RAM, Us, the Black Panther Party
In the previous chapter, we examined the first explicit thesis on black cultural revolution in the United States, proffered by Harold Cruse to revolutionize the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) by targeting the cultural apparatus of U.S. society. Cruse’s cultural focus was an important theoretical contribution to the onset of the Black Power Movement (BPM), and the Black Arts Movement (BAM) as well. Cruse’s thesis, along with those of Boggs and Haywood, provided contending perspectives on the role of culture in revolution for BPM revolutionists whose programs would reflect both their insights and shortcomings. In this chapter, I examine how several major BPM organizations engaged theses of black cultural revolution. I examine the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), which was the first major BPM organization to formally advocate black cultural revolution following Malcolm’s Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), and Us, which developed one of the most influential theses of black cultural revolution in the BPM, and the Marxist-influenced theses of culture and revolution of the Black Panther Party (BPP).
RAM and the Second Organizational Adoption of Black Cultural Revolution
Although Cruse initially proposed his thesis on black cultural revolution as an element of a proposed platform of the Freedom Now Party (FNP), it was never formally adopted; in fact, James Boggs was among the FNP leadership who openly opposed it. As a result, the first major organization of the BPM to advocate black cultural revolution in its public program and strategy for black liberation following Malcolm X’s OAAU was RAM. Cruse’s theses on the revolutionary capacity of black nationalism, domestic colonialism, and black cultural revolution were central to RAM, which was formally organized in 1962 from the efforts of students at Wilberforce College. Emerging from a campus-based group of black members and associates of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), “Challenge,” the group that would become RAM, devoted serious study to Cruse’s “Revolutionary Nationalism and the Afro-American,” which the group circulated among its members, and began to engage in radical politics. The early leadership centered on Donald Freeman of Cleveland, who had suggested that the group study Cruse’s thesis, and included Max Stanford and Wanda Marshall in Philadelphia, who had met with Malcolm X and shared their interests in forming a radical black nationalist organization with a direct action focus, such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), within the Nation of Islam (NOI). Malcolm dissuaded them from joining the NOI and, instead, encouraged them to pursue independent organizing, and the formation of RAM was the major result of that advice (Stanford, 1986, p. 79). Stanford and Marshall were joined by Stan Daniels and Playthell Benjamin, among others (ibid., p. 80). The group had been tutored in Philadelphia by both Queen Mother Moore, who had already made appeals to the UN regarding black reparations, and Ethel Johnson, who had previously worked with Robert Williams in North Carolina. Max Stanford met with the Boggses in Detroit and described RAM to them (ibid., p. 90). RAM drew on the “militant internationalism” of Robert Williams, the “world-wide revolution” thesis of Malcolm X, Cruse’s domestic colonialism and black cultural revolution theses, and James and Grace Lee Boggs’s emergent “dialectical humanism,” to promote a vision and program of black liberation that would fuse aspects of each of these perspectives.
RAM’s founders intended “to start a mass black nationalist movement,” which would employ “mass direct action combined with the tactics of self-defense” in order “to change the civil rights movement into a black revolution” (Stanford, 1986, p. 80). RAM created a bimonthly publication, Black America, which began to communicate with “other new nationalist formations,” for example, in San Francisco, members of Don Warden’s Afro-American Association, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, the eventual cofounders of the BPP; in its Los Angeles affiliate, Maulana Karenga, who would later help found Us; in Detroit, UHURU members Luke Tripp, John Williams, Charles (Mao) Johnson, General Baker, and Gwen Kemp, who would become important members of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW); in Cleveland, members of the Afro-American Institute, including Don Freeman; and in Chicago, National Afro-American Organization members Sterling Stuckey, Thomas Higgenbottom, and John Bracey. RAM expanded to both coasts as a network of organizers committed to a program to link the Northern and Southern CRM in a black nationalist initiative similar to Malcolm’s OAAU. The general program was modified by local approaches that emphasized student, labor, or broader community organizing. RAM constructed itself as a cadre organization, operating openly mainly in Philadelphia and New York but otherwise as a self-proclaimed underground organization.1 Only in Philadelphia did it operate openly as a direct action group, and by the mid-1960s its primary leader and theorist was Max Stanford (aka Muhammad Ahmad).
During the organization’s brief lifetime (1962–68/69), RAM’s black nationalism was eclectic, tracing the broad contours that subsequent BPM organizations would traverse. Unlike some of these organizations, RAM’s leadership was diffuse and decentralized, and not surprisingly its program could be as varied as its theoretical thrust. For example, originally RAM emphasized pan-Africanism and openly advocated armed struggle in the United States, and although it was anti-imperialist it was not explicitly Marxist in the sense of centering its analysis on the class struggle. In fact, “As early as 1962, RAM declared that nationalism was the ‘natural doctrine’ of the black working class and through revolutionary black nationalism their anger would be aroused and would lead to the destruction of the ruling class” (Stanford, 1986, p. 152). In the Fall 1964 edition of Black America, Stanford (1964, p. 1) differentiated between the integrationists of the CRM and the emergent black nationalists, and situated RAM squarely within the latter, articulating and advocating a perspective that built on the revolutionary theses of Malcolm, Cruse, and Boggs. In arguments that would come to characterize the prominent revolutionary theory of the BPM, Stanford asserted the centrality of Malcolm’s black nationalism, acknowledging that blacks constituted “a nation within the boundaries of another nation; a nation in captivity striving to obtain independence, self-determination, or national liberation,” to be achieved through revolution (ibid., p. 1). Stanford posited that
[t]he failure to realize our power and position in this country has been the failure of Afroamericans to see themselves as revolutionary nationalists. In doing this, they don’t see our struggles as a national liberation struggle. Instead, our struggle has previously been defined along class lines only. This led to confusion and failure to make a clear analysis . . . because there are more factors involved than class. . . . We must become familiar with our revolutionary history as an oppressed nation. (1964, p. 2)
RAM emphasized the domestic colonial status of the black nation, reflecting Cruse’s influence, and wedded this position to Malcolm X’s argument on black self-determination and the view that land was the basis of independence. Thus, RAM viewed black Americans not as citizens of the United States, but as a domestic colony seeking national independence by overthrowing U.S. imperialism at home in coordination with anticolonial struggles abroad. As a colonized nation, African Americans were little different from other colonized nations who were aligned in their anti-imperialist cause; thus, RAM came to advocate “Bandung Humanism,” which explicitly related the black struggle in the United States to the anti-imperialist and nonaligned movement that many in the BPM associated with the Bandung Conference.2 This required that black Americans further develop an international perspective allied with, supported, and drawing lessons from anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world. The latter reflected the influence of Boggs’s thesis of dialectical humanism (thus, the “humanism” of “Bandung Humanism”), which Stanford viewed as “the method of analyzing, planning and developing the sociological and cultural motivations as related to the material factors which affect man’s psyche for the raising of his revolutionary humanness towards man” (Stanford, 1986, p. 151). They also characterized their perspective as “revolutionary black internationalism,” focusing on an international black underclass understood as an amalgam of international “have nots,” whether they were phenotypically black or not (i.e., third world peoples), opposed to a white overclass that consisted mainly of European and their offshoot settler states, including the Soviet Union, which was viewed as more white nationalist than socialist internationalist (Castro’s Cuba was characterized similarly).3 It assumed “an inevitable confrontation between Western imperialism and Bandung anti-imperialism” (ibid., p. 147). In fact, in what is probably its most developed theoretical statement on political revolution as an organization, the essay “World Black Revolution,” written by Stanford in 1966, RAM proposed a “worldwide revolution”—evoking Malcolm’s reference—that amounted to a global war that, if not an explicit “race war,” aimed at overthrowing the white “overclass” and establishing a dictatorship of the black “underclass.”
In “World Black Revolution,” RAM contended that “[t]he principle contradiction in the world is between imperialism, particularly U.S. imperialism and the colonies, between the haves and the have nots” (Stanford, 1966, p. 3). Given the context of the times and the developing rival interpretations of black American oppression in terms of race and increasingly in terms of class, RAM’s thesis in 1966 saw the two forces as complementary and reinforcing, instead of contradictory and mutually exclusive, manifesting on both a class and caste basis (ibid.). Nevertheless, recognizing this complementarity did not preclude RAM from acknowledging the greater salience of race:
In the present situation, caste predominates the question of class in that the exploitation of the have nots though initially perpetrated on class lines as of the present, maintains itself on caste (racial lines). Class thus becomes the secondary and not the primary manifestation of the principle contradiction. (ibid.)
RAM asserted that “[i]n order for this contradiction to be resolved, imperialism, capitalism and all that maintains the systems of exploitation must be destroyed by the have nots,” and it understood that “[t]he destruction of these systems will mean the end of class exploitation and will also mean the end of caste (racial) exploitation” (ibid.). For RAM, since “[t]he European forces have consolidated along caste lines, and maintain their exploitation on the basis of racial lines (caste),” then “the world revolution will be a racial (caste) war between the haves, imperialists[,] and the have nots[,] majority of the world[,] while at the same time being a class war between the Black Underclass and the White Overclass to eliminate the class system, capitalism” (ibid.).
RAM, as “revolutionary black internationalists,” asserted that “the Black Underclass is the vanguard of the world revolution, leadership and rulers of the ‘New World’ ” (Stanford, 1966, p. 3). They contended that “[i]n world society, the Black Underclass being the lowest stratum, cannot achieve national liberation, self-determination, Black Power without the whole of U.S.-European bourgeois society being completely destroyed”; therefore, “[t]he first stage of the struggle for liberation of the Black Underclass against the white overclass is a national struggle” (ibid., p. 10). RAM admonished that “[t]he Black Underclass must struggle against the particular imperialist power that is directly oppressing it nationally,” and thus the significance of both the CRM and the BPM in the United States as well as national liberation struggles in specific countries abroad. “But,” RAM maintained, “it must be remembered that the backer of all imperialism today is U.S. imperialism” (ibid.). Therefore, following the dualism in Malcolm’s thesis on black revolution, RAM asserted that “while waging a war against its immediate oppressor it must also wage war against U. S. imperialism internationally” (ibid.). Thus, while expressing solidarity with contemporary third world revolutionaries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, RAM argued that black revolutionists in the United States needed to organize their own revolution to overthrow the domestic colonial regime of U.S. imperialism.
A contributing factor to the development of RAM was a small conference in May 1964 at Fisk University, the Afro-American Student Conference on Black Nationalism. Critiquing both what it viewed as the bourgeois reformism of mainstream civil rights organizations and bourgeois nationalism’s uncritical acceptance of capitalism, the conferees “asserted that the young nationalists are the vanguard of a Black Revolution in the United States” (Freeman, 1964, p. 16). The conference’s theoretical and programmatic orientations anticipated those that would dominate the BPM, including the assertion “that black radicals were the vanguard of revolution” in the United States, support for Malcolm X’s “efforts to take the case of Afro-Americans to the U.N.,” positive engagement with pan-Africanism, and a call “for a black cultural revolution” (Stanford 1986, 92). Many of the conference’s main points would be reflected in RAM’s twelve-point program put forth the following month in Detroit (Stanford, 1986, 99; Stanford, 2007, 120–123).4 RAM endorsed Cruse’s domestic colonialism thesis and asserted that “the Afro-American is not a citizen of the U.S.A., denied his rights, but rather he is a colonial subject enslaved”; thus, “black people in the U.S.A. are a captive nation suppressed,” and therefore, “their fight is not for integration into the white community but one of national liberation.” RAM stated its objective as “the overthrow of white rule, capitalist rule,” or more simply, “the black man taking over this country” (Stanford, 1986, 206). In accordance with Malcolm’s “ballot or the bullet” thesis, four years before the founding of the RNA, RAM envisioned a provisional government in exile headed by Robert Williams, and advocated an electoral strategy centered on supporting “Robert Williams for President in ’68 in the black community” (ibid.). At the same time, RAM endorsed armed struggle as a means for the colonized black nation to free itself from the bonds of imperial rule, just like anticolonial struggles throughout the colonized world.
Appreciating that its revolutionary approach would necessitate both above-ground and underground initiatives, RAM promoted the former through its support of black workers’ “liberation” unions, whose purpose was “to fight for better conditions on jobs, to organize Afro-American[s] to spy, etc., for the purpose of a national strike” (ibid., 205)—the latter resonating with Du Bois’s General Strike and anticipating the LRBW, in which RAM members would play instrumental roles (see chapter 7). The proposed unions would also include “Women’s leagues,” which RAM’s subsequent 12 Point Program insisted “will also play an important role in the national strike,” and their purpose was to organize black women domestic workers who toiled “in whitie’s homes” (ibid.). In addition, RAM sought to organize and develop the “army of black unemployed” to pressure “the Federal government by demonstrating North and South against racial discrimination on Federal backed industry,” and also to “struggle against union discrimination” (ibid., p. 206). RAM also supported the development of black farmer cooperatives “[i]n the delta area (black belt) in the South, especially Mississippi,” presumably to not only provide food and resources to the communities there, but also to support “community and guerrilla forces” as necessary (ibid.).
By far, RAM’s major aboveground organizational focus was on students. Viewing youth as the key to the revolutionary struggle it envisioned, RAM sought to develop an “Afro-American Student Movement” (ASM) to “fight against injustices, against Afro-American students and black people in general,” to educate black Americans “to the economic, political, and cultural basis of the racial situation” in the United States and the world, to develop unity among blacks nationally and globally, and to organize black students to “become active in the Afro-American Liberation Struggle” (ibid., p. 204). Pursuant to these objectives, RAM sought to “develop revolutionary cadres in the high schools, junior high and colleges,” with an objective of executing “a nationwide black student school strike which would repudiate the educational system” and “show black students that the only way to succeed in life is to cause a revolution in this country.” RAM argued that the ASM “would develop groups around black history, students’ rights, and also over conditions under which Afro-American students must operate,” eventually taking over student government and seizing power (ibid., p. 204). This “all-black national student organization” would help generate “social dislocation” and provide a “guerilla force” operating independently of them, with “a base for mass support.” Black youth would also “rally young black workers and the unemployed,” which would help “politicalize the black student community” and also “serve as the vanguard in the struggle.” Importantly, the student strike would be augmented by strikes among “other segments of the black community,” which the broader RAM would coordinate (ibid., p. 204).
RAM supported the establishment of “freedom schools,” to “develop cadres” tutored in its “revolutionary theory and doctrine of RAM” that would “teach the history of the movement, current events, political theory[,] methods of social action, methods of self-defense, basic principles of guerrilla warfare, techniques of social dislocation, propaganda techniques and indoctrination, black history, etc” (ibid., pp. 204–205). Following Williams, it advocated the development of “rifle clubs” comprised “of local veterans” and community members organized as a black militia capable of protecting the black community” and serving “as a base for the establishment of a community government,” and ultimately a black liberation army “to carry out [the] political, economic, physical overthrow of this system” (ibid., p. 205).
RAM rejected the contention that blacks were relatively powerless against the overwhelming political, economic, and especially military capabilities of the U.S. government. Following Williams’s view that U.S. cities in which blacks were increasingly concentrated were the analogue of the third world guerillas’ countryside (i.e., “Our countryside is the cities all over the country”), RAM argued that “the major part of guerrilla warfare in the U.S.A. will take place in the cities,” which they viewed as “the pockets of power and heart of the economy.” RAM’s black liberation army would be tasked “to take over cities, cause complete social dislocation of communications, etc.” as part of a broader guerilla warfare strategy. This approach was consistent with Stanford’s (1964, p. 1) emphasis on the three aspects of power that African Americans possess: (1) “the power to stop the machinery of government—that is, the power to cause chaos” so “that nothing runs”; (2) “the power to hurt the economy” by causing chaos in “the major urban areas in the North” and disruption of the “agricultural setup in the South” such that “the economy of the oppressor would come to almost a standstill”; and (3) “the power of unleashing violence . . . to tear up ‘Charlie’s [the white man’s] house” (ibid., p. 1). RAM advocated the development of cadres skilled “in techniques and methods of propaganda” and proposed instruction in intelligence methods (Stanford, 1986, p. 205). Toward these ends, RAM supported establishing “a press and a publishing company” and established its “national organ,” Black America, “a journal of ideas and direction,” to help coordinate the movement (ibid., p. 205). In their twelve points, RAM laid out many of the major theoretical and programmatic thrusts that would characterize the BPM.
Although it was not stated explicitly among RAM’s twelve points, black cultural revolution was a central precept of RAM’s program and practice (Stanford, 1986, 2007). RAM members were among those at the black nationalism conference at Fisk in 1964 who “agreed that a fundamental cultural revolution or re-Africanization of black people in America was a prerequisite for a genuine Black Revolution” (Freeman, 1964, p. 18). For RAM, “black people needed to engage in a black cultural revolution to prepare them for a black political revolution” (Stanford, 1986, 124). Although RAM related cultural revolution to political revolution in the United States temporally, and to some degree programmatically, it had more difficulty linking them theoretically, mainly because it ignored the cultural aspects of the revolutionary antecedents in African American history, leading them to focus more on the military aspects of the political revolution. For example, RAM advocated, following Malcolm, the creation of a nationwide united front among black revolutionists, noting that “[i]n order to unite the Black community, revolutionary Afro-American organizations would have to be united into a Black Liberation Front” (Stanford, 1966, p. 21). One of the most important functions of this united front was to organize a Black General Strike involving workers, students, and gangs, among others. RAM asserted that “[a] Black General Strike to stop the oppressor’s system would have to be called in order to throw chaos into the oppressor’s economy and disturb his social system” (ibid.). They noted that “[t]he Black General Strike will cause complete social dislocation with the American racist system,” which the black revolutionists would exploit to pursue a people’s war strategy to overthrow the U.S. government (ibid.). RAM argued that
[w]hen all the Black servants are no longer there or cannot be trusted for fear they may poison, maim or murder, the enemy will be faced with a social crisis. . . . Youth, especially those in gangs would have to be organized into a political Black Liberation Army [that] . . . would become Black America’s regular guerrilla army. . . . A revolutionary Afro-American government would be established to govern the liberated areas. . . . Organization would have to be structured on the cadre level. . . . Within such a cadre there must be units able to match every type of unit that the counter-revolution has at its disposal . . . to defeat them. (Stanford, 1966, p. 21)
Clearly aware of aspects of Black Reconstruction, which Queen Mother Moore had encouraged Philadelphia RAM members to study, in these early statements RAM invoked the sine qua non of Du Bois’s revolutionary thesis on the Slave Revolution in the United States, the general strike.5 At the point where they would have benefited from grounding their analysis further in Du Bois’s thesis and in that way fleshing out the historical connection between black cultural and political revolution in the United States, RAM grounded its version of a general strike to third world anticolonial “people’s war.” In so doing, RAM delinked it from its historical antecedent in the United States, the Slave Revolution it spawned, and the cultural processes that stimulated it. For RAM, the general strike was mainly a means to foment a people’s war such as was occurring throughout the third world; rather than examining its precursors in a black cultural revolution that would motivate it, RAM focused on its unfolding as a practical matter rather than a key aspect of its theorizing an actual political revolution in the United States. Thus, even when RAM insightfully drew on the slave revolts and promoted Nat Turner as an exemplar of revolutionary struggle, these were evoked in almost purely political and military terms. The cultural aspect of the slave revolts and the association of slave religion and slave hiring to their organization were not examined by BPM revolutionists and, thus, did not become a focus or basis of their theorizing on these important historical events and processes. Therefore, even as they evoked the necessity of black cultural revolution as a precursor to black political revolution they failed to recognize the cultural revolution underneath their feet in their own history in the United States—not in the third world.
The General Strike of the U.S. Civil War was initiated by transformations in the cultural institutions that blacks controlled (i.e., slave religion) to provide institutional justification and coordination for concerted efforts toward social justice, and from there the serpentine networks that slave hiring facilitated, clandestine stations and depots of the Underground Railroad that later became linked to armed elements of the white host country in a context in which white hegemony was already fractured to generate the Slave Revolution and the Civil War. Analogous initial conditions were evident in the CRM which had magnified the Black Church’s impact and expanded its role as a key institution of social change as it effectively challenged Jim Crow white supremacism in the South (and as it was becoming a center of black electoral organization in the North and West as well). Focused more on emulating “people’s war,” RAM’s general strike approach failed to appreciate, much less coordinate with the progressive Black Church. This was indicative of RAM’s—and so many BPM organizations’—marginalization of the Black Church and, often, religion, in general, especially as they attempted to parrot contemporary anticolonial revolutions abroad. Moreover, RAM, like later BPM organizations, prematurely militarized what should have begun as a cultural approach under the misapprehension that the U.S. struggle would approximate those in third world countries. Therefore, even as RAM insightfully invoked a general strike approach to black liberation in the United States, it did not flesh out or follow Du Bois’s formulation or its synthesis with Locke’s cultural thesis discussed in chapter 3.
Instead, RAM emphasized the politico-military rather than the cultural factors operative in the slave revolts; therefore, they turned their focus too quickly to the militarized aspects of black resistance, in large part to replicate the processes evident in the anticolonial wars occurring throughout the third world in order to legitimate their own. As a result, they borrowed heavily from Malcolm X, and even more from Robert Williams’s “Revolution Without Violence,” arguing that blacks could bring the United States to a standstill by engaging in rebellions utilizing a strategy of urban guerrilla warfare (Stanford, 1986, p. 90). Stanford argued in Black America that “our struggle is part of a world black revolution,” and, therefore “we must unite with the ‘Bandung’ forces” (Stanford, 1964, p. 1), but, in the meantime, “we (AfroAmericans) must make our own revolution” (ibid., p. 2). His point of departure was Williams’s suggestion that black revolutionists adopt guerilla strategies to create chaos in the United States, cause division among whites, and adopt the tactics of leaders of slave revolts such as Nat Turner, to “strike at night and spare none” (ibid.). RAM drew on the history of black revolt in the United States in a manner that was both rare and common among its cohort of young BPM revolutionists. It was rare inasmuch as it drew on the slave revolts and networks associated with them in the United States, thus privileging African American history, rather than “third world” history, in developing a theory of African American revolution, and it was common, unfortunately, in failing to engage the cultural aspects of the revolutionary antecedents in black American history, as well as in its quixotic notion that a revolution could be victorious against the most powerful country in the world in short order, problems evident among almost all of the major BPM organizations in this study.
