Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line


Against Revisionism: In Defense of the Black Panther Party, 1966-1970


First Published: September 1971.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The revolutionary war is a war of the masses. It can only be waged by mobilizing the masses and relying on them. – Mao Tsetung

Preface to the August 1972 Printing

When Venceremos first published this position paper in September, 1971, it appeared as the center section of PAMOJA VENCEREMOS, the newspaper of our organization Since that time it has been reprinted as a pamphlet and widely distributed. When we originally wrote it, we felt the time was right to say, “The emperor is naked.” Since then we have re-read, reviewed and received criticism on the document and have been able to see some inconsistencies.

The major thing is that in this paper we accuse the Black Panther Party of not putting forth a correct class analysis. But you can easily see that nowhere in this paper did we put out our own class analysis. More specifically, we didn’t talk about the role of the working class or the proletariat! So we failed to make an all-sided criticism. But we think that the document has made a positive contribution to the revolutionary movement, that the central points we made are still correct today, and because we have received hundreds of requests from all over the country, including from within the military and prisons, for more copies we are reprinting the paper.

We could have rewritten certain sections to deal with our own criticisms, but we feel that the document has become the property of the revolutionary movement and that it would be opportunist to make such changes at this time. To remedy our most obvious error, we ask the reader to read the booklet entitled VENCEREMOS PRINCIPLES OF UNITY which deals with (among other things) a class analysis of our society.

Preface to the September 1971 Printing

On March 10, 1971, VENCEREMOS organization printed a statement in Venceremos that the Black Panther Party was, as usual, facing some of the major contradictions of the day and that VENCEREMOS was in the process of an investigation but would not make a public statement at that time. We felt that had VENCEREMOS chosen to pick sides or draw conclusions about the Panther split, with no investigation and little understanding of the issues and dialectics involved, this, no doubt, would have been a very dangerous form of liberalism. It could have been both unprincipled and uncomradely.

Now six months have passed since that statement and those considerations. Since that time, our Central Committee, made up of six Third World members and three white members, has been conducting an investigation of the shifting Oakland Panther line, and particularly of its effects on our own revolutionary practice. For the last weeks Venceremos leadership has circulated to membership an internal document containing an analysis, conclusions, and political line on the “Oakland Office.”

This document is now being printed here, in full, and is the political position of the VENCEREMOS organization. VENCEREMOS feels that it would be equally liberal, dangerous, unprincipled and uncomradely not to print our position paper openly. We have always been open to the people about our practice and politics. To have waited any longer after having adopted our internal position would have shown deceit and contempt for the people.

Some people will say that our investigation may not have been thorough or extensive enough, a criticism which can be and almost always is made. To these people we respond that we had to draw the line and clarify our position when we saw that our own practice was suffering and being misdirected away from the struggles of the revolutionary people. We ask of those critical of our position and timing to present their own analysis and record of practice so that other revolutionaries might learn from them and improve their work.

For six months, then, we have studied the line coming out of Oakland, and experienced its impact on our own cadre and the oppressed people we’re working with. From what we’ve seen, the line and its effect have gotten further and further out of touch with the needs and struggles of the advanced and revolutionary people, a fact that leads us to conclude and make public our investigation. During this same period we also tried, on several occasions, to set up meetings with the Peralta Street office–first through personal contacts in other organizations and people who were close to Oakland from our own organization, and finally through telephone calls and a special delivery letter asking to meet with anyone they designated within a week from the time the letter was sent. We never received any reply or message from them at all. We have had meetings with comrades from other organizations who were admitted to speak to Huey P. Newton, we have read position papers on the Panthers, and-recently a member of our Central Committee flew to New York and spoke the with leadership of the Young Lords Party. These are some of the methods we have used in carrying out our analysis.

VENCEREMOS is a multi-national organization, partly white and partly Third World membership. Since this discussion began in the organization, the entire Third World membership of VENCEREMOS has been completely unified on its position toward the Oakland line. At no time did any Third World comrade disagree with the analysis being developed by the Central Committee. A few white people did, however, and got so abstractly shook up that they left the organization before the position paper was ever written. We call these people “racist sissies.” Racist because this clan which had pledged voluntarily to be duty-bound by the Third World comrades of VENCEREMOS, instead had the effect of sabotaging Third World decisions and directions. Sissies because they constantly gossiped behind people’s backs, broke security regulations on several occasions, and then proclaimed that their Third World command came from the Black Panther Peralta Street Office in Oakland, and not from Venceremos. This was a deliberate attempt to use the tool of the white ruling class to divide Third World and oppressed people (particularly by pitting Blacks against Browns) to make their own personal point.

