Before I decided to join the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC), in 2008, I contemplated it for two-plus years. I was uncertain as to why I wanted to join this prison-based revolutionary organization. But I was absolutely 100% sure on why I didn’t want to join: 1.) I didn’t want to join just to be a part of something… 2.) I didn’t want to join because I needed an “identity…” 3.) I didn’t want to join because I felt I needed some sort of “protection…” and, 4.) I didn’t want to join because I felt I needed some kind of “prison reputation…” I kept all these thoughts to myself, because they were the reasons I hadn’t joined any other type of prison-based organization up until then.
When I did decide to join NABPP-PC, I had been enslaved inside the prison plantations for 15 years, I’d always stood on my own and carried my own weight. Over these years, I’d been asked by Muslims, Moorish Science Templars, Five-Percenters, Bloods, Crips, Christians, etc. to become a member of their respective groups, and I’d turned them all down for the reasons I mentioned above. I knew I couldn’t become 100% committed to any of them. I was gradually becoming more politically inclined, but it suddenly hit me in 2008 why I wanted to join the Panthers… CHANGE! That’s what I wanted. No, not the type of “change” politicians like Obama were talking about in his 2008 election campaign.
I wanted fundamental change in how the world is hooked up and who has the power to shape the future. What I wanted was revolutionary change. Now my past experience and observations had taught me that the Muslims, Moors, Bloods, etc., were not about making these sort of revolutionary changes. I’m not bashing on any of them, I have close comrades I respect in each of them. But I’ve never seen or read where any of these organizations ever produced these types of changes. The more I looked around me, all I kept seeing and hearing about was my imprisoned peers being sadistically beaten, murdered, tortured with stun guns and stun belts, being strapped to beds for days, put in restraints for days, having their property maliciously destroyed, and being vindictively deprived of their meals, showers and recreation for days, by tyrant officers and sadistic and racist prison administrators.
All I was seeing from these organizations by way of response was praying or infighting with other prison-based organizations. I began to see that if I wanted to be a part of making changes I needed to hook up with an organization that was all about making changes. One that wasn’t intimidated by the fear of repression. Now, I knew that I would have to go through a political and cultural “detoxification” in order for me to truly represent the revolutionary essence of what being a Panther is all about. My knowledge of what the original BPP stood for was fragmented and incomplete. I knew I had to seek knowledge and “Pantherize” myself.
Fortunately, I found two great mentors to help me on my path, the first was my fellow prisoner, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, who was a co-founder of NABPP-PC and is its Minister of Defense, and through him, Tom “Big Warrior” Watts, the editor of Rising Sun Press and an original White Panther. Between them, they found the patience and energy to help me detoxify the racial hate boiling inside me and surmount the stubborn resistance to learning how to think in a scientific and revolutionary way I had to overcome. We have all been poisoned with reactionary ideology and dumbed-down by the system of oppression we were raised under. They hooked me up with revolutionary literature to study and engaged me in tough, sometimes heated struggle, forcing me to think critically and challenge deeply-held beliefs.
I had been pre-conditioned to think all white people were the problem and cause of Black people’s oppression, that it was a racial thing, and I related to the ideology of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X before he broke with NOI and developed revolutionary consciousness, and Clarence X of the 5-percenters, who all propagated Black separatism. I had never joined any of these organizations, but I had assimilated what they preached that resonated with my own feelings. If white people were the problem than eliminating white people (or wanting to) was the solution. Retrospectively, this seems so ignorant and backwards a way of thinking to me now, but this was all I knew back then.
As I read, and reflected on the new ideas I was being exposed to, my thinking, even my way of thinking, became more clear, and I began to see why my incarcerated peers were so divided as the puzzle pieces began to fit together. It was because we were all victims of the same “mis-education.” We were all taught directly, or indirectly, to see each other and each other’s opinions, “differently” even though our oppressors and conditions of oppression were the same. We were taught that because we had different pigmentations, spoke different languages, held different religious beliefs, or had different sexual orientations or different organizational affiliations, that our oppressions were also “different” and we were “different.” Once I realized this deception, and that we were being played against each other, I began to discard these negative prejudices and replace them with productive thoughts that were in line with the changes I wanted to create.
