Category Archives: Black Panthers

Three Positions on Gun Control

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The following article below was originally published by the Return to the Source news blog: 

December 19, 2012

Armed Black Panther members of the Seattle chapter on the steps of the Legislative Building.

People across the United States are mourning the ghoulish mass murder that took place on Friday, December 14, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The victims – 20 children as young as six years old and six adults – were murdered by 20 year old Adam Lanza.

The horrific tragedy in Connecticut immediately ignited fierce debate on the merits of gun control, but predictably neither side is interested in examining the issue from a class-based perspective. The usual suspects representing the traditional political trends in America, led by different sections of the capitalist class, jumped feet-first into the discussion espousing the positions that people in the US have come to expect.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama came out in support of reinstating the assault weapons ban that expired under President George W. Bush in 2004. Though Lanza acquired his murder weapons by stealing them from his mother, rather than purchasing them, the President argues that reducing access to assault weapons will prevent future tragedies like the killings in Newtown, Connecticut, from taking place.

On the other side, we find the right-wing gun proponents. For them, not even the most heinous tragedy can shake their determination to uphold the Second Amendment for the capitalist class. Whereas liberals want to limit gun ownership to the state, the right-wing prefers to have armed bands of vigilantes and militias, who can be counted on to repress workers and oppressed nationalities if the conditions call for it. They hypocritically defend the right to bear arms for themselves while turning a blind eye to the already-existing gun control regulations on oppressed people in the US.

After observing the stances of comrades taking part in the debate, we felt it might be helpful to identify and materially analyze the competing positions of the gun control question. For the purposes of this piece, we hope to present some historical examples to better prepare comrades for discussions in the workplaces and the community.

Most of all, we hope to refute both the liberal position calling for greater restrictions on firearms and the crypto-right-wing position extolling the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. In its place, we arrive at and examine the Marxist position on the right to bear arms.

The Liberal Position

The “pro-gun control” forces, who have traditionally opposed to the Republican Party’s Second Amendment support and the expansion of firearms across the US, have found themselves languishing for many years. The Democratic Party has all but abandoned the position out of political opportunism. The pro-gun control position has found new life in the corporate media and the mind of liberal supporters in the US following the recent wave of mass shootings, like in Connecticut.

Rest assured, this “pro-gun control” position is put forward by other sections of the capitalist class in the Democratic Party, supported broadly by white middle class liberals. However, it also has some material support in oppressed nations affected most heavily by gun violence. Groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence articulate this position as follows:

“We should make it harder for convicted felons, the dangerously mentally ill, and others like them to get guns in the first place. We can do this by passing laws such as requiring Brady criminal background checks on all gun sales; banning military-style assault weapons; and strengthening law enforcement’s efforts to stop the illegal gun market, like limiting the number of guns that can be bought at one time.” (1)

The capitalist class and the white middle class in the large cities in the North, West, and Midwest that live in more constricted confines with the working class and oppressed nations push forward this “law and order” gun control policy. Indeed, the US government already has massive gun control measures in place, especially in the major cities like New York and Chicago and states across the nation, which represent the extreme end of this policy, where it’s practically unheard of for average citizens to own firearms legally.

These measures don’t restrict mass murderers like Jared Lee Loughner – the shooter in Arizona last year – or Neo-Nazis like Wade Michael Page, who murdered six people at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin this summer, from acquiring firearms. Instead, they largely restrict the rights of oppressed people who face violence from vigilantes or police from owning guns.

It is no surprise then that billionaire Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg and his coalition, “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” are quickly becoming the leading force advancing this agenda. Principally, they support gun control for the same reason the Republican opposed gun control: they are afraid of oppressed nationalities. We quote the website of “Mayors Against Illegal Guns”:

“We support the Second Amendment and the rights of citizens to own guns. We recognize the vast majority of gun dealers and gun owners carefully follow the law…But what binds us together is a determination to fight crime, and a belief that we can do more to stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them.” (2)

This is a common theme among the liberal gun control advocates: a heavy focus on “crime” and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, especially in big cities. This position cannot be divorced from the war on drugs and the war on Black and Latino youth, who find themselves disportionately criminalized and imprisoned. Capitalist leaders like Mayor Bloomberg in no way seek to limit the violence visited on working class and oppressed communities. Remember that Bloomberg is responsible for spearheading the blatantly racist “stop and frisk” policies carried out by the NYPD. (3) The NAACP has said of these policies: “Bloomberg’s massive street-level racial profiling program is a civil rights and human rights catastrophe that both hurts our children and makes our communities less safe.” (4)

Are we to trust the liberals like Bloomberg, chiefly responsible and complicit in waging the war on black and brown communities, with ending gun violence with new criminal restrictions? Are we to trust the racist criminal justice system and groups like the NYPD whom Bloomberg has called “his army, the 7th largest in the world?” (5)

It is no coincidence that liberal bourgeoisie like Bloomberg are silent about gun control for their “private army” when it comes to police violence and murder committed by police, like in the case of unarmed 17 year old Ramarley Graham in New York City. (6)

The gun control policies of Bloomberg and reactionary allies, like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, are efforts to extend national oppression and the capitalist monopoly on violence, especially over Black and Latino communities. This also serves to keep the working class and discontented elements of society passive in the face of foreclosures, austerity, voter suppression, legislative attacks like Right-to-Work initiatives, and efforts to use state repression to silence social movements like Occupy Wall Street and trade union protesters in Michigan. After all, unarmed protesters are entirely at the mercy of the capitalist class’ “personal army,” leaving them subject to violent repression at protests or on picket lines.

It is only natural that these forces support such measures to strip oppressed nationalities and workers from their democratic rights to bear arms: They have their own arms, their own personal security, their own “personal armies”, their police, their courts, their prisons; in other words, the “special bodies of armed men” talked of by Lenin in State & Revolution. They live in gated communities and mansions, while most Black and Latino people live in occupied territory not unlike occupied Afghanistan. The agenda of the liberal Democrats is to strengthen the apparatus of state repression – to increase arms and weapons in the hands of their “personal army” – while keeping guns out of the hands of “criminals” and other “undesirable elements”. This agenda is reflected in the expansion of billions of dollars in state funding to arm police with military hardware to the tune of $34 billion dollars over the past decade. (7)

There seems to be no talk of gun control or preventing gun violence when it comes to the army of the capitalist class. There’s no talk of assault weapon bans for the police, who are upgrading to tanks in many cities! (8)

Middle class white liberals who live in gated communities, or the “nice” sections of town also don’t have the same worries as our class and our allies. They want to strip “the common rabble” and criminals of their means of self-defense. After all, the police and the ruling class of the United States are their friends. They’re not the ones getting imprisoned, stopped and frisked, or having their homes foreclosed on.

However, comrades cannot ignore that gun violence does have a disproportionate and devastating impact in the communities of oppressed people and working class communities. African-Americans are the victim of 54% of all firearm homicides, despite making up just 13% of the population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (9) It’s no surprise that gun-related violence disproportionately occurs in the US South, the historical home of Jim Crow and Ku Klux Klan terrorism against Black and Latino people, according to Zara Matheson at the Martin Prosperity Institute. (10) This provides some material appeal to elements of the oppressed nations in regards to these gun control policy.

Still, comrades should combat this wolf in sheep’s clothing. The enforcers of this violence are the American capitalist class and white supremacist forces that work to uphold the established order. Trusting them to end violence in the oppressed communities with gun control is the equivalent to entrusting the United States to help Syria and Libya with “humanitarian intervention.”

Malcolm X understood the nature of violence by the US government and police, as well as the need for African-Americans to defend themselves from these attacks. We quote him at some length:

“Last but not least, I must say this concerning the great controversy over rifles and shotguns. White people been buying rifles all their lives…no commotion. The only thing I’ve ever said is that in areas where the government has proven itself either unwilling or unable to defend the lives and the property of Negroes, it’s time for Negroes to defend themselves. Article number two of the Constitutional amendments provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun. It is constitutionally legal to own a shotgun or a rifle. This doesn’t mean you’re going to get a rifle and form battalions and go out looking for white folks, although you’d be within your rights – I mean, you’d be justified; but that would be illegal and we don’t do anything illegal. If the white man doesn’t want the black man buying rifles and shotguns, then let the government do its job.” (11)

There’s a reason that the Sanford police covered up the shooting of Trayvon Martin this past February, and it was only after massive protests that his killer, George Zimmerman, was arrested. Across this country, the system of white supremacy is reinforced by the underlying threat of violence, whether it comes from police brutality or vigilante terrorism. The response is not to buckle to the pressures of liberals, who trust the very purveyors of violence to protect oppressed people, but for oppressed people to have the ability to defend themselves.

Sensible policy on guns for working class and oppressed people in America can only come from a Marxist position. But to do that, we must first analyze and pull apart the muddled position carried by the advanced, progressives, and some of our comrades.

The Left-Second Amendment Position

In response to the liberal gun control proposals, many people on the US Left embrace a position similar to that espoused by the Right. This “Left-Second Amendment” position unites with the views put forth by the National Rifle Association by dismissing guns as incidental to mass murders like yesterday’s tragedy in Connecticut. In this view, something else – an external cause like mental health or the culture of violence in the US – is chiefly to blame.

This is not incorrect. The US is an incredibly violent society, with the greatest purveyor of violence being the US government itself – and that’s not our opinion; that’s the opinion of Martin Luther King Junior, who used those exact words to describe the government on April 4, 1967. We see the evidence of this ‘cultural violence’ everywhere, from movies like Act of Valor, financed by the US military to glorify violence committed against other countries, to police violence inflicted on children and the innocent, like we saw in Anaheim, California, this year.

Along the same lines, mental health services in the US are stigmatized and woefully underfunded. It’s no coincidence that many of the perpetrators of these mass killings have had severe mental health crises; crises that were more often than not identified but not adequately treated.

The Left-Second Amendment position boils down to the pressing concern over the state having a monopoly on violence. When we look back in history, oppressed people have never won their freedom without armed struggle. In many cases, the lack of an armed populace has led directly to the rise of brutal fascist regimes, like in Chile and Spain. In 1973, the workers in Chile were underprepared to defeat the fascist coup d’etat that overthrew elected President Salvador Allende because of the government’s refusal to arm the people. During the Spanish Civil War almost four decades earlier, the social democratic government was similarly reluctant to arm the workers to resist Franco’s fascist brigades. And of course everyone knows of Adolf Hitler’s infamous ban on citizens owning guns after the rise of the Nazis.

In essence, many leftists view guns as a means of self-defense for oppressed people and a safeguard against fascism. This leads them to oppose gun control measures, i.e. the liberal position on gun control.

However, the Left-Second Amendment position mistakenly adopts the Right’s view of the right to bear arms as a philosophical abstraction, rather than a material reality. In practice, the Constitution does not protect the rights of oppressed people to bear arms. Even the most vocal advocates of the Second Amendment have no objection to regulations on firearm ownership by the people who need it most to defend their class and national interests from right-wing vigilantes and state power.

