By Abayomi Azikiwe Editor, Pan-African News Wire Black August Series No. 2
After 40 years of incarceration the “voice of the voiceless” remains a focus of international attention
Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks at a memorial for Fred Hampton in Philadelphia. Source : commonnotions
During the late 1960s, Mumia Abu-Jamal became a youth activist in the city of Philadelphia where a succession of racist police chiefs engaged in widespread abuse against the African American community.
Philadelphia has a centuries-long history of African self-organization dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the Free African Society, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and other institutions were formed by Richard Allen, Sarah Allen and Absalom Jones.
During mid-19th century, the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society provided avenues for men and women to build support for the Underground Railroad and the movement to completely eradicate involuntary servitude in the antebellum border and deep southern states. By the 1960s, the city became known as one of the first municipalities where African Americans would rise up in rebellion on the north side during the late August 1964.
Max Stanford (later known as Muhammad Ahmed), a co-founder of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) in 1962, was from Philadelphia. RAM proceeded the Black Panther Party (BPP) and sought to form an alliance with Malcolm X (also known as El Hajj Malik Shabazz), a leading spokesman for the Nation of Islam and later the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). RAM advocated for the development of a revolutionary movement in the U.S. and consequently became a target of the Justice Department.
In 1969, Mumia joined the Black Panther Party at the age of 15 when the organization was deemed by the then Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) J. Edgar Hoover as the “greatest threat to national security” in the United States. The Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) had a special division which was designed to monitor, disrupt, imprison and kill various leaders and members of African American organizations from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the BPP as well as a host of other tendencies. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since the mid-to-late 1970s indicate that the BPP was a principal target of the U.S. government and local police agencies.
Why was the BPP considered so dangerous by the leading law-enforcement agency inside the country? In order to provide answers to this question it must be remembered that between 1955 and 1970, the African American people led a struggle for civil rights and self-determination which impacted broad segments of the population in the U.S. helping to spawn movements within other oppressed communities.
The Black Panther Party was first formed in Lowndes County Alabama in 1965. Its origins grew out of the organizing work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), whose field organizer, Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) was deployed to the area in the aftermath of the Selma to Montgomery march in late March of the same year. Working in conjunction with local activists, an independent political party was formed known as the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The group utilized the black panther as its symbol while rejecting both the Republican and Democratic Party.
In subsequent months, there were other Black Panther organizations formed in several cities including Detroit, Cleveland, New York City and other urban areas. In Oakland, California during October of 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
This movement represented an emerging phase of the Black liberation struggle where there were calls for armed self-defense, mass rebellion and the political takeovers of major municipalities by those who had been excluded from the reins of official power. Thousands of African American youth flocked to the Black Panther Party viewing the organization as a symbol of uncompromising resistance to racism, national oppression and economic exploitation.
Mumia and the BPP
Although the BPP was projected in the national corporate media as gun toting militants willing to use weapons against the police when they were threatening the Party and the community, most of the work of the organization revolved around distribution of its weekly newspaper, the establishment of free breakfast programs for children, community health clinics for the people in the most oppressed areas of the African American community while building alliances with revolutionary forces among other sectors of the population including, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans and whites committed to fundamental change within U.S. society.
Mumia noted the diversity of programmatic work during his tenure in the BPP of the late 1960s and early 1970s in his book entitled “We Want Freedom”: “As the Breakfast program succeeded so did the Party, and its popularity fueled our growth across the country. Along with the growth of the Party came an increase in the number of community programs undertaken by the Party. By 1971, the Party had embarked on ten distinctive community programs, described by Newton as survival programs. What did he mean by this term? We called them survival programs pending revolution. They were designed to help the people survive until their consciousness is raised, which is only the first step in the revolution to produce a new America.… During a flood the raft is a life-saving device, but it is only a means of getting to higher ground. So, too, with survival programs, which are emergency services. In themselves they do not change social conditions, but they are life-saving vehicles until conditions change.” (https://www.commonnotions.org/blog/tag/Mumia+Abu-Jamal)
On December 4, 1969, the Chicago police under the aegis of the Illinois State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan and the Chicago field office of the FBI, raided the residence of BPP members on the city’s west side. Two Panther leaders, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed while several other occupants of the house were wounded.
These police actions along with hundreds of other attacks on BPP chapters across the country resulted in the deaths of many Panther members and the arrests and framing of hundreds of cadres. Numerous BPP members were driven into exile as others were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
The Voice of the Voiceless from the Streets to Death Row
On December 9, 1981, Mumia was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with the murder of white police officer Daniel Faulkner. He was railroaded through the courts and convicted on July 3, 1982. The following year, Mumia was sentenced to die by capital punishment. He remained on death row until 2011 after an international campaign to save his life proved successful.
However, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole. Mumia and his supporters have maintained that he is not guilty of the crime of killing a police officer.
After his sojourn in the BPP, Mumia utilized his writing and journalist skills learned in the Party to become a formidable media personality in Philadelphia. He was a fierce critic of police brutality and a defender of the revolutionary MOVE organization which emerged during the 1970s in the city.
Mumia was a co-founder of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in the 1970s. He worked as a radio broadcaster and writer exposing the misconduct of the police surrounding the attack on the MOVE residence in August 1978. In 1979, he interviewed reggae superstar Bob Marley when he visited Philadelphia for a concert performance.
While behind bars Mumia has become an even more prolific writer and broadcast journalist. He issues weekly commentaries through Prison Radio where he discusses a myriad of topics including African American history, international affairs, political economy, the deplorable conditions existing among the more than two million people incarcerated in the U.S. along with police misconduct. (https://www.prisonradio.org/correspondent/mumia-abu-jamal/)
A renewed campaign entitled “Love Not Phear” held demonstrations around the U.S. and the world during the weekend of July 3 marking the 40th anniversary of his unjust conviction in 1982. Love Not Phear says that it is committed to the liberation of all political prisoners including Mumia Abu-Jamal.
An entry on their website emphasizes that: “The landscape has changed over the last 40 years, a time frame that also marks the years Mumia has been incarcerated. The fight for the release of political prisoners requires a recalibration in order to challenge police corruption and racism as they have evolved in this new landscape. We cannot deny the racism, corruption, and misconduct that permeated the so-called ‘Halls of Justice’ during Mumia’s arrest and unjust kangaroo court trial. The people today know the truth; commonplace bribed witnesses, suppressed evidence, biased judges, and backroom deals put Mumia behind bars.” (https://lovenotphear.com/)
Mumia through his attorneys have filed another appeal based upon evidence related to prosecutorial misconduct which has been further revealed over the last four years. The hearing will take place on October 19 in Philadelphia. Supporters of Mumia and other political prisoners will attend the hearing in this latest attempt to win the long-awaited freedom for this activist who is now 68 years old
New Jersey’s highest court on Tuesday ordered the parole of one of New Jersey’s most high-profile prisoners, Sundiata Acoli, the Black Liberation Army activist convicted for the 1973 murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster.
In a narrow 3-2 vote, the state Supreme Court reversed a decision by the state parole board denying Acoli parole, ruling there was not “substantial credible evidence” to support the board’s findings that his release presented a danger to the public.
“In light of Acoli’s verbal renunciation of violence as an acceptable way to achieve social change; more than two decades infraction-free in the federal prison system; the multitude of programs and counseling sessions he completed; his honor status as an inmate; his acquisition of vocational skills; and his advanced age, it is difficult to imagine what else might have persuaded the board that Acoli did not present a substantial likelihood to reoffend,” Justice Barry Albin wrote for the majority.
The gun battle on the New Jersey Turnpike in which Foerster was killed remains one of the most infamous cases in the Garden State over the last half century and Acoli’s parole petition has been closely monitored by both the law enforcement community and a network of supporters who say Acoli has repaid his debt to society.
The state had denied parole eight times over the course of decades, finding Acoli lacked remorse for the killing because, under questioning at his last hearing, Acoli posited that Foerster could have been killed by “friendly fire” in a lengthy interview.
Acoli’s supporters said he’s an 85-year-old grandfather with dementia, a “model prisoner” who poses no risk to the public.
While he has apologized for his role in Foerster’s murder, Acoli, formerly known as Clark Edward Squire, has claimed he was grazed by a bullet and blacked out during the shootout, and couldn’t remember the exact sequence of events.
It remains an open question who actually fired upon the trooper.
Acoli was in a car with Assata Shakur, then known Joanne Chesimard, when they and another passenger, James Costen, were pulled over for a busted taillight in 1973. Somehow, the routine stop turned into a gunfight that left Costen and Foerster dead and another state trooper, James Harper, wounded.
Shakur and Acoli were both convicted for Foerster’s murder, although Shakur escaped to Cuba, where she remains one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives to this day. Acoli, meanwhile, has served the intervening decades in prison.
“He has lived in one of the worst environments in the world for 40 years without a single offense,” Bruce Afran, a civil rights lawyer who has taken up Acoli’s cause, said during oral arguments in January.
The state Attorney General’s Office had opposed Acoli’s release, saying he has not demonstrated remorse.
“Despite him saying he’d accepted responsibility and understanding, when pushed with what happens, he goes to blaming the victims here, the officers,” assistant attorney general Stephanie Cohen said during oral arguments earlier this year.
Advocates said Acoli, who first became eligible for parole in 1993, has been repeatedly denied parole because he was convicted of murdering a state trooper, which tarred his efforts at parole.
Under the law that was in effect when Acoli was sentenced, he is technically eligible for parole, but the state parole board ruled in 2017 that he showed a lack of remorse and remained too dangerous for release.
New Jersey State Police Trooper Werner Foerster’s funeral in 1973.
Mark Clark, who served as a defense captain for the Illinois Black Panther Party, was just 22 years old when he and Fred Hampton, deputy chair of the Illinois Black Panther Party, were assassinated in a raid coordinated by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Chicago police, and the FBI.
Clark and 21-year-old Hampton were gunned down by 14 police officers as they lie sleeping in Hampton’s apartment in Chicago, Illinois, in the early morning hours of December 4, 1969. About a hundred bullets were fired in what police described as a gun battle with members of the Black Panther Party.
