In the latter decades of the eighteenth century, three great revolutions took place. In America, a colony achieved independence. In Britain, the industrial revolution turned an empire into a world market system based on the capitalist mode of production. In France, oppressed classes rose and destroyed an oppressor class. The currents generated by these revolutions formed a revolutionary process which now has reached the entire world. All colonies demand independence to become nations. All nations seek a mode of production to give themselves wealth and power. All peoples who suffer oppression, exploitation, and inequality through class struggle seek liberty, equality, and fraternity.
As these three currents spread outward from America, Britain, and France, they intermingled but also, thereby, generated contradictions. Colonies fought for and secured independence, but then lost it again to empires armed with the weapons of capitalism. Capitalism produced immense wealth but created new class inequalities based on exploitation and oppression. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed a theory of socialism to resolve the contradiction of capitalism and class struggle: the oppressed classes ~ed by the vanguard of the industrial proletariat will seize power, form the workers’ state through the abolition of private property, ~ .1d so do away with the basis of class distinctions to create a mode of production for, through, and by the people. Out of thi~ theory came the vision of Vladimir Lenin, the revolutionary practice of the Bolshevik Party, and the Russian Revolution.
In the twentieth century, China, an immense country subject to the oppression of feudalism, the exploitation of empire capitalism, and the racism of White men, underwent a revolution mightier than that of Russia. Under the leadership of the soldier and intellectual Mao Tse-tung, the Communist Party of China smashed all of China’s oppressor classes, freed China from alien empires, and gave the Chinese people the dignity and authority of masters in their own house. Out of a half-century of struggle before and after the seizure of power, Mao Tse-tung rediscovered the fact that revolution is a process and not a conclusion, that contradictions continue to generate struggle even after revolutionaries have seized power. This is so because new forms of oppression keep on arising (like the bureaucratic dictatorship which the Chinese people overthrew in their recent Cultural Revolution), for the existence of any empire is by itself a contradiction, because so long as there are colonized peoples anywhere in the world they will make war to achieve their freedom.
By the middle of the twentieth century, it has become clear that the honor of being fighters in the revolutionary process belongs not just to the big nations. Everywhere in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, colonies have achieved independence, and independent nations are struggling to cast off empires. And in independent nations the poor are rising to cast off newer forms of imperialist, neo-colonialist, and native bourgeois domination. The greatest of these Third World revolutions is the struggle of the Vietnamese people against the greatest empire in human history, the United States of America. First, the city people of Vietnam achieved independence from French rule. Then the peasants of Vietnam threw off the shackles of landlord oppression. Now, all Vietnamese fight to throw out of their country an alien American occupier bloated with dollars, festooned with weapons, who regards their country as a testing ground of his ability to maintain his clutches on the rest of the world
While the revolutionary process spread outward from America, Britain, and France, it also flowed back into those countries. In Britain, class struggle continued through the nineteenth century and independence movements battered its empire in the twentieth century. But most important for its own people, Britain was reduced to its natural state as an off-shore island by alien capitalist empires who greedily sought what Britain already had-first Germany who wanted to take it by force and then America who inherited it by default. In France, class struggle raged in the nineteenth century, but competing with the poor for power was a still revolutionary capitalism which did not finally win until the twentieth century. In contrast to Britain and France, America in the nineteenth century appeared as a place of hope for the revolutionary process. America encouraged and supported colonial independence movements. Its capitalism was the most dynamic, aggressive, and creative in the world, attracting millions of immigrants. And class struggle achieved a sublime form in the Civil War which appeared as a struggle for the emancipation of Black people: the poorest, most oppressed, most exploited people in the world.
By the end of the nineteenth century, reactionary forces who were determined to end once and for all the revolutionary process-that struggle of the poor for power, equality, and justice-gained sway. America began toying with the idea of empire when it seized Spain’s remnant colonies in the Caribbean and the Far East. Its hard-driving capitalists turned into a new ruling class interested primarily in power and wealth for themselves and their “middle-class” allies. And they decided that the poor had to be kept in their place forever, so signifying by reintroducing slavery for Black people in the form of “segregation.” The empire became a global reality in 1945 when America, rich and unscathed, picked up the wreckage of World War II. Join the empire, America’s rulers said, and you will have a share in the wealth. By World War I hatred of communists, anarchists, and agitators gripped a large part of the people, a hatred duly fanned by the media. The message was clear -strike out against the system and you will be smashed; come begging as a penitent, and you’ll get a handout. Even more loudly trumpeted were doctrines of White supremacy, expressed in the popular writings of the geographer Ellsworth Huntington, who ranked the races from Northwest Europeans at the top to Africans at the bottom. The crudities of America’s racist empire capitalism were to give way to more subtle methods in the ensuing decades of the twentieth century-the empire became the “free world”; radicals, like the militant labor unions, were welcomed into the system if they decided to play the game laid out for them; White supremacy gave way to Civil Rights which allowed our American assimilados to hold positions here and there in the system. Only ten years ago the rulers of America were in a state of euphoria believing that the empire at home and abroad was assured forevermore.