The Left-Second Amendment position rests on two incorrect assumptions. First, it implicitly assumes that gun ownership is not already heavily regulated and restricted for oppressed people. And second, it assumes that the US government would ever totally restrict the ownership of firearms, which leads these leftists to vocally oppose gun control measures.

We will begin with the first assumption.

Consider the following: In 1967, there was a major legal battle going on in California against a Governor bent on abridging “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The Governor and his party brought out all of the pro-gun control arguments about dangerous vigilantes running loose with weapons, saying that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” (11) As it would today, the Governor’s gun control policies led to massive demonstrations of armed people marching on the Capitol.

Yes, in 1967, California Governor Ronald Reagan – future right-wing President of the United States and darling of the National Rifle Association – signed the Mulford Act in direct response to the protests and actions of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The Act banned the open-carry of loaded firearms in California, which the Panthers used to intimidate racist police officers and thereby prevent police brutality in black neighborhoods. Open-carry meant that the Panthers could defend the black community, and they rarely had to fire a single shot.

There was no talk of “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” The white Second Amendment advocates we see today were not out in the streets marching with the Panthers against “encroaching tyranny.” Reagan banned the use of guns in a meaningful way by oppressed people because it was a direct threat to police dominance and white supremacy in California.

Historically, the Second Amendment has never defended the right of oppressed people to bear arms. An integral component of the state “Black codes” that were implemented at the end of Reconstruction was the denial of the gun ownership to African-Americans. This Jim Crow-era policy of national oppression extends into the 21st century through the racist “War on Drugs” and the disenfranchisement of Blacks and Latinos.

Remember that the US takes away the second amendment “right” of non-violent felons. By prosecuting the war on drugs, a disproportionate amount of Black men – 1 in 8, according to the Huffington Post – have no right to bear arms because of convicted felon status. (12) Similarly, Latinos comprise a disproportionate percentage of all convicted felons – “disenfranchised at a rate higher than whites, but lower than blacks.” (13) Through convicted felon status, the US government takes away the right to bear arms disproportionately from the African-American and Chican@ nations, allowing the state to more heavily occupy their territory through police.

Onto the second assumption:

The US government has no interest in repealing the second amendment or outright banning guns across the board. They already have ways of restricting the right of oppressed people to bear arms. For everyone else – especially white males – it’s the Wild, Wild West.

When the country was experiencing revolutionary upheavals during Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement, armed bands of white reactionaries used their second amendment ‘right to bear arms’ to attack and repress African-Americans struggling for more freedom. Striking trade unionists faced the same repression from both police and company-hired thugs on the picket lines in the 1930s and 1940s. In both cases, oppressed people and workers exercised their right to bear arms against and in opposition to the rights of an oppressor to bear arms.

The real Second Amendment advocates, attempting to make guns even more prevalent, actively pass Stand Your Ground laws that lead to the slaughter of Black youth like Trayvon Martin in February and Jordan Davis last month in Jacksonville, Florida. Marxists and progressives have nothing in common with these people.

The Marxist Position

“Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.”

Karl Marx, March, 1850

We have examined two erroneous positions on gun control: the “left” error of embracing the Second Amendment, and the liberal “right” error of trusting the state with an exclusive monopoly on violence. Fundamentally, both positions stem from idealist assumptions about rights and the nature of the state.

The Marxist position on gun control is unequivocally upholding the right of workers and oppressed nationalities to bear arms.

In direct refutation of the Left-Second Amendment position, which upholds the right to bear arms as an abstract constitutional right, the Marxist position upholds gun ownership as a class right. Similarly, class rights directly confront the liberal belief that the state should be the predominant or sole trustee of firearms.

By classifying the right to bear arms as a class right, rather than a ‘human’, ‘constitutional’, or ‘natural’ right, the Marxist position upholds the social character of gun ownership. The Second Amendment enshrines the right to bear arms as an individual right set in place to protect individuals and their property from threats. Under capitalism, this translates into principally a ruling class and petty-bourgeois right since these are the classes that own “property,” i.e. capital, businesses, the means of production.

‘Open-Carry’ or ‘Concealed-Carry’?

We see further evidence of the reactionary character of the Second Amendment when looking at the prevalence of ‘concealed-carry’ state laws versus ‘open-carry’ state laws. ‘Open-Carry’ – allowing people to publicly carry firearms – is a social means of exercising the right to bear arms. As the Black Panther Party understood, the known presence of firearms allows oppressed people to better police their own communities and challenge the authority of the state without firing a single shot. The right to bear arms thereby becomes ‘social’ because it is a public exercise of power.

Consider why the police openly carry their firearms. The state allows its officers and agents to publicly display their firearms to deter confrontations with said agents. It is a silent exercise of state power.

Reagan banned the open-carry of loaded firearms in California precisely in reaction to the Black Panthers’ practices. If an African-American was stopped and harassed by a police officer, an openly armed Panther cadre would enter the scene to give legal counsel to the person facing police harassment. The Panthers challenged the state’s perceived monopoly on violence by acting as “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free [Black] State.”

In fact, California is one of seven states in the US to have outright bans on open-carry. Not surprisingly, the other six states with these bans – Illinois, Texas, New York, Florida, South Carolina, and Arkansas – are either the most populous and multinational, or located in the heart of the Black Belt South.

Not coincidentally, though, all 50 states in the US allow the concealed-carry of firearms. Illinois was the one state that upheld a ban on concealed-carry, but the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down that ban a week ago. (15) Concealed-carry caters to the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois class nature of the Second Amendment, which allows individuals to ‘protect themselves from attacks in public’. From Bernhard Goetz in 1984 to George Zimmerman in 2012, this right has generally manifested itself in white men gunning down Blacks and Latinos on the basis that they ‘felt threatened’.

Concealed-carry individualizes, rather than socializes, the right to bear arms. The Right uses concealed-carry laws to expand the legal basis for the murder of African-Americans and Latinos through Stand Your Ground laws. Even the NRA backhandedly agrees with bans on open-carry, calling the repeal of these bans “not a priority.” (16) Instead, the NRA’s far-right membership dedicatedly works to expand concealed-carry, which offers no legal basis for oppressed people to socially exercise the right to bear arms.

The Social Organization of the Right to Bear Arms

On picket lines, strikers in the 1930s regularly had to defend themselves and their fellow workers from company-hired paramilitaries. As far back as the Homestead Strike in 1892 involving Steelworkers and the Battle of Blair Mountain involving Coal Miners, the capitalist class has openly resorted to violence in order to crush the demands of striking workers.

Looking at restoring a militant strike movement as one of the main objectives of the progressive labor movement, it would be a folly to support increased gun control, which would allow the state, the capitalist class and its supporters to monopolize guns. While not all proposed gun control methods would completely curb access to firearms, Marxists should oppose any restrictions that further reduce the ability of oppressed people and workers to defend themselves or deter violence.

The disastrous consequences of gun control on the workers’ movement came full-circle during the South African Miner’s strike this year, in which state police opened fire killing 34 miners, armed mostly with clubs and other such weapons. A modern picket line with workers legally and openly carrying arms in self-defense would represent a strong deterrent to violent attempts to break up the strike by management, vigilantes or illegal police actions, like the ones that occurred in South Africa.

Many comrades will find that workers, and especially people of the oppressed nations in the US instinctively understand that the police force represents the ruling class and not their interests. Presenting the question of gun ownership in terms of class opens up workers to realizing that gun control is a question of democratic and class rights. Many workers understand reasonable gun rights and even gun control, but they will also reject the idea when presented with the prospect of surrendering their democratic right while the rich and their personal army get to hold onto this right.

In a March 1850 Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, Karl Marx described the need for workers to exercise the right to bear arms through social organization independent of the state. We will quote him at some length:

To be able forcefully and threateningly to oppose this party, whose betrayal of the workers will begin with the very first hour of victory, the workers must be armed and organized. The whole proletariat must be armed at once with muskets, rifles, cannon and ammunition, and the revival of the old-style citizens’ militia, directed against the workers, must be opposed. Where the formation of this militia cannot be prevented, the workers must try to organize themselves independently as a proletarian guard, with elected leaders and with their own elected general staff; they must try to place themselves not under the orders of the state authority but of the revolutionary local councils set up by the workers. Where the workers are employed by the state, they must arm and organize themselves into special corps with elected leaders, or as a part of the proletarian guard. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary. The destruction of the bourgeois democrats’ influence over the workers, and the enforcement of conditions which will compromise the rule of bourgeois democracy, which is for the moment inevitable, and make it as difficult as possible – these are the main points which the proletariat and therefore the League must keep in mind during and after the approaching uprising. (17)

In the underlined portion of the quote selected above, Marx describes the security functions of what the Bolsheviks would later call ‘Soviets’, or workers councils. Writing in London, Marx was warning against English attempts to co-opt independent armed bodies of workers by reviving citizens militias, which were directed and organized by the state to supposedly police communities. In actuality, these bodies served the interest of the capitalist state, making them functionally analogous to the gun control demands of the liberals today.

Marx instead recognized the necessity of workers organizing themselves and defending the right to bear arms through political struggle. This right would not be exercised individually through concealed-carry or for personal security, but it was instead a social right of the working class to defend their gains and interests.

In the oppressed nations within the United States, open-carry and the class right to bear arms has a rich history in America of forwarding national liberation. From countering white terrorism during Reconstruction, to the CPUSA again fighting off the Klan in the 1930’s, to the Black Panthers patrolling black communities, the right of Black armed organizations has been a guarantor of their democratic rights. Every instance of this has been organized, not on individual basis of “concealed-carrying” a handgun for individual defense, but as disciplined groups acting practically as the police force or army of the black nation itself. This, in essence, is the social right to bear arms.

The American working class and the Black and Chican@ nations should have the right and authority in their respective organizations to decide how to best manage gun rights in their communities. The answers lie in organizations and successful practices of the past, in contrast to the white liberal proposal to rely on the capitalist police forces’ monopoly on violence for protection.

We believe gun rights for workers and oppressed nationalities is a major factor in this struggle. Marxists should oppose the war on drugs and any possible “war on guns,” which would likely result in an intensification of national oppression. We should oppose legal restrictions, including efforts to strip members of the oppressed nations victimized by the Jim Crow legal system, of their right to bear arms. We believe Marxists should also support defensive, deterrence-based social gun policies, like open-carry, which would give oppressed nationalities and workers the ability to defend themselves from illegal violence and racist vigilantes in a legal fashion.

