“Huey for the Love of the People.”
Dr. Huey P. Newton, the founder of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, CA, began the organization along with Bobby Seale as a body focused on the people, on their defense, and also in their service.
In most media portrayals at the time, black radicals were always described as black militants. And if they were pictured, one saw a young man or woman with a seemingly permanent skall on their face. Huey broke through this media mold by beginning early with the party’s own media: a newsletter made on a mimeograph machine with a picture of a young black man killed by cops in Richmond, CA. I have to ask: does anybody in this audience know what a mimeograph machine even is? If you do, I bet you’re over 50.
What was the point, though? That the people were important, not the party, for party members were taught from the first days of membership that party members were servants of the people. It is in that spirit that we saw party leaders start programs like the free breakfast for children program, the free clothing program, free shoes programs, and free health clinic programs, and the like. Those programs, based in local churches or party offices, served to develop close relationships between the people and the party in a way that has rarely been imitated by radical or revolutionary collectives.
On November 18th, 1972, Huey gave a speech at Boston College. There, he spoke about many of these programs that the party began, telling the audience: “In order to exist, we must survive. Therefore, we need a survival kit, the ten point program. It is necessary for our children to grow up healthy with functional and creative minds. They cannot do this if they do not get the correct nutrition. That is why we have a breakfast program for children. We also have community health programs. We have a busing program. We call it the bus for relatives and parents of prisoners. We realize that the fascist regime that operates the prisons throughout America would like to do their treachery in the dark. But if we get the relatives, parents, and friends to the prisons, they can expose the treachery of the fascists.”
Dr. Huey P. Newton ended his speech by telling the audience that the people make the revolution. What we see here is that the central governing ethos of the party was the survival and well-being of the people. What people? The most oppressed segment of American society: black people, poor people. It is from this community that the party drew its members. It is to this community that the party directed its ten point program. It is for this community that the survival programs were implemented. Whether we use the term “the community” or “the people,” we’re talking about the same entity.
The Black Panther Party went through a number of ideological iterations, from nationalists to internationalists, from Malcolmites to Marxists, from Marxists to Intercommunalists, but the party performed another vital surface, one rarely given credit for, and that’s in the realm of theory. Dr. Huey P. Newton dared to theorize and analyze the world around him and to call that theory Intercommunalism. What does he mean by Intercommunalism? Dr. Newton argued that the party and all phenomena goes through a period and process of transformation based upon the notion of dialectical materialism, and he illustrated this by the initial phase of a party being nationalist to internationalist and beyond. He argued further that the power of the U.S. empire was such that it neutralized and actually negated other nations.
Dr. Newton wrote: “We found that because everything is in a constant state of transformation, because of the development of the mass media, because of the firepower of the imperialists, and because of the fact that the United States is no longer a nation but an empire. Nation could not exist, for they did not have the criteria for nationhood. Their self-determination, economic determination, and cultural determination has been transformed by the imperialists and the ruling circle. They were no longer nations. We found that in order to be internationalist, we had to also be nationalists or at least acknowledge nationhood. Internationalism, if I understand the word, means the interrelationship among a group of nations, but since no nation exists, and since the United States is in fact an empire, it’s impossible for us to be internationalist. These transformations and phenomenon require us to call ourselves Intercommunalists because nations have been transformed into communities of the world.”
That’s the words and ideas of Dr. Huey P. Newton. The value of any theory is not a question about the theorist but how clearly it tracks and predicts reality. In 1972, Huey wrote “The Technology Question” which all but predicted the fold of the Soviet Union. Dr. Newton critiques the late Soviet policy of peaceful coexistence which Newton blamed on an incorrect analysis of the very nature of the imperialists. Huey characterized this idea as a blow to the many countries opposing the empire such as Vietnam. Dr. Newton reasoned that this policy was in fact an admission of Soviet weakness which damaged resistance movements in the so-called third world.
His conclusion is a biting one. He wrote: “With a high quality of Soviet development at a time when the United States was less advanced than it is today, the Russians couldn’t build up the necessary force to oppose imperialism. Now all they can do is whimper like whipped dogs and talk about peaceful coexistence so that they will not be destroyed. This presents the world with a hard fact that the United States is the only state power in the world. Russia has become, like all other nations, no more than a satellite of the United States. American rulers do not care about how much Russians say that they are the Soviets as long as Ford can build its motor company in their territory.”
In late 1991, less than 20 years after he wrote these words, the Soviet Union essentially abolished itself, and Russia began the long track to crony capitalism. Dr. Huey P. Newton, known to history as one of the principle founders of the Black Panther Party. But also one hell of a political theorist.
Thank you for your time. On the MOVE.
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.