Finally, we wish to emphasize that this paper is not intended as a personal attack or opportunist attempt of any kind. Rather we hope it will provide an accurate analysis of social conditions and political practice at a given historical period during the U.S. revolutionary movement, for the constructive purpose of improving and raising the level of conscious revolutionary activity.

VENCEREMOS is not claiming to be superior to or the vanguard of anything in the U.S. revolutionary movement. VENCEREMOS says that at this time there is no replacement for what used to be the Black Panther Party, that the political line of the Oakland office has set backward the revolutionary struggle in the U.S. at a time when the oppressed masses of people are crying out for vanguard revolutionary leadership. We know that out of the objective conditions such a vanguard organization will emerge from the belly of the beast to lead us once again, raising the consciousness of the people through direct struggle and again dealing death blows to U.S. imperialism, chief enemy of the People of the World Until then, we are solidly resolved to continue building solidarity and bold fighting spirit among oppressed people in the U.S., linking up their struggles with those of the world vanguard in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and spreading by example our firm conviction that once united WE WILL WIN! VENCEREMOS!

Black Panther Party

The history of the U.S. reached a turning point in the period 1964-1968. In the summer of 1964 the Black masses in several major cities rose up in spontaneous rebellion. This was the first of the “long, hot summers” which reached a climax in the Detroit rebellion of August, 1967. In these four summers, the broad masses of Black people unleashed the rage that had been building up for centuries. Using the molotov cocktail as the people’s bomb, they inflicted billions of dollars in material damage on U.S. imperialism. Then came the first week of April, 1968, when simultaneous rebellions took place in one-hundred-and-twenty-five U.S. cities. In Washington, D.C., alone it took 14,000 federal troops to put down the uprising. Mao called this period “a storm such as has never taken place before in the history” of the U.S.

Before this great surge of the masses, there were no real revolutionary organizations in the U.S. Conscious revolutionaries did not create the revolutionary masses. It was the other way around. The masses created the conscious revolutionaries, whose job is to synthesize the thoughts of the most advanced section of the masses, and to provide the theory, organization, and leadership necessary to achieve victory.

Many Black revolutionary organizations were created by this tremendous mass action. But far and away the most important has been the Black Panther Party. The Panthers began in Oakland in 1966 as a consciously revolutionary group organized around the basic need for armed self-defense, and unfolding around the gun an all-round program of self-defense in a much larger sense, including demands for the fulfillment of all basic, human needs. This was a minimum program designed to unfold into the maximum program of socialist revolution. From the beginning, The Panthers attempted to lead the Black masses beyond their spontaneous uprisings to a higher level of armed struggle. They put forward the absolutely correct strategy for revolutionary armed struggle in the US: protracted war based on urban guerilla warfare.

Now from the beginning, the Panthers were attacked from both the right and the “left”, as well as by the pigs. The criticism from the right and the criticisms from the “left” all agreed on one thing, that the Panthers had to stop talking about guns.

The right said that all that talk about guns would turn off the masses, who were not ready for such things Huey Newton answered this in theory in his brilliant attack on revisionism, “Reply to William Patterson” (Sept., 1970). William Paterson, of the so-called Communist Party, U.S.A., had written an article saying that the Panthers were becoming more “mature” and moving away from their infantile position of armed self-defense. Huey Newton showed that Patterson’s position was the essence of Revisionism:

