Black Panthers may be considered to be one of the first organizations of people in the USA who fight for the human rights and equality, regardless a strong oppression from dominant social groups representing white population of the country. It should be pointed out that their ideology was significantly different from traditional views of numerous nationalist groups existing in the US. In stark contrast, they put universal human values and ideas, based on principles of socialism and dialectical materialism, above all and aimed at the radical changes of the unjust and oppressive system that existed in the USA in the 1960s – 1970s when the organization had existed.
Apparently, their methods of struggle may be quite arguably since violence was an integral part of their activities but it is necessary to admit that it was a logical, practical realization of their ideology. At the same time, their actions and practices within their communities served as a catalyst for further, more significant changes, which, as the Black Panthers believed, should lead to equality worldwide. From Karl Marx’s dialectical materialism, the Black Panthers Party attempted to solve many problems within their community that were not being addressed by the government. Initially, they started as ‘watchdogs’ of their communities, but later this ‘watchdog of the community’ ideology became one of the origins of what Hip Hop culture was created in.
Basics of the Black Panthers’ ideology
Speaking about the origin and thinking of the Black Panthers, it is necessary to point out that their views and ideology evolved during the process of the development of this group. To put it more precisely, it should be said that initially this organization was perceived as one of the cohorts of Black Nationalist parties which stood on the ground of nationalism. At the same time, soon it turns to be clear that the Black Panthers are significantly different from the rest of organization representing the deprived African American community. This difference was explained by the domination of Marxist ideology of dialectical materialism.
However, it is necessary to underline that since the first days of the existence of the Black Panthers Party there had been an internal contradiction within the organization caused by ideological differences between the leaders of the party and its ordinary members. What is meant here is the fact that the founders of the party, i.e. Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seal, and Richard Aoki, stood on Marxist ideology and strongly supported the basic principles of socialism and dialectical materialism, while a significant part of the members of the party were close to black nationalist ideology and even entered the Black Panthers from other black nationalist movements.
Moreover, the Black Panthers Party was initially perceived as ideologically close to black nationalism and its fundamental goals coincided with those of other parties and organizations supporting the black nationalist ideology. Such a mess in ideological orientation of the party was not occasional since initially the Black Panthers aimed at the protection of interests of deprived African American population of the USA and its members actively participated in riots and violent conflicts with police when the interests of African Americans were oppressed. Not surprisingly that such a position of ‘watchdogs’ created the reputation of the party as a black nationalist one.
Nonetheless, in actuality, the party stood on the left views and ideology of socialism that became obvious quite soon. Within first years of the existence of the organization, the Black Panthers became a significant power and eventually had got an opportunity to define their position on a variety of problems that revealed their ideological preferences.
Similarly to Marxism, the Black Panthers focused their ideology on class struggle and national questions were secondary if essential for them to at all while the domination of class interest was primary. In this respect, the Black Panther Party is similar to other revolutionary movements and ideologies that were promoted in that epoch. For instance, it is not a secret that at many points, especially concerning their rhetoric concerning the revolutionary class struggle, the Black Panthers are similar to Maoism since they borrowed many ideas from this ideology.
In such a situation, it seems to be natural that one of the final goals of their activity was not the improvement of the position of African American community as it used to be at the beginning, but their ultimate goal was to prepare American society and create conditions for social revolution that could change the existing social order radically in favor of deprived classes.
Obviously such a transformation of their views from, to a particular extent mercantile, such as protection of African American population, aid to deprived representatives of their community, etc. (not surprisingly the original name of the party was the Black Panthers Party for Self-Defense), to genuinely global views on the basis of dialectical materialism and socialism which really eliminated borders between peoples, nations, and countries.
Logically enough they believed in the possibility of social changes using revolution and, as a typical Marxist movement, the Black Panthers counted for the proletariat as the primary instrument of the revolution. However, in this respect, differences in their views and Marx’s views are getting to be quite significant. Naturally, they perceived the Black Panthers Party as a party “committed to organizing support a socialist revolution” (Newton Ten-Point Program. War Against the Panthers, p.120), but they did not fully agree with Marx’s analysis of lumpenproletariat. To put it more precisely, Karl Marx felt that this class lacked the political consciousness required to lead a revolution, while Newton, in stark contrast, believed that the lumpen was of a paramount importance and he estimated that these “brothers off the block” are essential since “if you didn’t relate to this cats, the power structure would organize these cats against you” (Newton Ten-Point Program. War Against the Panthers, p.122).
Furthermore, the Black Panthers defined two groups of the lumpen: the “Industrial Reserve Army” consisting of those who couldn’t find a job, being unskilled and unfit; and the “Criminal Element” consisting of the gangster, pimps, prostitutes, drug users, etc. In this respect, it is worthy to note that the former groups represented the working poor who had irregular and low paid jobs, while Marx defined lumpenproletariat as “a mass sharply differentiated from the industrial proletariat” (Marx and Engels Manifesto of the Communist Party, p.27). In such a way, the Black Panthers ideology was slightly different from traditional Marxism at specific points and considered the lumpen as an essential element that may play a crucial role for the success of the future socialist revolution.
Black Panthers’ nationalism, internationalism, and ‘intercommunalism’
Obviously, the evolution of the views and ideology of the Black Panthers is obvious. They apparently evolved as a movement from nationalist, as it was perceived at the beginning, to socialist though the latter ideology had dominated among the leaders of the party since its foundation. Briefly, the transition from nationalism to internationalism and even ‘intercommunalism’ may be briefly described in the analysis of their actions and views.
To put it more precisely, on the stage of nationalism the Black Panthers mainly focused on African American community and its problems organizing groups of self-protection, participating in public protests and even riots, promoting anti-racist ideology, etc. At the same time, soon the socialist ideology had started to dominate in the party, and the Black Panthers began to focus on the position of deprived classes at large, initially within the US and later worldwide. The internalization of their views was so significant that they eventually arrived at ‘intercommunalism’ as the alternative to internationalism which they considered to be too moderate. By this term, they implied the end of all states, all nations, and elimination of national borders. They stated that oppressed communities existed all over the world and all of them needed to struggle for their rights, and there were no borders for this struggle since oppression was the same regardless the state. Moreover, they even insisted on the unity of all these communities to struggle efficiently against their common class oppressor.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it possible to conclude that the Black Panthers Party evolved dramatically but this evolution was entirely predictable since the socialist and Marxist orientation of its leaders was evident from the beginning while the time was required only for other members to accept this ideology of dialectical materialism. As the doctrine was accepted and promoted, the parties goals also evolved and instead of short-term goals of self-protection of African American communities and aid to the most deprived representatives of their communities the Black Panthers arrived at the understanding of the necessity of radical social changes by means of socialist revolution and what is more they managed to overcome national borders and perceived the problem of class oppression as the global one. In such a situation, it seems to be quite obvious that the party eventually arrived to ‘intercommunalism’ but its basic problem that actually caused the end of the Black Panther movement was internal contradictions which were not fully eliminated and, probably, its members were not simply ready to accept such an ideology promoted by its leaders. Nonetheless, it is hardly possible to underestimate the role of the Black Panthers in the development of civil society and democracy within the USA and its positive impact on social relations within the country. Anyway, the Black Panthers managed to create the basis for the further development of American society at large and African American community in particular.
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