Stanford was insightful in his admonition that “[w]hat most young black intellectuals fail to do is thoroughly study the slave system, the development of slavery from the sixteenth century on to the twentieth century, how our nation was taken into bondage, and the psychology of White America during this period” (1964, p. 2). In particular, he drew on the example of the U.S. slave revolts to inform revolutionary activity in the 1960s. Stanford challenged that “[c]ontrary to the oppressor’s statistics, the slave revolts were well organized, involved thousands of slaves, and sometimes had international implications.” He argued that “[t]hese revolts occurred on the average of every three weeks for a three hundred year period.” He acknowledged the “international perspective of the Denmark Vesey revolt” and Vesey’s “attempted coordination with Toussaint L’Ouverture (military leader of the Haitian revolt which had defeated both the French and British armies in liberating Haiti) shook White America to its roots.”6 He added that the “fear of having a Haitian revolution on United States soil played a major role in the official abolishment of the slave trade.” In fact, he maintains, the “Nat Turner revolt shook White America so much that the idea of abolishment of the slave system entirely became a feasible and practical concept” (ibid.; original emphasis). Here, Stanford was not simply noting a historical reference, but drew on the Nat Turner revolt as a historical resource to help guide black revolutionary theory and praxis in the United States more than a century later—much as I’ve argued in the previous chapters. For him,
Contrary to what most white historians would have us to believe, the Turner revolt was so well coordinated and planned, that it involved hundreds of slaves. Turner struck fear into all of White America by his tactic of “strike by night and spare none.” Though the revolt was short-lived, many persons in positions of power realized that they would have to cope with a black revolution if the slave system wasn’t destroyed . . . if they didn’t do something quick, the slaves would develop national organization and they feared that the “blacks” would take over the country. The horror of thinking of what the “blacks” would do to the whites if they were in power was the nightmare of America. The slave system would have to go in order to to [sic] “save the Union” (White America). This was the situation that led to the Civil War. White power had to fight White power in order to keep control over the “blacks.” (1964, p. 2)7
In centering on the Turner Revolt, RAM provided a revolutionary template that was historically grounded in black American political development. Stanford asserted that “Turner’s philosophy of ‘strike by night and spare none’ ” was “very important” and reflected that Turner embodied “the guerilla instinct” and “knew the psychology of White America” (1964, p. 2). Specifically, “Turner knew what black terrorism meant to the whites, and struck, even though the odds were against him.” Stanford maintained that Turner’s “sense of annihilation of the enemy is very important for our struggle even today, because unlike Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the AfroAmerican has a great bulk of the mass against him,” and he argued that “[w]hite America can be neutralized only by fear of high stakes. That is, if they know that whole families, communities, etc. of their loved ones will be wiped off the face of the earth if they attack AfroAmercians, they won’t be too eager to go to war against us” (ibid., p. 22). Stanford conjectured that
[t]his will be especially true if the AfroAmerican revolutionary forces make it clear that they are fighting the capitalist ruling class oligarchy—but if White Americans fight on the side of the white racist oppressor’s government, they will be wiped out with no questions asked. . . . With the terms of the revolution spelled out, this will divide White America. So we can do that just by observing Nat Turner, we can gain something for our coming revolution. (1964, p. 22)
While invoking Nat Turner’s revolt as a template for RAM’s revolutionary theorizing, Stanford did not flesh out the connections among the slave revolts, the General Strike, and the Slave Revolution of the Civil War and, in that way, devise a strategy appropriate for the scale and magnitude of the “Second Civil War” he envisioned. This left the impression that the revolution RAM sought would be conducted on the scale of an insurrection, such as the Turner revolt, instead of a full-scale war, such as the Civil War. This conceptual failure was partly tied to the practical focus of RAM’s initial proposal, which was intended more as a program to revolutionize the ongoing CRM, focused on linking it to the broader movements against imperialism throughout the third world and drawing on many of the methods utilized therein to seize state power. Analogizing the black liberation struggle in the United States to those developments, RAM would be only the first of several major BPM organizations to endorse guerilla warfare strategy throughout the United States—as had Williams and Malcolm X—to free the black nation from domestic colonialism.8 Toward this end, RAM viewed the sophistication of the U.S. politico-economy as both a strength and a weakness, and analogized its operations to that of an “IBM machine” (i.e., an early computer), whose complexity could be exploited because if one “[p]ut[s] something in the wrong place in an IBM machine . . . it’s finished for a long time.” Continuing the analogy, Stanford noted:
And so it is with this racist, imperialist system. Without mass communications and rapid transportation, this system is through. . . . When war breaks out in this country, if the action is directed toward taking over institutions of power and “complete annihilation” of the racist capitalist oligarchy, then the black revolution will be successful. Guns, tanks, and police will mean nothing. The Armed Forces will be in chaos. . . . It will be a war between two governments: the revolutionary Afro-American government in exile against the racist, imperialist White American government. It will be a war of the forces of the black liberation front against the ultra-right coalition. (1964, p. 2)
At this point, drawing lessons from black participation in the Civil War may have pushed RAM into a coherent theory of black revolution based on the strategic antecedents from the major slave revolts, epitomized in the Slave Revolution during the U.S. Civil War; but Stanford’s discourse doesn’t return to substantive aspects of Turner’s revolt and their relationship to the Civil War, and instead focuses on prospective developments of a hypothetical Second Civil War, seemingly oblivious to the actual challenges, hardships, and destructiveness that accompanied the original Civil War as it was prosecuted by the eleven states of the Confederacy, even less what its repetition portended for a racial minority of roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population. Nonetheless, he envisioned that
black men and women in the Armed Forces will defect and come over to join the black liberation forces. Whites who claim they want to help the revolution will be sent into the white communities to divide them, fight the fascists, and frustrate the efforts of the counter-revolutionary forces. Chaos will be everywhere and with the breakdown of mass communications, mutiny will occur in great numbers in all facets of the oppressor’s government. The stock market will fall; Wall Street will stop functioning; Washington, D.C. will be torn apart by riots. Officials everywhere will run for their lives. . . . Mass riots will occur in the day with the AfroAmericans blocking traffic, burning buildings, etc. Thousands of AfroAmericans will be in the street fighting. . . . This will be the AfroAmericans battle for human survival. Thousands of our people will get shot down, but thousands more will be there to fight on. The black revolution will use sabotage in the cities—knocking out the electrical power first, then transportation, and guerilla warfare in the countryside in the South. With the cities powerless, the oppressor will be helpless. (1964, pp. 2, 22)
Stanford argues that these actions will have important international implications:
With the White American ruling class wiped off the face of this planet, and the remaining reactionary forces suffering eventual defeat, the revolutionary AfroAmerican government will call on the help of other revolutionaries and revolutionary governments to help restore order and to fulfill the ultimate objectives of the world black revolution. (ibid., p. 22)
RAM’s conceptualization of this Second Civil War and the prospects of success of black revolutionaries was not uncommon among black revolutionists of the BPM, and, arguably, it was a dominant view among black militants of the era—popularized by Malcolm X and most famously articulated by Robert Williams in three essays from 1964–67 in Crusader on the prospects for a “minority revolution”—but, this conceptualization was as quixotic as it was ahistorical. The basic problem was that in drawing from the history of the antebellum period it focused on the scale of armed conflict tantamount to the slave revolts instead of the U.S. Civil War. The failure to project their proposed revolution to the full-scale modern warfare ushered in by the Civil War is one reason why BPM revolutionists did not appreciate the magnitude of the enterprise they had set for themselves, nor were they prepared for the protracted nature of the revolution they envisioned. As a result, many of the BPM revolutionists imagined a revolution that would take less than a year to overthrow the U.S. government, and in the case of RAM, one that could be completed in ninety days.9
As their revolutionary thesis matured, RAM came to appreciate the importance of what they called a “Black General Strike” (Stanford, 1970); however, even this national undertaking was wedded to a vision of a politico-military struggle with the forces of the U.S. government that was quixotic. That is, instead of coordinating the diverse interests of black workers in industrial, agricultural, and service sectors who would need to be organized for a general strike and then proposing methods to consolidate their interests around a common core of demands that would be a source of galvanizing the broader community institutions and organizations necessary to provide support for a protracted general strike that would weaken those sectors and likewise the U.S. economy, RAM, like so many black power organizations, displayed a fetish for militarization in an attempt to demonstrate its capacity to wage armed struggle like their contemporaries in the colonized world. Instead of drawing on the historical arguments in Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction and integrating the insights from the organization of the General Strike, RAM sought to import and emulate strategies from abroad that were not applicable to U.S. conditions. Even their more covert operations did not seem to draw on the insurgent strategy of black Americans who coordinated the major clandestine liberation struggle in U.S. history, which freed tens of thousands of human chattel (constituting the major store of Southern wealth), from bondage, namely, the Underground Railroad; rather, they sought what they hoped would be quicker, militarized initiatives from international contexts that were not grounded in the indigenous institutions of black communities much less recognizing the staying power of the major U.S. institutions of civil society that acted as a brake on protest or channeled them into extant political, economic, and social structures. Their preferred military approach was doctrinally disjointed, strategically myopic, and tactically unsound, displaying little knowledge of, or preparation for, military intelligence and counterintelligence, and as a result the major BPM organizations were often ill-equipped to engage even municipal—much less county and state—police forces or the National Guard.
RAM’s advocacy of a guerilla strategy aimed at ambush, sabotage, and raids ignored the reality that the United States was especially equipped to respond to just these types of engagements with militant elements of its domestic populations. In fact, a major error in Malcolm X’s assessment of U.S. military power was his view that the United States could not defeat an adversary employing a guerrilla warfare strategy. This derived from an oft-repeated but mistaken assessment of early U.S. operations in Vietnam, which encouraged a quixotic calculation among many BPM activists on the likelihood of relative quick success for black revolutionists employing a guerrilla insurgency in the United States. In fact, even in Vietnam, where ally and adversary were not racially distinguishable, the United States and its South Vietnamese (and other) allies were effectively engaging the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and National Liberation Front (NLF, aka Viet Cong). Moreover, during the Tet Offensive of 1968 the United States had decimated NLF guerilla forces in the South.10 The U.S. military had learned, from the British suppression of indigenous uprisings in Malaya and the French failures in Algeria, techniques for effective counter-guerrilla, and counterinsurgency operations. In Vietnam, this included the deployment of special operations forces, and the systematic use of terrorism, as in the Phoenix program. The application of either to a racially distinguishable black American population would likely be even more successful than they were in Vietnam. It was highly unlikely that blacks could replicate NVA successes, achieved only after massive bloodletting on the part of the Vietnamese, including combat-hardened veterans, many of whom had been fighting since World War II, first against the Japanese and then the French, before engaging U.S. forces, and after receiving massive amounts of military and economic aid from the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, and after losing every major military engagement with U.S. armed forces. Ultimately, NVA victory was owed to its greater conventional military power once the United States abandoned the field. Its greatest ally against the United States was time and an almost unending supply of military support from abroad, and neither of these was likely to be forthcoming for black American revolutionists in the BPM. Probably the most critical variable in the war—the fact that U.S. forces were fighting thousands of miles from home—clearly was not applicable to the BPM in the United States.11
At the root of the problem was that even BPM leaders who were war veterans, such as the NAACP’s Robert Williams, Us’s Ngao Damu, the RNA’s Gaidi Obadele, and the BPP’s Geronimo Pratt, were generally lower-ranking enlisted men, with the exception of Obadele, who was a junior (company-level) officer, and as a result they were mainly familiar with squad and/or platoon-level tactics, but rarely with company or battalion, much less brigade or division-level military operations. Therefore, their analyses were often tactical but rarely strategic, because they had little experience devising or conceptualizing higher-level operations. Moreover, they had very little sense of military doctrine, which is the fundamental orientation and guide to the actions of military forces in support of national objectives. At minimum, doctrine establishes whether a military is oriented toward the offense or the defense in achieving its national security objectives. The basic contradiction at the level of doctrine for BPM revolutionists is that they sought to organize an offensive operation, that is, a politico-military revolution, based on a defensive doctrine, namely, armed self-defense. For example, in his seminal essay asserting that a minority revolution in the United States could be successful, from which RAM derived its offensive strategy, Robert Williams characterized the proposed operations for this revolution as defensive, that is, as “defense,” “effective self-defense,” and “massive self-defense” (1964, pp. 6–7). Williams’s defensive doctrine is evident in his stated objective that “advocate[d] self-defense for brutalized Afroamericans” but “d[id] not advocate the violent overthrow of the U.S. Government.” He appreciated that “[i]f in the process of executing our Constitutional and God-given right of self-defense, the racist U.S. Government, which refuses to protect our people, is destroyed,” then “the end result stems from certain historical factors of social relativity” (ibid., p. 7). He also recognized that even such defensive operations required much greater military organization and coordination than his example of Monroe, North Carolina, could provide. He stated:
The lesson of Monroe teaches that effective self-defense, on the part of our brutally oppressed and terrorized people, requires massive organization with central coordination. External oppressive forces must not be allowed to relieve the besieged racist terrorists. The forces of the state must be kept under pressure in many places simultaneously. The white supremacy masses must be forced to retreat to their homes in order to give security to their individual families. (1964, p. 6)
Williams appreciated that such a coordinated and massive undertaking would need to appeal to black troops in the U.S. armed forces, but many of these potential assets were often derided by other BPM activists as Uncle Toms or tools of racist imperialists rather than as critical actors in the envisioned revolution that black power activists were contemplating.12
In addition, RAM’s proposed “guerilla operations” were only a small part of an actual people’s war strategy, which for Mao Zedong included a mix of guerrilla warfare and mobile warfare, the latter executed with conventional military forces (which black revolutionists did not possess).10 Peoples’ war in both Mao’s and North Vietnam’s conception and practice ended with a conventional military operation—which is also how the North Vietnamese attacked Saigon in the failed Easter Offensive of 1972 and the successful Spring Offensive of 1975. Largely inattentive to military doctrine, what BPM revolutionists proposed was basically a “holding action,” which they imagined that a racially distinct semimilitary/paramilitary/civilian force comprising less than 5 percent of the U.S. population (a very generous estimate of adult black men and women who could actually provide manpower and logistical support for black revolutionists in the United States) would be able to effectively execute against U.S. regular and special operations armed forces fighting on their home territory for their survival against a racial outcaste whose human rights they had little compunction or hesitation about violating, and motivated to do so in short order. RAM’s strategy was not only quixotic, it was hallucinogenic.
Unfortunately, such views were not uncommon among BPM theorists. In addition, the persistence of such views militated against the development of the protracted strategy that a study of the Slave Revolution during the U.S. Civil War suggested—one for which the United States was actually vulnerable in the black power era and remains so today. The fixation on militarization undermined the necessity to actually leverage black social-economic-political power in the sectors in which it was manifest, that is, those sectors of the U.S. polity and economy that were vulnerable to black collective action, and during the black power era such vulnerabilities were not manifest in the military sector—at least, not initially. As it had been during the U.S. Civil War, the white community would need to be set against itself and black insurgency such as a general strike or the more expansive Slave Revolution covered by, or entangled within, a broader division of the society, from which it could draw allies, support, or neutrality.
Notwithstanding these serious problems in their conceptions of the warfare that would occasion the revolution they envisioned, the failure to flesh out the connections between the slave revolts and the Civil War—and the social networks required to facilitate both—left RAM’s analysis of political revolution divorced from an appreciation of the need for a cultural revolution, although the latter was historically implicated in the former. That is, the nexus between the slave revolts and the Civil War insurgency was the development of the social networks facilitated by the cultural institutions of black communities such as the “invisible institution,” the Black Church, and the nascent socioeconomic networks of hired out-slaves, the incipient working-class consciousness (i.e., proletarianization) of slave labor, and the broader clandestine networks epitomized by the Underground Railroad. Without a parallel explication of these social forces in the black power era, RAM’s thesis on cultural revolution was divorced from its strateagy for political revolution. Moreover, its conception of cultural revolution remained largely tied to a program focused on black aesthetics, black ethics, and aspects of black culture largely related to psychological orientations to extirpate (ironically, in RAM’s lingo) the “slave mentality” of black Americans, and sartorial expressions representative of the same, more than on material aspects of black culture and the reorientation of black cultural institutions such as the Black Church.
RAM’s thesis on black cultural revolution did not have as its focus a cultural thrust that directly implicated the U.S. politico-economy as it aimed to overthrow the cultural system of white supremacism in such a way as to facilitate political, economic, and racial democracy in the United States. This would have required a thesis of cultural revolution that associated it with political revolution, such as Locke had theorized and Du Bois historicized in Black Reconstruction. Although RAM argued that black political revolution would emanate from a cultural revolution, RAM didn’t draw on these sources for its revolutionary theory. What was lost was not only the intellectual synthesis of these African American referents in a coherent theory of black cultural revolution in the United States during the BPM as an academic issue, but, given the influence of RAM and its members, associates, and supporters on so many BPM organizations, if RAM had been able to advance such a synthesis early in the BPM, then the point of departure for later BPM organizations might have been substantially different, not only in theory but in practice as well. In the event, RAM became the first major BPM organization after Malcolm X’s OAAU to call for a black cultural revolution.
RAM’s Thesis on Cultural Revolution
Stanford notes that since publication of the organization’s internal document Orientation to a Black Mass Movement in 1962, RAM maintained that “the captive nation status of black America had bred a colonial mentality which must be wiped away through a cultural or social revolution” (Stanford, 1986, p. 154) whose purpose was “to destroy the conditioned white oppressive mores, attitudes, ways, customs, philosophies, habits, etc., which the oppressor has taught and trained us to have” and to replace them “on a mass scale” with “a new revolutionary culture” (ibid., p. 124). In 1964, RAM’s position was consistent with those articulated at the Fisk conference in Nashville, which viewed black cultural revolution in terms of “re-Africanization,” as a “repudiation of decadent materialist values and pathological egoism inherent in American society” and a concomitant embrace of “a humanism derived from the African heritage which exalts aesthetic, intellectual and spiritual development and communalism or cooperation rather than the exploitation of humanity” (Freeman, 1964, p. 18). They asserted that “Afro-Americans must know their authentic history in Africa and America in order to demolish the psychological rape of white American indoctrination.” Further, they maintained that “[t]he Afro-American self-image must be revolutionized to foster a sense of collective ethnic identity as a unique Black People before Black Nationalism can emerge triumphant” (ibid., p. 18). These conceptualizations seem consistent with Malcolm’s reverse civilizationism and all the theoretical and practical problems this foretold, but actually, under the simultaneous influence of Cruse, Moore, and Boggs, RAM did not conflate African American and African culture in a way that some later BPM revolutionists would (e.g., Us, the RNA, and initially CAP). While they consistently asserted the African origins of black American culture and history, they simultaneously argued the necessity of considering black American history, culture, politics, and economics on their own terms and in their unique American context. As a result, the process by which RAM’s proposed black cultural revolution was to take place was not identical to that presumed to obtain in the African or broader third world colonial context but would be tailored to the demands of the black colony in the United States. Unfortunately, RAM’s elucidation of the process of this revolution was not clear.
Stanford agrees that “the specifics of this cultural revolution were never adequately described,” yet, “generally it would involve the destruction of the slave mentality and those classes and institutions which supported it” (1986, p. 154). “The slave culture,” according to RAM, had created “a generation of ‘freaks’ who identified with a hip life style,” which “transcended all classes and acted as a release valve for the sense of powerlessness that black people experienced. This hip society destroyed the cultural identity of blacks and distorted the roles of men and women” (ibid.). Thus, “as part of the black cultural revolution,” RAM “worked with other groups to set up black cultural committees to spread ‘revolutionary black culture’ in the black community” (ibid., p. 125). By and large, RAM’s initiatives were aimed at developing a popular movement among some of the more alienated segments of black society including students, gangs, intellectuals, and workers. On the whole, RAM considered black youth “as the most revolutionary sector of the black community because they had the most sustained resentment against the system and the highest level of frustration” (ibid., p. 156). RAM viewed youth “as the key to the revolution” and “part of the worldwide revolutionary forces, such as, those in Angola and the Congo, where the youth made up the majority of the troops” (ibid.). The militancy of black youth was attributed to their alienation within a capitalist political economy and their social isolation borne of the hegemony of white supremacist culture. RAM argued that
the system has displaced them and exposed its contradictions to them. They have not yet been brain-washed. They are open [sic] to attack from all sectors of white society. They are victims of a contradiction between the black reality and the lies of white America. They recognize that the education they received is meaningless and that the system does not have enough jobs for them . . . black youth realize that they have no alternative “but to go to the streets.” (ibid., p. 157)
The combination of bitterness and disappointment among black youth as well as their “freedom from the slave mentality” endows them with the greatest revolutionary potential. RAM divided youth between students and ghetto youths. The former group is potentially the black intelligentsia. The latter group, which they referred to as the “street force,” figured prominently in Boggs’s thesis on black political power. For RAM, “[T]he task of black revolutionaries is to give this purposeless army direction and to transform it into a ‘blood brotherhood’ which is committed to liberation by any means necessary” (1986, p. 158). Cultural revolution played an important role in this transformation.
Increasingly, the political revolution was viewed in Maoist terms, but RAM’s conception of cultural revolution evolved independently of the cultural revolution that wreaked havoc throughout China beginning in 1966 (i.e., the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution [GPCR]). 1966 was important in RAM’s thesis not because of developments in China, but because, as RAM argued, the popularization of “black power” in 1966 initiated a cultural revolution among African Americans, which “reached mass proportions” by the following year. For Stanford (1971, p. 27), “The concept of black power challenged the whole value structure of the Negro community,” forcing black people to confront their need for power to realize their objectives, while “challeng[ing] the pseudo-class structure of the middle class Negro society as black became the new and fashionable thing; it was now hip to be black.” Black power also challenged the escapism of the hip society and “[b]y making ‘black’ popular, the values of black students,” in particular, “began to slowly change and so did the values of all black America. This value, cultural revolution, is still in process.”
