Generational Gaps and Revolutionary Concepts of the Black Panther Party
From this end of the bend the only subject relevant to prisoners in regards to the early Black Panther Party (BPP) is the party as a Maoist organization and how prisoners should apply the teachings of the early Panthers to free themselves - resisting the foolishness of the late personality cliques capitalizing off of the party’s reputation. What is most important is getting to the truth between the legacy of the BPP and what it was that the founders were really getting at. What role, if any, do later groups play in keeping the vision alive? And how is it that prisoners should use these lessons in these later years of anti-imperialist prison organizing efforts?
Many New Afrikan lumpen organizations inside prison take their plays directly from the playbook of early BPP members while never truly crediting the party for its works. This in turn creates further confusions between the Lumpen Organization's (LO's) followers and former members of the authentic movement. Others within U.$. prisons are charismatic individuals working hand over hand with the bourgeois nationalist organizations, spreading misinformation about the BPP.
Recently PBS ran a piece on a program called Independent Lens that documented the history of the Black Panther Party. As expected it was as watered down as the bourgeois press and media felt it could get away with.(1) Several of the prisoners housed on this facility burst at their seems with inspiration of the works of the Black Panther Party. It was information that they felt they should have known, being they are Afrikans.
Other BPP images being portrayed on this 50th anniversary year include one specific article written by a charismatic imprisoned individual that went on and on about Huey P. Newton, a co-founder of the Black Panther Party, and not on how prisoners should learn from the early lessons of Newton, applying their lessons of political education in the struggles of today.(2) And probably the most noticed recent portrayal of the Panthers came in the form of sexual media, with Beyonce and eir Super Bowl 50 performance. Capitalizing off of the history of the Black power era, Beyonce adorned eirself and eir backup dancers with black leathers, black boots and black berets. Prisoners should question the significance of Black Panther costume jewelry and make-up versus scientific relevance inside U.$. prisons.(3)
Very few prisoners appreciate the political significance of the difference between the early BPP and the late BPP. This is the reason so many prisoners crowd towards movements that appear authentic and genuinely interested in liberation struggles. The masses are presented with ideas of Black, Brown, red, yellow and white power by superstar groups like #BlackLivesMatter, but prisoners have very few tools of independence to combat the misinformation spewed by these bourgeois nationalist organizations and their personalities. Movements built on single issue organizing, swabbing the support of the populations using identity politics, do a disservice to the oppressed, depriving them of the truth.
The Black Panther Party held the correct line in its early stages, and because of this it was rewarded with the support of the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates, the majority being lumpen youth. In its early years the BPP was truly independent, concentrating on its services to Blacks, at a time when the term Black was just as independent as the party. So the organization was able to operate in a loose way within the First World. The early party took its science from a variety of teachings, from the Pan-Afrikan movement to the Chinese communist movement, Lenin’s Russia, Stalin’s theory of nation, and Mao’s People’s War. Mao influenced much of the Black Panther Party’s position as a structured organization. The early members had a very real practice of materialist solutions provided to those in the same environment suffering under conditions of class indifferences, national isolation and gender extinction. They did not believe in struggling against a system while at the same time becoming liberated by the very same system they struggled against.
The prison personality contest conflicts become prominent, with prison identity politics valued above the peace that independence-building projects bring to a self-reliant and self-determined people's anti-imperialist prison movement. Too many prisoners and prison LOs see the end of their individual suffering at the expense of exploiting entire prison populations. MIM(Prisons) and United Struggle from Within (USW) see it differently as we define in the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) principle of independence. Independence is building our own institutions and programs independent of the united states government and all its branches, right down to the local police, because this system does not serve us. By developing independent power through these institutions we do not need to compromise our goals.
The Black Panther Party prioritized the momentum of the people in its early years because of the line and position it had on Maoism. The BPP transitioned for some time to a level above many of the revisionist and liberal bourgeois nationalist organizations of the late sixties and was able to attract some of the most progressive members of the lower class, that many now refer to as the First World lumpen. The Panthers at this time studied history from the perspective of dialectical materialism, in contrast to the methods of metaphysics and idealism, and had a clear program that was being adopted by various sectors of the masses across the United $tates. They applied practices that included designing programs that required members to perform services for the community at large, from education to self defense. The services of the Black Panther Party reflected its line in such a way that it was mandatory that members knew the rules of the BPP, the 8 points of attention and the 3 main rules of discipline, off the top of their head. The early Panthers were really on point.