Americans used to think of America as God’s country. But if God gave it the power, wealth, and glory of empire, God has also not denied it the honor of Revolution. The American Revolution began in 1776 and has not yet ended.
When, a decade ago or so, America’s rulers felt confident that they could incorporate the Third World into their empire, they found themselves facing an upsurge from the Third World within the national boundaries of the United States. That upsurge was led by the Black people. Black people had been forcibly brought to America as slaves for a feudal agriculture. The great majority of them remained as slaves to that same agriculture well into the twentieth century despite their legal emancipation. As that Southern agriculture crumbled before the onslaught of a more efficient and modern Western agriculture, Black people spread to all parts of America. If American capitalism had remained as dynamic as it was in the nineteenth century, the Black people would have been absorbed into the ever expanding industrial labor force. But as the empire grew, America’s capitalism showed growing signs of obesity and stagnation. It began to prefer importing consumer goods from abroad rather than producing them at home and so creating new forms of productive employment. Industry required ever greater skills, thus closing their doors to the poor. Unions, fearing automation, warded off the poor; their predominately White members often developed a paranoiac racism. Black people and other Third World poor poured into ghettos with no exit, subsisting in poverty and degradation like the peasants of inland China amongst whom the Chinese Revolution arose. The response of America’s rulers, epitomized by Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society, was to offer them “bread and circuses”-welfare, menial employment, Black faces on TV and in the movies, and at the same time to skim off the cream of their assimilado elites. If it worked in the outer Third World, why should it not work in the inner Third World? And if there was resistance, just as in Vietnam, a bit of force could be applied to rid the peaceful peasants of the “scavengers of the modernization process.”
Just as a great revolutionary process has begun in the outer Third World, so one has begun in the inner Third World of America. That process unites within itself all the elements that flowed out of the original eighteenth-century revolutions and those added by subsequent revolutions. The people of our inner Third World revolution want power- “not power over people, but the power to control our own destiny,” in the words of Huey P. Newton. The people of our inner Third World Revolution want work, education, and the basis of a good life which capitalism gives its rulers and class allies. The people of the inner Third World Revolution want the liberty, equality, and fraternity which can only come about by finally doing away with the class divisions that hold fast in this country.
In this revolutionary process there has emerged the Black Panther Party, originally a political weapon of self-defense by Black people, but now a growing party with a v1s1on reaching out to the entire world and a practice aiming deep into the communities of Black people. The context of the revolutionary movement within which the Black Panther Party grows is similar to that of other movements, notably the Chinese. As in China during the 1920’s and 1930’s, there are now the nationalist revolutionaries who want power, identity, and respect for their own race. There are also the “endorsed spokesmen,” who while often vehement in language believe they can make personal gains by extorting concessions from the national and class oppressors. There are the “implacables” who desire to break the slavemaster’s oppressive power by any means necessary.
In China during the latter 1930’s, the nationalists soon exhausted their energies, the endorsed spokesmen went over to the Japanese enemy, and the implacables were killed off leaving only the memory of their fortitude. Huey P. Newton speaks of “the three points of a triangle of death” which the oppressor, the “endorsed spokesmen,” and the “implacables” form. The lesson of the Chinese Revolution shows that it was the Communist Party which evolved a revolutionary vision for all mankind, which developed a practice which went deep into the villages, and which kept on fighting external and internal oppressors while always committed to survival. This was the party led by Mao Tse-tung that carried on the revolution for the liberation of China. The Black Panther Party being Jed by Huey P. Newton is now developing along similar Jines with vision, practice, and struggle. Representative of this development is the change in Newton’s title: he is no longer the Minister of Defense, but the Servant of the People.
The vision of the Black Panther Party is expressed in the first part of this book, and the core of the vision is Revolutionary Intercommunalism. Revolutionary Intercommunalism is an idea which emerges out of a fundamental contradiction: that America is not a nation but an empire which directly or indirectly spans the globe, that its real units are communities which are ever more visible as one goes down into the poor Third World strata of America, and that that empire and community stand in dialectical contradiction and confrontation with each other. While peoples legitimately fight for nationhood throughout the world, in a fundamental sense, nations cannot really exist for long because all nations fall somewhere on a scale from liberated to non-liberated territories. As Newton says of Cuba, The People’s Republic of China, North Korea, North Vietnam, The Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, “they represent the people’s liberated territory.”