Reflecting on these earlier developments in 1971, Stanford (1971, p. 29) observed that this “cultural revolution” had by then “affected the vast majority of Black America.” Coupled with the “contradictions of the Vietnam War and the rise of unemployment among black youth,” these developments were “rapidly affecting the African-American student” in particular, and as these “contradictions polarize[d]” them the student community was being transformed, generating broader changes in black communities as well (ibid.). Thus, for Stanford, black students were critical to this process, which was viewed as a harbinger of the democratic or bourgeois revolution in the United States. The latter view was buttressed by Mao’s public endorsement of the black liberation struggle in the United States in 1963 and his association of it with democratic revolutions and national liberation struggles against imperialism occurring throughout the colonized world. Stanford went further and theorized that, as
[i]n most nationalist revolutions the beginnings have come from student movements; students who are the potential petty national bourgeoisie of the colonialized nation who no longer seek integration with the mother [colonial] country, but begin to demand independence, national autonomy, and formation of a nation-state. (ibid., pp. 28–29)
He noted that “[t]his has not happened yet with the black student movement because [it] is still in the transitional stage. But as the cultural revolution and students become more politically sophisticated, the question of an independent black nation-state will become a popular demand” (1971, p. 29).
Black college students, Stanford argued, were critical given that they represented “the more educated class of an oppressed nation” and therefore, “sociologically” they constituted “the potential colonial bourgeoisie” and, “like colonial bourgeoisies of all oppressed nations,” realized that “their class interests cannot be fulfilled under the colonial regime.” Similarly, given that “America is a racist capitalistic society,” then “it cannot absorb all black students as a class into its economic system because its system is built on racial and economic exploitation” (1971, p. 27). Furthermore, unlike black workers, whom RAM viewed as more of a “captive” or “a super-exploited, wage slave,” while “still a slave,” with the conditions of servitude “remain[ing] almost the same” and “[o]nly the name of slavery” changed (ibid.), black students were “an educated class” that “have traditionally had ‘higher expectations’ from the system than most black captives” (ibid., p. 28). Nevertheless,
as the struggle intensifies and more and more black students become alienated from the system . . . black students will transform as a class; from being a bourgeois assimilationist, alienated elite to becoming a revolutionary nationalist intelligentsia for the movement, developing a vanguard on the road to independent nationhood. (ibid.)
The “upsurge of black awareness” was transforming black students in what approximated “a cultural revolution that [was] first affecting the colonial alienated elite or petty bourgeoisie who, through a process of re-orientation and re-organization, will develop into a revolutionary nationalist intelligentsia which will play a significant role in the road to independent nationhood in our democratic revolution” (ibid.). In this way, the black cultural revolution was stimulating an emergent black politico-military revolution whose roots RAM had argued were evident in the revolts of the “Long Hot Summers” that had begun in earnest in Watts in 1965. RAM’s view that a black cultural revolution was a precursor rather than a concomitant of a black political revolution would be the dominant pattern adopted by most black nationalist revolutionists of the era—and one that supported Malcolm X’s and Cruse’s rather than Boggs’s or Haywood’s theses on this relationship.
While lauding the revolutionary developments of black college students, Stanford saw the cultural revolution among black high school and junior high school students as having “more far reaching ramifications than in the black college community,” because the younger students were “directly tied to the community” and “[n]inety per cent of them will be the future black workers, fathers, and mothers of Black America; the generation yet to come” (1971, p. 29). Revolutionists were enjoined to train these black youths in “revolutionary-nationalist theory, practice, and organization” if the revolution RAM foresaw was to “grow and continue” (ibid.). Only then would the “black revolution . . . become an inter-generational revolution” with “its new cultural dynamic producing the cultural values of the next generation.” (ibid.). He insisted that “[t]he cultural revolution is a revolution of values that can be transmitted from this youth generation to the adult generation, closing ‘the generation gap,’ ” but, he admonished, “Black youth must begin to structure themselves as a nation; be active in forming black community government, parties, and functioning as part of the black liberation army” (ibid., p. 30; original emphasis). In such a context, for example, RAM argued that “[t]he struggle for community control of schools is therefore a struggle to nationalize schools in the black community” (ibid., p. 29). Moreover, “[i]n order to make education relevant to black folks, schools must become black nationalist training centers. Education for black children must be black nationalist education, a black nationalization of the educational system. This is what black studies mean to black students” (ibid.). He continued:
The role of black youth in the cultural revolution is to serve as agitators, re-educators, organizers, and unifiers in the struggle for independent black nationhood. The black college student can play a very constructive role in the cultural revolution. In his struggle for black studies, he should strive to make the college or university (if on a black campus) into a community center, with all the facilities of the college open to the community free of charge. He must encourage local community groups to come on campus and participate in school programs. (ibid., p. 30)
Given their centrality as the locus upon which the black petit bourgeoisie would transform its revolutionary objectives—committing “class suicide,” in Amilcar Cabral’s (1972) terms—black students were key to the cultural revolution that Stanford foresaw. Cabral (1972, p. 110) argued that the challenge of petit bourgeois leaders in the national liberation struggle was “committing suicide as a class in order to be reborn as revolutionary workers, completely identified with the deepest aspirations of the people to which they belong.” Thus, it was important to wed these newly committed revolutionists to the main source of potential revolutionary power in black communities: black workers. As participation in the CRM was convincing some integrationists that the transformation they sought would be achieved through “black power,” RAM was emphasizing that “Black people have more power than we realize, but what hinders us from having power is our lack of organization.” Black workers especially, but not only the black industrial proletariat, were among the most disciplined and organized elements in black communities—and possibly the most aggrieved. Stanford was clear that “black workers,” constituting “90 per cent of our people, are the base of our people’s movement.” “Therefore,” he insisted, “the key question for black youth, students, and revolutionaries is the organization, coordination, and unity of black workers.” Thus, for Stanford, black students were obligated to align with black workers to facilitate their organization into a unified, coordinated, and central constituency in the black liberation struggle. He stated that “one of the organizational goals of black youth” is to support and help coordinate the organized efforts of black workers, such that “[i]f black workers should go on a national strike, all of America would be dislocated.” That is, black students should assist in a “National Black Strike” (1971, p. 31). In this analysis Stanford linked the transformation of one of the most important elements of the cultural apparatus, schools (from high school to college level), through the advancing of cultural claims of black students (e.g., Black Studies, independent black schools, black representation in school administration, black teachers/workers), to the politico-economic claims of black workers in a coordinated national general strike. In this conception, Stanford had come closest to capturing the magnitude of Du Bois’s General Strike and, in so doing, appreciating the importance of asserting cultural claims that ramify to political and economic domains, as suggested by the Du Boisian-Lockean synthesis of the relationship between black cultural and political revolution in the United States. Stanford’s insight was accomplished in part by focusing on an important element of the cultural apparatus (i.e., the public education system), as Cruse suggested, and by focusing less on the military aspects of revolutionary change in the United States. Unfortunately, Stanford did not flesh out the implications of this insight; and within a year he proffered a ten-point program for an “African Peoples Party” among black Americans that did not mention “cultural revolution” (Stanford, 1972).
Although these formulations reflect significant aspects of Stanford’s intellectual development with respect to black cultural revolution in the decade from 1962–1971, clearly, they emerged in conversation with other revolutionists of the era; thus, it is not, technically, an assessment of RAM’s views/positions on the subject as an organization, given that under the repression of U.S. government and local police agencies in the COINTELPRO, RAM had become defunct as an organization by 1969. By that year, most of RAM’s leadership and broader membership had joined other BPM organizations, including Stanford who had become Minister without Portfolio/Special Ambassador in the RNA and a key supporter of the LRBW. In fact, it probably was owing more to his experiences with the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM, the precursor of the LRBW) and the LRBW that he developed his arguments linking black cultural revolution among students to the initiatives of black workers. This speculation is informed by the absence of such a linkage in RAM’s arguments on black cultural revolution prior to the establishment of DRUM (e.g., they are absent from RAM’s World Black Revolution).
In addition, although it had been among the first BPM organizations to consider black cultural revolution as an objective (in 1962 in its internal documents, and publicly by 1964), throughout the 1960s RAM did not have a program for cultural revolution as such, nor a theory of how to effectuate it. For example, although Cruse saw the educational system as part of the cultural apparatus, RAM did not explicitly link its focus on students—or even the supposed cultural revolution among blacks on college campuses that Stanford asserted in 1971—to the seizure of the cultural apparatus, or flesh out how such a seizure could be related to the overthrow of the cultural system of the United States in accordance with Cruse’s thesis. Further, although it recognized the significance of a general strike strategy, it didn’t wed it sufficiently to its antecedents in Du Bois, nor did it associate it with the demand for reparations, opting instead to find its value only in the disruption of U.S. society to facilitate an ill-advised and poorly conceived “people’s war.” Thus, although RAM, as an organization, realized the importance of black cultural revolution in its broader thesis—and its view of culture, ultimately, did not suffer from the reverse civilizationism of Malcolm’s framework, it failed to synthesize a coherent theory or program for black cultural revolution in the United States. Unlike what it offered in its analysis of political revolution, with respect to cultural revolution, RAM’s perspective was prescriptive or descriptive, but insufficiently analytical. As the first major organization of the BPM to attempt to develop Malcolm’s incomplete thesis of black cultural revolution, or Cruse’s, it is not surprising that RAM encountered difficulties in working out a theory of same.
For both political and cultural revolutions, many revolutionists of the BPM provided analyses that were not well grounded historically even in U.S. history but often amounted to revolutionary “wish lists” and theses rooted in accumulated non sequiturs that proposed some anodyne outcomes resulting from often oversimplified processes or imagined concerted actions on the part of black Americans. Nonetheless, these non sequiturs often were treated as axiomatic, making revolution as inevitable to BPM revolutionists as the Book of Revelations makes the Apocalypse for Christians. RAM suffered from this in its view that a revolutionary insurgency could be successful in the United States after ninety days, but it also was more attentive to the contributions of black American forerunners to its revolutionary practices than many of its BPM successors, even as it remained vigilant to developments among revolutionary movements abroad. But the challenge of synthesizing a thesis and practice of black cultural revolution was something that RAM did not accomplish in its short existence, and this problem of synthesis was not limited to that issue alone. For example, given the tutelage of Queen Mother Moore to RAM’s core leadership, the organization did not incorporate a reparations strategy into its initial 12 Point platform; it was only added in 1967, just a year before the organization ended (Stanford, 1986, p. 165).
RAM’s approach to black cultural revolution in the 1960s was geared to removing what it saw as the psychological dysfunctions that white supremacism had imposed on black political thought and practice. Black culture would eventually be seen as an instrument to facilitate power more directly through its ability to unify the “black nation,” in a pan-Africanism that linked it to liberation struggles in Africa and the remaining “Bandung world.” But more often, an appreciation of black culture was tied to the militarization of the BPM in the United States and less to the coordination of the major indigenous cultural institutions in black communities, chief among them—even more so after the major legal victories of the CRM—the Black Church. Although RAM was amenable to working with revolutionary, progressive, and even some liberal church leaders (and church members), its association with the Black Church was more incidental than intentional.
RAM’s engagement with sexism, the other major cultural phenomenon in black communities undermining its transformational capacity, was also poor and peripheral. According to Stanford, “as part of the black cultural revolution, RAM attempted to organize a revolutionary black women’s movement . . . in the black community”; however, for the most part, to the extent that it engaged issues of sexism and gender, RAM’s approach was at best ambivalent, and more accurately dismissive. On a theoretical level, RAM subsumed black women as a group within the “subproletariat,” a large and theoretically unwieldy agglomeration that conflated the proletariat and lumpenproletariat in one class distinguishable from the bourgeoisie. At another point, Stanford notes that RAM was inattentive to “differences in patterns of employment and/or alienation among black women” (Stanford, 1986, p. 159). This left RAM unprepared to address sexism in its organization and in the cultural revolution it sought to develop, much less in the “new society” that it hoped to construct.
While RAM’s failure to develop a coherent theory or program of black cultural revolution undermined its political development, despite its avowed Maoist outlook, by not subsuming its own cultural revolution under that of Mao’s GPCR it may have spared itself the purges, excommunications, and paroxysms of violence that attended the GPCR and which a closer proximity to Mao’s theory and practice might have encouraged within RAM. Such intellectual distancing may have helped RAM to avoid the internecine conflicts that disrupted the other major Maoist national organization in the United States, the BPP, as well as a range of White Left organizations that fought and harassed each other on the basis of their allegiance to the varying positions adopted by the Chinese leader some seven thousand miles away. Nevertheless, RAM laid out the broad parameters of subsequent black cultural revolutionary theses of the black power era. Further, its trajectory from black nationalism to Maoism would not only anticipate the ideological trajectory of the much more famous BPP, but its debate regarding underground and aboveground activism anticipated similar debates in the BPP as well, with the latter taking a much different direction. In addition, although the BPP is much better known, it was RAM that was the first major black nationalist organization of the BPM that converted its ideology from black nationalism to Maoism. One major difference is that where RAM emphasized culture in the revolutionary process, the BPP largely downplayed, ignored, or, at times, even denigrated the role of culture in black liberation.
Ironically, the BPP’s aversion to cultural revolution and cultural nationalism, as a whole, derived largely from the negative experiences of its co-founders, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, with the RAM members they encountered in Oakland, notwithstanding that they had been associated with the RAM-affiliated Afro-American Association (AAA) in the Bay Area. Bobby Seale, more than Huey Newton, had an almost visceral disdain for the RAM members he had organized with in the AAA and later the Soul Students Advisory Council. Newton similarly denigrated RAM members as political opportunists who were not interested in “laying it on the line” and engaging in confrontational struggles with police officers in Oakland. The BPP’s disdain for cultural revolution, as we’ll discuss below, was reinforced by its feud with the Us organization in Los Angeles—ironically, Newton and Maulana Karenga were both members of the AAA in California, one in the Bay Area and the other in L.A. Interestingly, even within the BPP, a fissure emerged between Oakland and New York BPP chapters, which although rooted in several prominent internecine disputes between Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, was also influenced by the fact that many of the prominent members of the New York chapter had been tutored by former RAM and OAAU member, and associate of Malcolm X, Herman Ferguson, with whom they shared a considerable affinity. In fact, the antagonism between the chapters was expressed in part in Oakland’s disdain for what it viewed as elements of “cultural nationalism,” a term and orientation that was anathema to the BPP, among New York chapter members evident in the latters’ adoption of African names, on one level, and some of their programmatic initiatives, on another, including New York chapter collaboration with RAM, which was headquartered in nearby Philadelphia.
RAM members and affiliates played important roles in almost all of the major BPM organizations including Us, the BPP, the RNA, CAP, the LBRW, and the PAOCC (as well as SNCC and CORE in their black power phases). Building on Malcolm’s, Cruse’s, and the Boggses’ theoretical work, RAM confronted some of the most important issues related to black revolution in the BPM. Although RAM did not survive the 1960s as an organization, its chief ideologue, Max Stanford (Muhammad Ahmad), remained influential through his involvement in several BPM organizations. Ahmad built on RAM’s earlier arguments and developed them throughout the BPM, including its thesis on black cultural revolution. Although it came first, RAM’s thesis would not be the most popular treatment of black cultural revolution in the United States during the BPM; instead, that distinction fell to a Los Angeles organization that had come to prominence following the Watts revolt of 1965, whose members had worked with RAM affiliates in California: Us.
The Kawaida Organizations I: Us
Among organizations that advocated black cultural revolution in the BPM, none promoted it more assiduously than Us (as opposed to “them”), which arose from the Watts revolt in Los Angeles in 1965. As noted above, Us’s co-founder and chairman, Maulana Karenga, had been affiliated with the AAA of Donald Warden, heading its chapter in Los Angeles. According to Brown (2003), Us was organized by several black men and women who called themselves the Circle of Seven and met regularly at a black owned bookstore in Los Angeles, including Maulana Karenga, Hakim Jamal, Dorothy Jamal, Tommy Jacquette (Halifu), Karl Key (Hekima), Ken Seaton (Msemaji), Samuel Carr (Ngao Damu), Sanamu Nyeusi, and Brenda Haiba Karenga. While Hakim Jamal, who had been a close associate of Malcolm X through both his pre- and post-NOI days (and was related to him by marriage), was originally listed as the founder of the organization, the leadership eventually fell on its chairman and chief ideologue Maulana Karenga (ibid., p. 38). Karenga helped formulate and popularize kawaida, the theoretical framework of Us, which emphasized the importance of culture in African American liberation and, most importantly for our analysis, from the organization’s inception it argued the necessity of black cultural revolution in the United States.
Most were introduced to kawaida through a collection of Karenga’s statements edited by two Us members, Clyde Halisi and James Mtume, in a pamphlet, The Quotable Karenga. In it, the editors shared Karenga’s ideas on black nationalism and black cultural revolution. He argued that black society “may be American, but our values must be Afro-American,” and “Black values can only come through a black culture” (Halisi & Mtume, 1967, p. 6). He noted that culture provides “identity, purpose and direction” (ibid.). He viewed it as “the basis of all ideas, images and actions,” such that “to move is to move culturally, i.e., by a set of values given to you by your culture” (ibid., p. 7). Karenga outlined seven major components of culture: mythology; history; social, political, and economic organization; creative motif; and ethos (ibid.). An emphasis on culture, for Karenga, was rooted in his view that “Black people don’t have a culture” (ibid.). He was emphatic that “the ‘Negroes’ main problem in America is that he suffers from a lack of culture.” Given that culture “tells you who you are, what you must do, and how you can do it” (ibid., p. 6), then, since blacks had only “elements of a culture,” it followed for Karenga that “[w]e must free ourselves culturally before we succeed politically” (ibid., p. 7).
According to Karenga, “culture provides the bases for revolution and recovery” (Halisi & Mtume, 1967, p. 7), and he saw Us as “a cultural organization dedicated to the creation, recreation and circulation of Afro-American culture” (ibid.). Like RAM, but unlike many of the major BPM organizations, Us was not a mass-based group but a cadre organization, whose objective was to “organize the organizers” around the principles, practices, and priorities of kawaida. Membership in Us required a period of catechism, apprenticeship, and lifestyle change whose analogue in the BPM with respect to the extent of indoctrination and training (or transformation) required of prospective members was probably closest of that of the NOI or the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church (PAOCC). Like Malcolm, Us saw the need for personal transformation as a precursor and then co-evolving concomitant of social transformation and, ultimately, cultural revolution.
Karenga saw “the revolution” being fought in the United States in the mid-’60s as “a revolution to win the minds of our people,” to which he noted, “If we fail to win this we cannot wage the violent one” (ibid., p. 9). It followed, for him, that “you must have a cultural revolution before the violent revolution” because “the cultural revolution gives identity, purpose and direction” (ibid., p. 11). Thus, in this aspect Karenga’s thesis was consistent with Cruse’s, Malcolm X’s, and RAM’s argument that the cultural and political revolutions were consecutive, rather than Boggs’s view that they were coincidental, or a view that they could be either. Significantly, it was consistent with the association between cultural and political revolution in the United States as historicized by Du Bois and theorized by Locke; however, it was dramatically different from the Du Bois-Locke theses, as well, given its reverse civilizationist assumptions of black American cultural inferiority relative to Africa. Further, convinced that black Americans had no culture, Karenga encouraged them to assume a communal, rural African culture to guide the twentieth-century revolution of a cosmopolitan, urban African American population in the most technologically advanced and militarily powerful country in the world. This was more than reverse civilizationism; it was cultural atavism.
This perspective led Us to create and promote a panoply of precepts, practices, and programs given an African cultural gloss, drawing superficially from Zulu, Swahili, and Gikuyu and fused into an original synthesis called kawaida, which formed the philosophical core of Us, and a range of rituals epitomized in Us’s widely celebrated alternative to Christmas, Kwanzaa. With respect to Kwanzaa, Karenga stated: “If we ask people not to celebrate Christmas . . . we must be prepared to give them an alternative . . . [s]o . . . we . . . found a Zulu custom [the Zulu harvest festival, Umkosi] where people came together to celebrate for about a week around the first of the year” (Brown, 2003, pp. 69–70). The linchpin of kawaida is the nguzo saba (i.e., the seven principles of Blackness, and later the seven principles of kawaida), which Karenga conceived as core values of the aspirational national character of black Americans he envisioned. These were typically presented in English next to their Kiswahili equivalents, as Us attempted to promote the East African language as a lingua franca for the BPM: umoja/unity, kujichagulia/self-determination, ujima/collective work and responsibility, ujamaa/cooperative economics, nia/purpose, kuumba/creativity, imani/faith—these seven principles comprise the seven days of Kwanzaa, which has become the most widely celebrated holiday from the black power era and the most enduring cultural festival, observed regularly by millions of African Americans (and diasporic Africans, more broadly). The nguzo saba also became the key cultural framework of a range of BPM organizations and was even adopted by integrationist groups. In the BPM, it was “the basis for the cultural grounding and value orientation of many independent schools, rites of passage programs, cooperatives, and various other community and professional organizations and programs” ranging from
Black United Fronts like the Black Congress in Los Angeles; the Black Federation in San Diego; Committee for a Unified Newark; the Congress of African Peoples and the National Black [Political] Assembly and provided the theoretical framework which shaped the three national Black Power Conferences in the 60’s. (Karenga, 2002, p. 195)
Brown (2003, p. 132) notes that “the arts were a most effective outlet for the introduction of [Us’s] alternative Black culture to African American audiences.” This was evident in its aesthetic contributions in fashion, dance, music, woodcarving, and literature; one of the major conduits for this cultural transmission was its celebrated Taifa Dance Troupe, which was tutored by South African singer Letta Mbulu and musician-composer Caiphus Semanya, who were political exiles from the apartheid regime. The Taifa Troupe learned some South African traditional music and dance, predominantly Zulu, including a rain dance and the miners’ boot dance. Us members modified these traditional dances in their performances, and other members, James Mtume, Charles Sigidi and George Subira among them, provided musical accompaniment. Brown maintains that the Taifa troupe “was one of the most effective recruiting mechanisms for US, performing at festivals, high schools, conferences, and rallies throughout Southern California and beyond” (ibid., p. 135).13 In fact, “A large portion of US members’ initial fascination with the organization came from watching the colorful movements and chanting voices of Taifa,” which contributed to Karenga’s claim that Us represented “the first time that Blacks have gotten together to create a new culture based on revolution and recovery” (ibid., p. 136).