But ballistics experts later found that only one of those bullets came from the side of the Panthers. The raid was also later found to be part of COINTELPRO, a secret FBI program whose purpose, as stated by one FBI document, was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of Black nationalist hate type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership and supporters.
The Black Panther Party, a creation of Huey Newton and fellow student Bobby Seale, insisted on a Black nationalist response to racial discrimination. The party’s Illinois chapter was being headed by Hampton when he was killed by authorities thanks to the information provided by FBI informant William O’Neal. Then a petty criminal, O’Neal infiltrated the party and provided the FBI with a floor plan of the Chicago apartment where Hampton and Clark were assassinated in 1969.
Much has been written about Hampton, including his charisma, leadership skills and intelligence but Clark, who died with him during the raid, is rarely talked about. As a matter of fact, when Chicago Police stormed into Hampton’s apartment, Clark was the first to be murdered. A bullet hit him in the heart and he died instantly.
Who was Clark?
He was born in Peoria, Illinois, on June 28, 1947. Clark became a member of the local NAACP chapter when he was 15 and later formed the Peoria chapter of the Black Panther Party. Clark also started the first free breakfast program for Peoria youth.
“He was very active in political things. Really just the fight against racism,” Gloria Clark-Jackson said of her brother when she published a book about him entitled, Mark Clark: Soul of a Black Panther in September 2020.
Clark and his siblings were brought up as Christians. His father, Elder William Clark, was a pastor and the founder of Holy Temple Church of God and Christ that can still be found on Webster and McBean on Peoria’s South Side.
“It was ironic that we were always taught to treat people right, but we weren’t always treated the same way, as people of color,” Clark-Jackson, who is a retired nurse, told WCBU.
Clark, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. and could call for order when older persons could not, attended Manual High School and then went to Illinois Central Junior College in Peoria. But he could not complete his graduation. Apparently, he liked to learn but didn’t like school. “Most of his knowledge came from his own efforts,” his sister Elner said in an interview.
Described as a “thinker” and a “quiet leader”, Clark suddenly passed away in the early morning hours of December 4, 1969, when Chicago Police stormed Hampton’s apartment where he was. Deborah Johnson, Hampton’s fiancée, later recounted what happened.
“I remember it like it was yesterday. The police knocked on the door (around 4.35 am) and Defense Captain Mark Clark (who headed up the Black Panther’s Peoria chapter) answered the door by saying, ‘Who is it?’ The police said, ‘Tommy.’ And Mark responded, ‘Tommy who?’ Then the police responded back, ‘Tommy gun.’ After that, the police kicked in the front door and started shooting. And Mark was killed instantly.”
Reports said that when Clark was shot in the heart, his shotgun fired as a reflexive convulsion. That was the only shot the Panthers fired as compared to about a hundred bullets from the cops.
“He had a feeling for people and placed them above himself,” a close friend said of Clark after his murder.
Clark-Jackson, who shares her brother’s story in her book, was also a member of the Black Panther Party under Clark’s leadership. She told WCBU that she will never forget the determined, serious look that took over her brother’s face the day he recruited her into the Black Panther Party.
“I will never forget the words he spoke that still reverberate in my mind. His message is as clear today as it was then: ‘There are many who will talk about the injustice in this country, but only a few will do something about it. Which one are you?’”
The city of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government reached a settlement with Clark’s and Hampton’s survivors in the early 1980s. FBI informant O’Neal was hated by some and commended by others as his role in the 1969 raid that killed Hampton and Clark became known. And many believe that his guilt over his role as an FBI informant led to his death in 1990. O’Neal apparently walked in front of a speeding car which struck and killed him. His death was ruled a suicide.
The Supreme Court is declining to take the case of former Black Panthers leader H. Rap Brown, in prison on charges of killing a Georgia sheriff’s deputy in 2000 and considered by many to be a political prisoner.
Brown argued that his constitutional rights were violated at trial and sought his release, AP reported.
Now going by the name Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, Brown, 75, was a prominent Black Panthers leader in the 1960s and had also been the chairman of the organizations’ Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
In 2002, Brown was convicted of murder in the 2000 killing of Fulton County sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Kinchen and the wounding of Kinchen’s partner, Deputy Aldranon English. Brown was sentenced to life in prison.
In his request to the Supreme Court, he had argued that a prosecutor violated his right not to testify by directly questioning him during closing arguments. Brown’s lawyers argued that the trial judge should have allowed them to question an FBI agent who was present at his arrest about another incident involving the agent.
Brown’s appeal made it to the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court rejected his attempt to challenge his imprisonment in 2019.
Police said Brown shot Kinchen and English on March 16, 2000 when they went to serve a warrant fpr his arrest for failure to appear in court on charges of driving a stolen car and impersonating a police officer during a traffic stop. Brown had been living in Atlanta, where he was a religious leader and owned a grocery store.
After the shooting, Brown was arrested four days later in White Hall, Alabama, a small town where he had helped develop a Muslim community.
It’s been a long legal battle for Brown. In September 2107, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg found that the “prosecutor violated Al-Amin’s constitutional right not to testify and that the trial court’s attempt to mitigate the prosecutor’s violation was insufficient and may have actually been harmful,” ABC News reported.
But she rejected his challenge to his imprisonment, as the violation did not affect the jury’s decision.
Brown supporters went to Twitter to speak out about the decision. One tweeted, “Listen to this bullshit: ‘A prosecutor violated the constitutional rights of 1960s black militant formerly known as #HRapBrown during his trial, but it’s unlikely that substantially affected the verdict, a federal appeals court found.’”
Following the decision, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit agreed with Totenberg’s findings that the prosecutor committed a substantial constitutional error.
But they too agreed it’s unlikely that this substantially affected the jury’s verdict.
“We regret that we cannot provide Mr. Al-Amin relief in the face of the prosecutorial misconduct that occurred at his trial. A prosecutor’s duty in a criminal proceeding is not to secure a conviction by any means, but to ensure that justice will prevail,” Circuit Judge Charles Wilson wrote in the opinion. “The prosecutor at Al-Amin’s trial failed to live up to that duty.”
In the late 1960s,he was tried on federal charges of inciting a riot and carrying a gun across state lines. During his trial, he disappeared and was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. In 1971 after being arrested for armed robbery in Manhattan, he served five years in Attica State Prison.
While in prison, he converted to Islam and changed his name. He became a Muslim spiritual leader and community activist preaching against drugs and gambling in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood.
A secret 1967 FBI memo that called for “neutralizing” Brown was later leaked. It revealed that he was targeted by the COINTELPRO program, according to Wikipedia.
One of the books Boke Saisi most enjoys sharing with her students at the University of California at San Diego, is bell hooks’ “Where We Stand: Class Matters.” Saisi is a PhD candidate who contributed a column to Black Agenda Report’s feature, “Books I Teach.” The chapter “Being Rich” is especially useful in showing how “racism and racist caste systems are inherent parts of the capitalist system,” said Saisi.
Kevin “Rashid” Johnson & the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter
In 1990, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson was a drug dealer, an ambitious member of amerika’s Black lumpen proletariat, or underclass. Like so many, as a young adult he was arrested and received a lengthy prison sentence. He has been incarcerated ever since – for the past eighteen years in conditions of solitary confinement.
As Rashid has written, “Because I accepted my lifestyle and all of its consequences, I was always reluctant to involve my family or others on the outside of prison in my conflicts with the pigs. I dealt with my own problems–directly.”
In 1993, Rashid was transferred to Greenville prison. As he has written:
What I was to encounter at Greensville defied anything that I’d expected. The pigs had a refined system and license for brutalizing prisoners. I was not to understand the magnitude of the situation until a few days after being there. The pigs had a tier of handpicked proxy prisoners, whom they used to violently suppress those who got out of line. The ringleader – I’ll call him Pumpkin – was a career con with a reputation for butchering other prisoners. He had a trustee job (all trustees were similarly selected). Pumpkin was allowed by the pigs to keep weapons on his person. Part of the mental terror game was that while he was out cleaning (everyone knew he was a pig hit man and stayed armed), the pigs would bring others out around him in handcuffs (segregation prisoners must be handcuffed from behind when outside their cells, unless they have a trustee job, or are locked inside an exercise yard or shower stall). The she-pigs (guards and nurses) were the tools used to sic Pumpkin on others. He regarded and jealously guarded these she-pigs like actual mates, whereas all they did for him was bring him bubble gum, watch him masturbate in their presence and flirt with him.
The setup game usually went like this: one of their she-dogs would provoke an argument with the target (refuse him something he was due, etc.). She’d then report to Pumpkin that the target had “disrespected’ her, or any of many other claims. Pumpkin would then come to the target’s cell and start a hostile verbal exchange, send a challenge via third-party message, etc. Once the conflict was established, the pigs would move the target into the tier with Pumpkin and his cronies – the entire tier rode with him. The pigs would thoroughly search the target’s property for weapons before moving him, to ensure that he had no means of defense. Once assigned to a cell on Pumpkin’s tier, the target was fair game. If he was stouthearted, he’d stand his ground. The next day or so the pigs would put them on the exercise yard together, remove everyone’s handcuffs except the target’s (they’d put five to seven prisoners in each pen), and allow them to mob attack the still handcuffed target. Or if they wanted him butchered, he’d be unhandcuffed and left to contend unarmed against a knife-wielding Pumpkin.
