First Published: Guardian, August 16, 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Two leading members of the Black Panther party have delivered a strong attack on Students for a Democratic Society.
In an interview in the Aug. 4 Berkeley Barb with party chairman Bobby Seale and chief of staff David Hilliard and in a separate article by Hilliard, the national Panther leadership virtually characterized SDS as a fascist organization. Both attacks were published in the Aug. 9 Black Panther, weekly party organ.
In a separate interview with Guardian West Coast correspondent Art Goldberg Aug. 7, the Panther leaders elaborated on their remarks.
At issue in the dispute between the Panthers and the nation’s largest white radical organization was the refusal of SDS to endorse all aspects of a nationwide petition campaign for community control of local police initiated by the Panthers.
The community control campaign was the one concrete outcome of the United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) conference called by the Black Panther party in Oakland, Calif., July 18-20 and attended by about 3000 persons representing some 40 organizations.
Until the conference, relations between the Panthers and SDS had been marked by extreme cordiality. On March 30, delegates to the SDS national council meeting in Austin, Tex., passed a resolution declaring that “within the black liberation movement the vanguard force is the Black Panther party.” During the national SDS convention in Chicago June 18-23, Panther party influence was important in the expulsion of the Progressive Labor party from SDS.
The UFAF resolution on community control demanded that all communities–black, brown and white–demand control over the police. While endorsing control by black and brown communities, SDS balked at the concept of white control over police in white communities, arguing that this would result in strengthening of white supremacy. Meeting the day after the conference, SDS’s national interim committee passed a resolution criticizing community control for white communities on the grounds that it “has the effect of deflecting the issue from that of fascist repression against black and brown people and from the struggle for self-determination in the colonized nations to a kind of parity among communities which are not, because of white supremacy, equal. It also disregards the reality that whites, because of the ideology of racism and the desire to hold onto their ’privileges,’ are often the oppressors of black people. ’Community control’ cannot be put forward as contentless–for the whites, it should only mean control by a class-conscious working class.”
Referring to SDS’s agreement to support the petition in the “colonies” (black and brown communities) but not in the “oppressor country” (white America), Hilliard wrote in the Black Panther: “How abstract and divorced from the reality of the world around them they must be to think that the Black Panther party would allow them to leave their communities and begin to organize the colony; to control the fascists in the oppressor country is a very definite step towards white people’s power, because James Rector was not shotgunned to death in the black community. It seems they prefer to allow the already legitimate reactionary forces to take roost or sanctuary in the white communities.”
Stating that the “Black Panther party will not be dictated to by people who are obviously bourgeois procrastinators,” Hilliard went on to imply that SDS, among other groups, was “at best national socialist” (i.e., fascist).
The Panther chief of staff interpreted the SDS resolution to mean in part that the white youth group sought to work within the black and brown communities but was reluctant to do so in the white community. In an article in the July 23 SDS organ New Left Notes, national secretary Mark Rudd wrote that the two primary reasons SDS refused to support the petition were that “raising ’white community’ control evades the issue of domestic colonization and thereby evades the thrust of the black liberation struggle itself” and that the concept of the “white community” basically “serves the ruling class by stressing ’white interest’ over class interest, that is, the interest of workers as members of the oppressor nation rather than their interest as members of the oppressed class. This position already exists in certain suburbs and small towns where white working-class people use racist police forces to ’protect’ them from blacks (and where the local bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie control the police, workers with false racist consciousness often approve their use against black and brown people).”
The political blockbuster came in the Barb interview with Seale and Hilliard.
Seale referred to SDS as “a bunch of those jive bourgeois, national socialists and those national chauvinists who gonna try and dictate what they’re going to do in the black community.” The Panther chairman also lashed out at rumors that the Communist party “dominated” the UFAF conference.
Most of the interview was devoted to Hilliard’s blast against SDS.
“The one thing that we’re very careful of doing now,” Hilliard said in answer to a Barb question, “is distinguishing real friends from real enemies. So that whether you call them Trotskyists or PL, SDS, ISC [Independent Socialist Clubs] or whatever brand of initials that they come under, if they’re taking sides with our enemy, then we say that out enemy’s friends are also our enemy.”
Speaking specifically of SDS, Hilliard continued: “My attitude, and I think that I share the unity of concept and will with the Party, is SDS is dizzy from success. That they have asserted the right for the revolutionary vanguard of the oppressor country. But the Black Panther party hasn’t endorsed that. We don’t see SDS as being so revolutionary. We see SDS as just being another pacification front that’s given credit by the fascist establishment in order to cause disfusion in hopes that this would weaken the support for the Black Panther party. . . . SDS had better get their politics straight because the Black Panther party is drawing some very clear lines between friends and enemies. And that we’re going to make it very clear that we’re not going to be attacked from any of those motherfuckers.”
Later in the interview, Hilliard referred to “those little bourgeois, snooty nose” SDSers, threatening that “we’ll beat those little sissies, those little schoolboys’ ass if they don’t try to straighten up their politics. So we want to make that known to SDS and the first motherfucker that gets out of order had better stand in line for some kind of disciplinary actions from the Black Panther party.”
Asked why Panther-SDS relations apparently fell apart during the UFAF conference, Hilliard gave this reply:
“The conference was a magnifying glass, you know. The conference was sort of a dissettling process, you know. It was like weeding out the good from the bad; it was like making a distinction between the reactionaries and the revolutionaries. . . . All of the so-called revolutionary forces from the oppressor country are still just as oppressive as they were when they were born. And that they’re not revolutionaries, that they are national chauvinists, that they are national socialists. That the kind of socialism that they advocate is nothing more than an acute case of racism, manifested in every organization that white counterparts are allowed to participate in. And that we’re sick and tired of those motherfuckers telling us or trying to dictate to us how we should run our struggle, who to align with.”
Referring to SDS’s non-support of the community control resolution, Hilliard said:
“It is obvious that all these little splinter organizations, all these little Boy Scouts and Brownie groups that call themselves revolutionaries, are coming up against something that’s obviously too revolutionary for them to deal with. They criticized the circulation of our petition not because they’re not intelligent enough to realize the revolutionary implications of it but because one always finds excuses for taking the least line of resistance. . .. They must think that the Black Panther party is full of fools, full of ignorant niggers. But we want to make it clear to all the SDSers and PLers, the pigs and the fascists that we have a mind of our own. ... We make our decisions and we support who we want to support and that we’re here to make revolution and if those motherfuckers are in opposition to that revolution, then that just means that we’ll have to muster more guns within our own community in order to move against all the racists–be they young or old.”
Declaring that the Panthers “expect” SDS to become active in circulating the police petition, Hilliard continued:
“We’re not going to let them worm their way out of their duty. If they’re revolutionaries then this is what we, as the vanguard of the revolution in Babylon [the U.S.] dictate, that they circulate THAT petition NOT in our community but in their own community where the Birchites, the Klan, where the Chief of Police, their mammas and their daughters and all the forces of reaction and racism are manifested, where they all hole up. And we say that unless they’re willing to do that, then they’re giving sanctuary to the criminals, that they’re giving sanctuary to the racists, fascists.... If the young white people of Babylon are not willing to follow the vanguard’s lead, manifested in black people in America, not just the Black Panther party, then we say, well, right on racists, right on enemies. Because we’re defining them as such. ... If they make one more counter-revolutionary statement [apparently referring to the SDS police resolution], if they make one more attack on our party-then we’re going to begin to attack them in the same light that we do all the rest of the fascists of this power structure, and that’s in toto.”
In the interview with Guardian correspondent Goldberg, the Panther leaders described many white radicals as “bourgeois Boy Scouts,” and “little petty racists.”
“All revolutionaries, and all revolutionary organizations eventually have to make a choice between revolution and counter-revolution,” Hilliard said. “If they will not take the lead from the vanguard, then they will have to move to the other side. From now on we will not take theory, but actions as the basis for the coalitions we make. The Young Patriots [a Chicago white working-class youth organization] are the only revolutionaries we respect that ever came out of the mother country.”
The Hillard added, “The only revolutionary force in the bourgeois mother country is the women.”
In the Guardian interview, the Panther leaders defended their community control petition as “revolutionary,” saying that community control of police would eventually lead to “liberated zones” and that when the people really controlled the police forces, you had in actually a “people’s militia.”
Seale and Hilliard argued that by refusing to circulate the petition in the white community, white radicals were giving fascist elements sanctuary there.
Seale said that over 1500 persons had signed up at the UFAF conference to work on the National Committees to Combat Fascism, and circulate the community control petition. “When you circulate that petition, you are moving in direct opposition to the chief opponents of the revolutionary movement,” he said.
The Panther chairman said his party had expected the dissent at the UFAF conference. “We knew what was going to happen there,” Seale said, “and we made a concerted effort to weed out the reactionaries from the revolutionaries. What we got out of that conference was a coalition–a revolutionary coalition.”
Hilliard urged white radicals to have a “little courage” and to circulate the petition. “For some people,” he predicted, “that piece of paper is going to be like a ’magic wand.’ They will be taking it around, possibly get beaten up by the pigs and then go back and get a gun.”
Hilliard also had some comments about the Panthers’ relationship to the Community party. “We are not aligned with the CP,” he said. “The CP is an autocracy controlled by Gus Hall. We are aligned with factions within the CP who want to move towards a better society. Those are the people we worked with on the conference, and those are the people we will continue to work with. We are not co-conspirators with U.S. imperialism.”
The Panther leaders urged white radicals to work in the interest of the black colony and not to attack the vanguard. “If they [SDS] attack us again,” said Hilliard, “we’ll kick their asses.”