Sunday, June 25, 2006
From Resistance to Liberation: Documents From the Black Panther Party
Reprinted From The Black Panther: Black Community News Service, 20 June 1970, pp. 17–18
Nearly 30 Panthers have been killed since the Party was founded; in the first year of the Nixon administration, over 400 had been arrested on various charges; Panther offices in Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Des Moines and 15 other cities have been attacked by police. Nearly all members of their original Central Committee have been suppressed: killed, jailed or forced into exile. The Justice Department has a special task force on the Panthers; the FBI considers them the greatest single threat to our national security; at least two congressional committees and several grand juries are investigating them.
The Panthers are the target not of repression but of an undeclared war. Under a state of repression, the heretic at least is accorded bail, trial and appeal. In a state of war, victims are killed or rounded up without serious regard for legal "niceties". The Panthers held in jails across America today are no different from prisoners held in Santo Domingo, Saigon or any other center of the American Empire.
The escalation of war against the Panthers has created vast differences between them and their less oppressed allies. The Panthers correctly criticize whites for not moving rapidly enough to deal with the special repression inflicted on blacks. And the whites, hesitant and confused about how to react to the brual repression of Panthers, are correctly critical of the broadside nature of occasional Panther attacks on student movements, women's liberation and the cultural rebellion arising from conditions in the Mother Country.
These differences cannot be understood without a perspective on the history of black-white political relations. In 1966 black radicals, led by Stokely Carmichael, purged whites from the "integrated" civil rights movement and directed them to go into the white community. Young whites did just this, creating a rebellious consciousness inside the Mother Country. Eldridge Cleaver and the Panthers then saw the possibilities of this white radical impulse, and put forward a strategy of "liberation in the colony" coupled with "revolution in the Mother Country". The Panther argued that blacks should wage an autonomous struggle for self-determination, but added that victory would not be secured until the Mother Country was also transformed from within. They began to experiment with coalitions for specific purposes with white organizations.
Few whites realized the risks which the Panthers took in pursuing this line. It left the Party exposed to constant baiting criticism by black "cultural nationalists" groups who preferred either no contact with whites or, if necessary, contact with white foundations and corporations rather than white radicals. Among black radicals, the Panthers were raising fears of a return to old-style coalitions which black people had been submerged and their interests made secondary to the class struggle. From great numbers of blacks, including those who joined the Party, the Panthers were demanding and incredible psychological adjustment: to conduct a racial struggle without anti-white feelings. White radicals, by comparison, had very little to lose from the coalitions except prestige or money.
Since 1967 one coalition after another between the Panthers and whites has been created, achieved something useful, then been more or less dissolved due to racial or political differences. Some have been mainly educational campaigns, like the relatively successful one waged around Huey's trial. Some have been abortively electoral, like that with the Peace and Freedom Party, which collapsed before the 1968 elections. The Panthers have searched back and forth for the most effective white allies and have come up with different answers from time to time. Sometimes the answer has been the broad liberal community and the students; sometimes poor whites in Chicago and Richmond; sometimes the Yippies and street people; sometimes the peace movement; sometimes a mixture of two or more of these. Always the coalitions have been affected by the fact that the Panthers are far more revolutionary and serious than their allies; always they have been plagued by the question of whether whites should be considered essentially as "supporters" or an independent radical force moving towards a front-line alliance with the blacks.
All these problems came to a boiling point in 1969 as Nixon's policy of repression escalated. In response to severe attacks, the Panthers proposed a broad United Front which would essentially serve as a support group. The Front would raise funds, educate white people to the dangers of fascism, and help circulate a petition for "community control of the police".
The difficulty was that the liberals who would be most likely to join such a Front were having jitters about the Panthers and repression, and the younger radicals were going through birth pains of new struggles. In the white community, it was the ineffectual and opportunist Old Left groups which were most interested in the United Front. The radicals, meanwhile, were moving in at least four different directions: towards white working-class organizing, women's liberation, the cultural revolution (as asserted in the People's Park struggle), and armed struggle (as embodied by the Weathermen). Few of the younger radicals wanted to join a United Front with the Old Left or circulate petitions in the white community, and none wanted to accept Panther leadership.
