“Huey used the framework of dialectical materialism, which gave him the understanding that all development is a struggle between contradictions.”
BAR contributor Danny Haiphong delivered the following remarks to a day-long conference on “Huey P. Newton: Our Struggle for Self-Determination and World Peace” October 28, at Temple University, in Philadelphia.
First, to discuss the significance of Huey P. Newton and the theory of revolutionary intercommunalism in the same space as Mumia Abu-Jamal, Yvonne King, and Regina Jennings is more than the word honor can describe. A big thanks to the Black and Brown Coalition for putting this conference together. The foundations for this conference reminded me of what Huey P. Newton said at the Revolutionary People's Convention in 1970, which was also held at Temple:
"We who are gathered here by our presence do resolve to liberate our communities from the boot and whip of the oppressor so that people of good will may live their lives free from want, free from fear, and free from need."
Huey Newton helped me take this pledge. As an alienated subject of empire, my family's history cannot be separated from the US imperialist war on Vietnam's just struggle for socialism. The Agent Orange sprayed over the lands of a quarter of the country and the imperial violence experienced by the people of Vietnam left an indelible mark on my personal history. Vietnam’s victory over the US, so repressed by the popular mythology of the US empire, led me to search for the truth about US wars not found in Ken Burns documentaries. Huey Newton helped me find the truth. He helped me see this period as one marked by war. Few others have raised the people's subjective consciousness to the conditions of war and have prepared them to fight for global peace as Huey P. Newton.
“He connected the police occupation of the Black community to expand white capitalist profit to the wars waged by the US military abroad for the same purpose.”
Huey P. Newton conceptualized peace not as an abstract idea, but a material condition rooted in the interconnected development of history and political economy. The path he traveled to become a revolutionary warrior for peace was paved by the reality of endless war. Huey observed two forms of war. He founded the Black Panther Party first as a self-defense organization of the Black working class trapped in ghettos occupied and terrorized by the police. That was the first front of war. Huey then emphasized that Black people also needed to defend themselves from what the police protected: capitalism's impoverishment of the Black community. He connected the police occupation of the Black community to expand white capitalist profit to the wars waged by the US military abroad for the same purpose. He believed that Black liberation was impossible without the support of the colonial peoples waging wars for national liberation and socialism.
Huey’s understanding of war propelled the Black Panther Party into a vanguard position in the world revolutionary movement for peace and socialism. His leadership represented the best of the Black Radical Tradition's long history of international solidarity with the oppressed worldwide. He was instrumental in the development of the Black Panther Party's international chapters in nations such as North Korea and Algeria and organized a delegation to socialist China just prior to Nixon's historic trip in 1972. But Huey was neither an adventurist nor dogmatist. He was a Marxist-Leninist and believed that theory had to be grounded in the material reality of the people if it is to bring about revolutionary change.
“Newton believed that Black liberation was impossible without the support of the colonial peoples waging wars for national liberation and socialism.”
Huey Newton was a student of history who sought to advance the people to a higher level of consciousness than what had been achieved in prior generations of Black struggle. That is why Huey developed the theory of revolutionary intercommunalism. He observed that US imperialism was evolving into a high-tech, global empire. This empire degraded the condition of the working-class to the status of "unemployable." Huey also observed that the US empire didn’t allow colonized nations to exercise independence without the threat of war. Advances in technology and the concentration of capital had placed humanity into one "global village." Oppressed people faced the same oppressor not as nations, but as communities. Some of these communities, like socialist China, had liberated their territories and formed socialist, planned economies. Still others were completely dispossessed of the state power required to determine their own destinies.
Revolutionary intercommunalism was Huey’s contribution to Marxist theory as it applied to Black people and oppressed people worldwide. Imperialism was the central question. The peoples’ wars that were raging in Vietnam, Mozambique, and Uruguay when Huey introduced the concept in 1970 were profoundly important in the development of the theory. Huey studied their successes and their failures. He urged the Black Panther Party to reach out to national liberation movements wherever they resided. In a letter to the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, he explained that:
“Our struggle for liberation is based upon justice and equality for all men. Thus we are interested in the people of any territory where the crack of the oppressor’s whip may be heard. We have the obligation to take the concept of internationalism to its final conclusion--the destruction of statehood itself. This will lead us to an era where the withering away of the state will occur and men will extend their hand in friendship throughout the world.”
