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Liberation Or Gangsterism Pt 1

In the first of a three part series this writing lays out the historical context of black and asian movements to reclaim identity and self-worth and a detailed account of the tactics used against them.

By Russell “Maroon” Shoatz/4StruggleMag

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission-fulfill it or betray it.” Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth


Within two generations the youth of this country have come full circle. Starting in 1955, youth were driven by two major motivations: one, the acquiring of enough education or apprenticeships, the use of their unskilled labor or street smarts to land “good” jobs or establish hustles, and to make as much money and obtain as many material trappings as possible. The second was to use the education, apprenticeships, unskilled labor, street smart jobs, hustles and the material trappings provided by them to win a measure of respect and dignity from their peers and society in general.

Simultaneously, they were learning to respect themselves as individuals, and not simply be eating, sleeping, laboring and sexual animals.

The First Wave: circa 1955-1980

The Civil Rights Movement in the South successfully motivated Black, Puerto Rican, Euro-Amerikan, Chicano-Mexicano, Indigenous and Asian youth to use their time, energy, creativity and imagination to discover their true self-worth and earn the respect of the entire world while struggling toward even broader goals that were not measured by one’s material possessions.

Over time each segment cheered on, supported, worked in solidarity with and/or discovered its own common interests and closely linked missions connected to broader people’s goals. Thus, Black youth elevated the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Power and Black Liberation Movements. Puerto Rican youth energized their elders’ ongoing struggle to winindependence for their home island. Euro-Amerikan youth attacked the lies, hypocrisy and oppression that their parents were training them to uphold in the schools, society and overseas. Native Amerikan youth were returning to their suppressed ancestral ways and fighting to regain control over some of their land.

Asian youth were struggling to overcome a system and culture that had always used and abused them. Indeed all of them came to see clearly that neither education, jobs, money, hustles or material trappings could, by themselves, win them the victories they needed, or the new type of dignity and respect they deserved.

Moreover, from 1955 until circa 1975, these youth joined, formulated, led and supported struggles worldwide against racial oppression and bigotry, colonialism, oppression of women and youth. In the process they were winning themselves the respect, admiration and gratitude of the world’s oppressed as well as their peers. Further, in addition to becoming people that societies must take seriously, these youth were positive contributors who had much to give and were willing to sacrifice to achieve their goals. They were youth who were capable of imagining a better world and fighting to realize it while remaining youthful and having a good time doing it. All in all, they earned a much-deserved place in history.

From the Mountain to the Sewer

Yet here we are 30 years later and the youth nowadays have been stripped of that hard-earned freedom, self-respect and dignity. They are being told-over and over-that the only way to regain them is again to acquire education, skills, good jobs, or the right hustle(s). This means, once again, to acquire as much money and material things as one can in order again to win respect and dignity from one’s peers and society-and thereby begin to start loving one’s self, and seeing one’s self as more
than simply an eating, sleeping, working and sexual being.

How the hell did we get back to 1955?

First off, let me make clear that even with all of the glorious strides the youth made within the First Wave, they were not the only ones fighting for radical or revolutionary changes. In fact, more than anything, they were usually only the tip of the spear. They were the shock troops of a global struggle, motivated by
youthful energy and impatience, with no time or temperament for elaborate theories, rushing forward into the fray, ill prepared for the tricks that would eventually overwhelm them.

So to understand what happened, we must examine some of the main “tricks” used to slow down, misdirect, control and defeat them. And without a point, a spear loses all of its advantages.

Strategic Tricks Used Against Them

Understanding these tricks, their various guises and refinements, is the key to everything. You will never really understand what happened to get us to this point, or be able really to move forward, until you recognize and devise ways to defeat them.
They were and remain:
1. Co-option
2. Glamorization of Gangsterism
3. Separation from the most advanced elements
4. Indoctrination in reliance on passive approaches
5. Raw fear

Co-option was used extensively to trick just about all of the First Wave youth into believing that they had won the war. In particular, to every segment of youth, from university students to lower class communities, billions of dollars and resources were made available. This was supposedly for these youth to determine what should be done to carry out far-reaching changes, while in reality they were being expertly monitored and subtly coaxed further and further away from their most radical and advanced elements. This was done mainly through control of the largess, which ultimately was part of the ruling class’ foundation, government and corporate strategy for
defeating the youth with sugar-coated bullets.

In time, consequently, substantial segments of these previously rebellious youth found themselves fully absorbed and neutralized either by directly joining or accepting the foundations’, sub-groups’, corporations’, universities’ or “approved” community groups’ assistance-or by becoming full-fledged junior partners in the system after winning control of thousands of previously out-of-reach political offices.  And, for all intents and purposes, that same trick is still being used today.

Glamorization of Gangsterism, however, was then and continues to be the most harmful trick played against the lower class segments.

The males, in particular, were then and continue to be the most susceptible to this gambit, especially when used opposite to prolonged exposure to raw fear!  Let me illustrate by briefly describing the histories of two groups that presently enjoy nothing less than “icon” status amongst just about everyone aware of them. These two groups’ “documented histories” clearly show how that trick is played, and continues to be played, throughout this country.

