Mabel & Robert F. Williams: Monroe to Beijing.*

One of the earliest and most important black militant leaders in the modern United States, Robert F. Williams, the civil rights activist and militant revolutionary nationalist moved to China with his wife Mabel at the invitation of Mao Zedong in 1966 at the early stages of the developing Cultural Revolution. The Williams lived in China for three years.mabel-robert

In China, Robert and Mabel visited communes and factories and spoke about the civil rights struggle in the United States. Williams was named international chairman of the Revolutionary Action Movement and elected president-in-exile of the “Republic of New Africa.” In this role, he traveled throughout the developing world building solidarity with the struggles in the USA. During the Vietnam War, the activist-in-exile met with Ho Chi Minh and made radio broadcasts to African-American soldiers against racial oppression in the United States.

Finally in 1969, the Nixon administration, desperate for knowledge of what was going inside China, offered Williams and his wife amnesty in exchange for information. The Williams agreed and returned home that year.

The journey from Monroe to Beijing, via Havana.

Robert Franklin Williams (1925–1996), the grandson of a former slave, was born in 1925 in Monroe, Union County, North Carolina. He was trained as a machinist in the National Youth Administration, and later attended West Virginia State College and Johnson C. Smith University.

In the 1940s, he moved to Detroit to work in the auto factories and it was there he met and married his wife, Mabel. Born in Monroe, NC in 1931, Mabel married Robert in 1947. Mabel Robinson Williams, (1931-2014), along with husband Robert F. Williams (1925 – 1996) led a campaign for self-defence that shaped the 1960s. Robert Franklin Williams work in partnership with Mabel having a profound influence on civil rights activists, sharpening the militancy and resistance to racial oppression.  Mabel Williams, who in her writings acknowledged the double oppression faced by black women, was sometimes asked how she felt about working in the shadow of her husband. She discussed her reaction to that question during a speaking engagement that was recorded and posted to Freedom Archives.

“The power structure used that, I think, to split up our movement,” she said. “I feel fine. I’m fighting for my rights just like he’s fighting for his. We’re fighting together for the rights of our people.”

Following a tour of duty in the segregated Marine Corps, Williams returned to Monroe in 1955. In the same year he was elected president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Williams would remain committed to the struggle for civil rights the rest of their lives. They were leaders of the Monroe, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP during the 1950s until early 1961, very much involved in the struggle for Civil Rights and self-determination in Union County, North Carolina during the 1950s and early 1960s when they were targeted by local authorities and the FBI.

Williams gained national notoriety for forming rifle clubs that met racist violence with armed self-defense. The civil rights organizers became advocates of armed self-defense against racist violence perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and law-enforcement personnel in the city. The Williams organized a militant local chapter of the NAACP and an armed self-defense unit called the Black Guard in Monroe, hometown of segregationist U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, whose father served as police chief.

As president of the Union County NAACP, Williams not only revitalized the organization, but also began a non-violent campaign to integrate the county’s public facilities. He gained national attention for the notorious “Kissing Case,” defending two  young black boys (ages seven and nine) who were jailed for letting a white girl kiss them on the cheek. Although eventually pardoned the state refused to apologize for its harsh treatment of the boys. The attempts to integrate the public facilities, such as the swimming pool, were largely unsuccessful and often were met by violent resistance.

While organizing with the NAACP, Rob Williams also helped found the Union County Council on Human Relations, bringing the races together to work for black freedom. Mabel Williams served as secretary for the group, which eventually fell apart due to white supremacist backlash.

In 1959, after a jury in Monroe acquitted a white man for the attempted rape of a black woman, Rob Williams stood on the courthouse steps and declared the right of black people to defend themselves. As he said later at a press conference:

“I made a statement that if the law, if the United States Constitution cannot be enforced in this social jungle called Dixie, it is time that Negroes must defend themselves even if it is necessary to resort to violence.

That there is no law here, there is no need to take the white attackers to the courts because they will go free and that the federal government is not coming to the aid of people who are oppressed, and it is time for Negro men to stand up and be men and if it is necessary for us to die we must be willing to die. If it is necessary for us to kill we must be willing to kill.” (Sturgis April 25, 2014)

Repudiating the NAACP policy of passive non-resistance, Williams advocate a stronger means of self-defence. He urged that Afro-Americans arm themselves and meet white supremacists violence with violence. Williams’ stand on this question eventually forced a minor split in the NAACP because many black leaders had become increasingly impatient with passive non-resistance. Williams was temporarily suspended from the NAACP, but many in Union County heeded his advice and did arm themselves. The Black Guard mobilized hundreds of African Americans to defend their community against the racist violence of the Ku Klux Klan and the police.

