The Voice of the Anti-Imperialist Movement from

Under Lock & Key

Got $20? Slip it in an envelope and send to POB 40799 SF, CA 94140. Help cover printing costs. help out
[Black Panther Party] [ULK Issue 50]
expand

Applying Lessons from the Black Panthers to our Current Struggle

securecommunications

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.

Fuck the Police!

"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, not Focoism

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)

On the Necessity of Security Culture

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.

Party Discipline over Party Disciple

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.

Conclusion

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!
Notes:
  1. Huey P. Newton, 2009, Revolutionary Suicide, New York: Penguin Group, p. 355.
  2. Philip S. Foner, 2014, The Black Panthers Speak, Chicago: Haymarket Books, p. 40.
  3. Newton and Seale formed the Black Panther Party, its platform and program, during the spring of 1966. Seale became Chairman of the Party, and Newton chose the position of Minister of Defense. While Newton revealed in eir autobiography, Revolutionary Suicide, that ey was reluctant to lead formally, ey was in fact the ideological leader of the Party. The revolutionary movements occurring across the world at that time heavily influenced Newton and Seale in which Mao Zedong, Che Guevera and Frantz Fanon became prime sources for the Panther ideology. However, Malcolm X’s "by any means necessary” message of self-defense informed the vision of the Black Panther Party. Newton was convinced that the BPP was acting in the spirit of Malcolm X's legacy.
  4. See MIM (Prisons) Glossary
  5. Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr., 2013, Black Against Empire: The history and politics of the Black Panther Party, Berkeley:University of California Press, p. 347.
  6. Bloom (2013), p. xxix.
  7. Bloom (2013), p. 366. Bloom and Martin contend that this period of concessions consisted of increased access of petty bourgeois New Afrikans to social and political representation, and a scaling down of the Vietnam War to appease the anti-war movement. Consequently, much of the revolutionary fervor that once existed during the BPP’s height began to dissipate quickly. The support for the ultra-militant BPP ran out and a corresponding demand for more moderate positions filled the void. This put the Panthers in a compromising position as they had relied too heavily on support from these moderate groups. For example, the Panther practice led to arrests that required legal assistance from outside groups. And these groups who were once fervent supporters of the BPP's militant posture now wanted more moderation on the part of the BPP as concessions began to be distributed. In the end, the party was driven apart because some members believed revolution and national liberation was imminent while a Newton-led faction supported a change in strategy.
  8. Newton (2009), p. 355. Well after the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, Newton acknowledges that the Panthers were too militant and that he misjudged the changing social and political landscape of U.$. imperialist society at that time as it related to the revolutionary movement. He notes: "The emphasis of weapons was a necessary phase in our evolution... We saw this action as a bold step in making our program known and raising the consciousness of the people. But we soon discovered that weapons and uniforms set us apart from the community... We saw ourselves as the revolutionary 'vanguard' and did not fully understand then that only the people can create the revolution... The people misunderstood us and did not follow our lead in picking up the gun... Perhaps our military strategy was too much of 'a great leap forward.'" This was a cardinal error because the Party became disconnected from the masses and got too far ahead that they couldn’t keep up. The Panthers could have shifted from a more militant posture to one that was still critical and confrontational but based on actually politicizing the masses.
  9. MC42 & MC86 of MIM, "Black Panther Party Paved the Way," from the pamphlet Maoism and The Black Panther Party, April 1992.
  10. Foner (2014), p. 66.
  11. Foner (2014). p. xvi.
  12. Bloom (2013), p. 381—2
chain
[China] [Black Panther Party] [ULK Issue 50]
expand

Chinese Commemorate 50th Anniversary of Cultural Revolution

GPCR 50 year anniversary

On the 50th anniversary of the launching of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) by Mao Zedong, a commemorative concert was held in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. It featured music, art and slogans from the GPCR. A propaganda poster with the slogan, "People of the world unite to defeat American invaders and their running dogs!" was displayed on a giant screen. A large choir sang the Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman as a poster of Mao as the sun was projected on the screen. Thousands clapped. The lyrics are:

"Sailing seas depends on the helmsman,
Life and growth depends on the sun.
Rain and dew nourish the crops,
Making revolution depends on Mao Zedong Thought.
Fish can’t leave the water,
Nor melons leave the vines.
The revolutionary masses can’t do without the Communist party.
Mao Zedong Thought is the sun that forever shines."

