by Danny Haiphong
The Black Panther Party was concerned with community development and sustenance as well as self-defense – a legacy that should be explored by today’s activists. “Community programs, independent of the non-profit industrial complex and armed with political education, must be a critical component of the left's strategy toward the ultimate goal of a new political economy.”
Imperialism's Policy of Mass Murder and the Black Panther Party's Analysis of Survival
by Danny Haiphong
“The Black Panther Party' recognized that a revolutionary movement would have to confront the Black community's need to survive and defend oneself from the racist state.”
When the Black Panther Party formed in 1966, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and the rest of the party leadership concerned themselves most with how the party's political work would relate to poor Black Americans. The Party responded with the formation of police patrols, the active promotion of armed self-defense from police and vigilante murder, and the creation of survival programs in the arenas of health, education, and nutrition. Behind these efforts was the consciousness that the historical enslavement, genocide, and exploitation of Black people in the US remained the foundation of imperialism. The Black Panther's created the slogan "survival pending revolution" out of the objective assessment that the struggle against imperialism for Black Americans begins with the fight for life from the terror of white supremacy.
The Panther's analysis of survival and self-determination is of urgent importance today. US imperialism is in a permanent economic and political crisis. The economic crisis is due to falling capitalist profits and the rising costs of monopoly production. Parasitic finance and corporate capitalists have kept super profits high by increasing the productivity of labor, shrinking the workforce, and instituting austerity and privatization measures on a local and global scale. This has precipitated a permanent crisis of overproduction, as workers and oppressed people have little possibility of buying back the fruits of their ever-heightening exploitation. But unlike in prior periods, the rulers of capital can no longer reform the imperial project out of its inevitable crises.
The political crisis of imperialism is intimately connected to the economic crisis of the system. It is an outgrowth of the ruling class’s need to ensure domestic and international tranquility to its rule. The ruling class has unleashed a fascist counterinsurgency war of mass murder upon the world to protect super-profits from the consequences of terminal decline. A recent count of casualties in the US-led War on Terror conservatively estimated that over 1.3 million have been murdered in the nations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone. This number does not account for the US-sponsored interventions in the nations of Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria. If it did, the estimated death toll would be much higher. Another study of US interventions concluded that Washington alone has murdered 20-30 million people worldwide since the end of World War II. US imperialism's high body count is a necessary precondition to maintaining hegemony around the world.
“The ruling class has unleashed a fascist counterinsurgency war of mass murder upon the world to protect super-profits from the consequences of terminal decline.”
The Black Panther Party's socialist and internationalist principles were informed by the historical struggle of Black America in the US and its relationship to the struggle of the world's people against the murderous imperialist system. The chattel slave trade brought Africans to the shores of North America under the gun of white racist terrorism. Hundreds of thousands of Africans were murdered in the voyage to what is now the US mainland and many more were murdered as subjects to white rule during the construction of the American Empire. The Black Panther’s concluded that the same forces of capitalism and white supremacy waging war in Vietnam, Cuba, and the entire Third World were responsible for the oppression of Black people in the US mainland.
Last month's police execution of Boston resident Angelo West once again proved that the occupation of Black America in the US nation-state is far from over. Imperialism's economic assault on Black America has much to do with the proliferation of police murder. As Glen Ford points out, the wealth gap between white and Black Americans now stands at over 1200 percent. This gap has been growing since at least 1984. In Boston, the wealth disparity is larger than the national average. A recent report from the Boston Federal Reserve found that Black people in Boston have a median wealth close to zero compared to White America's median wealth of $247,000.
As the antagonisms of white supremacy and capitalist exploitation have deepened, so too has the repression of the imperial state. From 1980-2008, the number of prisoners in the US increased from 500,000 to 2.3 million. Black Americans make up nearly half of the current prison population at just over one million. Black Americans are executed by law enforcement every 28 hours and police have murdered over 110 people in the month of March alone (most of the victims being Black). The Black Mass Incarceration State is a prime example of the dialectical relationship between Black repression and capitalism’s economic regression over the last thirty plus years.
The crisis conditions of the working class and the Black working class in particular have lay bare the need for a new social system. Privatization, austerity, and the heightened exploitation of labor will not stop under the rule of capital. Neither can war and repression. All are necessary to keep the US empire alive in the midst of significant losses in political and economic influence. The Black Panther Party' recognized that a revolutionary movement would have to confront the Black community's need to survive and defend oneself from the racist state. This is no less true, and may be even more so relevant, today than it was during the Panther's organizational peak.
“The Black Panther’s concluded that the same forces of capitalism and white supremacy waging war in Vietnam, Cuba, and the entire Third World were responsible for the oppression of Black people in the US mainland.“
A survival program today would no doubt look different than the Black Panther's program. However, the principle of building independent structures to address the deadly impact of capitalist and racist exploitation is still of urgent importance. Tens of millions of people cannot meet healthcare costs and nearly one of every thirty children are homeless. Over 50 million people are "food insecure." The Panther philosophy of working directly in oppressed communities as a basis for raising political consciousness has yet to catch fire among the left despite the existence of these antagonisms. Community programs, independent of the non-profit industrial complex and armed with political education, must be a critical component of the left's strategy toward the ultimate goal of a new political economy.
With power, these programs can become the basis of a new socialist order. Prior to the revolution's victory in 1959, Cuban revolutionaries provided medical care and literacy training to Cuban's living in squalor in the countryside. Such efforts helped build trust in the revolutionary process and also provided Cuba's armed struggle with shelter and safety from the US-backed Batista regime. Since 1959, Cuba's socialist system has eradicated illiteracy and its healthcare system is arguably the best in the world. Achievements in the healthcare system alone include the eradication of malnutrition, elimination of the transmission of HIV and Syphilis to newborn children, and an infant mortality rate lower than that of the US. These developments are a testament to a victorious socialist revolution that began with an idea of raising the consciousness of oppressed people to a higher level in order to achieve national liberation and a socialist future.
This too was the goal of the Black Panther Party. However, political repression and changes in the US imperial infrastructure derailed the Party's efforts. Over four decades later, the health clinics, food programs, self-defense, and educational programs the Panthers organized provide critical lessons for the movement today. The main lesson is that survival for Black America and the majority of the working class must be a focal point for our political organization. But for this to truly develop into a revolutionary movement, more political education must be done to popularize the reality that imperialism's policy of mass murder threatens the existence of humanity’s oppressed majority and the planet itself. The Black Lives Matter movement pushed the people into action to condemn and challenge the existence of the racist police state. Now, the task is to build the infrastructure necessary to defends the oppressed from imperialism's genocidal rule.
Danny Haiphong is an organizer for Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) in Boston. He is also a regular contributor to Black Agenda Report. Danny can be reached at [email protected] and FIST can be reached at [email protected].