His stance sparked a debate between himself and King on the efficacy of non-violence.

Following King’s refusal to join the Freedom Rides, Williams wrote in his newsletter The Crusader that many freedom riders were angered by King’s refusal to join the campaign because they, too, had suspended sentences:

“It is pathetic that some of the students are under suspended sentences and some are three and four time losers for freedom, yet they are participating. Maybe, in King’s estimation, they are just students and only stand to lose their lives or careers while he stands to lose a fortune in struggle and blood money” (The Crusader 2, no. 31 [5 June 1961]).

Williams also criticized King for wanting to “ride the great wave of publicity but not the buses” and purported that if King is the “undisputed leader as the white folks claim he is,” he needs to ride the buses or “quit the scene” (The Crusader, 5 June 1961).

Though SNCC representatives pleaded with King to join them on the Freedom Rides, he declined, citing his probation for a May 1960 traffic violation. In this telegram, Williams, who had clashed with King in 1959 over the role of self-defense in the movement, calls King a “phony” for refusing to participate and challenges him to “lead the way by example.”

Telegram from Robert F Williams to Martin Luther King





Robert and Mabel Williams pictured in Cuban exile.

Needless to say, a militant civil rights leader urging African-Americans to form armed militias throughout Dixie did not sit very well with local politicians or law enforcement. When the Freedom Riders brought their nonviolent campaign to integrate interstate bus travel to Monroe in August1961, they were met by Klan violence and turned to Williams’ Black Guard for protection. On August 26th violence exploded. Williams and others fought back with guns. During the height of the violence, a car containing a white couple inadvertently wandered into the black neighbourhood. Williams sheltered a white couple from an angry African-American mob only to be accused later by local and state authorities of kidnapping them .Rather than risking arrest Williams fled to New York City. With interstate flight from a warrant – a federal crime – the FBI became officially involved. Williams went to Canada and then onto Cuba, with Mabel and their two sons, where Premier Fidel Castro offered him political asylum.

Cuban Exile

The exiled activists made pirate shortwave radio broadcasts to the southern United States as Radio Free Dixie, broadcasting news, music and commentary throughout the eastern United States. They also collaborated on the book “Negroes With Guns”, an important influence on Black Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton.

The Williams continued to publish The Crusader, an underground newsletter they had launched in Monroe and for which Mabel Williams drew editorial cartoons. Frazier observed that in the self-produced newsletter:crusader0365

“They highlighted the racial injustice experienced by blacks in the South, emphasizing the increasing waves of racialism that were emerging from Southern blacks, and connected these struggles to international movements against imperialism, colonialism and racial oppression.” (Manning :92)

The Crusader was widely read by an emerging generation of revolutionaries who would lead the urban rebellions and form organizations such as the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the Black Panther Party and the Republic of New Africa.

From his Cuban base, Robert Williams reached out to the international community of national liberation activists and progressive expatriates and reached a worldwide leftist audience to seek support for the black liberation struggle in the United States.

Robert F. Williams, the former NAACP leader in Monroe, North Carolina and editor of the Crusader newsletter, stated in a speech on October 10, 1963, that “The same savages who rain death and destruction on the innocent women and children of Cuba, the same savages who rain death and destruction on the helpless women and children of south Viet Nam, the same savages who supply the implements of death and destruction to South Africa and Portugal, are the same who blow off the heads of little black girls in the homes and churches of Birmingham, Free World U.S.A. U.S. racism is a cancerous sore that threatens the well-being of humanity. It can only be removed and a cure effected by a surgical operation performed by the great masses of world.” ( Azikiwe  2016)

Chairman Mao Zedong, after receiving a letter from Robert Williams in 1962, responded by issuing his “Statement Supporting the Afro-American in Their Just struggle Against Racial Discrimination by US Imperialism” just days before the August 1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedom.

Mass rallies were held in China communicating their solidarity with their black brothers, and the Williams were invited to China’s 14th anniversary National day celebrations in Beijing.

Back in Havana there were deteriorating personal relations with the Cuban authorities because, Frazier explains, of the Williams criticism of anti-black racism in Cuba and their political sympathy of black nationalism; this position saw some Cuban officials refer to them as “black racists”.  (Manning :24)


Robert F. Williams, 9 Tai Chi Chang, Peking, China.

In 1965, the Williams family moved to The People’s Republic of China at the invitation of Mao Zedong. They were treated like unofficial cultural diplomats and guests of the state.