The latter point reflected Karenga’s detachment from African American history and especially that of the antebellum era in which blacks drew from “slave culture” to organize and execute resistance, revolt, and finally, revolution. “Slave culture” was the “new culture” that blacks created in the United States and from it compelled their revolutionary initiatives (Stuckey, 1987). Karenga’s erroneous claims derive from his reverse civilizationism, which viewed black Americans as cultureless people and suggested to him that Us’s projections of “traditional” African culture during the BPM were the first genuine cultural expressions that black Americans had produced. This was a historical and theoretical deficiency in Karenga’s kawaida that had repercussions for the application of Us’s program, as well.
Nevertheless, it was a testament to the organizational acumen of Us’s leadership, the dedicated work of its membership, and the intellectual acuity of Karenga himself that even with their dubious provenance as African traditions and practices, the thirst of African Americans for a renewed cultural thrust led to the adoption of many of Us’s cultural expressions, such as Swahili as a sort of lingua franca, the adoption of Swahili names, and the prominence of the nguzo saba and Kwanzaa as enduring elements of the BPM that remain influential more than a half-century later. During the BPM, Us wedded these cultural factors to institutional structures that provided an organizational basis for both black protest and black political development. Us was central to most of the major black power initiatives in post–Watts revolt Los Angeles, ranging from the “community alert patrol” (CAP) of police (these began in 1965, before the BPP in Oakland was founded in 1966, and CAP’s executive director was founding Us member Tommy (Halifu) Jacquette)14, to an abortive attempt to separate Watts as an independent municipality from Los Angeles (i.e., Freedom City), to the struggle to develop united front efforts among various black power and civil rights groups on sundry issues affecting black communities. The latter efforts would catapult Karenga and Us into the center of organizing for the black power conferences of the late 1960s; and just as significantly, the electoral strategies that would be adopted by the Us-affiliated group Committee for a Unified Newark (CFUN), headed by Imamu Amiri Baraka, whose title “Imamu” was a rank in the Us organization that Karenga had bestowed on him (as will be seen in the next chapter, Us played an important role in Baraka’s successful electoral strategies in Newark, New Jersey). To be sure, Karenga’s orientation may have been cast on a distant African past, but his program was as current and even future-oriented as any of the major BPM organizations, and he saw both Us and the various united front initiatives as both a continuation of Malcolm’s programs in the OAAU and a contribution to the realization of Malcolm’s proposed black cultural revolution.
Karenga’s hypothesized cultural revolution both converged with and diverged from Cruse’s. Although Karenga’s focus on the importance of culture in social change resonated with Cruse’s thesis, his perspective was also symptomatic of those Cruse rejected. For example, Cruse, like Du Bois and Locke, was convinced that African American national culture was rooted in black folk culture, expressed through the sorrow songs, spirituals, and the music, art, and literature they inspired, which endured in the working-class urban culture of the black masses in the cities and was the only unambiguously American aesthetic culture. Their perspective was diametrically opposed to Karenga’s conceptualization of black American culture as grounded in a communal, seemingly feudal African culture. Relatedly, Karenga’s perspective on cultural revolution was less advanced than that proffered by RAM insofar as it was not only reverse civilizationist, it asserted that black Americans did not possess a culture. As a result, it maintained that black Americans needed to adopt African cultural practices and it appropriated an amalgam of feudalistic customs derived from myriad real and imagined African sources that Karenga constructed as “traditional” African culture, or what he would later claim as the “best” of African culture, which is bombast for Karenga in that even the major African culture groups number in the hundreds and one would need to study all of them to conclude which was the “best,” which he clearly had not. In fact, Karenga’s construction of African culture was only slightly less backwards than his conception of black American culture.
Karenga argued that black American culture would have to be created through the development of parallel cultural practices and institutions in black communities to replace white supremacist ones and imbue them with a revolutionary orientation, represented by kawaida; thus, it was essential to train cadres committed to this purpose. An important aspect of this orientation was the creation and promotion of alternative/competing cultural rituals and practices such as Kwanzaa, which led him to promote the view that culture—and black art in particular—had to perform a revolutionary function in order to be “valid.” The latter reflected Karenga’s view that art should serve as propaganda. He opined that “[a]rt for art’s sake is an invalid concept,” because “all art reflects the value system from which it comes” (Halisi & Mtume, 1967, p. 22). The “art as propaganda” frame wedded Karenga’s thesis of cultural change to a static teleology, ultimately requiring that the motive force in Karenga’s cultural revolutionary thesis derive from factors extrinsic to black culture itself (i.e., from outside of black cultural institutions), rather than intrinsic to it (i.e., from within black cultural institutions). Further, that Karenga and many other BAM participants took this position while seemingly oblivious to the earlier debate between Du Bois and Locke along similar lines was testament to their failure to adequately address the historical and theoretical roots of BAM in the Harlem Renaissance around such a central issue of black cultural change even as they were attempting to effect such change in their movement. The latter not only constituted a problem of the reverse civilizationism of Karenga’s thesis, which was replicated among other prominent BAM figures, but also revealed that Karenga extended Malcolm’s reverse civilizationism even farther backward in time. Where Malcolm argued that contemporary African revolutionaries had outpaced their black American brothers and sisters with respect to both their adherence to their cultures and their practical application of them in pursuit of their liberation, Karenga drew less from current African cultural forms and practices and, instead, constructed from an almost feudalistic precolonial imaginary a monolithic “traditional” African culture that he then attempted to retrofit to black America. Such a view retrograded Malcolm’s reverse civilizationism into cultural atavism.
Convinced that blacks had no real culture, Karenga insisted that art serve as propaganda for revolutionary change. He asserted that “Black Art must be for the people, by the people and from the people . . . it must be functional, collective and committing” (Halisi & Mtume, 1967, p. 22). He emphasized that “all art must reflect and support the Black Revolution and concluded that any art that does not discuss and contribute to the revolution is invalid” (Karenga 1968, p. 5). For Karenga, “Black art must expose the enemy, praise the people, and support the revolution,” because “the real function of art is to make revolution, using its own medium” (ibid., p. 6). He held out blues music as one example of “invalid” art (ibid., p. 9). The blues were “invalid,” according to Karenga, because “they teach resignation, in a word, acceptance of reality—and we have come to change reality” (ibid.). For him, the blues “were locked into a discourse of suffering and oppression, rendering it incapable of inspiring revolutionary change” (Brown, 2003, p. 145). Karenga acknowledged the blues as “a very beautiful, musical and psychological achievement of our people,” nevertheless, he insisted that “today they are not functional because they do not commit us to the struggle of today and tomorrow, but keep us in the past” (1968., p. 9). He argued that the present generation refused to “submit to the resignation of our fathers who lost their money, their women, and their lives and sat around wondering, ‘what did they do to be so black and blue?’ ” (ibid.).
While some influential artists of BAM such as Nikki Giovanni (1969, p. 30) agreed with Karenga that the blues were “counterrevolutionary,” others, including Larry Neal and Amiri Baraka, rejected their view. Neal had conceptualized the BAM as “the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept,” which was “radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community,” instead “envision[ing] an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of black America,” and one that “proposes a radical reordering of the Western cultural aesthetic” (Neal, 1989). He appreciated the propagandistic role of black art; however, he did not accept “protest” art, sensing as he did that it aspired to a white standard that presumably necessitated critique (1989, pp. 63–64).15 He recognized the contribution of Baraka’s BARTS, as well as groups on the West Coast, Detroit, Philadelphia, Jersey City, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and various college campuses, and he acknowledged Karenga’s contribution to BAM, noting that “Karenga welded the Black Arts Movement into a cohesive cultural ideology,” and one in which culture is “the most important element in the struggle for self-determination” (ibid., pp. 67–68). Yet, he challenged Karenga’s dismissal of the blues, arguing that “the blues represent the ex-slave’s confrontation with a more secular evaluation of the world,” and he was emphatic that “[t]hey were shaped in the context of social and political oppression, but they do not, as Maulana Karenga said, collectively ‘teach resignation’ ” (ibid., pp. 107–108). He adds, “[t]o hear the blues in this manner is to totally misunderstand the essential function of the blues, because the blues are basically defiant in their attitude toward life” (ibid., p. 108). Baraka’s (1963) Blues People had earlier demonstrated the vitality and multidimensionality of blues music and its contribution to black aesthetics.
Karenga (1993, p. 407) would later admit that he had been wrong in his denunciation of the transformative capacity of the blues, stating that “[i]n an earlier article on Black art, I criticized blues as being essentially focused on resignation, but as my critics have rightly observed, blues is much more multidimensional than that”; however, his rejection of the blues was symptomatic of his misunderstanding of black culture in the United States—especially the culture of the black industrial working class, which was in evidence no later than the Harlem Renaissance. Karenga, like Baraka and many others in BAM, had, as Harold Cruse (1967) would remind them, only a rudimentary appreciation of the rootedness of BAM in the theoretic, artistic, and formulaic expressions of the Harlem Renaissance. To be sure, many BAM artists seemed to view the Harlem Renaissance as a localized episode of black cultural “flowering” that was too beholden to the aesthetic ideals and aspirations of their white patrons. For example, Baraka (1963, pp. 133–137) viewed the Harlem Renaissance primarily in terms of the motivations of the respective “cultural stratum” of the black community. No less troubling, after recognizing that “there is already in existence the basis for . . . a [black] aesthetic” that “[e]ssentially, consists of an African-American cultural tradition”—presumably manifest in works including those of the Harlem Renaissance—Larry Neal (1989, p. 64) then argues that “[t]he new aesthetic is mostly predicated on an ethics which asks the question: Whose vision of the world is finally meaningful, ours or the white oppressors? What is truth? . . . [W]hose truth shall we express, that of the oppressed or of the oppressors?” He then asserts—in utter disregard of previous black intellectual engagement of these issues—that “Black intellectuals of previous decades failed to ask them” (emphasis added).
That Neal was one of the more talented, reasoned, and historically grounded of BAM participants suggests the level of unfamiliarity of many in the movement with fundamental issues and arguments raised by Du Bois and Locke, among others, regarding black culture and black cultural revolution that they were attempting to engage. Dismissing the relevance of the Harlem Renaissance to their understanding of cultural transformation, instead they drew on later tendencies associated with Robeson, Negritude, and culminating in the reverse civilizationist arguments of the postwar era. Seen in this context, Karenga fails to appreciate the “validity” of the blues because he is largely at odds with black folk culture and its twentieth-century urban working-class expression in music—concepts that both Du Bois and Locke (among many others) readily acknowledged more than a half-century before. What is more, even as Karenga focused on African cultures, he seemed inclined in theory and practice to view the diverse cultures of the African continent—comprising more than forty different independent states at the time—as a single homogenized “African” culture ossified in a “traditional” construct of his own imagining. For some reason, his thesis rejected the urbanized culture of postcolonial Africa, which was already in evidence at the time in cities from Nairobi to Accra. Karenga opted instead for an idealized, ritualized version of precolonial “traditional” African culture of the “village” to serve as a frame for the new black culture that would lead mid-twentieth-century black Americans to cultural revolution in the most urbanized, industrialized, and technologically advanced country in the world.
Karenga’s thesis on cultural revolution focused on his conception of national culture, which he later described in Kawaida Theory (1980, pp. 18–19) as “the self-conscious, collective thought and practice thru [sic] which a people creates itself, celebrates itself and introduces itself to history and humanity.” In this later formulation he attempted a further differentiation between national culture, which had been his primary focus in his BPM theses, and popular culture, which he suggests was the “unconscious, fluid reaction to everyday life and environment.” Karenga maintained that the imposition of European American culture—especially its white supremacist aspects—serves to legitimize the oppression of African Americans. Further, he insisted that white American cultural imposition denigrates black Americans, who, in this post-BPM version of kawaida, have only the “elements” of a national culture, and primarily a faddish popular culture that does not serve black interests (Karenga, 1988, p. 211). So, altering Cruse’s thesis of cultural revolution, which for Cruse was rooted in African American culture, national and popular, derived from African American folk traditions and later cosmopolitan expressions, as it had been for Du Bois and Locke, even decades after the BPM, Karenga insisted that African Americans do not have a national culture to speak of. Karenga had even less use for African American popular culture, which he largely denigrated—in another contrast with Cruse, Du Bois, and Locke—and instead relied on his “tradition”-based African culture, retrofitted to black Americans.
Not surprisingly, during the BPM, when he even more emphatically insisted that black Americans did not possess a culture, he set out to create one from disparate practices he labeled “African tradition.” From this tradition, Karenga sought to create an African American national culture to serve as a change agent for black America—including a new religion, which was how he characterized kawaida during the BPM. For example, Brown (2003, p. 35) reports an interview with Karenga at KTLA in January 1971 in which the Us leader stated: “I’m the founder of a religion called Kawaida . . . it’s based on seven principles.” Later, as Karenga and Us turned their focus on African culture to Ancient Egypt, he secularized kawaida (1994, pp. 129, 163) and then promoted Maat as a religion (see Karenga, 1994). During the BPM, Karenga joined other BPM revolutionists in dismissing Christianity as a “white man’s religion” (Halisi & Mtume, 1967, p. 32).
Us attempted to develop a new black national culture utilizing appeals to black popular culture especially in music, dance, literature, and crafts. One of the most successful expressions of this cultural fusion was the aforementioned Taifa Dance Troupe, but its “ability to function as a platform for the cultural revolution depended on a receptive African American community and access to public space, both of which were in abundance at the peak of the troupe’s prominence from late 1967 until early 1969” (Brown, 2003, 136). This receptivity and access to public space would end with the Us-Panther shootout at UCLA and the resultant militarization of Us, its preoccupation with security for Karenga and other members, and increased government repression, all of which ended most of Us’s broader community-oriented cultural activities. Complicating this further, given that Us was unpersuaded, at best, by the revolutionary relevance of black working-class urban culture, Us missed the practical opportunities provided by its base in Los Angeles to expand its access to public space through the arts—in particular, its established forte in black dance—and link to local programs in the L.A. media hub that drew on black popular culture. One such local program with national appeal was Don Cornelius’s Soul Train dance show, which was syndicated to L.A. from Chicago in 1971 and had its operations there. The potential influence of a black nationalist organization that focused on cultural revolution, linked with an emergent influential major media show focused on black youth, should have been obvious to black nationalists in L.A., especially given the huge success of WattStax, the record album and documentary film celebrating the Watts revolt, and the annual Watts Summer Festival founded in 1966 by Us charter member Tommy Jacquette (Halifu). Karenga’s reverse civilizationism and the promotion of kawaida made such links between Us and major media in this way largely unthinkable; in fact, while promoting African dance among African Americans, Karenga disparaged the “Negro” who “has more records than books and is dancing his life away” (Halisi & Mtume, 1967, 3). So, as Us members did the boot dance in the Taifa troupe and recruited heavily based on its appeal to African culture, blacks from throughout L.A. were doing the “push and pull,” the “breakdown,” and the “penguin”—popular dances circulating throughout black America at the time—a few miles away in the L.A. studios of the nationally televised popular black dance show. It is ironic that Us, which was so focused on black culture, did not utilize—and in fact distanced itself from—actual expressions and institutions focused on black popular culture evident in most black communities in the major cities during the BPM. That Us encouraged dancing as an artistic and individual expression for its members makes its failure to connect to popular media such as Soul Train in Los Angeles so glaring. By the time that Us began to undertake such a popular focus, largely on James Mtume’s initiatives the opportunity had been lost, because the BPM and Us were in precipitous decline. The latter point reminds us of the importance of putting the contributions of other Us members in context and not to simply view the organization as synonymous with Karenga, and one of the best examples of the necessity of this is Us member James Mtume, one of the editors of The Quotable Karenga. Mtume’s contributions to Us’s aesthetic production were massive in the BPM, and his artistic renown transcended the BPM and continues long afterward (Brown, 2003). For example, as a percussionist he performed and toured with Miles Davis, and during the BPM his eponymously named group recorded two kawaida-inspired albums. Later, the title song from their 1982 album Juicy Fruit went gold and became #1 on the U.S. R&B charts, and subsequently it has been sampled widely by rap artists, most notably by the Notorious B.I.G. in his 1994 hit song “Juicy.” Mtume won a Grammy Award for penning Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s, “The Closer I Get to You.” Mtume is an exemplary representation of the talented and insightful people who were found in Us.
Like other BPM revolutionists, while Karenga and Us proposed a program and thesis on cultural revolution, they rejected the dominant cultural institution in the United States, the Black Church. Karenga argued that “Christianity is a white religion” and “any ‘Negro’ who believes in it is a sick ‘Negro’ ” (Brown, 2003, 69). He established kawaida as an alternative religion for black Americans—referring explicitly to it as a religion—to such an extent that the name of Us’s meeting place, hekalu, is Swahili for “temple.” Us’s antagonistic relationship to the Black Church was shared by many BPM organizations, but for those pursuing cultural revolution their failure to engage the major cultural institution in black communities assured their failure. Larry Neal was insightful about those
who speak of black people as “spiritually dead.” Such thinkers, in their urge to develop new values for the Nation, are rejecting those aspects of the black culture experience that would truly constitute the stuff of Nationhood. . . . Christianity comes under vicious attack. . . . The church is viewed as the great brainwasher of the black people and the tool of the oppressors. We accept negative aspects of the folklore surrounding the black church, but we fail to probe the origins of this folklore. . . . Meanwhile, millions of black people continue to support their local churches. . . . In other words, a life-style exists among black folk that is totally at odds with the attitudes of nationalist intellectuals who instead of denigrating the religion of much of the national black body should be trying to understand the influence—past and present—of the black church . . . these intellectuals often look down on their mothers and fathers whose spiritual legacy gave birth to the very struggle we all claim to support. I believe nationalism is the central model of black liberation. But nationalism can also fail if it doesn’t unite all of the relevant parts of our entire experience. (Neal, 1989, p. 119)
Neal concluded that black nationalists “are going to have to reassess their attitudes toward the church . . . to understand precisely why this institution continues to serve as a wellspring of energy and truth, in spite of the rapid changes in our community” (ibid., p. 124).
With respect to the broader framework, there also is very little in kawaida that explains how the cultural revolution it espouses will ensue, much less how the political revolution will emerge from it. The kawaida thesis does not build on Cruse’s focus on capturing the cultural apparatus of the United States, nor does it demonstrate how such a cultural focus would extend to the political and economic dimensions of black oppression and provide a basis for black liberation. Presumably, since the kawaida-based national culture that he proposes would be Afrocentric, it should augur conflict between its advocates and those practicing the Eurocentric national culture of white America. What results is a conflict at the cultural borders of the society, which, when heightened, engenders revolution and a basic reorientation of the society. The instrument for this revolutionary project, for Karenga, seems to be a black intelligentsia evocative of Du Bois’s early theorizing of the talented tenth and/or the guiding one-hundredth. Actually, this later development of Karenga’s thesis derives from his exposure, in the early 1970s, to the writings of the African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral (1972), who asserted the need for indigenous intellectuals, among other members of the colonized petite bourgeoisie, to commit “class suicide” and make common cause with revolutionary forces in colonial Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, among the peasants especially (also see Cabral, 1973; Nzongola-Ntalaja, 1984). Borrowing from Cabral, Karenga (1982, pp. 207–208) advocated the development of a black intellectual vanguard that would commit class suicide and subsequently “create an Afro-centric ideology or social theory which negates the ruling race/class ideology and provides the basis for a critical Afro-centric conception of reality and the possibilities and methods of changing it.” Armed with this Afrocentric focus, the vanguard would then lead a cultural revolution, which would precede, and make possible, a political revolution. Within this proposed cultural revolution, Karenga suggested, there is a reaffirmation, revitalization, and reclamation of the national culture of black Americans denied by the dominant white supremacist culture. The mechanisms for this cultural revolution vary from independent black institutions (e.g., schools, businesses—especially publishing houses—and cultural centers) to Black Studies programs in universities and to black political parties, both local and national, such as Karenga had helped Baraka’s CFUN to build in Newark.
What Karenga was proposing, though he didn’t seem to realize it at the time, or at minimum didn’t attribute it to its source, was Du Boisian cultural evolution, which the pan-Africanist sage had outlined in the 1930s and ’40s, focusing on the development of independent black economic, social, and political institutions. Viewed only slightly differently, as Karenga began to openly advocate socialism in the 1970s, kawaida began to mirror aspects of Gramsci’s perspective that since advanced industrialized capitalist states exercised control over the revolutionary elements in their society through cultural hegemony, then the politico-military revolution (i.e., the war of maneuver) would be preceded by a challenge to the cultural hegemony of the ruling class (i.e., the war of position). What Karenga was proposing at that point may have been misconstrued as a more class conscious albeit non-Marxist extrapolation from Gramsci to the BPM; but what is closer to the truth is that Karenga’s kawaida was still following much of Malcolm’s focus from the OAAU wedded to aspects of RAM’s and Cruse’s thesis and updated with elements of anticolonial socialist theses of cultural revolution from Cabral.
