Life Lessons:
From the Third World Strike of '69

By Dolly Veale

Revolutionary Worker #1007, May 23, 1999

On April 9 and 10 an important conference was held at UC Berkeley on the 30th anniversary of the Third World Strike--the 1969 movement that resulted in the creation of one of the first ethnic studies departments in the U.S. The conference, "Crossing Over: Ethnic Studies and Radical Politics Beyond the Schooling Industrial Complex--A Strategy Session and Thirty Year Commemoration of the UC Berkeley Third World Strike," brought together several hundred students, faculty, veterans of the 1969 strike, community activists, artists/musicians, revolutionaries and others.

During the week following the conference, students at Berkeley, taking the name Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) after the 1969 strikers, took over Barrows Hall, the building on campus that houses the Ethnic Studies Department, protesting the "near extinction" of ethnic studies programs and issuing demands. On May 7, after three weeks of protests and on Day 8 of a hunger strike by six students, the University conceded to almost all of the students' demands. (For more on this struggle see RW #1005 and RW #1006).

The Conference featured a plenary discussion on the history of the strike, a cultural evening with music by The Coup, Blackalicious, and Kirby Dominant, and panels on various topics, including "Campus Struggles for Ethnic Studies: Sharing Experience, Building Solidarity," "Youth Organizing, Ethnic Studies and the Politics of Community," "Serve the People! The Historic Role of Students in the Immigrant Rights Movement," "Activism Through Music," and "Multi-racial Politics: Solidarity, Coalition and Alliance." One of the best attended panels was titled "Mao Tsetung, The Black Panthers, and the Third World Strike." The panelists were: Dolly Veale of the Revolutionary Communist Party and a veteran of the fight to establish Ethnic Studies and Asian Studies at UC Berkeley; and Fred Ho, activist, jazz saxophonist, and writer. Richard Aoki, a former Black Panther Field Marshall and a leader of the 1969 TWLF strike, was scheduled to speak but was unable to participate and sent a statement. This week the RW presents the speech by Dolly Veale--slightly edited for publication.


We really do need to CROSS OVER from the '60s to the new millennium. We need to raise our struggle so that 30 years from now, we won't have to sit here at this same elitist institution, under the same oppressive capitalist system, and fight the same battles like affirmative action over again!

When I transferred to UC Berkeley, Asian Studies had just been established by the Third World Strike. I enrolled in some Asian Studies classes since students like me were drawn to Berkeley for its rowdy antiestablishment rep. It was new and exciting to come to Berkeley and find classes that weren't the boring and conventional stuff: regurgitation masked as education; white and male supremacist history and cultural values; engaging in bullshit abstract reasoning and memorizing for a grade. I'll never forget my first day of class seeing Richard Aoki show up in his green army flak jacket, black leather gloves and boots, black leather briefcase, speaking Black English... When I was arrested for protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in April 1970, and banned from campus, Richard was the only professor to tell me "you deserve an A for activist." It was a profound lesson that I later understood as revolutionary principles: it's right to rebel; and the point of knowing the world is to change it. But that arrest also shattered my bubble about how you have the right to speak out in this country--you know, the same illusion that got to Troung Tran--the Vietnamese storeowner in Westminster, California who was recently attacked for putting up a Ho Chi Minh poster in his store. Like Tran, I found out that the freedom of speech guaranteed to immigrants and native-born alike is to spew anticommunist crap. But Richard's comment gave me the best education I ever got here at UC--taking risks in the fight for justice is a badge of honor.

To paraphrase Mao--when the oppressed fight back, they look for philosophy to guide their struggle. So as soon as I got out of jail, totally penniless, I looked for a way to satisfy my hunger and thirst for revolutionary theory to make sense of the world events engulfing me. I ran over to Yenan Books on Dwight Way (a '60s equivalent of Revolution Books today) and volunteered to be on their staff. I sat behind that counter and read all day. Now, even though I had made it to UC, I was no intellectual. I had only learned English eight years earlier after my family immigrated from Hong Kong in 1960, and between our diaspora and our poverty, my family never had anything more than a few raggedly textbooks in our home when I was growing up. But now I began to read everything--Wretched of the Earth, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the Black Panther newspaper, things like that. But given my family history, I didn't read Mao at first. Months later, someone quoted from Mao's Red Book during a mass meeting at the I-Hotel. It was upsetting because my mom had told me never to listen to such people and here I was. But the whole youth upsurge of the time forced me to be open-minded. So I read it and found that it actually made sense! I know many lies and slanders about Mao and the Cultural Revolution are popular these days. A lot of this is like having Scarlet O'Hara sum up the U.S. Civil War; or Ward Connerly sum up the Third World Strike. My own journey to Mao shows that the truth backed by a revolutionary movement is more powerful than class biases and misconceptions backed by individualistic sob stories.

