Assata Shakur – black women in the fight for liberation and socialism

Red Youth salutes the revolutionary women of the world! Our young cadre will be publishing short pieces all this week to celebrate our revolutionary heroines in the run up to International Women’s Day. Today we give a Red Salute to Assata Shakur.

Come and celebrate International Womens Day this Sunday in Birmingham with the CPGB-ML and Red Youth at 274 Moseley Rd, Highgate, B12 0BS.

assata shakur

People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.

– Assata Shakur

Assata Shakur, who is now residing in Cuba and who remains on US imperialism’s list of the ‘most wanted’, has spent her entire adult life fighting imperialism and racism in the USA – a direct result of her involvement with the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army.

In her own words:

I am a 20th-century escaped slave. Because of  government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of colour. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

She graduated from City College of New York and, at 23, she became involved with the Black Panther Party, helping to organise breakfast programmes for school children, before becoming a member of the Harlem branch of the Black Panther Party (BPP).

The BPP was an organisation dedicated to protecting black communities in the USA from police brutality and with an outspoken anti-imperialist, socialist political position, and it had set up social programmes which it called “survival programmes” to help its community.

These included the breakfast programme, medical clinics, a service to drive people to prisons to visit incarcerated family members (the US government continues to put people in prison many miles away from family as an added form of torture and an obstacle to visits), legal aid and posting bail.

The party was founded on an eclectic Black Panther newspaper Kim il Sungideological basis but it included many ideas and theories from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao and Castro. Unsurprisingly in the context of the times, the influence of Mao Zedong and China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was strong, as was the party’s friendship with Kim il Sung’s Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which sheltered many escaped Panther members.

The BPP openly and repeatedly praised the socialist revolutions in Vietnam, Cuba and China. In its early years, the party also raised money to buy shotguns (which they openly carried while on patrol) by selling copies of Quotations of Chairman Mao.

Comrade Assata left the Black Panther Party in the tumultuous years that followed the McCarthyite political repression that the CIA, led by Hoover, unleashed on the black liberation and socialist movement under the codename Cointelpro, and which saw many Panthers summarily executed by the state. She would later join the Black Liberation Army.

As a result of defending herself from an assassination attempt by the state, Comrade Shakur was found guilty by the US courts of several crimes, including the killing of one New Jersey state trooper and the wounding of another. She escaped from prison in 1979 and has been living in Cuba in political asylum since 1984.

There have been multiple attempts to extradite her. In 1997, Carl Williams, superintendent of the New Jersey state police  wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II requesting him to raise the issue of Shakur’s extradition during his talks with President Fidel Castro.

Since 2005, the FBI has classified her Comrade Assata a ‘domestic terrorist’. In 2013, the FBI made Shakur the first woman to feature on its list of most wanted ‘terrorists’ and a $2m bounty was offered for her capture.

Comrade Assata Shakur, like thousands of other young revolutionary women in the 1960s – took a stand against the injustices of the imperialist system and has remained a firm anti-imperialist fighter until this day. A generation of young black Americans fought bravely in the ranks of the Black Panther Party and the other revolutionary organisations of those times and faced immense hardship and the brutality of the United States police and secret services.

Assata stands tall today as an example to a whole new generation of women: dare to struggle and dare to win!

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