As our material conditions and personal lived experiences increasingly worsen in America, as we continue to find ourselves as routine victims of brutalization and murder by the police and by vigilante white supremacists, and as we continue to collectively suffer from the cruel, gnawing, bitter abuses incorporated and inherent to the fundamental structures of capitalism, Black people – more so those Africans who previously lacked a strong sense of political direction, let alone a radical identity – are becoming more sympathetic and willing to embrace the necessity and inevitability of a Black liberation struggle.
The revolutionary potentiality and energy of the Black internal colony has become a little clearer, as streets across America are engulfed in flames, as police stations and police vehicles are set beautifully ablaze, all the results of the state-sanctioned police/pig murder of George Floyd. The murder of Floyd, captured on video and viewed across the world, prompted global mass protest. It is important to realize that the vicious murder of Floyd and the quick response it generated within the masses of Black people is attached to a long and harsh history of police brutality, domestic white terrorism, and white acquittals.
We must also realize that without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement. Therefore, we must consider and take full advantage of our deep and rich history of revolutionary movements occurring not only in America, but also those struggles waged throughout the global diaspora. The lessons, principles, strategies and tactics founded within revolutionary struggles are immense and incredibly significant, and we must rediscover and advance them. In the United States, it is generally recognized that the high point of Black radical thought and resistance emerged during the 1960’s and 70’s. You had Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam (NOI); Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Ella Baker, Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) – to name only a few.
There was also another lesser-known revolutionary organization functioning at this time, known as the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). According to its co-founder, Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford), the organization “was the result of the new message of Robert F. Williams and Malcolm X, trying to put their insights into practice. From the start RAM aimed at socialist revolution. RAM developed into a broad network of revolutionary nationalists, a semi-public organization with clandestine cells and full-time traveling organizers. Probably 90 years premature, RAM was a prototype for future development.”
Ideologically, RAM was a revolutionary Black nationalist organization which was anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-racist. It stated that the major contradiction in the world was between western imperialism and revolutionary people of color, the Bandung World. Class was a secondary contradiction. The U.S was hopelessly corrupt and racist; reform was impossible. Only revolution led by the people could build a world in which racism and exploitation were abolished and self-determination could be achieved.
The Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) was first conceived and organized by a group of Black students on the campus of Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio. In 1961, an off-campus chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), called Challenge, was formed. According to Muhammad Ahmad, Challenge was a Black radical formation possessing no basic ideology. However, members of Challenge became increasingly radicalized once they started confronting the school administration over the rights of students and the necessity of developing a Black political awareness on campus; this battle lasted about year. During these engagements, Donald Freeman, a schoolteacher in Cleveland, Ohio, became one of the group’s earliest mentors. In the spring of 1962, Freeman suggested reading Harold Cruse’s Revolutionary Nationalism and the Afro-American to Challenge cadre. As a result, Challenge decided to form a coalition party to take over the student government; in this way, the RAM was formed. They decided to call themselves the Reform Action Movement at the time, however, as they felt using term "Revolutionary" would cause panic within the administration.
The Reform Action Movement was remarkably effective in radicalizing the student body of Central State, culminating in its eventual takeover of the student government, after which a meeting of the core cadre was organized in order to decide what the group wanted to do next. Some members decided to stay in school and to continue organizing on campus. However, there were others who decided to return home to their respective communities, seeking to organize full-time, convinced they had done all they could do on campus. Two members of the student cadre, Wanda Marshall and Max Stanford (Muhammad Ahmad), were among those who left. During their Thanksgiving break, Marshall and Stanford met with Malcolm X in New York and asked if they should join the Nation of Islam. To Stanford’s surprise, Malcolm told him not to: “You can do more for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad by organizing outside of the Nation.” This pivotal encounter with Malcolm X convinced Marshall and Stanford to do their own independent organizing.
Not too long after meeting Malcolm X, Stanford wrote a position paper and began spreading it across the city of Philadelphia, where he lived, distributing the document, specifically among various leftist groups. Stanford would secure the contact of Mrs. Ethel Johnson, who was a close friend of Robert F. Williams and a strong and principled organizer. According to Ahmad, “Johnson was a student of Marxism-Leninism, sympathized with the Trotskyist tendency, was a member of Workers’ World Party, maintained correspondence with James and Grace Boggs of Detroit, who were then publishing Correspondence, a monthly newsletter.”
Johnson was also good friends with Ella Baker and Queen Mother Audley Moore. Johnson would eventually help Marshall and Stanford organize a study/action group towards the end of 1962. According to Muhammad Ahmad, “After a series of ideological discussions, the Philadelphia study/action group decided to call itself the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). It would serve as a revolutionary Black nationalist direct-action organization. Its stated purpose was to start a mass revolutionary Black nationalist movement. By using mass direct-action combined with the tactics of self-defense, it hoped to change the civil rights movement into a Black revolution.”
