Interview with an African-American Revolutionary: Muhammad Ahmad

Basics: This is Basics Community Newsletter, and I’m here with Muhammad Ahmad, a long time revolutionary brother from the U.S., involved in a number of organizations, including the Black Panther Party, the Revolutionary Action Movement, and the African People’s Party. I’m with him here at Ryerson University tonight, after finishing up a presentation. Good evening, Muhammad.

Muhammad Ahmad: Good evening.

Basics: During your presentation tonight, one brother came up during question period, trying to suggest the problems African peoples face on this continent in terms of the breakdown of the Black family. You had a good response to that question. What was it?

MA: The capitalist system is extracting more and more profit from the African-American community, because it is in structural crisis right now. Being in a structural crisis right now, it has to lower the wages of its domestic working-class. Now, whoever is on the lowest rung of the domestic working-class in each capitalist country receives the brunt of the exploitation. So you have the disintegration of the African-American, or African-Canadian family first…

Basics: And the indigenous peoples too…

MA: Definitely the indigenous peoples too. The market is such that to get around paying higher wages they have created the prison-industrial complex. Prisoners are put to work through the privatization of prisons and paid slave wages. This leads to a complete ruinization of the community. At the same time then, those on the outside – women – are reduced into the service economy being paid the lowest of wages in the domestic working-class.

Basics: Well those social forces would certainly ruin any family… Now the people up here, African-Canadians, indigenous peoples, new migrants from around the world, are facing the same sorts of victimization and brutalization as in the United States. What do people facing police brutality, gentrification, and exploitation need to do?

MA: Well, one: we need to build organizations that are based on collective leadership. Those organization that have been most successful have studied Marxism [dialectical and historical materialism] in conjunction with their own histories. The need is to develop cadre and leadership. One problem in the development of organizations has been the uneven level of development in organizations: you need to be able to have people who can carry on the organization if anything happens to the leadership, and that takes time.

More importantly is the choosing of issues that are winnable. Some of our biggest mistake is that we have attacked the stronger points of the system and been defeated, and this has demoralized people. So once building that organization we have to pick our issues strategically in order to get small victories, because getting five small victories is better than getting one big defeat. For the time being, we have to rebuild the people’s will now. We have to rebuild the movement now, picking our issues carefully so that we can see what we can win. We need to train people.

One really important thing is to get young people off of drugs, so that they can struggle to get into the working-class. In my day, we didn’t have to struggle to get into the working-class. You know, I could quit a job, and walk across the street and get another job. When I talk about ruinization, I’m talking about the young brothers and sisters today who have to fight and train themselves to even get a job. We have to struggle to even reach parity with white workers wherever they are.

Basics: I know that some of the work of organizations like the Black Panther Party, or the Puerto Rican Young Lords Party, back in your day where doing work to organize street gangs into revolutionary cadre. There are some groups in Toronto trying to do similar peace work amongst street gangs, such as the Bloods and the Crips. Can you say a few words about the history of that kind of work?

MA: First of all, those of us who have come through the struggle have come to the consensus that we have to be drug free. You can’t be a revolutionary and drink alcohol. You can’t be a revolutionary and smoke marijuana, or do other drugs.

Also, we have to teach basics, we have to teach reading and writing; we have to teach scientific thinking, and we have to teach leadership. And to do all this you have to have absolute moral superiority to the system that your fighting against. The Bloods and the Crips should know a little something about this: the esprit de corps. To break any military establishment you have to be able to break the esprit de corps. When you break the esprit de corps of your enemy, you have won 90% of the battle.

Basics: One of the terms that the Black Panther movement popularized was the term “Blaxploitation”, which was what they called capitalism and white supremacy culturally exploiting African-American peoples through images and music. You mentioned something in your presentation tonight about gangster rap and its relationship to capitalism. Can you elaborate?

MA: Well, gangster rap serves as a negative role model sending out counter-revolutionary message to young people and turning them against themselves. Its all about the glorification of gangsters, and there’s a big difference between a gangster and a revolutionary. A gangster is all about him or herself, against the people, and a gangster subdues the people through what he or she sells the people. It’s all about getting rich in capitalist society by any means. As revolutionaries, we are socialists and communists, and so we are anti-capitalists, anti-imperialists, anti-colonialists, and anti-oppression. And a revolutionary does this out of the spiritual will to serve the people. A revolutionary comes from the people and serves the people, not hurts the people. And the hope is that your work advances the interests of the people. So that’s the difference: a revolutionary is a positive role model, working for the collective, not money.

Basics: There are some more radical groups popping up in Toronto – anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-gentrification, anti-police. Would you have any words of wisdom for them from your own history of revolutionary struggle?

MA: All I would say is that everything in the universe is constantly changing, and that we should not think about things abstractly or in sectarian terms, but to think dialectically: that we learn through change in our tactics and strategy as conditions change. If we do not change, if we do not constantly assess our work, constantly do criticism and self-criticism, as Fidel Castro said, our movement will not be around for long.

Basics: Well, let’s leave it at that then Mr. Ahmad.

MA: Salaam-aleykum

Basics: Wa-aleykum a salaam.