Black History Month - When the Panthers Died [Video]
We received some criticism for our response to a discussion of George Jackson printed in ULK 65. In this article we described how some of Jackson's writings are anti-wimmin and anti-gay. While we stand by that line, we take a lesson from our critics. Printing this in isolation, without commenting on all the positive contributions Jackson made to the revolutionary movement, was a mistake. George Jackson overall played an important positive role as a revolutionary. While we need to analyze our historical revolutionary movements and leaders and learn from their mistakes, we should not dismiss great leaders who made mistakes or had some political line wrong. George Jackson's mistakes did not outweigh eir positive contributions.
July 2018 — We remember for all time in the future the terrible and untimely political assassinations of Comrade George and Jonathon Jackson. Black August and bloody September are fast approaching and while many people will of course mourn due to these fatalities committed by the state, we shouldn't be saddened by these most terrible atrocities. We should rejoice and see repression as a logical response by the capitalist masters to stop our thrust upward.
The history of Amerika's reign of terror begins with its start as a settler's colony that exterminated the otherwise "savage and backward" Indians, and raped Africa for her peoples to build and industrialize this young nation. The trends toward monopoly capital actually began during the civil war, during the only time where the masters of capital felt the greatest threats to its power. Amerikan history has always been a story of masters and slaves, dominators and dominated, capitalists and workers, and haves and have-nots. But the centralization of state power actually began during the age of the Industrial Revolution.
The earlier vanguard parties betrayed the interest of the people by sticking to reformism, even though reformism in Amerika is an old story. At the close of World War II when the purple mushroom clouds over Japan were aired for the world to see, fascism did indeed emerge and consolidate itself in its most advance form in Amerika. In fact the trends towards monopoly capital might have begun right here in Amerika.
The Black Panther Party formed as a response to state terror. The savage repression which can be estimated by a brief reading of the nation's dailies has not failed to register on the minds of most lower disenfranchised, especially when you couple the fact that we are worth no more than the amount of capital that we can raise. Whether they know it or not we are victims of both social and economic injustice and our economic status has reduced our minds to a state of complete oblivion.
The older vanguard parties were committed to reformism and its counter-productive nature. The Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement, Black Liberation Army however were committed and prepared to take the fight to whatever level needed to be taken in order to make sure that the demands of the people were met. As a response, J. Edgar Hoover and his secret branch (COINTELPRO) devised a plan to stop a "Black Messiah" from rising out of the ghetto that could lead the people to revolution. On 4 December 1969 Gloves Davis, a black officer in Chicago, killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Of course the COINTELPRO was very effective in infiltration tactics, because Fred Hampton's bodyguard was later to be revealed as a "class defector and stool pigeon" for the forces of repression.
We shouldn't be sad that George is gone. We should be sad that no one has ushered in to take up his works, even though so many champion him and also since there are guerillas all over who shout "George," but have yet to follow in his footsteps. Our overall situation doesn't stand out as glaringly as it did during the 1960s and 70s. However we should not be tricked into thinking that the struggle is no more. The hip-shooting pigs still gun us and call it justifiable homicide due to the trends in the crime culture we have embraced. The crime culture only mimics the European experience. In order for us to seize the time we should think in terms of true freedom. The freedom that comrade George fought and died for. Long live the real Dragon.
MIM(Prisons) associate responds:
The author mentions that "[t]he earlier vanguard parties betrayed the interest of the people by sticking to reformism, even though reformism in Amerika is an old story." However, not all the early vanguard parties were reformist. In general, vanguard parties are not reformist in nature, although they might work on reformist campaigns (wimmin's rights, prisoners' rights, etc.). Vanguard parties, by definition, aim to be the force that lead the revolution. So why did the vanguard parties fail?
One obvious reason is that the United $tates has not entered a revolutionary situation. Due to a variety of factors, and despite the presence of vanguard parties in different places and at different times, there has not been a substantial proletarian movement for freedom. In Lenin's terms, the workers during the Industrial Revolution in the United $tates only reached basic Trade Union Consciousness, not Proletarian Consciousness. Their goal was for better working conditions, not a new system.
This goes hand-in-hand with the second reason. As J. Sakai argues in Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat, there has never been a substantial proletariat in the United $tates. Despite the presence of oppressed national minorities, lumpen proletariat, and a few revolutionaries, the revolutionaries have never reached a critical mass. This is especially true today, as almost all real labor has been pushed to the Third World and Euro-Amerikkkans are living off of the superexploitation of the Third World proletariat.
The author also mentions that "fascism did indeed emerge and consolidate itself in its most advance form in Amerika." MIM(Prisons) believes that the United $tates is not currently a fascist country (nor has it been in the past). Amerikkka is obviously imperialist and this imperialist core was inscribed into the Amerikkkan project from the very beginning, however we do not equate imperialism with fascism. Fascism is a form of imperialism, but we don't think it's the current state of the world. And we see the most fascist expression of imperialism in Third World countries where imperialists are imposing their will.
Fascism is a form of imperialism, and so this means fascism is a form of capitalism. Fascism is the final attempt for the bourgeoisie to remain the dominant aspect in the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. As the proletarian forces become stronger, the imperialists go to even more extreme measures to protect their beloved economic system. To say we're in a fascist scenario now, or we're moving toward fascism, is to overstate the strength of the proletarian forces in the present day. Fascism is enhanced imperialism, so it's natural that we would see some elements of our current imperialist society appearing more like fascism than others, even if we haven't moved into fascism as an overall system.
As I first stumbled out of the haze of unconsciousness and began to see the true structure of society and the world, as I began to understand what drove and supported the political socio-economic forces, it was inevitable that I would be influenced by the Black Panther Party. As with many urban youth who lived rough, experiencing ghetto life with its grinding poverty and internecine violence, with the police sweeps and sanctioned violence, along with the general spirit of hopelessness that pervaded the community, the appeal of the party was at first superficial. I was drawn to the audacity in the stories of those so very young women and men who were facing off with the state's protector — the police. Although I didn't understand, I was only seeing the surface of what the party was about.
I was aware of some of the survival programs that the party had organized and their provocative slogans. As I read more to get an understanding of the party's actual ideology, my reading expanded and my own ideas took shape. I became aware of the class struggles in addition to the racial struggles — I had assumed that the condition of minority groups in this country was primarily race-based. Now I became aware of the guiding hand of economics in the affairs and destiny of peoples and nations, in conjunction with the politics of race.
Through the books and speeches of the BPP, I became familiar with Marx, Lenin, Fanon, Sartre, Che and so many others through whose analysis and actions revealed a different way of considering human events and condition. They also revealed to me the value of setting examples to motivate and raise consciousness. At first I made what I've now come to see as an error in my attempts to bring myself to socialist thought, at the expense of free thought. But I realized that dialectical materialism does not bring everyone to the same conclusions, certainly not always at the same time.
