Once a Panther, Always a Panther

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Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party

October 22, 2016

By Tom “Big Warrior” Watts

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, California. As an original White Panther, my involvement with the Panthers began in 1968, when I hooked up with WPP members in Chicago during the protests outside the Democratic National Convention. The MC5, the house band of the Ann Arbor-based White Panther Party, was performing at the Yippie!-organized “Festival of Life” in Lincoln Park, which was repeatedly attacked by Mayor Daley’s pigs. They, and Yippie! troubadour Phil Ochs, were the only performers who dared to show up and perform to entertain the protestors. Twice the Chicago pigs came on stage and smashed Phil Ochs’ guitar, but each time someone from the audience ran up and donated their guitars so he could continue.

After Chicago, I returned home to Eastern Pennsylvania armed with my first copy of Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book” and instructions to organize chapters of the White Panther Party. The WPP, were a revolutionary anti-racist, white American political collective founded in 1968 by Pun Plamondon, Leni Sinclair, and John Sinclair. It was started in response to an interview where Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, was asked what white people could do to support the Black Panthers. Newton replied that they could form a White Panther Party. The White Panthers took him at his word, and chapters were formed in various cities, and different countries, which worked in conjunction with local chapters of the Black Panther Party and allied formations in various ethnic communities, like the Young Lords, Young Patriots, Brown Berets, Chinese-American Red Guards, and others.

In Eastern Pennsylvania, we formed collectives in various factory and coal-mining towns, as well as Philadelphia, and worked closely with collectives of Black Panthers and Puerto Rican Young Lords. Philadelphia had authorized chapters of Black Panthers and Young Lords and were our connections to the national BPP and YLP headquartered in Oakland, California and New York City respectively. We also interacted with the NYC-based Youth International Party, popularly known as the Yippies! We considered ourselves to be an extension of the BPP-initiated “Rainbow Coalition” founded by Chairman Fred Hampton in Chicago. We weren’t long on formalities or protocols, but in a general way, we saw Huey P. Newton as our leader in the U.S. and Mao Tse-tung as our leader internationally.

WPP

We saw the revolution as a material thing and ourselves as allied with the Viet Cong, the freedom fighters in Africa and Latin America, and revolutionaries everywhere. We saw ourselves as “down for the whole thing,” and we sought to become “all the way revolutionary” and to overthrow capitalism, racism and all oppression “by any means necessary.” We took Huey Newton’s statement that, “The first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man” to heart and expected we would likely die in battle or in prison. The pigs’ assassination of Fred Hampton on December 4, 1969, and John Sinclair being sentenced to 10 years for two joints that year made this expectation very real. I had myself survived an assassination attempt in 1968, and all around the country Panther offices were being shot up by the pigs, and comrades were being killed, railroaded into prison or forced into exile or underground. We looked at this in the context of the sacrifices being made by the Vietnamese, by Ché in Bolivia, by Lumumba, Steve Biko and Amilcar Cabral in Africa, and the heroism of reds from the Paris Commune to the Long March and the students massacred in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico in October of 1968.

The Panther Movement was proletarian in character, and we didn’t see ourselves as having a lot in common with the student radicals. We used to have a saying that: “White radicals are 9 parts bullshit and 1 part hesitation.” It is hard to explain to young comrades today, but we didn’t fetishize “political correctness” or engage in “call out culture.” We weren’t all that well read politically and took unevenness in development for granted. Whether we were organizing among other young workers, hippies or gang members, we sought to be “fish in water.” We didn’t look down on the masses like student radicals often do but valued their experience and opinions, particularly those who had experience in fighting back.

“Identity politics” had yet to become a “thing,” and though we organized among our peers, we had a strong sense of a united movement to overthrow imperialism. We rejected “Pork Chop Nationalism” and “Black Capitalism” and their equivalents as counter-revolutionary. We sought to “Serve the People” and create alternative institutions based on cooperation and “participatory democracy.” We saw these as seeds of the socialist future we were ready to fight to create, and we were waging a “total assault on the culture” of capitalist-imperialism.

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The period of the late-60’s and early-70’s was a time of rapid change and transformation. “Actually existing socialism” was being eliminated along with “Cold War” liberalism, and neoliberalism was on the rise. We didn’t understand it very well. We didn’t even have a word for it, but Huey Newton coined one: He called it “reactionary intercommunalism,” and he proposed a counter to it he called “revolutionary intercommunalism,” but to us it was simply “Pantherism.”   