_____________________________________________________________________

(1) Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Mission Statement, 2012,http://www.bradycampaign.org/about/

(2) Mayors Against Illegal Guns, “About the Coalition,” 2012, http://maig.us/awoN03

(3) The Gothamist, “Bloomberg Continues Tone-Deaf Support Of Stop-And-Frisk Policy,” May 18, 2012,http://bit.ly/KXZrz2

(4) CBS News, “Bloomberg Defends NYPD’s Stop-And-Frisk Program, Says It Should Be ‘Mended, Not Ended’,” June 11, 2012, http://cbsloc.al/NsJZht

(5) Graham Rayman, The Village Voice, “Bloomberg Claims NYPD “7th Biggest Army in World” … Um, That’s Totally Wrong,” November 30, 2011, http://bit.ly/tgb0fT

(6) Lucy McKeon, The Nation, “Marchers Demand Justice for Ramarley Graham,” June 26, 2012,http://bit.ly/Oe65EU

(7) Justin Elliott, Salon, “How the feds fueled the militarization of the police,” December 24, 2011,http://bit.ly/u74o0s

(8) John W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute, “Tanks on Mainstreet: The Militarization of the Local Police,” January 3, 2012, http://bit.ly/ybNymo

(9) Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “Introduction to Gun Violence Statistics,” November 18, 2012,http://bit.ly/R5xf0i

(10) The Atlantic Cities, “The Geography of Gun Violence,” July 20, 2012, http://bit.ly/MOxA2k

(11) Malcolm X, “Malcolm X on the Right to Bear Arms,” http://bit.ly/R49Yhq

(12) Adam Winkler, The Atlantic, “The Secret History of Guns,” September 2011, http://huff.to/odPpKZ

(13) Dan Froomkin, The Huffington Post, “How Do You Disenfranchise 1 in 8 Black Men?” May 17, 2010,http://huff.to/au3ptU

(14) Michael McLaughlin, The Huffington Post, “Felon Voting Laws Disenfranchise 5.85 Million Americans With Criminal Records: The Sentencing Project,” July 12, 2010, http://huff.to/NtkyLs

(15) Ray Long, The Chicago Tribune, “Concealed carry: Court strikes down Illinois’ ban,” December 11, 2012, http://bit.ly/SRqfEW

(16) Sean Caranna, All Nine Yards, “NRA’s Own Prodigal Son Story – Open and Concealed Carry,” August 25, 2011, http://bit.ly/YdAOXJ

(17) Karl Marx, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, March 1850, http://bit.ly/noHW0h

Nations Want Liberation: The Black Belt Nation in the 21st Century

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The following article below was originally published by the political news blog Return to the Source:

By Vince Sherman & Frank Thomson, with contributions from Black Uhuru
June 24, 2012

Thousands rally for Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL.

In the past year, the United States has experienced an upsurge in black political consciousness as hundreds of thousands of organizations and people poured into the streets to demand justice for Trayvon Martin, the 17 year-old African-American youth brutally murdered in Sanford, FL. Martin’s case has drawn enormous attention to the daily terrorism inflicted on African-Americans by both the US government and vigilante terrorists, like George Zimmerman, who uphold and enforce a vicious system of white supremacy.

As the movement against police brutality and racist oppression continues to grow, Marxist-Leninists must grapple with the burning question of how to build a revolutionary national liberation struggle capable of ending white supremacy and imperialism in the United States.

Seeking to capitalize on the growing struggle against racism, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has republished a series of articles from the 1980s reflecting their understanding of “The History of Black America” in its newspaper, Socialist Worker. Complete with all of the errors endemic to their bizarre Trotskyite understanding of revolutionary history, these articles are a flaccid attempt for a mostly white organization – an organization that expelled several activists of color from its Washington DC branch in 2010, no less – to make itself relevant to the struggle of African-Americans against white supremacy.

However, one article in particular, republished on Saturday, June 16, stands above the rest in its historical revisionism, its fallacious analysis, and its generally poor syntactical construction. Lee Sustar’s piece, “Self-determination and the Black Belt” is a hit piece on the Marxist-Leninist demand for African-American self-determination, the entire concept of the Black Belt nation, and black nationalism in general.

Rife with historical errors, strawman characterizations, and misspellings, Sustar’s piece itself is barely worth a response. Never missing an opportunity to denounce and slander Josef Stalin, Sustar makes the totally absurd claim that “The Black Belt theory was part of a sharp “left” turn by the Communist International (Comintern) used by Joseph Stalin to mask his bureaucracy’s attack on the workers’ state,” arguing that somehow upholding the demand for African-American self-determination allowed Josef Stalin to better consolidate his so-called “state capitalist regime in Russia.” (1) The relationship between the struggle for black nationalism and the USSR is never explained or warranted by Sustar.

Neither is his claim that the demand for black self-determination was based “on the works of a Swedish professor who aimed to theoretically justify the political turns of the bureaucracy which was coming to control Russia.” (2) Sustar never names this Swedish professor, supposedly the progenitor of the demand for black self-determination, nor does he offer any evidence that such a professor had any impact on the development of the black national question adopted and implemented by the Communist International (Comintern). But a lack of evidence never stands in the way of the ISO’s vicious slander of Marxism-Leninism so the omission of key facts is both unsurprising and expected.

However, the continued relevance and renewed importance of the black national question in the 21st century demands serious consideration by Marxist-Leninists. It is important to respond to these unprincipled criticisms and slander of the experiences of black nationalist organizations and the CPUSA. The ISO may have published this piece nearly 30 years ago, but the same theoretical bankruptcy demonstrated in this re-published essay continues to inform their strange blend of Cliffite-Trotskyism today.

Instead, Marxist-Leninists must put forward a principled and materialist evaluation of the successes and failures of these various groups struggling for black liberation that appropriately contextualizes their specific struggles.

The Soviet Union and the National Question

V.I. Lenin

The Marxist-Leninist position on the African-American national question and the Black Belt South developed directly out of the Soviet Union’s own experience with actualizing the demand for self-determination for oppressed nationalities. The October Revolution of 1917 and the founding of the Soviet Union marked the end of tsarist oppression of the nations in the transcaucasus and Central Asia. In addition to Russia, many other nations under the Tsarist empire participated in the proletarian revolution in October 1917, and the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, began to work towards the creation of a voluntary federation of free, self-determined nations.

The destruction caused by the Russian Civil War, waged between 1918 and 1922, along with the Allied invasion of Russia by fourteen countries in 1921, forged a sense of unity between the underdeveloped constituent nations of the former Russian empire and the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary government. After exiting World War I through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and emerging victorious over the tsarist White Army, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) met with representatives from these formerly oppressed nations and formed the Soviet Union in 1922. The Soviet Union’s recognition of its constituent nations’ right to self-determination finds its embodiment in the 1917 “Declaration of the Rights of the Russian People,” which legally guaranteed “equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia, the right of peoples of Russia to free self-determination up to secession and the formation of independent states, abolition of all national and national-religious privileges and restrictions, [and] free development of national minorities and ethnic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia.” (3) Thus, any analysis of the Soviet Union must account for the complexities of its international composition, rather than viewing it as a purely Russian political phenomenon.

After the formation of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) implemented a policy of korenizatsiya to encourage the indigenous development of revolutionary leadership among the USSR’s constituent nations. While the CPSU argued that the process of socialist construction for each nation was generally the same, it acknowledged a firm belief that “each nation which has overthrown capitalism seeks to plot the course of its economic, political and cultural development in such way as to be most in conformity with its concrete historical features and progressive traditions.” (4) Korenizatsiya was a means by which the CPSU would help create indigenous communist parties, culture, and economies tailored to the specific needs of the nation in question. The central component of this, in the view of the CPSU, was the cultivation of native communist leadership in each nation’s party and the promotion of national minorities in higher Soviet institutions. (5)

In practice, the CPSU “supported local languages, educated and promoted local elites and thus built new loyalties to the socialist cause” as a part of korenizatsiya. (6) Reza Zia-Ebrahimi of the London School of Economics & Politics describes this process in a 2007 article entitled “Empire, Nationalities and the Fall of the Soviet Union,” pointing out that “each Soviet republic was flanked with an official culture, official folklore and national opera-house. (7) Soviet authorities went as far as to develop written systems for local languages that had previously lacked them.” (8) She notes that this policy of nativization also had the effect of combating Russian national chauvinism, citing Ukraine in the 1920s as an example, in which “a Russian residing there also had to be educated in Ukrainian.”(9)

Though the precise manifestations of korenizatsiya oscillated over the history of the USSR and at times nations had less operational freedom – particularly during the glasnost period brought on by Gorbachev – the Soviet state’s dedication to raising the status of national minorities and guaranteeing political representation demonstrates a genuine ideological commitment to national self-determination that inspired oppressed nations around the world. (10)

Developing the Black National Question

Harry Haywood, one of the founders of the Marxist-Leninist line on the Black Belt nation.

Among the many activists inspired by the Russian Revolution was African-American communist Harry Haywood. In his autobiography, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist, Haywood recounts his excitement at the many achievements of the Russian Revolution, noting its specific importance to African-Americans: “Most impressive as far as Blacks were concerned was that the revolution had laid the basis for solving the national and racial questions on the basis of complete freedom for the numerous nations, colonial peoples and minorities formerly oppressed by the czarist empire.” (11) Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ handling of the national question in North Asia prompted Haywood to join the CPUSA in the winter of 1923 and to visit the Soviet Union as a part of a student delegation in 1925.

Sustar views genuine African-American revolutionaries like Haywood, who developed the demand for black self-determination in the Soviet Union, with condescending contempt. He writes, “For these leaders, the Comintern’s theory of self-determination for the Black Bell (sic) must have appeared as a revolutionary commitment to fighting the enormous racism in the U.S.” (12) The implication, of course, is that Haywood, Otto Hall, and James Ford were more or less passive recipients of the black national question line – a falsehood that flies in the face of historical fact – and that they were basically duped into accepting a position hoisted upon them by Stalin.

In actuality, the black national question established by the Comintern came about through vibrant debate and struggle between African-American comrades, the white comrades in the CPUSA, and Soviet comrades, who contributed their own first-hand experience in building a multinational republic of the 15 unique constituent nations of the USSR. During his four-year visit to the Soviet Union, Haywood meticulously analyzed the character of black oppression in the US alongside other comrades.

