences rarely align perfectly, that it was either people like Brown and I, or them, able to live in a world where our people are finally leading the lives they’ve always wanted and deserved.

It’s them, or us. Shaping the world to fit our interests and need.[23]


[1] Lahiri has also the magical ability to write the same story essentially, over and over, and over again. To crowds of Desi uncles and aunties and white people who now “love” Indian cuisine.

[2] Dramatic, I know. But try feeling differently when you’re struggling to pay bills, work, and keep pace with life during Covid-19. Then again, I am also a dramatic person, certainly. I blame that on my upbringing.

[3] He also followed up by saying, “And listen. Love everyone. Don’t disrupt. Don’t interject. Sit back and listen to others, no matter how racist. Biden 2024.”

[4] It’s worth stressing here that electoral politics is important. Seizing government control is necessary. Not engaging with policymaking is a delusional way of conducting politics. The Black Panther Party ran candidates for higher office. Du Bois stressed how important it was for Reconstruction-era governments to have been controlled by liberal-minded and social democratic-minded white Republicans and African Americans.

[5] Du Bois would be continuously evolving politically. At one point, he would argue for a vanguard class of African Americans to lead the masses. One could call this position “elitist”. He would later condemn this position of his as he continued to tour the world and absorb lessons from numerous ongoing struggles against colonialism.

[6] The black Left broadly includes those who have a critique of white supremacy, colonialism, imperialism, as well as ending patriarchy and capitalism. When one of these pieces, especially capitalism and patriarchy, is missing from a critique, one’s politics can drift more to the right, i.e. black and brown thinkers arguing for a boot-straps mentality and/or blaming systemic issues, like poverty, on single parents, especially women, and lack of “morals”.

[7] The BPP did believe in interracial coalition-building for the purposes of defeating capital and imperialism. Hampton was instrumental in attempting this in Chicago, pulling together poor whites and Mexicans. In Oakland, it was mainly African Americans, Mexicans, and Asians. But this work would prove also difficult given the ways in which people have been socialized to act against their best interests.

[8] Read everything by Ford, including his posthumous collection of essays, The Black Agenda.

[9] Andrew Yang and most Asian and Asian American men. The crème de la crème of being “mediocre”.

[10] Shockingly, Sundar Pichia’s time at Google and Indra Nooyi at Pepsi did not correlate to rising standards of living for most Asians. Then again, watching them give speeches at major events does fill me with such pride and joy, and makes me forget all the stress piling onto my back and shoulders. One day, I too could be Pichia and lead a company and exploit the world.

[11] Simply repeating James Baldwin quotes reaches a limit after a while.

[12] Fun fact: When the KKK leader, David Duke, was approached by a group of multiracial activists, who told him they believed in universal healthcare, he laid down his robes, recognized the error of his ways, and said, “My bad.” Since then, racial harmony has increased, according to the latest polls [citation needed].

[13] White parents worried their children will be learning about actual U.S. history.

[14] Same can be said of people who are defined as “women” or non-men. There are certainly differences in how women and non-men are treated. But the main thing to remember is sharing in the experience of being dehumanized because they’re not seen as men.

[15] Of course, this group alone is extremely racially and ethnically and also, religiously diverse. You can find a rich white Venezuelan alongside someone who is Mexican and has roots in the formal boundaries of the U.S. that go beyond multiple generations, far longer than any Anglo American in the Southwestern and western region of the country.

[16] Let us build another Hindu temple or mosque or gurdwara and invite the local politicians to come and listen to our wonderful speeches about America. To tell them how we’re “different” and more deserving than the “bad apples” in our community. Those other ones are too poor, too vulnerable to take care of themselves.

[17] hooks, like many scholars, would shift and adopt some neoliberal political positions, such as her support for Hillary Clinton. Also, she did embody an extremely individualistic sense of politics near the end of her life. Nonetheless, her scholarship and insight must be read, absorbed, or at least contended with. And hagiography is always a disservice to the people we claim to be inspired by.

[18] Those who murdered Patrice Lumumba were fellow Congolese, supported by the Belgians and the U.S. Those who murdered millions of communists in Indonesia were Indonesian gangs addicted to drugs and Hollywood cinema (same effects).

[19] Did you know China is an existential threat to humanity? It was China who led enslavement, led genocide across the world, and fomented coups against even social democratic governments across Latin America. As Mao once said, “We will coup whenever, wherever we want!”

[20] Notwithstanding the fact we’re talking about a billion plus people, but yes, we all do share one “common” identity or “culture”. Of course, as the sarcasm bleeds from me, many do share one type of experience, across borders, region, and religion. Hint: it starts with c and ends with s, and it’s the word “class”. But much like race in the U.S., there are material differences within the working class, based on gender, and caste and religion.

[21] Who knew cultural nationalists across region would have so much in common? Who knew sexism and anti-queer politics and being “pro-business” are global?

[22] “Free market democrats”. The “freedom fighter” Juan Gauido comes to mind.  A man who’s been “cancelled” as he gathers “support” in the U.S. and abroad for the “struggle”.

[23] Read Patrick Chamoiseau. Read Marx.

Sudip Bhattacharya serves as a co-chair of the Political Education Committee at Central Jersey DSA and is a writer based in New Jersey, having been published in Current Affairs, Cosmonaut, New Politics, Reappropriate, and The Aerogram, among other outlets. Prior to pursuing a PhD in Political Science at Rutgers University, he had worked full-time as a reporter across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.