In Beijing, The Crusader printing increased from 15,000 copies in Havana to 30,000 in Beijing. The Crusader’s original masthead of a sword-wielding Crusader, printed and distributed from Cuba, was replaced in the October 1966 edition, after Williams left Cuba for China, by a machine gun & flaming torch.

Their radio show was broadcast periodically to African countries, and China’s short wave radio output aimed at black Americans was increased. A documentary of their extended tour of China in 1964 was made, Robert Williams in China. There was attendance at seminars like that held to honour William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois (1868-1963) a leading African-American sociologist, writer and veteran civil rights activist.


DuBois on his third visit to China was greeted by Mao Tse-tung in early 1959.

dubois-seminar                                                              Above: Celebrating the 100th birthday of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois in Peking. Left to right: Shirley Graham DuBois, editor of Freedomways; R.D. Senanayake, Secretary General of Afro-Asian Writers’ Bureau; Chen Yi, Foreign Minister of People’s China; and Robert F. Williams.

At a 91st birthday commemoration in China DuBois made a speech at a state-sponsored banquet which was broadcast through the national media. DuBois was quoted as saying that “Come to China, Africa, and look around. You know America and France and Britain to your sorrow. Now know the Soviet Union and its allied nations, but particularly know China. China is flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood. China is colored, and knows to what the colored skin in this modern world subjects its owner. In my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a nigger.” (“Du Bois, 91, Lauds China,” New York Times, March 5, 1959)

On China’s National Day celebration on Oct 1, 1966, Robert huey_chouWilliams, another civil rights leader and a revolutionary, was invited to speak at Tiananmen Rostrum, with Mao standing at his side. In 1971, then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai met in Beijing with Huey Newton, leader of the Black Panther Party.

“This is the era of Mao Zedong, the era of world revolution and the Afro-American’s struggle for liberation is a part of an invincible world-wide movement. Chairman Mao was the first world leader to elevate our people’s struggle to the fold of the world revolution,” Williams said in 1967, as quoted in the article Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution. In the article, the authors described how Mao’s theory inspired African-American leaders in the 1960s and ’70s, resulting in the many Maoist organizations.


Chairman Mao Zedong signs U.S. civil rights leader Robert F. Williams’ copy of the ‘Little Red Book’ at the National Day celebrations, October 1, 1966.

In a speech given at a demonstration in Peking on Aug. 8, 1966, Robert Williams asked, and answered,

“What is the meaning of this cry BLACK POWER in a land dominated by the unmerciful power of white intruders who murdered and all but exterminated the rightful owners, the American Indians? Black Power means that black men want to have some control over their own lives, to have a respected voice in public affairs that affect them. We resent being a colonial people, treated as third class citizens in our native land. We resent being forbidden to speak for ourselves, even in black belts where we constitute as much as 85 percent of the population. We resent being deformed by a white man’s mould in a degenerate white supremacy society that derides and belittles our African heritage and make us ashamed of our ethnic characteristics. Black Power is the vehicle by which we hope to reach a stage wherein we can be proud black people without the necessity of an apology for our non-Anglo-Saxon features. The dominant society in racist America is reactionary, imperialist, racist, and decadent and we wish to disassociate ourselves from it. Black Power is a dissident force challenging the racist white power structure that is so heinously exterminating the people of Vietnam and threatening the world with nuclear destruction.” (Peking Review, Volume 9, #33, Aug. 12, 1966, pp. 24-27)

While in exile Robert Williams became the international chairman in exile of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) The Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) was the first independent Black revolutionary Marxist organization of the 1960s. Organized in 1962 by Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford), a close associate of Malcolm X and Queen Mother Audley Moore, RAM was a national semi-clandestine organization which articulated a revolutionary program for African Americans that fused Black nationalism with Marxism-Leninism.

Although it was not a large organization, RAM influenced a wide range of groups, including the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Black Panther Party, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and the Black Workers Congress. RAM dissolved in 1969. As Max Elbaum notes, “RAM’s significance had not resided in its organizational strength, but in its popularization of revolutionary nationalist, Marxist and Maoist ideas during a critical period of the Black freedom movement.” (Revolution in the Air :65)

Williams also served as a president-in-exile for the Black separatist organisation Republic of New Africa (RNA) that advocated the creation of an independent African-American-majority country situated in the south-eastern United States, in the heart of black-majority population. A position similar to that argued in the 1930s Comintern and the Black Belt nation position that found favour among some organisations in polemics on the Afro-American National Question and Racism   in the Maoist-inclined New Communist Movement in the 1970s.