The CPUSA’s position at that time was that black workers were subject to harsh societal prejudice based on race, but fundamentally they experienced the same capitalist exploitation as white workers. Haywood and the Communist International (Comintern) came to criticize this position because “To call the matter a race question, they said, was to fall into the bourgeois liberal trap of regarding the fight for equality as primarily a fight against racial prejudices of whites.” (13) This simplistic view placed total emphasis on building the trade union movement irrespective of race, leading the CPUSA to mistakenly see the struggle for black civil rights “as a diversion that would obscure or overshadow the struggle for socialism.” (14)

Furthermore, looking at the exploitation of African-Americans purely as a question of race “slurred over the economic and social roots of the question and obscured the question of the agrarian democratic revolution in the South.” (15) In describing Reconstruction, Haywood writes that the “revolution had stopped short of a solution to the crucial land question; there was neither confiscation of the big plantations of the former slaveholding class, nor distribution of the land among the Negro freedmen and poor whites.” (16) The White Supremacist counter-revolution of 1877 brought an end to Reconstruction, and through fascist terrorism by paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan, African-Americans were denied the political rights and economic opportunities afforded to White citizens. Thus, Haywood writes in his 1948 book, Negro Liberation, “The uniqueness of the Negro problem in the United States lies in the fact that the Negro was left out of the country’s general democratic transformation.” (17)

Influenced by Lenin’s Draft Theses on the National-Colonial Question and Josef Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question, both of which identify African-Americans as an oppressed nation within the US, Haywood and the leadership of the Comintern launched an intensive study of the character of African-American people. (18)  In Marxism and the National Question, Stalin outlines the objective conditions for nationhood, which are, “a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” (19) Using the criteria set out by Stalin, Haywood notes that “Under conditions of imperialist and racist oppression, Blacks in the South were to acquire all the attributes of a single nation.” (20)

A common territory is one of the criteria for nationhood. Although African-Americans were spread out across the US, Haywood argued that the “territory of this subject nation is the Black Belt, an area encompassing the Deep South,” because even after the post-war Northern migrations of black workers, the Black Belt “still contained (and does to this day) the country’s largest concentration of Blacks.” (21) Additionally, Robin D.G. Kelley writes in his book, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression that “This region, dominated by cotton plantations, consisted of counties with a numerical black majority.” (22) The demographic concentration of African-Americans, along with their historical tie to the land, led the Comintern to adopt a resolution affirming the presence of a black nation in the American South at its Sixth World Congress in 1928. (23)

The Black Belt Nation, derived from James Allen’s 1938 pamphlet, Negro Liberation.

Sustar’s article spins a web of sophistry in trying to back-handedly argue that Lenin would have opposed the Comintern’s line on the black national question. While he acknowledges that Lenin viewed African-Americans as an oppressed nation, he then proceeds to ignore that fact in painting Lenin’s position as one in harmony with the ISO’s Trotskyite position: That the struggle for national liberation is simply “a means to fight chauvinism and racism in the working class.” (24)

In actuality, Lenin maintained that “it is necessary that all Communist Parties render direct aid to the revolutionary movements among the dependent and subject nations (for example, in Ireland, among the Negroes in America, etc.) and in the colonies.” (25) True to Trotskyite form, Sustar leaves out any mention of the other toiling masses besides the proletariat, whose support is vital to the national liberation struggle. Lenin writes, “the cornerstone of the whole policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial questions must be a closer union of the proletarians and working masses generally of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landlords and the bourgeoisie.” (26) The term “working masses” unmistakably refers to the peasantry and the petty-bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations, who can and must support the proletariat for a revolutionary national liberation struggle to succeed. Much as Trotsky held contempt for the Bolshevik line on a strategic alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry in Russia, the ISO holds contempt for the strategic alliance between the multinational working class and the other nationalist classes comprising the oppressed African-American nation. He can hold that position, but it is characteristically anti-Leninist, as is the entirety of Trotsky’s theory of revolution.

The Comintern’s groundbreaking new line on the African-American question maintained that “African-Americans had the right to self-determination: political power, control over the economy, and the right to secede from the United States.” (27) In a broader sense, however, Haywood’s line on the national question represented an affirmation of the revolutionary character of black nationalist movements, whose efforts could strike blows against US imperialism from within. While Marxist-Leninists view nationalism as a bourgeois ideology, it can nevertheless fuel revolutionary movements against imperialism in colonized nations, whose economic and social development were held back by foreign exploitation.

Organizing in the Black Belt Nation

Sustar has an incredibly superficial understanding of the black national question in theory, but his historical evaluation of its impact is equally flawed.

When Haywood returned to the US in 1930, the CPUSA had already begun implementing the African-American national question by sending party cadre into the Black Belt to organize and raise the demand of black self-determination. Suster claims that “the new perspective launched the CP into a series of senseless sectarian attacks on reformist Black and working-class leaders, alienating the party from the mass of workers,” the actual effect of the Party’s focus on the black national question was tremendous growth in its black membership. (28) The Alabama Communist Party was particularly successful in building strong ties with African-Americans through applying the theory to political organizing. Kelley notes that “From the beginning, Birmingham blacks exhibited a greater interest in the Party than did whites.” (29) The party’s appeal among African-Americans came from its outspoken opposition to racism and its support for national self-determination. Kelley writes that “During the 1930 election campaign, the Communist Party did what no political party had done in Alabama since Reconstruction: it endorsed a black candidate, Walter Lewis, for governor. The election platform included complete racial equality and maintained that the exercise of self-determination in the black belt was the only way to end lynching and achieve political rights for Southern blacks.” (30)

The Alabama Communist Party’s orientation towards building a strong, independent African-American movement translated into exponential growth in black cadre. Starting with a mere three organizers in 1929, the Party “was augmented to over ninety by the end of August 1930, and over five hundred working people populated the Party’s mass organizations, of whom between 80 and 90 percent were black.” (31) Contrary to Sustar’s baseless claims, the correct application of the national question to organizing fueled the early rapid levels of growth for the CPUSA among African-Americans.

Black workers were hit hardest by the Great Depression’s rampant unemployment due to racist firing preferences by White managers. In response to the mass demand among African-Americans for jobs, the Alabama Communists organized an unemployment relief campaign in 1933. By the end of the year “the Party’s dues-paying membership in Birmingham rose to nearly five hundred, and its mass organizations encompassed possibly twice that number.” (32) The unemployment relief campaign was particularly successful in its goal “to increase the number of black female members, who often proved more militant than their male comrades, from open confrontation to hidden forms of resistance, and would later prove invaluable to local Communists continuing their work in the mines, mills, and plantations of the black belt.” (33) The Alabama Communist Party maintained high diversity because of its attention to the plight of African-Americans, and in particular, the plight of African-American women.

Southern communists heavily involved themselves in the sharecropper labor movement, whose composition was primarily African-American. In Alabama, for instance, the Party organized the Share Croppers Union (SCU) in 1931, which grew to “a membership of nearly 2,000 organized in 73 locals, 80 women’s auxiliaries, and 30 youth groups.” (34) The SCU was openly organized by Alabama communists, and while it drew substantial support from the African-American community, it was also subject to a harsh crackdown by state and non-state actors. (35) Nevertheless, “the SCU claimed some substantial victories. On most of the plantations affected, the union won at least seventy-five centers per one hundred pounds, and in areas not affected by the strike, landlords reportedly increased wages from thirty-five cents per hundred pounds to fifty cents or more in order to avert the spread of the strike.” (36) The mass appeal of the SCU, an explicitly red trade union, and its tremendous victories demonstrate the power once possessed by the CPUSA in the American South.

Because sharecropping and rural wage labor was dominated by African-Americans, the SCU gave Alabama communists an interesting opportunity to apply the national question to trade union organizing. African-American communist Al Murphy was chosen as the Secretary of the SCU, and the bulk of the union’s leadership was always black. (37) Kelley writes that as Secretary, “Murphy, an unflinching supporter of the Party’s demand for self-determination in the black belt, had very definite ideas about the radical character of the SCU. He saw within each and every member ‘standard bearers of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser, Frederick Douglass,’ and regarded the all-black movement as the very embodiment of black self-determination.” (38) The SCU came to represent the embodiment of Black self-determination applied to organizing because African-American cadre themselves comprised the union’s leadership, rather than the white labor bureaucrats that marked most other industrial trade unions in the 1930s. Nearly all of the Party’s black leadership had no prior experience in radical movements, making the SCU an authentic people’s trade union reflecting the class conflicts of the South. (39)

Perhaps the only aspect of Sustar’s piece with a kernel of principled criticism is his claim that the black national question was never “consistently put forward in practice.” While the CPUSA did implement and adapt the theory to much success, the rise of fascism and the breakout of World War II produced zig-zags in the Party’s line on African-American liberation, much to the detriment of the Party. For instance, the CPUSA abandoned Haywood’s line on the national question in 1935 in order to collaborate with conservative middle class black organizations in anti-war work related to fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. (40)

It is important to understand that Sustar is completely wrong in his assessment of the line’s implementation. Contrary to Sustar’s claim that the black national question “means subordinating the needs of workers to those of the middle class in the oppressed nation,” it wasn’t until the CPUSA dropped the demand for black national self-determination in 1935 that the Party began tailing the conservative black petty-bourgeoisie. (41) While the demand for a black nation was gaining traction among the black proletariat in the American South, the political pivot to a more rightist position proved costly to the CPUSA and actually fueled their waning influence in the working class. Sustar’s claim is outrageously ahistorical, and the facts actually demonstrate that abandoning the line seriously damaged the proletarian character of the black nationalist movement that the Party was building.

This political zig-zag was the product of Northern communists, who dominated the CPUSA leadership at the time. (42) Additionally, the sudden appearance of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), one of the only national trade unions to allow black members, prompted communist leaders to fold the SCU into the CIO in 1936. Although organizing within the CIO had tactical advantages in terms of available resources, the dissolution of the SCU “exacted a costly toll from the Alabama cadre, especially black party organizers.” (43) Because of racist internal policies limiting African-American leadership, “Black Birmingham Communists, for the most part, did not (and often could not) become pure union bureaucrats in the way that their comrades had in Northern and Western CIO unions.” (44) Reflecting deeper changes in their political line, the Alabama Communist Party’s influence declined across the South as it gradually lost its mass base among the African-American Nation.

One of the more bold claims made by Sustar is his claim that the CP pushed a line not shared by African Americans: “in the early 1930s, it was the Communist Party–not Black workers and farmers–who called for self-determination of the Black Belt.” Exactly who else is to put out slogans and calls? Is it a communist party’s job to wait until the people have perfected their demand and in the meantime there is nothing to do but twiddle one’s thumbs and hope for the best? Absolutely not. We say it is the job of the party to collect the best sentiments of the masses and translate them into coherent revolutionary action. Additionally, the tremendous success of the Communist Party in the South, especially among African-Americans and despite incredible state repression, indicates that the workers and sharecroppers in the South responded positively to the line precisely because they demanded it.

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Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence thrown out

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Free Mumia! 

By Rob Kaminiski
October 25, 2011

Mumia Abu Jamal

The Supreme Court has upheld a lower-court ruling throwing out the death sentence of former Black Panther and acclaimed author Mumia Abu-Jamal. The high court left in place lower-court rulings that would allow a new jury to determine if Mumia will face execution or serve life in prison.

It is widely recognized that Mumia was framed for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Faulkner was shot during a traffic stop of Mumia’s younger brother. Mumia was arrested at the scene and convicted of first-degree murder a year later.

Mumia has exhausted his appeals on that conviction, despite strong evidence of his innocence and grievous misconduct by the judge and prosecutor during the trial.

Mumia’s death sentence was thrown out by federal district judge William Yohn in 2001 because the trial jury was given improper instructions in the sentencing phase. Jurors had been told they must have unanimous agreement in considering any mitigating circumstances to recommend a life sentence, rather than the death penalty. In fact, only a majority of jurors need agree on possible mitigating circumstances.

