Re: [sixties-l] Panthers (fwd)

From: Jama Lazerow (
Date: Tue Apr 30 2002 - 14:28:51 EDT

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    In re David Berger's "bordom" at the "rantings of this right-winger who keeps forwarding his stuff about the Panthers to this bulletin board":

    Horowitz et al. demonize them, others romanticize them, and this guy is, it seems, just wants to forget them. Interestingly, his understanding of them fits perfectly with the right wingers he's bored by. That they were a media creation is precisely the dismissive conclusion of the now standard source on the Panthers used by American historians -- _The Shadow of the Panther_ by Hugh Pearson, an author heavily indebted to David Horowitz. Moreover, almost all the "facts" in this post are wrong. "In only a few places, e.g. Oakland, were [the Panthers] able to
    establish any kind of grass roots"? I wonder if Berger has read Yohuru Williams's _Black Power/White Politics_ on the New Haven Panthers. "Their connections were almost always with lumpen-proletariat elements rather than the working class"? I wonder if Berger has heard of the Boston Black Panthers, one of the strongest and long-lasting chapters in the country? As for COINTELPRO, the Panthers weren't even added to the list until 1968 (despite Berger claims about "undeniability").

    The problem here is that people have a lot of memories of the Panthers, and those memories serve a lot of (current) political agendas, but very few are interested in uncovering the history and looking at a complicated story (stories, really) in historical context.

    Jama Lazerow
    Wheelock College wrote:

    > ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    > Date: Sun, 28 Apr 2002 00:16:15 -0400
    > From:
    > To:
    > Subject: Panthers
    > I'm getting a little bored with the rantings of this right-winger who keeps forwarding his stuff about the Panthers to this bulletin board.
    > >From the point of view of 1960s politics, the Panthers were much more of a media phenomenon than a reality. In only a few places, e.g. Oakland, were they able to establish any kind of grass roots. Their connections were almost always with lumpen-proletariat elements rather than with the working class. However, because of their boldness, the acuteness of their criticism of American society, their ability to use the media and the charisma of their leadership, they were able to attract attention far beyond their numbers and real strength.
    > >From the beginning, both the membership and rank and file were characterized by rhetorical extravagance, which substituted for the hard work of real organizing. Many of their people were personally unstable, AND FROM THE VERY BEGINNING, THEY WERE INFILTRATED AND SUBVERTED BY COINTELPRO. This last is undeniable and all the screeching of Horowitz, Inaccuracy in Media, etc., cannot get away from this. The government constantly encouraged the most adventuristic, criminal and unatable elements in the Panthers, the results were predictable.
    > The violence, quasi-political and personal, that the Panthers engaged in is indefensible, and people on the Left shouldn't lose any sleep over the fulminations of the Right in this regard. Anyone who "hero worshipped" the Panthers was politically naive at the time. I, personally, was involved in the Peace and Freedom Party in New York, and met Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver. I was disturbed by the wildness of their language and the thinness of their actual support. However, I worked in the Cleaver campaign as a trade union activist.
    > As my grandmother used to say, "So call me pisher!" I don't defend the Panthers' crimes or political mistakes. On the other hand, I don't have hanging over my head the deaths of 1 1/2 million people in the Vietnam War like the conservatives, neocons and similar types.
    > There's an important political point to be made here in the aftermath of 9/11. My horror and disgust at what the terrorists did does not lead me to acts of support for Bush and Company. There are a million alternatives to the scorched earth policy that is now being carried out in Afghanistan against a helpless civilian population in order to bring to justice a few dozen murderers. But I suspect that the distinction is lost at the present. In a few years, as the "War on Terrorism" goes on and on, it's true nature will be revealed: a cover for U.S. global hegemony.
    > So make a list of the Panthers who killed people or were killed. By all means do it, and be accurate. And to the end of that list append names like Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Eugene Rostow, Walt Rostow, William Westmoreland, Robert Macnamara and a few others.
    > David Berger

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