We are under no illusions about the current state capitalist government in China: they will only hold up Maoism when it serves their political purposes, which are definitely not serving the people. But this celebration serves to remind us that the GPCR plays a much more complex and subtle role in modern Chinese society, compared to the West where it is merely a symbol of communist extremism that is almost universally condemned. In China there are also those who condemn "extreme leftist ideology making waves again," but there are many who still recognize the rise of Deng Xiaoping as the end of a great time in China when the interests of the people guided the government of the largest country on Earth.

In the United $tates, reverence for the GPCR and support for the battle against the revisionism that had taken over the Soviet Union after Stalin's death was not relegated to a tiny minority of people in the late 1960s, as it is today. In January 1969, The Black Panther newspaper reprinted an article from India condemning the revisionism of the Soviet Union, and it's invasion of Czechoslovakia. In March 1969, The Black Panther featured a longer article on the collaboration between "U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism, the two most ferocious enemies of the revolutionary people of the world..." In April 1969 the newspaper said, "China stands as a beacon to all revolutionaries around the world: the guiding light showing the path to freedom to all of our brothers in Africa and Asia." Fifty years later, the GPCR still serves as that beacon of what is possible when the masses of an oppressed country are unleashed to guide their destiny and self-determination.

It is no coincidence that the Black Panther Party emerged the same year as the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. 1966-1969 was a high tide of revolutionary fervor across the globe. It may take that kind of tide to raise the revolutionary spirit in the United $tates again. MIM(Prisons) believes that New Afrikans will once again play an important role the next time it does, and that it is the duty of communists today to prepare for that time by continuing the fight against revisionism, and developming the most correct line among communist cadre in the internal semi-colonies.

chain
[Gender] [Black Panther Party] [ULK Issue 50]
expand

Fighting the Patriarchy: George Jackson and the Black Panther Party

Emory Art
Revolutionary internationalist art by BPP Minister of Culture Emory Douglas, 1969. Originally in The Black Panther newspaper, later reworked into this poster.

A criticism often made of the Black Panther Party (BPP) lies in errors it made around addressing the patriarchy. Most of these criticisms are attempts at subreformism, which is the approach of resolving conflict on an individual or interpersynal level in an attempt to resolve social problems. But the patriarchy is a system of oppression. It manifests in interpersynal interactions, but can't be stopped without addressing the system of oppression itself. Just by the very fact that the BPP was organizing for national liberation under a Maoist banner, it was making more advances toward a world without gender oppression than all of their pseudo-feminist critics combined.

George Jackson did have some bad gender line in Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson, which covers the years 1964-1970. To wimmin searching for their place in an anti-imperialist prison struggle, the most alienating examples are where Jackson says wimmin should just "sit, listen to us, and attempt to understand. It is for them to obey and aid us, not to attempt to think."(p. 101) Later in the book after Jackson encounters some revolutionary Black wimmin, ey can't help but to sexualize their politics. Much like in our everyday society, Soledad Brother tells wimmin their role in this struggle is to shut up or be sexualized. These were not consciously worked out analyses of gender but instead Jackson's subjective responses to frustration and excitement.

A challenge to all revolutionaries is to take an objective approach to our scientific analysis. This is very difficult. To wimmin struggling within the national liberation movements, looking at the social and historical context of these remarks is imperative to overcoming this alienation from sexist brothers in struggle. Jackson was reared in the United $tates in the 1940s and 50s, with time spent in youth detention facilities. Ey entered the hyper-masculine prison environment at the age of 20. Jackson's social context was our fucked up patriarchal society, and is similar to many of our contributors whose scope of perspective is limited by the conditions of their confinement. Where our sisters need to not split over subreformism, our brothers also need to work to overcome their empiricism and subjectivism in how they approach uniting with wimmin against imperialism and patriarchy.

It was after the publishing of Soledad Brother that Jackson advanced to be a general and field marshal of the People's Revolutionary Army of the Black Panther Party. While Soledad Brother gives more of a look into the prison experience, in eir later work, Blood In My Eye (which was published by the BPP posthumously), Jackson lays out eir most advanced political analysis shortly before ey was murdered by the state on 21 August 1971. More than an author, Jackson was a great organizer. Panther and life-long revolutionary Kiilu Nyasha is a testimony to Jackson's abilities, indicating that subjectivity around gender did not prevent him from organizing seriously with wimmin.(1) Of course, Jackson’s biggest legacy was organizing men in prison. Eir ability to organize strikes with 100% participation in eir unit serves as an counterexample to those in California today who say we cannot unite across "racial" lines. It's impressive all that Jackson accomplished in developing eir politics and internationalism, and organizing prisoners, considering all the barriers Amerikkka put in the way.

