Re: [sixties-l] Re: The Black Panthers

From: David Horowitz (
Date: Mon Jun 12 2000 - 21:27:42 CUT

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    Let's see Ron. A few years back the mafia organized demonstrations to protest
    discrimination against Italians, and also benefacted some hospitals. What's your
    balanced view of that? If you are familiar with anything I have written about the
    Panthers you know that I created the Oakland Community Learning Center for them on
    61st Avenue and E. 14 Street, including raising the money to purchase the
    buildings it was housed in. So I guess I have some familiarity with the Panthers'
    "contribution" to the "community" (actually the school served Panther kids almost
    exclusively and never did much for the community). Ericka Huggins, a Panther icon,
    poet etc. admitted that she boiled the water that other Panthers poured on Alex
    Rackley's chest before he was taken out an shot. This was in 1969 (not "esp. after
    1970"). In that year there were 348 or so criminal acts by Panthers documented in
    Edward J. Epstein's NYorker article. Since the Panther leaders were heavily
    involved in criminal activities throughout the existence of the Party it would
    seem only fair to describe them as a criminal gang. Did they also have a political
    face? Sure. And not only have I never denied this, but I have provided more
    concrete information regarding it than any other individual.

    Ron Jacobs wrote:

    > NOt this argument again. While it is certain that aspects of the Panthers'
    > (esp. after 1970)activities were mere street gang activities, it is an
    > outright lie to dismiss them as a mere urban street gang. Mr. Horowitz's
    > opinion is one that is tainted by his inability (as proven by his swing
    > from the ultra-left to the ultraright in the 1980s)to see the world in
    > anything but absolute terms--he lives in a dichotomized world that has
    > little relationship to the real world and, like any absolutist, has spent
    > most of his life attempting to fit the world into his either/or universe.
    > Of course, to do this one must ignore any number of facts. In regards to
    > the Panthers, Mr. Horowitz ignores their role in politically organizing
    > those in the US that are now dismissed as the underclass, their role in
    > changing the face of Oakland politics, and their part in giving young
    > blacks a sense of dignity--something Mr. Horowitz's current heroes are not
    > interested in in the slightest. This is not to excuse the excesses of the
    > Panthers or any other group in the sixties or another time, it is merely a
    > warning to the unaware of Mr. Horowitz's revisionist viewpoint on all thing
    > radical.
    > As to Cointelpro, it did not end in merely changed names--if one
    > reads Ward Churchill's books and/or Age of Surveillance by Frank Donner (to
    > name two of several books on this subject)s/he will note that law
    > enforcement surveillance and actions against dissident groups expanded in
    > 1970 under Tricky Dick's white house....
    > ron jacobs
    > At 12:45 PM 06/11/2000 -0700, you wrote:
    > >Actually, what Pearson's book shows is that the Panthers were an urban street
    > >gang, which engaged in serious criminal violence against its own members,
    > >against black inner city communities and against law enforcement officers
    > >while using a political rhetoric that snookered the left then (and obviously
    > >some leftists today who have learned very little in the intervening years)
    > >into thinking the Panthers were "revolutonaries" who would make things better
    > >rather than worse, as they did.
    > >
    > >The reviewer claims that Cointelpro was the principal agent of the Panthers
    > >destruction. Since Cointelpro was folded in 1970 and all the Panther leaders
    > >-- Newton, Seale, Hilliard, Brown etc -- were involved in its
    > >self-destruction, I would like to hear how the government is to be blamed for
    > >this mess.
    > >
    > >Art McGee wrote:
    > >
    > >> >Apropos the note about the Black Panther Collective, does
    > >> >anyone know the book The Shadow of the Panther (obviously
    > >> >not about the Collective but about the Oakland-based
    > >> >Panthers) and how it is considered?
    > >>
    > >> Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2000 01:24:52 -0500
    > >> From: Art McGee <>
    > >> Reply-To:
    > >> To:
    > >> Subject: [BRC-NEWS] BOOK REVIEW: The Shadow of the Panther
    > >>
    > >> BOOK:
    > >>
    > >> The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price
    > >> of Black Power in America (1994), by Hugh Pearson.
    > >>
    > >> REVIEW:
    > >>
    > >> The Lumpenproletariat As Vanguard?
    > >> The Black Panther Party, Social Transformation,
    > >> and Pearson's Analysis of Huey Newton.