Karenga also altered the kawaida thesis over time to address some of its contradictory elements—such as its feudal glorification of the subjugation of women, its rejection of the notion of class struggle, its replacement of the notion that blacks have no culture with the view that blacks have no national culture but only a popular culture. Karenga, often dramatically, changed position on each of these issues while incorporating his updated views into a revised kawaida thesis. But even with revisions, kawaida’s basic contradictions persist. There are three major contradictions in Karenga’s formulation—logical, theoretical, and empirical. The logical contradictions should be obvious: First, if all people possess a culture, as Karenga contends, then how do African Americans exist without one, which he also contends? Second, if culture encompasses the seven dimensions outlined above, which includes politics, then how does one separate the cultural from the political and by implication the cultural revolution from the political revolution? Since culture subsumes politics, then how does one differentiate the political from the cultural? Relatedly, why is it necessary in Karenga’s view to fight a cultural revolution before a political one, since culture subsumes politics in his framework? A better appreciation of the holistic context of culture may have been useful in lessening the impact of the more apparent than real contradictions between Us’s putatively anthropologically based “cultural nationalism” and the Black Panther Party’s ostensibly more politically focused “revolutionary nationalism,” the latter a rhetorical distinction at best, which substantively (i.e., as a mutually exclusive categorical distinction) is both ahistorical and atheoretical but nonetheless has led to often-deadly disputes between the two groups and internecine conflicts throughout the BPM, which persist today. In a strange compulsion to create consistency for his kawaida thesis that it does not warrant, which is evident in his writings over the decades, recently Karenga (2015, p. A6) asserted that “Kawaida continues to maintain that the struggle we must wage is a dual one of cultural revolution within and political revolution without, resulting in the radical transformation of ourselves, society and ultimately the world” (emphasis added). Throughout the BPM and well into the twenty-first century, Karenga has argued that a cultural revolution must precede a political revolution, so this claim is false.
The second major contradiction in Karenga’s formulation is that it is not clear why one should draw on African experiences and examples to devise a theory of revolution for blacks in America in such a different political, economic, social, and historical context. Karenga had argued that “the reason Blacks are failing today is because they try to gather from everybody except themselves” (Halisi & Mtume, 1967, p. 13), and that “Black people must understand history and from historical knowledge we can evolve our own theory of revolution” (ibid., p. 11). But his basic formulation conflates African with African American, and in so doing ignores remarkable differences in their contexts. With respect to culture, this perspective reverses nineteenth-century civilizationism in arguing that the acquisition of African culture was necessary to acculturate black Americans, but Karenga’s kawaida during the BPM went one step farther: it argued that since black Americans do not have a culture, they must adopt a “traditional African” one. The latter is not simply reverse civilizationism but, as noted above, cultural atavism. Implicit in both is the view that black Americans are less evolved culturally than indigenous Africans. Not surprisingly, given such a position, Karenga derived many of his empirical referents, and most of his theoretical arguments, from either Africans or Africanists such as Touré, Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Nyerere, and to some degree Fanon and Cabral. This tied his analysis not only to African, rather than African American, exigencies and developmental modalities, which were hardly similar, much less identical, but also to the inconsistencies of the theoretical arguments of the proponents themselves.
For example, Touré provided Karenga’s most prominent contemporary thesis on cultural revolution in his Toward Full Re-Africanization; however, although he had called for cultural revolution in Guinea, by 1968 Touré (1974) had argued that it was subordinate to the class struggle; but through most of the BPM, Karenga rejected class analysis as an approach to explicating black politics in the United States—much less black liberation. Similarly, Karenga accepted Nkrumah’s pan-Africanism but not his socialism during the 1960s. Further, aspects of Fanon’s (1961) argument in Wretched of the Earth supported Karenga’s thesis on culture with respect to the conceptualization of national culture and assertions of its relevance (e.g., p. 233) and the importance of culture in liberation struggles (e.g., ibid., pp. 244–246); however, Fanon rejected the relevance of traditional culture over that which is born of anticolonial struggle, which diverges from Karenga’s kawaida—which not only rests on a view of African traditional culture, but actually means “tradition” in Swahili (also ibid., pp. 244–246). In addition, Fanon’s differentiation of the anticolonial struggle of “African Negroes” from that of “American Negroes” (ibid., p. 216), his arguments about the shortcomings of national consciousness, as well as his focus on the lumpenproletariat as a positive change agent (ibid., pp. 129–130, 137) are diametrically opposed to Karenga’s kawaida.1 Karenga—like most U.S. activists—was unfamiliar with Cabral’s thesis until the early 1970s (his writings were mainly available in the West only in Portuguese); nevertheless, his focus on culture largely mirrors the African revolutionary leader’s, and in the mid-1970s Karenga explicitly adapted/updated kawaida’s precepts to include aspects of Cabral’s cultural theses—often prominently so—and also adopted the socialism of each of these theorists, having already incorporated aspects of Nyerere’s African socialism in the ujamaa of the nguzo saba.
Nevertheless, the political, military, economic, and social contexts of Guinea, Ghana, Algeria, and Guinea-Bissau (as well as Tanzania)—some of the politically, militarily, and economically weakest states in the 1960s—were so diametrically different from those of black America in the 1960s (and later), situated in the most powerful country in the world. While the differences in the political, military, and economic dimensions are apparent, it’s important to appreciate that even in the social dimension, where there may appear to be some superficial similarities between African and African American societies (almost exclusively as they are related to white racism), the actual role of culture in these societies is starkly different as well. For example, the role of ethnicity in sub-Saharan African states allowed for customary law, which enshrined both actual and imagined traditional forms and often maintained traditional institutions, languages, and customs; therefore, the “full reAfricanization” that Touré sought was largely a phenomenon that called for the reestablishment of indigenous African forms that had been interrupted by a colonial interlude of relatively short duration as compared to the centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade that occluded the transmission of African culture to its diaspora—not to mention its further suppression upon arrival.17 This was different across Francophone, Anglophone, and Lusophone Africa given variations in their colonial policies and different degrees of cultural assimilation in each, but throughout Africa, where assimilation occurred it was for a relatively few elites; therefore, “reAfricanization” would not entail wholesale cultural “de-assimilation.” This was nothing like what would be required for black Americans, for whom both their elites as well as their masses were detached from the original culture of their African ancestors by not only thousands of miles of physical space but more importantly by several centuries of “deculturalization” from their African cultural homes, and systematic cultural erasures. Moreover, since culture is linked to politics and economics, the culture of the predominantly agrarian-based economies of sub-Saharan African countries was hardly applicable to the industrial-based economy of postwar America—even rural black America was mechanized when compared to rural Africa. A focus on such agrarian societies contributed to the heavy focus on communalism in kawaida, and also its often feudalistic conception of womanhood.
The third major contradiction in Karenga’s formulation was that it did not adequately explain what constituted cultural revolution or what factors contributed to it (Henderson, 1995, pp. 125–128). It appears that cultural revolution emerges, in Karenga’s view, from the contrasts between the national cultures of white and black Americans, but since blacks do not have a national culture, according to Karenga, then cultural difference itself does not seem to serve as the revolutionary change agent. Further, it seems that the process of building a cultural revolution will occasion attacks by whites and white institutions on the incipient institutions of the black nation, but this seems inconsistent with Karenga’s view that the cultural revolution precedes and makes possible the political revolution (the violent one), because in this conceptualization the cultural revolution would also be violent. So the qualitative difference between the two is not clear. Beyond the difference between the cultural and political revolutions, it is still not clear how the cultural revolution emerges, according to the kawaida thesis. It does not seem to emerge from cultural difference alone, and given that such difference has been relatively constant in U.S. history one would expect that the cultural revolution that Karenga’s thesis foretold would have already occurred—such a conclusion may have led Karenga to consider the Civil War era as a potential source of such a conflict, but his theoretical lens was focused more on black Africa than on black America as a historical referent. It may have been that it was attenuated by the presumed absence of a national culture among blacks; thus, one might assume that it would emerge from the conflict associated with the persistence of Eurocentric culture and the development of the black national culture that Karenga’s thesis sought to create. Relatedly, kawaida does not demonstrate how the different cultural backgrounds of the racial groups have remained distinct and antithetical even as the groups remain in such close proximity in the United States. The assumption of cultural difference is important because it is this cleavage, presumably, that represents the fault line between the two groups and fuels the anticipated intercultural conflict between them. Moreover, Karenga fails to explain how cultures sustain their impact on their adherents in the face of material, environmental, and technological change and in the face of repression by a distinct, imposing, and opposing culture.
Further, it is not clear just what kind of struggle Karenga’s cultural revolution entails. Given that its major function seems to be that it “makes possible” a political revolution, then one might assume that it is not a full-fledged revolution itself. Ignoring for the moment what the political revolution entails and what processes define its origins and execution, we are left to ponder the actual processes at work in the cultural revolution and just what makes it revolutionary. Karenga is silent on these questions; instead, he assumes that once people “know themselves” then a common purpose will derive from that knowledge, which ignores the range of perspectives—across political, economic, and social dimensions—within groups of people sharing a common culture. One need only reflect on the incidence of civil wars within societies of culturally similar peoples to appreciate the limitations of the view that cultural similarity leads to similarity in political objectives.
Not only does Karenga’s thesis fail to address the issues of how cultural revolution emerges and what form it takes, it also does not address basic collective action issues with respect to the political revolution thought to emerge after the cultural revolution. If there is a commonality of purpose, then what leads persons to act when the action is likely to occur without them, since the costs are borne disproportionately by those who take action, while the benefits will accrue to all in the group? That is, there is clearly a “free rider” problem within the proposed revolution. One may argue that the presence of a vanguard will overcome this problem, given that this vanguard largely consists of black intellectuals who commit “class suicide” and coordinate political struggle with the masses. But in Karenga’s formulation this is more slogan and cliché than coherent social theory. It appears as a sort of “revolutionary rehash” of Du Bois’s talented tenth argument, but, as noted above, Du Bois’s thesis was more one of cultural “evolution” than cultural “revolution.” At its best, this aspect of Karenga’s thesis may be evocative of those focusing on the role of critical communities in social movements (e.g., Rochon, 1998), but such approaches recognize the salience of broader, often cross-cutting elements of communities as change agents, while Karenga’s thesis during the BPM seems to have little or no focus on, or apparent role for, other potential revolutionary elements, classes, and/or sectors of black society, as is most evident in his denunciation of the Black Church.
Interestingly, it is just that element of black culture that Karenga’s kawaida thesis rejects, black religion, that provides a mechanism to overcome such collective action problems. Gill (2011) is among those who emphasize the ability of religious mobilization to overcome collective action problems. More than social identity based on class, ethnicity, language, race, gender, or sexuality, religion may mobilize adherents in response to religious discrimination between religious groups within a society, and even more so when discrimination is at the hands of the state and its agents and targets the intersection of religion and race, such as in the case of the Black Church in the United States (Koubi & Bohmelt, 2014). Esteban and Ray’s (2008) findings demonstrate how religious groups overcome collective action problems. They show that in the presence of economic inequality, ethnoreligious groups (e.g., the overwhelemingly Christian black Americans), more than class-based groups, are more likely to rebel as a result of the synergy generated by race and religion that induces the economically better-off within the group to supply resources for rebellion while the poor members of the group supply labor. Such synergy is rare in class-based conflict, where the rich have little incentive to materially support redistribution and the poor face very high opportunity costs. The potency of the fusion of racial and religious identity as a force for collective action is evident in the antebellum slave revolts of Gabriel, Denmark Vesey, and Nat Turner, and the Slave Revolution (see chapter 3), and this theoretical understanding and practical potency was absent from kawaida. Eventually, Karenga seemed to recognize as much; thus, he promoted his “Temple of Maat” but, like the Black Panthers’ “Son of Man Temple,” it did not have sufficient appeal to the black audience to which it was intended, which remained entrenched in the Black Church.
Simply put, kawaida in its original (and present) form failed to answer central questions regarding the primary mechanism of cultural change, much less provide a theory of black cultural revolution. While limited as theory, kawaida as a program provided a powerful basis for organizing and institutional development, ranging from Us’s educational and self-defense programs to precinct work guiding electoral strategies in Los Angeles and Newark, to united-front efforts throughout black America, including playing crucial roles in the development of the Black Power conferences during the BPM. Us’s expertise in political organizing was also reflected in its influence on other BPM organizations, serving important roles in the development of CFUN and CAP in Newark and in Karenga’s appointment as one of the original Ministers of Culture in the RNA. But a critical shortcoming in the programmatic efforts of Us, as noted above, was that like its eventual nemesis the BPP, Us rejected the Black Church as a meaningful change agent in black society. Also, Karenga did not address the issue of sexism in cultural revolution in any substantive way, although women such as Haiba Karenga, Dorothy Jamal, and Sanamu Nyeusi had been prominent in the early phases of Us (Brown, 2003, pp. 40–41). Karenga promoted a feudal subjugation of women in Us, which he rationalized as “African tradition.” This was among the worst examples of Karenga’s myopic reading of African cultures, and it resulted in some of the most egregious practices of Us. Kawaida, and Karenga personally, encouraged black women to be submissive to black men in Us, which was evident from an initial greeting custom between members and Karenga, in which women crossed their forearms across their breasts and bowed in supplication, in contrast to the men’s greeting of a hand grip and brief erect embrace, and extended to Us’s doctrine, which without making polygamy a formal policy, permitted male members to have second wives, the latter often little more than mistresses (ibid., pp. 62–65).
The appeal to “African” tradition in Us perpetuated sexism by giving it a gloss of legitimacy or authenticity, constructing it as representative of an ancestral African culture that black Americans had lost; yet, Karenga’s arguments on African cultures reflected a superficial appreciation of them and insufficient understanding of their diversity in even a single African country. His penchant seems to have been to study works on a particular nation’s cultures and draw selectively and self-servingly from them, as he did in drawing on Kenyatta’s analysis of Gikuyu culture in his 1938 Facing Mount Kenya to inform Us’s organizational structure and his own personal transformation (Brown, 2003, pp. 11–12, 57). The latter is evident in the derivation of his last name from the Gikuyu term kareng’a, which describes the independent Gikuyu schools reportedly free of any missionary influence and, for Kenyatta, refers also to a “pure-blooded Gikuyu, a nationalist” (Kenyatta, 1978, p. 309). Such an orientation might have some merit, but it is more likely to promote conceptions of a people’s culture limited by the author’s biases. For example, the diversity of informed opinion regarding Gikuyu traditions suggests the difficulty of drawing from a single author’s viewpoint, even one as informed as Kenyatta’s.
For example, in a 1941 essay in the Journal of Negro History, the African American political scientist Ralph Bunche reported on his fieldwork among the Kikuyu (Gikuyu) of Kiambu District in Kenya, in which he observed the irua (circumcision) ceremony. Bunche (1941, p. 64) noted the disagreement of a Gikuyu chief, whom he describes as “one of the wisest philosophers I have ever met,” with the irua custom. He reports that “Senior Chief Koinange of the Kiambu Kikuyu, who remembers when the first white man visited Kikuyu country” stated that “I do not approve of the circumcision of girls, since I do not believe that it does the girl any good to be circumcised.” He added that “if the girls are properly educated; the more education they will get the more they will find that circumcision has no bearing on their lives, and they will stop it voluntarily” (ibid.). The chief observed that girls of other Kenyan ethnic groups were not circumcised, and admonished that “[m]ost people accept circumcision blindly as an old custom” (ibid.). In his own family, he noted that “[t]hree of my own daughters are circumcised, but the two younger ones are not,” and he concluded: “I believe that it should be left to the girls themselves to decide. I do not want any of my daughters forced into either circumcision or marriage or forced to forego them, against their desires” (ibid., p. 65). Pearl Robinson (2008, p. 12) contrasts the Senior Chief’s description of the ceremony, as reported by Bunche, with Kenyatta’s more sanguine view of it. For her, Bunche “uses the device of quoting a Kikuyu chief to trump Kenyatta’s claim of authenticity for his data, of the benign consequences of this practice for the girls who undergo the operation, and, ultimately, of the importance of the ceremony to the maintenance of Kikuyu cultural identity.” It is not the accuracy of either Kenyatta’s or Koinange’s depiction of irua, but the presence of a diversity of views among the Gikuyu themselves regarding an important tradition within Gikuyu culture that matters here.18 Gikuyu culture does not manifest a singular orientation toward even its prominent cultural practices, in this case, whether ascension to adulthood should be recognized through irua (there is diversity regarding irua among adjacent African culture groups as well).19 At issue is not Karenga’s view of irua, but recognizing that his bricolage from Gikuyu is probably not representative of the diversity of practices and perspectives within that single culture, and even less so was the pastiche of cultures he amalgamated as “African.”
Such myopic, ahistorical conceptions of African cultures were similar to those of Eurocentric anthropologists, from social Darwinists to cultural relativists such as Malinowski, Kenyatta’s mentor at the London School of Economics (LSE),20 which are typically racist and consistently sexist. Their ahistorical image of African cultures has less to do with tradition than it emerges from the more recent history of colonialism, which constructed arbitrary practices as traditional, associated every African with a tribe and every tribe with a chief, and then institutionalized these fictions in a body of customary law to more effectively manage colonial subjects. Ranger (1983, p. 250) notes that “customary law, customary land-rights, customary political structure . . . were in fact all invented by colonial codification,” and “once the ‘traditions’ relating to community identity and land right were written down in court records and exposed to the criteria of the invented customary model, a new and unchanging body of tradition had been created” (ibid., p. 251).21 Berman (1998, p. 321) notes that
relying on its local allies as sources of information on what was expected to be a fixed and consistent body of rules, the colonial state allowed chiefs, headmen and elders to define a customary law that asserted and legitimated their power and control over the allocation of resources against the interests of junior women and migrants.
For the most part, “codified custom concealed the new colonial balances of wealth and power.” Mamdani (1996, p. 122) agrees that customary law “consolidated the non-customary power of colonial chiefs,” such that it “came to enforce as custom rules and regulations that were hardly customary.” Many such “customs” were intended to extend the power of men over women, girls, and boys for their productive and reproductive labor, and the institutionalization of these regimes of subordination by the colonial state included granting them a provenance in the precolonial era, while Western anthropologists collaborated in mythifying their historicity in the society (Henderson, 2017).
This is not to say that there were not enduring traditions and customs in Africa, but only to point out that many of those adopted by Us were caricatures of diverse and often competing African forms. Among the most common were those that justified male domination and female subordination. Karenga rationalized this sexism as “tradition”; but Us members such as Joann Kicheko opposed the group’s sexism and Karenga’s conception of African traditions and “was suspended from the group for arguing with the leadership over matters associated with its sexist philosophy and conduct,” including the notion that black women had to be submissive (Brown, 2003, p. 57). Kicheko drew different conclusions from her interpretation of African traditions: “I had read things like Jomo Kenyatta’s Mount Kenya and the Kikuyu [Gikuyu] way of setting up social structure, and when I read it I didn’t read it as a male-dominated society. I read it as there were things men did and women did, and things that men and women did together, but each had their power and sources” (ibid.). South African singer Letta Mbulu, who worked closely with Us during the late 1960s, thought that the men of the organization “had a naïve or distorted view of gender relations in Africa.” She remarked that what she saw in Us “was that the men wanted to be in total control—in Africa it isn’t like this . . . we always give men their role but women have just as strong power as men have and that’s not what I saw happening” (ibid.). Such “staunchly patriarchical” views, Brown maintains, resulted in Us “lagging behind” SNCC, the BPP, and other BPM organizations “already influenced” by second wave feminism (ibid., p. 58). He adds that the “explicitness with which the US doctrine opposed women’s equality would make the organization a lasting symbol of sixties-era Black nationalist sexism,” but “[i]n practice” he recognized that “the predominantly male leadership of many other political organizations that spanned the ideological gamut accepted this division” (ibid., p. 65).
The position of women in Us declined further as the organization became a cult of personality under Karenga (Brown, 2003, p. 66), and women did not regain prominent positions until Us became heavily militarized after the shootout with the Panthers at UCLA, when more women took up positions in the paramilitary formations as many in the male leadership were targeted by police and rivals (ibid., p. 123). It was only during and shortly after his imprisonment for assault with intent to do great bodily harm and false imprisonment, arising from incidents related to his torturing two Us members, Gail Idili-Davis and Brenda Jones, that Karenga appended a womanist dimension to kawaida, but it was too late to influence the BPM. Us members Luz Maria Tiamoyo (now Tiamoyo Karenga) and Fred Sefu-Glover were also convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm and false imprisonment related to these incidents, and Louis-Sedu Smith was convicted of false imprisonment (ibid., pp. 120–121). The latter incidents remind us that for all the myriad borrowings from African revolutionists, Karenga and Us missed one of the major lessons of Amilcar Cabral: “that in the general framework of the daily struggle this battle against ourselves—no matter what difficulties the enemy may create—remains the most difficult of all.” Cabral was “convinced that any national or social revolution which is not based on the knowledge of this reality runs great risk of failure” (Davidson, 1971, p. 74). Cabral insisted that culture was key in resolving these contradictions; but under Karenga’s leadership, Us became a cult of personality that militarized in the face of government repression, until its rivalry with the BPP, exacerbated by COINTELPRO, led to a shootout on the UCLA campus in which two BPP members were killed and an Us member wounded, and the organization imploded.22
The implosion of Us as a result of issues related to its militarization was ironic, given that, unlike many of the other militant organizations of the BPM, Us eschewed overt armed confrontations with police and other law enforcement agencies, although it maintained a paramilitary unit, the Simba (Young Lions), which was trained by military veteran Ngao Damu. Brown agrees:
Resisting the 1960s trend among militant radicals of embracing Che Guevera’s guerrilla warfare theories as a model for revolution in the United States, Karenga was skeptical of the idea that a small insurgency could instigate a revolution. He was convinced, however, that successful and protracted armed struggle necessitated a preexisting, broad-based African American consensus and will to make great sacrifices in support of the revolution. (2003, p. 89)
Karenga asserted: “It is not a question of how can we kill the enemy, for the people must decide that that is necessary themselves, or the vanguard will vanish and the revolutionary party which has placed itself in a front position will fall flat on its face and history will hide all of them” (p. 89).23 De-emphasizing armed confrontations allowed Us the space to develop its parallel institutions that were the hallmark of the BPM, but its militarization following the UCLA shootout led it to redirect its resources toward security, and under such conditions, it’s not surprising that Us was unable to modify kawaida into a coherent thesis of black cultural revolution. In contrast, the utility of aspects of kawaida allowed groups such as Baraka’s CFUN to draw on it for its programs in Newark.