The American empire is everywhere, even in China, a fact dramatically demonstrated by Nixon’s visit. But the struggle against that empire takes form in the growth of communities able to produce, educate, and defend themselves. And the struggle expresses the revolutionary process when these communities forge linkages among themselves within nations and reach across national boundaries to different national communities. The Third World in America can never become a part of the American nation because there is no nation. To become a part means joining the empire which for most Third World people means to do so in a menial capacity. Third World people live in communities not by choice but because they are forced to remain in demarcated ghettos. Millions of White Americans live not in communities but as atomized individuals and in households. Nothing is more natural to man than to live in a community, but nothing is so abhorrent to the doctrines of “freedom” of the empire than that man should live in a community which escapes the manipulation of the rulers. The “villages” of the world have much to teach its “cities.” “We cannot make our stand as nationalists,” for the closer one is to the center of the empire, the more illusory the idea of nationhood is for any people. “We cannot even make our stand as internationalists,” for an aggregate of citizens of the world is little more than an aggregate of bourgeois individualists. “We must place our hopes on the philosophy of intercommunalism”-only those who are by, through, and from a community can serve the great family of humankind. To go out, one must go deep. But to go deep, one must also go out.
“It is our belief,” says Newton, “that the Black people in America are the only people who can free the world, loosen the yoke of colonialism, and destroy the war machine.” The revolutionary process shows that people will be liberated, that the liberation of the outer and inner Third World is the key element in that process, and the Black people of the empire’s heartland are at the center of revolutionary action.
The practice of the Black Panther Party is expressed in the second part of this book. The Party is a revolutionary vehicle made up of three elements: a small but dedicated cadre of workers who are willing to devote their full time to the goals of the organization; an organized structure through which the cadre can function; and revolutionary concepts which define and interpret phenomena, and establish the goals toward which the political vehicle will work. This is one side of practice. Its other indispensable side is “the building of a community structure,” the development of basic survival programs for the people amongst whom the Party lives and serves and derives nourishment. The practice of the Black Panther Party is much like the building of base areas which the Chinese Communists engaged in during the 1930’s. Building base areas sounds romantic with dashing guerrillas going out on forays against Japanese and Kuomintang oppressors. In reality it involved hard work day after day: planting crops, educating adults and children, organizing disaster relief, tending the sick, talking with the people. But when the oppressor came into the village, all united in defense of their achievements. And when the time came to unite with distant villages and party units for the attainment of larger goals, the cadres and many of the people went forth. They now understood that the large goals and the small goals were inextricably bound together. But the cadres also understood that the large goals were meaningless unless the smaller goals could be attained. As Newton says, ” … they have to see first some basic accomplishments in order to realize that major successes are possible.”
The writings of Huey Newton also makes clear that above all, the cadres and the people must know things as they are, and not just find pleasure in celestial or revolutionary rhetoric. “We always emphasized a concrete analysis of conditions.” Even when the Black Panther Party was first founded, “its dreamers were armed with an ideology which provided a systematic method of analysis of how best to meet those needs.” But concrete analysis must never be of the type done by the sociological snooper who coldly collects and assorts his data. “We are interested in everything the people are interested in.” All great revolutions, despite what bourgeois theorists with their elitist notions have written, have always succeeded where the leaders and cadres were the “vehicles” of the people, where they were able to translate into organized and effective action the things the people wanted.
The struggle of the Black Panther Party is expressed in the third and last part of the book. The Servant of the People writes of comrades who have died and who were or are in prison. That struggle against oppression means suffering and imprisonment, and death is a lesson that one has to learn again and again. That empire means suffering, imprisonment, and death for other peoples is something many Americans have learned. That this empire will eventually bring its horrors home to America is something we have yet to learn. But struggle also has a dialectic of its own, for it produces that most wonderful of human bonds–comradeship. No one has understood the struggle of the Vietnamese people unless he or she realizes that its basis is the extraordinary comradeship that has arisen in a quarter century of struggle. Americans seem not to understand comradeship because they no longer know what friendship means. A friend is anyone you happen to meet. Those who died like Jonathan Jackson and William Christmas may appear to many sympathetic Americans as tragic victims of prison oppression. These same Americans also think of the Vietnamese as “victims,” but anyone who has been to North Vietnam soon loses that notion. Nor were those who died in this country for Black liberation “victims”; they were comrades. As the struggle deepens and spreads in America, so will the bonds of comradeship.
The Black Panther Party may now have come through its own Long March, and a period of building, survival, and protracted struggle begun. If there be similarities to China’s Long March, they are not due to conscious imitation, but manifestations of a larger and longer revolutionary process which does not spring out of the alert minds of some individuals, but from the people.