Mao’s “Statement in Support of the Afro-American Struggle Against Violence” was both a condemnation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder and racial oppression in the US, and an insistence that:

“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 progressives’ 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.”  This position was at odds with a Black separatist perspective as the Chairman’s orthodox perspective was that “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 progressives 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.”

Robert Williams travelled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in May 1968. Here he met with representatives from southern African liberation movements that had established logistic bases in the country.  In a visit to North Vietnam, where he met Ho Chi Minh and broadcast anti-war propaganda to black soldiers in South Vietnam.

He authored a pamphlet titled Listen, Brother! (1968), which deemed the war in Vietnam “a Honky trick worked up against the other oppressed colored people”. Filled with scenes of total devastation of “colored humanity” where bodies burned with napalm, Listen, Brother! urged African American soldiers to realize that participation in the war made them part of a “big mob of savage klansmen who maim and kill in the name of Christian democracy”. Critiquing the dominant cold war ideology of a bipolar power struggle as well as a perceived crisis in representative democracy, Williams hoped to turn cold war violence back against itself. He saw the war in Vietnam as a model for minority revolution in the US, where “black saboteurs” and “guerrilla enclaves” were a second front in the war for a lasting world black revolution. While he was criticized for advocating unpredictable revolutionary violence, Williams was also profoundly affected by the Cultural Revolution in China and turned increasingly to art and culture as a means to sustain the coming revolution. In Chinese propaganda, Williams found a model in which he could imagine the African American man and woman of his future nation, the Republic of New Africa.

Listen, Brother! pdf


Back to the USA

Mabel Williams and sons John and Bobby, returned to the United States in August 1969 and settled in Lake County Michigan.

Robert Williams followed soon after and was arrested on the outstanding kidnapping charge at Detroit Metropolitan Airport:

“Wearing a blue Chinese suit similar to that worn by Mao, Robert walked down the tarmac, clenched fist raised high in the Black Power salute. He was immediately taken into custody by the FBI and released on a personal recognizance bond of ten thousand dollars.” (Manning : 97)

In 1975 efforts to extradite him to North Carolina to stand trial on the1961 bogus kidnapping charges was resisted and despite a large campaign to stop Williams’ extradition, Governor William Milliken of Michigan extradited him. Following his acquittal, Williams returned to Baldwin.

In 1970-71 Rob Williams had taken a research position at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Chinese Studies. Drawing from his extensive stay in China, Williams was questioned by Allen Whiting who in turn advised Henry Kissinger shortly before Kissinger’s first trip to China in the opening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China.

For the next twenty years, Robert F. Williams wrote books and articles about his experiences and continued his work as a civil rights activist. He spoke at the Chicago memorial meeting for Mao Zedong  in 1976, “Chairman Mao was our brother” .In the 1980s and 1990s, Williams remained active in community affairs in Baldwin and took up the cause of Clyde Cleveland, a prisoner on death row in North Carolina. When he died in 1996, hundreds of people attended services in Detroit and New York. Civil rights leader Rosa Parks delivered his eulogy, hailing “his courage and for his commitment to freedom.”  An Obituary in The New York Times said:

Mr. Williams was a ”revolutionary black nationalist” but was never a Communist, even though he sympathized with some of Communism’s goals, said his son John.

During their time in Lake County they had engaged in community activism and Mabel continued to work tirelessly until her death on April 19, 2014. She was 82.

mabel-and-robert-f_-williams-greeted-by-mao-tse-tungIn an obituary distributed at Mabel Williams’ memorial, it described, in part, their partnership and goals: The funeral service for Mrs. Williams was held  April 25 2014.

 “Mabel and Robert worked tirelessly together as one, in their contribution to the struggle to uplift black people and marginalized humanity. It is impossible to speak of Rob Williams accomplishments and exploits in the civil and human rights struggle without simultaneously discussing the significant role this warrior woman played by his side, at his back, out in front, and behind closed doors as she followed Rob all around the world advocating and sounding the alarm for our people.” Azikiwe (April 29, 2014)

 * * *

* Heavily indebted in use of the following sources

Abayomi Azikiwe , Mabel and Robert Williams: A Legacy of Revolutionary Struggle and Community Service. The Pan-African News Wire April 29, 2014.

Abayomi Azikiwe  China and the Struggle of Oppressed Nations for Self-Determination, National Liberation and Socialism

Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination: An Interview With Robeson Taj Frazier

Elbaum, Max (2006) Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che

Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Robert Williams Speaks in Chicago. Chairman Mao Was Our Brother Says Black Liberation Fighter.

