(As told to Diane Fujino in “Samurai among Panthers”)
Then there were the SWP, a Trotskyist group. To the credit of the SWP, they did oppose the internment of Japanese Americans. There seemed to be two groupings, a generation gap, within the SWP. Virtually all of the older SWP members that I met had been involved in the massive labor movement of the thirties. They had tales to tell about their struggles during the thirties and their trials and tribulations during the forties and fifties under McCarthyism. The younger grouping was coming off the college campuses, many from UC Berkeley. They pushed the Young Socialist Alliance up front more because they were considered less subversive than the parent organization and could serve as a recruiting ground for the party. The YSA was very friendly and I gravitated very slowly to them. They were all White in the SWP/YSA; however, they struck me as being decent White folk who would give serious answers to my seri¬ous—and sometimes not too serious—questions. As I moved a little closer in their direction, they threw something on me that helped me make my deci¬sion. They told me to “go to the classics.” So I delved into radical intellectual history. They told me that even before the Communist Manifesto, read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I thought maybe the English version was a poor translation, so with my little bit of German language and my German-English dictionary, I read the work in its original language. It was still kind of ephemeral. Now I know why, but at that time I was kind of mystified. But I knew that Marx gave a lot of credit to Hegel for helping him set up dialectical materialism, or rather the dialectics part of it because Hegel was no materialist. Hegel actually believed in the mystical. How he can use spirit and mind as the basis for reality is beyond me. Marx was a materialist and that made sense to me.
Then I read the Manifesto. It was a short work, but it was chock-full of goodies and it made me understand war in a new light. I had read a dozen books about war but had never thought about why war was so prevalent in world history. But after reading the Manifesto it became obvious. If there is class struggle and war is the result, you will have continuing warfare. I started thinking about the economic and political basis of war. I thought about slave revolts in Rome. The peasant revolts appeared to be a move toward a redistribution of private property in feudal times. Then we look at wars under the imperialist system. The First World War was just a war of family dynasties in Europe. Having divided up Asia, Africa, and Latin America, they now wanted to redivide it up amongst themselves and that war led to the Second World War. Things dropping into place so fast it made my head spin. The war between 1 Dflland and Germany in World War I should not have been fought by the working classes of the two countries. One of the key questions in that period w.i\ should the workers go along with the imperialist wars? Rosa Luxemburg said, “Workers shouldn’t pick up guns against one another.” I say, “Let the capitalists kill each other over rights in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.”
I also read all the books by Trotsky as well as the works of American Trotskyists such as James P. Cannon. Around that time George Breitman of the SWP started pushing the speeches and writings of Malcolm X. That was an eye-opener to me. I naturally gravitated in that direction because of my association with the Black Muslims. At one point I had seriously contemplated joining the Nation of Islam. Now this may surprise you given my views on religion. But at that time, there were few organizations that I saw doing things to help the African American community. I got to hear Minister Malcolm X speak on several occasions when he visited the Bay Area. I was impressed! Number one, he spoke out against integration. Why is everybody so hot to integrate? Malcolm X said that the United States would sink like the Titanic. Another thing that impressed me was their positive stance on racial identity. Again, Malcolm X was an excellent vehicle for articulating pride in being Black. The Nation of Islam was transforming Negroes into African Americans. I grew up on the block with this one dude who was a musician. The life of a musician is hard and he was strung out on heroin. Then one day I ran into him wearing a suit and a little bow tie and selling Muhammad Speaks [the Nation of Islam’s newspaper]. I said, “Is that you, my brother?” Physically he looked so different. He had been transformed into a Black man. To verify this I looked deeply into his eyes and they were crystal clear. I was stunned that he went from being a living zombie to a human being. It was like a miracle—and I don’t believe in miracles—but to see him transformed like that was inspirational. I wondered, how did this happen? It was his conversion to the Nation of Islam.
Meanwhile I’m getting in debates with White radicals and bourgeois Blacks defending the Black Muslims, which is a weird type of situation to be in, but my position was, show me the beef. What other organization has done this good a job in taking the wretched of the earth and transforming them into decent human beings? True, the mythology and the religious overtones made me a bit nervous. As I was attending Muslim services at the temple on Seventh Street in West Oakland, the minister became very interested in recruiting me to the Nation of Islam. Because of my Oriental background, I think he felt I might have been a reincarnation of their founder, a mysterious Oriental misfit, Mr. Fard. I was interested in becoming a member of the Fruit of Islam, an elite group of young men entrusted with defending the faith.