Rashid took the lead in organizing and waging war against the “Pumpkin” and his goon squad, and the guards who were giving the orders to dole out abuse as well. Not only did this force Pumpkin’s crew to back down and sue for peace, but it brought about some limited reforms at Greenville itself, though it also led to Rashid’s being transfered again, and to the beginning of what would be 18 years (and counting) in “segregation”:
On account of the systematic attacks on the pigs at the height of their abuses, the DOC’s internal affairs office decided to get involved in investigating the years of prisoner complaints of brutality in the unit. In their efforts to neutralize our responses, the internal affairs unit ended up having a dozen pigs criminally prosecuted for brutality and using other prisoners to enter prisoners’ cells and attack them – once allowing a prisoner to use riot gear. Two pigs were ultimately convicted. Pumpkin was also prosecuted and convicted for an incident where the pigs opened another prisoner’s cell, allowing him to ambush him. The prisoner was stabbed multiple times. Pumpkin’s trustee job was immediately terminated under the backlash of this incident. […] Several weeks later I was transferred back to Mecklenburg prison, returning to the scene of past abuses […]
During my stay at Mecklenburg, one of the ranking pigs, who were instrumental in torturing me with the freezing strip cell treatment, was ambushed. On this occasion I’d been strapped to the bunk by the pigs. In order for a prisoner to receive meals and toilet breaks while strapped down, the pigs must come to his cell, remove the chains and straps and handcuff him. They will leave the cell, close the door, and remove the cuffs through a hatch in the door. However, during this 1994 episode, when the pigs came in to release me for a toilet break, the claim is that I’d gotten out of the restraints and was lying on the bunk under a blanket as though still strapped down. When the ranking pig and two others moved to lift the blanket, I allegedly rose up, with weapon in hand, and attacked. Two of them (the ranking pig included) received multiple stab wounds, and the third pig received a cracked jaw. This incident, in its obvious preplanning and execution, left the pigs in such a quandary that no retribution followed. Indeed, I was several days later transferred to Buckingham and quickly released into the general population.
By this time it was realized that I was not insane at all, but calculating and determined. While prison administrators and those who proposed to “study” me from a distance put forward the fiction that I was inclined to “unprovoked” violence against the pigs, the pigs who dealt with me on a day-to-day basis knew, very clearly, that any violence from me was always in response to their own acts of violence or abuse of me or my peers. As long as the pigs remembered this, things went well, but there was always some lone pig with a cowboy complex who had to test his hand, and I’d answer it. The majority of the pigs at Buckingham didn’t want me in the population walking about. They therefore attempted several times through trumped-up reports to have me returned to segregation. On the last occasion that this was done, I was charged with being in an “unauthorized area” of the prison. The pigs waited until I’d locked into the cell at count time to come and lock me up in segregation. I refused to go peacefully. One pig threatened that if I didn’t, I’d receive a severe “ass-whipping.” In response I agreed to walk peacefully to segregation. When the pigs opened the cell door to escort me out, the threatening pig received a nose broken in two places. I’ve been in segregation ever since.
While in segregation, Rashid taught himself law, and began litigating against the prisons. For a period of six years he launched various lawsuits, and at first scored several victories, until he acquired the reputation of being troublemaker with various judges who then sought to shut him out of the courts:
With the added psychological deterrent of litigation, my clashes with the pigs declined somewhat in frequency. They focused primarily on isolating me from others. Their efforts to perpetuate a discontinuity in our unity has been the pigs’ only effective weapon against me. And they’ve admitted in a thousand ways that their greatest fear is ending up with many other prisoners on their hands who think and act as I do. Their isolating me was long a tactic that I could not devise an effective countermeasure against, that is, until after 2001, when I was first exposed to revolutionary theory and have since come to understand the role of ideology. Without a unifying ideology, there can be no unity of struggle. Ideology was something I’d never had, and thus something I could not share. The prisoners who’d united in struggle with me had done so because of me. Not because of a shared principle. Therefore, when I was no longer around, they lost the initiative to struggle on, and the pigs were free to resort to their old oppressive acts.
With the beginnings of my studies in revolutionary history and theory in 2001, litigation and my isolated clashes with the pigs paled in importance. My first exposure to revolutionary ideas came with my meeting Hanif Shabazz-Bey in 2001. Hanif is a political prisoner who is apparently well known within prison movement circles. Upon meeting we developed an instant affinity. He began sending me a variety of publications through which I was first exposed to the works of George Jackson. […]
I became engrossed in acquiring and studying all that George had studied and more, which included the classics and not-so-classics: Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, Karl Marx, Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Che Guevara, Rosa Luxemburg, Harry Magdoff, Paul Sweezy, Albert Szymanski, bell hooks, Cornel West, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Vo Nguyen Giap, etc. I investigated the various revolutionary schools of thought – Communism, Anarchy, New Afrikan Nationalism, Feminism, and other left-leaning theories. I studied military thinkers and military history, sociology and history, political science, economic theories (left and right), revolutionary history, etc. and I am still studying, refining my views, and testing them in practice.
The more I studied, reflected, practiced, and drew insight from my own practical experiences, the more it all fell together, so clear and obvious. As my conceptualizations developed, I wrote a few essays, usually at others’ requests, (my ideas were still forming, some I could not clearly articulate, so I adopted terms, thoughts, and ideas. But it was all quickly coming together.) I could see where the failures and successes had occurred in various anti-colonial, class, anti-racist, feminist, and anti-imperialist struggles. And I could see where the failure to apply the scientific Marxist approach to the study and practice of resisting oppressive conditions (Historical and Dialectical Materialism) resulted in failed idealist attempts to make the desired social changes. […]
I still endure repression at the hands of the pigs, as do my peers. I still take a principled stand against this repression. But above all else, I am working on bringing my peers into a principled ideological and political consciousness that will give them discipline and a cause to struggle for, while simultaneously imparting to them the correct methods of mass based struggle. The pigs’ response continues to be to isolate me. Their violence has proven futile. Even in this most totalitarian of environments, innovation and relentless commitment to an ideal has proven, to my satisfaction, that the oppressive institutions are not invulnerable. Fear is our greatest hindrance. Fear and half measures. They can isolate me, but they cannot isolate an ideal.
In the mid-2000s, Rashid took up an illicit correspendence with another revolutionary held at the same supermax prison as him, but in general population. Messages were smuggled back and forth between segregation and general pop for several months. This correspondence, in which Rashid and “Outlaw” discuss revolutionary theory and practice, the challenges of dealing with other less committed prisoners, reactionaries, and snitches, and the question of how to best organize behind bars, has been collected together and is available now in the book Defying the Tomb, published by Kersplebedeb in 2010.
As well as Rashid and Outlaw’s letters, Defying the Tomb contains several essays by Rashid, a foreword by Russell “Maroon” Shoats, a foreword and afterword by Tom Big Warrior, and an afterword by Sundiata Acoli. (The quotes above are from Rashid’s autobiographical sketch, also included in the book.)
A few months after Outlaw and Rashid exchanged the last letters included in this book, Comrade Shaka Sankofa Zulu and Rashid came together to found the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC). The NABPP-PC has since developed branches in various prisons across the u$ empire and has its own newsletter, Right On!
Many of the thoughts and ideas that went into the formation of the NABPP-PC and its mass organization, the New Afrikan Service Organization, can be seen in their developmental stages in these letter exchanges with Outlaw.
Right On! is published by Rising Sun Press, are several other newsletters promoting Marxism-Leninism, with a focus on national liberation and the prison struggle. A collection of these newsletters from the period of 2005 to 2008 have been made available as an anthology. These were scanned in by some comrades, and are being made available for free download with permission from the publisher. Just click on the image to the right, or right here.
I’ve been an avid reader since the days of my toddlerhood, when mom used to put books and magazines in my playpen. I was the kid with a library card dragging home a backpack filled with sci-fi, mysteries, poetry and biographies. In high school I couldn’t play basketball, but was chosen “Biggest Reader” by the yearbook committee. While I would grow-up to become a journalist and critic, in 2018 I began writing a book column called The Blacklist for Catapult. My mission was to spotlight subjects that were less known than the regular canon; and I’ve also profiled out-of-print or forgotten Black authors for The Paris Review and Longreads. When AFROPUNK asked me to compile a list of revolutionary Black reads, I followed the same guidelines, wanting to present to the audience authors or books that were unfamiliar, but radical.
Charlotte Carter’s Walking Bones, is a chilling New York City noir novel of fatal attraction, edgy sexuality and Manhattan cool. Telling the twisted tale of a relationship between a Black former model named Nettie and her crazy relationship with Caucasian businessman Albert Press, who falls in love with her after she smashes a glass in his face. Author Carter is known for her jazz detective series featuring Nanette Hayes (Rhode Island Red), but the gloomy black cloud fiction of Walking Bones was something completely different for the author. Citing 1980s writer Nettie Jones’ erotic novel Fish Tales as inspiration, Walking Bones is a story that lingers in your mind long after you’ve finished the book.
Toni Morrison is best known as the writer of literary masterworks,The Bluest Eye and Beloved, but her work as a Random House editor during the 1970s and early ‘80s should not be discounted. During her stint at the publishing company, Morrison introduced the world to numerous writers, including Gayl Jones (Corregidora), Henry Dumas (Ark of Bones and Other Stories) and Nettie Jones (Fish Tales). Still, it was the non-fiction collection she helped edit, The Black Book, that would become one of her biggest sellers. Serving as an early guide through African-American history, The Black Book was originally published in 1974. The groundbreaking book is full of photos, files and documents that NPR described as “a scrapbook to the African-American experience.”
Virtuoso writer Edward P. Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for his first and only novel, 2003’s The Known World, but he is also one of the best living short story writers in America as proven by his second collection, All Aunt Hagar’s Children (2006). The book’s fourteen stories take place in the author’s native Washington, D.C., where he still lives, and depicts the complex lives of regular folks just trying to make it through the bullshit obstacles and dire dangers of the world. Jones’ style is beautiful, lush and, as in the stand-out story “A Rich Man,” packs a novel’s worth of ideas into its short form.
There was a “once upon a time” when Harlem native Samuel R. Delany was the only Black (professional) science fiction writer. In addition to his own innovative novels — including Nova and the massive 1975 classic Dhalgren — he was one of Octavia Butler’s writing teachers. Although Delany has written everything from comic books to scholarly essays to prize winning short stories, it’s his moving 1988 memoir, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village, 1957-1965, that I’ve revisited more than any the other text. Detailing his early years as a brainetic but dyslexic student at the Bronx High School of Science, then his life as a married but also gay, bohemian sci-fi writer in New York’s bohemian Greenwich Village, Delany weaves a splendid narrative that serves as the perfect introduction to his genius.