Speech by U.S. Negro Leader Robert Williams, at a rally on August 8, 1966

Frazier, Robeson Taj, “Black Crusaders: the transnational circuit of Robert and Mabel Williams” in Marble, Manning & Hinton, Elizabeth Kai (2011) The New Black History. Revisiting the second reconstruction. London: Palgrave Macmillan pp91-98

Kelly, R. & Esch, B.  “Black like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution” Souls Fall 1999

Robert F Williams: Self Respect Self Defense and Self Determination; An Audio Documentary as told by Mabel Williams. Audio CD and 84 page booklet. Produced by Freedom Archives. Distributed by AK Press.

Sturgis, Sue (2014) Remembering Southern Black freedom fighter Mabel Williams 2014

Tyson, Timothy B. (2001) Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power.  University of North Carolina Press

Williams, Robert Franklin

The Crusader

Negroes With Guns. (1962)

Listen, Brother! (1968)







First speech by Robert F. Williams in China’s Great Hall of the People in 1968 on the third anniversary of Mao Zedong’s speech against racial discrimination in the United States and in support of African Americans in their civil rights struggles. Topics include black power; history of African Americans; President Lyndon B. Johnson; Robert F. Kennedy; and Vietnam.

The second speech by Williams pays tribute to Mao Zedong and China and addresses the topic of the revolution against race discrimination.

27. Distributing the Line


 In April 1963, as the polemical denouncement of revisionism intensified, it was the weekly magazine New Statesman that carried an advertisement – not carried by the Communist Party’s Daily Worker – offering low-priced pamphlets, obtainable from the London bookshop Collet’s. That Chinese pamphlets were on sale in Britain indicated the deepening divisions within the international movement, and aided the open anti-revisionist opposition within the Party  who were arguing and publicising the Chinese positions at a time when the party was trying to silence and end discussion. Collet’s carried both Russian and Chinese publications.

The pamphlets were:

1) The People’s Daily editorial of December 15 1962, replying to the attacks on Chinese views made at the Bulgarian, Hungarian, Italian and Czechoslovak party congresses, and  attacking the Soviet party by name for being the first to begin the “erroneous practice of basing the congress of one party to launch an assault on another fraternal party.” The editorial bluntly formulated the Chinese challenge to the Soviets: “The question of who is right and who is wrong and who represents the truth, cannot be determined by the majority or minority at a given moment.”

2) The People’s Daily editorial of December 31 1962, on The Differences Between Comrade Togliatti and US — a vigorous and ably argued attack on revisionists not only in Rome and Belgrade, but in Moscow. The mistaken views of “some persons” on imperialism and war were pointedly linked with

Khrushchev’s Camp David talks with Eisenhower in 1959, and the Chinese claim to leadership of the anti-colonial struggle was clearly stated.

3) The People’s Daily editorial of January 27 1963. This answered Khrushchev’s claim at the East German party congress that Yugoslavia was a socialist country by challenging the Soviets and their supporters to say whether they still stood by the 81-party Moscow Statement and its condemnation of Yugoslav revisionism. A (Soviet) rapprochement with Yugoslavia, it argued, meant replacing the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist line with the “capitulationist line of revisionism.” Was not this, it asked emotionally, “a deliberate attempt to create a split in the international Communist movement?”

4) The Red Flag editorial, “Leninism and Modern Revisionism, published early in January. This article argued that those (i.e., the Soviets, among others) who attacked the Chinese thesis that imperialism was a paper tiger were themselves giving support to imperialism. Some people, it commented darkly, boasted about acting in accordance with Lenin’s principles, when in fact they were deviating from them.proposalongeneralline-cover

The response from Moscow saw an advertisement for nine Soviet pamphlets, headed by “A Reply to Peking” in the B.B.C. weekly, The Listener October 24 1963. But more importantly, the advertisement publicised that a “Soviet Booklets” office has been set up in London at Rosemary Gardens.

There was no equivalent propaganda outlet for material from China, at best there were the offices of China’s official news agency, Hsinhua and  Guanghwa , an independent company regarded as sympathetic and friendly (with unsubstantiated speculation of closer associations with Chinese authorities).However it was more focused on the Chinese community in Britain although young anti-revisionist activists would find its stock of Chinese published political material and the weekly, Peking Review .

