When I first got involved, a lot of the history of the communist movement (and the history of opposition to the communist movement) felt like most history did to me—very distant, and in a major sense very unrelatable to me given the socioeconomic conditions I grew up in.

But then there are certain things I’ve discovered that have sort of brought it home to me and made me realize I’m in the middle of something that is actually alive, that is not all set in stone. It’s not a big thing (but whatever this is my blog). That thing is the continuity of participants.

  • Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto in 1848.
  • Then Karl Kautsky, when he was 27, visited Marx and Engels. Kautsky became the most influential marxist after Marx and Engels died and helped found the German communist party.
  • It was the blueprint of the party Kautsky helped to build and lead that Lenin used in beginning to build the Bolshevik party.
  • And then it was Lenin’s theory and blueprints that Mao used in helping to organize the Chinese communist party, putting forth his own ideas as he put them into practice in a colonized Third World country.
  • And it was Mao more than any other political philosopher and practitioner, so far as I can tell, who influenced Huey Newton in the strategy and methodology of the Black Panther Party, the most successful truly communist organization the U.S. has ever seen.
  • And of all the people who uphold, understand, and continue Newton’s work, the best, in my opinion, are today’s marxist-leninist-maoists, for example the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons (who are actually mostly anonymous).

I don’t subscribe to the Great Man theory of history, so don’t misunderstand me. It’s not so exactly about these specific people—and instead what these famous connections prove about the billions of connections I don’t see. It’s that through these links I can see myself as actually connected to a living movement made of real human beings at every step. It’s not that I just read some philosopher’s words written 160 years ago and try to make them work today—it’s that every day, month, and year since February 1848 when the Communist Manifesto was published, countless people have been doing the hard work of renewing and expanding these concepts and updating the practice, adapting it to a very swiftly changing world.

I already knew all that, so what really caught my attention (and prompted this post) was something in Huey Newton’s War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America—there is a continuity of our enemies, too:

In 1908, the attorney general under … Roosevelt created the Bureau of Investigation within the Justice Department to fill the gap caused by congressional prohibition of using the Secret Service for investigation and intelligence activities.

During World War I, the bureau, aided by the volunteer American Protective League, began to operate as a secret political police force. … The Espionage and Sedition Acts were invoked, resulting in 2,000 prosecutions for “disloyal utterances and activities,” aimed mainly at socialist and labor groups critical of the government and its policies. During 1917-1918, bureau agents raided offices of the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World across the country in a concentrated effort to gather evidence for a mass trial of 166 IWW leaders.

In late 1919, strikes spread throughout America. In Europe there were socialist- and communist-led uprisings. Using these events as justification for increased funding for the bureau, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer told Congress, “The bureau is confronted with a very large and important task in connection with social and economic unrest … and radicalism.” As the Bureau shifted its attention from critics of the war to the activities of political groups, a special division on radical activities was organized. … Instead of performing their statutory mission of tracking down and apprehending criminals, federal directives were mounting a massive and unfocused intelligence gathering operation involving the whole field of left wing dissent.

Information collected by bureau agents was given to the Justice Department’s General Intelligence Division (GID), an office established by Palmer after a series of bombings in 1919. J. Edgar Hoover was appointed as head of the new division.

And it was precisely Hoover who headed up that war on the BPP. The same man who had seen Lenin’s party come to power in Russia—whose immediate predecessors founded the U.S. secret police and waged war on the most revolutionary of U.S. movements before the BPP’s time—was intent to stomp out the best communist organization we’ve ever had here in the United States.

The struggle is so long, but it is real and alive.