There are some who only know the late Ntozake Shange as the author behind For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, a stage-piece that became a Tony Awards-nominated play, but she was also a respected poet and novelist who wrote in a jazzy style that could be as wild and free as a John Coltrane solo. My introduction to her work was finding the brilliant collection nappy edges (1978) on my mama’s bookcase when I was a teenager. Whether riffing about men, music or misery, Shange’s writing in Nappy Edges was quite moving and would become a major influence for many post-Black Arts Movement scribes.
When I was a young music critic coming of age, a friend introduced me to the work of bell hooks, and her smart, sharp and often snide writing changed the way I thought about feminist theory, personal essays and cultural criticism. Serious without being pretentious, hooks has also been quite prolific, as she turned out memoirs (Bone Black, Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life) and stellar essay collections that included the brilliant, Art on My Mind: Visual Politics. In that book, hooks dived deep into the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Carrie Mae Weems and Emma Amos, and crafts a must-read text for anyone interested in Black art and artists.
Beginning in the early 1960s there was an influx of Black writers living in the Bay Area that included novelist Ishmael Reed, poet David Henderson and Al Young, who switched literary forms depending on his mood. The Mississippi native moved to Oakland in 1961, and wrote a trunk-full of poems, novels, film scripts and short stories, his style inspired by the music he loved, which included everything from Mozart to Mingus to Motown. In the 1980s, Young penned several musical memoirs including Bodies & Soul (1981), Kinds of Blue (1984) and Things Ain’t What They Used to Be (1986) that used the songs of Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin and the Supremes, among others, to jump-start his memories. As Publishers Weekly proclaimed, “Young’s exuberant essays are imaginative and lyrical paeans to the magical powers of both language and music.”
Back when alternative newspapers mattered, NYC’s Village Voice was the leader of the pack. In the 1980s, music editor Robert Christgau was determined to make the arts section diverse, and began publishing the works of still-relevant Black writers like Nelson George, Carol Cooper, Barry Michael Cooper, Joan Morgan, dream hampton and the brotha of the moment Greg Tate. Calling himself Ironman, his work was riotous like Sly Stone on speed, as Tate pioneered what we now call “hip-hop journalism,” with early pieces on De La Soul and Public Enemy, while also writing about Mile Davis, William Gibson, George Clinton and AR Kane. His first collection Flyboy in the Buttermilk serves as the perfect Yellow Brick Road to ease on into Tate’s written work. (For his music, check in on Burnt Sugar Arkestra, which played AFROPUNK Brooklyn in 2019.)
When writer Bridgett M. Davis was working on her now acclaimed memoir The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, we spoke about the work of author Louise Meriwether, whose stirring novel Daddy Was a Number Runner served as her inspiration. Published in 1970, it is the tale of 12‐year‐old Francie Coffin who lives in 1930s Harlem amongst the tenement tribes of strugglers, hustlers and ordinary people on the verge of explosion. However, Meriwether refused for her protagonist to become a victim of ghetto misery. Fellow novelist Pauline Marshall wrote in her New York Times review, “The novel’s greatest achievement lies in the strong sense of Black life that it conveys; the vitality and force behind the despair. It celebrates the positive values of the Black experience: the tenderness and love that often underlie the abrasive surface of relationships.”
Brian Greene contributed a wonderful essay on little known novelist Robert Deane Pharr to the recently released collection, Sticking It To The Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980. Although Pharr launched his writing career as a novelist with The Book of Numbers (1969) when he was already a fifty-three-years-old, it was his autobiographical follow-up, S.R.O., that remains a favorite. A sorrowful novel that takes place at a Harlem single-room occupancy hotel, the S.R.O. was the true heart of darkness where drug addicts, drunks, whores, thieves and other losers disappeared from the world. Pharr writes about the ugly beauty of the S.R.O. with both disgust and passion.
Last month, five days after the former police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced in the fatal shooting of Botham Jean, an unarmed twenty-six-year-old black man, whom she shot in his home, and five days before Atatiana Jefferson, a twenty-eight-year-old black woman, was killed in her home by the police officer Aaron Dean, “Queen & Slim” began previews in a small theatre just off Bryant Park. The film is the product of the vision of two black women: Lena Waithe, who wrote it, and Melina Matsoukas, who directed it. (Waithe and James Frey, the shamed memoirist, collaborated on the story.) It means something that a movie that was conceived years ago could land so squarely in the midst of dual tempests involving firearms, police, and black people whose lives expired violently, prematurely, at the hands of white people who were sworn to protect them. The fact that both Jean and Jefferson were at home when they were killed underscores a central conceit of the film: that a system capable of dispensing such arbitrary deaths cannot be trusted in any context, least of all to administer justice on behalf of those whom it also victimizes.
The recognition of this fact changes the implications of the story that Waithe and Matsoukas tell with this film: about a couple on a first date who kill a police officer in self-defense, and their subsequent life as fugitives. Early buzz around the movie pegged it as a “Bonnie and Clyde” tale for the Black Lives Matter set, but that would be an entirely different film from “Queen & Slim.” “Bonnie and Clyde” is the story of two outlaws who are fleeing justice; “Queen & Slim” is a meditation on a system of justice that treats innocent people as outlaws. This is not a novel undertaking. It’s hard to overlook, for instance, that this movie arrives in theatres in the same year as the thirtieth anniversary of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.”
That film follows the events of a single day in Bedford-Stuyvesant and culminates in the death of a neighborhood fixture named Radio Raheem, at the hands of the N.Y.P.D. In 2014, in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death from a choke hold administered by a New York City police officer, Lee spliced together video from Garner’s and Raheem’s deaths, one cinematic, one chaotically real, both somehow true—a diptych of life and art relaying the same subject matter. As I wrote at the time, however, Lee conceived of the Radio Raheem scene after the death of Michael Stewart, a black graffiti artist who died in police custody, possibly as the result of a choke hold, in 1983. “Do The Right Thing” was not prescient in forecasting Garner’s death, it was archival in rendering a version of Stewart’s. But eight, years before Stewart’s death, the film “Cornbread, Earl & Me,” which features a fourteen-year-old Laurence Fishburne, tells the story of a rising basketball star, played by Jamaal Wilkes, who is shot by police in a case of mistaken identity, and it shows the ways in which the system protects the officers who killed him. And so it goes, act and depiction, tumbling all the way back to some unknown original insult. The capricious loss of black life is so common a reality as to have inspired an entire body of art addressing its implications.
The story of “Queen & Slim” is propelled by an arbitrary traffic stop, in which a white officer detains a couple, whose names we do not know yet, played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith. When the officer fires his gun to prevent Turner-Smith’s character from recording the incident on her cell phone, we are anticipating a scenario that has become a dispiriting cliché of social injustice, the indefensible but somehow bureaucratically justifiable death of a black civilian. But the gun is wrestled away and goes off during the struggle, killing the officer. The shooting, captured on the squad car’s camera, is a Rorschach test that asks all subsequent characters, and, by extension, the audience, what they see when they look at the incident. The officer himself is like Patient Zero in an outbreak: his actions set in motion the decisions made by everyone else whom Queen and Slim encounter en route to the film’s finale. Each television screen or cell phone upon which the footage plays serves as a kind of exposure to a pathogen, as everyone reacts to a different reading of the situation. Everyone is moral but no one is right.
Matsoukas has touched upon these themes previously. She directed the much-lauded video for Beyoncé’s “Formation,” which was criticized by police groups for provocative imagery of a police car sinking below water in a Hurricane Katrina-like flood. In “Queen & Slim,” the system is inundated by a metaphorical flood. In the opening scene, Turner-Smith and Kaluuya are on an awkward first date. She, we learn, is an attorney whose client was sentenced to death earlier that day. It’s the intimacy of her relationship to the criminal-justice system that makes it all the more damning when she demands that they go on the run rather than attempt to explain to other officers what happened. The hypothetical implicit in the scene itself is: what would have happened if someone like Eric Garner had fought back? What would have happened had Botham Jean or Atatiana Jefferson shot first? And what are the probabilities that anyone fighting back against unsanctioned police violence could be thought of as anything beyond a thug or a murderer by the greater public?
The connections between “Cornbread, Earl & Me” and Michael Stewart and “Do the Right Thing” and Eric Garner form a daisy chain in which the question is less about whether art or life is imitating the other and more about the ways in which art serves as a bridge between tragedies that occur at irregular intervals but with such similarities that they have formed a canon of the wrongly dead. This is part of what makes “Queen & Slim,” such a brilliant, indelible departure, and it’s most of the reason that I continued to think about it obsessively in the weeks after I saw it in that theatre in midtown. There is an accidental homicide, but it is not committed by a police officer. There is no template of bureaucratic responses, no corps of surrogates deployed to dispel the innocence of the victim in the media, no hedging of the deaths with reminders of how dangerous the shooter’s line of work is and what he means to the rest of society.
When the eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was killed by the police officer Darren Wilson, five years ago, in Ferguson, Missouri, the Times ran a piece that led with the description of Brown as “no angel,” to which outraged critics in Ferguson and beyond shouted that they didn’t know he had to be. The system here is no angel. It is the story of two people—a black everyman, played with sublime reserve by Kaluuya, and an attorney who is both sincere and cynical in equal measure, compellingly brought to life by Turner-Smith.
There are a great number of other implications to this story: the brilliant inversion of a slave narrative, in which two people flee from a Northern free state into the Deep South to seek freedom; the thorny and complicated ways in which other African-Americans respond to them en route; a twist in the middle of the film that unsettles any sense of moral simplicity that the viewer might have indulged up to that point. Most provocatively, the incident at the heart of “Queen & Slim” is framed in the context of a May, 1973, incident on the New Jersey Turnpike, in which members of the Black Liberation Army, including Assata Shakur, were involved in a shootout in which the police officer Werner Foerster was killed. Shakur, who is referenced multiple times in the film and serves as a kind of historical inspiration for the decisions Turner-Smith and Kaluuya make after the shooting, escaped from prison, in 1979, and has remained a fugitive in Cuba for nearly four decades. The State of New Jersey and the F.B.I. maintain rewards for her capture; she has been denounced by successive New Jersey governors. At the same time, her memoir, “Assata,” is a mainstay of African-American-studies courses and has remained in print for thirty years.