...he is a revisionist and opposed to armed struggle...He claims that because our line is so provocative it’s given the established order an excuse to kill us. Well what excuse has the Vietnamese people given them?...Patterson says that ’the Panthers have learned that neither Black nor White American masses is ready for the gun as a major instrument of freedom, or for guerilla warfare, nor for that matter was all the Panther leadership.’ I agree with him; apparently everyone is not ready for the gun. But I would also ask does he mean we should stop talking about the gun? Should we stop defending ourselves? Is he saying that the gun is not a tool that we will eventually have to use? Should it not be introduced to the people? If his answer to these questions is affirmative then it follows that the Communist Party of the USA should drop its Marxist-Leninist Line (for which the masses are evidently not ready) and start a new line. And I suppose their new line would be the bourgeois democratic electorial politics line which the American Communist Party had embraced.” The Panthers put their theory into practice. They began organizing the masses in Oakland to engage in armed self-defense by setting the example themselves, patrolling the streets with guns and in uniform. When the California State legislature moved to stop this with the “Panther Law” prohibiting bearing arms, the Panthers went to the state capitol carrying guns. Every revisionist, liberal, and pseudo-revolutionary sissy in the country started screaming. “Eek! You’re alienating the masses! Stop! Be sensible! Put away those horrible g-g-guns!” And what was the result? The Black masses gave the Panthers the largest mass base of any revolutionary organization in the history of the USA has ever had. In the 1968 birthday party for Huey, the Oakland auditorium held many thousands of cheering Black people, including not only lumpen youth, but families, old people, little children, workers, professional people. In May, 1969, ten thousand Black people, together with many white, Brown, and Asian people, turned out to demand that Huey be set free. They held up the red book, chanted “Free Huey, Off the Pig!”, and proclaimed that the two main tools of liberation were the gun and the red book. By putting forward the gun, the Panthers aroused the consciousness of the masses to Marxism-Leninism, and led the way forward to defeating social pacifism not only in the Black nation but also in the Chicano nation, Puerto Rico, and even the white movement.

But meanwhile, the Panther policy of openly advocating armed struggle and displaying guns for the masses was also attacked from the “left”. Many Black groups in particular said, “If they were serious about using guns they wouldn’t be waving them around. The Panthers are just jiving, don’t have their shit together on the military level, and are going to get themselves wiped out.” What they advocated was building a secret military apparatus while openly holding a reformist line, which would provide a cover. Many of these groups got heavily involved in the 0E0 and other reformist programs, even including Black Capitalism. (The present leaders of Nairobi College and Black capitalism in East Palo Alto took this position and used their underground military apparatus to keep the Panthers out of East Palo Alto.) The Panthers understood quite clearly that they were exposing themselves to great risks by openly identifying with armed struggle and organizing for armed self-defense openly. Why did they do it then? Because they understood very clearly that “the people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.” A revolution is not made by a vanguard organization, and no secret military apparatus set up by such an organization can do the job by itself. The Panthers were not picking up the gun so that they themselves could win power for the people. They were picking up the gun for the masses to see and understand that this was the tool they would have to use to secure power. But in the concrete conditions of the USA, this also meant that the Panthers themselves were going to have to use it.

The pig offensive against the Panthers moved into high gear in the very midst of the greatest mass action, that first week of April 1968, when the pigs ambushed a group of leading Panthers, killing Bobby Hutton and wounding Eldridge Cleaver. In the next year and a half, police raids on Panther headquarters were commonplace. In most of these police military operations, the Panthers came out on the losing side. Throughout the ghettoes there was much criticism of the Panthers for talking a better game than they were prepared to fight. This reached its heaviest in the Chicago raid which murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. That was December 4, 1969. But four days later, the tide was turned. The Los Angeles Panthers, led by Deputy Minister of Defense of the Party, Geronimo, repelled a surprise early-morning pig raid and then held off hundreds of L.A. pigs for almost five hours, while suffering no losses. Late that afternoon, the pigs in San Francisco cleared the streets and began to surround the S.F. Panther headquarters and the pigs in Berkeley poised for an attack on national Panther headquarters. People rushed to defend both headquarters and the pigs backed down and squealed back to their sties. After that came the successful defense of Panther headquarters in Detroit and the NCCF in New Orleans, in both of which the Black masses, for the first time, put themselves on the line in defense of the Panthers. Since then, the pig raids have almost stopped. The combination of armed self-defense by the revolutionary vanguard and the support of the people blunted the edge of fascist repression.