Even with its limitations as black nationalist theory, during the BPM, Us fashioned a cogent black nationalist program building on Malcolm X’s revolutionary theses and both its electoral and revolutionary foci. Us’s nguzo saba became a centerpiece for organizers throughout the BPM, and it is one of the most enduring aesthetic and institutional elements originating in the 1960s that is still relevant in black communities today. Intellectual opposition and academic censoring has contributed to the lack of recognition Us has received for its major positive contributions to the BPM in comparison to other organizations—as well as its enduring impact today, but academic and movement bias toward the Panthers in the Us-BPP dispute is an important factor, as well. For example, contributing to the willful obfuscations of Us is the continued slurring of its name as an abbreviation for “United Slaves,” which was never the group’s name but a slur that the BPP created. Leading scholars such as Dawson (2001, p. 102) refer to Us by this slur in a major study of black ideologies. So common is it that it compelled Hayes and Jeffries’s (2006) “Us Does Not Stand For United Slaves!” Such slanders are most evident in recriminations of Us by members and supporters—as well as notable scholars—of the group that became its most notable rival within the BPM, the Black Panther Party (BPP).
The Black Panther Party
It may appear strange to include the Black Panther Party in an analysis of the contributions of major theorists on black cultural revolution in the BPM, given its leadership’s vehement opposition to what it described as cultural nationalism and its representation in groups such as RAM, the RNA, and especially Us. The BPP took a notable—and quite popular—position on “revolutionary culture” in opposition to “cultural revolution.” Their conception was consistent with James Boggs’s argument that “[e]very revolution creates a new culture out of the process of revolutionary struggle against the old values and culture which an oppressing society has sought to impose upon the oppressed” (1970, p. 58). It is unlikely that the founders of the BPP, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, were unaware of Cruse’s and Boggs’s theses on both domestic colonialism and the role of culture in black revolution in the United States, given that Newton had participated in Don Warden’s AAA, which was affiliated with RAM (its Los Angeles representative was Karenga) and Seale worked directly with RAM in the Soul Students Advisory Council led by Kenny Freeman. Further, both Cruse’s and Boggs’s theses were widely discussed in RAM-affiliated groups. At its founding, the BPP accepted the domestic colonial view of black America; however, they rejected other arguments associated with black nationalism such as cultural revolution mainly because they associated it, not with Malcolm, but with RAM in Oakland, with which they had tactical disagreements (Seale, 1970; Newton, 1973). According to Newton (1995, ch. 9–11, 15), among the disagreements that he and Seale had with members of Oakland’s RAM was that he was convinced that RAM’s approach was not relevant to “the brothers on the block.” The main tactical dispute was RAM members’ unwillingness to pursue Newton’s suggestion of patrolling the police. Different experiences with RAM in Oakland as compared to New York would exacerbate what was later called the “Newton-Cleaver split” between BPP chapters in the two cities because RAM member Herman Ferguson, having been a founding member of the OAAU and the RNA, also played a seminal role in the establishment of the New York chapter of the BPP. Ferguson and RAM (as well as the RNA) were both viewed positively by members of the New York chapter of the BPP. The New York BPP adopted African names and dress, which Oakland disparaged, and many were prominent in the RNA, which at times was in conflict with the Oakland BPP.
Although the BPP openly rejected cultural revolution theses—except those that were associated with Mao’s GPCR—the BPP Central Committee included a minister of culture, Emory Douglas, and promoted a musical group, The Lumpen, “whose primary purpose was . . . political education through music and song” (Newton, 1995, pp. 300–301).24 Among the few positive references Newton makes to “black cultural revolution” is its relationship to aspects of black popular culture such as “natural” hairstyles (ibid., p. 60). Ignoring Malcolm’s thesis on black cultural revolution, Newton and Seale selectively drew on Fanon’s arguments on the role and relevance of culture in revolution. Fanon maintained that “the conscious and organized undertaking by a colonized people to re-establish the sovereignty of that nation constitutes the most complete and obvious cultural manifestation that exists” (1963, p. 245). For Fanon, “It is the fight for national existence which sets culture moving and opens to it the doors of creation” (ibid., p. 244), noting that this fight
sends culture along different paths and traces out entirely new ones for it. The struggle for freedom does not give back to the national culture its former value and shapes; this struggle which aims at a fundamentally different set of relations between men cannot leave intact either the form or the content of the people’s culture. After the conflict there is not only the disappearance of colonialism but also the disappearance of the colonized man. (ibid., pp. 245–246)
The BPP inferred from Fanon’s claims that revolutionary activity itself, that is, political revolution, would generate the requisite culture that would help transform black society—a view similar to Boggs’s contention but neither to Cruse’s nor Haywood’s. As late as 1970, Newton (1999, p. 153) was convinced that “we have not established a revolutionary value system; we are only in the process of establishing it.”
The BPP accepted Fanon’s thesis on the necessity of violence in the overthrow of colonialism, the cathartic value of the use of violence in anticolonial struggle, and the centrality of the lumpenproletariat to anticolonial revolution. Fanon viewed the lumpenproletariat as “one of the most spontaneous and the most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people” (1963, p. 128) and its “urban spearhead” (ibid.). Former BPP leader Elaine Brown (1992, p. 136), reflecting on her catechism in the BPP, learned that
the black lumpen proletariat, unlike Marx’s working class, had absolutely no stake in industrial America. They existed at the bottom level of society in America, outside the capitalist system that was the basis for the oppression of black people. They were the millions of black domestics and porters, nurses’ aides and maintenance men, laundresses and cooks, sharecroppers, unpropertied ghetto dwellers, welfare mothers, and street hustlers. At their lowest level, at the core, they were the gang members and the gangsters, the pimps and the prostitutes, the drug users and dealers, the common thieves and murderers.
Brown’s rendering of the lumpenproletariat is telling given that few orthodox Marxists—or non-Marxists—would include “porters, nurses’ aides, maintenance men, cooks, and sharecroppers,” who were clearly wage and agricultural workers, in the class with “pimps, common thieves and murderers,” who were simply criminals mainly preying on the working class and poor. For Marx (1969 , pp. 76–77), only Brown’s “lowest level” comprised his lumpenproletariat, which for him were “scum,” “the refuse of all classes,” consisting of vagabonds, ex-convicts, ex-slaves, swindlers, pickpockets, and beggars, who he was convinced were reactionary. Brown’s mischaracterization of the lumpenproletariat reflects an enduring ignorance of Marxism that was not restricted to her, but was emblematic of some of the problems of political education among the Panthers (even more so, given that Brown would eventually become a member of the Central Committee, and later the leader of the BPP in Newton’s absence). Rejecting Marx’s (1969 , pp. 76–77) disposition toward the “lumpen,” but not necessarily his description of it, Newton, in what he viewed as a Marxist methodological deduction (i.e., a dialectical materialist deduction), asserted the revolutionary potential of this group.
Although Newton’s assessment of the lumpenproletariat derived from his reading of Fanon, he credited Eldridge Cleaver with articulating the Marxist formulation for the BPP, in his “On the Ideology of the Black Panther Party” in 1970. This view prevailed in the BPP, following its original nationalist phase, when it embraced Cleaver’s “Yankee Doodle Socialism.” Echoing Boggs, Newton asserted that since “technology is developing at such a rapid rate that automation will progress to cybernation, and cybernation probably to technocracy,” then “if the ruling circle remains in power the proletarian working class will definitely be on the decline because they will be unemployables and therefore swell the ranks of the lumpens, who are the present unemployables” (Newton, 1995, pp. 27–28). He insisted that “soon the ruling circle will not need the workers” (ibid., p. 28); thus, for him, “[e]very worker is in jeopardy . . . which is why we say that the lumpenproletarians have the potential for revolution, will probably carry out the revolution, and in the near future will be the popular majority” (ibid.).
Newton’s reliance on Fanon’s view of the revolutionary potential of the lumpenproletariat is subject to the same critique as that levied at Karenga’s selective adoption of Fanon’s arguments on the centrality of national culture in anticolonial struggles. Both revolutionists ignored Fanon’s arguments regarding the lack of comparability of African and African American revolutionary contexts. While Fanon recognized similarities between the two, he acknowledged that “the essential problems confronting [American Negroes] were not the same as those that confronted the African Negroes.” He explained:
The Negroes of Chicago only resemble the Nigerians or the Tanganyikans in so far as they were all defined in relation to the whites. But once the first comparisons had been made and subjective feelings were assuaged, the American Negroes realized that the objective problems were fundamentally heterogeneous. (p. 216)
He added that the struggles against racial discrimination in the United States “have very little in common in their principles and objectives with the heroic fight,” for example, “of the Angolan people against the detestable Portuguese colonialism” (ibid.). Fanon insisted that “every culture is first and foremost national, and . . . the problems which kept Richard Wright or Langston Hughes on the alert were fundamentally different from those which might confront Leopold Senghor or Jomo Kenyatta” (ibid.). In fact, rather than the distillations of Newton and Karenga, Fanon’s discussion converges with Cruse’s (1968, p. 252) arguments, which both Newton and Karenga might have reflected on before drafting Fanon’s arguments to support their contrasting programs for black Americans:
If the American Negro is a victim of domestic colonialism (which he is), it does not follow that his war against oppression can be conducted solely along the lines of resistance established in pure colonial or semi-colonial countries. It means, rather, that the exigencies of struggle grow out of both Western social conditions and a unique kind of colonialism not experienced in Cuba, China, Asia, Africa, or Latin America generally.
Karenga’s kawaida thesis was much less beholden to Fanon’s thesis, given the Us leader’s rejection of the revolutionary potential of the lumpenproletariat; however, Newton’s thesis adopted Fanon’s sanguine assertions about this class wholesale. Interestingly, Newton’s view of the revolutionary potential of the lumpenproletariat was more dependent on Karenga’s assertion of the relevance of culture in black liberation than either seemed to realize. For example, Newton placed greater emphasis on the position of the lumpenproletariat in the social relations of production in the United States, rather than on their disposition toward the social relations of production. Newton accepted that the lumpenproletariat were among those who were most detached from the capitalist structure; they operated at the bottom of the class structure with no meaningful relation to industrial production and in such a position they had “nothing to lose” if the capitalist system was overturned. The BPP saw the rebellions of the 1960s as precursors of future organized violence and emblematic of the readiness of the lumpenproletariat to undertake concerted action against the “power structure.” What was left was to organize, educate, and mobilize them to fulfill their revolutionary potential. This plan was at least partially dependent—metaphorically—on the ability of the BPP to effectuate a program to turn lumpens into “Malcolm Xs”—a lumpen who became a principled and dedicated revolutionary. The likelihood of transforming lumpens into Malcolm Xs was dependent on the disposition of lumpens to transform themselves; however, this was as much an issue of the BPP’s organizational and political acumen as it was the cultural orientation of the lumpens. That is, the success of the BPP’s programs rested in large part on the extent to which the lumpen was compelled by domestic colonialism to orient itself as a class in opposition to the social relations of production that Marx argued made them a reactionary element and in accordance with that which Fanon argued made them revolutionary. Taking seriously the BPP’s claim that in a context of domestic colonialism black lumpenproletarians were positioned largely outside of the class structure, then their propensity toward revolutionary struggle would be determined less by their class orientation and more by their relationship as a race to the broader race/class (i.e., domestic colonial) structure of the United States.
Marx had argued that the process of capitalist production disciplined, united, and organized the proletariat; therefore, the proletariat did not need to transform itself to bring about a socialist revolution. Operating outside of the system of industrial production, the lumpen—in particular, the black lumpen—was not socialized in this way; instead, the defining characteristic of its socialization was domestic colonialism, which socialized not only by class but by race. Transformation of this group into a revolutionary class required socialization outside of industrial production and within the other socializing structures that domestic colonialism created in which the lumpen participated. In the United States, this social system was defined by white supremacism—thus, white racial domination—and racial domination was national; thus, in the social system, black nationalism was revolutionary. Therefore, the transformation necessary for black lumpens was to orient themselves to a black nationalist project. Further, modern black nationalism since Du Bois had asserted the centrality of black American culture; thus, the revolutionary project of the lumpen, of necessity, would need to orient itself to that cultural project and, following the BPP’s logic, possibly take the lead of it. In this context, the orientation of the lumpen to transform itself into a revolutionary class would depend not simply on its position in the class structure but in its disposition toward this broader nationalist project, and the socialization aspect of this project would be predominantly cultural. Given that the lumpen’s socialization was a function of racist factors outside of industrial production, it followed that cultural factors would be more salient in their politicization than they would be otherwise. The BPP did not seem to appreciate these implications of their thesis, which called for a richer analysis of the subculture of the black lumpenproletariat in order to facilitate its transformation into the vanguard of the black revolution, and thus they should’ve taken seriously Malcolm’s call for cultural revolution and the salient arguments that Us made regarding it. The BPP was correct that the motivating culture of these putatively revolutionary lumpens was unlikely to be that of precapitalist Africa, as Karenga’s kawaida implied; however, the BPP’s revolutionary program required an analysis of the subculture of the lumpenproletariat, since it would play a much more prominent role (as compared to the industrial proletariat) in the revolution the BPP envisioned for the “black colony.”
In the event, the BPP failed to adequately theorize how the differences in the structure of colonialism affected the class orientations of the subject nations under domestic colonialism. That is, if in the context of the territorial (i.e., the colonizing) state, the metropole, the lumpenproletariat was a counterrevolutionary class, as Marx argued, and in the context of the traditional colonial state the lumpenproletariat was a revolutionary class, as Fanon argued, then in the context of the domestic colonial state it was not clear what orientation the lumpen would have toward revolution (following this logic, the same could be said for the other classes under domestic colonialism as well, i.e., the domestic colonial bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoise, and proletariat). Instead of appreciating that the different types of colonialism were likely to generate different relations of production, thus, different orientations of classes toward revolution in a Marxist sense, the BPP adopted wholesale Fanon’s thesis on the revolutionary orientation of the lumpen to the domestic colony of black America, which was markedly different from that of (traditional) colonial Algeria. The BPP’s aversion to analyses of culture left it bereft of a theory to link the black lumpenproletariat in the United States to a revolution to address the challenges of the domestic colonial context that they sought to radically transform.
At its founding, the BPP accepted the domestic colonialism explanation of black oppression and, given the peculiar position of blacks within the United States, they advocated in their 10-Point-Program a plebiscite “to be held throughout the Black colony” to determine the “national destiny” of black people.25 After 1968—and under the influence of Eldridge Cleaver—they became distant from nationalism except in an instrumental sense as they began to advocate Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology, and eventually they came to view oppressed people in general, including poor whites, as “colonial subjects” to be liberated, ostensibly through the efforts of the BPP and its allies.26 They espoused the view that national liberation was necessary in the black (and third world) “colonies” in America and revolution was necessary in the “mother country.” Throughout each phase of their development, they viewed the lumpenproletariat as essential to successful revolution in the United States, they saw the BPP as the vanguard of this revolution, they viewed culture as ancillary to these processes, and they viewed cultural revolution as almost a contradiction in terms. In 1968, Huey Newton explained:
There are two kinds of nationalism: revolutionary nationalism and reactionary nationalism. Revolutionary nationalism is a people’s revolution with the people in power as its goal. Therefore, to be a revolutionary nationalist you of necessity have to be a socialist. If you are a reactionary nationalist you are not a socialist. . . . Cultural nationalism, or pork-chop nationalism . . . is basically a problem of having the wrong political perspective. . . . [C]ultural nationalists are concerned with returning to the old African culture and thereby regaining their identity and freedom . . . they feel that assuming the African culture is enough to bring political freedom. Many cultural nationalists fall into line as reactionary nationalists. (Newton, 1995, p. 92)
He added that
[t]he Black Panther Party . . . realizes that we have to have an identity. We have to realize our Black heritage in order to give us strength to move on and progress. But as far as returning to the old African culture, it’s unnecessary and in many respects unadvantageous. We believe that culture alone will not liberate us. We’re going to need some stronger stuff. (ibid., p. 93)
Newton (1970, p. 539) insisted that “it’s important for us to recognize our origins and to identify with the revolutionary black people of Africa and people of color throughout the world,” but as far as the BPP was concerned, “the only culture that is worth holding on to is revolutionary culture.” For Newton, the revolution the BPP sought would by necessity generate a revolutionary culture. Cultural revolution was at best a contradiction in terms, or at minimum a rhetorical ploy to rationalize absence from legitimate struggle, which the BPP at its inception and in its early conflicts with RAM defined in terms of armed engagements with police. Scot Brown (2003, p. 114) points out that the BPP’s conception of “cultural nationalism” neglected Us’s “anthropological view of culture, which contained the politics of self-defense and socialism as constituent components of culture. As a result, Panther denunciations of cultural nationalism tended to distort Us’s ideology, defining it as a nonpolitical aesthetic preoccupation.”27 Newton would later modify this orientation somewhat—although he did not modify his understanding (or lack thereof) of the role of culture in revolutionary struggle—through his support of the BPP “survival programs” (e.g., the free hot breakfast for children program, the free medical clinics and ambulance services, etc.) and, eventually, electoral politics. In the interim, the BPP’s perspective regarding “revolutionary culture” granted it wide latitude in determining what was revolutionary and what constituted the requisite culture it should support. Increasingly, what the BPP viewed as revolutionary were some of the worst aspects of lumpenism, and with Eldridge Cleaver’s ascension in the BPP, the worst impact of lumpenism became apparent.
The Panthers’ negative view of the role of culture in revolutionary struggle is ironic given the influence of Cleaver as the party developed. His reputation was earned by his literary talent, honed in California prisons, where he served time for rape and assault with intent to murder, and brought to national attention through his widely read Soul on Ice. With the assistance of Beverly Axelrod, he garnered a position at Ramparts magazine, and he established Black House in San Francisco, which became a cultural center for Bay Area artists and BAM stalwarts such as Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Askia Touré, Ed Bullins, and Marvin X, who performed there. But as important as Cleaver’s literary talent might have been, his appreciation of revolutionary struggle—and what attracted him to the BPP itself—was its association with lumpenism and violence, essential aspects of the prison subculture in which he developed his literary skills. Cleaver fused these elements into rhetorical and literary flashes of incendiary malapropisms, neologisms, streams of consciousness (and lack of consciousness), and turns of phrases of superficial depth and relevance that he and others passed off as informed theses on revolutionary struggle in the United States. Among his worst was his construction of the white man as the “omnipotent administrator,” the black man as the “supermasculine menial,” the white woman as the “ultrafeminine freak,” and the black woman as the “self-reliant Amazon” in order to, inter alia, rationalize his rape of both black and white women—and, by implication, girls, men, and boys. Cleaver’s was little more than a serial rapist’s rationalization for rape, given a pseudo-intellectual, quasi-revolutionary gloss. During an era of “radical chic,” it became “all the rage,” and he proudly articulated it in his best-selling book, Soul on Ice, published with the assistance of white leftist lawyer Beverly Axelrod.
As Cleaver developed his “Yankee Doodle Socialist”—more of a revolutionary bohemian anarchist—argument, he purged from Black House many of those whom he considered cultural nationalists. With his ascension to the position of minister of information in the BPP, his personal animus with Maulana Karenga anticipated—in some ways, generated—the explosive fissure between the two former allies, the BPP and Us. For Cleaver, like Newton and Seale before him, the dispute with Us turned on the broader issue of the relevance of culture to black liberation; however, the relatively nonantagonistic relationship between the two groups exploded once Cleaver entered the fray. Beyond the broader ideological differences between the two men, the dispute between Cleaver and Karenga derived from their disagreement during the Free Huey Rally of February 1968 in Los Angeles, in which Us and the BPP (under the auspices of the Black Congress) participated. Cleaver charged that Us had brought “pigs” to perform security, which was a dishonor to Newton, and Karenga responded that the security whom Cleaver disparaged as “pigs” were not police but “bloods just doing their 8” (i.e., eight-hour work day). Recriminations followed, including Cleaver’s baseless accusation of collusion between Us and the “pigs” and Karenga’s assertion that the BPP’s security was ill-trained and ill-prepared to perform security, much less conduct armed insurgency. While the disagreement did not negatively affect the Free Huey Rally, the die between the two had been cast.
Both in his own writings and in the art of BPP Minister of Culture Emory Douglas, Cleaver had not only recognized but celebrated the importance of culture in revolutionary struggle. Cleaver claimed that “the ideology of the Black Panther Party and the teachings of Huey P. Newton are contained in their purest form in Emory’s art” (Doss, 2001, p. 184). Douglas viewed “revolutionary art” as a “tool for liberation.” According to him, “revolutionary art” was for everybody and the ghetto was “the gallery” for the revolutionary artist. He maintained that “image making and consumption were, in and of themselves, revolutionary praxis” (ibid.). He promoted the view plastered on the November 21, 1970, edition of the Black Panther that “We Have To Begin To Draw Pictures That Will Make People Go Out And Kill Pigs.”28 Following Newton and Seale, Eldridge Cleaver promoted an amorphous and self-serving view of revolutionary culture, which legitimized their preferred lumpen activities as “revolutionary” while labeling those who opposed their lumpenism “counterrevolutionary.” For example, Cleaver proclaimed that his rape of women was an “insurrectionary act”; specifically, his rape of white women was “insurrectionary” and his rape of black women was “practice.” He wedded his misogyny to the “revolutionary lumpenism” of the BPP, especially—but not exclusively—among the West Coast leadership, creating a “revolutionary misogyny” epitomized in their articulation of the importance of “pussy power.”