    > >>
    > >> AUTHOR:
    > >>
    > >> Errol A. Henderson <>,
    > >> University of Florida
    > >>
    > >> LOCATION:
    > >>
    > >>
    > >>
    > >> EXCERPT:
    > >>
    > >> Pearson is correct that the BPP's downfall cannot simply be
    > >> attributed to COINTELPRO, though it was a principal agent
    > >> of its destruction. For the most part, however, COINTELPRO
    > >> was an external manipulation that capitalized on internal
    > >> weaknesses and contradictions. We are reminded of one of the
    > >> major lessons of Cabral: "That in the general framework of
    > >> the daily struggle this battle against ourselves--no matter
    > >> what difficulties the enemy may create--remains the most
    > >> difficult of all.. I am convinced that any national or
    > >> social revolution which is not based on the knowledge of
    > >> this reality runs great risk of failure" (cited in Davidson,
    > >> 1971, p. 74). This is a more eloquent statement of the maxim
    > >> that the personal is political. Cabral insisted that culture
    > >> played a key role in the resolution of these contradictions.
    > >>
    > >> The BPP did not fully appreciate the necessity for cultural
    > >> transformation in the movement. Instead, they promoted a
    > >> "revolutionary culture" that was amorphous and self-serving.
    > >> It was rooted in a Machiavellian rationalization of
    > >> Malcolm's "by any means necessary" dicta whereby members
    > >> simply legitimized their lumpen activities by asserting that
    > >> these were somehow "revolutionary." This approach was used
    > >> especially to sexually exploit women, to character
    > >> assassinate rivals, to rationalize the misuse of BPP funds
    > >> by the national leadership, to justify internecine violence,
    > >> or to excoriate rival organizations (such as with the NOI,
    > >> SNCC, RNA [Republic of New Afrika], and Us organization)
    > >> within the Black Power movement. This glorified lumpenism
    > >> was so expansive that Hilliard (1993, pp. 339-339) reports
    > >> that Huey even came to require that BPP members watch The
    > >> Godfather, as he began to argue for a "progressive capitalism"
    > >> (Newton, 1971). Allegedly, the Panther nightclub, The Lamp
    > >> Post, even became, among other things, a front for
    > >> prostitution and funding source for Huey's and the Central
    > >> Committee's personal indulgences.
    > >>
    > >> Clearly, there is no such thing as a revolutionary culture,
    > >> per se. Cultures are only revolutionary in opposition
    > >> to some other culture. The fact that people are engaged
    > >> in revolution does not suggest that they possess a
    > >> revolutionary culture--at least not in any developmental
    > >> sense. For example, Pol Pot led a revolution in Kampuchea
    > >> and the product was killing fields and millions of deaths
    > >> but not the creation of a revolutionary culture. The BPP's
    > >> condemnation of cultural nationalism actually reflected
    > >> their antipathy toward Us organization (exacerbated by
    > >> COINTELPRO and the gang conflict of Los Angeles). But
    > >> Pearson did not explore the roots of the Us-Panther
    > >> conflict, so issues such as these are not raised. This
    > >> is as much a problem of Pearson's failed analysis as of
    > >> the popular press forum of Pearson's book that does not
    > >> countenance more developed and scholarly exegesis.
    > >>
    > >> The BPP, owning to disjointed Marxist borrowings, the
    > >> influence of White leftists, and the personal battles
    > >> with Karenga and Us, ignored the challenge of cultural
    > >> transformation in the movement. This owed, in part, to its
    > >> conflating of popular culture with national culture and
    > >> their consideration of the latter in a very superficial
    > >> way. Though the BPP maintained a Minister of Culture (Emory
    > >> Douglas), leaders attacked cultural nationalism as an
    > >> ideology and an approach to revolutionary struggle. The
    > >> negation of the transformative power of cultural practice,
    > >> especially in the area of ethics and social conduct, allowed
    > >> for the BPP's vulnerability to outside manipulation and
    > >> control as warned by Cabral. Ironically, they did not
    > >> appreciate that the transformation they were intending from
    > >> their survival programs was a cultural transformation rooted
    > >> less in Marx and more in Malcolm. This misunderstanding
    > >> allowed Newton to evoke Papa Doc Duvalier as a prime example
    > >> of the vacuity and inappropriateness of cultural or "pork
    > >> shop" nationalism (cited in Foner, 1970, p. 50). The Oakland
    > >> BPP, unlike the New York chapters--who Hilliard (1993, p.