All during this period, the Panthers were also correctly fighting against a purely military viewpoint. Just as they showed that armed struggle was the highest form of serving the people, they also showed that every point of their program, not just point seven, was a question of self-defense. So they developed concrete programs to meet some of the other needs of the people, not just their need for armed self-defense.

Another great accomplishment was in bringing a strong internationalist and anti-imperialist consciousness to both the Black movement and the white student movement. It was largely through the Panthers that the broad masses began to get a clear understanding that the Black nation, Aztlan, Puerto Rico and Hawaii are essentially in the same relationship to U.S. imperialism as Vietnam. Perhaps the greatest single gesture of internationalist solidarity came in Huey Newton’s first statement when he was released from jail: “In the spirit of revolutionary solidarity the Black Panther Party hereby offers to the National Liberation Front and Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism.” The Deputy Commander of the South Vietnamese People’s Liberation Armed Forces responded:

We are deeply moved by your offer...This news was communicated to all the cadres and fighters of the PLAF in South Vietnam; so brave as you, on the very soil of the United States.

We consider it as a great contribution...an important event...

In the spirit of international solidarity, you have put forward the responsibility towards history, towards the necessity of uniting actions, sharing joys and sorrows, participating in the struggle against U.S. imperialism...

In the past years, your just struggle in the U.S. has stimulated us to strengthen unity, and rush forward toward bigger successes.

The Panthers also provided vanguard leadership in the theory and practice of the United Front. Within the Black nation, this meant building support among the petty bourgeoisie, including professional people, ministers, and small businessmen, and forming concrete tactical alliances with elements of the national bourgeoisie (such as their successful unity-struggle-unity relations with Willie Brown, Ron Dellums and Carleton Goodlett). Even more important was their unification of the entire revolutionary movement behind the correct slogans and practice of the Black Panther Party. Key to this was the famous theoretical document presented to the founding convention of the Peace and Freedom Party in the spring of 1968, “The Black Paper: Revolution in the White Mother Country and National Liberation in the Black Colony” by Eldridge Cleaver. Behind the Panther leadership, revolutionaries were able to defeat the supremacy and pacifism in the white movement, fighting for the adoption of the slogans, “Free Huey or the sky’s the limit!” and “Free Huey by any means necessary.” Applying the science of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of the U.S., the Panthers produced the correct slogans for the growing revolutionary movement: “Off the pigs!”, “Shoot to kill”, “Death to the fascist pigs!”, “Seize the time!” and the entire overall strategy for revolution in the US was summed up in the slogan, “All power to the people!” This scientifically expresses the broad unity of the oppressed Third World nations and all poor and working people in Babylon. (It wasn’t just an accident that at the SDS convention in the summer of 1969, PL chanted “Power to the workers!” in an attempt to drown out the shouts of “Power to the people!”

Now, all of a sudden we are told by the Oakland leadership that during this very period, when the BPP became the theoretical and practical vanguard of both the Black nation and the entire U.S. revolutionary movement, they had “defected from the Black community.” Almost all the revolutionary slogans have been repudiated. Guns have been censored out of the newspaper published by the Oakland headquarters. News of the revolution throughout the world is suppressed. Geronimo, who led the historic defense of the Panther office in Los Angeles is thrown out of the party and denounced as a counter-revolutionary “pig” and “dog.” Then the New York 21 are thrown out, and the main leadership in N.Y. are denounced as “enemies of the people.” The same fate is handed out to D.C., who as Field Marshal had built up the military apparatus, and to Eldridge Cleaver.

Every great theoretical and practical accomplishment of the BPP during the 1968-1970 period, when Huey Newton was in jail, we are now told was “infantile,” “revolutionary cultist,” and part of the defection from the Black community.” William Patterson’s line (the line of the CP) becomes the correct line on guns. Huey repudiates his own offer to the Vietnamese. The newspaper takes as its main task the necessity of teaching the Black masses that they are oppressed. The masses are seen as so ignorant and backward that the 1964-1968 rebellions must have happened on another planet. Instead of taking the position that ”the masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant,” the BPP paper takes the position that the revolutionaries, who already know all about “Z,” have to take on the painful task of teaching the masses their ABC’s, beginning, of course, with “A.”