Cleaver wasn’t alone in the promotion of “revolutionary misogyny” in the BPP. For example, publicly, leaders such as Bobby Seale (1970, p. 403) lauded the BPP’s antisexism:
You’ll find some women’s organizations that are working strictly in the capitalist system, and talking about equality under the capitalist system. But the very nature of the capitalistic system is to exploit and enslave people. . . . So we have to progress to a level of socialism to solve these problems. We have to live socialism. So where there’s a Panther house, we try to live it. When there’s cooking to be done, both brothers and sisters cook. Both wash the dishes. The sisters don’t just serve and wait on the brothers. A lot of black nationalist organizations have the idea of regulating women to the role of serving their men, and they relate this to black manhood. But a real manhood is based on humanism, and it’s not based on any form of oppression. (original emphasis)
In fact, few, if any, of the major BPP chapters adequately addressed the sexism and gendered division of labor in their chapters. Thus, in contrast to Seale’s pronouncements, Elaine Brown reports an incident in 1969 at BPP headquarters in Oakland, where Panther women cooked, washed dishes, and prepared food in the kitchen. Bobby Seale “snapped his fingers” summoning a fifteen-year-old girl into the room and introduced her to Brown. Seale commanded the child to “tell the Sister here what a Brother has to do to get some from you.” Her answer:
Can’t no motherfucker get no pussy from me unless he can get down with the party. . . . A Sister has to give up the pussy when the Brother is on his job and hold it back when he’s not. Cause Sisters got pussy power. (Seale, 1970, p. 189)
It would be a mistake to associate such dehumanizing sexist conceptions—and the practices related to them—to only the male leadership of the BPP and adolescent girls, or to take Brown’s depiction of Seale in such a context as dispositive, given her visceral hatred of him; however, her recollections are not inconsistent with those of more reliable observers regarding the sexism of the BPP, as well. New York Panther (and Black Liberation Army member) Safiya Bukhari (1993, 4), acknowledged that “there were problems with men who brought their sexist attitudes into the organization,” including “[m]en who refused to take direction (orders) from women” while noting that the BPP “had a framework established to deal with that”; however, “because of liberalism and cowardice, as well as fear, a lot of times the framework was not utilized.” At the same time, she insisted:
The simple fact that the Black Panther Party had the courage to address the question of women’s liberation in the first place was a monumental step forward. In a time when the other nationalist organizations were defning women as barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, women in the Black Panther Party were working right alongside men, being assigned sections to organize just like the men, and receiving the same training as the men. Further, the decisions about what a person did within the ranks of the Party were determined not by gender but by ability. (Bukhari, 2010, p. 56)
She recognized that “[i]n its brief seven year history women had been involved on every level in the Party,” such as
Audrea Jones, who founded the Boston Chapter of the Black Panther Party, women like Brenda Hyson, who was the OD (officer of the day) in the Brooklyn office of the Party . . . women like Peaches, who fought side by side with Geronimo Pratt in the Southern California Chapter of the Party; and Kathleen Cleaver who was on the Central Committee. (ibid., pp. 56–57)
Insightfully, Bukhari also acknowleged that
The other side of the coin was women who sought to circumvent the principled method of work by using their femininity as a way to achieve rank and stature within the Party. They also used their sexuality to get out of work and avoid certain responsibilities. This unprincipled behavior within the Party (just as on the streets) undermined the work of other sisters who struggled to deal in a principled manner. (ibid., p. 57)29
Bukhari grounds the BPP’s sexism in the broader society and in the black lumpen elements it drew on for its primary membership, and these practices—and tacit or explicit endorsement of them—typically varied from chapter to chapter (e.g., see Njeri’s  discussion of the Illinois chapter and Rahman’s  of Detroit’s), therefore, the reality for most BPP members was probably somewhere between hers and Elaine Brown’s characterizations—and often chapter specific. To be sure, even as BPP Central Committee member Kathleen Cleaver responded in February 1970 to a Washington Post reporter’s question regarding a woman’s role in the revolution with her famous and trenchant remark, “No one ever asks what a man’s place in Revolution is” (Foner, 1970, p. 145), Party members throughout the country—including prominent men and women—articulated the importance of “pussy power.” Under the leadership of Elaine Brown, the party would continue some of the worst practices related to lumpen precepts, even as women were placed in more prominent positions and some of the worst verbiage associated with “Cleaverism” was expunged.30 Nevertheless, it was the male leadership under the influence of Cleaver, Newton, Seale, and Hilliard that made “revolutionary misogyny” prominent practice if not explicit policy of the BPP.31 It was an easily anticipated result of the glorification of lumpenism and the “man as pimp and woman as whore” mentality that it promoted. This orientation was not only used to sexually exploit women, but to character assassinate rivals, to rationalize the misuse of BPP funds by the national leadership, to justify internecine violence, or to excoriate rival BPM groups (such as the NOI, SNCC, RNA, and Us). Glorified lumpenism was so expansive that former chief of staff David Hilliard (1993, pp. 338–339) reports that Newton required that BPP members watch the film The Godfather, as he argued for a “progressive capitalism” (Newton, 1971). The Panther nightclub “The Lamp Post” allegedly became a front for prostitution and a funding source for Newton and the Central Committee’s indulgences. Doubly ironic, it was at this point that Newton voiced support for both the womens’ movement and gay liberation struggles.
The BPP’s struggles on issues of sexism were clearly exacerbated by—though not created by—its privileging of lumpenism in its broader revolutionary thesis, which assumed that participation in revolution would generate the requisite revolutionary culture. However, the notion of the spontaneous generation of a revolutionary culture, like the notion of spontaneous revolution in general, is both ahistorical and fallacious. Moreover, the fact that people are engaged in revolution does not suggest that they possess a revolutionary culture—at least not in a progressive sense. Pol Pot led a revolution in Kampuchea and the product was killing fields and millions of deaths but not the creation of a revolutionary culture in any emancipatory sense. None of the successful revolutions that the BPP lauded and suggested as exemplars were explicable unless one appreciated the role by which leaders utilized their indigenous culture as a means of mobilization and transformation. Such revolutionaries did not await a revolutionary culture, instead they grounded themselves in their national heritage and evoked that which supported liberation and was in opposition to the status quo of their (neo)colonial oppressors, which denied their right of national self-determination and often cast them as barbarians or worse. In these cases, revolutionary leaders seemed to appreciate that insofar as an important aspect of struggle is to capture the hearts and minds of the people, then a revolution that attacked the cultural hegemony of their oppressors formed the basis of the larger political-military struggle for national self-determination. Without it, the masses, suffering under the cultural domination of their colonizers, would be unconvinced of their capacity to realize the objective of liberation. In this light, one may argue that the wars of national liberation that the BPP exalted were oriented by an ideology of “revolutionary nationalism” in which the cultural issue was already resolved for the insurgents; however, the cultural issue for black Americans had not been resolved, according to Cruse, necessitating a “revolutionary cultural nationalism.”
The BPP’s condemnation of cultural nationalism actually reflected its antipathy toward RAM and, later, Us (exacerbated by COINTELPRO as well as the intergang conflict of Los Angeles). The BPP, owing to disjointed Marxist borrowings, the influence of white leftists, and the personal battles with Us, largely ignored the challenge of cultural transformation in the BPM. This owed, in part, to its dismissal of the salience of black culture in political revolution. Further, the negation of the transformative power of cultural practice with respect to male Party members’ relationship with female members and their engagement with broader movement actors, including allies and enemies and especially in the area of ethics and social conduct, exposed the BPP’s vulnerability to outside manipulation and control, as warned by Cabral. The cultural transformation the party envisioned—as Seale’s quote above reflects—was assumed to derive mainly from the implementation of socialism following or contemporaneous with a political revolution conceived mainly in Marxist terms. Ironically, they did not appreciate that the transformation they were intending from their survival programs was a cultural transformation rooted less in Marx and more in Malcolm. Such a misunderstanding allowed Newton (1995, pp. 92–93) to evoke Papa Doc Duvalier as a prime example of the vacuity and inappropriateness of cultural or, as he called it, “pork chop” nationalism.
The Oakland BPP, unlike the New York chapters, which Hilliard (1993, p. 168) labeled cultural nationalist, misunderstood the basic pan-African (in an anthropological, more than a political sense) and American nature of African American culture and was ultimately unable to successfully channel this rich increasingly black urban working-class culture for the party’s own ends. In fact, Newton (1999, p. 192) denigrated pan-Africanism as the highest expression of cultural nationalism. This lack of appreciation of the cultural grounding of black America and the relationship of black culture to American political development led the BPP, especially on the West Coast, to become distant from the black communities they sought to transform. This both encouraged and was exacerbated by the BPP’s extremely poor relations with the Black Church. Newton noted that when the BPP distanced itself from the Black Church it distanced itself from the black community. He acknowledged as much in his “On the Relevance of the Church,” which he published on Malcolm X’s and Ho Chi Minh’s birthday in 1971. Newton (1995, pp. 63–64) acknowledged that the BPP “said the Church is only ritual, it is irrelevant and therefore we will have nothing to do with it. We said this in the context of the whole community being involved with the church on one level or another. That is one way of defecting from the community, and that is exactly what we did.” Former BPP member Paul Alkebulan (2007, p. 123) notes that the Panthers came to appreciate that “the church was intertwined with the survival and well-being of black people” and that, as a result, in 1973 they “took the ultimate step” and established a church, the Son of Man Temple, “in an attempt to reconnect with a community institution that had the respect of large numbers of people” and in recognition that “ideology did not necessarily prohibit spirituality and politics from mutually beneficial cooperation.”32 Nevertheless, with decreasing support from black communities they came to rely more on white leftist support that became increasingly ambivalent as the Vietnam War wound down.
In its large-scale rejection of the revolutionary role of cultural transformation, the BPP was not only distancing itself from revolutionary practice, but from the core of the black nationalist movement itself (Van Deburg 1992, p. 176), including the arguments of the father of the “revolutionary black nationalism” that the BPP extolled, Malcolm X (as noted in chapter 1). While clearly aware of these precursors, too often the BPP operated as if they were oblivious to them. Later, Cleaver (1974, pp. 75–79), a chief antagonist of “cultural nationalists,” acknowledged as much. In addition, as noted above, Fanon (1968, pp. 245–248), one of the patron saints of the BPP, also noted the significance of culture in revolution, and Cabral (1973) made pointed arguments on the subject, arguing that within culture is found the seed of opposition that leads to the fashioning of the liberation movement. The heavy rhetoric of the times made a meaningful discussion of these issues difficult at best and “counterrevolutionary” at worst. A superficial reading of Mao and the influence of the White Left (many of whom would later become some of the most truculent and self-serving critics of the BPP and the broader BPM) led the formerly nationalist BPP to embrace an almost “cultureless leftism” that even led some prominent members, such as Chief of Staff David Hilliard and Masai Hewitt, to reject, at one time, the teaching of Black Studies (Draper, 1970, pp. 105–106).
The transformative power of the BPP was not in taking up the gun—blacks had a long history of armed resistance up to that time, including fighting a revolution for their freedom during the U.S. Civil War. The transformative power on the individual level was to be found in the fusion of activism and political education, that is, not only in providing the community with patrols, but just as much in the provision of the survival programs, which served as incipient parallel institutions showing the community what revolutionists could provide for them even when the state would not. Through the survival programs, the BPP was actually “returning to the fold” of black nationalist organizing, which followed Malcolm’s OAAU in focusing on the development of parallel institutions that would raise the contradictions of the provision of services by dedicated black revolutionists who staffed these institutions and the absence of such service delivery by the government agencies mandated to provide them. For the BPP, Newton (1995, p. 104) saw the survival programs also as a key organizing tool whose impact would help revolutionize the mostly poor black recipients of the services. In 1971, he noted that the BPP
recognized that in order to bring the people to the level of consciousness where they would seize the time, it would be necessary to serve their interests in survival by developing programs which would help them to meet their daily needs. For a long time we have had such programs not only for survival but for organizational purposes. . . . All these programs satisfy the deep needs of the community but they are not solutions to our problems. That is why we call them survival programs, meaning survival pending revolution. . . . So the survival programs are not answers or solutions, but they will help us to organize the community around a true analysis and understanding of their situation. When consciousness and understanding is raised to a high level then the community will seize the time and deliver themselves from the boot of their oppressors. (ibid., p. 104)
Importantly, the survival programs were also intended to develop the revolutionary consciousness among some of the petit bourgeois owners of local businesses who would be encouraged and/or coerced to help support them. Newton recognized that the need for money to finance the survival programs led the BPP to initially seek support from “wealthy White philanthropists, humanitarians, and heirs to the corporate monopolies,” which he came to view as contradictory since the BPP blanketly condemned the “small victimized Black capitalists in our communities” (ibid., p. 105). To address this error, the BPP began to differentiate the petit bourgeois black owners of local businesses who might serve the community from the corporate bourgeoisie that maintained the “capitalist empire,” following the logic and published work of both Cruse and Haywood, though acknowledging neither.33 He pointed out that
we recognize that the small Black capitalist in our communities has the potential to contribute to the building of the machine which will serve the true interests of the people and end all exploitation. By increasing the positive qualities of the Black capitalist we may be able to bring about a non-antagonistic solution of his contradiction with the community, while at the same time heightening the oppressed community’s contradiction with the large corporate capitalist empire. This will intensify the antagonistic contradiction between the oppressed community and the empire; and by heightening that contradiction there will subsequently be a violent transformation of the corporate empire. We will do this through our survival programs which have the interest of the community at heart. (Newton, 1995, p. 105)
In Newton’s view, the survival programs could help revolutionize both those who were recipients of the services of the survival programs and the black businesses that helped support them. He was also convinced that the success of these programs would enable the BPP to influence local elections by mobilizing those served by, and associated with, the survival programs to support or withdraw support from candidates for local office. In this electoral capacity, the BPP could function as a political machine and acquire control of Oakland’s municipal government. This would be attempted in 1973, following a successful voter registration drive in 1972 in which the BPP added thousands of new voters to the rolls, as the BPP ran Chairman Bobby Seale and Central Committee member Elaine Brown for the offices of mayor and city councilperson of Oakland, respectively. Seale surprised many observers by coming in second place, forcing a runoff election in which he lost to the incumbent. Four years later, the BPP, under the leadership of Brown, played a major role in electing Lionel Wilson as the first African American mayor of Oakland.
Instead of leveraging their electoral success, the return of Newton from exile in Cuba to face murder and assault charges disoriented the BPP and undermined its ability to build on its remarkable electoral victory in Oakland. Newton’s return was marked by his descent into drug abuse and his often megalomaniacal, murderous mismanagement of the BPP, which led to internecine conflicts and the departure of Brown, which, following Seale’s exit in 1974, left the BPP without the two main architects of its successful electoral strategy. Moreover, Newton’s preoccupation with controling the “illegal capitalist” trade in Oakland (i.e., drugs, prostitution, and gambling) took whatever was left of his once considerable talents in a direction that could not be reconciled with successfully lobbying a sitting mayor, or even the maintenance of the BPP as a working organization, much less a revolutionary one. With Newton’s return, the BPP imploded and could not exercise influence over the mayor whose election the Party, in Newton’s absence, had contributed to significantly.
As for the survival programs, for BPP members and participants the service to the community that they provided had the potential to transform people of all classes from poor children to college students to gang members, and no less importantly, BPP members’ participation in the survival programs was often transformative for them as well. The Oakland leadership, security elements, exiles, and many members of the underground, largely out of touch with the day to day operation of these programs, lacked the opportunity to be transformed by this reorienting of values that the survival programs were providing. Moreover, as these programs, in Oakland at least, came to be extortionist plans and strongarming attempts they lost their capacity to transform folk; instead, they simply legitimized the latent lumpenism within the BPP and reduced the organization’s capacity to substantively transform itself or the larger black community (Henderson, 1997).
To their credit, notable Panther leaders—prominently, those in Chicago, New York, and Detroit—resisted some of the worst of Oakland’s practices and oriented their chapters in ways more consistent with the ideals outlined in the ten-point platform, often undertaking important initiatives either more fully or well before they became the focus of the Oakland leadership. For example, Fred Hampton, Illinois BPP Deputy Chairman, resisted the adoption of some of the worst aspects of lumpenism, and instead worked to organize truces and political alliances among gangs in Chicago, including the Blackstone Rangers and the Black Disciples. The impact of Hampton, Yvonne King, Lynn French, Akua Njeri (aka Deborah Johnson), among others, challenged important aspects of sexism in the Illinois chapter, and chapter members, led by Deputy Minister of Health “Doc” Satchell and dedicated members such as Wanda Ross, promoted the survival programs often in more consistent ways than those operating on the West Coast (Henderson, 2013a). Similarly, the New York BPP chapter challenged some of the most egregious policies emanating from the West Coast leadership, and often took African names and maintained supportive relationships with RAM. The Detroit BPP was closely associated with the LRBW, the RNA, and RAM-affiliated groups such as UHURU, and with these influences focused more on community-building initiatives, landlord-tenant struggles, Black Studies programs, as well as survival programs.
In fact, probably more than any of the Panther initiatives it was the survival programs that had the capacity to generate the transformative change the BPP sought, and to that extent, Newton was right in his assessment in 1971. The contradictions raised by the provision of these “poor people’s programs” by black revolutionists to communities that the state largely ignored, except for the provision of police that acted more like an occupying army than public servants (or even professional peace officers), provided a liminal space in which the outward demonstration of respect for the human decency of vulnerable black people by servicing their material needs simultaneously encouraged a cultural reorientation for participants, which when facilitated by political education allowed for the political transformation envisioned by the BPP. Given the prevalence of women in the survival programs where much of the transformative capacity of the Party was actualized, by suppressing women’s leadership the BPP undermined the effectiveness of those within the Party who probably were best equipped to formulate and execute the transformative agenda that the BPP sought to create and institutionalize. In this way, sexism undermined the Party’s ability to realize its programmatic objectives; thus, it was not only morally odious; it was politically debilitating. The BPP was hardly alone among BPM organizations—or those of the White Left or the CRM—in failing to appreciate the latter.
The BPP’s difficult task of organizing the lumpenproletariat for revolution in the United States was complicated further by its attempt to draw on myriad models of revolution from abroad when black Americans required an example consistent with their experiences at home. Newton (1967) seemed to understand this as early as his “The Correct Handling of a Revolution,” and expanded on it in his intercommunalism, but the foreign nature of Marxism to many BPP members, and its strained applicability to the conditions of black America, was exacerbated by Party members’ unfamiliarity with black American revolutionary history. Former BPP/BLA member Assata Shakur concurred that the “basic problem” was that the BPP “had no systematic approach to political education.”
They were reading the Red Book but didn’t know who Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, and Nat Turner were. They talked about intercommunalism. . . . A whole lot of them barely understood any kind of history, Black, African or otherwise. . . . That was the main reason many Party members . . . underestimated the need to unite with other Black organizations and to struggle around various community issues. (Shakur, 1987, p. 221)
This failure to unite with progressive elements in the black community was underscored by the BPP’s alliances with nonblack groups outside of the black community—primarily SDS and other white leftists in the antiwar movement.34 However, the white antiwar movement had no coherent ideology, nor much stomach for revolution, either cultural or political. The White Left seemed less intent on revolt and more on keeping its followers out of Vietnam, as well as keeping its antiracist activism outside of white communities where it was as needed as it was neglected by them.35 Not surprisingly, BPP alliances with these leftists dried up as the war wound down. Further, the antagonistic language of Marxism-Leninism, vanguardism, and the cult of personality allowed for purges and the excommunication of individuals and families in a manner unforeseen in the black liberation movement community. BPP practices such as the use of the bullwhip for punishment—in arrogant indifference to its resonance with the lash of slavery—and the wholesale attack on spirituality were so far removed from black American cultural preferences that it was sure to engender disenchantment with the BPP in black communities that might otherwise have provided sanctuary and support.
Meanwhile, a prime locus of antagonism for the Panthers and others in the BPM between “revolutionary” nationalists and “cultural” nationalists was more apparent than real. There is considerable convergence between these two perspectives for black Americans, in practice if not philosophically. For example, Assata Shakur (1987, p. 242) summarizes the shortfalls of the BPP in that “[o]n the whole, we were weak, inexperienced, disorganized, and seriously lacking in training.” She is clear that armed struggle could never be successful in itself unless it was wedded to an overall strategy for winning that appreciated political and military dimensions. It was apparent to Shakur (ibid.) that the “most important battle was to help politically mobilize, educate, and organize the masses of Black people and to win their minds and hearts.” This converges with Karenga’s assertion that “[t]he revolution being fought now is a revolution to win the minds of our people. If we fail to win this we cannot wage the violent one” (Halisi & Mtume, 1967, p. 18). A basic problem for Shakur (1987, p. 242) was lack of political education, “an overall ideology and strategy that stem from a scientific analysis of history and present conditions.” Again, her “revolutionary” nationalist critique dovetails with Karenga’s “cultural” nationalist admonition that blacks “must develop a new plan of revolution for Black people here in America.”36 For Karenga this was kawaida, for Newton it was revolutionary intercommunalism, and there is more confluence between their approaches than either of them was likely to admit. Even Cleaver (1974) eventually argued that a synthesis of revolutionary nationalist and cultural nationalist orientations was possible and had been achieved in the Republic of Congo, which showed how culture and class struggle were dialectically related. Although his familiarity with Congo’s politics was superficial at best (Fila-Bakabadio, 2018), his recognition of the possibility of a synthesis was revelatory given his central role in the Us-BPP dispute.37
Nevertheless, the BPP’s assertion that revolutionary struggle would generate the requisite culture for black Americans was seriously undermined by the persistence of the worst aspects of lumpenism in the organization, which was to be expected absent an immersion in culturally transformative programs and practices. Absent this transformative context, the lumpenproletarians that the BPP exalted as the vanguard of the black revolution resorted to the historic role that Marx, Cruse, and Malcolm, among others, envisioned for them: they became agents of reaction that willfully joined the oppressive apparatus of the state to support counterrevolution. Without a transformation that preceded their involvement in political struggle, the lumpen were as likely to pursue revolution as just another criminal enterprise or another “game” to be “run” on the masses, whom they viewed primarily as “suckers,” “tricks,” or “chumps” to be exploited. Contrary to the BPP’s view that the black lumpenproletariat was detached from the capitalist system and somehow free of its fetters, the lumpen is intimately connected to capitalism through the social welfare and criminal justice systems, and large swaths of it as parasites on the proletariat and the poor, and in its organized form, as territorial, commercial, or corporate gangs (e.g., mafia), parasitical on the petite bourgeoisie as well.38 The source of lumpen work, income, and livelihood is not only the informal sectors such as illegal drugs/alcohol, gambling, prostitution, and loan sharking, but those formal sectors of the capitalist politico-economy that facilitate racketeering, fraud, and extortion. Viewed in this light, the lumpen is not only implicated in capitalism, it is utterly dependent on it.
