Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Eldridge Cleaver in North Vietnam

U.S. People's Anti-Imperialist Delegation

A group photo of the anti-imperialist delegation.
"I led the forbidden explorationTo mysterious Asia MajorBy the U.S. PeoplesAnti-Imperialist Delegation,A flock of peaceful geeseSowing seeds against the war,And resurrecting broken bridgesOver broken faith betweenWicked West and Inscrutable East."-Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998), “Gangster Cigarettes”

In 1970, Black Panther Party Leader Eldridge Cleaver led a delegation of American journalists and activists on a two and a half month tour of North Korea, North Viet Nam, and the People’s Republic of China.
At the time, the U.S. government prohibited travel to these socialist countries. However, the individuals of the U.S. People’s Anti-Imperialist Delegation were critics of U.S. military and political policies and skeptical of the mainstream media’s representation of America’s Cold War enemies.
Espousing a concept of “people’s diplomacy,” they challenged the ability of the U.S. government to represent their interests. Instead, they sought direct, people-to-people, contact with socialist Asian societies.

Who participated on the U.S. People’s Anti-Imperialist Delegation?

The 11-person delegation included a cross-section of American radicalism. They represented the:
  • Black Liberation movement
  • Antiwar movement
  • Women’s Liberation movement
  • Alternative Media
  • Asian-American movement

Why Did Eldridge Cleaver Initiate This Journey?

An image from the black panther party newspaper about revolutionary leaders.Cleaver had been living in exile since a police shootout following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. While abroad in Cuba and Algeria, socialist Third World forces, like the North Vietnamese, the Southern National Liberation Front, and the North Koreans, courted Cleaver to develop political partnerships. They subsequently invited Cleaver and representatives from the American Left to visit their countries.
To the left is a page from the Black Panther Party's newspaper showing the leaders of some socialist countries.

How Did the Cleaver Delegation See Socialist Asia Through “Anti-Imperialist” Eyes?

The concept of “radical orientalism” highlights the ways in which the Anti-Imperialist delegation sought out opportunities to more fully understand and critique what they regarded as the imperialist policies of the United States.
Radical orientalism was proposed by Professor Tzu-Chun Wu to "describe the phenomenon of American activists of the post-Second World War generation who subverted and reinscribed Orientalist traditions of understanding Asia. They continued the practice of cultivating ideas and fantasies about the “Orient” as the polar opposite of the Occident and using these projections to more clearly define themselves. Though they personally sought an identification and connection with socialist Asian countries, they nevertheless reconstructed and highlighted differences between “revolutionary” Asia and mainstream America.” 1
In addition, they wanted to cultivate their identification with anti-colonial and socialist movements in Asia.

1) Witnessing the Impact of U.S. Warfare

One of the goals of the Delegation was to more fully understand the nature of U.S. military and political policies, particularly in Korea and Viet Nam. Rather than presuming western innocence and heroism, they observed the evidence of U.S. imperialist guilt.
As one of the delegation members, Alex Hing said: “Our country had committed so may despicable crimes in that country [Viet Nam] and yet these people were the warmenst, the most loving people that you’d ever meet… They made it very clear that even though they took us to these museums and things [about U.S. bombing in Viet Nam], and they showed us these sites where we couls see the devastation of what the U.S. did, they thay harbored n o ill feelings for the American people… You go back after that and you dedicate your life to ending the war.”2

2) Observing the Development of Socialist Modernity

Traveling to socialist Asian nations like North Korea and the People’s Republic of China allowed delegation members to catch a glimpse of how these nations developed their economies, political systems, cultural values, and social structures. In essence, the delegation had the opportunity to examine a modern alternative to capitalism.
A member of the delegation, Elaine Brown, emphasized the development of the socialist countries they visited. In an interview, she said that in contrast to the U.S. “there were no homeless beggars on the streets of Pyongyang, no prostitutes, no hustlers. There were no gambling houses or cheap bars, no rundown houses or apartment buildings. Connected to every workplace were a free clinic and a free child-care facility or school.”3
Brown also explained that in rural regions of North Korea “the entire countryside has electricity… And in comparison to the United States… the people who live on cooperative farms actually live on a much higher living standard… because each person, for example, is provided already with health care and medical facilities, with childcare, with housing, with some clothing allotment, with a free educational system up through what we would call high school and even college education. So that the so-called peasant is not living at a low standard at all.”4
An image of female anti-aircraft gunners in Viet Nam.
When they travelled to Viet Nam, the delegation saw that the women were fighters as much as mothers. They viewed this position on women as another benefit of a modern socialist state. To the right is an image of a Viet Namese woman operating an anti-aircraft gun.

3) Revolutionary Women

An image of delegation member Pat Sumi dressed in a Mao suit.The Delegation, which had 7 female members out of a total of 11, was also interested in the lives of Asian women. Instead of the passive, exotic image of Asian women, the U.S. delegation came to meet strong revolutionary women who were engaged in building socialist societies and fighting wars of liberation. With the Women’s Liberation movement growing in the United States, the Anti-Imperialist delegation sought out role models of female leadership and activism.
In China, Pat Sumi (shown wearing a Mao suit to the left)credited the Cultural Revolution for challenging social hierarchy and thereby transforming gender hierarchy. She said in China "[e]very human being is a creative and beautiful and complete human being able to make collective contributions to well-being of all the other human beings on the planet earth. Women in China have gone through this whole thing. They dress almost like men do, jackets and slacks, because it's more convenient. They have no fears in meetings about speaking up. It doesn't mean that all the difference between sexes have been erased or that romantic love has been erased. Politically and ideologically people are equal and united as a class." 5
An image of mother holding a gun and baby. This image is from a Vietnamese newspaper.
The delegation encountered many women warriors in Viet Nam and Pat Sumi explained that "[w]omen in Vietnam have a tradition of being liberation fighters.. We met this 17 year old woman. In her village there was an all-woman guerilla unit that had shot down 2 American airplanes, while taking responsibility for the rice fields around the battery where the anti-aircraft guns are. They produced more on that rice field than any other comparable plot in the village. And the whole group sang poetry and songs for us."6

Impact on Delegation Members

To the right is an image of a mother holding a gun and her baby. She is one of the women warriors of Viet Nam.
These women were thus fighters, farmers, and folk artists.
Visiting Asia and viewing the contrasts between the U.S. and socialist countries gave the delegates a better understanding of themselves.
As Pat Sumi, one of the delegation members, explained: “One of the things about being raised in an imperialist country is… somehow you are almost completely unconscious of your beliefs and values… You think they are so normal that you are unconscious of them. What happens when you go in a delegation like that to a foreign country is you finally become acutely aware of what it means to be American and what it means to be a non-American.”

No comments:

Post a Comment