Our cultural perspectives are not illegitimate, nor should they be denied in order to fit into any ideological category. A people's history will inform their view and approach to the issues that have bearing on them, on their condition. Their specific needs may require addressing in ways that are unique to those people, and may not be suitable for other peoples' circumstances. If people deny that then they are denying themselves the flexibility and effectiveness to meet their needs, solve their problems and advance a common good. This is one of the reasons for the importance of the BPP.
The articulation of the struggle could be — when it needed to be — sophisticated, with a higher level of vocabulary and Marxist-Leninst terminology. Then — when it needed to be — the articulation of the party could be iconoclastic, and even vulgar with the turn of a phrase more easily understood by the lumpen-proletariat, the streetcorner man. Huey Newton and George Jackson spoke to us in both ways. They knew when to because they were as we are. Same history. Same soul. There was no need to pretend in order to manipulate the people. The straightforward speech and fearless actions is what got my attention. Then Huey proceeded to expand my imagination with his own as he described intercommunalism. George served as an example, not only of what a person could survive, but also of how hope and purpose could be restored to a life that had been designated as a throwaway.
The Party existed in a different era than ours. Some things are better, some are worse. Yet what remains exactly the same is the need for people to be conscious of the forces that affect their lives and threaten to dictate their fate, along with the urgent need to seize those forces and address those needs.
The most effective organizers and motivators of people of the underclass are those who can speak the language of the underclass on the one hand, taking the frustrating and complex, making it plain. While on the other hand demonstrating what someone like themselves are capable of with the depths of their understanding and the heights of their courage — remaining unbroken where others have broken under less pressure.
In the present, criticism is leveled at those women and men who risked all of themselves, sacrificed so much — even their own lives. Their errors and excesses have been highlighted in history. Although we can recognize the accuracy of some of that criticism, it would be a grave error on our part to allow those things to prevent us from accepting the lessons in their analysis of the origins, significance and relevance of class and racial struggle, nor should we fail to acknowledge the dedication and examples of courage that were demonstrated by people so young.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade provides us with some important perspective on how we analyze the history of revolutionary activists. Some people are critical of revolutionaries, comparing them to some ideal that has never been achieved, as if these people were gods and should have been perfect. But doing this means we will only criticize everyone and learn nothing from history. Instead we need to measure people, and organizations, by their real world actions in comparison to other real world actions. No persyn or group is perfect. But we look at the impact of their work, and also how well they learned from their mistakes.
The Black Panther Party was the most advanced and effective revolutionary organization in U.$. history. The BPP correctly identified the contradiction of national oppression as principal within U.$. borders, and saw the need for a revolutionary party to organize the New Afrikan nation. They were way ahead of others in the 1960s with their analysis of the importance of Maoism, and their practice of building a strong disciplined organization. There is a lot to learn from the history of the BPP.
This doesn't mean we withhold all criticism of the BPP. But as this comrade notes: our criticisms, which with hindsight are always much easier to see than in the moment, should not stop us from learning from the BPP and upholding their organization for its revolutionary leadership. For more on this topic read Defend the Legacy of the Black Panther Party, available from MIM(Prisons) for $6 or work trade.
I recall entering United States Penitentiary (USP) Leavenworth in 1993 as a very ignorant, reactionary member of a street tribe in need of guidance. I was approached by an individual seen by others in many lights; original gangsta! Comrade George's comrade! Revolutionary! Major underworld figure! All of the above and some. All I know is, the brotha James "Doc" Holiday freely gave of himself to educate all of us tribal adherents.
Making it mandatory that we both exercise daily (machine) and read progressive literature, because consciousness grows in stages. As such, he brought many a tribal cat towards a more revolutionary-oriented ideal. Some accepted New Afrikan revolutionary nationalism. Others gained structure, within their respective tribes (Kiwe/Damu national identities). Whichever choices we made, the overall revolutionary objectives were being met, in that the seeds of liberating consciousness had been sown. We learned of: Che, Fidel, W.L. Nolen, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Huey P., Bobby, Fred, Bunchy, Comrade George, Assata, etc. So many more unnamed heroes/sheroes of the movement for change and liberation.Was "Daktari" perfect? No! He had flaws and vices like most hue-mans raised in capitalist United $tates — this putrid system which conditions us to value money over character. However, it is my contention that, to overlook the strengths and contributions this elder made to both Cali state and Federal systems' revolutionary cultures is to aid our common oppressors in suppressing the memories of all whose stories could serve as inspirational tools.
Utilizing materialist dialectics to analyze our forerunners' strengths and weaknesses as they relate to contributions to struggle is a positive. Constructively critiquing their actions and/or strategem which negatively impacted our progression towards building revolutionary culture is also a positive. Personally, I do not view giving honors to our fallen as "cult of personality." As a New Afrikan by DNA, I know firsthand how important it is for "us" to have concrete examples to emulate. Sad reality is, U.$.-born New Afrikans have been conditioned via historical miscarriages to see themselves as inferior to others. As such, before giving them/us Marx and the like, they should be taught examples of U.$. folk of color. Identification with/to New Afrikan cultural identity is key to building viable revolutionary culture, prior to more global revolutionary cadre education.
With that, I recently embraced Islam. The need of a morality code was imperative for me (individually) in order for me to continue to be an asset to the overall struggle. Regardless of my personal religious belief, I shall remain committed to giving of myself — blood, sweat, tears, my life if need be — to advance the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. This loyalty and devotion to the cause, come hell, or forever in isolation, is a direct result of the seeds planted in USP Leavenworth all those years ago by James "Doc" Holiday. I honor him accordingly as an educator, elder, father figure, and comrade.
Recently my family attempted to locate Doc via FBOP locator and as his name was not found, thus I assume he has passed on. I shall miss his wit and grit. Revolutionary in peace!
MIM(Prisons) responds: The greatest tribute we can pay to Doc, and all of the people who helped raise us to a higher level, is to carry on eir legacy through our actions. We don't mean to just "be about" the struggle, or to shout them out in remembrance. "Each one teach one" is a good place to start, and we can even look more deeply at what it was about our comrades' actions that made them such great organizers. In analyzing their actions, we can build on that in our own organizing.
We encourage our readers to take a closer look at what it was that turned you on to revolutionary organizing and politics. It surely wasn't just one action from one persyn, and it surely wasn't just an internal realization. Who was it that helped develop you, and how did they do it?
Especially for ULK 63, we want to look deeper at organizing tactics and approaches within the pages of this newsletter. One thing we can look at is our memories of what other people did to organize us. Think about the people who helped develop your revolutionary consciousness, and write in to ULK your observations.
