The Revolutionary Communist Tour

The Revolutionary Communist Tour aims to build a communist movement among the people locked on the bottom of society in the current era of Bushite Christian-fascism. Contact us at rc_speaks@yahoo.com, or P.O. Box 941 Knickerbocker Station New York, New York 10002-0900 866-841-9139 x2670

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Still Carrying the Red Book: Reflections on the Black Panther Party (Joe Veale)


October 2001 marked 35 years since the Black Panther Party (BPP) appeared on the scene in Oakland, California. This occasion prompted me to reflect on those intense and wild times. 1 hope to shed some light on the legacy of the BPP and its lessons for a new generation of rebels and revolutionaries today, as we face the challenges of building a powerful movement against the current "open ended" war and police state measures, such as the round-ups of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians.

For a few sweet years in the late '60s and early '70s, the BPP flipped the script on the system. Instead of the system getting away with putting people up against the wall and making us assume the position -the BPP led the people to put the whole white racist power structure up against the wall. The Panthers had taken this vanguard responsibility during a time when the eruption of-the Black Liberation Movement had sent 100 U. S. cities up in flames! It was a time when massive street fighting, rebellion, and a revolutionary movement swept through the ghettoes, barrios, and co11ege campuses.

People were fighting the system and searching for philosophy to guide this fight. In my opinion, the most important thing the BPP picked up in this regard was the little Red Book of Quotations from Mao Tsetung. This book was so popular during the '60s that it outsold the bible around the world! During its revolutionary days, the BPP had - said Mao was the baddest muthafucka on the planet earth. This was the spirit of the times.

The BPP challenged people to face reality that this capitalist-imperialist system cannot be reformed, that it would take an armed revolution to get rid of it. I remember a poster of a BPP rally that a lot of people had on their walls ---it was a picture of clench-fisted Black youth captioned with a quote from Mao that read: "The revolutionary war is a war of the masses. It can only be waged by relying on the masses and mobilizing them." We challenged people to realize that no force is more powerful than the revolutionary spirit of the people. We saw rice farmers in Vietnam ---with straw sandals and a rifle ---kick the ass of the mightiest military power in the world.

"The spirit of the people is greater than the man's technology" was what Huey Newton had said. Panther members went about the work of unlocking and directing this revolutionary spirit.

The BPP boldly and proudly took responsibility to unite the struggles of people in this country with the struggles of our brothers and sisters around the world to "defeat U.S. imperialism and their running dogs!" We felt that Black and other oppressed people were inside the belly of a giant octopus that had its tentacles around the world sucking the blood of people everywhere. To US, for Black people to be free -from being robbed by the capitalists, from racism, from police brutality, from miseducation and unemployment, from being railroaded to prisons -it would take nothing less than a revolution. We argued against those who thought putting some, Black faces in higher places could bring liberation for the people.

The world was in flames and the BPP was on the frontlines trying to fan those flames into a raging revolutionary fire. This inspired thousands of Black youth from the inner cities like myself to become revolutionaries, along with many Puerto Rican, Chicano, Asian, Native American, and white youth.

I recall early discussions and arguments I had with some rank and file Panther members, people I'd known since childhood. They would sit on the steps of my grandmother's house and talk about why I needed to devote my life to revolution, to serve the people. Some time during 1968, they told me I was drafted into the BPP. I moved in with them before making the leap to joining in 1969. Joining meant that I was given a purpose in life for the very first time. Instead of just accepting the hand (from the stacked deck) the system had dealt me, which meant poverty, unemployment, discrimination, hustling on the streets or prison, I had something to live and die for. I could make a difference for oppressed people here and around the world." ~ This was the kind of effect we had on hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life across the U.S. We even touched the hearts and brought out the best in middle class people -- artists like Richard Pryor, MarIon Brando, and Jean Seaberg supported our struggle. All this threatened the status quo and all those who had a stake in stopping the growing revolutionary movement.

This was why the FBI's COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program) along with local police forces were sent to murder Chicago Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. It was why they vamped 500 deep on the L.A. chapter. It was why they set up, tortured, and jailed the New York Panther 21. It was why they had a disinformation campaign to sow lies, distrust, and dissension in the ranks of the BPP and the whole revolutionary movement. They murdered over 28 Panthers, jailed many, many more. Many of these political prisoners are still in prison today, while others are still forced to live outside this country in exile.