    > >> 168) labeled cultural nationalists--also misunderstood the
    > >> basic pan-African (and American) nature of Black culture
    > >> (Henderson, 1995) and were ultimately unable to successfully
    > >> channel it for the party's own ends. This lack of cultural
    > >> grounding, especially on the West Coast, led the BPP to
    > >> become distant from their own Black communities. This was
    > >> particularly destabilizing to the larger BPP program.
    > >> Without the support of the larger Black community, they
    > >> came to rely more on White leftist support that became
    > >> increasingly ambivalent as the Vietnam war wound down.
    > >>
    > >> Moreover, none of the successful revolutions that the BPP
    > >> evoked were explicable unless one appreciated the role by
    > >> which leaders utilized their indigenous culture as a means
    > >> of mobilization and transformation. Such revolutionaries did
    > >> not await a "revolutionary" culture, instead they grounded
    > >> themselves in their national heritage and evoked the best of
    > >> it, and the best of it was in opposition to the status quo
    > >> of their (neo)colonial oppressors--especially in the areas
    > >> of values, views, ethics, the latticework for the struggle
    > >> that Cabral argues. The wars of national liberation that
    > >> the BPP celebrated (i.e., Vietnam, China, Algeria, Cuba)
    > >> maintained a nationalistic base from which even Marxist-
    > >> Leninist revolutionaries directed their efforts and
    > >> derived their commitment. In these cases, revolutionary
    > >> leaders seemed to appreciate that insofar as an important
    > >> aspect of struggle is to capture the hearts and minds of
    > >> their people, then a revolution that attacked the cultural
    > >> hegemony of their oppressors formed the basis of the larger
    > >> political-military struggle for national self-determination.
    > >> Without it, the masses, suffering under the cultural hegemony
    > >> of their colonizers would be unconvinced of their own capacity
    > >> to realize the objective of liberation.
    > >>
    > >> In its wholesale rejection of the revolutionary role of
    > >> cultural transformation, the BPP was not only distancing
    > >> itself from revolutionary practice, but it was distancing
    > >> itself from the core of the Black nationalist movement
    > >> itself. In fact, once we focus clearly, we find that though
    > >> "pigeonholed as one of the more esoteric, even aberrant
    > >> expressions of the Black liberation ethic, cultural
    > >> nationalism actually provided much of its thrust and
    > >> dynamic" (Van DeBurg, 1992, p. 176). It was notable
    > >> in the writings of the father of what became known as
    > >> "revolutionary Black nationalism," Malcolm X (1964/1971,
    > >> pp. 419-420). In his 1964 "Statement of the Basic Aims and
    > >> Objectives of the Organization of Afro-American Unity,"
    > >> he stated that "We must launch a cultural revolution to
    > >> unbrainwash an entire people." Further, Malcolm insists
    > >> that "Armed with the knowledge of the past, we can with
    > >> confidence charter a course for our future. Culture is an
    > >> indispensable weapon in the freedom struggle. We must take
    > >> hold of it and forge the future with the past." Although
    > >> seemingly aware of these precepts, too often the BPP
    > >> operated as if they were oblivious to them. Nonetheless, the
    > >> heavy rhetoric of the times made a meaningful discussion of
    > >> these issues problematic at best and "counterrevolutionary"
    > >> at worst. A misreading of Maoism and the influence of the
    > >> White Left (many of whom would later become some of the most
    > >> trenchant critics of the BPP) led the formerly nationalist
    > >> BPP to embrace a "cultureless leftism" that even lead them
    > >> to reject the teaching of Black Studies (Foner, 1970).
    > >>
    > >> The transformative power of the BPP was not in taking up
    > >> the gun--Blacks had a long history of armed resistance up
    > >> to that time. The transformative power, on the individual
    > >> level, was to be found in the provision of the community
    > >> with patrols and development (survival) programs in a
    > >> context of political education and activism. It was the
    > >> Oakland leadership, the security elements, exiles, and many
    > >> members of the underground, largely out of touch with the
    > >> day-to-day grounding and operation of these programs, who
    > >> lacked the opportunity to be transformed by this reorienting
    > >> of values in the community. It was the service to the
    > >> community that transform folk. In fact, they further
    > >> legitimized the unprincipled lumpen activities of the
    > >> BPP and reduced its capacity to substantively transform
    > >> themselves and their community.