Judge Yohn ordered a new sentencing trial, but the notorious Philadelphia chain of prosecutors and politicians challenged his decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The prosecutors lost and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s latest backing of the Third Circuit means that, for the prosecutors to try to reimpose the death penalty against Mumia, they would have to order a new sentencing trial. That, however, poses a risk to the prosecutors, as a sentencing trial would give Mumia an important opportunity to expose the illegal conduct of the state in the original trial.

People around the world and in the United States are demanding immediate freedom for Mumia, a heroic leader of progressive struggles, whose voice has never been silenced despite severe prison repression. Stopping the death penalty is critical on the long road to justice.

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Exclusive: Inmate reveals systematic torture in Virginia prison

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September 20, 2011

Editorial Note [BASICS]:

In this piece, Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson, an inmate of Red Onion State Prison (ROSP) in Virginia and the Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter), blows the cover off ROSP’s systematic application of torture. The ‘Finger-Bending Technique’ [FBT] is elaborately detailed by Rashid in the piece that follows, a practice where the finger is bent back beyond the point of excruciating pain.  Joint dislocation, broken fingers, and permanent nerve damage are the norm with this practice. This practice is routinely applied for the most minimal acts of insubordination or disrespect to a guard.
 
Rashid reports that this practice has been applied hundreds of times, six times to him alone:

Due to permanent ligament damage caused by the FBT, my right thumb now spontaneously dislocates under moderate pressure and impacts. A mild tug pulls it right out the knuckle socket. It’s also lost about 25% range of motion at the middle joint.

That this torture is institutionalized, and not merely a matter of a few ‘bad apples’, is revealed by the complicity of medical staff in covering up the torture, which is attested to by a couple of direct references.  Further, as the staff’s response in the attached Information Request form indicates, authorities do not deny that this practice occurs; they only claim that no harm has come to prisoners.
 
Please forward this article to your networks and list-servs so that we can help the inmates of Red Onion State Prison blow the cover off this practice.
 
More of Rashid’s writings and information about Red Onion State Prison and its institutionalized torture can be found at prisonpanthers.com and rashidmod.com.

Breaking Prisoners’ Fingers at Red Onion State Prison: Restraint Technique or Plain Old Torture?

By: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 12 September 2011

Some things are just so obvious you don’t need rocket science to figure them out.  But those in power will still try and convince you your eyes are lying, your basic sense is failing, and the suffering is just imagination.  Routine torture by U.S. officials of poor people of color is a case in point.

I’m going to use the prison setting as an example.  Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison in particular.

In her new book, The New Jim Crow,1 civil rights attorney and legal scholar Michelle Alexander exposes modern U.S. mass imprisonment, and the so-called Drug War as the latest phase of ongoing political and racial oppression and containment of New Afrikan (Black) people.  She doesn’t, however, talk about the institutionalized sadism, brutality and torture we prisoners suffer under the guise of prison officials maintaining “security,” which is what I want to touch on here.

Breaking Prisoners’ Fingers – A Control Technique?

I want the reader to look at the illustration attached as Exhibit A.  Now ask yourself, under what circumstances could bending a human being’s fingers back against the natural band of the joints and knuckles be considered ‘reasonable’ preventive force.  And usually it is applied against a person already restrained in handcuffs and shackles.

Imagine this finger-bending technique (FBT) being used against you.  It’s terrifying, painful and almost guaranteed to cause permanent injury.

Here at Red Onion the FBT is frequently used, and not merely to subdue a struggling prisoners, but whenever a guard even speculates that a prisoners may be about to become disruptive.  And “disruptive’ can mean anything or nothing.  The guards have absolute discretion to make the call.  All the provocation they need is a sarcastic remark, or being in a foul mood, or resentment against a given prisoner.  Often, racial resentment is enough in a prison that pits a 98% rural white staff against an 85% non-white prisoner body.

And how can such a technique be applied with limited or restrained force under the stress and excitement of subduing a struggling person? Especially one who suffers mental health problems.  Try it, matter of fact, if you can find a willing partner—preferably someone you can trust not to get too carried away—try it while you’re completely at ease.  Your first reflex, like a reaction to having your eyes gouged at, will be to become combative, to resist and pull away.  These are instinctive and intelligent responses to the pain, and the protect fragile, sensitive and previous parts of the body.  Self preservation.

Ever jammed a finder playing sports?  That’s the least amount of pain you’ll fell.  And what’s worse, it’s not a brief experience, like jamming a finger.  When guards apply the FBT, they don’t let up! The initial grab for your  fingers is done suddenly, without warning, and with force, so you don’t have the chance to ball your hands up.  The finger bending then continues for minutes at a time.  Typically no less than 5 minutes.

And when—not if—you resist in response to the shock and pain, they apply more force often until your fingers touch your wrist.  It’s a lose-lost situation.  Your options: cry out or suffer silently (both of which eggs them on more), or try and twist away (which increases the risk and extent of injury), or try to fight them off (a highly dubious option, where the victim is typically cuffed behind his back leg-shackled, and contending with multiple guards—all grabbing at and being your fingers and worse).

Often, abusive guards initiate the FBT solely to make a prisoner react.  To make him appear belligerent or combative, so greater force is then ‘justified’ to ‘control’ him.

In any case, the result is dislocated and/or broken fingers.  I’ve had mine dislocated six times no less.  Once for committing the grave offense of questioning guards about racially discriminatory practices against us.

Due to permanent ligament damage caused by the FBT, my right thumb now spontaneously dislocates under moderate pressure and impacts.  A mild tug pulls it right out the knuckle socket.  It’s also lost about 25% range of motion at the middle joint.

Official Denials, Cover-ups and Denied Care

Red Onion medical staff generally deny and cover up the injuries their colleagues inflict.  Hundreds of prisoners have suffered them.  Attendant nerve damage is the norm.  In many cases, this results in total loss of sensation in parts of the hand.

A few examples are in order.

On October 27, 2005 Nathaniel Wright had the middle bone of his lift middle finger broken completely in half—courtesy of the FBT.  For weeks medical staff told him he was fine, to just apply cold compresses to the grotesque swelling.  Only after filing numerous complaints and involving outside prisoner advocates, did he finally receive x-rays revealing his injury.

To repair it, the bone had to be rebroken (because it had begun mending with the severed ends misaligned), surgically reset, held bolted together with screws, and a cast applied to immobilize his finger and hand.  To cover up their initial cover-up, Red Onion medical staff claimed Wright broke his own finger sometime after the October 27th incident.

On November 10, 2007 guards beat a restrained prisoner in presence of an entire unit of outraged prisoners, eleven of whom covered their cell door windows in protest.  Teams of riot-armored guards were then assembled to forcibly extract all eleven from their cells.  Each prisoner, after being tear-gassed, electrocuted, physically subdued and then manacled, had their fingers bent back and dislocated by the guards.  Several lost feeling in their hands and suffered permanent damage.

One prisoner, John Gaskins, whose fingers were broken, endured months of writing complaints for x-rays and treatment.  When he finally received x-rays, it was too late to be treated, leaving him with permanent deformities and fingers that now chronically dislocate.  This is a typical scenario.

Gaskins was recently released from prison in Virginia, and is willing to attest to and show evidence (i.e., his deformed hand) of the brutal FBT.  He can be emailed at: johngaskins[at]hotmail[dot]com.

On November 11, 2010 I wrote Red Onion’s warden Tracy S. Ray, asking how the FBT could be deemed anything but sadistic torture and calculated to cause pain and injury.  He avoided my request, and passed it on to his notoriously corrupt and deceitful investigator Tony R. Adams.  On November 29, 2011 Adams lyingly replied that, “No offenders have suffered dislocation or broken fingers or knuckles as a result of this hold.” (See attached).

Again, it doesn’t take rocket science to recognize that it’s virtually impossible to use such a technique on delicate joins like those of the fingers, and not dislocate or break them.  Fingers aren’t pliant like pipecleaners.  They bend in only one direction.  And it’s impossible to measure or limit the pressure applied when bending fingers backward, especially when one instinctively resists.

And again, try it yourself.  Don’t take my word for it.  Despite what those in power might say, I assure you, your eyes, senses and agony won’t deceive you.

Plain Old Torture

I can’t imagine that a victim’s panic and pain under waterboarding, genital electro-shock, or thumbscrews could be much worse than the FBT.  In more openly barbaric and honest times, (Europe’s Middle—especially Dark—Ages perhaps), the FBT would’ve been called exactly what it is: plain old torture.

So let’s have done with the hypocrisy of U.S. democracy.  If prisons are a microcosm of the larger society that births them, what sort of society is it that needs to mass incarcerate millions of its residents, uses mass imprisonment to press and persecute minority nationalities and races of people, and in turn needs to torture them?  I’ll tell you what kind…one that still needs to be fundamentally changes.

Dare to struggle Dare to win!

All Power to the People!

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Kenneth Harding police murder aftermath: Victory for Kilo G

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by Malaika H. Kambon
September 3, 2011

Kilo G Perry, his family and supporters celebrate on Aug. 12 the dropping of charges against him, part of a police harassment campaign against Hunters Point activists since SFPD murdered Kenneth Harding. From left are Rebecca Ruiz-Lichter, Jeremy Miller, Elvira Pollard, Ben Allen, Kilo G Perry with his son and daughter, Remigio Fraga, Mesha Irizarry, Tracey Bell-Borden, Fly Benzo, Kim Rohrbach and Frank of SF ANSWER. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

Kilo G. Perry is an Afrikan man and a man of his word. He is such a trusted man of his word that he has been dubbed “the voice of Bayview Hunters Point” by poor Black and Brown people of San Francisco. Comrade Kilo G is the producer of Cameras Not Guns, a youth educator and peacemaker, and a single father of a 3-year-old baby boy.

Recently, in keeping with the theme of Cameras Not Guns, Kilo G began filming a painful new project. Since July 16, 2011, he has been filming much of the aftermath of the SFPD murder of 19-year-old Kenneth Harding, a young Black man. Since the shooting of Harding on Third and Oakdale – in broad daylight, for lack of a transfer proving purchase of a $2 train ticket – community outrage has exploded.

When asked to describe Kilo G’s determination to see this project through, the Idriss Stelley Foundation said of Kilo G’s work:

“As part of his crucial endeavor to find the truth, Kilo G has been interviewing direct witnesses of Harding’s killing, who contend they never saw a gun in Harding’s hand. Witnesses such as Henry Taylor, who was arrested by SFPD to silence him, then released because no charges against Taylor could stick.”

In the same fashion, and for the nearly the same reasons, Debray Carpenter – better known as Fly Benzo – was arrested the week following Harding’s murder and released days later. All charges were dropped. Apparently, asking questions, seeking answers, speaking out and videography are crimes and are therefore punishable by arrest.

Accordingly, attempts were made to silence Kilo G as well. He was accused of harassing a police officer. Perry, who is neither on parole nor probation and has not committed any crime, was ordered to appear in court to answer to charges of civil harassment against a police officer, bringing the total to at least three Black men arrested for conducting an independent community-sanctioned investigation into the murder of Kenneth Harding.