Queen Mother Audley Moore eventually served as RAM’s new mentor and second mother. Queen Mother sent books and pamphlets to the core cadre of RAM. However, according to Ahmad, “I was still afraid of Queen Mother, because I knew she was a member of the Communist Party and I still had a fledgling degree of anti-communism in my thinking that communists could brainwash you.” Queen Mother lived in West Philly and started holding nightly meetings and study sessions at her home. Queen Mother was a former supporter and member of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. She was a communist, Black nationalist, and the mother of the struggle for reparations for Black people in the United States. It was Queen Mother who provided RAM with their political and ideological understanding on the tenets of Black nationalism and Marxism-Leninism.
She, along with Robert F. Williams, organized an African American Party of National Liberation in 1963, which formed a provisional government of the Republic of New Afrika. This independent republic was to be situated in the Black Belt of the southern United States.
Robert F. Williams' example of armed self-defense in North Carolina against the KKK and local police had a great impact on the ideology of the RAM. Williams was president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, but was removed from his position after advocating for armed struggle. After being falsely accused of kidnapping charges, Williams fled to Cuba in 1961, staying there until 1965. According to Ahmad, “the FBI initiated the largest manhunt in its entire history to capture Williams.” While exiled in Cuba, Williams started a weekly radio program with the support of Fidel Castro called Radio Free Dixie. It was over this platform, along with his newsletter the Crusader, that Williams started advocating for urban guerrilla warfare in the United States. As a result, in the spring of 1964, RAM also began advocating for urban guerrilla warfare, mass rebellions, and national Black strikes as forms of struggle for the Black National Movement. Their goal was to create an independent Black republic through a socialist revolution. Robert F. Williams eventually became their Chairman in Exile.
Malcolm X was also a key influence, supporter, and even secret member of RAM. Many people are not privy to this fact due to the level of secrecy within the formation. At least one-third of RAM membership was always kept secret. This commitment to secrecy, according to Ahmad, was an assurance of survival, as was the concept of revolutionary discipline. Malcolm taught RAM many lessons on Black Nationalism, Internationalism, Pan-Africanism, armed self-defense, and how to effectively organize.
“And RAM greatly assisted Malcolm. RAM organizers in New York would consult with Malcolm daily and wherever Malcolm went in the country, his strongest supporters and his harshest critics were also members of RAM.”
Both Malcolm and RAM believed in internationalizing the Black freedom struggle as an effective strategy in achieving national liberation. Malcolm agreed to be the official spokesman of RAM, but he initially wanted it kept secret.
“After breaking with the Nation of Islam, Malcolm successively progressed from revolutionary Pan Africanism to one of Third World internationalism. At the time of his death, he was moving to a position of revolutionary socialism. Malcolm agreed to become the spokesman of RAM but felt his role should remain secret because the United States intelligence apparatus would become alarmed about this connection with Robert Williams, who was in exiled in Cuba.”
The international nature of the struggle is stressed throughout RAM’s documents. In the early papers, 1962-65, the international theme was put forth. In 1964, Ram stated its intention to organize the Black liberation movement in the United States as a part of a world-wide revolution. Mao Tse-Tung’s international revolutionary strategy, which involved the encirclement of the Western capitalist countries, formed the basis of RAM’s argument.
RAM’s analysis on class entailed that Black people had to use the power of Black labor and the Black masses against the system, both to resist and to eventually destroy it. Black workers were extremely powerful and were the most radical class, according to RAM, due to their involvement and connection to key U.S industries and their history of striking or resisting in various ways. RAM believed in revolutionary Black nationalism, as opposed to bourgeois reformism and bourgeois nationalism. The goal of revolutionary Black nationalism was communalism or socialism, which required the collectivization of the economy. A 12-point program was established in 1964, predating the Black Panther Party’s 10-point program, which was established in 1966. RAM worked with and influenced many progressive Black political organizations, including the BPP, SNCC, Deacons for Defense, The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and many more, helping to employ direct-action tactics and seeking to infiltrate civil rights organizations in order to turn them into revolutionary organizations.
According to RAM, Black youth were the vanguard of the Black liberation movement. RAM saw Black youth as the most revolutionary sector of the Black community because they had the most sustained resentment against the system and the highest level of frustration. Black youth were considered the potential warriors of Black America. RAM’s tactical themes included organizing at key places, particularly industry, an armed and well-defended community, and a rapid escalation of the struggle.
The formulation of the Black Guards was prepared to evolve into a political party for the liberation of Blacks in the U.S colony. It had three objectives: the community organization of Black people, the political re-education of the Black masses, the creation of a cultural revolution, survival training, and the creation of a Black United Front. One-half to one-third of its cadre would remain anonymous. The organization was to be highly disciplined, democratic centralist, and secret. The Black Guards was the political/military body which served as a forerunner to the Black Liberation Army.
In these times of increasing militancy and spontaneity, the masses cannot be left to grope in a political darkness of struggle. There are plenty of positive examples of historical and political struggles that we can gleam from. This was but a mere cursory study of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). The hope is it will inspire the reader to further their study on not only RAM but other past revolutionary organizations which can serve as a template for us; where we can analyze and critique the methods and tactics used, seeking to modify and/or develop them as need be in order to serve us moving forward, as we attempt to radically change the current social and political conditions for African people. Forward Ever! We Will Win!
1) We Will Return In The Whirlwind: Black Radical Organizations 1960-1975
by Muhammad Ahmad (Maxwell Stanford, Jr.) Introduction by John Bracey.