It is in the later stages of the party’s existence that things began to take a turn as a result of the organization shifting from its earlier positions on independence, self-determination and liberation in the interest of the oppressed. This shift occurred in 1970-71, and was marked by the development of the theory of “intercommunalism” by Huey P. Newton. With the added pressures of government-launched campaigns to destroy the Black Panther Party, the party became split on every level one possibly could imagine.
Walking in the Panther Legacy Today
Since the demise of the BPP, though the movement never actually died, a wide gap has grown between the generation of Huey, George, Bunchy, Fred, Kathleen and Geronimo and the generation of Freddie Gray, Mike Brown and Sandra Bland. Since the Panthers, many organizations became infected with a type of Pantherism/inter-communalism fervor. These organizations hold that they themselves keep the work of the Black Panther Party alive, all the while erasing the Maoist politics of the BPP. See our article on the Black Riders Liberation Party for a discussion of another group confusing this legacy today.(4)
United Struggle from Within (USW) is a mass organization led by the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons for prisoners and former prisoners in the United $tates. USW is made up of various political prison activists struggling against their oppressive conditions. We are part of an ongoing struggle against the imperialist state to liberate ALL peoples, not only the select few who have made themselves popular at the expense of the people. While USW seeks immediate goals to improve prison conditions, it does not lose sight of the ultimate goal of national liberation and ending imperialism.
"There are two kinds of nationalism, revolutionary nationalism and reactionary nationalism. Revolutionary nationalism is first dependent upon a peoples revolution with the end goal being the people in power. Therefore to be revolutionary nationalist you would by necessity have to be a socialist. If you are a reactionary nationalist you are not a socialist and your end goal is the oppression of the people."(5)
Like their parent organization, many comrades of USW see the Black Panther Party developed by Huey P. Newton as the Maoist vanguard of the United States in the late 1960s. The Black Panther Party grew so rapidly at that time that many of the new recruits and larger memberships had very little opportunity to establish a deep understanding of the political objectives of the party. A lack of political education allows political movements to be co-opted, infiltrated, and run into the ground by enemy line.(6)
USW learns from the Black Panther Party, its good, bad and ugly. Parallel to the method practiced by our parent organization MIM(Prisons), USW comrades apply righteous actions by righteous studies of logic and these are some lessons we take:
- No investigation, no right to speak. USW will not misrepresent or misinform the masses.
- Correctness of ideas assessed independent of who says them. USW does not engage in the persynality contest so popular in the United $tates and its prisons.
- We do not give out information that the pigs could use to assess or destroy our movement. Fishing is a favored method amongst the agent provocateurs and their drones inside the belly of the beast. USW comrades have a clear definition of what a snitch, a rat and a pig is. We don’t use the terms loosely and never false jacket individuals, as our pledge to the United Front for Peace in Prison principle of unity requires.
Anonymity isn’t just about security, it’s also about teaching prisoners to think scientifically rather than follow the person with specific skin tone or hair style. USW must struggle against identity politics and the way it shall go about confronting it as its membership crosses paths with the prison lumpen organization leaders, with their cult-like followings, is in the most peaceful way possible, Under Lock & Key. This issue of ULK is a further advancement into serious dialogues between politically conscious prisoners and the masses. Prisoners as a whole must take from this history, from a Maoist point of view and decide what side they are on. The side of half truths,or the always evolving side of deep study and materialist dialectics.
As Sukant Chandan of Sons of Malcom put it, identity politics is doing the imperialist divide and rule for the enemy, by "focusing purely on individualistic frameworks and issues of oppression which overshadow or totally obliterate understanding, learning and support for Resistance of peoples against imperialism."(7) So just as the Panthers were not about costume jewelry and black berets, they were not about petty beefing and slights towards small groups of people.
So why are there so many groups inside prisons who claim to identify with the Black Panther Party but do not uphold Maoism? Their class loyalty is to the bourgeoisie and they refuse to accept the most scientifically designed methods of discovering concrete practices that elevate the peoples. Study Maoism, study proletarian internationalism, study the actual words of the Black Panther Party from the late 1960s.