Socialist Workers Party/Young Socialist Alliance
After doing all this reading, attending meetings, talking with people in coffee houses, that kind of stuff, I became convinced that the YSA/SWP had the correct political line for what I needed. I embraced Trotskyism at that time, or I wouldn’t have joined. I thought Trotskyism was a logical extension of the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and other revolutionaries. I know there had been a split between Stalin and Trotsky. But I felt Trotsky had made important contributions to the Russian Revolution. Don’t forget, he was head of the Red Army during the Russian Revolution. Trotsky’s internationalism was part of the worldwide socialist movement, whereas Stalin’s “socialism in one country” idea led to what Trotsky called “the degenerate workers state.” Now China was interesting because the Trotskyites had labeled China a degenerate workers state. But I supported the Chinese more than the Soviet Union because I admired the way Mao Tse-tung pulled that revolution off despite lack of support in the Soviet Union. China was playing a much more significant revolutionary role in the Third World. In fact, I knew there was virtually no liberation front in the entire Third World that followed the Moscow line.
A little before I joined, I was approached to write my first political leaflet. This was around 1963. It was in defense of the Black Muslims in general and Ronald Stokes in particular. They had maybe one Black member in the entire YSA/SWP in the whole Bay Area at the time out of a membership of maybe fifty, sixty in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco. Someone had to write about the police killing of Ronald Stokes, and I volunteered because I knew Muslims in the area and it was a bad deal. On the flyer, it has “Berkeley Young Socialist Alliance” and “labor donated”—we got to do that. But I didn’t sign my name to it. I knew better than that. I hadn’t yet joined the YSA or SWP when I wrote the article, primarily because I was still in the army. I didn’t feel free to join anything until October ’64 when I got my honorable discharge.21 This way I couldn’t be accused of doing anything.
I had already been taking vocational classes at Merritt [then Oakland City College] since 1960, but enrolled only sporadically. Then in 1964, I became a full-time student, with the goal of transferring to Berkeley. I knew before I started that Merritt was considered a little Harvard of the East Bay among the community colleges. At that time, Merritt sent more transfer students to Berkeley than any other community college campus in the Bay Area. Now here’s another thing. When Laney Vocational School in downtown Oakland and Merritt Business College in North Oakland came together to create Merritt College and Laney College, they asked for volunteers from the Oakland Unified School District to teach there. They drew their faculty from the University of California. At one point, Merritt would only hire University of California graduates to teach English 1A. So the Merritt faculty were the cream of the crop.
Unlike many students who were taking hobby lobby classes, I was older and serious. My first semester, taking into consideration UC transfer, GE and the major requirements, I took English 1A, Political Science 1, German 1, and Chemistry 1. Chemistry was an interesting class to me when I took it in high school. It did help to advance my occupational career because it qualified me to take the paint technology program offered by Merritt College. Political Science 1 and English 1A fulfilled GE requirements and were transferable. I took German because four semesters of German was required for the chemistry major at Berkeley.
After I joined SWP, one of my “assignments” was to set up a student club at Merritt. YSA/SWP had nothing at Merritt College; I mean they could barely get a foothold at UC Berkeley. So three others YSAers were sent with me to set up the Socialist Discussion Club with the goal of, first, setting up an organizational body to attract those interested in radical ideas and, second, sponsoring public forums where I could invite speakers to talk about issues related to socialism and, hopefully, revolutionary socialism. I had in mind bringing in SWP speakers because that was the organization I was a member of and they had a wealth of talent. We decided to form an independent group rather than a chapter of the Young Socialist Alliance. Don’t forget the old guard leadership of the SWP had just come out of the McCarthy period and were a bit nervous about being too up front. UC Berkeley could start a YSA, but we’re talking about community college, which tends to be more conservative. So we thought a Socialist Discussion Club would be more palatable to the administration, to the community, and to the students, especially with the notion of discussing ideas. But we also wanted to be clear about our politics from the start. We wanted to distinguish ourselves from the regular student government as well as the mainstream political groupings like the Young Democrats and Young Republicans.
I approached my professor of East Asian history, Dr. Yale Maxon, to be the faculty sponsor of our group. He was about the most political person I could think of on campus. He had attended Stanford University, got his doctorate at UC Berkeley, and was a specialist in East Asian history. He was a Caucasian who spoke Japanese and Chinese fluently. He was a naval officer during World War II and became the official interpreter between the war tribunal and Tojo [Japan’s prime minister]. Here he is, a graduate of Stanford, a Naval Intelligence officer, and politically liberal—I was impressed. He was there when I needed the man, busting all his East Asian history and culture on me! I thought I died and gone to hog heaven.