Because of the tremendous contribution that Huey Newton has made to all of our development, because we saw him as one of our main leaders, many of us have had difficulty understanding what he is now saying, or even believing that he is really saying it. Therefore we think it important to lay out in some detail what the present line is.

In the April 17 and May 19 issues of the BPP paper, Huey says that at a certain period the Party became “a revolutionary cult group” that had no influence in raising the consciousness in the Black community” and was “not doing anything to mobilize whites.” Now precisely when did this “defection from the Black community” take place?

It wasn’t before Huey was jailed. “In 1966,” he tells us, the Party was “related to in a positive way” by the people. In this version of history: “After a short harmonious relationship, we were divorced from the Church, and shortly after that we found ourselves out of the good favor of the whole Black community.” The defection took place while Huey was in jail, and he suddenly finds himself being just an impotent minority of the Central Committee: “I did much disagreeing and arguing when I was in prison, but I was outvoted.” “I couldn’t influence the Central Committee...” He even thought of leaving the Party.

How long did this “defection” last? Huey’s answer is quite specific: two to three years. “The new word that we call what we went into for a short length of time–a couple of years–is revolutionary cultist.” “So we’re now about three years behind in our five-year plan.” In other words, the Black Panther Party was nothing but a “revolutionary cult” during the very period when it was leading the revolutionary movement, 1968-1970.

The Revisionist Line

This view of what the BPP became after Huey went to jail is not very consistent with some facts. For example, a current poll showed that somewhat over 85% of the Black people in the U.S. looked on the BPP as a “source of pride in the community.” This poll was taken at the time when the pigs were still raiding Panther offices and when shootouts were common. Of this, Huey says, “It was very wrong and almost criminal for some people in the Party to make the mistake to think that the BPP could overthrow even the police force.” The present line sees this policy of armed self-defense as part of the isolation from the “community.”

The question that emerges is, “Who were the Panthers isolating themselves from?” The broad term “community” contains no class analysis, and unless we analyze the different classes the word becomes a cover for revisionism. Huey himself understood this brilliantly and used to act on it. He was the one who pointed out that the Sacramento action would make respectable people–Black and White–call them thugs and hoodlums, and therefore the thugs and hoodlums would dig the shit out of it. (Look at what Bobby Seale says in SEIZE THE TIME about “Niggers with guns.”) Compare this latest position with Patterson’s line, “The Panthers thought they could take on the police, etc.”

Or look at Huey’s repudiation of his offer of troops to the NLF: “I was guilty of this (revolutionary cult-ism) when I offered the Black troops to Vietnam.” Who did this great act alienate the party from? The Black GI’s who are fragging the brass or even deserting to fight on the side of the NLF? From the lumpen? Or from the Black capitalists? Here again, the idea that the BPP is isolated from “the community” has no class content.

Of course “the community” in the early stages of the revolutionary struggle is not revolutionary. But this does not mean that they aren’t ready for revolutionary action and ideas. Look at the way Jonathan Jackson’s heroic act galvanized hundreds of thousands of progressive people all over the country. At first, the people who “guide the community” will still be the Democratic Party, the Urban Coalition, and other pigs and lackeys. But that doesn’t mean that they are the leaders the people need, or that revolutionary leaders will be isolated from the community, even if they are initially supported by only a small minority. Lenin pointed out that “the concept of ’masses’ changes in accordance with the changes in the nature of the struggle.” “At the beginning of the struggle,” Lenin tells us, “a few thousand genuinely revolutionary proletarians is enough to warrant talk of the masses.” “Masses” means the “Majority” only at the very verge of the seizure of state power. Compare this to that essence of revisionism expressed by the leading revisionist, scab, traitor and renegade of our time, Liu Shao-Chi:

In all sections of the masses there are generally to be found the relatively active elements, the intermediate elements, and the backward elements. In the initial .stages the active elements are usually in the minority, while the intermediate elements and the backward elements make up the broad masses. In accordance with the mass line, attention must, be paid to the majority, that is, the intermediate and backward elements; otherwise the advanced section will become isolated, and nothing can be done satisfactorily. (FANSHEN, p. 454)

Historically, revisionism always blurs class lines to provide a cover for class collaboration. That is why the revisionist clique that rules and exploits the Soviet masses tells them that their government is no longer a Dictatorship of the Proletariat but rather a “State of the Whole People.” Or why our masters tell us that this is a “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

The Panther paper used to explain why the most oppressed sector of the Black community must be the vanguard. Now class lines are blurred over so that the emphasis can be placed on the Church and Black capitalism. Within an oppressed nation, the most exploited and oppressed classes must force the petty bourgeoisie and progressive sectors of the national bourgeoisie to follow its leadership within the United Front. Without keeping the class question in the forefront, the United Front becomes an instrument to put the masses into the hands of “their” bourgeoisie.