It is important to recognize that while we were out front taking political responsibility, we didn't fully understand all that was involved in doing this. This is not surprising. We were just starting out and needed time to sort out the things that would lead us to genuine liberation versus things that would lead us away from it. The ruling class did not give us time. As soon as we stepped out there, they came down on us and came down hard. This is expected. After all, they are oppressors. But this meant the BPP legacy had two sides -- finished and unfinished business.

The BPP not only talked the talk, but walked the walk of revolution. This influenced millions in the same direction, capturing the imagination of a whole generation not just here but around the world. We popularized the need for studying revolutionary theory, like Mao's little Red Book. Some of us began to look to the science of revolution that Mao applied in China -the science we call today Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. This is the revolutionary side of the BPP's legacy.

But there is another side to the legacy of the BPP. Continuing to talk the talk and walk the walk required us to develop correct answers to basic questions and analyze new developments for making revolution in the U.S. Questions that the whole revolutionary movement was up against then. What is a winning strategy that could really defeat a powerful enemy as U.S. imperialism? Who would lead the revolution? Would it be Black people, the lumpen, or would it be the proletariat of all nationalities? What ideology will lead to real liberation -nationalism (Black people first) or internationalism (the oppressed of the world first)? What would the future society look like?

These kinds of questions were a source of struggle among radicals and revolution-aries at the time, including inside the BPP. For a number of reasons, all of which I can't get into here, the BPP did not come up with correct answers to these questions before disbanding as a revolutionary organization in the early '70s. These questions confront a new generation today as they develop resistance and consciousness, and many are looking to the BPP's history for insights. These are questions that some '60s people might be thinking about again, especially with the U.S. govern-ment's new war and repression juggernaut, and the need for a new wave of resistance.

A quick glance at today's world of extreme wealth and poverty shows that revolution is still very much needed. Look at the 5,000 Iraqi kids who die every month because of U.S. sanctions. Look at the African orphans who roam the countryside because whole villages are destroyed by the spread of AIDS, as U.S. drug companies hold medications hostage for the sake of higher profits. Look at the Mexican people slaving in U.S. owned sweatshops making TVs and computers but live in shantytowns without electricity or clean water, their children dying of diseases like cholera. Look inside the U.S. where millions are locked in minimum wage jobs, homeless shelters, housing projects, or prisons. Look at the situation today where one third of Black people are worse off then in 1970. Look at how a woman is a victim of rape or attempted rape every 2 minutes. Look at how since September 11, the U.S. has bombed Afghanistan, unleashed a draconian warfare police state, and openly threatens to use nukes against numerous countries!

When the BPP disbanded, I was in turmoil over whether this murderous system was here to stay and whether there was any hope for revolution. I was imprisoned for 5 years at Leavenworth penitentiary. Ironically, like many others, it was in prison where I got into deep study and debate about revolutionary theory. I am forever grateful to one of the Leavenworth Brothers for introducing me to the RCP's literature. I got deeper into Mao and came to see that he was about more than armed struggle, that he had a whole vision of a totally different society and world. I learned that Mao's approach of "uniting all who can be united" to defeat the enemy was a strategy for revolution which had to be applied to the concrete conditions of the U.S. It was this study of the RCP's line and checking out its revolutionary practice that convinced me to make another leap -- from revolutionary nationalism to revolutionary communism -- adopting the ideology of the have-nots of all nationalities, the ideology of all-the-way revolution that Mao stood for.

For the oppressed here and around the world, the BPP left a lasting legacy of a force right here in the belly of the beast that had stood for revolution. I think upholding this legacy means to grapple with the strengths as well as weaknesses of the BPP, and to work and apply those lessons. I've been involved with that process as part of the RCP for the past 22 years as I continue to organize amongst and "serve the people." The RCP has produced a new Draft Programme that proposes answers to the perplexing problems of the revolutionary process in the U.S. that I mentioned above. I invite all those who want to see change and revolution, whether from back in the day or from the new.

All Power to the People!

Joe Veale
RCP Spokesperson, Los Angeles Branch
joeveale48@hotmail.com.
(310) 719-0985

c/o Libros Revolucion
312 W. 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014

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