I took Asian History 19A and 19B from Dr. Maxon because I wanted to learn more about the history of the peoples of Japan, China, and India—the three areas he concentrated on. It was a two-semester sequence and by the end of the second semester, he took a liking to me and I enjoyed his teaching. He was a heavy dude. He was asked to find people who knew about social problems because the Ford Foundation was funding projects. He came to me and laid it out. I wanted to address the problems of gifted students from the lower social-economic structures. So I went out and interviewed people. My thing was that given enough support, the gifted students from the lower social-economic structure could survive in the system. About that time, I began to realize that in the gang I used to belong to, there were a lot of bright kids in there with me–my equal and better—but because of circumstances, their potential was not being fully realized. This is probably the only document that I’ve ever written that had a liberal reformist philosophy behind it—we’ve got this problem, we can solve it by throwing in resources. Had I known then what I know now, I would have had a much different bent on this. But when I reread this, it struck me that, from earlier than I remembered, I was concerned about the people and was willing to come up with solutions.
So Dr. Maxon kindly accepted the offer to become the faculty sponsor of the Socialist Discussion Club, which blew up in his face in a way. See, we put an announcement in the student newspaper about our meetings. We printed our flyers on a mimeograph machine and stood in front of the school and said, next week there’s going to be an organizational meeting for progressive-minded students interested in a discussion of socialism of all varieties. To make sure that the radical variety got discussed, we chaired the meeting. A school reporter came to that first meeting and reported that the chair of a new club calls himself a “revolutionary socialist.” In that same newspaper article, Dr. Maxon said he believes in “democratic socialism,” which he defined as working through information rather than violence. I was glad those differences got out because to me, “evolutionary socialists” do a lot of talking, but “revolutionary socialists” get things done. The YSA and SWP were impressed—front-page news! But I also felt a little guilty that maybe I had set Dr. Maxon up in his career. What if they ask him to leave Merritt, where the hell else can he go? I had no bone to pick about the way he distanced himself from revolutionary politics. He didn’t need his protégé getting off on the front page of the Merritt College newspaper. He was a liberal and this showed his political limitations. But he didn’t drop being our sponsor. I was also sweating my own stuff. This was February 1964 and I didn’t get my honorable discharge until October. I didn’t know there was a reporter at our meeting. Still, my primary objective was to keep the club going and it was still around when I left Merritt two years later.
There was a hard core of four of us who started the Socialist Discussion Club. Two of us were from YSA/SWP, including a White woman from YSA who was also a student at Merritt. The other two were White men. Before that first organizational meeting, we met and they said, “I think Richard would make a good chair.” “Yeah, I’ll do it.” I had to. It was my home turf in a sense; I was from Oakland. I was there as a serious student; the others were just signing up, taking a class here and there. I already knew most of the people attending the meeting. I don’t think we ever had more than a dozen members and most of them were White. Most of them were male. I don’t think we had a single African-American as a regular member because the African Americans went into the Soul Students Advisory Council. I was one of the few non-African Americans allowed to attend the meetings of the Soul Students Advisory Council. I said, “You guys can go to our meetings anytime.” Then Bobby [Seale] reciprocated: “Brother, why don’t you come to our meeting.” So our two groups starting linking, not formally but in a collegial way, thanks mainly to Bobby’s leadership of the Soul Students Advisory Council and my leadership of the Socialist Dicussion Club.
Meanwhile, I’m devouring Black literature, mostly protest literature, because of the strong Black nationalist influence at Merritt. I’m saying, “Wow, this is heavy. This is where it’s at.” I gravitated toward the politically loaded Black writers. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time. Richard Wright—I had read Uncle Tom’s Children when I was a child, but I didn’t read his major work, Native Son, until I got to Merritt. As I was exploring ideas about nationalism, I’d ask Bobby and Huey, “What do you think about this?” We’d trade off. I was reading Malcolm X because of the YSA/SWP. Their reaction was, “A White group pushing Malcolm?!” I said, “This dude named George Breitman was a personal friend of Malcolm and a member of SWP and put together some of Malcolm’s speeches.” SWP had a bookstore at that time in Berkeley, so I had access to all that radical literature and carried some of it over to Merritt College. Howard Zinn’s book SNCC: The New Abolitionists, made me feel good about the ascension of H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael into leadership positions in SNCC. Bobby and I just chortled over Melville J. Herskovits’s Myth of the Negro Past. This is a classic because it dispelled the notion that Black people had no culturally transmitted characteristics from Africa, and Herskovits actually did a scientific study to prove that the mannerisms, the music, call-and-response originated in Africa. I read Herbert Aptheker’s works on slavery and the issue of resistance, that there were slave revolts during that period of time.