I started reading Mao, Lenin, Marx and Engels, Assata Shakur, Robert Allen, George Jackson, Kwame Nkrumah, Huey and Bobby and many other great authors and books that taught me about class struggle, dialectical materialism, perceptual and conceptual knowledge, unity of opposites and transformation of quantity into quality and many other useful things that would help me with my “detoxification” process. But I also knew that just learning about these “new things” would not make me a Black Panther, I would have to put this knowledge into practice. Only by joining up and committing myself would I earn the right to call myself a “Panther.” I also knew that for me, there would be no turning back, that when I became a Panther, I became a Panther for life.
Our people have been oppressed a long time, we’ve been whipped and lynched, burned to death and tortured to death. Huey said, “a revolutionary is a condemned man,” well, I had to think about that too. Here in the slave pens, there is no running away. When you take a stand you live with it or die with it. The NABPP-PC aspire to be “all-the-way revolutionary.” A Panther is a Panther 24/7. We are not “gangstas” or “niggaz,” we are “all-the-way” proletarian revolutionaries. We represent the bright future of socialism and communism in the day to day struggles of today. Pantherism is based on materialism, which is the belief that the material world is real and understandable. It is the opposite of idealism, which includes all religions. Now there is this wonderful radio station in Whitesburg, KY named WMME-Radio, which prisoners can call in. I’ve heard prisoners call in to tell how they’ve been abused, beaten and tortured, but what they get told is either to pray that things get better or they’re told “I’m praying for yall, eventually God will make things better.”
Now I’m sure these people mean well, but this infuriated me because this idealist advise confuses the reality of what I and my peers are living and experiencing. This is what the slave masters taught our ancestors to do when they were being beaten and treated like animals, to pray for God to take pity on them and forgive them for their sins. For centuries oppressed people have fallen for this religious nonsense. People have the right to believe in whatever they want, but I have a right to not believe too. There is not one iota of factual evidence to support any of these sort of metaphysical beliefs. If prayer worked, nobody would have stayed a slave and nobody would be in prison. This is not a blind criticism of religion, there just is no reason to believe metaphysical means can effect material solutions.
The Bible, Qu’ran, Torah, and One-Twenty Lessons are all equally idealistic and ineffective in solving material problems in the material world. Concrete analysis of concrete conditions, and working towards solutions in a practical and methodical way are the only way to effect change I know of that works. These religious organizations are “tribalistic,” in that they only respond if one of their own is effected by the oppressive conditions. They are not concerned if only people outside their “tribe” are affected.
The Black Separatists, like Garvey, Elijah Muhammad and Clearance X, only ever cared about “their people” and confused class-based oppression with race-based oppression, and in their racialized world view saw everyone as motivated by “race” as themselves. It doesn’t even occur to them that if Black people could completely separate from others, the Black masses would still be exploited and oppressed by Black capitalists. In fact, they’d still be oppressed and exploited by global white-dominated capitalist-imperialism, as the experience of Haiti and independent Afrika demonstrates.
You cannot have a “tribalistic” solution to a “universal” problem. As Comrade Kwame Nkrumah explained: “It is the elimination of fancifulness from socialist action that makes socialism scientific. To suppose that there are tribal, national, or racial socialisms is to abandon objectivity in favor of chauvinism,” (“African Socialism Revisited,” 1967). You cannot use a metaphysical solution to resolve a physical problem, because metaphysics only exist in the imagination, not objective reality. Because Pantherism is grounded in objective reality and a materialist understanding of what reality is, it is qualitatively different from religions or “tribalism.” It is universal in its application, and thus it is of use to any group of oppressed people living in community.
It was my experience with and rejection of these other ineffective methods that cemented my desire and choice to join NABPP-PC. Comrades Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seal combined the best of Malcolm X with Marx, Lenin and Mao and drew on other great revolutionary theorists and practitioners to create a working ideological-political line that could be tested and improved upon through praxis, (the alteration of theory and practice through a process of critical summation), to create the original BPP in 1966. This was a genius-inspired synthesis unprecedented in Amerikan history. The BPP 10-Point Program was genius in its simplicity. It hit the nail on the head.