And again, recent history repeated itself. On Aug. 12, in a hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. in the San Francisco Superior Court, an order to show cause for civil harassment filed by SFPD Officer Julia Angalet against Keith “Kilo G” Perry was vacated and all charges filed against him were dropped. SFPD Officer Julia Angalet, oddly enough, was a no show at her own show.

The mere fact of a concerted and concerned presence of people with Kilo G for this court hearing rattled the powers that be enough that they detailed a sheriff’s officer – Officer Mendoza – to take our pictures, increase the number of officers in the hallway outside of the courtroom, detail officers to follow us to the elevator and block off the adjoining hallways that we passed through. In addition, they had both a sheriff’s department officer and a jump-suited Homeland Security highway patrol officer, armed with both a pistol and a Taser X-26, watching us while we stood outside.

And prior to court, Cpl. Castellanos of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department saw fit to inform Kilo G to “meet me at five when I get off. I get off work at 5 p.m.”

Considering the present air of community hostility toward a global police force that kills with impunity, what would be the purpose of Castellanos saying something like that if he wasn’t intending, as a representative of the SFPD, to escalate an already tense situation to a lethal state? In this reporter’s estimation, those comments can be construed as a direct threat to yet another Afrikan man’s life – particularly since they had nothing whatsoever to do with the court case, were uttered specifically to Kilo G while he was alone in the hallway outside of court, and when the officer realized that his comments had been overheard, he was denying that he’d said anything at all!

What does this mean? Well, somebody’s lying and somebody’s got something to hide. And guess what? It isn’t Kilo G and it isn’t the predominantly Afrikan Bayview Hunters Point community.

Kenneth Harding’s murder at the hands of the SFPD has sent shock ripples around the world, adding to the already daunting statistics of young Afrikans being murdered by police, while globally the corporate media ignores incidents, buries them in silence and disseminates misinformation or attempts to cover the murders up.

Witness the fact that London, England, burned earlier this month because of just this kind of murder – that of Mark Duggan, a young unarmed Black man. Cities across the world raged at the murder of Oscar Grant III as Oakland, Calif., lit up like a torch. New York erupted at the murders of 10-year-old Clifford Glover, Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo. Detroit is still smoldering after the savage murder of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, killed while sleeping on the couch in her own home. And let us not forget about elderly Alberta Spruill, who was literally frightened to death in New York City after police, in a “mistaken raid,” tossed a concussion grenade into her home. And the list goes on.

In the San Francisco Bay area, between 1966 and 2011, the murders of innocent people by police include but are not limited to the following people of color, disability and or transient, homeless persons:

  • Matthew Johnson, 16 – killed after running from a joy ride in a stolen car, sparking the Hunters Point riots.
  • Tony Groshe, 13 – mentally challenged youth, killed while playing with a water pistol in Potrero Hill.
  • Aaron Williams – killed in the Western Addition, aka the Fillmore.
  • Mark Garcia – died of a heart attack in the Mission District after being robbed by unknown assailants, then pepper sprayed and hogtied by SFPD, the very persons he cried out to for help.
  • Bruce Seward – shot and killed for being naked on a bench outside a BART station.
  • Idriss Stelley – an honor student shot 48 times by nine SFPD officers inside San Francisco’s Metreon Theater.
  • Gustavus Rugley – shot 36 times as he sat in his car at Alemany and Ocean by the SFPD gang task force.
  • Vinh Bui – a Bayview resident shot and killed while “holding a metal object.”
  • Randall Dunkin – a disabled man shot while sitting in his wheelchair.
  • Oscar Grant III, 22 – tortured, called racial epithets and shot to death at point blank range by BART police.
  • Raheim Brown, 20 – shot and killed by Oakland Unified School District police.
  • Charles Hill – homeless transient man beaten and shot to death by BART police.
  • Kenneth Harding, 19 – shot for lack of a transfer proving he’d paid the $2 train fare.

And the corporate media continues to cover up what the Black and Brown communities have always recognized as an epidemic of stolen lives and police brutality that has gone on for centuries and continues unabated.

Speaking at a community meeting immediately after the killing of Kenneth Harding, where SFPD Chief Greg Suhr was shouted down, a longtime Bayview resident made a telling and critical statement quoted by the October 22nd Coalition:

“A boy gets gunned down. We don’t know if there was a gun there, but we know that for 40 damn years, people have been getting gunned down in this community. People are angrier now than they were when they walked in the door. We’re a community that’s truly in pain, that’s truly frustrated and really needs some respect.”

Learning the charges against Kilo G had been dropped, jubilation erupted from his supporters: Jeremy Miller, Frank of SF ANSWER, Ben Allen, Kilo’s daughter, Tracey Bell-Borden, Mesha Irizarry and Kilo. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

This isn’t about just one bad cop in a barrel. This is about systemic violence played out with impunity to terrorize and to destroy communities. And the attempt to placate the community with articles such as the one published on the back pages of the Mercury News on Aug. 12, 2011, entitled, “Oakland police draw guns without cause too often, federal report finds,” failed its task miserably, for it comes a little too little and a lot too late and it fails to recognize the community’s need to control what happens within itself.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense advocated community control as opposed to police occupations and was successful in building such controls until it was decimated by J. Edgar Hoover and his infamous “counter-intelligence” program, COINTELPRO.

Kenneth Harding was murdered in broad daylight. Oscar Grant III photographed his killer, as did thousands of witnesses. But they are both still very dead and their killers are known and walking the earth free.

And now that neither the corporate media pundits nor their lies, nor the various police departments and their legally sanctioned killers have a foot to stand on – as their cities burn to the ground on international television – they want to make matters worse by publishing useless federal reports admitting wrongdoing on the one hand, while attempting to shoot the messengers of the people with the other hand? What’s wrong with this picture?

People like videographer Kilo G, like the Black-owned San Francisco Bay View newspaper – who had a bullet come through their window and their entire website hacked in attempts to put them out of business – and like the most famous of our peoples’ voices, internationally acclaimed journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who fights for his life on death row, while everyone from the feds to the courts to the Fraternal Order of Police of Pennsylvania try to silence his voice and crush his life and spirit – are media outlets that are unstinting in their search for and reporting of the facts.

We the people deserve to know the truth. And we must protect what we have: our people’s media, our truth tellers. For it is a sad fact of life that freedom of the press is not the sacred cow it is purported to be, because it only exists to serve corporate-political interests. And stilted political interests have turned it into a free-for-all of corruption.

In a world gone mad, embedded journalists go to wars that are instigated by whomever has the most money and report back to an ostrich-like North American populace that war is all about guts and glory and fighting the good fight for truth, justice and the American way. And the populace believes this until Superman comes home in a body bag, with varying portions of his or her anatomy missing – the corpse not being the only thing that’s covered up.

The system will even kill its own for prime public relations ratings and a percentage. Witness the Pat Tillman story, for example. He was a professional football player with the Arizona Cardinals indoctrinated to fight the good fight against the “War on Terror” after 9/11. Tillman gave up fame and fortune – a $3.5 million football contract with the Cardinals and a $9 million contract with the St. Louis Rams – to die for his country and protect it from the so-called evil terrorists who had their sights set on stealing U.S. freedoms.

He joined the Army Rangers and his Army Rangers killed him, blamed it on the Afghans, gave him a posthumous Silver Star, covered up his death and fueled the U.S. war machine for two years, using him like a tool as the U.S. poster-boy, who, at 27 years old, died a national hero.

The Army of course didn’t bother to tell anyone that they’d suppressed the true findings of the coroner: Pat Tillman was assassinated from 10 yards away with an M-16, the shots being small and perfectly placed. Tillman was also listed as “an agnostic, probably an atheist” and was arranging through a friend to meet with noted anti-war historian Noam Chomsky after his tour of duty in Iraq had ended.

Tillman’s father publicly and in writing told the army to go fuck itself after the cover-up became known through the diligence of the Tillman family; and the Army then tried to reduce it to “a few typographical errors” in the information that the family was officially given as the cause of their loved one’s death.

So, significant parts of the populace now realize that cover-ups are real. And also that in-bed-with-the-State-Department journalists lie. And finally, that there is a record of history’s most prominent figures that direct substantial sums of money to perpetuate unstinting violence against those who hunt down truth. Vicious dictators and colored puppets in positions of power, political and corporate pundits, media moguls, prison and military industrial complex players et al. are some of the figures that come to mind.

Whether they be governmental, vigilante or members of that ol’ boys club called “the corporate media,” there is incontrovertible documentation that the powers that be have, do and will continue to act to silence those who air the corporate dirty laundry. Impunity is the coin they use, no matter the size of the truth being told and no matter the age, gender and or national origin of the teller.

Cover-up is the stick they wield even when their messiness spirals out of control. Then they make a movie out of it or a PR show, whichever will benefit – read, profit – them the most.

So when the poor, the dispossessed, the downtrodden, the marginalized stand up and scream foul and then prove it and then fight back, the monster of suppression rears its ugly head and tries hard to put the genie back in the bottle by any and every means necessary, however foul.

First they go into denial, when everything turns into a gun.

The wallet, transfer or medicine you reach for, the compact you use to powder your nose, magically transform into guns. The guns, whether they are invisible, visible or planted, are definitely presumed to be in your possession. Then you are killed. Witness the countless “regime” change murders: Fred Hampton, George Jackson, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, to name but a few.

Next, they colonize the information.

Even the videographer, Kilo G Perry films Officer Mendoza leading a contingent of well-armed sheriff’s deputies in the courthouse taking pictures of Kilo’s supporters and following, blocking and containing them in a futile intimidation effort. – Photo: Malaika Kambon

The poetry you speak, the rap music lyrics you spit, the documentation that says you were not where they said you were and that you are not who they say that they’re looking for magically transform into that planted, non-existent gun or that gun of “mistaken identity.”

Then you are imprisoned, exiled and or killed. Geronimo ji Jaga was a prime example of this tactic, as were Tupac Amaru Shakur, Anita Spruill, Assata Olugbala Shakur and many of the men and women who remain political prisoners and or prisoners of war from roughly 40 years ago to this day – or who died locked up – as well as those souls who are locked away and have no one and are unnamed except to their communities and friends.

Lastly, they criminalize your every movement and your very existence.

The deeds you do that help, encourage, uplift and empower get twisted and destroyed and turned into that “threat to national security” gun. Then you are disappeared. Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine and the Black Panther Party are prime examples of victims of this. And when all else fails, obliteration by treaty promises unkept, gentrification, starvation and death by guns of assimilation are sure to follow.

But what happens when those of us who speak power to truth consistently, loudly, unfailingly and in various and creative ways take on the monster in the belly of the beast and beat him at his own game? What happens when the proverbial rabbit has the pen and or the gun and takes out the beast? What happens when one of us – “we the people” – or one of the people’s favorite sons or daughters stops the war, throws a wrench in the machine, refuses to disappear and lives to tell it and to keep fighting?