The Vietnam Day Committee, International Protests, and Robert Williams
Through my work in the SWP/YSA, I got more involved with the antiwar struggle as the war in Vietnam started picking up. I remember there was an antiwar rally in San Francisco with about two thousand protesters. This was around 1963. That may seem early, but the Bay Area was ahead of the nation when it came to protesting the war in Vietnam. That’s when the Vietnam Day Committee popped into the picture. I remember joining the VDC in the middle of ’64. At that time, I had a couple more months in the Standby Reserves until my honorable discharge in October 1964. Plus, they weren’t going to call up the standby Reserves to active duty until the Ready Reserves were called up. So for all intents and purposes, I was on my way out. The reason why I remember ’64 is that Lyndon B. Johnson was running for president of the United States and the Gulf of Tonkin had just happened. I was stunned to hear about the Tonkin incident. It served Johnson well. He issues the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and Congress pushes through for war. But I knew somebody that had a shortwave radio. So we were listening to broadcasts from all over the world. What was Moscow saying about this? The version was different as night and day. So I’m thinking this is kind of shaky. Plus, by this time I had come to the decision that if we’re sending troops seven thousand miles away to fight for freedom, justice, and equality, we should be sending troops to Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi to enforce civil rights.
In the Bay Area, the VDC spontaneously emerged out of the energy of students at Berkeley and other progressive-minded people in the community. It developed and grew so fast that all the Old Left groups sent their cadres into the VDC, not the other way around. Usually, when a group started in those days, they were front groups. But the VDC was the opposite. The VDC just sprung up! I recall being in the YSA/SWP and trying to decide, should we go in. Of course, it was obvious that the antiwar movement was the only game in town outside of the Civil Rights Movement, which was just toddling along. So the Old Left had an opportunity to work a mass movement that they hadn’t had in thirty years. Their membership exploded because all of a sudden, young people were thirsting for direction. The VDC was a broad-based organization. In fact, every major Old Left organization, with all their different political tendencies, was in the VDC. It was incredible in a way that all these different groups could get along in the VDC. We even printed the perspectives of the various Left organizations in a pamphlet, Did You Vote for War?
So I’m in the VDC looking for a way to make myself a valuable contributor. But I didn’t want to be too public because I’m still in the army. One faction of the VDC was talking about stopping the troop trains. I said, “Whoa! If that’s what you want to do, okay. But that’s a little shaky there for me.” I mean, they could have gotten killed. Then I accidentally bumped into an international group that was part of the VDC. What happened was that my fiancée at the time was in the YSA and VDC. Her best friend was Native American, Cherokee, and also active in the VDC. They had met working together in the same department at UC Berkeley. So through her job, her friend was mentoring all the new graduate students and helped get foreign students into the VDC. They were invaluable sources of information because they had direct connections to Third World countries. I was most interested in Third World peoples and politics, so we set up the International Secretariat of the VDC, which was a clearing house for overseas correspondents. I was stunned to discover the pockets of resistance all over the world and the kinds of anti-American, anti-Vietnam War sentiments emanating from those countries.
The VDC wanted to expand further overseas. The international students started corresponding, mostly by letters. For example, a group in Japan would send a letter about their antiwar activities to the VDC Berkeley. We’d type their response and encourage them to participate in the International Days of Protest. The International Committee put together a booklet to circulate information on the general antiwar movements and the International Days of Protest activities going on around the world. Most of the articles were garnered and written by Third World graduate students, non-U.S. citizens, so It was best not to publicize their names. Suzanne Pollard and I were the only ones who used our real names in that publication. Suzanne was the director of the publication and a grad student at Berkeley. I had guts enough to put my name on it because everyone already knew I was an activist. We had gotten so much correspondence that we divided the report in sections—Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The section on Asia was quite extensive. I had corresponded with people in Japan the most, so this was the lengthiest section. We had excerpts of statements against the war from university professors, students, socialist organizations, and labor unions in Japan.