Perhaps the Panthers did not understand the devastating effect this United Front would have on the young whites. Since their inception the Panther had gradually inspired significant numbers of whites to the idea of armed struggle. Few whites had become John Browns, but the Panthers heroic image was accelerating white revolutionary consciousness as no American movement had done before. Then, with little preparation, the Panthers suddenly adopted a reformist tactic which the whites had been trying to go beyond. White radicals had no objection to a United Front of middle-class liberal support for the Panthers. But they wanted the Panthers to recognize as well the need for militant liberation struggles in the Mother Country.
To the Panthers, the response of white radicals seemed self-centered and "anarchist". The embattled Panthers had difficulty understanding the priority of women's issues, for instance, or the significance of drugs and rock and roll, or why the Berkely radicals fought in the streets for 17 days when black people had already demonstrated the futility of riots, or why Weathermen wanted to pick up guns instead of petitions. They could not see the legitimacy of the struggles that whites were engaged in and began to assert that the Party should be the "vanguard" of the Mother Country as well as the Colony. The result was much hostile and futile "commandism" from the Panthers and much alienation among the whites.
Before the cleavages could be overcome, the U.S. government moved to take advantage of the situation. Noting that the United Front conference had ended in disarray and division, they concluded that the Panthers were isolated and therefore easy targets.
From the United Front conference through the trial of Bobby Seale and the Chicago 7, these gaps between the Panthers and their white allies continued. On November 15 in San Francisco David Hillard was booed by the liberal peace movement for suggesting that peace could not be achieved without a liberation struggle, and that Nixon (or anyone standing in the way of black liberation) should be killed. Seeing the black-white division, the power structure moved again, this time indicting Hillard for "threatening the President".
During the trial the gulf was both narrowed and widened. We enjoyed a political closeness with Bobby Seale, yet he remained in jail every day, while we were free. We helped create a mass consciousness among whites about the repression of the Panthers, but Bobby was the one who experienced the gagging. We asserted our unity with the Panthers, but could do nothing to prevent Bobby's sentence and the murders of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. The inadequacy was not simply our own; it existed throughout the white movement. Until November 15 in Washington, not one major demonstration occured to protest what had happened to Bobby.
Early this year, the Panther were beginning to reconsider their basic strategy of coalition. Eldridge drafted a manifesto declaring that if class struggle were not possible, then blacks should go it alone in a race war. The manifesto vowed that no more Panthers would be sacrificed on the "altar of interracial harmony".
Then, suddenly, a hopeful new coalition was being created in New Haven. It had taken a long time (the Panthers had been held in Connecticut dungeons since before the United Front Conference) but whites were beginning to move again on the issue of racism. A strike began in April. The president of Yale granted the validity of the question the Panthers had been raising all along: that a fair trial for black revolutionaries in America was hard to imagine. When 25,000 people, called by the Panthers and the Conspiracy, came to New Haven on May Day despite the warnings of Spiro Agnew and the threat of the National Guard, a militant United Front involving both moderate and revolutionary whites at last began to appear.
To understand the unevenness of black-white coalitions is to understand the structure of racism. All whites are part of a racist system: they live better materially, never experience the daily crises that the Panthers do, and are never repressed as severely as blacks. Even becoming "more militant" than blacks cannot erase the color line: whites who try to act like John Brown are usually seen as manipulators who will not have to bear the consequences for whatever repression they bring down. The racial barrier which holds whites above blacks does not mean that all whites are individually racist in their attitudes or that white support is unimportant. But the attitudes, including alienation and protest, which develop in the Mother Country are remote from and often contradictory to black feelings. Women's liberation will tend to seem secondary to Panthers fighting for physical survival; hippie life styles will seem indulgent to blacks looking for work.
Huey Newton pointed out these differences in an essay from prison on white "anarchists". Huey wrote that the black community, experiencing collective oppression and collective material needs, will grasp the idea of organization and discipline much more quickly than will the young aliented white person whose goal is self-expression. Breaking out of slavery requires a personal change in black people far different from the new life style of young whites. The black is moving from dependence and powerlessness to an aggressive pride in collective power. The young white is breaking out of the straitjacket of conformity toward a sense of personal experiment and discovery. The young white will view organization and discipline as an infringement on free consciousness. By implication, even if whites sense a common oppression their needs will still drive them toward a strong emphasis on personal transformation.
