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Defending the rights of the nationally oppressed

Published Apr 12, 2009 8:32 AM

The period of the 1950s to the late 1960s saw the rise of many organizations of the nationally oppressed that used violence as a means of self-defense.

Not only did these organizations protect their people from racist violence, including police brutality, but they also defended the culture of the oppressed group.

The American Indian Movement is an organization that for over 40 years has fought for the rights of Indigenous people. AIM, which participated in the takeover of Alcatraz Island and supported Lakota elders in dealing with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and corrupt tribal elders at Wounded Knee in 1973—leading to a battle with U.S. troops—says on its Web site regarding its founding:

“Indian people were never intended to survive the settlement of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere, our Turtle Island. With the strength of a spiritual base, AIM has been able to clearly articulate the claims of Native Nations and has had the will and intellect to put forth those claims.

“The movement was founded to turn the attention of Indian people toward a renewal of spirituality which would impart the strength of resolve needed to reverse the ruinous policies of the United States, Canada and other colonialist governments of Central and South America. At the heart of AIM is deep spirituality and a belief in the connectedness of all Indian people.”

Culture is not a static thing, but arises from real material life. The culture of the oppressed is infused with their resistance.

The period of the 1960s from whence AIM arose was a turbulent one, one where the oppressed around the world were waging struggles for national liberation.

Inside the U.S., the internally oppressed were no different. While there was a nonviolent Civil Rights movement, organizations such as AIM, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the Crusade for Justice and other organizations of the oppressed, along with white allies, openly advocated the use of violence.

This period also saw many rebellions in the inner cities, from Watts in California to Detroit and Newark, N.J., and other cities across the country. Black people in particular fought back against oppressive and repressive conditions imposed upon them.

In response to the rebellious mood of the oppressed and of many whites in opposition to the Vietnam War and white racism, the U.S. government responded with greater reaction.

J. Edgar Hoover branded the Black Panther Party, saying the BPP, “without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security.” (pbs.org)

The Counter Intelligence Program, or Cointelpro, was the FBI’s answer to the weakening of the Smith Act, a statute passed at the beginning of World War II that was used starting in 1949 to bring charges against 140 members of the Communist Party, until in 1957 the Supreme Court reversed its use as unconstitutional.

While Cointelpro cast a wide net, infiltrating and undermining many left organizations, it was most effectively used against organizations of the nationally oppressed.

Not only was the counterintelligence program used, but police repression in communities where national liberation organizations were strongest had an even more devastating effect and continued to weaken and destroy militant groups long after Cointelpro was officially ended in the early 1970s.

Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Bobby Hutton, Zayd Malik Shakur and many others were killed at the hands of local police and state troopers.

However, the desire for freedom can never be quelled, just as national oppression and exploitation in general cannot disappear, as long as a system based on procuring profit through exploitation exists.

Next: In defense of the Oakland Rebellion, the prospects for violence as the capitalist crisis deepens, and the response of the government.