The antiwar movement really started to heat up after the VDC formed. I remember going to Washington, D.C., for a large rally against the Vietnam War, I went on behalf of the International Secretariat of the VDC because it was too dangerous for most foreign students to attend. That’s when Fanon was starting to get to me. Yeah, I’d do it for the cause! SWP also sent a large delegation, I think one whole floor in a hotel had SWP and YSA members representing every chapter across the nation. So I was wearing two hats when I went to Washington in support of the people. I was representing the International Secretariat of the VDC and I was voting in the SWP/YSA bloc.
Now here’s the corker. The VDC was considered so dangerous that the head quarters in Berkeley was dynamited. The scariest part is that the night it was dynamited, I was in there earlier that evening, working the mimeograph machine in the back room. And it was that back room that got blown to bits. II you look at the newspapers at the time, there were photographs showing it and I said, “Boy, oh boy, they’re taking us seriously.” It wasn’t like I thought the Feds did it. I mean, it was pretty much common knowledge that local right-wing nuts had decided to make their move because they saw us as a Communist-front organization.
i forgot to mention that I contacted Robert F. Williams, who was living in exile in Cuba, to try to enlist his support for the International Days of Protest. The SWP was the backbone of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. So it was through the SWP that I got connected with Rob and got acquainted with the Cuban Revolution. I wrote him a short note in September 1965 and sent the letter through Vernel Olson of the FPCC in Ontario, Canada. I told Rob Williams that because of “your stature as a leader and spokesman for the vanguard elements of the Black people of America, along with your close affiliation with the leaders of forces of national liberation struggles,” I was contacting him on behalf of the International Committee of the VDC. We wanted his help in getting the word out that a “segment of the American people is actively opposing the war in Vietnam. We would like to spread this information to the entire world since the basic questions involved, opposition to American Imperialism, self determination of colonial people, racism, genocide, etc., are of an international nature.” The next thing I know I got a reply from Rob himself in Cuba. I almost had a heart attack. It boggles my mind that he even wrote back to me. By that time, I’d read Rob Williams’s book, Negroes with Guns and also Truman Nelson’s book, People with Strength. Nelson was a radical journalist and his book, also on Rob Williams and the incident in Monroe, was much more political. Today, not too many people are aware of who Robert Williams is and what he did. But he was one of our heroes. In the 1950s, he was an NAACP chapter president from Monroe, North Carolina, somebody you wouldn’t think would he too radical. He did something different—he armed his branch of the NAACP against Klan activities. He had troubles with the national headquarters of the NAACP because this was not their line. In the process of struggle, he was framed on a kidnapping charge and had to leave the country. He next appeared in Havana, as a guest of Fidel Castro. After reading those two books and newscasts and newspaper accounts, I began to develop a healthy respect for Rob Williams.
I thus began my correspondence with Robert F. Williams. About six months later, all of a sudden his letters started coming from China; he had left Cuba to live in China. I agreed to become a distributor for his political newsletter, the Crusader. As I was getting more active, I began asking around to see if there were any more Asian American radicals. I found out that a Japanese American woman in Harlem was also corresponding with Rob and distributing the Crusader. That’s how I first heard of Yuri Kochiyama. I didn’t discover until later that Yuri was there when Malcolm X was assassinated. At that time, there wene only a handful of radical Asian Americans that I knew of. There was Grace Lee Boggs in Detroit, Shoshana Arai was in Chicago working with SNCC, and Yuri Kochiyama in the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Harlem. I knew about the Japanese American members in the Communist Party (CP), but I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. Getting back to Yuri and myself, I’ve always maintained that if I had been in New York, I probably would have joined the Republic of New Africa and if Yuri had been in California, she would probably join the Black Panthers.
I was surprised by Rob Williams’s move to China, but I politically understood that the Sino-Soviet split was behind it. I was turned off by how rhetorical the debate was until I began to understand the reality of the politics. The Soviet Union was supporting Cuba, buying its sugar at a good price, so Cuba had to side with the USSR. But in general, the revolutionary struggles of the Third World in the late fifties and early sixties did not embrace the Moscow variety of communism. I sided with China because they seemed to be more Third World oriented and the stronger supporter of the African American liberation way back when the Civil Rights Movement was chugging along. If you look at history, there’s that photograph of Mao-tse Tung welcoming Robert F. Williams and it wasn’t too many years later that Huey P. Newton and other Panthers were warmly greeted by Mao. As a Japanese American, I sure didn’t appreciate that the CP didn’t step forward to defend my people when we went to the camps, and the CP created a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany! Give me a break.
