Reflections on The War Against the Panthers

I am finishing the last revisions of my dissertation. It's still slightly unbelievable to me. The idea of having a PhD is still a strange concept to me. As I dedicate my writing time to these edits, I share with you a reflection I had a few years ago after spending a considerable amount of time with Dr. Huey P. Newton's doctoral dissertation. At the time, I was the leader of a local organization focused on black history, culture, and community. The organization had modeled itself in many ways after the Panthers. As a result, we used Dr. Newton's text during our study circles. I present these reflections unedited in honor and tribute to the unbelievable genius of Black and SCHOLAR and LIBERATIONIST work. I am for indebted to the work of Huey P. Newton.


Early yesterday morning, I saw a post in my Facebook timeline from Liberator Magazine sharing the download link for Dr. Huey P. Newton's doctoral dissertation. Like any other self-identified warrior-scholar, I was eager to delve between the pages of Dr. Newton's dissertation. Now, I know that many are interested in reading just because of the allure of the Black Panthers, the appreciation for American Africans in history and sincere interest in the ebb and flow of the Black Power Movement. However, my individual interest was peaked as a current doctoral student and a co-founder of ALL BLACK EVERYTHING. ALL BLACK EVERYTHING is unapologetically committed to the reclamation, preservation, protection, and progression of Black culture, Black power, and Black people. It’s a movement fully committed to restoring the culture of the Black community, empowering its members to recognize their ability to change and self-determine their own destiny, and ultimately liberating ourselves and our children from the abyss of cultural repression and economic oppression. Our programs focus on giving members of the Black community opportunities to engage in being agents of creating their own community change by being critical of where they spend their money, the food they put into their bodies and the knowledge put into their children’s minds. In the spirit of those ancestors who fought relentlessly for us to retain and promote our humanity, we encourage the community to come together and celebrate the beauty and genius of being BLACK. Without question, Dr. Huey P. Newton is an ancestor whose venerable spirit is continuously called upon to help, guide, and inspire our work. It was with sincere gratitude and ancestral communion that I sat down and inhaled War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America.


As a scholar, I understand the research process. There is a sincere investment of time and energy in research to produce a dissertation and as a student, you are encouraged by those around you to study something you are passionate about because if you aren't, the time investment alone will make the process unbearable. Personally, as a critical researcher, I am often concerned with the reflexivity of the researcher, that is the personal relationship the researcher has to the project being done and how that is affecting the produced analysis. While reading Dr. Newton's writing, I read the methodology section at least 5 times. It floored me. To think, that he sat and reviewed volumes upon volumes about how the government was assiduously trying to destroy not just his organization, but his livelihood, his very essence of being is an experience that few on this earth will ever endure. On one hand, what an amazing contradiction of existence... to be the subject of such hate and scutiny that your very livelihood was percieved as a threat to national security and yet live to not only tell the story but to reflect upon it as you write your doctoral dissertation in the state that fought against you. I know some emotions must have been in there and his wife laments about his drug habit... but I can understand from the warrior-scholar and the doctoral student perspective how that contradiction of existence led to a need to escape or cover up that feeling of being a living piece of history.


Beyond that reflection, reading his dissertation is helpful for anyone who wants to understand the context of Black Power movement through the Black Panthers and who will understand the necessity of the fight under the terms of the current system. In other words, the need for African liberation from this system of cultural, political, social and economic oppression is true and real yet our reality requires that we understand that in this system under their own terms, we aren't being able to afford our inalienable, natural, civil, or human rights.


Newton calls American democracy a "contrived contradiction" because nature  of American democracy creates social conditions that  demand, based upon human social principle, that the masses rise up in dissent against the leadership. This ain't democracy. This can't be democracy. Ultimately, Newton asserts, " 'the western world will not be safe for democracy'."


Newton contextualizes his study to the last half of the 20th century and characterizes it as one of violence, not out of chance or sheer circumstance, but out of a historical attachment to using violence as governance. What Newton ultimately describes is what Amos Wilson will later describe in the Blueprint for Black Power as "force as power".  Wilson states, "force, although a reality in many social situation, achiees its full scope by undergirding other types of power." One can reasonably conclude that in a governance structure of which force is the final arbiter of justice, there is no genuinely leveraged power in politics, economics, social capital and definitely not at all within the people. What this violent environment within a contrived contradiction of goverance breeds is people's dissent. Dissent against the government structure, dissent against economic structure, dissent against social structure.... dissent against the status quo.


Newton builds the rationale for why this study must occur, the right to disagree, the right to dissent, the right to challenge the status quo is routinely squelched in this system. The "democracy" of the American republic fails to even live up to its own standards.


Newton goes through the history of repression in the United States starting with the Haymarket Square incident illustrating how the labor movement was emblematic of the first mass dissent organizing of naturally considered citizens of the state. (We could build the defense that slave revolts were the first, but I think the point that Newton is trying to make is that their own system doesn't even work for their own masses.) Newton then details the birth of the country's federal intelligence agencies and their role in squelching dissent which ultimately became the reason why the Black Panther Party became such a strong focus of the American government. Further, Newton describes repression in Black America starting with Jack Johnson's federal investigation. The Black experience is not unique on the surface because the Latino and the American Indian communities experienced similar surveillance and repression by the American government.


The most valuable information came from Newton's candid reflection on the Black Panther Party, its purpose, its ideology, and its development. I believe that religion is the deification one's culture and that culture is shared through language which purports the "believed" power dynamic. The Black Panther Party developed a culture of revolutionary intercommunalism... revolutionary because "words used to describe past phenomena may be useless to describe the new. And if we use the old words to describe new events we run the risk of confusing people and misleading them into think that things are static" and intercommunalist due to "nations being transformed into communities of the world". However, the Panthers did not begin with this ideology they fought to get to that point starting with the 1966 version of the Ten Point Program being revised to what the 1972 version became.


Also, Newton espouses (and in some ways explains and defends) the use of "democratic" reforms to build community institutions. Personally, and I am sure many can testify to this, have heard me constantly question..."Why are we engaging a system that refuses to acknowledge us as full contributing citizens and have consistently maintained their position that we will never be more to them than what we are in a modernized "slaveocracy". The Black Panthers used nonprofit organizational structure, were organized as a political party no different than the republican or democratic party, ran candidates for office, and negotiated within the system to maintain integrity and negotiation for the people within the system. I often stood with the ideology that Newton shares from Epstein's "Agency of Power" - "It is very clear, upon reflection, what function law serves within any culture. It protect the culture's ideology. Under capitalism, it protect property, the men who own it and guard it." ...and like Newton, I concluded "because law is a product and perpetuator of corporate interests in this country, it cannot be a force for significant socioeconomic change." Newton dismisses those sentiments by claiming its illogical because these systems exist and impact the everyday lived experiences of the people that we are trying to help.


Newton spends extensive time explaining the act of repression against the masses disagreeing with the status quo and highlighting how the right to dissent is non-existent in this country. I won't go into full detail, but it makes for a succinct understanding of COINTELPRO, the squelching of dissent, and the true character of our government. But as a warrior-scholar I am taking away the organizational and movement techniques discussed at length. So moving forward, I think that anyone moving in the spirit of the Black Panther Party who truly want to uplift the legacy of Newton needs to stress the focus of attacking capitalism as an oppressive system and that ties direction action to political objectives. Without those two components, expressed homage to the Black Panther Party is done in reprehensible mockery and disrespect to our intellectual, revolutionary, and activist history.



Monique ListonComment