What happens when the power of the people wins many small battles on the road to winning the war and overturning the machine? That’s when the world changes. The madness stops. The bullets, bombs and burning crosses cease to be. We the people are winning.

We are doing this with very little in the way of material resources. This upsets the moguls of the state, who seemingly cannot breathe unless they have billions of dollars of someone else’s money – ours – at their beck and call, 24/7.

But the daily stock market crashes of 2011 are an indication that Babylon is crumbling to its wilted knees because it has squandered the rich bounty that it has systematically stolen from us and from our motherlands and from the planet Earth.

So, shooting the messenger has become a national pastime amongst the moneyed rich and connected. But the messengers are refusing to be destroyed. The messengers, like Kilo G, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Ruchell Magee, the San Francisco Bay View and so many others, are carrying on and passing the torch. The power that these brave and consistent souls wield in the road to victory, like the weapon that it is, is the power of the people.

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The New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter: Our Line

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August 22, 2011

By Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson, Defense Minister, NBPP-PC

Introduction

In this paper, we outline the political and ideological line of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter. The NABPP-PC, an all Afrikan people’s revolutionary party, proposes through its work and example to spread its line to the general NABPP on the outside, and to all revolutionary-minded New Afrikans, and Ultimately to expand the Party into a broad international vanguard of all Afrikan people the world over. We are in full accord with the analysis set forward in ‘The Panther and the Elephant,” which this paper intends to further illuminate..

The Vanguard Party

As a vehicle for coordinating masses of people for action, organization is necessary. Planning is necessary, and so is assigning roles and tasks to those most capable of performing them, and holding them accountable for performing their assigned tasks completely and to the best of their abilities. Coordinating the activities of the active forces of the Afrikan Nation in America towards the achievement of full democracy and national liberation requires a genuine vanguard party based among the masses. No revolutionary or genuine national independence struggle has ever succeeded without a party to organize and coordinate the energy of the struggling people into focused result-oriented action.

“From the People to the People” is the Mass line – the opposite of top-down organizations. The NABPP-PC practices and promotes the Mass line. In applying this, the Party workers must go among the People, and, by living with them and struggling along side them, experience and learn their needs, ideas and interests. The Party then – applying the principles of Historical and Dialectical Materialism – returns the People’s unorganized ideas to them in a comprehensive form, coordinating their collective actions, resources and abilities around their needs and thereby aids and organizes them in solving their own problems.

As a revolutionary vanguard party, the NABPP-PC realizes that strategic or tactical inflexibility runs counter to the organic nature of a mass-based leading party. Such a party must operate within the limits of existing concrete conditions as they develop and change, and it cannot attempt to drive people to stick stubbornly and mechanically to methods of struggle which actual conditions do not support or allow. It has been by failing to exercise flexibility and initiative and practicing “commandism” that many would-be revolutionary movements in the past have failed and have given vanguard parties a bad name.

Our strategic and tactical decision-making process is that of Democratic Centralism, which does not contradict applying the Mass Line. Nor does it go against maintaining flexibility and initiative and being creative in our political work. Democratic Centralism is the method by which our Party determines, through intense internal discussion, debate, and then majority agreement, the Party’s overall strategic and tactical line. The basic principle is to raise criticisms and ideas up and to implement down. Once a strategy and tactical approach is decided, the lower bodies of the Party can then exercise a great deal of initiative and creativity in applying the line in practice, adapting to the particularities of local conditions.

At the heart of any democratic process is the need and right to be informed of all issues relevant to making accurate analysis and correct decisions. Therefore, Party cadre must never stop learning, (and teaching the People), and must never hold stubbornly to views not supported by the ongoing experience of the Party. Our sources of learning are our people’s life experience, books, and especially our practice. We must never stop learning.

Essential to democratic practice is criticism and self-criticism. All Party members must feel free to criticize other Party members and leaders, line and practice within the context of internal Democratic Centralism. The Party must also be open to listening to the criticisms of the masses. If what is unproductive or harmful cannot be criticized, then how can what is productive and good be determined?

The Party will exercise greater or lesser degrees of centralism, depending upon the freedom and necessity of the struggle in a given time and place. For example, security considerations may restrict the ability to hold discussions and force the leadership to assume more authoritative methods at times, restricting certain information, to protect the cadre or the Party as a whole. But overall, our goal is to promote democracy and collective decision making. In all cases, we must adjust and adapt new, varied and creative tactics and approaches to maintain the initiative in our work and avoid becoming predictable and thus susceptible to being out manoeuvred and defeated.

Classes and Class Struggle

On the point of classes and class struggle, we adopt the analysis presented in ‘The Panther and the Elephant,” we also add in relation to the lumpen Proletariat that the NABPP-PC, as its name implies, is an autonomous chapter of the NABPP centered within the prisons. The vast majority of prisoners in the U.S. are proletarians, but many come from a lumpen background, and all are influenced by this perspective in the context of prison culture. The lumpen class overlaps with the proletariat, (drifts in and out of employment), but maintains an outlook that opposes a proletarian class outlook. The lumpen’s confused and backward values stem from its position of preying upon others and general ignorance, which can be corrected through education and struggle, and through guided practice in a mass organization like the Black Brigade. A minimum condition for the acceptance of lumpen class militants into the Party must be a period of re-education and practice inside a Party-affiliated mass organization like the Black Brigade, where we can observe their practice and they can remold their class outlook and develop into a full-time, all-the- way revolutionary.

Contradictions in Proletarian Versus Lumpen Perspectives

Many people when presented with the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist idea that that only the proletariat can lead in making all-the-way revolutionary class struggle question why this is, and why some other class, (without changing its class perspective), cannot lead such a struggle. One reason is because the proletariat is the only class that has no real stake in preserving the class relations of the capitalist system, but has everything to gain in taking control over the social wealth it has itself created by its labor and the tools it uses to create it. Another reason is that the proletariat, (in contrast to the lumpen), has the conditioning in patient work, social unity and cooperation necessary to wage the protracted class struggle required to abolish all exploitation and oppression. Basically, it is our social practice that determines how we think and not how we think that determines our social practice.

The proletariat has a strong sense of family commitment and unity and a sense of respect for and commitment to the community. These values grow out of the routine of going to work each day in the social environment of the workplace to provide for the needs of one’s family, and not only maintaining employment but also engaging in domestic labor in the home, rearing· children, and taking part in the social life of the community. This requires and instils stability, discipline and responsibility as well as cooperation with one’s peers.

The class conscious worker can be of two sorts, the militant and the revolutionary. The militant worker takes the sense of commitment beyond the family into the workplace and will stand up to the bosses for workers’ rights, even to the extent of jeopardizing one’s employment, freedom and safety by participating in strikes and job actions. The revolutionary worker takes the sense of commitment even farther and challenges the oppressive social order to change the social relations for all and put an end to class exploitation and oppression once and for all. The revolutionary is inspired by a great love for the people and sense of duty to the masses and to future generations.

The revolutionary worker doesn’t swagger or boast and has little sense of ego. He or she is serious-minded and self-disciplined. The revolutionary knows that like a strike, the revolutionary struggle must be a united mass struggle, and that it will take quite some time to succeed. Each contribution is important, and the end result is to benefit the overall society. In contrast to the proletarian’s practice and outlook, the lumpen schemes and preys upon others to acquire survival needs and personal wealth, which renders him or her indifferent to the effects visited upon others and society as a whole.

The lumpen mentality mirrors – on a smaller scale and with less sophistication – that of the big gangsters (the monopoly capitalists), and amounts to a ruthless drive for immediate self-gratification, power, control and “respect,” (even though their lifestyle is anything but respectable), through deception, corruption, violence and intimidation of others. These tendencies are what lies behind certain lumpen aspiring to be perceived as “crazy” and unpredictably violent.

Translated into the revolutionary movement, the lumpen tendency has some thinking that militant swaggering, posturing, and ”talking shit,” is acceptable behavior for revolutionaries, which is very wrong and demonstrates political immaturity and lack of a true proletarian outlook. Such posturing leads to actions of a reactionary, adventurist and provocateur nature, that invites enemy attack that the movement is unprepared to deal with and alienates the masses. Comrade Sundiata Acoli, (a member of the old BPP and BLA), observed that just such lumpen tendencies contributed to the downfall of the old BPP and the general Black Liberation Movement in America. (See Sundiata Acoli, ” A Brief History of the Black Panther Party and its place in the Black Liberation Movement.” (1985), which is posted on the internet and was recently reprinted in the Summer Issue of Leviathan, the newsletter of the Black Brigade).

Also, because they are conditioned to seek immediate and short term benefits in their daily practice, the lumpen generally lack the resolve to pursue and stick with tasks that require hard work and patience. We in the NBPP-PC feel that a major factor that led to the old BPP’s destruction was the failure to raise many of the Party’s members’ world view to that of the revolutionary proletariat and allowing the Party and its leadership to become saturated in lumpen ideology, values and practice.

The motives behind revolutionary violence are fundamentally different from the reactionary violence of the lumpen, who model their violence after that of the big gangsters. Revolutionary violence is rooted in the collective resistance of the masses organized against the violence of the big gangster bourgeoisie system of repression and exploitation. History is made by the collective masses, with the genuine revolutionary vanguard serving to raise their consciousness and organize their force into collective revolutionary struggle. Correct thinking is the catalyst. just as intelligence draws order out of chaos – out of the chaos of noise music, and out of chaos of images and color – art.

Raising the Lumpen Outlook to a Revolutionary Proletarian Outlook

To serve in the capacity of a truly revolutionary vanguard, the Party must consist of committed, disciplined people who have the outlook of truly revolutionary workers; people who are committed to work every day in a patient and disciplined way until the conditions for a revolutionary seizure of power by the masses arise. Without remolding their class outlook, the lumpen will pursue ultra-leftist militant acts of exhibitionism and spew forth “Off the Pig!” rhetoric, and when this provokes repression from the Establishment, they will flip-flop to right opportunism, tum rat and become enemy agents, or run for cover. Lacking correct analysis, self-discipline and patience, they will vacillate left to right, and they will confuse one stage of the struggle for another and try to skip the stages that require hard work and tenacity.

These elements disdain to apply the Mass Line, ignore the Democratic Centralism of the Party, fear Criticism and Self-Criticism and lean towards individualism and “commandism,” indulging in personal attacks and attempts at intimidation and coercion of other Party members and the masses through threats and force. Their unremolded lumpen ideology is a corrosive to building Party unity and maintaining discipline, and it makes them easy prey for recruitment by the enemy. The lumpen are capable of “the most heroic deeds and the most exalted sacrifices, or of the basest banditry and dirtiest corruption.”

A large part of our work in NBPP-PC is to properly educate and reorient the lumpen through ideological and political training and bringing as many of them who are capable of “the most heroic deeds and the most exalted sacrifices” into the active work of the struggle as possible, and thereby expand the Party while struggling against opportunism, both of the “left” and right varieties. We know that in this work, the enemy will unceasingly attempt to infiltrate its agents of repression and seek out the weak links among us to turn them into their snitches and agent-provocateurs, and we must be vigilant to guard against this, without becoming paranoid; In the struggle, “ideological and political line determines everything,” and we must rely on ideological and political training and commitment to practicing the Mass Line, Criticism and Self-Criticism and the Democratic Centralist method of determining what should be done and how to do it.

