By Jose Maria Sison
Poet and Political Activist
Founding Chairman, Communist Party of the Philippines
May 17, 2014
I am honored and delighted to be invited by the East Side Arts Alliance through BAYAN-USA to participate in the event to pay tribute to the late poet activist Amiri Baraka on May 17 in the course of the 14th Annual Malcolm X Jazz Festival. I am contributing this statement in his honor.
I stand in solidarity with you in celebrating the outstanding role of Comrade Amiri Baraka as an African-American cultural and political leader, his passionate condemnation of the violence and injustices inflicted on the African Americans, his revolutionary cause and relentless demand for justice and respect for the people of color and his legacy as a poet, playwright and political organizer.
Before I met him, I was aware that he first became prominent as a Beat Generation poet. He became the leading force in the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. He published in 1963 the book Blues People: Negro Music in White America, the first major history of black music to be written by an African American.
In 1964 he published his collection of poetry The Dead Lecturer and he won an Obie Award for his play Dutchman, the last play he wrote under his birth name LeRoi Jones. After the assassination of Malcolm X, he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre. In the late 1960s, he began to focus more on political organizing. In 1970, he formed the Congress of African People.
My wife Julie and I met Comrade Amiri and his wife Amina in the early 1990s upon the introduction of mutual friend Prof. Epifanio San Juan, Jr., then Yale university professor of comparative literature. We had extensive talks during lunch and dinner breaks in the poetry festivals in which Amiri and I participated. The first occasion was the International Poetry Festival in Rotterdam in 1993 and the second was Border Crossings in The Hague in 1994.
Our talks covered the full restoration of capitalism in revisionist-ruled countries and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the triumphalism of the US and its imperialist allies as they imposed neocolonialism on the underdeveloped countries and neoliberalism on the entire world and the worsening social and political conditions in our respective countries, the US and the Philippines.
As in his poetry and other literary works and projects, Amiri was ever mindful of the racial discrimination, the exploitation and oppression that the African Americans have long suffered and was ever optimistic of the decisive revolutionary role of the African Americans, together with other people of color in the US, including the Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans.He was confident of the ultimate victory of socialism.
He was knowledgeable about the new democratic revolution through protracted people’s war in the Philippines. He was clearly imbued with the spirit of proletarian internationalism as he asked questions about the Philippines and listened intently to my answers. He was revolted by the brutal conquest of the Filipino people by US imperialism, especially the gruesome murder of 1.5 million Filipinos by US military forces and the continuing plunder of the natural and social wealth of the people. He was happy about the growing strength and advances of the revolutionary forces and people under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The conversations were lively among Amina, Julie, Amiri and myself. We did not talk solely about high and serious matters about the anti-imperialist and class struggles. We talked about our families, how they have been affected by our revolutionary work and by the dominant culture in our respective societies. Julie and I saw Amina and Amiri as resolute and militant revolutionaries, well-grounded on social realities, sensitive to the suffering of the people and fulfilled by the revolutionary cause and struggle.
I owe Comrade Amiri Baraka a huge debt of gratitude. He was among the world-renowned personages in literature and the humanities who signed in the 1970s the demand to the Marcos fascist dictatorship to spare my life, to stop my torture in solitary confinement and to release me from prison. In the 1990s he demanded the grant of asylum to me and expressed disgust at the US pressuring the Dutch government to deny me asylum. He defended me and called for the removal of my name from the so-called terrorist list of the US and other governments in 2002 and the dropping of the false murder charges against me in 2007.
I immediately condemned 9-11 as a horrendous criminal act of terrorism against the American people. But I described it as mini-terrorism in comparison to the megaterrorism that US imperialism had perpetrated against the oppressed peoples and nations of the world, killing millions of them, destroying their social infrastructure and making profits from the wars of aggression, the reconstruction and the plunder of their natural and social wealth.
I agree with Amiri Baraka that US monopoly capitalism and its imperialist state asked for 9-11 by their own monstrous crimes. It is unfair and unjust that the state of New Jersey abolished his well-deserved title as poet laureate. At any rate, his conscience continues to resonate and reverberate in the rhythmic, sharp and image-rich poetry of the hip-hop artists, slam poets and others influenced by his work.
Long live the legacy of Amiri Baraka!
Down with US imperialism and all forms of reaction!
Victory to the revolutionary cause of the African Americans!
Carry forward the anti-imperialist struggle towards socialism!
Long live international solidarity!