Time to read: Several hours
Based on the books that I have read, I suggest that those new to Marxism read this book first. This is the autobiography of Huey P. Newton, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party (BPP). In it, Newton discusses his childhood and growing up in poverty, his radicalization and introduction to Marxism, and his eventual founding of the BPP with Bobby Seale.
This book is a great resource for learning from the experiences of a Black communist in the u.s. and how one must be prepared to face constant state repression. As the title suggests, any communist or revolutionary in general must accept that they will more than likely die at the hands of reactionary forces, and they must be willing to face this death when it will further the revolutionary struggle. Thus, this book provides a good introduction to what the life of a communist revolutionary in the u.s. may look like. I also liked this book because of Newton’s writing style, which is very narrative and easy to follow, as if he were having a conversation with the reader.
I didn’t really find any flaws in this book–Newton achieved exactly what he meant to in a very succinct manner through describing his own experiences in struggling against the amerikkkan state as a communist revolutionary. For these reasons, I rated it 5/5.
This autobiography describes in great detail Huey Newton’s life, from his early childhood through the golden ages of the BPP. He talks about his life in poverty as a child, and how he turned to theft and robbery as a teenager in order to survive. Because of these, Newton got in trouble with the law often, and this would eventually inspire him to become a lawyer so he could defend himself in court–which he ended up doing countless times. Thus upon graduating high school, albeit being functionally illiterate due to a failed school system, Newton self-taught himself everything he needed to know to get into college, and eventually went on to Oakland City College. Newton’s perspective as an impoverished Black man living in the u.s. and his love for reading and learning eventually led him to become a communist. This resulted in the eventual formation of the Black Panther Party: an armed Black revolutionary communist organization in the u.s. dedicated to Black liberation through socialist revolution.
Personal Philosophy and Life Outlook
- Revolutionary suicide is one sacrificing oneself for the revolution
- A revolutionary must accept that their life and death are one entity
- They must learn not to fear death
- “To die for the reactionary is lighter than a feather; to die for the revolution is heavier than Mount Tai” (Mao)
- A revolutionary must accept that their life and death are one entity
- One is not free so long as they have to reject some part of themselves
- If you are right in the dialectics of a situation, your position will prevail.
- “Nothing can be real if it cannot be conceptualized, articulated, and shared.” (Ayer)
- Philosophy helped produce some key aspects of Black Panther ideology and rhetoric
- “Words are another way of defining phenomena, and the definition of phenomena is the first step to controlling it.”
- People work hard all their life only to sink back into debt
- “It was almost like being on an urban plantation, a kind of modern-day sharecropping. You worked hard, brought in your crop, and you were always in debt to the landowner.”
- “At Oakland City College many of the Blacks were working as hard as they could to become a part of the system”
- Destroying capitalism would not necessarily destroy racism, but in order to destroy it, the economic foundation must first be wiped out
- Pursuing the goal of capitalist america is a form of prison
- Businesses and communities should be organized into cooperatives instead of competing entities
- “The only way to police a ghetto is to be oppressive…they represent the force of the white world, and that world’s real intentions are, simply, for that world’s criminal profit and ease, to keep black men corralled up here, in his place.” (Baldwin)
- Police treat Black communities like colonies
- “Possessions meant nonfreedom to me” (as in being a part of the system)
- “You can survive through petty crime and hurt those who hurt you.”
- “The law exists to defend those who possess property”
- Marriage is oppressive because it relies on the notion of ownership between man and woman (or any two humans) and restricts one only to another.
- “If this is democracy, obviously it is a bourgeois democracy limited to the middle and upper classes. Only they can afford to participate.”
- If people can belong to a group that gives them feelings of strength and respect, they can become effective participants
The Black Panther Party
- Most organizations at the time (and still today) were mostly talk and little action
- The only way to win freedom was by meeting force with force
- Malcolm X’s program: armed defense when attacked, and reaching the people with ideas and programs that speak to their condition.
- He identified the causes of their condition rather than blaming the people.
- “From all of these things–the books, Malcolm’s writing and spirit, our analysis of the local situation–the idea of an organization was forming.”
- “The Party is a living testament to [Malcolm X’s] life work”
- “No choice but to form an organization that would involve the lower-class brothers”
- “One must relate to the history of one’s community and to its future.”
- Two original plans for an organization: armed self-defense and patrolling the police
- There were several armed self-defense organizations before the BPP began
- Once Huey came upon calling the org the Black Panther Party and the symbol being a black panther, they (Huey and Bobby) decided it was time for action.
- People started to join the BPP once they began to patrol the police
- They had different patrol routes everyday so as the police couldn’t avoid them
- The armed patrols were a means of recruiting members
- They used their guns and audacity as a form of “armed propaganda”
- “Military tactics made public for political reasons are perfectly correct.” (Ho Chi Minh)
- The Party gained respect and followers through actions and successes
- The BPP needed to get the attention of the community and give them something to identity with
- Huey would spent countless hours each day recruiting people wherever people tended to go (pool halls, bars, community centers, etc.). He did this by talking to people and outlining the ten-point program and passing out leaflets
- The BPP was not hung up on status–instead, it committed to whatever would further the cause of revolution
- “No member of the Black Panther Party uses drugs. It is absolutely forbidden. Anyone discovered violating this rule is expelled from the Party.”
- Channeled criminal activities of people in the community to help the Party and work against the establishment by talking and relating to people
- Directed energy from riots towards permanent and positive changes rather than fleeting outbursts of (justified) anger
- “I never try to recruit by keeping after people; once they have heard the program, it is up to them.”
- BPP got national coverage by making a public announcement on the steps of the California state capitol building in full gear. This resulted in chapters and branches springing up all across the country.
- Regular newspapers were produced to get the information of the Party across to the masses
- The paper tore down another barrier between the Party and the community and made the two more interconnected
- Survival programs [BPP programs aimed at providing the material needs for impoverished Black communities] were created and served as a means of the enlightenment of the masses to begin a revolution
- Survival programs were a huge importance from the start
- An ideological institution was created in order to educate BPP leaders across the nation in dialectical materialism in order to provide the ideological basis for them
- The BPP made sure that everything they did was within legal rights
- Black Panthers stood up to the police as equals and held them off, all within the law
- “If we used the laws in our own interest against theirs, then the power structure would simply change the laws.”
- The police would do the job the KKK had done in the past
- “The real danger comes from highly organized establishment forces–the local police, the National Guard, and the United States military…. In comparison to them the paramilitary groups are insignificant.”
- As soon as open-carry guns became illegal, the BPP stopped their armed patrols
- Prison guards promote racial animosity in prison in order to prevent unity between prisoners of different racial background
- “Many white inmates are not outright racists when they get to prison, but the staff soon turns them in that direction.”
- Prisons are concentration camps–what’s the difference?
- Some prisoners form child-parent mentality with the guards as a defense mechanism.
- “Prisons are an integral part of a complex whole that can be defined as the american institutional superstructure of the world.”
- Huey never gave into the system, and thus stayed in solitary confinement for just about the entirety of his sentences
Criticism of the Black Panther Party
- “…we soon discovered that our weapons and uniforms set us apart from the community….We were looked upon as… too radical to be a part of”
- Military strategy was premature for a basis of the Party and scared supporters away
- Eldridge Cleaver [a primary Black Panther leader] changed the Party away from the community, causing the Party to commit reactionary suicide.