Discovering Mao

The fight for ethnic studies was part of our entire generation rising up and calling into question the unjust and unequal foundation of this society--the economics, the politics, and traditional social relations between men and women, worker and intellectuals, whites and people of color, youth and elders, etc. Like many others, I began to question and reject the traditional methods and goals of capitalist education. We'd laugh about "educated fools from uneducated schools." We began to see our university education as a reflection and concentration of the me-first, dog-eat-dog society, and saw our struggle for equal and relevant education as part of a larger rebellion against society's multi-faceted inequities. We disdained aspiring to a self-serving career and becoming administrators over those on the bottom rungs of society. We began to discuss and debate alternatives.

It was part of this debate and discussion, more of which needs to happen nowadays, that people like me began to more seriously evaluate the Black Panthers and Mao Tsetung. At that time, the BPP represented the vanguard element fighting for the liberation of Black people, a struggle that was pushing forward the whole revolutionary upsurge in this country. They helped make the connection between the struggles against U.S. imperialism abroad and the struggles in the U.S., e.g., between Vietnamese and Black liberation. During their revolutionary days, the Panthers called Mao Tsetung "the baddest muthafucka on the planet earth!" They saw that people in revolutionary China had political power, the kind of power the oppressed needed and wanted here in the U.S. They challenged millions like myself about whether this system could be reformed, or whether armed revolution and socialism was the solution to root out the problems we saw worldwide, including here. Many of my friends then, including many of my Asian, Chicano and Black radical friends, opted for reforms within the current system--to move up a rung in the capitalist pecking order so that a few more of us were higher up the food chain. But some of us began looking for more radical solutions. We wanted out of this madness completely. One critical issue for me and many of my comrade-sisters was the unequivocal elimination of not just white supremacy, but male supremacy. In the respect of women's liberation, we found the practices in socialist China beyond compare!

The third world strike, the Black Panthers, the anti-war movement were all part of a rebellion that rocked our generation here and internationally. Rebel students had been shot down in Mexico. Rebel students in France 1968 raised a slogan that captured our attitude: "Be realistic, demand the impossible." But the most radical youth all over the world searched for and found a mirror image and a brilliant beacon in the students and youth of China.

Revolution Within the Revolution

Like the rest of our generation, China's youth were fighting for revolutionary change. The big difference was the fact they were making a revolution within a revolution! This was totally unprecedented. They were trying to solve the problem of how to deal with a section of revolutionary leaders--who had come to power under socialism and had become a new elite, a new privileged class of exploiters. Mao was leading the youth and workers to rebel against top communist party officials who wanted to drag things back to capitalism, which in fact they succeeded in preventing for 10 years, until Mao's death in 1976 and there was a coup. The distinctive thing we saw in the youth and workers in China was this: they were pointing the way forward ideologically and practically about how to advance a revolution until all vestiges of inequality and injustices are eliminated--which is world communism. This vision provided us with a model of the kind of vibrant society we wanted to live in and strive for. It led many of us to totally reject with disgust the kind of boring welfare state that fronted for socialism in the Soviet Union.

These rebel youth called Red Guards were high school and college students--mainly high school. They first sprang up in Beijing in 1966 as a movement of youth critical of the remnants of old values in China's educational system--which were to study hard and become a well-off intellectual. The Cultural Revolution began when Mao sent a statement to the Red Guards at Peking University supporting their big character poster--"It's right to rebel against reactionaries." After this, millions of youth were encouraged to travel all over China--with free train fare, food and lodging--to take revolutionary politics, culture, and even medical care to remote villages as well as to factories. The youth mixed it up with the workers and peasants like never before, and workers and peasants were invited into the ivory towers to teach their practical knowledge and allowed access to engage in intellectual activity! It was the most far-reaching affirmative action program we'd ever imagined possible.