Even after Rob Williams left Cuba, I remained a strong supporter of the Cuban Revolution. So it may surprise you that in the early 1960s, I was reticent to support the Cuban Revolution. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, I was still in the military and packing a M1 Garand, ready to defend our country against this invasion ninety miles from home and coming our way. I was only beginning to understand about Third World politics. Still, even I understood that the Cuban Revolution was creating fundamental change; it wiped out the organized gambling and criminal interests in Cuba, stopped prostitution, and improved race relations. I admired Fidel for his Moncada fortress attempt, even though it was a fiasco. That attack on the Moncada fortress was like John Brown’s attempt to take Harpers Ferry, where a group of people armed themselves hoping to seize military control, especially the arsenal, to arm the people so that they could struggle against slavery militarily. In the Moncada attack, Fidel was imprisoned and most of the Cuban group was killed. John Brown too was killed. But John Brown’s actions sparked the American Civil War and Fidel’s, the Cuban Revolution. When I found out about Fidel’s speech “History Will Absolve Me,” delivered at his trial for the Moncada incident, I was impressed. Fidel outlined why he did what he did, that this was not an adventuristic, anarchistic, terroristic move, but it was something that had to be done. I liked the way he integrated the United States Constitution as justification for his self-defense actions. That floored me, to see somebody able to take United States political philosophy and turn it 180 degrees, when he said, “You know, when you’re oppressed, you got a right to throw the shackles off and rebel.” To this day I have a copy of Fidel’s speech before the court. Pardon me for getting excited about that, but the Cuban Revolution kind of slipped up on me.
On Leaving the SWP
I’m a busy little bee. I’m in the Black Panther Party and still a member of the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialist Alliance, though my activities with them were minimal. My relationship with the YSA/SWP had gotten strained ever since I delivered that report on the Black Nationalist conference. Right after that, the BPP began and I’m working to build the party. Around February 1967 I met with the executive committee of the YSA/SWP to deliver one more report on what the Left called “the Negro Question.” They were stunned by what I was doing as a member of the BPP. They went into executive session, came back, and said that I would be asked to be placed out of my assignment as the resident expert on the Negro Question. They wanted me to work on something else. I innocently asked why and forced them to admit that they were apprehensive about my work with the BPP because it could lead to some heavy-duty stuff and then if my SWP membership is revealed, it might not reflect well on the SWP. I said something about, “I thought the SWP was in the forefront of the struggle, the most advanced among the White groups out there. The SWP has a golden opportunity to rank up with the cutting edge of the national liberation movement here. It’s reaching the point to either fish or cut bait.” Around this time, I was told that the senior leadership thought that I was a member of the Johnson-Forest Tendency. This was the tendency comprised of C. L. R. James, Grace Lee Boggs, and Raya Dunayevskaya. I’d never met them and I didn’t read their position paper until years later. By the time I discovered them, things were moving too damn fast and I didn’t have time to link up with them.
The SWP leadership replied to the effect that “well, you can’t be a member of both groups. You’ve got to choose.” I was pissed. I went to Huey, “I got a little curve ball thrown at me.” I told them what it boiled down to and asked how he felt about my membership and what I was doing. Huey said in a sense, “You’re a Black Panther. I don’t care what other organizations you’re involved in.” The BPP did have a prohibition about members belonging to other Black liberation groups, which was probably the result of the struggle with the Republic of New Africa and Karenga’s US Organization. But my being in the SWP was no problem to Huey. Basically, he said, “It’s up to you, Richard.” I thought, “Oh shit, I got to make a decision again.” So I wrote my letter of resignation and hand-delivered it to the SWP leadership.
When I cut through all the pluses or minuses, it was generally a plus for me to be in the SWP. I had invested my time with the main Trotskyite political tendency in this country for a number of years. There were a lot of decent people in that organization. I have respect for the senior leadership that struggled for proletarian gains during the thirties and forties, and who went through the political repression of that particular group. I developed some personal friendships there that go on to this day. But in the sixties, there was a difference between the older and younger generation. When I say my report on the Black nationalist conference was not well received, let me put it this way. As I gauged the audience—there were about a hundred members there, almost all White—I noticed that the older leadership didn’t seem to appreciate some of the things I had said. This was possibly due to the fact that they had been excluded from attending the conference, or partially from the fact that maybe they didn’t understand the full significance of Black nationalism, or maybe they did. The younger members, who were mostly students from Berkeley, my generation, I seemed to be more enthusiastic. Those that wanted to come with me but couldn’t because of their race became quiet supporters of the Panthers. To this day, I don’t regret the decision to leave, and I was able to step to a higher level as a result of that break.