AFRAM 048GD Politics of Protest: The Black Panther Party
[The Maoist Internationalist Movement upholds the Black Panther Party (BPP) as the Maoist vanguard of the late 1960s within the borders of the united $tates and the leader of the most advanced struggle in Marxist history inside u.$. borders. While there are many people looking back on the Panther legacy, very few are speaking of this reality that launched the BPP into unprecedented success in organizing the masses under a revolutionary banner--a particularly grand achievement in a country whose majority is a white oppressor nation. The problem of misrepresentation is further complicated when the very leaders of the Party that remain are acting to portray the Party as a reformist organization. Anyone who reads the Black Panther's own words (in fact the words of David Hilliard and Bobby Seale themselves) will recognize the fallacy of such representations.
MIM's website and Black Panther page initiated by MC44 and MC5 spearheaded the current resurgence of interest in the Black Panthers. Hundreds of readers a month became thousands as MIM passed around documents from the original party and these readers accumulated over the years. Now with Huey Newton dead but the MIM effort copied by many others, various individuals crawl out of the woodwork to claim something to do with the Black Panthers and invent various stories in passing--stories that in many cases were not told while Newton was alive.
People like former Chief of Staff David Hilliard will use identity politics to claim that he and former chair Bobby Seale are telling the truth because of who they were. This is wrong. With leader Eldridge Cleaver recanting and joining the Moonies before he died, it becomes evident that the approach that focuses on who people are instead of what they are saying and doing is completely backward. Eldridge Cleaver passes the "who" test for the stupid and lazy, but what he said in the last years of life had nothing to do with the Black Panthers as the original revolutionaries they were. It's a stark example, but not the first historically. People who worked with Marx's partner Engels ended up abandoning the cause, so knowing who is in charge is never a replacement for knowing what line is in charge. The standard is not individual identity, but instead actions per comrade for a line.
MIM claims the Black Panther legacy because we have built off of the ideological foundation that the BPP put into action. As the student below points out, that ideological foundation was also the product of the Party's contemporaries and predecessors in the revolutionary struggle around the world. Particularly influential were the organization of the Chinese people and the writings of Mao Zedong that we recognize today as the furthest advancement of socialist construction and the elimination of power and oppression in modern history. ]
What was the scope of the class?
We covered the history of the Party and related it to how we can apply it to current political activism.
What materials were included?
We read out of the Huey P. Newton Reader, Huey's dissertation "War Against the Panthers." "To Die for the People" was required for the class. And he showed us video footage including "Eyes on the Prize," "Palante, Siempre Palante", "Badass", "a Panther in Africa" and a video from Berkeley High School interviewing David. We saw slides of photographs and the covers of the newspaper. There were also numerous guest speakers.
What was the legacy of the Panthers as taught by David Hilliard?
I'm under the impression that David Hilliard's opinion of the legacy of the Black Panthers is that all of the youth and everyone struggling today should actually become little capitalists and should own the recording industry and should own the apartment buildings. He connects that to having economic power. And he said that when the Panthers said "All Power to the People" he equated that to democracy, but he also said that "we want to own some." He definitely supports voting, which came up in class a lot during the presidential elections.
He says that we really need to "control more of this money coming in." He said that he wants us to accumulate all this money through being the head of Sony records and owning apartment buildings so that we can rent at affordable rates or whatever. He says that we need to accumulate all this money and then use it to help people and that is the legacy of the Panthers. He thinks Jay-Z's doing a good job except that he's not using the money correctly. He asked the question in class, "How do we apply the legacy in current times?" He said we can't just sit in class and listen to lectures: we have to apply things to the current struggle and towards building new movements.
When he says that he wants us to own apartment buildings and provide affordable housing I don't think that is revolutionary because he doesn't connect the Black Panthers to revolutionary politics. He never once connects them with socialism and definitely not Maoism. He never says we need to own apartment buildings and rent at affordable rates and overthrow capitalism. By not explicitly dealing with capitalism and imperialism head on and without saying that the Black Panthers were out to overthrow that and give power back to all the people of the world and achieve self-determination he leaves it in the capitalist context... He's saying "own an apartment building but give homeboy a break." Not overthrow capitalism so that homeboy doesn't have to pay rent anymore and neither does anyone else in the world.