This is not a divergence in the responses to Shakur; it’s a divergence in people’s views about the credibility of the system that arrested and imprisoned her and of its representative who pulled her over that day. These different points of view are implicit in “Queen & Slim”—it is emphatically told from the vantage point of people with the vindicating view of Shakur. If we’re unaccustomed to grappling with these questions in film, it is because it’s been so long since they were raised. Matsoukas did not create a gangster-moll story for the modern era; she created a blaxploitation movie. The reference is not “Bonnie & Clyde,” it’s “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” Melvin Van Peebles’s indie film, released in 1971, is another audaciously black story that grapples with an African-American who attacks police officers and goes on the run. It, too, was a movie that took its audience’s understanding of systemic injustice as a given. It, too, recalled history, albeit not the strand of it we prefer to highlight in the United States.It was raining the night that I saw “Queen & Slim” and, after the screening, I stood outside the theatre beneath a construction scaffold sorting through the layers of the film. The movie reminded me of a historical reference buried deep in my memory. A hundred and nineteen years ago, a black man named Robert Charles sat with a friend on the steps of a building in New Orleans near where his girlfriend lived, waiting for her to get ready for a date. He was approached by several police officers, one of whom grabbed him. When a fight ensued, Charles fled after he and the officer both opened fire. Police tracked him to his apartment, where he killed two officers. A police manhunt terrorized black communities in New Orleans, but Charles evaded capture for several days, until he was tracked to an empty building, where, in the course of a standoff, he shot more than twenty more white men. The official versions of this story held that the men who set the building on fire and shot Charles as he exited were heroes. Black people chose a different protagonist. The journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett wrote of Charles that “white people of this country may charge that he was a desperado, but to the people of his own race Robert Charles will always be regarded as the hero of New Orleans.” People subject to the same abuses Charles suffered were unconcerned with whether he was an angel. What mattered was the number of white men who would now think twice before trying to pull the same stunt.
“Queen & Slim” is an extrapolation of thoughts that run through the heads of black people each time we’re called upon to mourn publicly, to request justice like supplicants, to comfort ourselves with inert lies about this sort of thing stopping in the near-future. That kind of insular honesty is rare in any kind of art but particularly perilous in cinema. This is a film that stands as strong a chance of being hailed and lauded as it does of being denounced and picketed, but it understands the inescapable fact that heroism is entirely a matter of context, that heroes need not be concerned with explaining themselves, and that it—like the characters at its center, like the history it draws upon—stands a great likelihood of being misunderstood. And, gloriously, neither its writer nor its director appears to give a damn.
The latest from Akashic’s Edge of Sports imprint, curated by Dave Zirin.
In 1968, Wyomia Tyus became the first person ever to win gold medals in the 100-meter sprint in two consecutive Olympic Games, a feat that would not be repeated for twenty years or exceeded for almost fifty. Tigerbelle chronicles Tyus’s journey from her childhood as the daughter of a tenant dairy farmer through her Olympic triumphs to her post-competition struggles to make a way for herself and other female athletes.
The Hidden Figures of sport, Tigerbelle helps to fill the gap currently occupying Black women’s place in American history, providing insight not only on what it takes to be a champion but also on what it means to stake out an identity in an often hostile world. Tyus’s exciting and uplifting story offers inspiration to readers from all walks of life.
With a foreword by MSNBC host Joy Reid, and an afterword by sportswriter Dave Zirin.
Listen to a feature on and interview with Wyomia Tyus at WBUR’s Only A Game.
Read an interview with Edge of Sports imprint curator Dave Zirin at Publishers Weekly.
Rashid: Let me begin with a general outline of what I’m aiming for in this interview. My focus is less on just criticizing the capitalist imperialist system and the innumerable miseries, horrors and conflicts it causes the majority of the world’s people. Instead, I want to propose solutions, and with a particular focus on the role that the political organization I aspire to see develop will play in this struggle. That organization being an intercommunal Black Panther Party, which will include Brown and White Panther formations as arms of the Party, based within all concentrations – especially urbanized – of oppressed and marginalized people the world over.
To this end I’m going to also address some of the erroneous ideas, influences and efforts that I feel have led past and present efforts astray and have held sway, often as a result of our continuing to make accommodations with this oppressive and exploitative system and adopting its values, which has molded our ways of doing things.
In reality the ruling class’s main line of defense is not its police, military, prisons and courts but its ideological influences. It is all the more dangerous when these influences come to guide the movement from within. Independent of COINTELPRO-type countermeasures, those promoting such deviationism within the movement do the most damage; they sabotage and undermine the struggle – and intentions are quite irrelevant.
As Malcolm X observed, when you control the way people think, you control them. You don’t have to tell them to stay in a certain place or not to go beyond certain limits or not to engage with certain people or ideas; they’ll do it automatically. Similarly, Amilcar Cabral recognized that the most effective way to enslave or colonize a people is to infiltrate the enslaver’s values and ways of thinking into the cultural systems of the victimized peoples. Clearly, people across the world have been gripped by capitalist values, and these values have infected the thinking and struggles of those attempting to fight this very system. This needs to be repudiated, and without apology.
There have also been no shortage of critics of the system and those who excel at inciting mass disaffection and outrage, often provoking spontaneous outbursts which are short-lived and often contained and coopted by the enemy establishment. What’s been missing, and is most important, are strategic thinkers and ones with a broad view of the problem, its roots and how the pieces fit together. It goes back to Sun Tzu’s teachings that wars and battles are won or lost before they are even fought. Planning is key. And you’ve got to know who your enemy is and what his strengths and weaknesses are, as well as your own.
The next wave of revolutionary struggle must be organized and prepared. This is what I hope to contribute through this dialogue.
Pan Afrikanism and class struggle
JR Valrey: What is your definition of Pan Afrikanism and how do you deal with the class contradictions within Pan Afrikanism? Also, are you a disciple of W.E.B. DuBois and his talented tenth theory or do you follow the mass line of Marcus Garvey?
Rashid: My take on Pan Afrikanism (which is Revolutionary Pan Afrikanism) is that of a movement to unify Afrika’s people – those on the continent as well as throughout the Diaspora (and of all complexions). For me, this is a more concrete and practical movement than has been conceptualized by others. This Revolutionary Pan Afrikanism (RPA) has its roots, worldview and leadership based not in any elites (or any “Talented Tenth” concept), but rather in the world’s broad masses of exploited, marginalized and oppressed Afrikans – namely, the Afrikan proletariat, peasantry, lumpen, unemployables etc.
But RPA is not an end in itself, it’s a component part of a much larger struggle to not only break free of our living over a century under the yoke of imperialism, which has largely been imposed by Western Europe and Amerika (the “West”), but to completely eradicate this entire global system, which is a struggle that Afrika and her children cannot win alone.
This makes it a class struggle that must be rooted in the proletariat, which is the main exploited class and producer of social wealth under capitalism. The proletariat exists everywhere that capitalism thrives. As such, it has no nationality, no race, no gender etc., and is therefore truly global in its composition and worldview.
Everybody pretty much agrees that Black people were formed into a nation (a New Afrikan nation) in Amerika and that this nation is linked to its African origins. Where it breaks down is that it doesn’t fit the neat definitions on the national question of the past. The reality is more complex than orthodoxy will allow.
This is because New Afrikans are no longer principally a peasant nation tied to sharecropping cotton and are in fact a primarily proletarian nation centered in urban areas. This doesn’t necessarily “liquidate the national question in the U.S.,” but it does tie it more closely to the issue of proletarian revolution.
Instead of struggling to reconstitute the New Afrikan nation as a state in the Black Belt South, the original Black Panther Party correctly looked to New Afrikan self-determination in the communities where Black people were concentrated.
For many New Afrikan/Black nationalists the problem is how can Black people be a nation if they don’t have a significant land base.
As I’ve written in “Black Liberation in the 21st Century” in “Panther Vision: Essential Party Writings and Art of Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson” (Montreal, Quebec: Kersplebedeb, 2015, pp. 200-201): “If we look at the New Afrikan Nation as being part of a greater Pan-Afrikan Nation, inclusive of the peoples of Afrika and the Afrikan Diaspora (as Malcolm X did) and this liberation struggle in the context of world proletarian socialist revolution, then we shall see the issue a bit differently. Then we can also see our struggle within the context of a future socialist Amerika that is multi-ethnic and a strong ally of the oppressed peoples internationally.
“The proletariat fundamentally has no country and seeks to create a world without boundaries or nation states. So to the proletariat, national liberation is not an end in itself but a stage to pass through on the road to World Communism. It is a stepping stone to greater unity and the ending of all oppression. In revolutionary socialist struggle, the principal class alliance has traditionally been that between the proletariat and the peasantry – the two major laboring classes – which is the meaning behind the symbol of the hammer and sickle.”
In the RPA context, the proletariat is largely concentrated in the Diaspora – in the West – where capitalism is most advanced and, not coincidentally, the very societies that have achieved the greatest concentrations of wealth and power exactly because of exploiting and robbing Afrika’s people and resources. On the other hand, the Afrikan peasantry, the least technologically developed class, is largely concentrated on the continent and “underdeveloped” Third World regions. Although there are substantial proletarian pockets across these areas, on account of pockets of developed industries – particularly those relocated from the imperialist centers to take advantage of cheaper labor, fewer environmental regulations, and lack of workers’ unions, protections and benefits. But the proletariat in these regions is a relatively “new” class.
The answer lies in bringing revolutionary Communist ideology to Afrika through a RPA movement. The Nation of Afrikans in Amerika and the West – New Afrikans, being predominantly proletarian in composition – must become the base of proletarian ideology and practice and an inspiration to the Afrikan peasantry.