Some of the worst aspects of lumpenism were implicated in the degree to which members of the BPP killed, tortured, battered, and beat their fellow members in blind deference to their “Supreme Servant” Huey Newton, in a cult of personality several magnitudes larger than that of Karenga. The internal bloodletting was barely exhausted in the mutual destruction of the internecine conflict between supporters of Newton and those of Eldridge Cleaver after their split, and it continued unabated under the “administrative lumpenism” of Elaine Brown’s regime, which occassioned, condoned, and employed physical attacks and even murder against BPP members, affiliates, and community members in order to prepare a pathway for the return of Newton to Oakland after his exile to escape separate murder and assault charges. The policies of each of these BPP leaders were rooted in a blind, often fanatical, belief in the exactness and infallibility of their assessment of the requirements for revolutionary change and their willingness to employ terrorism against black people, including members of their own organization, to achieve them. A list including Robert Webb, Sam Napier, Fred Bennett, James Carr, Alex Rackley, and Michael Baynham would comprise only some of the BPP members who fell victim to internecine murder, while the victims of internecine violence are too numerous to list.39 Panther murder victims such as seventeen-year-old Kathleen Smith are marginalized by Newton apologists such as Elaine Brown (1992, p. 356), who rarely acknowledges Smith’s murder by Newton without reference to her, who was a child, as a “prostitute,” as if this justifies her killing (a crime for which Newton was acquitted after witnesses failed to appear in court).40 If Smith was involved in prostitution, she was among the lumpen that the BPP cast as the vanguard and took pride in claiming they were transforming into revolutionaries.
Just as telling is the selective moral outrage of apologists for BPP lumpenism, who will at once rightfully—and self-righteously—condemn Karenga for his torture conviction, while praising BPP members such as Ericka Huggins, who boiled the water used to torture teenager Alex Rackley over a period of two days before her fellow Panthers Lonnie McLucas and Warren Kimbro killed him and, along with George Sams, dumped his body in a river near New Haven. Yet, Huggins is celebrated among many Panther supporters not only as the widow of John Huggins but as a revolutionary feminist in her own right. New York BPP member Jamal Joseph, convicted with three other Panthers in a case related to the torture and killing of Sam Napier, circulation manager of the BPP newspaper and a Newton supporter, is a full professor and former chair of Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division, an Academy Award nominee, and the artistic director of Harlem’s New Heritage Theatre Group. BPP leaders such as Elaine Brown and David Hilliard, implicated in their own words in an array of crimes, or self-confessed murderers such as Florestan Forbes, seem to escape censure from many Marxist leftists who are indefatigable in their critique of non-Marxist black nationalists but are remarkably unaffected by their implication in crimes against fellow BPP members, other activists, or random black citizens, and have even published books about their crimes as BPP members (e.g., Brown, 1992; Forbes, 2006; Hilliard, 1993; Joseph, 2012). None of this approaches the extent to which crimes committed by white activists are ignored, dismissed, or minimized and to which they become exculpated, in some cases attaining very public and privileged positions. This is evident especially among members of SDS and the Weathermen, including Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Mark Rudd, Kathy Boudin, Susan Rosenberg, and Eleanor Raskin, who all became professors at universities or colleges years after the BPM, while former members of the BPP and BLA, whom they once promoted as the “vanguard of the revolution,” have languished in captivity for decades as political prisoners. For example, Ruchell Magee has been in prison almost a half a century since his 1970 capture during the Marin County Courthouse shootout in California involving the attempt to free BPP Field Marshall George Jackson, and the Soledad Brothers—the case that brought Angela Davis to national attention; and New York BPP member Jalil Muntaquin for nearly as long since his capture in 1971 at age 19 in the police shooting that became known as the “New York 3”case. Former Philadelphia BPP member, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz has been imprisoned since 1972. New York BPP member Sundiata Acoli has been in captivity since 1973. Philadelphia Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal has been imprisoned since 1981—much of it on death row. New York BPP and BLA member Assata Shakur has been in exile in Cuba for more than 30 years since her escape from prison in 1979. Nehanda Abiodun, former RNA and BLA, died in Cuba after several decades in exile. Former BPP (and RAM and RNA) member Mutulu Shakur, godfather of rapper Tupac Shakur, has been imprisoned for more than three decades as well. Nevertheless, the BPP’s elevation of lumpenism swiftly became a celebration of it, which in some quarters among African American activists and commentators still persists today.
With respect to black cultural revolution, it is fair to say that beyond an instrumentalist orientation toward culture, the BPP did not appreciate the necessity for cultural transformation in the movement; therefore, they did not pose a specific thesis on cultural revolution. Nonetheless, it would be inaccurate to say that they denigrated black culture itself; instead, they denigrated non-Marxist versions of what they considered cultural nationalism and the cultural nationalists they associated with it, even within the BPP itself. At the same time, they elevated the subculture of the lumpenproletariat, and as detrimental as that turned out to be for their specific organization, its value was in challenging the class hegemony of the black petite bourgeoisie while simultaneously challenging the vanguard status of the black proletariat. In so doing, their thesis recognized the diversity and fluidity of black revolutionary theory. Moreover, even with respect to culture, given the BPP’s embrace of elements of lumpen culture—both in its aesthetic and institutional forms—their activism was at least consistent with, if not consciously reflective of, Locke’s thesis, which argued against placing hegemonic strictures on the expressions of black culture, even those that might promote what appear as unflattering aspects of the black experience, because what might be viewed as retrograde in one context or aspect might be progressive in another.41 Notwithstanding that theoretical confluence with Locke, on the whole, the BPP’s approach to culture was more consistent with that espoused by Boggs than by Locke’s. Unfortunately, this view that a revolutionary culture would be generated by revolution itself remains a prominent perspective among revolutionists in the United States.
The analyses of RAM, Us, and the BPP highlight the challenges and opportunities of key organizations in the BPM to devise revolutionary theory to guide their programs and priorities. They drew theoretical and programmatic inspiration from Malcolm X’s black nationalism and his thesis on black revolution, but they each had difficulty articulating a coherent theory of black revolution applicable to U.S. society. These problems emanated in part from failures to address shortcomings of Malcolm’s thesis, especially its reverse civilizationism. As a result, the major activists/theorists of these influential BPM organizations seemed to misunderstand important aspects of the development of African American culture and its relationship to revolutionary change. This was rooted in a broader misunderstanding of the relationship between black national development in contrast to that of other nationalities, and its unique role in American development. Black national development took the form of internal imperialism, according to Haywood, and domestic colonialism, according to Cruse. A key aspect of social change in such a context, as Locke highlighted it, was the wedding of black culture to the self-determination claims of blacks in the political and economic spheres to create racial democracy, thus liberating blacks from racial oppression, fundamentally transforming the white supremacist United States, and in this way completing the bourgeois revolution of the U.S. Civil War as Haywood and Cruse characterized it by extending it fully into the political, economic, cultural, and racial dimensions. Influenced by Malcolm’s reverse civilizationism, BPM organizations, often inadvertently, were led to incorporate unworkable “third world” models of revolution (e.g., RAM) or devise dubious traditional African forms (e.g., Us), both cultural dead ends in terms of the likelihood of their adoption by large numbers of blacks, especially in the critical movement areas of the U.S. South and even more so in highly urbanized areas of black concentration throughout the North and West; or they rejected cultural revolution arguments wholesale, adopting the view that their revolutionary activism itself would generate the requisite culture (e.g., the BPP). Each seemed to misunderstand the evolution of the black culture that they sought to revolutionize. Among the central disagreements were those related to the role of culture in revolution, the type of culture that would facilitate revolution, and the relationship between cultural and political revolution in the United States. Although seemingly aware of Cruse’s argument on the centrality of cultural revolution to African American national development, they often operated as if they were not.
Reverse civilizationism drew their focus away from the revolutionary praxis of African Americans that preceded and should have informed their theses on black revolution in the United States during the BPM. These problems were largely attributable to a failure to appreciate the centrality of the one revolution that probably had the greatest salience for their own: the Slave Revolution of the Civil War. Although the Civil War occurred a century prior to the CRM, its relevance to 1960s activists was fourfold: (1) it occurred in the United States; (2) it involved the same or similar protagonists; (3) it occurred in the context of a sectarian crisis, one even greater than the dissension regarding the ongoing Vietnam War; and most importantly, (4) it succeeded in overthowing chattel slavery and the CSA and in so doing beginning the transformation of the United States into a multiracial democracy, albeit it a very short-lived one. One of the important lessons from the Slave Revolution was the role of religiously inspired black workers—similar to Malcolm personally, and to the grassroots to whom he ascribed so much revolutionary potential—who were essential to its success. In contrast, the major BPM revolutionists associated with RAM, Us, and the BPP rejected black Christianity.
Reverse civilizationism also affected their discernment of the salience of culture in revolutionary struggle in other ways. In particular, it contributed to the logically confused, ahistorical, misleading, and often self-serving bifurcation of “revolutionary” nationalists and “cultural” nationalists. To refer to the black nationalism of this era—or to black nationalists—as “cultural nationalists” is redundant at best. Since Du Bois, black nationalism in the United States, which both sides of this false dichotomy supported, was black cultural nationalism, that is, a nationalism rooted in identification with an affirming African American culture. In their public pronouncements, documents, and programs, both the revolutionary and the cultural nationalists of the BPM examined in this work advocated political revolution. Therefore, the adjective revolutionary was as redundant as cultural with respect to much of the activist black nationalism of the BPM.42 A more meaningful distinction could be drawn between those black activists who wedded their political support of nationalism to an advocacy of Marxism and its privileging of class struggle as the key axis for understanding the black liberation struggle in the United States and those whose advocacy of nationalism reflected their privileging of the liberation struggle of African Americans conceived primarily as a black nation comprised of several classes battling a white imperial nation that dominated the United States and subjugated the black nation as a domestic colony. Such distinctions led to dramatic differences in interpretations of elements of Malcolm’s thesis, especially the role of culture in revolution, as well as the relationship between black cultural and political revolution in the United States.
But even when black revolutionists theorized the salience of black culture in political revolution in the United States during the BPM, they often drew on the domestic colonialism model as the dominant descriptive metaphor of the black American context—even Martin Luther King articulated it at times—and wedded it to a variety of theoretical formulations aimed at organizing revolution to free the black “colony” from its “colonizers” in the manner that had been successful throughout the third world. In this way, theses of black cultural revolution grafted more from African, Asian, Caribbean, and even Latin American modalities, while largely ignoring the peculiar trajectory of black political development in the United States when formulating theses of social change. This was exacerbated in those prominent instances in which activists/theorists explicated domestic colonialism through neo-Marxist formulations, which further reduced the applicability of the models to the historical development of black America. One result was that many domestic colonialism theorists adopted rural, agricultural, and communal African precepts and practices to a predominately urban, industrial, and cosmopolitan African American context, in a process exacerbated by reverse civilizationism. Not surprisingly, even as they advocated black cultural revolution they had difficulty integrating the major black cultural institution, the Black Church, into their theoretical arguments, and often simply remained in confrontation with it. This was doubly ironic given the black nationalist origins of the Black Church as well as the reality that it was becoming increasingly an urban metropolitan and cosmopolitan institution whose activist bona fides had been buttressed by the CRM and whose members’ political efficacy had been heightened, making them much more open to further activist mobilization that appealed to them as congregants. Moreover, theorists of cultural revolution failed to confront adequately—if at all—the major contradiction within black communities between black cultural practice and the sociopolitical transformation that they sought, namely, sexism.
For RAM, Us, and the BPP, although their common theoretical core was shaped by their understanding of Malcolm’s revolutionary thesis and each accepted, to varying degrees, Haywood’s Black Belt thesis in their conception of a black nation in a quasi-colonial relationship with the white supremacist American state—although Us rejected Marxism but eventually adopted socialism—their differing perspectives reflected in large part the tension among Cruse’s, Haywood’s, and Boggs’s perspectives on the role of culture in black revolutionary struggle. For example, RAM, true to its institutional origins as a group initially drawn to Cruse’s theoretical arguments but also one whose leadership and membership were mentored by Boggs, who once served on its executive board, embraced aspects of both Cruse’s and Boggs’s theses. Us’s kawaida was nominally sympathetic to Cruse’s orientation given its centering on cultural revolution, sans its reverse civilizationist focus on “traditional African” rather than African American culture, and its lack of emphasis on capturing the cultural apparatus of the United States as a focus of black cultural change. The BPP’s orientation was more consistent with Boggs’s disposition toward black culture, and later Haywood’s Leninist approaches, at least rhetorically, but practically, it was opposed to the latter’s focus on the proletariat as the vanguard, opting for a Maoist orientation for the American revolution it envisaged. Nonetheless, the divergent arguments of these revolutionary groups continued to influence the BPM as subsequent organizations drew on them to help guide the revolution they sought. This is evident among influential organizations such as the RNA, the LRBW, CAP, and the Shrine of the Black Madonna. In the next chapter, we turn to an analysis of the revolutionary theses of the RNA and the League, before discussing CAP and the Shrine in chapter 8.
1. RAM was more a “low profile”—to use Ernest Allen’s term—than an underground organization.
2. Vitalis (2013) provides a critical assessment of this rather common but misleading association of Bandung with the nonaligned movement and a broader fusion of antiracism in a kind of Third Worldism/or third world internationalism. Also see Kahin (1956).
3. This was owed to RAM’s favoring Mao in the “Sino-Soviet Split”; and RAM’s rejection of the USSR’s “peaceful coexistence” with the capitalist West (see World Black Revolution, pp. 12–13).
4. RAM’s twelve-point program would be modified somewhat from its original 1964 version through the 1969 decimation of the organization, but mainly as a reflection of changing emphasis rather than broader theoretic and programmatic orientations.
5. Ahmad (2007, 112) and conversations with Muhammad Ahmad. This is also evident from the reading lists in the earliest editions of RAM’s Black America and Revolutionary Nationalist.
6. Vesey’s revolt sought coordination with President Boyer of Haiti, not Toussaint L’Ouverture.
7. The Turner revolt did not involve hundreds of slaves (see Greenberg, 2003; Henderson, 2015, pp. 205–207).
8. Stanford argued that “[a]ll AfroAmericans must begin to think like guerilla fighters” (p. 1).
9. Following the BPM, Stanford (1986, p. 199) noted a “major flaw” in RAM’s “inability to perceive, until 1968, that the nature of the black liberation struggle in the United States would be protracted. Had the leadership of RAM understood protracted warfare, it would never had projected the theory of a ‘90-day’ war of liberation.” By no later than 1967, Williams (1967, p. 15) situated the “90 days” in a protracted framework, arguing that only after “[a] few years of violent, sporadic and highly destructive uprisings” would the stage be “properly set, through protracted struggle” and “America could be brought to her knees in 90 days of highly organized fierce fighting, sabotage and a massive firestorm.”
10. The persistence of such misunderstandings well after the end of the BPM is apparent in Stanford’s (1986, p. 72) reporting of Williams’s praise of Giap’s prosecution of Tet, citing this as support for a similar strategy in the BPM. While Tet was a propaganda victory for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) it was a military defeat—a strategic and tactical miscalculation of the NVA, which Giap may have opposed (Pribbenow, 2008). It failed because it violated the principle of mass, underestimated U.S. ability to deploy forces across an extended front, and failed to generate the uprisings in the South that it sought. Tet decimated the NLF’s fighting capacity in the South that it had spent decades building, yet BPM revolutionists perpetuate a view of Tet as a military rather than a political victory.
11. Williams’s argument—adopted by RAM—that the proximity of blacks to whites in the United States was an impediment to whites employing their most destructive weapons against black revolutionaries is as accurate as it is irrelevant. Blacks, as a racial minority, are easily differentiated from whites and isolated, and their concentration in the Black Belt made this even less difficult.
12. RAM made specific pleas to black troops in Vietnam, such as in its 1965 “Message from RAM (Revolutionary Action Movement) the Black Liberation Front of the U.S.A. to Afro-Americans in the United States Racist Imperialist Army” (Stanford, 1986, 212).
13. Brown (2003) capitalizes “Us,” as “US.”
14. In the SNCC newspaper The Movement, Terence Cannon (1966, p. 2) reports from an evening patrolling with the CAP on July 1, 1966, in South Central Los Angeles that the lead car had affixed to its bumper “a black panther with the slogan ‘We’re the Greatest.’ ” This was almost a year after the CAP began, yet still before the BPP was founded in Oakland in October 1966.
15. While admonishing “protest” art, Neal (1989, 64) viewed “the motive behind the black aesthetic” as “destruction of the white thing . . . white ideas, and white ways of looking at the world.”
17. Mazrui (1986, p. 14) notes that the colonial period was so brief that “[w]hen Jomo Kenyatta was born, Kenya was not yet a crown colony”; yet he “lived right through the period of British rule and outlasted British rule by fifteen years.” He asks, “[i]f the entire period of colonialism could be compressed into the life span of a single individual, how deep was the impact?” (p. 14). In contrast, slavery was hardly episodic—it was clearly epic, in Mazrui’s terms—its impact was not only enduring but defining. The presence of conflicting views on the impact of African colonialism as compared to American slavery suggests another divergence of the African and American contexts.
18. For Bunche (1941, p. 63), the importance of irua to Gikuyu is not only circumcision, “but the entire process of initiation and teaching” that is the basis of “important age-groups.” They view “any effort to modify [irua] as a vital attack upon the foundations of their society” that “would bring about the collapse of the age-group structure and hence of the social stability of the tribe.”
19. Kenyan Luo, the group from which Barack Obama is descended, do not practice circumcision.
20. Malinowski, who wrote the introduction to Facing Mount Kenya, “was as scathing of Nordic supremacist theories as he was of ideas of race equality,” and his 1931 “A Plea for an Effective Colour Bar” rationalized support for the “colour bar” (Furedi, 1998, p. 93).
21. Ranger subsequently modified some of these claims, but others, such as Berman and Mamdani, would make arguments consistent with Ranger’s earlier insights.
22. Probably the best brief treatment of the UCLA shootout is in Brown (2002, pp. 91–99).
23. Given that the internal calendar of Us projected 1971 as the Year of the Guerrillas (Brown, 2003, p. 90) and suggested major uprisings throughout the United States in that year, it is unlikely Karenga appreciated the time and effort needed to organize the uprisings the BPM revolutionists envisioned.
24. On The Lumpen, see Vincent (2013); also, Elaine Brown recorded a musical album with Motown entitled Elaine Brown: Until We’re Free.
25. The final point (# 10) of the original BPP platform of 1966 advocates, “as our major political objective, a United Nations-supervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony.”
26. See Huey Newton’s “To the Republic of New Africa: September 13, 1969,” in Newton (1995).
27. Brown (2003, p. 114) adds that this view permeated the party and is reflected in the BPP’s “most elaborate statement on the subject by Linda Harrison entitled ‘On Cultural Nationalism.’ ”
28. According to Kathleen Cleaver (2001, p. 125), Matilaba (aka Tarika Lewis), one of the earliest women members of the BPP, also published drawings in the BPP newspaper along with Douglas. Teemer (aka Akinsanya Kambon) was another prominent BPP artist.
29. Bukhari (2010, p. 56) concludes: “Thus, there were three basic evils that had to be confronted: male chauvinism, female passivity, and ultrafemininity (the ‘I’m only a woman’ syndrome).”
30. These changes were motivated not only by Brown’s superficial and often selective feminism but by the Party’s turn to local electoral politics and the decorum that participation in such a forum necessitates.
31. In this practice, the BPP was not unlike other leftist organizations such as the major white leftist organization, SDS (see Barber, 2008).
32. Alkebulan (2007, 123) notes that the Son of Man Temple was the BPP’s “church in Oakland,” “a place of worship” intended to show “how a church should be involved in the community.” It sponsored survival programs and was a forum for community organizers and speakers (p. 123).
33. Huey Newton (1995, pp. 105–106) stated that “[w]e now see the Black capitalist as having a similar relationship to the Black community as the national (native) bourgeoisie have to the people in national wars of decolonization,” which is similar to the claims of both Cruse and Haywood (among others).
34. Unlike that in the BPP, SDS’ lumpenism was motivated by its white revolutionists’ privileged view of their “role” in the movements of the 1960s, which led the group to bestow leadership on itself and vanguardism on its preferred black group(s) (declaring that it was the BPP), its advocacy of wanton and fruitless violence by its white members, which often led to brutal recriminations by police on blacks such as resulted from the “Days of Rage” in Chicago, which led to police reprisals against Chicago’s black communities after the white radicals left town, scorching the political climate prior to the police murder of Illinois BPP leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. SDS’ internecine conflicts on the issue of its use of violence resulted in its members blowing themselves up in the detonation of their “bomb factory” in New York, which killed Diane Oughtton, Terry Robbins, and Ted Gold. Upon transforming into the Weathermen/Weather Underground, Bernadine Dohrn endorsed Charles Manson’s white racist-inspired attack of “pigs” in the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders. Sexism, epitomized in the policies and statements of leaders such as Mark Rudd, was rampant in the group as well (see Barber, 2008).
35. Notwithstanding prominent individual examples such as Bob Zellner and Marilyn Buck.
36. Assata Shakur (1987, p. 267) asserts that “without a truly internationalist component nationalism was reactionary,” but this is ahistorical with respect to the development of black nationalism in the United States since it has had an “international” component from its inception, as outlined in chapter 2.
37. Fila-Bakabadio (2018) demonstrates that Cleaver’s understanding of Congolese politics was grossly uninformed and his thesis on the convergence of Congolese Marxism and the BPP’s revolutionism largely incorrect.
38. On the typology of gangs, see Henderson & Leng (1999) and Taylor (1990, 1993).
39. For a discussion of the impact of violence in the BPP, see Curtis Austin (2006).
40. Forbes (2006) admitted to attempted murder of the witness to Newton’s killing of Smith. Elaine Brown characterized Forbes’s book containing his admission as “unadulterated truth” (p. xi).
41. In a recent popular culture example, if we compare the invective directed at the gangsta rap group NWA’s release of “Fuck Tha Police” in 1988—even by activists—to the much greater receptivity for the song among activists in the context of #BLM decades later, one can appreciate Locke’s contention regarding transvaluation and transposition of values.
42. This analysis focuses on activist black nationalist groups of the BPM, so it doesn’t include non-activist groups of the era such as the NOI.