The United Front within an oppressed nation is maintained by struggle, not by uniting on the terms set forth by the petty and large bourgeoisie. The unity is not static but dialectical, and class contradictions within the United Front may be antagonistic for long periods of time (as when the Kuomintang fought against the Red Army). To urge unprincipled unity within the United Front is to objectively sell out the interests of the oppressed masses.

The concept of “revolutionary cultism” is now being used as a club to beat down anyone who questions the revisionist line. It is aimed at making anybody who follows past Panther practice and even talks about guns much less comes to using one, some kind of dangerous nut. It is this line which is capable of isolating the revolutionaries.

We all thought that the defense of the L.A. office was an historic, revolutionary event, that proved to people that you could hold off the pigs and stop the development of fascism. Now we’re told that it was a cultist act. On December 20, 1969, the Panther paper said of Geronimo:

’G’ was at 55th St. when the fascists laid seige to the house. The bullet holes over his bed clearly show that these dogs intended to murder him, like the Chicago pigs murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Since arrested, he has been handcuffed in jail, thrown into the ’hole’ for a week and harassed and beaten. He is now in high spirits in the federal jail and says, “Tell everyone I love them and will seize the time!”

Now we’re told that it is “G” who is the real pig and dog. All but four of these heroes have been thrown out of the Party, and all of them have public defenders for lawyers. Was Jonathan Jackson also a revolutionary cultist?

The essence of the current revisionist line is its reformism, which advocates either working within existing institutions or setting up Utopian alternatives. It postpones the fight against these institutions until some never-never time in the future, saying that until then all we can do is survive (“Survival pending revolution”).

Now some people say that this doesn’t mean that the Oakland leadership has abandoned its revolutionary purpose. After all, they say, they’re still saying there has to be a revolution. What these people don’t realize is that this is always the first game run by revolutionaries who are becoming reformists. Again Lenin spells it out:

We are not reformists, the liquidators wrote, because we have not said that reforms are everything and the ultimate goal nothing; we have spoken of movement to the ultimate goal. (Marxism & Reformism)

Compare these recent words of Huey Newton (May 29, 1971)

So we will do this and we will point out to this government, to this social order that they must administer to its people because they say that they’re supposed to be a representative government, representing the needs of the people. Then serve them. If they don’t do this then they have the right to be criticized. (!!) What we will not do in the future is jump too far ahead. We can jump too far ahead and say that the system absolutely cannot give us anything which is not true, the system can correct itself to a certain extent. What we are interested in is for it to correct itself as much as it can do and after that if it doesn’t do everything that the people think is necessary, then we’ll think about reorganizing things.

...Let’s give it a chance, let’s work with it in order to twist as many contributions and compromises out of all the institutions as possible and then criticize after the fact.

This reformism would be sick enough if the USA was a separate planet. But we are in the belly of the imperialist monster that is daily slaughtering our brothers and sisters around the world. To forget that is criminal. More than that, it is suicidal.

For the principal contradiction in the world today is that between U.S. imperialism and the oppressed peoples and nations of the Third World, at home and abroad. And the main aspect of that contradiction is not the vicious war waged by the imperialists, but the revolutionary struggle of the masses. Revolution is the main trend in the world today. No longer are the peoples of the world surrounded by the imperialists. Today it is the people who surround the imperialists, raining blows on them from all sides. Only if we understand this can we understand revolution within the U.S.

When Huey repudiated his offer of troops for Vietnam, he suggested that the offer might have been “moral” but it was still non-revolutionary. But the offer wasn’t made just to help out the poor, helpless, downtrodden Vietnamese. As Huey himself explained, it was a symbol of the fact that the war in Vietnam and the fight for Black liberation was one and the same, and that both were winning. (And it was Roy Wilkins who objected, saying that the Panthers were showing that they had no concern for the Black masses at home.)