What was their attitude? What methods did they use? How did they react when someone was half-in the game? How did they behave toward people who were totally in denial? Where did they draw the line between friends and enemies? What are some memories you have of when the spark was lit for you, that told you you needed to struggle to end oppression, rather than just get what you could for yourself? Send your stories in to the address on page 1 so ULK readers can incorporate your experiences into their own organizing tactics.
For this issue of Under Lock & Key we took on the task of investigating the impacts of drugs and the drug trade on the prison movement. We ran a survey in the Jan/Feb 2017 and March/April 2017 issues of Under Lock & Key. We received 62 completed surveys from our readers in U.$. prisons. We have incorporated the more interesting results in a series of articles in this issue. This article looks at the central question of the role of the drug trade inside and outside prisons and how to effectively organize among the lumpen in that context. In other articles we look more closely at the recent plague of K2 in U.$. prisons, and the latest rise in opioid addiction and what socialism and capitalism have to offer us as solutions.
Bourgeois society takes an individualistic view of the world. When it comes to drugs, the focus is on the individual: we talk about how they failed and succumbed to drugs because of their weakness or mistakes as an individual. While individuals must ultimately take responsibility for their actions, it is only by understanding society at a group level, using dialectical materialism to study the political economy of our world, that we can address problems on a scale that will make a real impact. Even at the individual level, it's more effective to help people make connections to the root causes of their problems (not supposed persynality flaws) and empower them to fight those causes if we want lasting change.
Much of our criminal injustice system is built on punishment and shaming of those who have been convicted. A proletarian approach to justice uses self-criticism to take accountability for one's actions, while studying political economy to understand why that path was even an option in the first place, and an attractive one at that.
In the essay "Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide", Cetewayo, a Black Panther leader, provides a good example of overcoming the conditions one is born into. Ey was addicted to heroin from age 13 to 18, before joining the Black Panther Party. Eir example stresses the importance of providing alternative outlets for oppressed nation youth. In some cases the mere existence of that alternative can change lives.
MIM(Prisons) and leaders in the Countrywide Council of United Struggle from Within (Double C) have had many conversations about what the principal contradiction is within the prison population. MIM(Prisons) has put forth that the parasitic/individualistic versus self-sufficient/collective material interests of the lumpen class is the principal contradiction within the prison movement in the United $tates today. The drug problem in prisons relates directly to this contradiction. Those pursuing drugs and/or dealing are focused on their persynal interests, at the expense of others. The drug trade is inherently parasitic as it requires an addicted population to be profitable, and users are escaping the world for an individual high, rather than working to make the world better for themselves and others.
A Double C comrade from Arkansas explains this contradiction:
"Things have been slow motion here due to lockdown. Reason being too much violence across the prison. Some of this violence is due to the underground economy. Being submerged in a culture of consumerism which is not only an obstacle to our emancipation (mentally and physically) this self-destructive method of oppression is a big problem consuming the population. I've been in prisons where the market is not packed or heavily packed with drugz. It is in those yards that unity and productive lines are greatly practiced. The minute drugz become the leading item of consumption, shit breaks down, individualism sets in and all of the fucked up tendencies follow suit.
"I say 75% of the population in this yard is a consumer. About 5% have no self control, it's usually this percentage that ends up a 'debt' victim (since you owe $ you owe a clean up). Aggressor or not, consumerism is a plague that victimizes everyone one way or another. This consumerism only aids the pigz, rats, infiltrators, and oppressors in continuing with a banking concept of 'education/rehabilitation' and therefore domesticating the population.
"I mean the consequences and outcomes are not hidden, it is a constant display of what it is when you can't pay the IRS, so it is not as if people don't know. I've seen people slow down or stopped some old habits after experiencing/witnessing these beheadings. Shit, I just hit the yard because pigz were all inside the block searching and homeboy's puddles of blood were still on the yard."
It is no secret that drugs and violence often go hand-in-hand. As the above comrade alludes to, this is often related to debts. But one of the things we learned from our recent survey of ULK readers is that in most prisons there is an inherent threat of violence towards people who might take up effective organizing against drugs.
A California comrade wrote,
"No one in prison is going to put their safety and security on the line over drugs. You have to understand that life has little value in prison. If you do anything to jeopardize an individual's ability to earn a living, it will cost you your life."
Another California comrade was more explicit,
"If you say anything about the drugs, cell phones, extortions, etc., whether if you're in the general population, or now, worse yet in 2017, SNY/Level IV, the correctional officers inform the key gang members that you're running your mouth. You either get hit immediately, or at the next prison. Although my safety is now at stake, by prisoners, it's being orchestrated by corrections higher-ups concocting the story."
This was in response to our survey question "Have you seen effective efforts by prisoners to organize against drug use and its effects? If so, please describe them." Not only were the responses largely adamant "no"s, the vast majority said it would be dangerous to do so. This was despite the fact that we did not ask whether it would be dangerous to do so. Therefore, we assume that more than 73% might say so if asked.
Some readers questioned what to do about staff involvement bringing drugs into the prisons. One writer from Pennsylvania said:
"It's hardly ever dry in Fayette and this institution is a big problem why. A lot of the staff bring it in. Then when someone goes in debt or does something they wouldn't normally do, they don't want to help you, if you ask for help. There's no unity anymore. Nobody fights or stands up for nothing. Everybody rather fight each other than the pigs. It would take a lot to make a change in the drug situation. Is it wrong to put the pigs out there for what they're doing? Would I be considered a snitch? I know there would be retaliation on me, maybe even a ass whoopin. I'm curious on your input on this."
If we look at the involvement of staff in bringing drugs into prisons, and the violence associated with the drug trade, we have to call bullshit when these very same institutions censor Under Lock & Key on the claim that it might incite violence. The system is complicit, and many staff actively participate, in the plague of drugs that is destroying the minds and bodies of the oppressed nation men and wimmin, while promoting individualistic money-seeking behavior that leads to brutal violence between the oppressed themselves.
While the reports responding to that question were mostly negative, and the situation seems dire, we do want to report on the positive things we heard. We heard about successful efforts by New Afrikans getting out of the SHU in California, some Muslim communities and the Nation of Gods and Earths. Some have been at this for over a decade. All of these programs seemed to be of limited scope, but it is good to know there are organizations providing an alternative.
In Arkansas, a comrade reports,
"For the mass majority of drug users and prisoners I have not seen any positive efforts to stop drug use and its effects. But for my affiliation, the ALKN, we have put the product of K2/deuce in law with heroin and its byproducts where no member should be in use of or make attempts to sell for profit or gain. If you do you will receive the consequences of the body who governs this affiliation and organization for lack of discipline and obedience to pollute your self/body and those around you who are the future and leaders of tomorrow's nations."
While practice varies among the many individuals at different stages in the organization, the Latin Kings/ALKQN has historically opposed the use of hard drugs amongst its members. Many in New York in the 1990s attributed their recovery from drug addiction to their participation in the organization.(1)
There are some good examples of lumpen organizations engaging in what we might call policies of harm reduction. One comrade mentioned the 16 Laws and Policies of Chairman Larry Hoover as an example of effective organizing against drugs in eir prison. Lumpen leaders like Jeff Fort and Larry Hoover are where we see a national bourgeoisie with independent power in the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates. The proletarian organizations of the oppressed nations should work to unite with such forces before the imperialists corrupt them or force them into submission. In fact, the Black Panthers did just that, but failed to build long-term unity with the Black P. Stone Rangers largely due to state interference and repression.
On the other hand, in some states comrades reported that lumpen organizations are among the biggest benefactors from the drug trade. Some of the same names that are mentioned doing positive work are mentioned as being the problem elsewhere. This is partly explained by the largely unaffiliated franchise system that some of these names operate under. But it is also a demonstration of the principal contradiction mentioned above, which is present in the First World lumpen outside of prisons, too. There is a strong individualist/parasitic tendency combating with the reality that self-sufficiency and collective action best serve the oppressed nations. Too often these organizations are doing significant harm to individuals and the broader movement against the criminal injustice system, and can not be part of any progressive united front until they pull out of these anti-people activities.
The more economically entrenched an organization is in the drug trade, the more they are siding with the imperialists and against the people. But on the whole, the First World lumpen, particularly oppressed nation youth, have the self-interest and therefore the potential to side with their people and with the proletariat of the world.
As one Texas comrade commented:
"I must say that the survey opened a door on the issue about drugs within prison. After doing the survey I brought this up with a couple of people to see if we could organize a program to help people with a drug habit. I'm an ex-drug dealer with a life sentence. I can admit I was caught up with the corruption of the U.S. chasing the almighty dollar, not caring about anyone not even family. Coming to prison made me open my eyes. With the help of MIM and Under Lock & Key I've been learning the principles of the United Front and put them in my everyday speech and walk within this prison. The enemy understands that the pen is a powerful tool. Comrades don't trip on me like other organizations done when I let them know I'm a black Muslim who studied a lot of Mao Zedong.
At least one respondent mentioned "prisoners giving up sources" (to the pigs to shut down people who are dealing) in response to the question about effective anti-drug organizing. From the responses shown below, it is clear that the state is not interested in effective anti-drug programming in prisons. This is an example of why we need independent institutions of the oppressed. We cannot expect the existing power structure to meet the health needs of the oppressed nation people suffering from an epidemic of drug abuse in U.$. prisons.
The Black Panthers faced similar conditions in the 1960s in the Black ghettos of the United $tates. As they wrote in Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide,
"It is also the practice of pig-police, especially narcotics agents, to seize a quantity of drugs from one dealer, arrest him, but only turn in a portion of the confiscated drugs for evidence. The rest is given to another dealer who sells it and gives a percentage of the profits to the narcotics agents. The pig-police also utilize informers who are dealers. In return for information, they receive immunity from arrest. The police cannot solve the problem, for they are a part of the problem."
Our survey showed significant abuse of Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. In the 1970s Methadone clinics, backed by the Rockefeller Program, became big in New York. The state even linked welfare benefits to these services. Yet, Mutulu Shakur says, "In New York City, 60 percent of the illegal drugs on the street during the early '70s was methadone. So we could not blame drug addiction at that time on Turkey or Afghanistan or the rest of that triangle."(2) Revolutionaries began to see this drug that was being used as treatment as breaking up the revolutionary movement and the community. Mitulu Shakur and others in the Lincoln Detox Center used acupuncture as a treatment for drug addiction. Lincoln Detox is an example of an independent institution developed by communists to combat drug addiction in the United $tates.
"[O]n November 10, 1970, a group of the Young Lords, a South Bronx anti-drug coalition, and members of the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement (a mass organization of health workers) with the support of the Lincoln Collective took over the Nurses' Residence building of Lincoln Hospital and established a drug treatment program called The People's Drug Program, which became known as Lincoln Detox Center."(3) Lincoln Detox was a program that was subsequently run by the Young Lords Party, Black Panthers that had survived the Panther 21 raid, the Republic of New Afrika, and White Lightning, a radical organization of white former drug addicts, until 1979 when a police raid forced the communists out of the hospital, removing the political content of the program.(4)
Young Lord Vicente "Panama" Alba was there from day one, and tells eir story of breaking free of addiction cold turkey to take up the call of the revolution. After sitting on the stoop watching NYPD officers selling heroin in eir neighborhood, and a few days after attending a Young Lords demonstration, Panama said, "Because of the way I felt that day, I told myself I couldn't continue to be a drug user. I couldn't be a heroin addict and a revolutionary, and I wanted to be a revolutionary. I made a decision to kick a dope habit."(3) This experience echoes that of millions of addicted Chinese who went cold turkey to take up building socialism in their country after 1949.
Mutulu Shakur describes how the Lincoln Detox Center took a political approach similar to the Chinese in combatting addiction, "This became a center for revolutionary, political change in the methodology and treatment modality of drug addiction because the method was not only medical but it was also political." Shakur was one of the clinic's members who visited socialist China in the 1970s to learn acupuncture techniques for treating addiction. He goes on to describe the program:
"So the Lincoln Detox became not only recognized by the community as a political formation but its work in developing and saving men and women of the third world inside of the oppressed communities, resuscitating these brothers and sisters and putting them into some form of healing process within the community we became a threat to the city of New York and consequently with the development of the barefoot doctor acupuncture cadre, we began to move around the country and educate various other communities instead of schools and orientations around acupuncture drug withdrawal and the strategy of methadone and the teaching the brothers and sisters the fundamentals of acupuncture to serious acupuncture, how it was used in the revolutionary context in China and in Vietnam and how we were able to use it in the South Bronx and our success."(2)
Though the Black Panthers had organized the workers at Lincoln Hospital leading up to the takeover, by that time the New York chapter was already in decline due to repression and legal battles. While many BPP branches had to engage with drug cartels, the New York chapter stood out in their launching of heavily-armed raids on local dealers and dumping all of their heroin into the gutters. The New York Panthers faced unique circumstances in a city that contained half of the heroin addicts in the country, which was being supplied by la Cosa Nostra with help from the CIA. While there was mass support for the actions of the Panthers at first, state repression pushed the New York Panthers down an ultra-left path. The Panther 21 trial was a huge setback to their mass organizing, with 21 prominent Panthers being jailed and tried on trumped up terrorism charges. After they were all exonerated, the New York Panthers, siding ideologically with Eldridge Cleaver who was pushing an ultra-left line from exile in Algeria, made the transition to the underground. If they were going to be accused of bombings and shootings anyway, then they might as well actually do some, right?
These were the conditions under which the Black Liberation Army was formed. Though there was overlap between the BLA and those who led community projects like Lincoln Detox, the path of the underground guerrillas generally meant giving up the mass organizing in the community. Instead, raiding local drug dealers became a staple of theirs as a means of obtaining money. Money that essentially belonged to the NYPD, which was enabling those dealers and benefiting them financially. The former-Panthers-turned-BLA continued to destroy the dope they found, and punished the dealers they raided.
Again, we are confronted with this dual nature of the lumpen class. It would certainly be ultra-left to view all drug dealers as enemies to be attacked. It is also certainly clear that the CIA/Mafia/NYPD heroin trade in New York was an enemy that needed to be addressed. But how does the revolutionary movement interact with the criminal-minded LOs today? In its revolutionary transformation, China also had to deal with powerful criminal organizations. The Green Gang, which united the Shanghai Triads, significantly funded the Guomindang's rise to power, primarily through profits from opium sales. In the late 1940s they opened up negotiations with the Communist Party as the fate of China was becoming obvious. However, no agreement was reached, and the criminal organizations were quickly eliminated in mainland China after 1949. They took refuge in capitalist outposts like Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Chinatowns elsewhere in Asia and Europe. While heroin has returned to China, the gangs have not yet.(5)
While the contradiction between the communists and the drug gangs did come to a head, it was after defeating Japanese imperialism and after defeating the reactionary Guomindang government. And even then, most drug dealers were reformed and joined the building of a socialist society.
In eir article, Pilli clearly explains why slangin' can't be revolutionary. And a comrade from West Virginia gives an example where the shot-callers are explicitly working against the interest of the prison movement to further their economic goals. We must address the question of how the prison movement should engage with those who are slangin'. The answer to that is beyond the scope of our drug survey, and needs to be found in practice by the revolutionary cells within prisons taking up this organizing work.
Many respondents to our survey sounded almost hopeless when it came to imagining a prison system without rampant drug addiction. But this hopelessness is not completely unfounded. As "Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide", reads:
"The government is totally incapable of addressing itself to the true causes of drug addiction, for to do so would necessitate effecting a radical transformation of this society. The social consciousness of this society, the values, mores and traditions would have to be altered. And this would be impossible without totally changing the way in which the means of producing social wealth is owned and distributed. Only a revolution can eliminate the plague."
To back up what the Panthers were saying here, we can look at socialist China and how they eliminated opium addiction in a few years, while heroin spread in the capitalist United $tates. The Chinese proved that this is a social issue and not primarily a biological/medical one. The communist approach differed greatly from the Guomindang in that addicts were not blamed or punished for their addiction. They were considered victims of foreign governments and other enemies of the people. Even many former dealers were reformed.(6) Although we don't have the state power now to implement broad policies like the Chinese Communist Party, we can help drug users focus on understanding the cause and consequences of their use in a social context. We need people to see how dope is harming not only themselves, but more generally their people, both inside and outside of prison. People start doing drugs because of problems in their lives that come from problems in capitalist society. Being in prison sucks, and dope helps people escape, even if it's fleeting. But this escape is counter productive. As so many writers in this issue of ULK have explained, it just serves the interests of the criminal injustice system. We can help people overcome addictions by giving them something else to focus on: the fight against the system that wants to keep them passive and addicted.
I'm once again checking in from California Correctional Institution (CCI). In 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale planted the seeds of the Black Liberation movement in Oakland. The seeds they planted rapidly spread to the rest of the United States and now years later we're fighting for the same things as the Panthers.
We still follow the same theme of Black nationalism, armed militancy, intercommunalism, and answering the call to join the revolutionary struggle. Even today, I can still see and hear the voices of comrades such as Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Gwen Fontaine, Fredrika Newton and Lil Bobby Hutton; their teachings, thoughts, practices. And they still resonate with significance and power through the pages of books.
The spirit of the Panthers have been spread so deep into the roots of Black life and into the fabric of every African Community in America, that it's just natural for us to want to stand up and fight when we hear the call. In our homes, schools, hoods, jails, and prisons. That's the revolutionary legacy, and the spirit these comrades planted in us.
This yard we're on is considered an Ad-Seg kick out yard. But in our efforts to educate the people we've begun to create something better. This yard is becoming a place where cadres are born. We have created programmes that serve the people: we have political study groups, we have a GED study group, in which we are helping comrades get their GEDs, and we are helping individuals with their college classes as well.
I am very proud of the comrades on this facility of all nationalities. Because we're not just talking we're doing, pushing hard for a truly united front and serving the people. We have just submitted the paperwork for a banquet. That will be used as a Unity Celebration, where we will all meet and share our thoughts on the issues of today, and share a little political knowledge with each other.
The only issue I see is that the room only holds fifty people, so not all of the groups can fit in this room, so we're planning to have another on the yard the next day. We don't want anyone left out. We are here to serve the people, educate the people, and to help liberate the people, all the people. My rules are if we focus on what we have in common and less on our differences we'll be able to learn better, who we are, and what we're about.
We all want the same things. We all have the same goals, and we all want to create positive change in our world, and in our communities. A community by way of definitions is a comprehensive collection of institutions that serve the people who live there. CCI C-Facility is where we are living right now. So this is the community we're serving.
It is the duty of all revolutionaries to make the revolution. This is obviously rule one. But this is a way of denouncing, in the context, all the so-called revolutionaries who not only did not seek to make the revolution, who managed secure income, talk the revolutionary shit, but who torpedoed the efforts of the people to liberate themselves and that must not be. As Huey said, revolutionary theory without practice ain't shit.Power to the People
It's been 50 years since the most advanced segment of national class consciousness of a people came together in unity nationwide in the inner cites to challenge imperialism. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) was capable of leading the lumpen in the struggle for the overthrow of oppressive/exploitative relationships and the building of national independence, self-determination, and socialism. They were equipped with the right ideology of dialectical materialism, which is a concrete analysis of concrete conditions, and knew how to apply it to where the principle of "from the people back to the people" was being done successfully with the breakfast for children program. However, they couldn't combat the oppressor's COINTELPRO strategy, which destroyed a beautiful movement. We celebrate the sacrifices these beautiful men and women made when they stood up to fascism, and some lost their life to the struggle by death, or state-sanctioned death known as incarceration, and they will not be forgotten.
As I've read books by Mumia Abu Jamal, Robert Hillary King, Huey P. Newton, David Hilliard, and Eldridge Cleaver (just to name a few), I'm reminded of what it means to be New Afrikan in the United $tates, as well as why being a revolutionary is the most important ideology to have and apply when facing this oppression, and it's due to the same challenges we face today. COINTELPRO is not over, but has only advanced so that the oppressor does not see another people's revolution again. The spirit of the Panther lives inside of me, as well as countless others who languish behind enemy lines, and we will continue their legacy through our practice of serving the people.