“Pantherism” is illuminated by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and the theoretical and practical contributions of the original Black Panther Party and its allied formations. Central to Huey’s “Theory of Revolutionary Intercommunalism” is the understanding that the U.S. is no longer a nation but the headquarters of a worldwide capitalist empire, Hell-bent on consolidating its global hegemony, and because of this, no nations can exist anywhere. The world, as it now exists, consists of a network of interconnected communities, each of which is composed of sub-communities down to the level of neighbourhoods.

Furthermore, this world is rapidly urbanizing and “ghettoizing” as the percentage of people the monopoly capitalist ruling class can profitably exploit as workers is rapidly shrinking. The fastest-growing section of the masses are the “lumpenized” urban poor, forced to survive by “any means necessary,” including hustling, dealing and stealing. Comrade Huey summed up that because of automation, the capitalist-imperialists would increasingly be unable to profitably exploit a growing percentage of the proletariat as wage workers, and this growing mass of “unemployables” would eventually become the majority of the population. He further theorized that the lumpen (broken) proletariat would provide the basis for a new revolutionary vanguard that would act as a catalyst upon the whole proletariat and masses of people to inspire them to rise up against and overturn the capitalist-imperialist system.

When we apply this analysis on a world scale, we see that large-scale capitalist agriculture has rendered the small-scale production of the peasant class obsolete, and that it is pushing the peasantry off the land and into the proletariat, as they have nothing left but to sell their labor power to survive, while at the same time the employed section of the proletariat is shrinking. Thus, throughout the “Third World” there is a growing mass of “unemployable” and marginalized poor concentrated in and around the urban centres living under dire conditions, or being compelled to emigrate to the “First World” imperialist countries in search of employment, even as industrial jobs are being outsourced to the “Third World” to take advantage of the cheap labor available there. Thus, we have a situation of rapidly changing demographics in the “First World” countries. In this declining phase of capitalist-imperialism, where nations are submerged into Empire, the “mother countries” of imperialism are being transformed into “Third World” countries while capitalist-imperialism is “ghettoizing” the dependent countries of the actual “Third World.”

intercommunalism

The essence of communism is community, and capitalist-imperialism is the antithesis of community, particularly under neo-liberalism, which is the final stage of imperialism. Kwame Nkrumah theorized that neo-colonialism was the final stage of imperialism, but neo-colonialism is but an aspect of neoliberalism. It is how it plays in the “Third World.”

As it relies on financial mechanisms and banks instead of brute force of subduing people the practice of neoliberalism outside of the G7 is also called neocolonialism. Neoliberal practice within G7 is called casino capitalism, an apt term that underscore[s] the role of finance and stock exchange in this new social order.

Neoliberalism can best be understood as a protracted “War on the Poor” or Marxism in reverse. It is all about concentrating wealth and power into the hands of a monopoly capitalist elite. From their perspective, more than half the population of the world are unnecessary mouths to feed. When Huey talked about “survival pending revolution,” he wasn’t just being rhetorical, and it isn’t coincidental that the U.S. has killed between 20 and 30 million people, mostly people of colour, since the end of World War II. The top .001% couldn’t care less about the people at the bottom. It is not just a question of Black lives not mattering, nobody’s life matters if the exploiters can’t profit from them.

Neoliberalism extols greed as a virtue. It sees social services as a source of profit through privatization, not as a responsibility of society. It is essentially fascistic when it comes to caring for the elderly, the disabled and the poor.

Revolutionary intercommunalism is not just some cool idea Huey P. Newton had as in a utopian pipe dream. It is in fact the logical and necessary next step in human social evolution/revolution. Huey, and the central committee of the original Black Panther Party, arrived at this theory by applying Marxism (Dialectical Materialism) to make a fresh analysis of how the world was hooked up at that time and the trajectory of its development. This was necessary, because they were serious revolutionaries.

Revolutionary intercommunalism provides a theoretical basis, based on the practice of the original BPP, to unite all the oppressed – both within the U.S. and around the world – with the common objective and strategy to overthrow capitalist-imperialism and socialize ownership of the basic means of production in the global economy. We must amplify this to a global scale and consciously carry out our tasks of agitation, education and organizing of the masses and building people’s power in the oppressed communities in the context of building a worldwide united front against capitalist-imperialism, racism and police state repression. We must recognize that we must play a vanguard role in relation to all the oppressed and unite to fight and overthrow the whole capitalist-imperialist system.

DARE TO STRUGGLE DARE TO WIN…. ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

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