Kathleen Cleaver, Communications Secretary, “Racism, Fascism, and Political Murder,” The Black Panther 2 no. 6 (September 14, 1968), 8.
Panthers and their radical Black contemporaries are now the stuff of Hollywood -- but with more leather jacket than political substance. The Review Team offers some historical correctives.
Anti-fascism was central to Black Panther Party political praxis. Panther critiques of fascism drew, in part, on the writings of Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitrov, especially his 1935 report to the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International in Moscow. In the report, titled The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism, Dimitrov wrote of the particularities of U.S. fascism in the 1930s. He spoke of the US state’s mobilization of patriotism as a means towards the elimination of “un-American” activities, of its assault on the formation of a working-class movement, and of the need for a broad-based united front to mobilize against the fascist threat.
The Panthers updated Dimitrov’s analysis to attend to the emergent fascism of the late 1960s United States. They saw contemporary fascism as a system that combined militarized, police repression of radical social movements with the control of the state by finance capital and big business. In addition to this, fascism was extended overseas through the war against Vietnam and other acts of US imperial aggression. On a practical level, the Panthers adapted Dimitrov’s call for a united front across racial lines arguing, “the poor whites and poor blacks are exploited by the same white capitalists who maintain a racist antagonism between the two groups.” In a move that some saw as more reformist than revolutionary, the Panther’s organized a Revolutionary Conference for a United Front Against Fascism that took place in Oakland over four days in July 1969.
Although appearing almost a year before the United Front conference, Kathleen Neal Cleaver’s editorial, “Racism, Fascism, and Political Murder” captures the tone and tendencies of the Panther’s analysis of fascism. In a piece that is both combative and incisive, Cleaver, the Panther’s Minister of Communication and one of the few women in positions of leadership in the party, pulls no punches in her analysis of the U.S. fascist assault on domestic Black insurrection. Originally published in The Black Panther on September 14, 1968, we reproduce it below.
Racism, Fascism, and Political Murder
Kathleen Cleaver, Communications Secretary, “Racism, Fascism, and Political Murder,” The Black Panther 2 no. 6 (September 14, 1968), 8.
White racism has been called out as the National Scapegoat for the opening stages of the Black Revolution we are witnessing today in the Report of the President's Commission on Civil Disorders. However, white racism alone is harmless as long as there are no white racists; white racists without political power and without guns are nothing but a sick nuisance to society. Although the President's Commission managed to condemn the racism rampant in white society, it failed to condemn the racists who perpetuate the existing system and even more miserably failed to provide any significant solutions for destroying racism.
SURVIVAL. The Black Revolution is a struggle for survival, first and foremost. It is not white racism but white racists who are killing black people in the most blatant to the most subtle ways, from shooting us outright in the streets like dogs to immobilizing us in the political hierarchies of the mother country's government. The black leader who moves for political power is dealt with on whatever level the Establishment racists feel he is posing the most threat: Thurgood Marshall was placed on the Supreme Court. Adam Clayton Powell was kicked out of Congress. Rap Brown is jailed on the flimsiest pretext. Malcolm X was assassinated. Whereas Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young are given the full range of the mother country's resources to gun their game on their brothers, Huey Newton must be shot in the streets and lynched in the courts. It is the guns of the racists, their bullets tearing through the flesh of our leaders that have to be dealt with. The leadership of the racists, the federal, state, and city governments with their armed forces dispatched to the black community with orders of “shoot to kill” is destroying the leadership of the black struggle in order to be able to deal directly with the unorganized, defenseless, divided black masses.
The present black population in this country, approaching some fifty million, is more united and more aggressive and larger than it has been at any other time in the history of this country, while the present white population is decreasing and its government is under siege all over the world, the most hated power on the face of the earth. The key to attaining the political power that our history and culture and strategic location guarantee us is practical, competent revolutionary national leadership that can direct the masses to satisfy their basic political desires and needs in an organized fashion. What guarantees success to such leadership is revolutionary ideology, or an understanding of how to move systematically for power, a basic program, or an understanding of what to move for and when, and an organizational structure that can put his understanding in motion.