Revolutionary intercommunalism presented a practical guide toward the goal of a classless world. That meant, as Huey explained, “it is imperative to defend people of color when they are attacked by American troops in other lands. These attacks are designed to continue the profit mongering of the ruling class. . .” The first lesson of revolutionary intercommunalism, then, is to oppose US imperialist war. The second is to unite with oppressed peoples subject to US imperialist war in a common program for human emancipation.
“Revolutionary intercommunalism was Huey’s contribution to Marxist theory as it applied to Black people and oppressed people worldwide.”
What else do we learn from revolutionary intercommunalism? We learn that the question of class is in fact not a matter of mere economics. That class is what shapes the interests of the global order and is attached to the hip of any real understanding of white supremacy or racism. That figures like Ta-Nahesi Coates talk about race as a static phenomenon detached from material reality, all in the name of personal class gain. The class from which Coates belongs ignores the world in its entirety. It makes attractive statements about the racist roots of the US but fails to acknowledge who those racist roots serve and how they serve them. It is much easier to lay the blame for oppression on white American foot soldiers of white supremacy than to look at the class in power. Especially if your goal is to be that class or make peace with that class.
Revolutionary intercommunalism, however, is about waging a people’s war for real peace in our time. We are faced with a dangerous global situation, more dangerous than the one Huey Newton inherited. The US imperialist system is playing with a world war scenario that has the potential to be more destructive than any war ever known to humanity. A bi-partisan consensus exists in the halls of Washington and the US military to wage war on Russia, China, and whatever independent political force gets in the way of their quest for unquestioned hegemony and guaranteed profit for the military, finance, and corporate capitalists, even if it means rendering the planet to nuclear dust. Millions have died in the US military’s endless war on the people of Syria, Iraq, and Libya. The DPRK, a friend of the Black Panther Party, hangs on to independence despite a constant barrage of US-backed provocations in the Korean Peninsula. Africa is almost entirely occupied by the US military in the hopes that China will cease economic activity with the resource rich continent. Political chaos and economic stagnation prevail in much of the world, especially in the so-called “developed” countries in the US and Western orbit.
“It is imperative to defend people of color when they are attacked by American troops in other lands.”
Yet war and peace is not the question on the order of the day for most who are engaged in the struggle for social justice of any kind. There is little identification with the oppressed classes of the world because few in the struggle identify as a class. Few US-based left tendencies, organizations, and groups offer solidarity to oppressed people facing the same enemy that exists here. In fact, a lot of them repeat the mantras of the empire and place themselves in the imperialist camp. Not only have the people of Syria, Libya, Korea, and elsewhere suffered from this fatal error, but so too have poor and working class people in the US suffered, especially the Black poor. Black wealth is approaching zero, joblessness and poverty is rampant, and the mass incarceration state refuses to let up in a period where it takes nearly a trillion in US tax dollars to maintain US military supremacy worldwide. It is as if we should forget that the NYPD receives training in Israel or that the same weapons deployed to local police against the Black community are used to arm US-backed fascists in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere. We are living in an era characterized by full spectrum counter-insurgency warfare enforced by the dominant class.
As Huey proclaimed, the root of the endless war that exists in the world is what unites the oppressed beyond national boundaries. Black Americans share a common enemy with Syrians, Libyans, Russians (yes that’s right, Russians), and Venezuelans to name just a few. That enemy, US imperialism, is more consolidated than during the era of the Panthers. Technology has advanced and confirmed Huey’s analysis that a mass of unemployed proletarians would disrupt the economic stability of the system. US imperialism is more desperate in the 21st century than maybe ever before. It can no longer invade or indebt its way out of economic slowdown. The markets have dried up and much of the planet is looking to China to provide relief amid the destruction that US domination has wrought. As the contradictions become more acute, revolutionary intercommunalism helps inform our answer to the question, where do we go from here?