MIM(Prisons) adds: As we enter the month marking the 50th anniversary of the most advanced Maoist party in the history of this country, we put out a commemorative issue focused on the BPP this summer for our 50th issue of Under Lock & Key. [In October, hundreds of copies were also distributed at BPP commemorative events. That month we also finalzed a new edition of our study pack: Defend the Legacy of the Black Panther Party.] We'd also add to this that the Party's own internal contradictions played out allowing COINTELPRO to deliver the death blows that it did. There is no all-powerful oppressor that can stop the oppressed, although we are in the minority in this country. So as COINTELPRO continues, we learn from history and push the struggle forward!
[In 2012 a comrade summed up an ongoing discussion about organizing the lumpen class, which is below. The summary gets at how we should approach organizing the lumpen. This is a critical question if we are to apply our theoretical understanding of this class to the anti-imperialist movement in a practical way. We aren't looking to just write essays to expand our brains; we focus on political theory in order to inform revolutionary practice. - ULK Editor]
USW comrades have been discussing money and material trappings as being synonymous with respect and dignity in lumpen organization youth. The struggle for money, like the dope game, for example, can be less a status seeking activity, and more of the people just exercising their survival rights. Comrades made sure to differentiate between money/survival and material trapping (i.e. gold chains, cars, rims, etc.). Amerikkkanism and consumerism promote hardcore parasitism in lumpen youth, causing extreme alienation and fetishization of money.
Today's youth show the same apathy, indifference and nihilism as the youth of 1955. It was the civil rights movement that awoke the youth of that era. Comrades struggled over what today can take the place of the civil rights movement. War, environment and imperialist expansion were three good starting points to organize around. We lumpen youth have more stake in the future environment and it is us who fight the wars. It helps to understand that those starving to death and suffering/dying from preventable diseases are our people. We must fulfill our destiny or betray it. All this nitpicking and betrayal between sets/sides contributes to humankind suffering. We must overcome this flaw.
The principal enemy we must defeat is the glamorization of gangsterism. A revolutionary or a gangster? What are we? Can the two coexist in a persyn and still be progressive? Gangsterism plants fear by oppression, and revolutionaries are in struggle against oppression. This internecine violence we perpetrate between sets is what the pigs want us to do. They sold us this shit in Scarface and we've built on to it and made it our own. Overcoming the glamorization of gangsterism will take proletarian morality, conscious rap, exposing the downsides and ills of gangsterism, the glamorization of revolution, revolutionary culture, and possibly to redefine the word gangsta. Gangsters are parasites and revolutionaries are humankind's hope. It's as simple as that. We need to leave the lumpen mentality for a proletarian one. Many true revolutionaries were once gangsters. Gangsterism is a stage, basically.
Self-respect, self-defense and self-determination define transitional qualities of a revolutionary. Bunchy Carter, Mutulu Shakur and Tupac all transcended the hood and grew into progressives. What we are seeking as USW is opening up the spaces for gangsters of all walks of life to enter the realm of anti-imperialism and begin a transformation of mind, actions and habits to develop into the model of a revolutionary gangsta with the capability of forwarding the cause of the people. We must understand our potential. It is us, we reading these ULKs, that hold imperialism in our fists. A real gangsta is one who has gone revolutionary and has kicked off all the strings of social control - mental illness, drugs, fantasy, despair, escapism, etc.
Mainstream gangsta rap is the enemy of our people and the struggle. We have to create more revolutionary music, art and literature. Fergie, Fifty, Eminem, Kanye, all push watered down, flimsy lyrics. Mainstream rap is psychological warfare and just as harmful as crack or heroin. Imperialism allows the urban drug trade just like it allows Eminem. It keeps us down. It is a form of genocide and wholly harmful to the revolutionary struggle. The only positive we even entertained in the discussion is that drugs and pop culture rap are a form of rebellion that begins a revolutionary on the path of revolution. The benefits to imperialism outweigh the negatives and the opposite is true for the lumpen. Drugs have us punked, dig?
Raw fear and discouragement are the pistols on the hips of the oppressor. To be demonized as a terrorist, have mail messed with, loss of good time, pig abuses, all contribute to lumpen becoming despondent and not standing up for their rights. People have a responsibility to act and fight for the type of society that they want to live in, or they really have no right to complain about oppression. We face pepper spray, tazers, isolation and a bullet in the back face down. The Nazis used the infamous concentration camps to instill fear. And the united snakes has the largest prison system in the world for the very same reason: social control and intimidation. Meth, cocaine and psychotropics act as targets for the raw fear pistol. Increasing it. Making it more deadly. To be uneducated or out of shape physically assures a mortal wound when the bullets fly. We must outsmart and out stick and move. Knowing 1500 children starve to death per hour, and the fact that 3.5 billion people survive on less than $2 per day, you suit yourself in bullet proof kevlar. What's a lost letter and a few extra years in prison without good time compared to that?
Nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream. Only through aggressive challenge and exposure of the life-threatening contradictions of upholding the present status quo will we awaken and overcome. Passivity cowers before the eyes of the slave master. We must educate the people into the understanding that raw fear will remain so long as the imperialist system is in existence. It is us, comrades, built exclusively for its utter destruction. This is a call from USW to unite and rise up, in struggle.
As we reflect on the legacy of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP), we are reminded that the struggle for national liberation continues. Fifty years ago, the Panthers emerged from similar conditions of national oppression to what we face today. Armed with Maoism and the gun, Panther leaders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale set out to organize their Oakland community against police brutality and other social inequalities. And what they accomplished distinguished the BPP as the greatest revolutionary organization in the hystory of the New Afrikan/Black liberation struggle.
During its height, the BPP established itself as the vanguard of the revolutionary movement in the United $tates. Revisionists try to paint the Panthers as simple nationalists who only wanted to improve their community. But hystory proves otherwise, because the Panthers’ revolutionary work went beyond the Serve the People programs they implemented. The BPP was a Maoist party which criticized the bankrupt ideas of cultural nationalism and Black capitalist reforms. They attacked revisionism in the Soviet Union, while offering troops to support the Vietnamese in their struggle to push out the Amerikan invaders, and upholding the progress of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. It understood that the relationship between the Euro-Amerikan settler nation and the many oppressed nations internal to the United $tates was (as it still is today) defined by semi-colonialism, and that national liberation was the only path forward. To this end, the Panthers formed strategic alliances and coalitions that broadened their mass base of support and unity. Eventually they succeeded in forming Panther chapters in virtually every major city, precipitating a revolutionary movement of North American oppressed nations vying for national liberation.