The BPP recognized the importance of the lumpen proletariat (literally “raggedy slaves”) as well as the basic proletariat (employed “wage slaves”) and the youth of the middle class and intellectuals, all of which were represented in the original BPP. They saw the importance of building alliances with white working class radicals, like the Young Patriot Party (YPP) composed of Appalachian poor whites, and white middle class radicals like SDS and the Peace and Freedom Party, as well as counter-culture radicals like the Yippies and White Panther Party (YPP). They also built alliances with revolutionary groups in other oppressed ethnic communities like the Chicanos (La Raza, and the Brown Berets), Puerto Ricans (Young Lords Party), Native Americans (American Indian Movement (AIM)), Chinese Americans (I Wor Kun, Red Guards) and others.
The Amerikkkan government declared all-out war on the BPP and their allied formations under the FBI’s covert operations program COINTELPRO. Comrades were set up, assassinated, railroaded into prison on trumped up charges, and psychologically destroyed. Some were forced into exile abroad, and others forced underground. Groups of all types were infiltrated, spied upon, disrupted and discredited. People were bribed and people were set against each other. Every dirty trick the U.S. learned in the “Cold War” was played on the oppressed people in Amerikkka. Student protestors were shot down at Kent State and Jackson State, Panther offices were shot up and bombed, prisoner activists were murdered and massacred at Attica State.
Many have asked; why did the government go to the extent it did to murder and falsely imprison innocent BPP members? The answer is simple, it was because they had the correct line and method to challenge class oppression and build revolutionary class consciousness amongst the oppressed masses. The “Class Struggle” Method taught the Panthers and oppressed masses to look their oppression “in the eyes,” and this was a method other radical political organizations before 1966 had evaded. Instead they looked to imaginary saviors (“mythical gods,” enlightened rich capitalist rulers, or politicians) to give them favors; even reparations for having been good slaves and loyal servants.
The revolutionary class struggle method of the Panthers did not appeal to Jesus or Allah, to the moral sense or conscience of the exploiting class, nor the two-faced, lying Negro Politicians, but to the oppressed masses themselves, the Black masses, the Brown masses, the Asian and poor white masses. It demanded ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE, and told the oppressed masses they must SEIZE THE TIME, and be their own liberators.
They taught that all of the various sorts of oppression; race, gender, national, religious and oppression of LGBT people were byproducts of class oppression which is fundamental in a society based upon class exploitation. Only by changing the basis of how society is organized can we sweep away all the forms of oppression this system generates. Capitalists created slavery in Amerikkka because they needed the cheapest type of labor to make the maximum profit from the lands they stole from the American Indians. Afrikan slave labor proved to be the most profitable, so that’s what they went with. Racist ideology was a byproduct to justify the overtly criminal and immoral nature of what they were doing.
Patriarchy did not exist before the invention of private property. Women had invented agriculture and village life, and thus were at the center of society. War elevated men to a position where they could overthrow women and claim them and their lands as personal property. This is the origin of class society. Everything today is the way it is because of things that happened in the past, and the history of class society is the history of class struggle. The point, as Marx taught, is not simply to understand history and society but to change it.
The Amerikkkan government had no problem with Malcolm X promoting the racial separatism and metaphysical idealism of Elijah Muhammad and the NOI, because this posed no threat to capitalist-imperialism or even white supremacy, in fact it worked fine with both. But as Malcolm matured and became more socialist and revolutionary in his thinking, as he came to understand more and was motivated to make some real changes, they summed up that he had to be silenced permanently. They feared he would become a great revolutionary leader, one that could rock the empire.
In January 1965, he said “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice, and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation… It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.” On February 21, 1965 he was cut down in a hail of bullets. Behind the NOI gunmen was the hand of the FBI.
Original BPP Comrade Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt gave a great analogy of this when talking about how they divide us in jails. He said, “These fucking deputies figured if we fight with each other, we’re too busy to fight with the staff.” (cited in: Last Man Standing, p. 66) This is exactly what the government was thinking when Malcolm was blaming the “white race” and not the political-economic system of capitalist-imperialism. They figured as long as Malcolm was busy attacking “white devils,” he was no threat to “business as usual.”