When he talks about the class and how we're going to cover the Party, he says you can't look at the Party in this political vacuum where they suddenly popped up out of nowhere. He says we have to look at slave revolts and civil rights, but he never introduces internationalism into that perspective. He makes these vague references to the rest of the world. When we were looking at the covers of the newspapers, they were covers that had the like of the Mozambique Liberation Front on the cover, and the paper covered Pan-Africanists and there's a picture with Huey and Arafat and it even covered the Chicano Movement and AIM. And he'll talk about Algeria and how they granted NGO status to the Panthers, but he doesn't tell you what's going on in Algeria. And considering nobody in the class knew much about civil rights in amerika I doubt they knew what was going on in Algeria or China. And he mentions that the Panthers were the number one revolutionary party in the united $tates and the vanguard of the masses and talks about all these countries that the Panthers had diplomatic relations with like China, North Korea and Vietnam without any mention of what these countries were doing at the time. When we read the letter from Huey to the Vietnamese he didn't point out that they were supporting the Vietnamese because they were comrades, not just because they sympathized with them. When you leave out that the Panthers at the very least associated with socialist countries, if you're going to be perfectly truthful that they were Maoists, it just gives you this really incorrect analysis of who the Party was. And as a result you can't really understand what the legacy is, if you just listen to David and Bobby.
So Hilliard watered down the message and skipped over parts of the story. Didn't you say he also went further in outright denying the revolutionary aspects of the Panthers?
When discussing the 10 point program he said, "There's nothing revolutionary about it," and went on to say, "it's reformist." He also says in the Berkeley High School video we saw on the Black Panthers, "We were a reform organization." With the whole intercommunalism thing he was able to say they were not communists, they were intercommunalists. The impression that I get is that he says that they were intercommunalists all along and that point 10 was a reference to intercommunalism.
When Hilliard does use the term "revolution" he doesn't explain the context that it's in, he doesn't give a definition of "revolution." Because the context that the Party used it was People's War, Communism. And I think today what a lot of people think of as "revolutionary" in fact isn't. So if he doesn't make that connection for people it's very misleading. So I think that's one way he was able to water down the class, by just being vague... It wasn't like the Panthers were dangerous because they had a lot of guns or they were helping the community: it was more than that; they were making all these connections, not just to countries that happened to be amerika's enemies, but to countries that were communist because [the Panthers] were communists. When he talks about the Panthers going to Algiers and getting NGO status he said, "this is the history you don't know," but he leaves out so much of the history that we don't know.
So Hilliard seems to take a static view of the Panther ideology as always being intercommunalism. Does he ever address ideological change or struggle within the Party?
The impression that I got is that he always views the Panthers as a static organization, for the most part. He does say that there were different periods of reform, self-defense and action movements. But I think ideologically he would say they were always intercommunalists, even though clearly they weren't because Huey came up with it while he was locked up. And he came out in 1971, which was four years after the Party started, and in those four years they had already set up the 10 point program; they had already had a newspaper and they were having ideological struggles within the Party, like between Eldridge and Huey, which David writes off completely and says we shouldn't care about that. And in David's autobiography he says they were putting things that were going on around the world on the front cover, like Stalin and Mao were main features in their newspaper. But in class David doesn't talk about that. In his book he talks about this more, like talking about how they liked Masai because he had dialectical materialism down pat and he really knew his stuff. But in class he says that they didn't have any association to communism until Masai came along as Minister of Education.
He had a class that covered intercommunalism, but didn't have a class that covered socialism.
What about other speakers who came to the class?
Well, the first speaker was Bobby Seale. And Bobby Seale is a very good story teller, but that's really about it. I did ask him about a David Hilliard quote that "The ideology of the Black Panther Party is the historical experiences of Black people in America translated through Marxism-Leninism." And he said a bunch of stuff that sounded like he was going to answer my question but didn't. He did say that he hates the term "dicatatorship of the proletariat," that he opposes Soviet-style bureaucracy and that he believes that you have to change institutional frameworks through the ballot to empower people.
One of the other speakers that came was from the Wellstone Democratic Club. Her name was Judy Grethner and she was all about sentencingproject.org, promoting voting among prisoners. She said that, "We all lose when people don't have a voice" and that voting was "historically a basic human right."
In the same day we had this guy Trent Willis come, and he was an organizer for the Million Workers March, he's a longshoreman with the ILWU Local #10. And his whole thing was that with the Million Worker's March, their demands were to end corporate greed (ie. get a bigger piece of the pie), end to outsourcing, national health care system, slash the military budget and stop attacks on worker organizing. And he was a good representation of the labor aristocracy in class. I thought it was a good example of what David was talking about how we need to own everything while ignoring internationalism all together. I felt like he was asking us to be little pigs asking for a bigger piece of the pie. Trent Willis actually says that "there is a global effort to drive down living wages in this country" [u$], and that Walmart pays "some of the lowest wages in the ENTIRE world."
So this class is being spread to other universities as well?
Well, I don't know. He mentioned that one of his sons is teaching down in LA and they want to have a class like that down there. He really wants to have their newspapers, all their periodicals in universities around the country. Which isn't a bad thing. But he did mention that he wants this class to spread and I assume it would be taught the same way.