We realize that the lumpen are our brothers and sisters, and we do not desire to make war on them, rather we look upon their wrong ideas and lack of understanding as loads upon their backs, and we endeavor to help them cast them off. “Cure the sickness to save the patient,” is our goal. However, we are not naive idealists, and we realize that there are those who lack the moral fiber and will to change or courage for the struggle. Some people have no integrity or loyalty, and those who, after struggle, persist in wrong ways must be purged from the ranks of the people’s movement.

Before someone is recruited into the Party, they must be tested and prove themselves in the people’s mass organizations, like the Black Brigade. They must show proof of both good character and advanced understanding of what needs to be done. Words are cheap. Practice is the measure of commitment and the way consciousness develops.

Our goal is to be more than a prison organization. The struggle of our New Afrikan and Afrikan people worldwide cries out for vanguard leadership. With the Black proletariat concentrated in America and Europe and our peasantry concentrated in Afrika, we have an internationalist duty to provide revolutionary proletarian leadership and to set an inspiring example. Our struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism is a class struggle of international dimensions. We have much to learn and much to do. We must become good at learning and resolute in struggle.

ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE

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The George Jackson Tribute Mixtape

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This was originally on I Mix What I Like!

The George Jackson Tribute Mixtape

We’ll start our Black August celebration a little early this year by re-posting our 2006 George Jackson FreeMix Radio Mixtape.  This mixtape features DC-area artists and activists reading portions of Jackson’s work and a bunch of good music from folks like Public Enemy, Dead Prez, Blitz, Hasan Salaam, Asheru, Head-Roc, Black United Front, Wise Intelligent, Immortal Technique, Mos Def, Lil’ Wayne, RZA, Ghostface Killah, and many more.  We also borrowed of few minutes from the classic Freedom Archives audio documentary Prisons on Fire: George Jackson, Attica and Black Liberation and a Bay Area television documentary Day of the Gun.

Listen and download here: The George Jackson Tribute Mixtape

George Jackson’s Funeral – August 1971

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Panther Paper and eulogy for George Jackson

I was working at Central Headquarters of the Black Panther Party (BPP) when George Jackson was murdered by guards in San Quentin Prison in 1971.

I had never met George personally, but I knew his mother and sister who worked very closely with the Party. I had met his brother Jonathan once at Central Headquarters when he came by with Angela Davis. We spoke briefly.

Early in 1971, members of the BPP would go to court to show support for George, Fleeta Drumgo and John Cluchette during their trial for the alleged murder of a prison guard in Soledad – The Soledad Brothers Trial.

George Jackson was one of the leaders of the developing Prison Rights Movement at the time. He helped development a new consciousness among prisoners based on political education, service to the community and the destruction of the evil capitalistic system. George was Field Marshall of the Black Panther Party and had a fantastic gift for writing. He had a clear analysis of the evils of capitalism and how it affected our community.

George was loved by all Party members. When he was murdered, many Party members wanted to take up arms to avenge his death. I was one of them. We were ready, but were directed by the Central committee to chill out and stay focused and the larger, protracted struggle.

Panthers on Guard out St. Augustines Church

One of my many duties at that time was security personnel for the Party. I had worked as security for Huey P. Newton and other members of the Central Committee. I was selected to be a pallbearer for George’s funeral. Other pallbearers included Sam Castle, Bobby Bowen, Alden, Tick and Darrell. I had also been a pallbearer a year earlier when George’s brother Jonathan was killed in Marin County.

On the day of the funeral we arrived at St. Augustine’s Church around 9:30am.

Inside Church of George Jackson Funeral

We were in full uniform, which we only wore on special occasions. It was a very busy morning. Party members lined up from 27th and West to the next block. We had traffic detour signs because West was a busy street which would soon be filled with people. We had about 200 Party members in uniform, including the children. Our Party flag with the Panther on it was flying high over our heads out of the church window. The people in the community also loved George Jackson and over 8000 people filled the streets outside the church.

Panthers watching outside from window.

Ray Masai Hewitt, our Minister of Education, was in charge of security. We had a number of people on security duty that day. One of the brothers was Santa Rita (Clark Bailey) who was in the window above us. I had faith in his abilities as we had worked together in the past. We had to be on guard for agent provocateurs who might want to start trouble and interfere with the services.

George Jackson eulogy

Panthers standing together during funeral

As I looked out at the crowd, I saw Georgia and Lester Jackson, George’s parents; his sister Penny and other members of the family. I looked at Huey, Bobby and Masai and they all had a pained expression. Huey, Bobby, Masai and Father Neil spoke and then Elaine Brown sang one of her songs. The whole ceremony was very somber and I then made up my mind that I would always be a revolutionary until I die. I owe it to the brothers like George and Jonathan who we have buried and also those that went to prison.

Because the church only held about 200 people, there were speakers placed outside for the thousands of people to hear the service. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church, yet everyone also felt empowered by the spirit and strength of George. We rose to pick up George’s body and everyone raised their fist in the air as we filed passed them. When the doors opened, and we stepped outside with the body, I saw that the crowd had grown tremendously. There were people on rooftops, hanging from telephone poles and filling the streets. Everyone raised their fists in the air and chanted “Long Live George Jackson.”

Peoples salute to George Jackson

It was a sight that could set a fire in your heart.

We placed George’s body in the hearse and the Panthers outside cleared a way through the crowd. I was asked to ride with the family and the rest of the pallbearers walked in front of the cars. As we followed the limo in front of us, I looked out of the window and all I could see was a sea of fists; black, white and brown. It was a beautiful sight. As we rounded the corner onto 27th street, we could hear the people chanting as we drove off. We had a long caravan of cars following the body to the airport. Along the streets, people showed their support by giving the power sign. This is a day I will never forget. I witnessed and participated in the first Black August event.

Panther women line up during funeral

“If we must die let it not be like hogs,
hunted and pinned in an inglorious spot,
while around us bark the mad and hungry dogs
making their mock at our accursed lot;
If we must die then let’ us nobly die,
so that our precious blood may not be shed in vain.
Then even the monsters we defy
shall be constrained
to honor us though dead.

We kinsmen must meet the common foe,
though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
and for their thousand blows,
deal one deathblow.
What though before us lies the open grave,
like men we’ll face the murderous pack,
pressed to the wall, dying,
but fighting back.”

- Claude McKay

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United Airlines helped Omaha FBI with ambush plot against Black Panthers

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March 22nd, 2011

Omaha Two story: Jan. 26, 1970

United Airlines cooperated with FBI in COINTELPRO plot to disrupt Black Panther newspaper delivery.

Paul Young, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Omaha, Nebraska office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was a troubled man. Young’s boss, J. Edgar Hoover, was unhappy with him. Hoover wanted Young to “destroy” the leadership of Omaha’s Black Panther affiliate chapter, called the United Front Against Fascism, and Young had not taken action.

Hoover first ordered Paul Young to participate in an illegal counter-intelligence operation, code-named COINTELPRO, on March 4, 1968, a year and a half earlier on a day of rioting in Omaha, triggered when George Wallace supporters beat demonstrators with metal chairs at an Auditorium Arena campaign rally.

On October 23, 1968, Hoover wrote to Young that although he wanted “measures” taken against the Black Panthers, “You are again reminded that no action should be taken on any specific proposals without prior Bureau authority.”

As 1968 rolled into 1969 Hoover became more impatient with Young and ordered the Omaha FBI office to make COINTELPRO updates every two weeks instead of quarterly.

On June 27, 1969, Hoover wrote to Young, “It is apparent that the counterintelligence program of the Omaha Office has not been effective and needs a new approach.”

However, no “new approach” yielded any results and on December 10, 1969, Hoover again ordered Paul Young to take action against the Black Panthers in Omaha.

Hoover wrote: “Evaluate your approach to this program and insure that it is given the imaginative attention necessary to produce effective results. Handle promptly and submit your proposals to the Bureau for approval.”

Special Agent-in-Charge Paul Young finally came up with a plan to ambush the Panthers when they went to Eppley Airport to pick up shipments of the Black Panther newspaper and prevent distribution of the newspaper in the community.

On January 26, 1970, Young wrote to Hoover: “The United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) is the only BPP affiliated organization presently active with the Omaha Division. At present the only known source of income of the UFAF is money derived through the sale of the Black Panther newspaper which arrives in Omaha weekly via United Airlines.”

Young continued: “Contact is presently being maintained with United Airlines to ascertain if a regular pattern exists for the pickup of this newspaper by [REDACTED] a known UFAF member to whom these papers are consigned. As soon as this pattern is established, Omaha contemplates initiating counter intelligence measures aimed at disruption of the distribution of this newspaper.”

Young learned from United Airlines that the weekly pick-up schedule was altered in January 1970 upsetting his planned action. On February 24, 1970, Paul Young wrote to Hoover of the difficulty he was having implementing his COINTELPRO proposal.

Young wrote: “Since BPP Headquarters has changed its policy concerning the publishing of this newspaper to demanding that payment for these newspapers be received at BPP Headquarters prior to the time the newspaper goes to the printer, no papers have been received in Omaha from the San Francisco area. In recent communications from San Francisco, it appears that arrangements are being made to have further shipments of the BPP Newspaper sent to Omaha and contact is maintained with United Airlines Air Freight so that the Omaha Office will be apprised when regular shipments of the newspaper to Omaha are resumed.”

Young continued, “Once these shipments are resumed, United Airlines Air Freight will be contacted on a continuing basis in order to determine if a regular pattern is established for the pickup of these newspapers by UFAF members. Once a pattern is established for the pickup of these newspapers, counter intelligence measures will be aimed at disruption of the distribution of these newspapers.”

The COINTELPRO memo from Omaha was read by Hoover and bears his distinctive “H” initial.

In March 1970, Omaha patrolman James Loder was acquitted in the death of 14 year-old Vivian Strong the previous summer. Loder had shot Vivian in the back of the head near her home at the Logan Fontenelle housing project when she and other youth ran from police making an unrelated arrest. The shooting of Vivian Strong had triggered several days of rioting in Omaha and remains controversial on the Near North Side to the present time.

Also in March, the FBI director used his annual appearance at the House Appropriations Committee to discuss the FBI budget as a bully pulpit against the Black Panthers warning the committee members about the threat facing America from the Black Panthers.

Realizing that Hoover could not be put off much longer with inaction on the airport ambush, Paul Young proposed an anonymous letter and phone call operation against UFAF leader Ed Poindexter.

Events in Omaha were inextricably moving to a climax that ended with the conviction of Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, then David Rice, for the murder of an Omaha police officer. Both men deny any involvement in the crime and are now known as the Omaha Two.

To view all of the Omaha Two story articles click HERE.

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