    > >>
    > >> The survival programs taught through practice the ethics of
    > >> love, caring, diligence, reciprocity, community, creativity,
    > >> responsibility, and struggle--all of these representative of
    > >> the best aspects of a truly African American culture. These
    > >> "poor people's programs" provided a cultural reorientation
    > >> for participants allowing for the political transformation
    > >> envisioned by the BPP. The cultural reorientation was
    > >> toward the best in African American culture. Because
    > >> of the opposition between this national culture and the
    > >> dominant White supremacist culture, the result was a very
    > >> revolutionary process, as opposed to the revolutionary act
    > >> of organizationally picking up the gun for a political
    > >> objective. This cultural (largely ethical) transformation
    > >> provided the resin for subsequent political activity.
    > >>
    > >> One is reminded that the BPP's attempt to organize
    > >> the most disorganized group in the United States, the
    > >> lumpenproletatiat, on a program that drew from Mao, Fanon,
    > >> and Guevera is impressive, although it was sure to flounder
    > >> as it grew from a myriad of sources from outside the United
    > >> States when the people required an example consistent with
    > >> their experiences within America. Huey seemed to understand
    > >> this as early as his "The Correct Handling of a Revolution"
    > >> (May 18, 1967) and attempted to expand his analysis based
    > >> of Panther experiences in his "intercommunalism." But most
    > >> Panthers, and academics, did not understand Huey's later
    > >> formulations and dismissed them. This was due in part to
    > >> Newton's not being a good public speaker but also to the
    > >> rejection of his thesis by the White Left who could accept,
    > >> and even glamorize, Huey's thuggery but not his theory.
    > >> Hilliard (1993, p. 319) points out that the Left "like us
    > >> picking up guns and shooting it out with the pigs. But they
    > >> don't want us as theoretical leaders." They did not want
    > >> theorizing but only thuggery. In similar fashion, Pearson
    > >> (pp. 234-235) reduces Huey's paradigm, ultimately a Ph.D.
    > >> dissertation, to a paragraph.
    > >>
    > >> The foreign nature of the neo-Marxist models and their
    > >> inapplicability to the condition of African Americans was
    > >> exacerbated by party members' lack of familiarity with Black
    > >> history and political science. Former Panther, BLA member,
    > >> and revolutionary exile Assata Shakur (1987) concurs that:
    > >>
    > >> "The basic problem stemmed from the fact that the BPP had
    > >> no systematic approach to political education. They were
    > >> reading the Red Book but didn't know who Harriet Tubman,
    > >> Marcus Garvey, and Nat Turner were. They talked about
    > >> intercommunalism but still really believed that the Civil
    > >> War was fought to free the slaves. A whole lot of them
    > >> barely understood any kind of history, Black, African or
    > >> otherwise.. That was the main reason many Party members,
    > >> in by opinion, underestimated the need to unite with other
    > >> Black organizations and to struggle around various community
    > >> issues." (p. 221)
    > >>
    > >> This failure to unite with progressive elements in the
    > >> Black community was underscored by the BPP's alliances with
    > >> groups outside of the Black community--primary the antiwar
    > >> movement. However, the antiwar movement had no coherent
    > >> ideology or much stomach for revolution. The White Left
    > >> seemed less intent on revolt and more on keeping its
    > >> followers out of Vietnam. Not surprisingly, BPP alliances
    > >> with these leftist dried up as the war wound down.
    > >>
    > >> Further, the antagonistic language of Marxism-Leninism,
    > >> vanguardism, and the cult of personality allowed for purges
    > >> and the excommunication of peoples and families in a manner
    > >> unforeseen in the Black community. The Panther use of the
    > >> bullwhip for punishment, and the introduction of some of
    > >> the most esoteric and confusing precepts--including the
    > >> wholesale attack on spirituality--was so foreign and far
    > >> removed from Black culture that it was sure to engender
    > >> disenchantment with the Panthers in the community. These
    > >> were holdovers from the White Left and their moribund
    > >> ideology. Pearson does not examine these influences fully,
    > >> and without such an undertaking, the BPP story hovers
    > >> outside of history.
    > >>
    > >> -30-
    > >>
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