At the same time New Afrikans must draw from Afrikans the conscious spiritual orientation of the tribal societies that is the source of communal values and Pan Afrikanism. We in the Diaspora must “return to the source” while those on the continent must learn the revolutionary science and the intercommunal and international outlook of the proletariat. The method of revolutionary China under Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s leadership and its peasant movement and struggle for socialism can be applied in an adaptive way.
We need to concentrate and blend the various strains of the Afrikan experience and our adaptations to the Diaspora and cross-cultural and economic exchange into a Pan Afrikan culture and consciousness and productive relations that are rooted in proletarian intercommunalism, internationalism and humanism.
Globally, the fastest growing sub-class is the lumpen proletariat, also the unemployable strata of the proletariat, who are concentrated in and around urban centers: ghettoes, barrios, favelas, shantytowns, refugee camps, tent cities and also prisons. Many of them are peasants displaced by poverty, capital intensive agribusiness, imperialist instigated violence, land theft and so on. These people have fled or been driven into these areas of mass concentration in search of work, safety and survival, much as we New Afrikans/Blacks in Amerika were driven and fled into the U.S. urban centers by racist violence and rural poverty.
These concentrations need revolutionary political organization and resources the most. They are the most desperate, resource deprived, marginalized and insecure.
They are also the least conscious and aware of the cause and nature of their conditions and are prone to the most reactionary and predacious social practices and methods of survival, and to enemy corruption. As such they are the social base of the Intercommunal BPP and United Panther Movement (UPM), which we aim to build everywhere that such people are concentrated, with the aim of politically organizing them, educating them, helping them to meet their own basic needs, and uniting them into a larger United Front Against Imperialism, Racism and Oppression.
We need RPA and Black Panther consciousness to provide Afrika a common language. Afrika needs to be united as a revolutionary socialist republic in order to summon her strength to develop her vast resources and hold her own against imperialist pirates.
A big problem and obstacle has been the “Balkanization” of Afrika and other Third World regions, or the establishment of “national” borders along the very same borders that were set up by the prior European colonizers that divided the continent and Third World into arbitrary zones without regard for the national communities they contained or cut across, and which prevented the unification and consolidation of Afrika’s people, land and resources. This has also been the case with all previously colonized people and is what RPA and building other Pan-blocs (for example, Pan Asian, Pan Amerikan, Pan European etc.) must counter.
One practical step in this direction would be to create a Pan Afrikan passport and get different countries to recognize it. Free travel between states would help break this down and stimulate a sense of unity. For New Afrikans in Europe and the U.S., a Pan Afrikan passport would strengthen our identification with Afrika and sense of independence from Western rule. It would inspire a cultural awakening similar to the era of Afrika’s anti-colonial struggles, which inspired our own liberation struggles in the West during that time.
The imperialist ruling class and its minions moved decisively to destroy that identification, using dual tactics. On the one hand they used repression (outright violence and prisons), and on the other hand they expanded the Black middle – or elite – class (the petty bourgeoisie), and promoted Black capitalism (using a handful of “success” cases) and the “Democratic coalition” as the pretended solution to our suffering – which has still not met our needs nor solved any of our problems, yet we continue to fall for their false promises.
Under proletarian leadership, this RPA and broader struggles aim to unite as many other strata as possible against the imperialist bourgeoisie, while remaining conscious that the interests of these various strata will at certain stages clash. Also, full agreement will often be impossible to achieve. Our aim is to organize the masses stage by stage around their common interests and needs.
Also, as Mao Tse-tung taught us, a matter of first importance is at each stage of revolutionary struggle to make a correct analysis of the class orientation and interests of each strata, to the end of determining who are the real friends and who are the real enemies of the revolutionary forces.
Of particular importance to this unity is our work to build revolutionary bases amongst the urban concentrations, because as Frantz Fanon and Comrade Huey P. Newton recognized, if this strata is not won over to the revolutionary camp, the imperialists will co-opt and use them as a weapon of violent reaction against the revolutionary forces.
But so long as we base ourselves within the masses and remain true to the revolutionary proletarian line, the class struggle will always favor the forces of revolution. This holds no less true in the RPA context.
In fact, Amilcar Cabral, who was a Pan Afrikanist and Afrika’s foremost revolutionary nationalist theorist and leader, pointedly observed that disunity among Afrikans is really a reflection of divisions engendered by their elites. So the error has always been permitting the elite classes and their interests to lead society and social movements.
In Cabral’s own words: “There are no real conflicts between the peoples of Africa. There are only conflicts between their elites. When the people take power into their own hands, as they will with the march of events in this continent, there will remain no great obstacles to effective African solidarity.”
And he wasn’t speaking based on mere speculation or theory, but instead from the experience of leading one of Afrika’s most successful liberation struggles, in Guinea Bissau, where he was able to unite previously divided tribes (Foulas, Mandjaks, Balantes and others) into Afrika’s most formidable revolutionary nationalist struggle. Furthermore, he was able to turn the population and officers of his people’s own colonizers in Portugal against their own ruling class, which nearly caused a popular revolution there as well.
But Cabral was assassinated by Portuguese agents much too early in the stages of the budding Revolutionary Pan Afrikanism (RPA) struggle, which he was part of leading. And lack of a broad proletarian party leadership allowed the elites to seize power from the masses and reverse the course of all-Afrikan unity that Cabral aspired to set in motion.
I don’t think anyone has ever connected the idea that the Afrikan peasantry is there and the proletariat is here in the West, and therefore this is where the ideological center is. We have the resources to pull RPA together. And there’s no shortage of oppressed Black people. In fact our greatest strength is in numbers. We just lack a unifying vision.
According to recent UN tallies, of 43 “least developed” countries, 33 are in Afrika, with most of the rest in Asia and the Pacific. In 29 Afrikan countries, the percentage of people living on less than $2 per day increased from 82 percent in the late 1960s to 87.5 percent during the latter ‘90s. And the numbers living on less than $1 per day rose from 89.6 million to 235.5 million. More recently the figures have been around 300 million desperate poor Black Afrikans and another 200 million or so poor Blacks in the Diaspora.
We can develop a social base of dozens of millions of people. We can build a party of tens of thousands of active members and, if we spread it out, hundreds of thousands.
With a party and base this large, and linked together, RPA will become a living reality and we can effectively conquer divisive elitist class lines. In fact the Panther approach to organizing the masses to meet their own needs and develop revolutionary base areas right where they are – by means of Serve the People programs, where we live amongst them, learn from and teach them, and show them how to solve their own problems collectively – differs fundamentally from the elitist bourgeois approach of merely handing down crumbs as “charity” or “aid,” which only fosters dependence.
We’ve learned from the experience of the original BPP with its Serve the People (STP) programs, that when the pigs tried to turn the people against the Party and its STP programs, it backfired, and ended in fueling their disaffection and disillusionment with the establishment. So the system ended in having to make concessions to the people by implementing free school meals and expanding welfare – which they did in specific response to the BPP’s STP programs – and other free service programs. All of which have been substantially rolled back, making conditions ripe for a resurgence and expansion of STP programs within all the oppressed communities, especially across the impoverished Third World and Afrika.
Pan Afrikanism – successes and failures
JR: After the Afrikan independence movements, what have some of the highlights of the Pan Afrikan movement been?
Rashid: When viewed dispassionately, I think we cannot but agree with Comrade Huey P. Newton that Afrika’s national “independence” movements failed. Not a single one of Afrika’s previously colonized countries gained genuine liberation. Many are more exploited and destabilized now than when they were under colonial rule.
Not only did they form along the same old colonial borders, but every one of them continues to have their resources, land, labor power and overall productive forces dominated and robbed by the West, and now China and Russia are angling for a cut of the wealth. Not one Afrikan country controls its own economy, and the West has a free hand in “intervening” in their internal affairs on every level, especially militarily (which is what U.S. AFRICOM is doing in the interest of giving Amerika the imperialist advantage over the entire continent).
In a 1966 speech he delivered in Havana, Cuba, titled, “The Weapon of Theory,” Amilcar Cabral pointed out that when a people’s productive forces remain dominated by foreign powers, they have not achieved national liberation. That having a flag, an anthem and an administration that merely looks like the native people does not make them a free nation.
The ability to develop their own productive forces free of foreign control is the determining factor of a people’s freedom. Again, none of the previous colonized peoples have won this. Yet, die hard nationalists today refuse to recognize this and that the world’s economies have now been so completely interwoven that no country can exist independently economically; they therefore cling dogmatically to a proven failed strategy.
In fact, these failures of the national liberation struggles, especially the continued Balkanization of Afrika under neo-colonial regimes, has fed the failures of Pan Afrikanism as a strategy. So in light of the nationalist failures, I certainly don’t see any real “highlights” in the Pan Afrikan movement. As said, during the era of those nationalist struggles, there was a strong subjective sense of Afrikan identification. But this passed, in particular because of the success of neo-colonialism, which undermined “liberation” by substituting the European colonizers with dark native faces, who continued to carry out the policies of the West as against their “own” people for a cut of the profits.
Often these were “dark faces in high places” that had been tutored by the West, so you ended up, as I pointed out early on, with folks who think like and share the values of their people’s enemy controlling their struggle. The same occurred here with more Blacks integrated into the middle class and established system, who were then used as proxies of the system to mislead and control the Black masses and “guide” their resistance against oppression into the system’s empty protest channels (the courts, marches, voting and so on), which continues today. Also, the corrupt and incompetent rule that has prevailed in Afrika by the puppet and opportunist regimes propped up by the West, which has left their societies torn by strife, destabilized and impoverished, prompted our loss of pride in Afrika and a general sense of dissociation from anything Afrikan.
The genuine revolutionary lines and forces were also isolated, eliminated and replaced by various revisionist lines and puppets. So the West remained the controlling force across the continent, through the medium of native faces in power.
The OAU and a United States of Afrika
JR: Do you think it was a mistake for Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie and the other fathers of the Organization of African Unity to create the transitional organization versus just creating the United States of Africa immediately? And what do you think of the year-long presidency of Robert Mugabe over the African Union?