Two days before Malcolm was assassinated, he said in an interview with his dear friend Gordon Parks:
“Listening to leaders like Nasser, Ben Bella, and Nkrumah awakened me to the danger of racism. I realized racism isn’t just a black and white problem. It’s brought bloodbaths to about every nation on earth at one time or another. Brother, remember the time that white girl came into the restaurant — the one who wanted to help the [Black] Muslims and the whites get together — and I told her there wasn’t the ghost of a chance and she went away crying? Well, I’ve lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent, I saw white students helping Black people. Something like that kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then – like all [Black] Muslims – I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well a man’s entitled to make a fool of himself if he’s ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years. That was a bad scene, Brother. The sickness and madness of those days — I’m glad to be free of them….” (Cited in: “1965 Interview with Gordon Parks”).
Malcolm was cut down, but others were inspired to continue his work, and in particular Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, the co-founders of the Black Panther Party. The U.S. government did the same thing to Martin Luther King, Jr. So long as he was preaching non-violence and appealing to Christians on moral-religious grounds, they let him run around the country giving speeches and getting arrested. But when he began to see the class contradictions and speak to them, they assassinated him too. In April of 1967, MLK took part in the largest anti-Vietnam War Protest up to then, in NYC, bringing thousands of civil rights activists with him. Speaking in Riverside Church later, he said some things that really upset the FBI and LBJ like:
“I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.”
“Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.
“So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.
“What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?”
He was still promoting Religion and non-violence, but to his inner circle he was questioning the approach. “You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars,” he said. “You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism.” – (Speech to his staff, 1966.) “In a sense, you could say we’re involved in the class struggle.” – (Quote to New York Times reporter, José Igelsias, 1968). At the end, he seemed to be aware that he was going to be assassinated. In his last public speech, he said:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
“And I don’t mind.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
“And so I’m happy, tonight.
“I’m not worried about anything.
“I’m not fearing any man!
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!” (Delivered 3 April 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters), Memphis, Tennessee).
This was a great speech, however, it doesn’t specify a program for defeating racial oppression and poverty. It sparkles with metaphysical theological glitter, and hope for a brighter future, but it is not as frank as he was when he wrote to his future wife, Coretta Scott, in 1952:
“I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic… [Capitalism] started out with a noble and high motive… but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.” (Cited in: “11 Most Anti-Capitalist Quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Raw Story, 2016).
Still, there was an acknowledgement that these were (and are) critical times for the masses of oppressed people:
“Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: ‘We want to be free.’”
But, he was caught in a metaphysical spider web. Publically, he had dismissed a materialistic interpretation of history and denied the role Socialists and Communists had played in organizing and breaking the ground for the Civil Rights Movement, telling Playboy in an interview in 1965: “There are as many Communists in the freedom movement as there are Eskimos in Florida.” The FBI had targeted both MLK and Malcolm X, infiltrated their inner circles and done deep research on Communist support and activism within the Black movements and organizations, with detailed files on everyone of prominence. Malcolm covertly tape-recorded the FBI trying to recruit him, and MLK was being blackmailed and threatened. The decisions to assassinate them came from the highest level.
Huey and Bobby didn’t waste any time figuring out what was the problem and how to resolve it, as Malcolm and Martin had. They came out of the gate identifying capitalism as the problem and class struggle as the solution. It didn’t take them long to break with Black Nationalism and begin building alliances with other oppressed ethnic communities and spreading Pantherism internationally. They were “Pantherizing” the oppressed masses and breaking new ground ideologically and politically for the world revolutionary movement.
Quite apart from the narrowness of identity politics, the original Panthers promoted the unity of the oppressed against the racist system of class exploitation, regardless of “race,” gender, religion, sexual orientation, age or nationality. Like Comrade Fred Hampton said in his famous speech: POWER ANYWHERE WHERE THERE’S PEOPLE! (Speech Delivered at Olivet Church, 1969):
“Power anywhere where there’s people. Power anywhere where there’s people. Let me give you an example of teaching people. Basically, the way they learn is observation and participation. You know a lot of us go around and joke ourselves and believe that the masses have PhDs, but that’s not true. And even if they did, it wouldn’t make any difference. Because with some things, you have to learn by seeing it or either participating in it. And you know yourselves that there are people walking around your community today that have all types of degrees that should be at this meeting but are not here. Right? Because you can have as many degrees as a thermometer. If you don’t have any practice, then you can’t walk across the street and chew gum at the same time….
“I don’t care how much theory you got, if it don’t have any practice applied to it, then that theory happens to be irrelevant. Right? Any theory you get, practice it. And when you practice it you make some mistakes. When you make a mistake, you correct that theory, and then it will be corrected theory that will be able to be applied and used in any situation. That’s what we’ve got to be able to do.”