Once the CP-sponsored Britain-China Friendship Association was neutered in the emerging split in the international communist movement in the early Sixties, outside of contacting the Chinese Embassy – and many an activists did write for political material – or writing directly to GUOZI SHUDIAN, P.O. Box 399, Peking, China, obtaining English language material from China was difficult. Access to the Chinese viewpoints and arguments were available through the publications of Foreign Languages Press, Peking, as it published (in fourteen languages) “Renmin Ribao” Editorials and Statements of the Communist Party of China. A weekly English language PEKING REVIEW – providing China’s views on current international questions, theoretical articles and important documents as well as authoritative coverage of developments in China – was airmailed to subscribers all over the world.  The distribution of such material was the problem.

READ MORE…..Distributing the Line

26. Remembering Claudia

Black History Month is celebrated in October in the UK.

These links are to commemorate the life and contribution of Claudia Jones. The brief overview on Claudia Jones’ impact in Britain is taken from The Rise and Fall of Maoism: the English Experience by Sam Richards.


Claudia’s Communism

Claudia Jones, communist
A presentation made to the Stalin Society by Ella Rule on 22 March 2009

Bacchra, K. (2001). “Claudia Jones, A life in exile,” by Marika Sherwood with Donald Hines, Dolin Prescod and the 1996 Claudia Jones Symposium, book review, BakraBites.

Remembering Claudia

A prime example of what might have been can be seen in the case of the Trinidadian
communist, Claudia Jones. Jones arrived in Britain in 1955, driven out of America,
despite ill-health, during the McCarthy repression and almost shunned by the CPGB
despite her considerable organisational and propagandist record in the CPUSA as the
National Director of the Young Communist League. She lived in Notting Hill in west
London where she was active in campaigns to defend the black community during the
riots against them of 1958, also protesting against the racist killing of Kelso Cochrane.
Claudia was the main initiative behind the progressive, campaigning newspaper,
WestIndian Gazette, printed in London for the Black community. It provided a forum for discussion of civil rights as well as reporting news that was overlooked by the
mainstream media. Claudia worked as editor on the paper until her death.
The outbreak of fascist violence in Notting Hill in August 1958 led to the creation of the
broad front organisation: Claudia Jones and Abihimanyu Manchanda became founder
members of theNational Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, designed
to unite all those who could be united against racist violence and the institutionalised
racism of the British state at a time of rising racist attacks. Ella Rule observed,
In these circumstances, the West Indian Gazette came into its own, as a campaigning tool supporting those organising self defence and anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigns,raising money for the defence of both black and white youths who were being prosecuted for putting up resistance to fascist violence.
In her work within the Caribbean communities, Claudia Jones worked to create links
between political campaigns and cultural activities. The Notting Hill carnival is
undoubtedly Claudia Jones lasting legacy, which she helped launch at St Pancras Town
Hall in January 1959 as an annual showcase for Caribbean talent. She helped launch the
event as a response to the 1958 riots, when tensions had turned violent as racist mobs
attacked local Black residents. Using the West Indian tradition of carnival, the event was intended to create closer relations between all local communities. These early
celebrations were held in halls and were epitomised by the slogan, ‘A people’s art is the
genesis of their freedom’. Then Carnival moved around for a few years; by 1965 it took
to the streets of Notting Hill and has grown ever since, today a lasting legacy of cultural
pride in the Caribbean heritage.
In the early 1960s, despite failing health, Jones helped organise campaigns against the
1962 Immigration Act. This had made it harder for non-Whites to migrate to Britain. She aqlso campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela, and spoke out against racism in the workplace.
She made a visit to China in 1964, a few months before her death, when she was highly
enthused by everything she saw. On her return from China she wrote:
I observed first hand with my own eyes the magnificent achievements of 15 years of
Socialist Construction and its effect on lives, agricultural industry and society of the 650 million people of the New Socialist China. I talked and spoke to many of China’s leaders– in government, in the People’s Communes, in light and heavy industry –
in the ardent revolutionary men, women, youth and children of New Socialist China who are led by the Chinese Communist Party and their world Communist leader, Chairman Mao Tse-tung… The great achievements in Socialist Construction in New China, based on its policy of Self Reliance which permeates every aspect of its society – in agriculture and industrialisation in light and heavy industry. A new morality pervades this ancient land which less than 15 years ago was engaged in a bitter, protracted anti-imperialist armed struggle to free itself from the ravages of feudalism, semi-colonialism, bureaucratic capitalism and imperialism, and achieved victory over US imperialism, the Kuomintang puppets and the Japanese militarists.”
Claudia Jones died Christmas Eve 1964, aged 49 from a heart condition and tuberculosis.
She was buried in Highgate Cemetery next to Karl Marx. In the nine years in Britain, her
progressive, anti-racist, anti-imperialist politics and her reaction to a visit to China
marked her out as a potentially influential leader of the young anti-revisionist movement.
Her early death meant that she had not cemented a relationship with the newly emergent anti-revisionist movement in Britain. She was working on the West Indian Gazette with Manchanda, [later founder-leader of the Revolutionary Marxist
-Leninist League] and mixing socially within that anti-revisionist scene.
Up to her death, Claudia Jones was still working to lay the foundations of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination,which was to influence deeply a generation of black leftists. An African mouner at her funeral indicated what her death meant: “We have lost the only person who had qualified as the leader of the Afro-Asian Caribbean peoples in Britain.”
The anti-revisionist movement was poorer without her, and other overseas–born cadre.
The movement was poorer for their absence, their experiences, their relationship with
organisations engaged in struggles in the Third World and their abilities that in a multi-national organisation may have helped steer the young ML movement through choppier times.