The calculated and systematic destruction of the leadership of the Black Panther Party and harassment of its members in the Bay Area follows a national pattern of political repression taking place at this time. In every black community across this country where there is identifiable organizational leadership exerted by the black militants, it is being jailed, framed, shot, murdered, eliminated. These are being coordinated centrally in Washington, D. C. and are all directed toward the same end: setting the stage for genocide.
The fact that this is an election year is the only damper imposed upon an outright fascist attack on the whole black community; public opinion must be catered to to a minimal extent. However, the near total control of the mass media--TV and newspapers--by the mother country establishment allows it to move in complete freedom against black groups in many cases. Although the activities of the police during the insurrection following King's death were highly publicized, the repression against the militant black organizers and spokesmen in black ghettoes across the nation--Boston, Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland--was not publicized at all. The assassination of King followed by systematic mass arrests and shooting of radical organizers throughout the country in April indicates a time table schedule directed towards removing militant leadership from the streets by the beginning of the summer. This will leave the black masses in an unorganized, defenseless, divided state during the summer at which point the police plan to move directly against the black community.
MASSES NOT ASSES. As long as only a small fraction of the black population expected to have decent housing, food, clothing, education, employment, protection from harm, and some measure of dignity the system could afford to function comfortably allowing a small elite group of house negroes these benefits as the price of controlling their oppressed brothers and sisters, forcing them to be satisfied with their poverty, starvation, misery, and persecution. But, when the masses of blacks start demanding basic needs be fulfilled, the power structure is in trouble because it requires a basic re-distribution of the wealth, the land, and the power in order to make this a reality.
The color line is the basis upon which wealth and power is distributed in this country; racism on the part of white institutions and white citizens forces black people to remain poor and powerless. All blacks have a ceiling on the amount of power and wealth they can amass that is unchangeable, that is maintained by the organized force and violence of the governments. Racism is maintained with armed force, on the local level by the police departments.
Political power, the control of the institutions in the society, determines to what extent racism is allowed to affect black people, determines how much freedom of action the racists have against black people. Political power is now in the hands of a racist leadership which is determined to prevent black people from satisfying their basic political desires and needs, because this leadership wants to remain in control of the land and wealth and political power that rightfully belongs to black people. The present political leadership in the mother country wants black people to act in a manner that will serve the interests of white power and maintain white domination over the world. The leadership of the black struggle across this nation wants to destroy this control and restore the control of the black community to the hands of the black people who live there. This leadership is being assaulted and eliminated viciously because it threatens to upset an international basis of power; the black liberation struggle is an international power struggle against the white racist government of the USA.
DESTROY LEADERSHIP. Just as the Vietnamese people refuse to be controlled by the capitalist racist American government, and are fighting to retain control of their own country, black people in America are fighting to have control of their communities in their hands. With a potential mass of fifty million blacks moving together to control their communities across this nation, the first assault by the political leadership of the racists is to destroy the leadership of the black struggle in order to be able to move against the masses without organized resistance. Nationwide repression against militant black organizers and spokesmen has been escalated in the black communities in the past few months in order to stop the organization of the black community. Leadership becomes secondary once the community is organized in a manner to take power; but leadership is primary during the initial period of organizing the masses. It is at this period now when leadership is most crucial to the black masses in order to initiate their political organization that the federal, state, and city governments are moving most rapidly against black leaders. An organized black community united around basic political desires and needs as outlined in the program of the Black Panther Party is the only power that the state cannot destroy when the community is prepared to defend itself against the attacks of the police. This is the creation of black power, the first step toward obtaining control over the entire black community.
The advent of fascism in the United States is most clearly visible in the suppression of the black liberation struggle in the nationwide political imprisonment and assassination of black leaders coupled with the concentration of massive police power in the ghettos of the black community across the country. The police departments nationwide are preparing for armed struggle with the black community and are being directed and coordinated nationally with the US Army and the underground vigilante racist groups for a massive onslaught against black people. But, the billy clubs and mass arrests and guns are no longer just for black people; the white peace movement and the student power struggle is also beginning to get a taste of police violence. State power is being imposed upon the black community and the white peace movement through the organized force and violence of the police departments, jails are becoming increasingly familiar with political prisoners, and the court system is being warped to serve the needs of the repression. With the economic and political system of the United States under violent attack [the] world over, the national response has been a tightening of state control over all aspects of life and a vicious and powerful assault on all forms of political dissent. Just as the US Army is attempting to settle a political question of self-determination through force and violence in Vietnam, the city, state, and federal governments across the country are meeting political dissent with police violence. With the world wide power of the United States being forced aloose in Africa and Asia and Latin America, the racist leadership at home is moving to conserve and concentrate the power that is left and will viciously destroy anyone or any group that attempts to take that power away. Black power is totally unacceptable, and peace is economically disastrous.