International news hardly ever appears in the Panther paper anymore, and when it does, it stresses the power of the imperialists. The Panther line on the world revolution is becoming increasingly nationalist, in the sense of being opposed to internationalism. Some may object, saying that merely omitting mention of world revolution is not an expression of a line. Would they say the same thing of a white group that never mentioned the struggles of Third World peoples? (Anyone who wants to see in a striking way just how narrowly nationalist the paper has become should pick up a copy of MUHAMMED SPEAKS for comparison.)

The revisionist position on the military question flows directly from this blindness to the fact that we are part of a world revolution. The position on the military question comes out in a few ways. First, there is the absence of guns. Even Emory’s art now shows an unarmed people, as if this were not part of being subject to slavery. Then there have been a few articles by George Jackson and Chip Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald merely looks at the Russian and Chinese model for a military strategy and says it’s ridiculous to think of applying either here. George Jackson stresses the need for a total separation between political work, which consists of “serve-the-people programs” in no way related to guns, and military work, which is undertaken spontaneously by those masses who form decentralized guerilla units. Any connection between the political and military aspects would merely give the pigs an “excuse to attack our political projects.” This line represents a complete cop-out by the party on its main responsibility in military affairs to provide concrete political leadership. It suggests that the party really believes in armed struggle but is artfully concealing the idea. The question is, “From whom?” And the answer is not from the pigs, who think we’re all terrorists anyhow, but from the people, who are demanding revolutionary leadership.

So the Panthers come to adopt the revisionism of the CP., expressed by William Patterson: “To attempt implementation of the assertion that liberation comes from guns under today’s conditions in the USA is to commit a provocation for which one will pay dearly.” As Huey said in his reply to Patterson, “What excuse have the Vietnamese given?” The line that talking about guns will bring down repression is clearly revisionist. Resistance will end repression and the gun is the tool of resistance. As to the other aspect of this line, the underground military apparatus taking political leadership at a distance from the “political” party, this too is revisionist. This is the very argument which Huey refutes in his early article “On the Correct Handling of a Revolution.” Here is what he said then:

The so-called revolutionaries are in fact afraid of the very danger that they are advocating for the people. These so-called revolutionaries want the people to say what they themselves are afraid to say, and the people to do what they themselves are afraid to do. This makes the so-called revolutionary a coward and a hypocrite.

If the revolutionary party is not going to say anything about the method of struggle at a time when the masses are offing pigs, burning banks and still pulling off urban rebellions, who is going to provide leadership? TIME magazine?

Even around his own trial we can see the disastrous effects of the revisionist line. At the time of the first trial, it was the masses, mobilizing around the correct slogans of “Free Huey Newton or the sky’s the limit!” and “Free Huey Newton by any means necessary!” who saved Huey from the gas chamber. Now the slogan is: “There will never be justice in America until the people are the judges.” How can anybody be mobilized around that Utopian idea? What the hell are they supposed to do now? Pray for Huey’s soul?

This new military (or pacifist) line is supposed to be based on the idea that the gun itself is not revolutionary. We all know that, because every day we see guns strapped to the sides of pigs. And we also know that some people are turned off by guns, or rather by people other than pigs with guns. But as Huey said to Patterson, does this mean we should stop talking about the gun?

To organize the people against the state without preparing them mentally and physically for armed struggle is to lead them into an ambush.

Where does this leave us?

Is this the first time in history that leading revolutionaries have suddenly taken a revisionist line and out-and-out naked revisionism has swept throughout the ranks of the revolutionaries? Hardly. In fact, this is a very typical development in a certain stage of the revolutionary process. It is characteristic of the period immediately following an upsurge of the mass movement.

The revolutionary process begins with a spontaneous rebellion of the masses. This upheaval changes the existence of everyone in society. It awakens the first conscious thoughts of actual revolution. It creates the first conscious revolutionaries. People become aware of the need for a revolutionary strategy and a revolutionary organization. These begin to form.