25. Farewell Signalfire

The ending of the internet blog, Signalfire received some harsh comments from fellow bloggers. Within the realm of cybermaoism, the attitude was largely dismissive.

The UK-based Democracy ad Class Struggle said “Signalfire was never our ideological friend – they had a very different conception of Maoism from us”.

The response from Akram Guzman of Red Guards Austin in America was more vehemently hostile writing of “deserters and traitors to the ideology, those types were ideologically weak to begin with and had a lack of communist discipline, strong currents of individualism.”  A longer commentary – Farewell Signalfire  was posted August 16, 2016 because “This vile and opportunist behavior merits such a pointed response.”

One French opinion  described its demise as “a pathetic failure from an American blog [that] played a very negative role…. its disappearing is a very good thing and the expression of the advance of class struggle.”


Truthfully, the blog was useful for a while. It covered international armed struggles, signposting the struggle particularly in India that got scant media coverage elsewhere during the last few years. Good Morning Left Side provided a good summary of the main weakness of the blog’s coverage:

“Signalfire used to be a useful source of information; but, on the other hand, it kept this bad habit of posting pieces and documents from various opportunistic/reformist groups as well as revolutionary ones, mixing them without much critical comments. The main source of their information was mainstream medias, which tended to give a cops outlook on revolutionary movements, especially in India. Okay, “x naxalites and x policemen had been killed today” but what really matters is the development of the movement and its struggles.”

Signalfire website was described in the last post as always been the personal project of a single individual in the United States since it began its current incarnation five years ago.” This is a real dilemma, that internet activism – as the sole focus, means people with time on their hands, with even a moderate flair in IT and who are obsessive enough – can seem to have an online presence and influence way beyond their actual contribution to the lives of any actual ordinary real world people. A web presence, in conjunction with an organisational life, can mobilise and intervene in real life struggles. However blog life, while sometimes making interesting or useful observation, is essentially (at best) educational, and individualistic in nature reflecting all the weaknesses of that contribution. Without the input of collective practice and criticism, the tempering and intellectual challenges of engagement in the raw reality of class struggle, it reverts to a petty-bourgeois vehicle reminiscent of the “star commentator” of mainstream media. Their individual prejudices, obsessions and judgements can be entertaining but they do not make a movement.

Signalfire stated, “I no longer consider the so called “International Communist Movement” with its proliferation of cultish microsects and blind worship of failed past movements to be worth promoting.”

Signalfire never drew the demarcation line between the different sources it drew upon to publicise in the copied and pasted posts about “Maoism” and the People’s War in India. It provided information to highlight struggles that often would argue the universality of Maoism as the third and highest stage of Marxism and have aspirations that included the continuation of protracted people’s war, some would extend this to argue Protracted People’s War is the universal revolutionary strategy for progress to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the continuation of revolution through socialism to communism. As a website it signposted struggles rather than advocated a specific strategic advance, and nor should one expect such a perspective from its internationalist coverage. Solidarity cannot dictate strategy and tactics for those struggling elsewhere. In the final conclusion, its criticism is not the criticism of comrades.

OK what constitute the International Communist Movement?

In 2016 Maoism does not rely on or look to a leading party or struggle to substitute for own endeavours. Elsewhere Canadian blogger philosopher raised the perspective that Maoism is truly a 21st Century phenomenon, and it is extremely doubtful it will consolidate all those forces that self-identify as Maoist. Numerous internet posted joint statements point to ideological alignments and co-thinkers that have branched out of a Maoist orientation that take on a specific characterisation as “Gonzalist”, “Lin Biaoist”, or an organisational structure or reflective of bi-lateral support  for struggles elsewhere e.g. ICOR  or former Revolutionary Internationalist Movement  groups opposed to the ‘Avakarinist’ developments in the RCP, USA.