The white radical plays a difficult part in this ambiguous world. The radical professes solidarity with the Panthers and the ghetto. At the same time, as a white, he receives special privileges and as a Mother Country radical he experiences specials needs for liberation which are quite different from those which move the black community. The white radical is thus likely to exemplify both the nearness of, and the difficulty of achieving real solidarity. In political terms this means that although whites can help the black struggle, they are inherently undependable. While blacks will never have to "go it alone" completely, the principle of self-reliance is more basic than that of coalition.
A comparison with the coalition strategies of other national liberation movements shows parallels as well as vast differences with the American situation. Both the Vietnamese and the Algerians - and especially the Vietnamese - patiently educated and organized the French people because they knew that French public opinion would be needed to support an end to the war. In the current war also the Vietnamese have taken a patient attitude towards American public opinion, believing that the war would encourage dissent and a new political atmosphere in the U.S. Their strategy is to conduct a long guerrilla war, waiting for the cost in blood, taxes and honor to awaken some Americans while tiring others. While a "revolution in the Mother Country" would be desirable, they believe mere divisions are enough to bog down the U.S. Beneath this strategy lies a remarkable faith in the ability of human beings to overcome ignorance and prejudice. The Vietnamese believe that even the American soldiers they are fighting are pawns who would change sides if they knew the truth. The moral of an idea is their greatest weapon. They are not a "vanguard" giving commands to the American anti-war movement but more of an armed conscience trying to move and persuade.
But in the American case the black and Third World colonies are dispersed inside the Mother Country. There is no national territory on which blacks can develop schools, industry and agriculture, or establish an identity as a people and fight for their freedom. A war of independence here would not end in the political separation of two distinct geographic territories, as it did for France and Algeria, but would rearrange America itself.
One result is that black people have become more interdependent with white people than in any other colonial society. Feelings of both familiarity and hatred are bred at the same time. Although they are culturally separate, blacks can think like white Americans easily and naturally. The hypocrisy of even the white radicals is felt day to day.
Painful relations can often be broken off, but this one has a way of continuing. Even while blacks despair of whites, black motion itself constantly pushes some whites towards a better, more radical understanding. Blacks have been the trigger of the early white student movement, the radicalizers of the anti-war movement, the legitimizers of revolutionary violence and the soul of the underground culture. The black assault on white racism has its effect: young white people become less racist than their elders even though they remain part of a racist system.
The black-white relationship becomes hard to break for another reason. Because they lack a unified national territory of their own, blacks are almost forced to depend on a "base" in the consciousness of the white left, or on the bank accounts of white liberals - more so than in other liberation struggles. In Vietnam the revolutionaries can leave political relationships with the Americans to skilled and patient diplomats. They are confident that their image of the American people will be fulfilled but they do not go through the psychological torment of dealing with whites every day. They shoot those who invade; they welcome those who protest. They do not need immediate evidence to confirm their ultimate faith that whites can be human beings; they gain strength enough from their schools, their factories, their army, the land they till, and their national tradition. In America none of this seems possible, at least not in the form taken by other peoples. As long as there are no "Panther zones" as fully self- sustaining as the "Vietcong zones", the black liberation struggle will be tormented by its dependency on the support of the white left.
So the white radicals are in a coalition with the black struggle - even if the coalition is not recognized formally - simply because we are part of a common dialectic. In the case of the Panthers, we will either vindicate their gamble on white support or become evidence of white failure and therefore bolster "cultural nationalists" arguments for years to come.
It is sufficient to understand and act on the fact that the black colony is a time bomb inside the fragile center of the colonial Mother Country. The eventual detonation of that bomb will wreck a system which dehumanizes all its people, and it will not leave our lives or social structure intact.
If we consider the issue in the framework of colonialism, we can see most clearly what must be done. We can see that the demand for black self-determination cannot be accomodated by a welfare state which is colonial in its power relations. We can see that the Vietcong started without white support, alienated most Americans, yet are winning their own struggle and contributing immeasurably to ours. We can see that the differences between white and black radicalism are not antagonistic, because our destinies are totally bound together.
If we consider the Panthers as an embryonic Viet-Cong in the U.S., if we assume that a Vietnamese situation is developing here, it becomes logical to adopt and improve the strategy of the anti-Vietnam war movement and direct it against the aggression at home.