“Africa is almost entirely occupied by the US military in the hopes that China will cease economic activity with the resource rich continent.”
We can begin to answer this question by recognizing that the method that Huey utilized to devise the theory of revolutionary intercommunalism is just as important as the content of the theory itself. Revolutionary intercommunalism was a specific application of Marxist theory to existing historical conditions. It required a deep study and investigation into the developments of the historical epoch from which Huey lived. The precarious position of the Black poor and the explosive wars that the US empire had imposed on the peoples of the world led Huey to the conclusion that exploited people in the US mainland had to transcend their understanding of what a nation was. The US was no longer a nation, it was an empire destroying national liberation struggles abroad in a similar manner to which it violently opposed any effort by Black America to form its own nation. And Black Americans needed to build international alliances if they were to gain the strength necessary to defeat a global enemy.
The most appropriate way to celebrate revolutionary intercommunalism is to study Huey P. Newton’s methodology. First, we must assist the masses in applying intercommunal thought to the present condition of the masses. We must investigate global developments and make firm conclusions about who can be trusted as friends of the exploited and oppressed in the US, and who are the enemies of peace and liberation. Huey used the framework of dialectical materialism, which gave him the understanding that all development is a struggle between contradictions. These contradictions inevitably produce change at specific stages of the development process. We must harness this mode of thought to understand the forces at play in our current stage of development.
“Black Americans share a common enemy with Syrians, Libyans, Russians (yes that’s right, Russians), and Venezuelans to name just a few.”
Second, we must understand that the conclusions we come to in the 21st century will differ in form but not in substance to Huey’s interpretation of Marxism. A specter of crisis haunts the US imperialist system that was unknown five decades ago. The US is in fact losing its grip on hegemony in the world, especially in the economic realm. US imperialism’s total share of the world economy is shrinking. China, a developed socialist economy, is set to surpass the US as the largest in the world in the coming years. This has sent US imperialism into a state of desperation, launching war after war in hopes that the world will submit to its continued domination.
On the domestic front, there are signs that the masses are rudely awakening to the reality that US imperialism has little to offer except misery and alienation. That was the lesson of the 2016 Presidential elections. US imperialism’s crisis is defined by a terminal decline evident in all spheres of society. More than half of the population in the US is poor and unable to pay for $500 emergencies when they arise. Healthcare remains in private hands and the costs keeps rising. Police repression in poor Black communities continues to intensify. Low-wage jobs and unemployment dominate the economic landscape as automation compels workers to work faster and longer for less pay. The war on the poor is the only means the system has left to maximize profit yet this has come at a significant cost to both the masses and the rulers. The masses feel the burden of poverty and the rulers feel the coming storm of collapse when reality sets in that what the poor produces cannot be absorbed back into the economy without producing harsher and ever more burdensome crises.
“Black Americans needed to build international alliances if they were to gain the strength necessary to defeat a global enemy.”
Huey Newton taught us that the inherent contradictions of US imperialism lead to seismic change. He taught us that the war at home is the war abroad. There is no time to allow so-called leftists who spend their time condemning oppressed people worldwide to continue to lead. These forces must be isolated, and their positions thrown into the dustbin of history. New relations among people in the US will be born out of a deep consciousness of the condition of the oppressed under the gun of empire. Revolutionary intercommunalism was Huey's call to investigate the common experience of exploited classes and act on this investigation by developing an international political program that can strengthen our struggle in the belly of the empire.
We can start putting Huey’s theory into practice by extending a hand of friendship and solidarity to the targets of empire. The people of the world, though always empathetic to the struggles of oppressed people in the US, cannot possibly trust a movement that does not recognize their rightful struggle against US imperialism. Unlike charities or NGOs which are designed to enrich the oligarchy and subvert self-determination, intercommunal solidarity is driven by the people themselves. If we conclude that oppressed communities share a common enemy, then we must plan a course of action that will bring our common struggle closer to a victorious conclusion.
Danny Haiphong is a Vietnamese-American activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected]