Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The ACWM(M-L)’s Attitude Towards the Panthers and the Black Revolutionary Party

First Published: On the Communist Voice web site on September 22, 2008.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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EROL Note: This is an excerpt of a speech delivered at the Second National Conference of the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA in the fall of 1984. The full text of the speech can be accessed here.

ACWM(M-L)’s Attitude Towards the Panthers

The Black Panther Party was already decaying by the time the ACWM(ML) was founded in May 1969. Nonetheless it was still an important issue. It was an issue because of its widespread influence among the masses and in the movement and because the issue of defense of the Black Panther Party against repression was an important point of struggle. Mass demonstrations were taking place in defense of the Black Panther Party.

The ACWM(ML) dealt with the Panthers in a way that contrasted with the approaches of both the RYM faction of SDS and that of PL. The ACWM(ML) had a certain respect for the Black Panther Party as a revolutionary force because of its advocacy of armed self-defense and certain other positions and for the composition and the spirit of its ranks. At the same time, it had a different view on everything. ACWM(ML)’s perspective was for the socialist revolution of the working class. It put forward the task of building the Marxist-Leninist Party. It oriented itself towards the working class and toward organizing the masses – the masses of workers of all nationalities. The ACWM(ML) recognized that it had differences with the Black Panther Party, and it did not regard the Black Panther Party as the vanguard of the revolution. The ACWM(ML) was also unhappy with some of the errors and excesses of the Black Panther Party.

The ACWM(ML) developed its own work and propagated its own line. In the course of this, it defended the Black Panther Party against repression, and it developed ties with the local chapters and members and with expellees and others who had left the Panthers but continued to be influenced by its line. The ACWM(ML) refrained from public criticism of the Black Panther Party; at the same time it used its ties to the ranks of the Black Panther Party to disseminate The Workers’ Advocate and to explain the ACWM(ML)’s views on all questions, including on the questions which in fact it disagreed with the BPP on, which was most of them. When movement activists asked our views of the Black Panther Party, they were told the views of the ACWM(ML) on a series of basic questions – these were, by in large, not framed as a criticism of the Black Panther Party, but anyone would go away knowing what our positions were. The stand of the ACWM(ML) began to reach elements in the Black Panther Party, ex-Panthers, and some leftists working with the Panthers. Given the impact of the BPP in the movement, it was also important for the ACWM(ML)’s work with a broad range of activists.

By early 1971, the ACWM(ML) had in and around its ranks a number of former Panthers and activists formerly associated with the Panthers including the entire former local chapter of the BPP in Des Moines, Iowa. One week they went to Greyhound to pick up that week’s Panther, a thousand copies – instead it was a tape recording from Bobby Seale telling them they were all expelled. This was the beginning of what should have become a larger wave of people coming forward to us.

I want to make it clear that the ACWM(ML) was conscious only to a certain extent of what tactics it was following. It was doing this largely by following its nose and by trying to deal very calmly and objectively with what the politics were. It did not have a full assessment of the extent of the degeneration of the Panthers. It did not have highly worked-out views as to why it refrained from overt criticism of the Panthers, but in effect used all of the means at its disposal to propagate its line and get that across. It worked on a remarkably even keel, remarkable for those early days of the organization, and it did this simply by trying to deal with things in an objective way and keeping the politics to the fore.

Those who came forward from the BPP at this time were in the process of moving forward from Pantherism to Marxism-Leninism. On a number of questions they had taken up Marxism-Leninism as opposed to Panther positions. But they were not consolidated on these positions as some influence of Pantherism remained. It was necessary that they be integrated into the basic work of the ACWM(ML) and, on this basis, consolidated in the Marxist-Leninist positions. This was not carried through. Instead a major reversal took place.

The Black Revolutionary Party

In May 1971 the Black Revolutionary Party was formed with the black cadre of the ACWM(ML) as its forces. The ACWM(ML) was then going through a difficult period in developing its work, and the formation of the BRP was one of several schemes rammed down our throats by our false friends, the leadership of the CP of Canada (ML), in the name of advancing the work. The BRP was put forward as a means of developing the work among black people and of attracting revolutionary elements cast adrift by the shipwreck of the BPP. In fact, it proved to be an instrument for splitting and paralyzing the ACWM(ML). The formation of the BRP in fact cut against the orientation of the ACWM(ML) which had hitherto emphasized winning the circles to the ideas of unitary struggle and unitary organization; it actually cut against us. The ACWM(ML) nonetheless acceded to the proposal. It didn’t initiate the idea but it did agree to it, and this shows that the ACWM(ML) not only had difficulties in defending its integrity but also had some ideological weaknesses.

It looks like the BRP was an attempt to make use of the widespread appeal of the Panthers by reproducing the national revolutionary features of the Panthers at their height, while placing even greater emphasis on eclectically combining this with the appeal for the class struggle for the overthrow of the imperialist system. The central line of the BRP was expressed this way:

“The struggle of black people against racial discrimination and violent repression is a national-class struggle and takes the form of armed self-defense at various levels. Complete emancipation of black people can only be won with the defeat of the evil system of imperialism. That is why the struggle of black people is part and parcel of the struggle of the American working class and people and indeed of the world’s peoples’ struggle against U.S. imperialism.”

This in fact falls short in linking the question of black liberation to the socialist revolution. The connection is solely external. The black workers do not exist in the workers’ movement, the proletariat does not exist in the black liberation movement. In fact, the phrase “national-class struggle” avoids taking a class standpoint by instead painting the national struggle as a class struggle, thus neatly resolving the problem. This serves to obscure both the class differentiation among blacks and the role of black workers in the class struggle at large. The BRP was thus stamped with a petty-bourgeois nationalist character and, in fact, gave an orientation not toward but away from the class struggle.

The BRP seconded this by reproducing in a concentrated way the propensity of the Panthers to make armed defense the central point of its program and reproduced as well the limitations of this propensity. Just as with the Panthers it tended to produce an apolitical orientation – one that is placed at the center of the program – which leads away from organizing the masses on the basis of revolutionary politics. This tendency was brought out in sharp relief by the fact that the high point of 1967 and 1968 was passed and the movement was now in decline, creating extremely unfavorable conditions for organizing armed defense. The consequence was to reproduce the Panther’s eclectic combination of talk about armed defense with activity of the most narrow reformist character; we fed the kids breakfast in the morning.

Meanwhile the masses had been all but abandoned by the organized movement; the organized movement now fell into the hands of the cultural nationalists and the politicians who were busy developing their schemes and ignoring the situation of the masses. The BRP is not able to speak to this. The movement is coming more and more into the hands of its right wing but the BRP is unable to speak to this. The BRP is unable to speak to anything. The BRP feeds kids breakfast every morning, puts out two issues of a newspaper with a lot of pictures of submachine guns, and then vanishes from the face of the earth.

The role of the BRP was not to facilitate but rather to deflect, paralyze and reverse the motion from Pantherism toward ACWM(ML). This is the most fundamental criticism of the BRP.

The BRP is founded at a time when a section of the militants are beginning to move away from Pantherism toward ACWM(ML), and the BRP says go back to where you came from. This had immediate repercussions. The existing cadre were not consolidated on a Marxist-Leninist basis. Instead there was a retrogression into petty-bourgeois nationalism. Meanwhile, new elements showed their appreciation by staying away in droves. The difficulties in the work of ACWM(ML) grew even worse. By this time the basis had been laid for the anarchist factionalism of 1971 in ACWM(ML), which rapidly carried the cadre organizing the BRP off into oblivion. The formation of the BRP thus led to fiasco. It led to fiasco most fundamentally because its role in that time and place was to act as a conveyor belt away from the class struggle, away from Marxism-Leninism, and away from the party.

In Summation

In summary, the Black Panther Party went through a rapid arch of ascent and decline at the height of the black struggles in the 1960’s. In the course of this, it captured a section of militant black youth as it took on revolutionary features. Then and subsequently, there was a gravitation toward Marxism-Leninism among the more conscious elements, albeit infused with considerable influence of Pantherism. For all its problems, the BPP had the sympathy and respect of a broad section of the black masses. It was a central target of the wrath of the state and it influenced and held allegiance of a large part of the left. The BPP was a focal point of the politics of the time.

The ACWM(ML) found ways to form ties among the Panthers, ex-Panthers, and among other sections influenced by the Panthers while maintaining its Marxist-Leninist positions and not falling into tailing the Panthers. It sought ways to hold the ears of such elements and to be able to work for its positions among them. A necessary condition for this was maintaining a principled stand on the objective politics of defending the Panthers against repression. Just at the point that the BPP was falling apart and when also this work was beginning to bear fruit, the ACWM(ML) fell prey to the leadership of CPC(ML)'s scheme to conciliate left Pantherism. The consequence was a setback for the entire work of the ACWM(ML).