by Danny Haiphong
Rather than memorialize U.S. imperial wars, we should mark the birthdays and legacies of Malcolm X, who “strongly condemned US imperialism's invasion of Vietnam,” Yuri Kochiyama, who cradled Malcolm’s dying head and spent another half century as a committed “fighter for Black and anti-imperialist liberation,” and Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who “wrote an essay on lynching in the US.”
May 19th Versus Memorial Day in the Battle of Ideas
by Danny Haiphong
“We are ideologically bombarded with calls to 'support our troops' with events such as Memorial Day.”
Each year, the collective May 19th birthday of Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh and Yuri Kochiyama passes only to be followed by the racist, imperialist Memorial Day celebration. The lack of attention the former receives compared to the latter reveals the true character of US imperial society. May 19th is a special day to those in the US who are invested in the struggle for a world free of US imperial domination, a struggle that Malcolm, Yuri, and Uncle Ho represent at its best. In stark contrast, Memorial Day is canonized by corporate criminals from Washington to CNN as a day to celebrate the active duty mercenaries for the Empire. These hired mercenaries conduct murderous pillages of lands beyond US borders to secure corporate profit and military dominance worldwide.
Memorial Day poses a challenge to radical and revolutionary forces everywhere to strengthen the battle of ideas that must be waged in the larger war for full emancipation. The challenge is to build a movement strong enough, especially in the current fire of resistance created by the Black Lives Matter Movement, to inspire masses of oppressed people to emulate the principles of May 19th’s finest. Solomon Comissiong describes the challenge of doing this given how the corporate media effectively conditions allegiance to the US imperialist order. Masses of people in the US are predestined to never learn of revolutionaries like Yuri Kochiyama because of the inherent threat they present to the illegitimate rule of the dominant corporate class. Instead, we are ideologically bombarded with calls to "support our troops" with events such as Memorial Day. These events are meant to spread a mass consciousness of support for the ruling class's wars in the guise of "patriotism" and loyalty to the mythical ideas of US democracy and military service.
“The challenge is to build a movement strong enough to inspire masses of oppressed people to emulate the principles of May 19th’s finest.”
So this Memorial Day, let's revive the memory of the historical heroes whose very lives were dedicated to fighting what Memorial Day celebrates. It was Malcolm X who said that "you're not to be so blinded by patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong no matter who says it or does it." Malcolm denounced the American identity as one wrapped up in the Anglo American massacres of Black and indigenous peoples on this continent and around the world. When Obama compares his support for the Zionist "Jewish State" of Israel to the Civil Rights Struggle of decades ago, know that he is attempting to erase the memory of Malcolm in place of a lie-based narrative of US imperial history. Our mass disconnect from the life and struggle of history's most vigilant opposition to imperialism allows Obama to push forward lies to justify imperial policies such as the Transpacific Partnership and racist policies like the support of Israel with impunity.
Tracing the links between Malcolm, Uncle Ho, and Yuri
Yuri Kochiyama, Ho Chi Minh, and Malcolm X lived in a period of great upheaval. Each was influenced by the profound suffering of oppressed people imposed by US imperialism and the resistance this suffering produced. For 'Uncle Ho,' his journey as the architect of the Vietnamese Revolution ended six years before the nation was liberated from US military terror in 1975. During his many travels, Ho Chi Minh came into contact with the works of Marcus Garvey in Harlem and wrote an essay on lynching in the US. His travels throughout Africa and the US informed his solidarity with the Black struggle, stating, "It is well-known that the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family." Ho Chi Minh was also one of many revolutionaries of the period to popularize socialism. His leadership in the people of Vietnam's just struggle for an independent socialist state inspired millions around the world.
One of them was Malcolm X. Malcolm's consciousness transformed following his travels throughout the African continent where he witnessed the worldwide struggle against colonialism and imperialism firsthand. He strongly condemned US imperialism's invasion of Vietnam and identified with the armed resistance of the Vietnamese people. Malcolm's greatest contributions to Black liberation were his militant stance for self defense of Black people against racist terrorism and his international solidarity with oppressed people all over the world. What many wrongly see as Malcolm's transformation into a white friendly revolutionary was actually a growth of understanding after his experiences with revolutionaries from all over the globe. Before being assassinated by the state, Malcolm had already set into motion plans to organize on an international, human rights basis through avenues such as his newly formed Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAAU).