Despite this progress the BPP made serious mistakes, mistakes that arguably set the movement for national liberation back tremendously. Even though the Panther leadership adhered to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM), they failed to assess the changing landscape of social and political conditions, which inevitably led them to take up focoist positions. This error in analysis resulted in security issues as repression from the U.$. reactionary forces intensified. With J. Edgar Hoover's plan to destabilize and neutralize the revolutionary movement underway, the Panther leadership continued to promote a "cult of persynality" around Newton instead of democratic centralism. Consequently, these mistakes placed such intense pressure on the party that it was unable to overcome the tide of repression.
Ultimately, the point of this article is to honor the revolutionary legacy of the BPP by demonstrating how the Panther practice is relevant to our current struggle. For our national liberation struggles to gain traction we must learn from the successes and failures of the most advanced revolutionary organization in U.$. hystory.
"The Party was born in a particular time and place. It came into being with a call for self-defense against the police who patrolled our communities and brutalized us with impunity."(1) — Huey P. Newton
There is no greater tragedy for the oppressed nation community than the unjust murder of one of its own at the hands of the pigs. The impact is two-fold. On one hand, police brutality demonstrates to members of the oppressed nation community that there are two sets of rules governing society, one for the oppressor and one for the oppressed. On the other hand, it removes all doubt from the minds of oppressed nationals that their lives are virtually worthless in the eyes of the white power structure.
This point was just as much a sobering reality during the Panther era as it is for us today. In The Black Panthers Speak, Phillip S. Foner cites a 1969 report that captured a snapshot of the police relations with the Oakland community. It read in part:
"...for the black citizens, the policeman has long since ceased to be — if indeed he ever was — a neutral symbol of law and order...in the ghetto disorders of the past few years, blacks have often been exposed to indiscriminate police assaults and, not infrequently, to gratuitous brutality...Many ghetto blacks see the police as an occupying army..."(2)
Under these circumstances, the BPP was formed and began to transform the Oakland community in a revolutionary manner.(3) Newton and Seale understood that the terrorist actions by the pigs undermined the oppressed nation community’s ability to improve its conditions. So they organized armed patrols to observe and discourage improper police behavior. These unprecedented actions by the Panthers gave them credibility within the community, particularly as community members experienced the positive effects brought about by the patrols. Therefore, when the Panthers engaged in mass activities, such as the Free Breakfast for Children program, they did so with the full support of the community.
Naturally, the BPP met resistance from the local and state reactionary forces. Challenging the Gestapo tactics of the pigs and building institutions that served the needs of the oppressed was seen as too much of a threat by and to the white power structure. But the revolutionary movement had already picked up steam, and, given the momentous energy and support from the anti-war movement, it was not about to be derailed. It was upon this platform that the BPP spoke to the oppressed nations across the United $tates and saw its message resonate and take root within the consciousness of all oppressed peoples.
Today, we face the same challenge. Whether it’s the pig murder of Denzil Dowell that mobilized the Panthers into action fifty years ago, or the more recent pig murder of Jamar Clark this past November, there has been no significant change in the conditions of national oppression that U.$. internal semi-colonies are subjected to.
Police brutality continues to keep the oppressed nations from addressing a system of national oppression and semi-colonialism. But there is an even more sinister dynamic involved today. Mass incarceration, and the "War on Drugs” and "War on Crime” rhetoric and policies that fuel it, further divides the oppressed nation community against itself. With the lumpen section of these oppressed nation communities criminalized and incarcerated so too is the revolutionary potential for national liberation neutralized and restrained. Here, the Panther practice provides a blueprint for our current struggle in respect to revolutionary organizing.
Recently, we have seen the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement come into being in response to the unbridled pig terrorism that occurs across U.$. oppressed nation communities. So the basis for revolutionary organizing against the current system exists. Nonetheless, BLM is a reformist organization that advocates for integration and not liberation. What we need are Maoist revolutionary organizations — organizations that seek to build the political consciousness of oppressed nationals through mass activities and proletarian leadership similar to the Panther practice.
Maoism demands that in determining correct revolutionary practice we must first proceed from an analysis of contradictions. This means that we must identify the contradiction that is principal to our situation, and then assess its internal aspects as well as its external relationships. In contrast, focoism "places great emphasis on armed struggle and the immediacy this brings to class warfare!"(4) Where Maoism takes account of the national question in its entirety and pushes the struggle for national liberation forward according to the prevailing conditions, focoism seeks to bring about favorable conditions for national liberation (or revolution) through the actions of a small band of armed individuals. To date Maoism has informed many successful people’s wars; focoism, on the other hand, has mostly made the prospect for revolution much less likely.
In this regard, Newton, in developing the Panther practice, saw the international situation of the time as favorable to revolutionary organizing within the United $tates. Given the hystoric Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China representing the furthest advancement toward communism to this day, the national liberation wars of Afrika and Asia dealing blows to imperialism, and the Vietnam War stoking the fire of discontent and rebellion among sections of the white oppressor nation, Newton was correct in organizing and politicizing U.$. oppressed nation communities for liberation.
Bloom and Martin explain in their book, Black Against Empire, that these conditions, in particular the anti-war movement, assisted the Panthers' organizing efforts greatly.(5) This coalition between the Panthers and the Peace movement was so dynamic that U.$. veterans returning from Vietnam joined the BPP and other revolutionary organizations. The link between Vietnamese liberation and New Afrikan liberation (and other U.$. oppressed nation liberation struggles) became a central point in building political consciousness.
Nonetheless, Newton took eir analysis too far. It is clear that ey believed the armed struggles abroad were inextricably tied to the U.$. national liberation struggles. Newton maintained, "As the aggression of the racist American government escalates in Vietnam, the police agencies of America escalates the repression of Black people throughout the ghettos of America."(6) From this standpoint, Newton assumed that the police brutality in U.$. oppressed communities created a military situation, to which a military response from the U.$. revolutionary movement was appropriate.
Newton’s error was mistaking the weakness of imperialism abroad as indicative of a weak U.$. imperialist state. Instead of assessing the changing landscape of social and political conditions, created by a period of concessions by U.$. imperialists, the Panthers continued to organize as if the stage of struggle was an armed one.(7) Even when Newton recognized the dramatic changes and began to adapt, a split occurred within the Party, as a faction held that revolution was imminent.(8)
With respect to our current struggle, we are in the stage of building public opinion and independent institutions of the oppressed. In this work we must establish a united front of all those who can be united against imperialism.
Therefore, when we see the Ferguson or Baltimore protests against pig terrorism descend into scenes of mayhem and senseless violence we must criticize these methods of resistance. Many of the individuals who engage in these spontaneous uprisings mistakenly believe that this will bring about some change or vindicate the wrongs done to them and their community. The only thing these focoist actions change, however, is the focus from pig terrorism to people terrorizing their own community. This basically undermines our ability to organize and build public opinion in this stage of struggle.