He also said:
“We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.
“We ain’t gonna fight no reactionary pigs who run up and down the street being reactionary; we’re gonna organize and dedicate ourselves to revolutionary political power and teach ourselves the specific needs of resisting the power structure, arm ourselves, and we’re gonna fight reactionary pigs with INTERNATIONAL PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION. That’s what it has to be. The people have to have the power: it belongs to the people.
“We have to understand very clearly that there’s a man in our community called a capitalist. Sometimes he’s black and sometimes he’s white. But that man has to be driven out of our community, because anybody who comes into the community to make profit off the people by exploiting them can be defined as a capitalist. And we don’t care how many programs they have, how long a dashiki they have. Because political power does not flow from the sleeve of a dashiki; political power flows from the barrel of a gun. It flows from the barrel of a gun!”
It was “oppressed vs. the oppressors” which the Panthers emphasized that resonated with the poor – from all “races” – and it resonated with me. I adopted this revolutionary ethic and incorporated it into how I now thought and conducted myself. I now could see that there were potential comrades everywhere and all around me. So I started inter-acting more with people of every color and ethnicity in the prison community and with people on the outside. I now see that there are good white comrades, particularly in the Virginia prisoner’s support movement, and these are people with Anarchist, Communist or progressive humanistic orientations. Among my peers, I see that everyone is capable of becoming class conscious and remolding their thinking and world view.
It is the revolutionary actions of these comrades, and not just “words,” that showed me that they are willing to sacrifice in diverse ways to address issues that don’t affect them directly, to sacrifice their time and resources to challenge the dictatorship of the rich and stand in solidarity with the oppressed, expecting no more reward than satisfaction from being part of the solution to the ills of society. It has inspired me to struggle harder to “Pantherize” myself and be “all-the-way revolutionary.” Some of these friends and comrades can attest that at times I’ve made them mad and been abrasive and hard-headed, but I don’t mean to offend, and I greatly respect and am grateful to all of you for all that you do. Sometimes living in here makes it hard to deal with y’all who are on the outside and cannot fully appreciate these conditions and the stress we feel every day, but I will strive to be better and improve myself.
I have to meet people where they are at and explain what they cannot experience and learn from them about what I cannot experience myself. Everybody experiences different degrees of oppression and is affected differently by it. “Panther Love” is an important concept developed by the original Panthers. A person who’s never been homeless can’t exactly empathize with someone going through it, but he can sympathize. He (or she) can show solidarity. They don’t need to know “how it feels.” A straight person never experiences what a gay person or transgender feels, and a white person can only guess what it feels like to be Black in Amerikkka. It’s not the fault of every person with a home that some are homeless. It is the system that fails to ensure that everyone has a home, is treated with respect and given equal opportunity. In fact, it is the system that ensures that there will be inequality, extreme poverty and oppression. Feeling solidarity leads us to become fighters against all oppression. That’s what “Panther Love” is all about.
It comes down to both sides learning to appreciate the condition and realities of the other and finding the “common denominators” that create the basis for building intercommunal solidarity. A Panther is not a “condescending savior” nor do we sit in judgement of the masses, our duty is to learn from and serve the masses and apply the “Mass Line” to build the vanguard party and movement organically from the masses to serve the masses. “Pantherizing” the masses is about politicizing and revolutionizing the masses, because it takes a revolutionary people to win a revolutionary people’s war and revolutionize every aspect of society. Some people’s oppression is dire and a day to day struggle to avoid starvation or dying from exposure. Other people are only a paycheck or two away from homelessness. Some people suffer from alienation so bad they are in danger of committing reactionary suicide or going mad.
Here inside the prison walls, many have been driven to madness and extremes of anti-social behavior and mind set. “Panther Love” is about caring for and healing our brothers and sisters and helping them to not only cope and survive but to become part of the solution so all of society can be made healthy and nurturing. We say, “Transform the Slave Pens of Oppression into Schools of Liberation and the Oppressed Communities into Base Areas of Cultural, Social and Political Revolution, in the Context of Building a Worldwide United Front Against Capitalist-Imperialism, Racism, and Police State Repression!”