First, this would mean recognizing that Bobby Seale and other Panthers should not even be tried in the courts of the present U.S. government. They go to trial only under protest. As prisoners of war the Panthers should be freed, not by higher courts, but through negotiations coming about because of public pressure. The slogan "Free Huey" must be enlarged to: "Free All Political Prisoners". Many whites cling to the concept of a "fair trial" for the Panthers because they do not want to accept fully the idea of self-determination for blacks. This leads them to believe they should examine the "facts" of Panther court cases before deciding to support the Panthers. But even such a paternalistic approach would still vindicate the Panthers. In New Haven, for instance, it would reveal that the High Sheriff selected his personal barber and several other "friends and neighbors" for the grand jury which indicted the Panthers. It might even reveal a high-level government plot to frame Bobby and the others.
But the most enlightened approach that a white could adopt toward the "facts" would be to dismiss them as irrelevant, as an internal matter of the black colony. This is no different from the issue of "terror" by revolutionaries in Vietnam. All we need to know is that the Panthers, like the NLF, rely on popular support, not on coercion, for their success, and that the colonial invaders rely on massive terror to frighten away that popular support. If white Americans are concerned about the "terror" of the Panthers, they should stop police aggression in the ghetto instead of condemning black extremists at cocktail parties. Bobby was indicted, not for his supposed role in a killing, but as an effective way to removed him from the streets and scare away support because of the gravity of the charges.
Second, we need a nationwide "political education class" or "teach-in" as a tactic to create consciousness of this emerging domestic war. It is curious that whites have spoken thousands of times in the Vietnam teach-ins but have done so little to take the issue of the Panthers to the same audiences. The amount of continuing political education needed cannot be underestimated.
Third taking to the streets against racism and repression can be as important now as it was in the earlier phases of the anti-war movement. The recent strike and massive demonstration in New Haven was the first time that whites have come out in large numbers for the Panthers in a nationally visible way. The national student strike triggered by the Cambodian invasion would not have included the demand to free the Panthers were it not for the initiative of the New Haven strikers. The trial in Connecticut will continue to create an urgent climate in which effective demonstrations are possible. Plans should be made for demonstrations from now through the end of that infernal trial, with the definite objective of freeing the Panthers "by any means necessary". Where trials are not an immediate focus, the new Justice Department might well be. As a symbol of centralized evil, it can serve as a target institution the same way the Pentagon has for the anti-war movement.
Fourth, forcing a conflict within the national establishment over this question is crucial in order that repression against the Panthers be slowed down. Repression can be foiled in the short run only by creating sharp divisions among America's powerful elites. The anti-war campaign of Senate doves were crucial to slowing and sometimes preventing military escalation, and they gave respectability to dissent in general. There is of course the danger that such dissent will cool the militant edge of protest, but only in the unlikely event that the Panthers come to rely on the Establishment for their survival. If Ramsey Clark or Kingman Brewster wants to become the William Fulbright of our domestic Vietnam crisis, it will be to the benefit of the Panthers and of everyone but the all-out racist aggressors.
Fifth, we must initiate international campaigns to brand the U.S. as a criminal and outlaw government. Probably the chief problem facing the American ruling elite is not Vietnam but the survival of the U.S. as a racist nation in the new international scene. American racism is the number one foreign policy problem for this country. Each step of racist aggression further isolates the U.S. in the world; each concession to the blacks for the sake of "national image" only raises the domestic confrontation to a higher level. Using all of its international contacts, the American left should expose the repression of the Panthers in every conference and journal in the world.
Finally, we must create a Resistance structure. There will have to be active, extra-legal cooperation between white and black revolutionaries on every front of the struggle. A new underground railroad to protect the fugitives and resources of the black colony may become a necessity. This need is likely to become especially real in America, where the black communities are geographically surrounded by whites and where communication and transportation are almost exclusively controlled by whites.
The trial of Bobby Seale and the Connecticut Panthers is the best possible point of departure for a new upsurge of white support for black liberation. The government is hoping that one bolt of electricity will kill the spirit in all of us. The gag and chains of Chicago were not enough; they are now being replaced by the electric chair. Every sane person has a stake in preventing this maneuver - and it can be prevented. Just as our case was turned into a trial of our generaton, so can Bobby's be turned into a symbolic trial of black and white people in this country.
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