KILL THE NIGGERS. The economic disintegration that is accompanying the world wide attack on US imperialism is weakening the political structures of the white racists tremendously, causing factions and the splitting of parties and generalized conflict and confusion. At this point the organized and unchecked power of the armed forces, from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the local police chief in Oakland is the single most powerful bloc of political control in this country, unaided, single-minded, and extremely racist. This group controls the guns and military power of the government. And these armed forces are being deployed increasingly to settle political issues; they will continue to arrogate decisive power until it gets to the point that they make political policy and control the political apparatus outright. With this type of government, this military power structure, outright genocide of black people will be initiated. There will be no protest, for to dissent will be to die. This has already started on a sporadic scale in the spontaneous but condoned murdering of young black men in the streets daily all over the country. But the overt military dictatorship has yet to come. The very same solution that Nazi Germany proposed to the German people: kill the Jews to solve the economic and political problems of Germany will be employed in the US, with even less difficulty: Kill the niggers. Once the country pulls itself out of its disastrous defeat in Vietnam, it will be able to direct the full weight of its military power against the black struggle and settle the issue of racism and white supremacy once and for all.
NEW PHASE. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King at this point marked the initiation of a new phase in the advance of police power at the decision making level, a further step towards the complete police state. Dr. King was tolerated and even encouraged by the political leadership of the racists as long as he advocated non-violent means of gaining civil rights. He was not moving for political power, he wanted the power structure to make the decisions and take the action, and he was not disturbing the economic arrangements that the power structure was based on. But when he joined the peace movement he became a political threat to the Establishment because he held the allegiance of millions of black people. He had also [begun] to move towards the alliance of the black with the brown peoples in the U. S. And when he deepened his crusade for justice to be based on Poor People, the final project that caused his assassination, the establishment was forced to eliminate his threat. For the crux of the political arrangements in this country are based on the distinction between the rich and the poor. The poor whites and poor blacks are exploited by the same white capitalists who maintain a racist antagonism between the two groups so that the poor blacks are always victims of the poor white racists, and the poor whites are so busy carrying out racist acts they cannot see that they are victims of the wealthy white capitalists. Both poor whites and poor blacks are powerless; racism prevents them from combining their strengths to gain a redistribution of wealth and power. Dr. King had begun to initiate organizational projects among poor whites as well as poor blacks shortly before his assassination. The proposed Poor People's March on Washington that he was planning was a major threat facing the federal government that they had been unable to head off or buy out. The assassination of Dr. King only four weeks before this march was no accident. The inability of the entire apparatus of Federal Intelligence and Police services plus the Memphis Police Department to locate and arrest the assassin as well as the complete protection his activities were given in Memphis indicates a conspiracy of the highest order between the Federal Government and the local police. The assassins of President Kennedy have vanished equally without a trace. This kind of political power wielded by the military establishment that is protected and even denied by the political leaders is highly dangerous. High-level decisions against the black liberation struggle are being transmitted into action by local police departments while the spokesmen pretend there is nothing they can do to stop the police. The white community is at the mercy of a secret police state while they have not yet figured out how to control their above ground police forces.
FREEDOM OR DEATH. The day when the state and its police power ceases to protect the community but in turn attacks the people of the community has arrived in this country. This is the first stage of building a total police state. Black people have always been subjected to [the] police state and have moved to organize against it, but the structure is now moving to encompass the entire country. The elimination of black leadership--from Dr. King to Eldridge Cleaver, Adam Clayton Powell to Huey P. Newton--is designed to throw the black community into chaos. Intensified and concentrated police power in the black community is designed to impose total control. The next step is GENOCIDE. The black community faces two alternatives: total liberation or total extinction.
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