Part of this problem lies in the fact that there is no revolutionary organization at this time representing these oppressed nation communities. There is no BPP or Young Lords Party going into these communities and doing agitation and organizing work. As a result, a lack of political consciousness prevails among these communities, underscoring the need for a revolutionary organization.
A Maoist party would guide the U.$. oppressed nations with a concrete revolutionary practice and strategy. This revolutionary organization would use MLM study and analysis to determine the correct actions and methods to take in order to liberate those oppressed nations and avoid the pitfalls of focoism.
Ultimately, this lesson can be summed up in one sentence: "Maoism warns that taking up the gun too soon, without the proper support of the masses, will result in fighting losing battles.”(9)
Furthermore, the Panthers’ incorrect analysis of conditions that led to focoist positions eventually compromised the security of the Party as well. Once the period of concessions began to sap support for the BPP’s militant posture, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover was able to ratchet up repression against the Panthers. This was seen most clearly when agent provocateurs were able to infiltrate and exploit the focoist tendencies held by some Panthers. Undercover FBI agents would literally join the BPP and begin to incite other members to engage in criminal activities or "make revolution." These repressive measures, their ever-increasing frequency and intensity, began to take a detrimental toll on the Panthers.
Make no mistake, since day one of the BPP’s organizing efforts it faced repression. Armed New Afrikan men and wimmin organizing their community toward revolutionary ends was intolerable for the white power structure. However, the anti-war movement created such a favorable climate for revolutionary organizing that the more reactionary forces attacked the BPP, the more support the Panthers received, the more its membership grew and its chapters spread throughout the country.
But when those favorable conditions shifted, the BPP’s strategy didn’t. The Panthers continued to operate above ground, maintaining the same militant posture that initially placed them in the crosshairs of Hoover’s COINTELPRO. Ironically, Newton was well versed in the role of the Leninist vanguard party. Ey explained that "All real revolutionary movements are driven underground."(10) Though, by the time Newton put this principle into action and attempted to adapt to the changing situation the Party as a whole was thoroughly divided and beaten down by wave after wave of relentless repression.
For us, the important point to draw from this lesson is the assessment of conditions for revolutionary organizing. Because we live in a point in time where we consume our daily social lives openly through various social media, it is easy to forget that the reactionaries are observing. We must therefore place a high priority on security culture as it pertains to our organizing efforts going forward. In addition, we must strongly emphasize the importance of avoiding death and prison. A robust security culture will protect our organizing efforts and dull the blows of repression that are certain to come.
Currently, we face a strong imperialist state that is more than capable of disrupting a potential revolutionary movement. This point is evidenced by the fact that Hoover’s repressive practices are "mirrored in the far-reaching high-tech surveillance of the US National Security Agency."(11) Maintaining a strong revolutionary organization thus requires us to maintain strong security practices informed by MLM theory and practice.
Hystory is a testament that some revolutionary organizations and movements have fallen victim to the "cult of persynality." This is more true in an imperialist society as bourgeois individualism nurtures a response in people to associate or reduce organizations and movements to the characteristics of one persyn. And the BPP was no exception in this regard.
Newton was very intelligent, charismatic, and embodied qualities of a true leader. In truth, ey was a symbol of black power and strength that had been missing from the New Afrikan nation for centuries. The militant image that Newton projected was undeniably magnetic and a source of inspiration for U.$. oppressed nations.
Yet, the BPP relied too heavily on Newton as an individual leader and not enough on the party as a whole. Eir ideological insights and theoretical contributions were unmatched within the party. And to a certain extent this was a weakness of the party. Newton was the primary source of oxygen to the party whereas other members of leadership didn’t meet the demands that the revolutionary movement required of the party.
Bloom and Martin hint at this cult of persynality around Newton, arguing "In late 1971... Hilliard recalls that Newton was surrounded by loyalists who applauded Newton’s every action, challenged nothing, and would do anything to win his approval."(12) For example, when Newton was imprisoned on the bogus pig murder charges, the BPP adapted its struggle and practice toward the "Free Huey” movement. Even Eldridge Cleaver, who was one of those members of leadership that reneged on eir revolutionary principles, criticized this move that ultimately confused mass work with party work. The oppressed masses began to associate the party and the Panthers with freeing Newton and not liberating themselves. The BPP had let its practice become dictated by Newton who was for the most part disconnected from the people and community because of eir imprisonment.
The Panthers should have developed a strong party discipline, one based on democratic centralism. Democratic centralism means that any decisions that the party makes is debated and discussed through a democratic process. Even if party members do not agree with the decisions, they must support them in public. This ensures that the party maintains unity in the face of reactionary forces. Those party members who are still in disagreement with the decision have the opportunity to utilize the democratic process of the party and make their case. Overall, this strengthens the theoretical basis of the party and does not allow one persyn to hijack it or undermine it.
The thrust of this lesson is not to discourage party members from developing leadership. The revolutionary movement will certainly need all the leaders, in whatever role or capacity, which the struggle for national liberation demands. But the point is the importance of party discipline. Because as we see with the Panther practice many of the major mistakes stemmed from not maintaining party discipline. Democratic centralism would have promoted the space and opportunity for members to challenge and question decisions by Newton. And as members engaged in this process they would have developed their theoretical practice, shouldering some of the load that Newton, even while imprisoned, had to bear.
This is not to say that the Panthers would not have made mistakes. But with the same party discipline that saw the Bolsheviks lead the successful Russian Revolution of 1917 or the Chinese Communist Party execute at a high level throughout the many stages of its liberation struggle, surely the Panthers could have avoided the divisions that were largely fomented by FBI interference. In addition, proper application of democratic centralism should have led to the distinction between party cadre and mass organizations to take on campaigns like "Free Huey" and doing the support work to run Panther programs. Such a distinction would have helped prevent the decline of the Oakland-based party into reformism as conditions changed.
What our current struggle does not need is a party disciple or some demagogue who is proclaimed our savior. What will liberate the U.$. oppressed nation is a Maoist revolutionary organization connected and related to the masses. Consolidating the mass line is a necessary part of applying democratic centralism within the Party.
We are at a critical point in the hystory of U.$. national liberation struggles. No longer can we continue to allow the police to murder us with impunity or for our communities to exist merely as pathways to imprisonment. Revolutionary nationalism is needed. And that begins with relating the thought and struggle of the most advanced revolutionary organization in U.$. hystory to our current struggle.
This article has highlighted a few mistakes of the BPP. But in no way does this discard the Panther practice overall. On the contrary, our path to national liberation has been illumined by the lessons drawn from the revolutionary legacy of the BPP. It is in this spirit that this article honors the Black Panther Party, and represents a theoretical step on that path to liberation.Power to the people!