In the words of one former Red Guard: "The first important impact on the young generation was the call from Mao to participate in political struggles, to understand thoroughly what was really going on in the society. The immediate aspect were issues relating to education [where] the educated youth, the graduating students, would not be able to do any hard work, any manual work, any common people's work. They would just know how to read books. They were trained to be a superior person, not a common working-class member. So if this kind of education was to produce a great number of students, those students would only expand the three differences: the difference between mental and manual, between rural and urban, between workers and peasants.... If we kept going like this...the color of the country would turn from red to some other color.

This was a challenging view of what education should be. Education that aims to eradicate instead of reinforce inequalities and divisions. Education that teaches about the real lives and real struggles of working people whose labor makes the world go round. Education that criticizes and discards self-seeking competition, blind obedience to convention and authority. Education that links theory with practice--such as linking the research lab to the medical clinic.

Many of us admired the vanguard role played by these Red Guards in fighting against inequality, elitism, hierarchy, and the danger of revolutionaries selling out and becoming new exploiters. We began to emulate this new kind of intellectuals--revolutionary intellectuals who made knowledge serve the needs of the great majority of people instead of appropriating it as private property. Frankly, it's the kind of bold vanguard role that today's students and youth need to cross over to.

Influenced by the Red Guards, there was a mass movement among tens of thousands of us, students and youth, to go to the working class, and for someone like me, to go back to the working class. Even though I was one thesis away from getting my Bachelor's degree, I decided instead to go back to work, and be a revolutionary activist in S.F. Chinatown. We struggled to understand how the whole foundation of the capitalist system is based on exploitation, and why the working class is the most anti-capitalist, the most thoroughly revolutionary class in human history. It stimulated many of us to go study the revolutionary ideology of the working class--Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.

Looking to the Future

From 1969 to 1999, capitalism has ever more become a total disaster for people here and around the world. It's a profound truth that it's gonna take a working class revolution to liberate the educational system as part of liberating the whole rotten society. Only then can we create a social system based on new economics, serving the needs of the majority of people, and new social relations of equality and justice. Only then can we build a world where there's no more haves sitting on top of have-nots, no more racism, no more male supremacy, no more one nation lording it over others.

Our struggle for ethnic studies was part of exposing and combating the inherent injustices and inequalities of this society, and the role of the university within that. We brought together broad forces--people of all nationalities and economic backgrounds--in unity and struggle against the status quo and to establish new curriculums and standards in education. We put the question on the agenda of what kind of society and what kind of education is relevant and equal for the first time in the U.S. Even though many of those gains were eroded or reversed, it's important to recognize that our fight for affirmative action and ethnic studies was a critical struggle in the '60s, and it is crucial for the new generation of students to continue today to defend and extend ethnic studies and affirmative action as part of continuing the fight for a just and equal society.

It was in fighting against the system's outrages here, and really studying history and experiences of people in other parts of the world, that led many of my generation to conclude that revolution was needed to end all the misery in the world. In fighting against the many outrages of the system, we began to learn that if we really wanted to get rid of things like imperialist wars, racism or self-serving education, and replace it with a qualitatively better society, we had to be serious about revolutionary theory and ideology, including discarding former prejudices. If we don't do this, we'll condemn not only ourselves and the billions worldwide, but future generations, to fight these same battles like affirmative action over and over again, with the illusion that if we fight hard enough, or if our cause is just enough, we can force the system to reform itself and be less savage.

To really cross over from the '60s to the '90s means to critically sum up and apply the lessons so we can go further and finish what the '60s left undone--making revolution. But to get from today to where we can launch the all-out revolutionary assault on the system, we have to organize the people to fight the attacks coming down, and build our unity and strength as we do that. The 1992 L.A. rebellion brought this fearless generation onto center stage. Young fighters like yourselves have stepped to the frontlines of the key battles of the '90s--to free Mumia, to defend affirmative action and bilingual education, to stop police and migra brutality, for a woman's right to abortions. All this needs to be stepped up: to make our schools and communities into strongholds of resistance; to organize collective solutions to the problems we face instead of going for individual solutions, or worse, to look for the system to solve our problems for us.

In this context, the debate over what should be our guiding politics, strategy, ideology as we all struggle together is a good thing. Everybody who's serious about a radically different world and how to bring it about should join it. An important lesson I learned from my beginning as a rebel student at UCB to today is that making revolution in an imperialist country like the U.S. requires not only a revolutionary ideology, but also a revolutionary Party. If you are serious about fundamental change, I urge you to get with the RCP and its youth group, the RCYB.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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