“Malcolm's greatest contributions to Black liberation were his militant stance for self defense of Black people against racist terrorism and his international solidarity with oppressed people all over the world.”
Malcolm X was shot at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem in 1965 during a speech for the OAAU. There, holding his head was Yuri Kochiyama. Yuri was heavily influenced by Malcolm X and met him several times prior to his assassination. She spoke fondly of the memory of Malcolm's presentation to her and other Japanese residents of Harlem where he spoke candidly about how both Black Americans and Japanese peoples had experienced the "bomb" of racism. Yuri was one of thousands of Japanese immigrants living in the US forced into concentration camps during the racist US response to Pearl Harbor. This experience was the catalyst in her lifelong struggle for the liberation of oppressed people. Before passing away at the age of 93, Yuri had built the reputation as a fighter for Black and anti-imperialist liberation, speaking out time and time again against the imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the racist War on Terror, and the occupation of Puerto Rico by the US government.
These are mere snapshots in the larger story of internationalist solidarity that the lives of Malcolm, Yuri, and Ho Chi Minh ultimately represent. But these actors and leaders behind the struggle for liberation are not the focus of Memorial Day's traditional narrative. Although Memorial Day began as a Black celebration of the Civil War's victory over chattel slavery, the day has been branded in the image of the imperialist system to glorify militarism. There is thus a grave contradiction that must be resolved for a revolutionary upsurge to emerge in this period. While revolutionary history is being repressed, the imperialist system is working overtime to ensure that the hearts and minds of the masses are saturated with the grandeur of war.
We must wage a war of our own, one that places the ideas of Malcolm X, Yuri Kuchiyama, and Ho Chi Minh in their rightful location at the forefront of the struggle for a new world. What binds these individuals together is their opposition to the very system that unites war-loving Americans every year on Memorial Day. Malcolm X, Yuri Kochuyama, and Uncle Ho gave their lives to the struggle against capitalism, imperialism, and white supremacy. They approached this struggle at the point of power. Imperialism's very existence is owed to the capitalist's robbery of surplus created by the exploitation of humanity's working people. For freedom and justice to reign, these revolutionaries believed the only solution was a new system based on the needs of humanity. Furthermore, Malcolm, Uncle Ho, and Yuri were fierce advocates for the self-determination of oppressed people all over the world. They understood that the vast majority of people exploited by capitalism are also oppressed by the terror of war and white supremacy and that only a victorious struggle against these forces can bring us closer to a worldwide revolutionary situation.
This Memorial Day, few will learn of the significance of Ho Chi Minh, Malcolm X, or Yuri Kochiyama and the interconnected character of their individuals lives in the collective struggle for liberation. This should compel us to revive their fighting spirits and apply the principles they fought for. The Black Lives Matter mobilization has set the stage for a confrontation with the war on Black America waged by police everyday in the streets of the US. However, even with the new insurgency, US imperialism continues to wage wars both by proxy and by military force with impunity. The lives of millions of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Ukraine continue to perish under the gun of Washington's imperial prerogatives. This is not to mention that US imperialism's closest allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are currently conducting brutal wars of occupation with US aid and military support. Saudi Arabia's war on Yemen has killed thousands and Israel's war on Palestine enters its 66th year of brutal displacement and genocide of the land's indigenous population.
The same imperialist system that devalues the lives of the Houthis in Yemen and Palestinians in Palestine is the same one that privileges the lives of US soldiers during Memorial Day. Ironically enough, the only point of unity shared between soldiers for Empire and the ruling class architects of war is racism. Those that fight in US wars finish their service to Empire only to live a life of chronic homelessness, mental health trauma, and poverty. So in a very real way, the spoils of war remain firmly in the grip of the parasitic capitalist class (the "1" percent). A battle of ideas must be waged in our concrete efforts to fight the system that revives the memory of our fallen soldiers whether they are exploited and oppressed people or those who have sacrificed their lives for their freedom. Yuri Kochiyama, Ho Chi Minh, and Malcolm X represent the best of such soldiers. Their bodies may be gone, but their ideas must live on.
Danny Haiphong is an organizer for Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) in Boston. He is also a regular contributor to Black Agenda Report. Danny can be reached at [email protected] and FIST can be reached at [email protected]