October 15 is the anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party in 1966. We reprint here an article written before the murder of George Floyd, but whose teachings remain even more valid today.

Teddy Shibabaw, Socialist Alternative (ISA in the United States)

n two years since the historic protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the Black Lives Matter movement has already had a deep and broad impact on American politics. No aspect of the culture has been spared, and in 2016, celebrities like Beyoncé and Colin Kaepernick again brought the issue of racism to mainstream media and society. While the movement has already succeeded in dramatically advancing the race debate in America, it is still looking for ways to bring about fundamental and lasting change.

The questions facing the movement today evoke the history of the last great period of the struggle for black freedom, the civil rights and Black Power movements, whose highest expression was the development of the Black Panther Party. for Self Defense. Bold and militant, the Panthers both scared the racist establishment and inspired the black working class, the poor and the young. Although they have carried out work on several fronts, they are best known for their armed patrols in black communities. In the context of relentless and brutal police violence, the patrols were seen as a daring defense of black life and dignity.

The Black Panthers were founded in Oakland, Calif., 50 years ago, last October. The party was born at a critical time between the ebb of the southern civil rights movement and the onset of the Black Power era, as the experiences of the struggle fueled debate on broader issues. The movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, had legally broken Jim Crow’s segregation in public institutions and succeeded in passing the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. Yet the basic living conditions of the overwhelming mass of blacks have remained largely unchanged, defined by segregation of housing, discrimination in access to higher education and decent jobs, and higher rates of poverty. . This led MLK to ask, “What’s the point of being allowed to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford a burger?” “

Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X both spoke about the limits to the movement’s formal and legal gains, but were shot down by assassin bullets as they raised questions about capitalism and more fundamental change.

It was the Black Panthers who took the problem head on in the years that followed. The Panthers attitude was clearly expressed by Bobby Seale when he said: “We do not fight racism with racism. We fight racism with solidarity. We are not fighting exploitative capitalism with black capitalism. We are fighting capitalism with grassroots socialism. And we are not fighting imperialism with more imperialism. We fight imperialism with proletarian internationalism. The Panther’s approach made a sharp break with both “cultural nationalists” and liberal and pacifist integrationists.

Co-founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton began writing the Panthers’ famous 10-point agenda in the backroom of a community center, which included demands calling for sweeping democratic reform and economic justice.

The ten point program of the Black Panther Party (short version)

  1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the fate of our black and oppressed communities.
  2. We want full employment for our people.
  3. We want an end to the theft by capitalists of our black and oppressed communities.
  4. We want decent housing, worthy of being safe from human beings.
  5. We want an education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want an education that teaches us our true history and our role in today’s society.
  6. We want completely free health care for all black people and the oppressed.
  7. We want an immediate end to the police brutality and murders of black people, other people of color, all oppressed people in the United States.
  8. We want all wars of aggression to end immediately.
  9. We want freedom for all oppressed black and poor people now held in federal, state, county, municipal and military jails and prisons across the United States. We want peer jury trials for all those charged with so-called crimes under the laws of this land.
  10. We want land, bread, shelter, education, clothing, justice, peace, and community control of modern technology.

The Panthers grew up quickly in the Bay Area. But it was a daring move to the California state legislature in Sacramento, in which they entered the building armed with guns and read aloud a statement against Bill Mulford (aimed at eliminating their community patrols armed forces), which gave them a national spotlight. and led to their explosive growth across the country. In addition to opposing police brutality, the Panthers have staged rent strikes and free breakfast, medical and clothing programs, combined with groundbreaking education and recruiting. At their peak, the Panthers had a circulation of 250,000 copies for their newspaper and 5,000 full-time party members.

But as quickly as they had risen, their decline began too soon.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the Panthers “the greatest threat to the country’s internal security.” While the Panthers’ armed patrols certainly caught the attention of Hoover and others, what pissed off the establishment much more was the socialist politics of the Panthers and their potential to detonate a mass revolutionary movement of workers and workers. young black people. These fears intensified dramatically when the Panthers began to forge broader alliances with organizations representing Latinos, Native Americans and poor whites, leading to a united struggle of the oppressed peoples. The FBI’s COINTELPRO program of jail, infiltration, managerial error and assassination has been a blow to the Panthers. The FBI brutally killed 25 Panthers in one year, in 1969, and unjustly jailed several hundred more.

While repression from the ruling class could be expected, it was not inevitable that it would be successful, and other revolutionary movements around the world have resisted much more severe attacks. The Black Panthers’ revolutionary strategy mistakes unfortunately contributed to their decline.

The Panthers had focused overwhelmingly on the most oppressed sections of the black population who were either permanently unemployed or underemployed, while also putting up barriers to the membership and participation of millions of black workers (including by requiring each member to become full-time). This considerably limited their size and social weight. Any revolutionary movement must organize the unemployed, but it must also rely on the working class, the most progressive force in society with the social power to stop the economy. If they had built a massive membership with democratic structures, instead of drawing inspiration from the Chinese and Cuban revolutions, they could have built up a force of tens of thousands who could have protected them from overwhelming repression.

Finally, their use of firearms had another side. For many black and poor workers, this made the organization a group of heroic leaders they could revere and celebrate, but not a group they could join. Huey Newton himself realized this and later wrote: “But we soon found that weapons and uniforms set us apart from the community. We were seen as an ad hoc military group, operating outside the fabric of the community and too radical to be part of it. Maybe some of our tactics back then were extreme.

Despite mistakes and missed opportunities, the Black Panthers wrote a vital and heroic chapter in United States history and contributed greatly to the advancement of democratic freedoms. Our generation has enormous lessons to learn from their successes and failures, and we stand on their shoulders today as we continue the struggle for black freedom and socialism.