Rashid: As for the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), both served as tools of the imperialists and their Afrikan puppets and opportunists to undermine genuine Afrikan liberation.
Through the UN, Amerika posed as an anti-colonial ally of the Afrikan people, calling on the Europeans to voluntarily give up their colonies. But it was a trick aimed to allow power to be handed over “peacefully” to Afrikan puppets and friendly assets who would continue to allow the West, especially Amerika, preferential access to Afrika’s wealth and resources.
In turn, these puppet regimes were allowed to join the UN – in purely nominal roles – as the “recognized” and “legitimate” rulers of the new neo-colonial Afrikan states. But all the while Amerika backed and supplied the Europeans and racist apartheid South Afrika in violently repressing the revolutionary struggles that refused to sell out to them, such as in Guinea Bissau, Angola and Mozambique.
This was why Frantz Fanon recognized that no regime that “accepted” a peaceful transition of power would be allowed to exercise genuine freedom and warned Kwame Nkrumah to not allow the British to “give” Ghana independence, but to “seize it.” But Nkrumah, who literally wrote the book exposing neo-colonialism, didn’t follow this sound advice; instead, he allowed Britain to give political power over to his own regime which had no mass base in Ghana.
The OAU was dominated by Afrikan puppets and opportunists who the West could continue to do business with. In fact, as a counter to all-Afrikan unity, they enacted into the OAU’s founding charter to maintain the old colonial borders as “inviolable” national borders. Nkrumah protested that those borders should be disregarded and that the OAU should be organized as an all-Afrikan organization, but he was outvoted. The OAU was a den of aspiring capitalists and degenerate bureaucrats prompted by self-interest at the expense of Afrika’s suffering masses. The African Union (AU) represents the same class interests today, and Mugabe was a bureaucratic bourgeois nationalist whose class interests as such coincide with the function of the OAU and now the AU.
Before he was overthrown as president of Ghana, in a CIA-orchestrated coup, Nkrumah exposed that the OAU’s so-called “liberation committee” had allocated more money to feather the nests of its staffers than it had given to the national liberation movements it was supposed to be helping to obtain arms and supplies with which to fight the colonial powers.
Like the cultural nationalism of the Panther era, which they called “pork chop nationalism” and which the pigs actively promoted against the revolutionary line of the BPP, and still promote today (then in the form of groups like Ron Karenga’s US organization and today in groups like the so-called New Black Panther Party), Pan Afrikanism as it exists within the advanced capitalist countries where it’s largely based is largely a cultural phenomenon. It principally takes the form of Afrikan “studies,” adopting, glorifying or imitating Afrikan-styled art forms (dance, dress, visual art, theater, names etc.), which contributes in no material way to our struggles to overcome our oppressed conditions, communalize our social relations, or unite Afrikans across lines of tribe, nation, religion, or between the Motherland and Diaspora.
In fact, there’s no real work to unite our terribly divided peoples here. This cultural identification with Afrikan art forms and symbology must be attended by a proletarian culture that will give us a truly global outlook.
The success of neo-colonialism in Afrika was and is also largely due to the failures of the liberation struggles to advance along the socialist path under proletarian leadership following the expulsion of the former colonial powers. The lack of a strong revolutionary proletariat, attended by a weak national bourgeoisie, made it easy to play on tribal divisions and corruptibility of the new regimes and political parties.
The revolutionary movements were besieged, isolated and forced to focus the limited resources of the new states inward to try and develop their economies to meet the basic needs of the society, while surrounded by puppet states and targeted by reactionaries and imperialist agents at every turn. Key revolutionary leaders were assassinated and replaced by their opposites.
The formation of the OAU, a den of aspiring bourgeois opportunists, facilitated this, which only could have been thwarted by uniting the revolutionary forces across the continent into an all-Afrikan Revolutionary Party and People’s Army, as Nkrumah proposed, but failed utterly to apply. Instead he joined the OAU.
Your question on forming the OAU versus immediately creating a United States of Afrika, I think must be looked at differently.
With what Nkrumah understood about neo-colonialism (as noted, he wrote the definitive breakdown of it, which prompted U.S. protest of the publication of his book in 1965 titled, “Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism,” and a CIA-orchestrated coup that overthrew him the next year), and his call for a Pan Afrikan Revolutionary Communist Party and People’s Army, the major mistake was he did the exact opposite of much of what he knew and promoted.
Only after it was too late did he seem to recognize the gravity of his errors. Amilcar Cabral delivered a eulogy at his funeral, in which he told of Nkrumah’s confession to him that he’d made major mistakes and, if he had another chance, he would go about Afrikan liberation differently.
And it wasn’t a mere United States of Afrika that he envisioned but a socialist (not capitalist) continental republic, which I see as still the way forward. Indeed, it would be a Union of Soviet Afrikan Republics (USAR), which we in the Diaspora would also belong to. A Pan Afrikan nation. And it’s quite practical.
In fact, Afrikans in general should see the communities of Afrikans in the Diaspora – and especially in the imperialist countries – as their own, and their great ally in the struggle for Afrikan socialism and unity. Let me add that the West would be only too glad to see a United States of Afrika ruled over by a neo-colonial Afrikan bourgeoisie. This is what we see growing out of AFRICOM, which is deployed in most Afrikan countries and new bases are sprouting like weeds.
Amerika has coopted the concept of a United States of Afrika and is integrating it into its own “new world order.” As a comrade recently shared with me, there’s a U.S. of Afrika public group on Facebook with 38,000 members, right next to the U.S. Afrikan Development Foundation, a government agency created by Barack Obama that matches up U.S. investors with Afrikan entrepreneurs with ideas. Then there are two closed groups called United States of Africa, one with 75,377 members and the other with 15,401 members, and a Lovers of the African Union and the United States of Africa (13,278 members) and Yes We Can: United States of Africa (7,893 members).
The assassination of Qaddafi
JR: What do you think about the recent assassination of African Union leader and founder Muammar Qaddafi of Libya? How did the Pan Afrikan world respond? What do you think about the Pan Afrikan response to Qaddafi’s assassination?
Rashid: Muammar Qaddafi’s assassination was an important element of Amerika’s renewed designs to monopolize Afrika’s vast natural resources – its oil wealth in particular. Libya had Afrika’s only advanced and developed oil producing industry and it sits on an important strategic hub – right on the Mediterranean Sea where three continents join – from which Afrika’s raw wealth can be readily exported abroad to European and Asian markets, which is a key component of AFRICOM. As the late Robert Moeller, then deputy commander of AFRICOM, admitted in 2008, “Protecting the free flow of Africa’s natural resources to the global market is one of AFRICOM’s guiding principles.” Sometimes the imperialist forces are forthright about their aims.
Libya also gives the imperialists access to the whole interior region of Afrika – especially a whole swath of territory dividing North Afrika from Sub Saharan Afrika, which was early on designated by AFRICOM as “the terrorist zone” and includes large portions of Algeria and Libya, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Chad.
They claim the local governments can’t protect these areas well enough to enforce the law – a common pretext for imperialist intervention or occupation. Through AFRICOM, however, they plan to use Afrikans to fight their wars and police their areas of interest. So of course there will be plenty of terrorist activity to justify this involvement.
Targeted are the nomadic Blacks and others trying to survive on barren land. And, of course, there is oil beneath the sand. Libya gives them access to this whole interior region for oil extraction on a massive scale. Qaddafi was an obstacle that had to be removed, and a destabilized Libya gives them the perfect pretext for their “counter-terrorist” presence and activity.
Now Qaddafi wasn’t exactly a liberator. He was a bourgeois nationalist who vacillated between pandering to the West, including by giving Italy, Libya’s old colonial ruler, increasing control over Libya’s oil industry – while spouting anti-Western rhetoric and posturing as opposed to the West – and granting some concessions to the Libyan people using the country’s oil wealth. Because he couldn’t outright betray the Libyan people and retain power and his anti-Western credentials, he was an obstacle to Western designs to completely dominate the region.
Qaddafi knew his days were numbered and toned down his anti-Western rhetoric considerably, especially under the George W. Bush years during which AFRICOM was first proposed, and he made considerable concessions to the West. He gave donations to the London School of Economics. He even adopted policies to repress Black Afrikans, contracting in 2010 with Italy to block their unwanted migration through Italy to Europe.
Remember, under George W. Bush, Libya went from a “terrorist state” to U.S. ally in its so-called war on terror, which opened the door for new contracts with U.S. oil corporations. And Qaddafi turned over part of the oil industry to private interests, changes for which he received praise from the imperialist International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011.
But he wasn’t compliant enough, so he had to go. So the West stirred up internal unrest and disaffection in Libya and entreated Nouri Mesmari, Qaddafi’s chief of protocol, to defect to France in 2010. This same Mesmari gave up all Qaddafi’s military secrets and masterminded the Western airstrikes on Libya, which France led.
The Western media and politicians gloated over his savage murder, which was broadcast around the globe – he was shot point blank in the head and had a dagger shoved into his rectum. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Libya and pronounced to the media with a grin, “We came, we saw, he died.”
As far as any Pan Afrikan response, I’ve read of a range of criticisms and expressions of outrage, but that’s about it. I’m sure other Afrikan and Third World leaders and rulers saw themselves as potentially in Qaddafi’s shoes. No Afrikan country has resisted AFRICOM’s tentacles spreading across the continent following Qaddafi’s assassination and Libya’s literal destruction and descent into violent chaos. Everyone knew Amerika’s intentions in Libya, as Obama persistently announced that Qaddafi “must go.”
So I know of no substantial “response” of the Pan Afrikan world to either Qaddafi’s murder nor AFRICOM.
On what we can see in the development of AFRICOM, I should share comments shared by a comrade about a good YouTube documentary on Sierra Leone that started with the 1980s and followed the history of protest, civil war and imperialist (European) intervention right up until they lured the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leadership into the government and then massacred them.
Meanwhile, the masses were butchered, maimed and left homeless and starving while their rich natural resources are still being exploited by the U.S.-European capitalist-imperialists. A horrible tragedy from beginning to end, as horrible as colonialism.