I call your attention to what our Minister of Defense, Comrade Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, had to say about what a comrade is:
The concept of “Comrade” has a special meaning and significance in revolutionary struggle. We have often been asked to explain our use of this term, especially by our peers who are new to the struggle, instead of more familiar terms like “brother,” “homie,” “cousin,” “dog,” nigga,” etc.
Foremost, is that we aspire to build a society based upon equality and a culture of revolutionary transformation, so we need to purge ourselves of the tendency to use terms of address that connote cliques and exclusive relationships. A comrade can be a man or a woman of any color or ethnicity, but definitely a fellow fighter in the struggle against all oppression.
Terms like “mister” or “youngster” imply a difference of social status, entitlement to greater or lesser respect and built-in concepts of superiority or inferiority. Terms like “bitch,” “dog,” nigga,” “ho,” etc., are degrading and disrespectful – even when used affectionately – as some do to dull the edge of their general usage in a world that disrespects us.
“Comrade,” however, connotes equality and respect. It implies “I’ve got your back,” and “we are one.” Comrades stand united unconditionally, and if need be, to the death. It implies a relationship that is inclusive, not exclusive, and not based on any triviality but revolutionary class solidarity. It represents the socialist future we seek to represent in the struggles of today, and the eventual triumph of classless communist society.
Most forms of address used by New Afrikans carry subtle implications of differing status and worth, or were originally meant to insult and dehumanize us. Embracing these terms has led to our subconsciously embracing these roles, and feeling and believing we are inferior and treating each other as worth less than others. So it is definitely important that we remind ourselves constantly that we are equal to and as good as anyone else and address each other accordingly. As Malcolm X put it in an interview with the Village Voice in 1965:
“The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.”
“Wake them up to their exploitation?” the interviewer asked.
“No,” Malcolm replied, “to their humanity, to their own worth.”
Conscious use of the term “Comrade” instead of the many disparaging terms of address popular today, explicitly connects all people up as humans and equals. It reminds us of our interdependence for survival; promotes relations of equality, friendship and camaraderie between all oppressed and exploited people; it expresses the unified outlook of the proletariat; and it will promote a change in people’s outlook and thinking. It’s use identifies those committed to the revolutionary struggle and represents the future in the struggles of today.
As Amilcar Cabral expressed in “Our People are Our Mountians”: “I call you ‘comrades’ rather than ‘brothers and sisters’ because if we are brothers and sisters it’s not from choice, it’s no commitment; but if you are my comrade, I am your comrade too, and that’s a commitment and a responsibility. This is the political meaning of ‘comrade’.”
In the interpyrsonal sense, camaraderie binds people by respect, mutual support and trust, making organizations cohesive and stable. It builds and cements unity in the process of struggle, generating mutual confidence between people, affirming that we can rely upon each other regardless of the dangers that come from standing for the people and social justice for all.
Examples of genuine camaraderie are inspirational to the people and build their willingness to make a commitment to the struggle. The development and maintenance of organizational structure depends on the close and genuine camaraderie of the revolutionaries – what we call Panther Love! – (Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “What is a Comrade and Why We Use the Term,” 2013).
In contrast to this, there are fake “Panthers” who are not comrades but “con-rades” as in con-artists, who dress-up as Panthers and expropriate the name and symbolism to promote racial hatred and Black separatism, such as the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), and they are infiltrating other new generation Panther formations to spread their toxic ideology. Cultural Nationalism is a form of nationalism not based upon the traditional definition of a “nation,” such as Zionism, Nazism, Islamic Nationalism (ISIS), Hindutva or ultra “Black Nationalism.”
“A nation is primarily a community, a definite community of people… This community is not racial, nor is it tribal. The modern Italian nation was formed from Romans, Teutons, Etruscans, Greeks, Arabs, and so forth. The French nation was formed from Gauls, Romans, Britons, Teutons, and so on. The same must be said of the British, the Germans and others, who were formed into nations from people of diverse races and tribes. Thus, a nation is not a racial or tribal, but a historically constituted community of people.” (Cited in: “Marxism and the National Question,” by J.V. Stalin. 1913).
“A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture… It goes without saying that a nation, like every historical phenomenon, is subject to the law of change, has its history, its beginning and end… It must be emphasized that none of the above characteristics taken separately is sufficient to define a nation. More than that, it is sufficient for a single one of these characteristics to be lacking and the nation ceases to be a nation.” (Ibid.)