Jackson was a good representative of the BPP's mass base, and the BPP was correct in organizing with Jackson and others with backward gender lines. If the Party hadn't been dissolved by COINTELPRO we can only guess at what advances it could have made toward resolving gender oppression by now. One thing is certain, it would have done a lot more to combat the patriarchy for the majority of the world's inhabitants than First World pseudo-feminism ever has or ever will.

chain
[Black Panther Party] [ULK Issue 50]
expand

Generational Gaps and Revolutionary Concepts of the Black Panther Party

BPP Dead Pig
Art from The Black Panther newspaper, Vol. 2 No. 19, January 1969

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:

  1. No investigation, no right to speak. USW will not misrepresent or misinform the masses.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

chain
[Black Panther Party] [New Afrika] [Culture] [ULK Issue 49]
expand

Vanguard of the Revolution: More Revisionist Panther History

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
by Stanley Nelson
2015
Vanguard of the Revolution

This film screened in major U.$. cities in the fall of 2015. I was planning to use my notes in an article for our 50th issue on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party. However, in February 2016 the film was shown on PBS with much publicity. Knowing that our readers have now seen the film we wanted to put some commentary out sooner rather than later. But do make sure to check out Under Lock & Key Issue 50 for a more in-depth counter-narrative to this pop culture film.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is an eclectic collection of video and photography, along with contemporary commentary from some who played important roles in the Party. The producer clearly had no deep ideological understanding of the Black Panther Party, as critics on the left and the right have already noted. What ey was good at was picking out some good sound bites and emotionally moving clips. Yet, even still, as someone with extensive knowledge of Panther history, i often found the film boring. Most of the audience seemed to enjoy it based on the loud cheering at the end.

I have not watched Stanley Nelson's other films, but it seems that a film on the Panthers is within the realm of previous documentaries ey has produced (Jonestown, The Black Press, Freedom Riders and Freedom Summer). It is curious that ey takes on these topics, and then does such a shallow portrayal of the Panthers. Nelson says ey was 15 when the Panthers formed and was always fascinated with them, but was not a participant in the movement emself.(1)

In line with the lack of ideological understanding, the treatment of Panther leaders was dismissive. The most in-depth discussion of Huey P. Newton was related to eir downward spiral into drugs and crime after the Panthers had been well on their way to dissolving. Nelson features sound bites from interviews calling Newton a "maniac" and Eldridge Cleaver "insane." Eldridge Cleaver was cast as a misleader from the beginning in this film. While both story lines are based in reality, the story that is missed is the great leadership role that Huey played, both ideologically and in practice, in building the greatest anti-imperialist organization this country has seen. At that time Eldridge too played an important role ideologically and organizationally, even if he was less consistent than Huey. Fred Hampton was given a more favorable portrayal by the film, but he died a martyr just as he was getting started. (And despite the attention given to Hampton's assassination there is no mention of him being drugged beforehand, presumably by an FBI spy.) There is a pattern of character assassination in the film that does nothing to deepen our understanding of what the Panthers were, why they succeeded, and why they failed. It will turn some people off to the Panthers and push people towards an individualist or anarchist approach to struggle.

To get an accurate portrayal of the Panthers one is better off watching archival footage, as today you can find ex-Panthers of all stripes, and very very few who uphold the Maoist ideology of the Panthers at their height. Former chairman, Bobby Seale, who long ago stopped putting politics in command, was barely mentioned in the film, perhaps because he refused to be interviewed.(1) Elaine Brown, who took over the chairpersyn position after the party had already moved away from a Maoist political line, does appear but has written a scathing denunciation of the film and asked to be removed from it.(2)

As other critics have pointed out there is a lack of mention of national liberation, socialism, communism, and the international situation overall at the time. It is ironic for a film titled "Vanguard of the Revolution" to ignore the key ideological foundations of the vanguard. This reflects a clear effort to build a certain image of what the Panthers were that ignores the basis of their very existence. As such, this film contributes to the long effort to revise the history of the BPP, similar to the efforts to revise the history of other influential revolutionary communist movements in history. This only stresses the importance of building independent institutions of the oppressed to counter the institutions of the bourgeoisie in all aspects of life and culture.

chain
Go to Page [1] 2
Index of Articles