When Signalfire describes Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as a theological idealism based upon a mythologization of the Cultural Revolution there are examples that can be cited in evidence. An uncritical approach to that experience is certainly one error in approaching the struggles of today. The Cultural Revolution failed, it does not offer a model but elements within – supervision from below – should be built upon in the struggles today. The importance of that episode was reaffirmed with 40th anniversary statements by various MLM organisations; the evaluation of that experience would be a contested arena for comradely debate.

Contrary to the assertion of Signalfire, the Maoist spirit is far from conservative, it is in practice a critique from the Left that had to make a rupture with “Stalinist” position when challenging modern revisionism in communist practices. It did take on a theological aspect during the Cultural Revolution that were adopted in the immature addictive European movement. However that was challenged and altered in practice if not consolidated in criticism/theory.

There has been different trajectories by organisations then rooted in the anti-revisionist movement and the evolution of some organisations into “cultish microsects” as critics of the RCP,USA are prone to describe the Robert Avakaian fanclub, should not be taken as  (a) a component of a self-declared international movement, or (b) representative of the politics and behaviour of that ICM. There is no typical example or template that constitutes what is essentially organisations relating to a shared ideology and political perspectives.  The struggle in the Philippines is led by a self-declared MLM party of decades of experiences, in India there are contending approaches by self-identifying Maoist organisations including the CPI Maoist engaged in an armed struggle.

Elsewhere critical summations of lessons of Peru and Nepal are still needed of what are diminished but unfinished struggles. With India, the complexities, even of the CPI(Maoist) struggle will take on a temporary character as analysis and judgements are modified in light of the practice and direction of those struggles. Comrades actively studying those struggles require a collective effort, and an international input rather than assertion.

The accusation of organisations publishing hallucinatory statements is one that can be employed in any sphere of political reporting, subject to the exigencies of the situation, it is not desirable but understandable. The African revolutionary Cabral laid down the line: claim no easy victories. The state of the struggle in India is complex with different strands, and to identify – at this early stage – one organisation ideologically close to one’s own position proves tempting, yet too fetish one aspect is un-Maoist – after all, People’s war is a beginning stragem.

Broad criticism that this supposed homogenous movement has wallow in the metaphysics of the cult, again can be seen as a specific criticism of specific organisations like Peru People’s Movement embroiled in its own specific culturally features – the emphasis on the importance of personalised leadership, and the militarisation of the embryo party etc.  Again the example does not make the rule: the isolation of that trend, within what could be generously described as the broad movement, illustrates a singular observation that would not apply to other organisation.

Signalfire’s position  that the cultish sectarianism of the “International Communist Movement” is not only irrelevant to the class struggle in most countries in which it exists it is also an obstacle to any serious global united front against fascism and repression in India mashes together two distinct criticisms: that the behaviour of these groups isolate themselves from any domestic audience, and that whatever activity they are engaged in is counter-productive to an international solidarity campaign. Given the embryonic stage that domestic solidarity campaign are at, the grandiose criticism that they are hindering a global united front is indeed a hallucinatory statement.

A specific criticism that Western Maoism is simply irrelevant serves to present the picture, not of movements based on the theoretical foundation of MLM, but geographical specific development somehow separate in nature from a universalist political position.  The belief that the conditions in the Global South negate the oppression in the industrialised world has led many individuals away from Maoist positions into adopting various strands of Third Worldism e.g. KAK and LLCO.  The organisations of Western Europe shared common perceptions and objectives in their political practice with co-thinkers through the world. [see State of the Movement 1976-97].  Not withstanding the chequered history of the movement in Western Europe, there are still MLM movements emerging in Europe, such as the French Maoist party , PCMF and the Norwegian Tjen Folket. The disparity in strength and experience and resources throughout the bi-lateral relationships that are developing serves to underline the party-building task at hand. But Maoism –let’s not mislead anyone, always a marginal Left force in the west – contains precepts and approaches that can be core to any fightback.

As a project Signalfire is replaceable, already Redspark ( fills the information void with what can be described as a more ideologically coherent approach.

Signalfire’s Letter from your Editor   provides an explanation that there are other projects I consider politically important to which I am choosing to devote my time. As an individual we all have that ability to choose whatever takes our fancy; the organisational discipline that leads us to work methodically for a greater collective end is absent. We can make individual analysis of what is worth promoting without the critical gaze and input of others. Individually we can produce judgements that There is no easy alternative answer, simply the necessity of systematic and rigorous theoretical work beginning from the basic materialist premises and united with modest and serious intervention in social reality.  And then step back from the tasks at hand.