CLR James and the Black Panther Party

Somewhat out of character, Lou is being a stubborn sectarian on this issue. Will he next cast aspersions on SNCC's Freedom Schools? I am not debating the proposition, "Was the BPP Marxist?", which would require many, often contradictory answers. The BPP merited the enthusiastic support and solidarity of every Marxist, as comrades in revolutionary struggle, and as a leading force in struggle.

The BPP certainly did mobilize against the state, and did participate in national mobilizations. Has Lou forgotten the Chicago 8 (before they became the Chicago 7 in consequence of Judge Hoffman's racism)? To take an outreach program out of context and assert it as the party's central activity is a serious mistake. Except for sectarians, every Marxist party provides services to its intended constituents (as do all the various movements that merit Marxists' support -- Irish republicans, Basque nationalists, etc.), which often are the vehicles for moving those constituents along to more radical involvement.

Remember that Fred Hampton's crime (his "holdup" of an ice cream vendor) was liberating ice cream and distributing it to the neighborhood children who could not afford to buy it.

But the most essential missing ingredient in Lou's analysis is the links among all the revolutionary Black organizations and movements -- BPP, RAM, SNCC, BLA, LRBW, APP, AAPRP, BWC, APSP, RNA, and their far-flung affiliates -- often mediated by Jim Forman. That's the reason that the main speakers at the BPP's national confab in 1967 were Brown, Carmichael, and Forman.

In every Black insurgency of national importance, such as the Memphis garbage strike and the armed defense of Cairo's Black community, the Panthers were involved.

When C.L.R. James came to Chicago, the activities that most impressed him were the community based organizing by BPP and RAM (through the Umoja Center), and the solid links between revolutionary Black intellectuals and street people, seriously challenging the Blackstone Rangers for mass allegiance, which is why billionaire Clement Stone gave a million dollars to the Rangers, by then called the Black P. Stone Nation.

When C.L.R. returned to London, he urged the Race Today collective, chaired by his nephew and comrade Darcus Howe, to emulate BPP and RAM outreach activities he had witnessed in the U.S. Each time one of us visited him in Brixton, he required as many details as possible about those activities.

Certainly had those programs become substitutes for wider struggle they would merit the type of criticism that Lou suggests. But asserting that as their history misses the larger picture.

Ken Lawrence


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