You could see the seeds of the AFRICOM strategy germinating in the Sierra Leone civil war and intervention, he said. You could also see the need for an All-Afrikan People’s Liberation Army to counter this strategy and for a United Panther Movement based in the urban oppressed communities.
The mass poverty and dire needs of the oppressed masses in Afrika call for basic survival programs.
Pan Afrikan contributors
JR: We must always remember our ancestors and we must contribute to the Pan Afrikanist struggle for self-determination today. Who are some of the modern-day practitioners and theoreticians of Pan Afrikanism that you respect? Why do you respect them? What Pan Afrikanist organizations do you support and why?
Rashid: As far as those Pan Afrikan theorists and practitioners who’ve made an impression on me, most were historical figures. Comrades like W.E.B. DuBois, Nkrumah, Hubert Harrison, Patrice Lumumba, Robert Sobukwe, Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, Cabral and others. These were not people who only elaborated a Pan Afrikan line, but they also struggled in more than nominal ways to unite Afrikan people, although all made errors.
Today I know of no Pan Afrikan theorists with any real plan of action, although some may have some good educational and agitational work. One group I can name is the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP), led by Chair Omali Yeshitela. I believe the Dead Prez rap group follow him. But I take issue with his Pan Afrikan theory. I see a major ideological flaw in this party’s line.
They’ve expressed: “As opposed to Marxism, our party adheres to the philosophy of Yeshitelism, also called African Internationalism, which recognizes that the fundamental contradiction in the world is not between white workers and bosses, but between oppressed and oppressor nations. It is colonialism not capitalism. We understand that the destruction of imperialism will come, not from white workers overthrowing their capitalist bosses, but from the national liberation of Africans and all other colonized peoples whose oppression makes up the pedestal that the whole capitalist edifice – including the relationship between white workers and white bosses – rests upon.”
This is a case of “right church wrong pew.” First of all, the fundamental contradiction is between the socialized nature of production and the private ownership of the means of production. That’s basic socialist theory.
Who ever said it was between white workers and white bosses? Certainly not Marx. And what is colonialism but capitalism?
If capitalism isn’t overthrown in the imperialist countries, how will their colonies break free of neo-colonialism? In fact, this whole line of argument tends to support neo-colonialism as “independence.” As if putting Black faces in high places is the solution. I can see how this might have sounded credible decades ago, before we’d seen the effects and designs of neo-colonialism. But today we can clearly see it is supportive of imperialism and catastrophic for Afrikan peoples.
I think Omali Yeshitela is stuck with having put his name on a half-baked theory. The idea of Pan Afrikan unity is good, but the other half of the equation is revolution in the imperialist countries and alas, dealing with them white workers – and Black, Asian and Arab capitalists too. Uh oh! Back to Marxism again!
I think the APSP has done some good work in bringing Pan Afrikan awareness to their social base in St. Petersburg, Florida, where their organization is based. But, like other Pan Afrikanists I know of, they have no strategy for making revolution, which reduces the role of Black revolutionaries to being a cheering section for Third World revolutionaries.
In other places, South Afrika for example, I like some of what I’ve heard about efforts to revive Pan Afrikanism of the earlier mode. Like the Pan African Congress-New Road faction. Originally the PAC was founded in the late 1950s by Robert Sobukwe, as a split from the African National Congress. Sobukwe was a Pan Afrikanist who later embraced Maoism while in prison. While the present leadership is opportunist and revisionist, the New Road faction is trying to take the PAC back to its roots.
JR: What do you think about the Pan Afrikan struggle in the Caribbean unifying for the cause of reparations?
Rashid: As for Caribbeans uniting for reparations, I find any appeal to the imperialists for reparations to be erroneous.
As already noted, Frantz Fanon warned not to allow them to give you anything, and Nkrumah realized his own error in not heeding this advice, but far too late. Likewise, Sun Tzu warned that anything your enemy gives you will be used against you and to never take what he offers you. He didn’t even mention begging your enemy for reparations. It’s too ridiculous to merit contemplation really. The BPP took Fanon’s and Sun Tzu’s teachings to heart and stood out for its emphasis on self-reliance and building people’s power through its Serve the People Community Survival programs – and not as a bargaining chip but to prepare for revolution.
In explaining the concept of “revolutionary suicide,” BPP co-founder Huey P. Newton observed, in his autobiography of the same name, that poverty is not a vice, but a condition of denial caused by a reactionary system that would kill its victims. In this he drew a distinction between the beggar and the poor man.
The beggar (in this instance one who would plead for reparations) has lost his dignity and self-respect, having been reduced by fear and despair to self-murder, spiritual death – reactionary suicide. Whereas the poor man who has not given up his dignity, hope and desire to live can achieve the highest nobility by, instead of begging, rising up to take his rightful due (the right to be free, the right to live). So, while the disgraced beggar can be swept out with the broom, the poor man in fighting to change an intolerable condition must be driven out with a stick.
And any reparations money wouldn’t be free of course. Just as the money poured into the ghettoes after the uprisings of the 1960s and the BPP era wasn’t “free cheese.” Like the “aid” offered to the former colonies was dollar colonialism meant to enslave not liberate. Begging for reparations is simply volunteering for this subjugation. But of course, “progressive” minded people have always said, “We can do good things with this.” And they still come begging. If mice could talk, would they not ask for cheese. Slaves get food – but not for nothing.
How often have we heard progressive minded people condemn Mao for the period of belt-tightening during the Great Leap Forward, when all they had to do to get through the lean years and receive food aid was beg the U.S. or back off exposing Nikita Khrushchev as a capitalist turncoat?
But of all the former colonies, who made it to carry out socialist revolution? China did.
By the end of the Great Leap Forward, China was self-sufficient in food production and well on its way to industrializing and building socialism without Russian aid, U.S. aid or anybody’s aid. Mao was an ardent student of Sun Tzu, and it paid off. As Comrade Jalil Muntaqim said, “We must be our own liberators” – and each other’s.
What does “reparations” mean? Nothing more than to compensate, to make amends. How can any of the imperialist countries and their corporate controllers compensate or make amends with any oppressed peoples – Blacks in particular – for past crimes? Especially when those crimes continue today under more advanced and sophisticated but equally (often more) brutal forms, and on a global scale.
To accept compensation for past crimes in the form of wealth gained from those and continuing corporate crimes not only legitimizes today’s imperialism and its ongoing genocides, enslavements, marginalizations and impoverishments of masses of oppressed peoples, but it absolves the past that put imperialism in the saddle.
Our objective should be revolution, to overthrow this entire global criminal system, not make accommodations and amends with it by accepting its blood money. This is a duty we owe to those who suffered yesterday, to those enslaved and plundered of their land, lives and resources today and to tomorrow’s generations so they will not also suffer under racist imperialism.
Separating all ties to imperialism and destroying it will liberate the entire globe. The West defeated the independence struggles across Afrika and the Third World through training, organizing and advising counter-revolutionary Third World administrations and armies, using corporate blood money under the guise of economic aid.
So imperialism has already been paying off so-called “representatives” of the oppressed peoples on a global scale as part of its business as usual. That “aid” has led to no revolutions, rather it has served the goals of counter-revolution and preserving imperialism.
Take for example too the “reparations” paid by Germany to the Jews for its role in the Jewish Holocaust and the fact that Amerika pays out billions of dollars annually to the Jewish state. Those payments have not toppled German imperialism nor won revolutionary gains for the Jewish working class, dark skinned (Sephardic, Ethiopian and other) Jews and Arabs inside Israel against the neo-colonial Jewish bourgeoisie.
In fact, those concessions paid out in the name of “reparations” have created fascist Zionist hegemony in the Middle East, centered in a modern apartheid state that practices open racism against Arabs and Afrikans within Israel and genocide, displacement and land theft against those outside of Israel. A duplication of Amerika’s own historical and continuing policies against Native Americans.
The emphasis should be on Serve the People programs and self-sufficiency and not reparations and dependence, although the latter can be used as part of the argument for the people and charitable organizations (not the ruling classes, governments and corporations) of the imperialist countries to contribute to the Serve the People programs.
It is important that revolutionaries put forward a correct ideological and political line. On the issue of reparations, it is a wrong and backward line that runs counter to any suffering people’s liberation and must be repudiated.
JR: What is the role of Pan Afrikanism in the prison movement, and at what age do you think it is appropriate to introduce children to Pan Afrikanism?
Rashid: The prisons are like Malcolm X observed, “universities of the oppressed.” Typically, they teach one how to become professional criminals; this is their actual function under the system, not “rehabilitation.” We must conversely use them to teach the oppressed to become professional revolutionaries, which the Revolutionary Pan Afrikanism (RPA) teachings will facilitate. The prisons must become our schools of liberation.
And this so the ideology and strategy will flow onto the street and to the youth with nothing to lose and a world to win. Over 85 percent of those in prison will return to society at some point. Infused with RPA values, they can return to build, uplift and serve their communities instead of returning with criminal values and behaviors. It will also give them a sense of purpose, pride and confidence in themselves and their power to win and rebuild the world along the lines of Revolutionary Intercommunalism.
Nine-tenths of our problem is false conditioning – a psychological and an historically ingrained inferiority complex and self-hate caused by submission to slavery and colonialism – the destruction and substitution of culture. To shake this off is to awaken the Black Dragon.
The latent power of the Black masses and the rest of the world’s oppressed is truly awesome. This power needs direction, organization and leadership. This is what RPA will give and the role of the Panther. Afrikan people the world over can be powerful standard-bearers for world proletarian revolution and the overthrow of capitalist imperialism. We must reeducate them with these values.
The youth are the inheritors and builders of the future. As such it is imperative that they be taught from the earliest ages the values and lessons of RPA. It could be no other way. Again, quoting Malcolm X, “Only a fool would allow their enemy to teach their children.” The world’s condition is what it is, because of the lies we’ve been taught for generations under slavery and colonialism. We must not allow another generation to fall victim to imperialist lies.
To illuminate the path forward and give hope to the hopeless and courage to the slaves … that is our mission!