But the spontaneous movement of the masses, because it has no clear strategy and organization, is doomed to fail. The repression strikes. The masses sense immediately that they don’t yet have what it takes to win. They seem to sink back into the apathy, despair and inaction that they had before their rebellion. But this is only a surface calm. Beneath it, the thoughts of revolution are widening and deepening.

The conscious revolutionaries who were created by the masses suddenly find themselves seemingly all alone. It is as if they had been part of a huge wave, and they, have waked up to find themselves stranded like a little pool of water on a desert beach. They begin to doubt the existence of the ocean itself, the sea of the masses. From where they stand, the masses seem backward. They feel deserted. No matter how hard they shout at the ocean, there seems to be no response. They don’t hear the masses’ demands for leadership. They doubt that there will ever be any more waves. They fail to see that the masses are only preparing for what they know is necessary, not a gesture of angry protest, but sweeping forward to the actual seizure of power.

When the revolutionaries give up on the masses and surrender to defeatism, two lines always emerge. One abandons all the revolutionary slogans and programs, and commits itself to doing only legal work. The other seeks to make the revolution all by itself, abandons all open work and goes underground. Both fail to see that it is the masses who are the makers of history.

Compare our situation to what happened in Russia after the 1905-1906 revolution was put down. THE HISTORY OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY, SOVIET UNION describes the tremendous confusion and disintegration of the movement during which many revolutionaries completely deserted. It shows how Lenin led the way in between the right and “left” errors:

Lenin pointed out that at such moments revolutionary parties should perfect their knowledge. During the period of rise of the revolution they learned how to advance; during the period of reaction, they should learn how to retreat properly, how to go underground, how to preserve and strengthen the illegal party, how to make use of legal opportunities, of all legally existing, especially mass, organizations in order to strengthen their connections with the masses.

Lenin’s main battle was against the right opportunists who wanted to liquidate the illegal party. He called them “liquidators.” The HISTORY describes how they...

...retreated in panic, not believing that a new rise in the tide of revolution was possible; they disgracefully renounced the revolutionary demands of the program and the revolutionary slogans of the Party; they wanted to liquidate, to abolish, the revolutionary illegal party of the proletariat...

As Lenin put it in “On the Road,” the liquidators thought “it was necessary to legalize ourselves at all costs, even at the price of an open renunciation of the Party program, tactics, and organization.” Their tactics centered on the “whittling down of slogans.” This is precisely what we have seen happen within a section of the leadership of the BPP.

Meanwhile, there was an incorrect “left” line, put forward by a group that wanted to withdraw from all open work: “They wanted to seclude themselves within the underground organization, yet at the same time they placed it in jeopardy by denying it the opportunity of utilizing legal cover.” Lenin called them “liquidators inside-out” because they made it impossible for the illegal party to use the existing mass organization, thus cutting off its life blood.

The correct line in such a situation, which we believe is very much the one we are now in, is first of all to retain faith in the masses, being “certain that within the next few years there will be a rise in the tide of revolution.” Therefore, it is “the duty of the Party to prepare the masses for this new rise.” How is this done? Lenin showed that the answer lay in the skillful combining of legal and illegal work. The key task was strengthening the illegal party apparatus while engaging in the absolute maximum amount of open revolutionary political work within existing mass organizations. The underground cells were the nuclei and the hidden structure around which was built the mass organizations. It was through the open mass work that the underground structure not only preserved but actually strengthened its ties with the masses. The other key thing that had to be done was purging the party of all opportunist elements, all those who were willing to abandon revolutionary slogans and programs whenever the going got rough.

It was precisely in this way and exactly in this most difficult period of all that the Bolshevik Party was built. We believe that the present period may very well provide the same opportunity. True revolutionaries are steeled and tempered in the hardest times, when many other drop out. And we know from our experience that the most dangerous enemies are not the pigs and dinosaurs of the empire, but our own doubts and fears, and that these inner monsters do not come out nearly as much in the heat of mass struggle as they do in the murky time just before the day of the final battles. Many of us will falter in the times ahead, but there will certainly emerge a revolutionary party capable of winning the trust of the people and leading them on to victory. And this party will certainly never renounce or hide from the people the very ideas that they need to win.

An unarmed people are subject to slavery at any time