Stalin was Lenin’s pupil and was appointed the first People’s Commissar of Nationalities following the victory of the Bolshevik Party in the October Revolution of 1917. It was under his and Comrade Lenin’s direction that the Communist International (Comintern) recognized that Black people in Amerikka had been constituted into a nation in the “Black Belt” South under the conditions of reconstruction and “Jim Crow” segregation. But even as this determination was being made, the “Great Migration” was underway, resulting in a mass exodus away from the South to the industrial centers of the North and Western U.S. As Stalin pointed out in Foundations of Leninism (1953):
“Hence the two sides, the two tendencies in the national question: the tendency towards political emancipation from the shackles of imperialism and towards the formation of an independent national state-a tendency which arose as a consequence of imperialist oppression and colonial exploitation; and the tendency towards closer economic relations among nations, which arose as a result of the formation of the world market and a world economic system.
“Developing capitalism,” says Lenin, “knows two historical tendencies in the national question. First: the awakening of national life and national movements, struggle against all national oppression, creation of national states. Second: development and acceleration of all kinds of intercourse between nations, breakdown of national barriers, creation of the international unity of capital, of economic life in general, of politics, science, etc.
“Both tendencies are a world-wide law of capitalism. The first predominates at the beginning of its development, the second characterises mature capitalism that is moving towards its transformation into socialist society” (see Vol. XVII, pp. 139-40).
“For imperialism these two tendencies represent irreconcilable contradictions; because imperialism cannot exist without exploiting colonies and forcibly retaining them within the framework of the “integral whole”; because imperialism can bring nations together only by means of annexations and colonial conquest, without which imperialism is, generally speaking, inconceivable.
“For communism, on the contrary, these tendencies are but two sides of a single cause-the cause of the emancipation of the oppressed people from the yoke of imperialism; because communism knows that the union of peoples in a single world economic system is possible only in the basis of mutual confidence and voluntary agreement, and that road to the formation of a voluntary union of peoples lies through the separation of the colonies from the “integral” imperialist “whole,” through the transformation of the colonies into independent states.”
Instead of the “Black Belt South” developing along the path of emerging nationhood, the U.S. itself emerged as a globe-reaching empire that made the existence of independent nations impossible. Which Huey P. Newton correctly summed up in 1970. The globalization of capitalist-imperialism and the hegemony of U.S. imperialism makes the idea of a separate Black nation in the U.S. “Black Belt” anachronistic at best. At worst, it could set Black people up for ethnic cleansing and genocide. Instead of being needed for our labor power as in the past, we now face the problem of capitalist-imperialism’s chronic inability to profitably exploit even half the world’s population as workers.
The ruling class might decide to solve its “Negro Problem” by granting us “self-determination” in the “Black Belt” and give us our long promised “40 acres and a mule” in lieu of citizenship, and social services. Farming the burnt-out soil of the “Black Belt,” broke, hungry and cut off from the economic life of the rest of the country could make Gaza look like a vacation destination. It is not a far leap from the strategy of mass criminalization and incarceration to phony “independence” and concentration in an apartheid state. We have only to look at the moves that have been made on other peoples, like the Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians to realize how brutal U.S. imperialism can be in pursuit of its interests.
We must be wary of “Judas Goats” that would lead us to the slaughter house, in the same way U.S. imperialism uses other proxy forces to unleash anarchy, chaos and mass destruction on a people. “Con-rades” are not just phony posers but can be used as agents of imperialism to misdirect the people’s struggle. Real Panthers do not promote hate or race prejudice but “Panther Love” and proletarian class consciousness. Real Panthers look oppression in the eye and dare to struggle and dare to win. We don’t hide behind fake militant posturing.
I’ll conclude by saying “Pantherizing the masses” is not an easy task. It requires revolutionary discipline, stubborn conviction and love for the masses. Without cultivating these characteristics within ourselves, we will fail and leave it to the next generation to continue the struggle. We must “Pantherize” ourselves so we can “Pantherize” the masses. Those of us in the prisons must set an example for the masses of the world. If we can transform ourselves under these conditions, what can be too difficult to accomplish?
DARE TO STRUGGLE DARE TO WIN… ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!