The first of these two groups is the original Black Panther Party, which was bludgeoned and intimidated to the point where its key leader(s) “consciously” steered the group into accepting the Glamorization of Gangsterism. Because this glamorization wasless of a threat to the ruling classes’ interests, it won the Party a temporary respite from the raw fear the ruling circles were levelling against it. In the process the organization was totally destroyed.

The second of the two groups was the Nation of Islam ‘connected’ Black Mafia, which had a different background, but against whom the same tricks were played. It also left in its wake a sordid tale of young Black men who were again turned from seeking to be Liberators into being ruthless oppressors of their own communities.

These men never once engaged their real enemies and oppressors: the ruling class.

Hands down the original Black Panther Party (BPP) won more attention, acclaim, respect, support and sympathy than any other youth group of its time. At the same time the BPP provoked more fear and worry in ruling class circles than any other domestic group since Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower presided over the neutralization of the working class and the U.S. wing of the Communist Party. The BPP was even more feared than the much larger Civil Rights Movement.

According to the head of the FBI, the Panthers were the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country“. That threat came from the Panthers’ ability to inspire other youth-in the U.S. and globally-to act in similar grassroots political revolutionary ways. Thus, there were separate BPP-style formations amongst Native Amerikans (the American Indian Movement); Puerto Ricans(the Young Lords); Chicano Mexicano Indigenous people (the Brown Berets); Asians (I Wor Kuen); Euro-Amerikan (the Young Patriot and White Panther Parties); and even the elderly (the Gray Panthers). Also, there were literally hundreds of other similar, lesser known groups!

Internationally the BPP had an arm in Algeria that had the only official “Embassy” established amongst all of the other Afrikan, Asian and South Amerikan revolutionary groups seeking refuge in that then-revolutionary country. Astonishingly, the BPP even inspired separate Black Panther Parties in India, the Bahamas, Nova Scotia, Australia and Occupied Palestine/State of Israel!

On the other hand, the Nation of Islam (NOI) had been active since 1930. Yet it also experienced a huge upsurge in membership in the same period. This was mainly due to the charismatic personality of Malcolm X and his aggressive recruitment techniques. Malcolm’s influence carried on after his assassination, fueled by the overall rebellious spirits of the youth looking for groups which would lead them to fight against the system.

Therefore, there’s a mountain of documents which clearly show that the highest powers in this country classified both groups as Class A Threats to be neutralized or destroyed. These powers mused that if that goal could be achieved, they could then use similar methods to defeat the rest of the youth.

So how did they do it?

Against the BPP the powers used a combination of co-option, glamorization of gangsterism, separation from the most advanced elements, indoctrination in reliance on passive approaches and raw fear; that is, every trick in the book. Thus, fully alarmed at the growth and boldness of the BPP and related groups as well as their ability to win a level of global support, the ruling classes’ governmental, intelligence, legal and academic arms devised a strategy to split the BPP and co-opt its more compliant elements. At the same time they moved totally to annihilate its more radical and revolutionary remainders.

They knew they had the upper hand due to the youth and inexperience of the BPP; and they had their own deep well of resources and experiences in using counter-insurgency techniques much earlier against:

  • Marcus Garvey’s UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement
  • the Palmer Raids against Euro-Amerikans of an Anarchist
    and/or left Socialist bent;
  • the crushing of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World)
    and neutralizing of the other Socialists;
  • their subsequent destruction of any real Communist power in
    Western Europe;
  • their total domination and subjugation of the Caribbean
    (except Cuba), Central and South Amerika-except for the fledgling guerilla movements;
  • and everything they had learned in their wars to replace the
    European colonial powers in Africa and Asia.

Still, the BPP had highly motivated cadre, imbued with a
fearlessness little known among domestic groups. The ruling class and its henchmen were stretched thin, especially since the Vietnamese, Laotians and Kampucheans were kicking their ass in Southeast Asia. Moreover, the freedom fighters in Guinea-Bissau and Angola had the U.S.’ European allies-whom the U.S. supplied with the latest military hardware-on the run. So although the BPP was inexperienced, the prospect of neutralizing it was a mixed bag.

The members of the BPP still had a fighting chance.

The co-option depended on them neutralizing the BPP co-founder and by-then icon, Huey P. Newton. Afterward, they used him-along with other methods-to split the BPP and lead his wing along reformist lines. It was hoped that this process would force the still-revolutionary wing into an all-out armed fight before it was ready, either killing, jailing, exiling or breaking its members will to resist or sending them into ineffective hiding-out.

At this time, even with the BPP’s extraordinary global stature, no country seemed to want to risk the U.S. wrath by “openly” allowing the BPP to train guerilla units, something which, given more time, could nevertheless have come to pass. So, surprisingly, Huey was allowed to leave jail with a still-tobe-tried-murder-of-a-policeman charge pending. Thus, the government and courts had him on a short leash, and with it they hoped to control his actions, although probably not through any direct agreements. Sadly, the still politically naive BPP cadre and the other youth who looked up to Newton could imagine “nothing” but that “they”-the people-had forced his release.

Veterans from those times still insist on clinging to such tripe!

Yet it seems Newton thought otherwise, and since he was not prepared to go underground and join his fledgling Black Liberation Army (BLA), he almost immediately began following a reformist script. This was completely at odds with his own earlier theories and writings, as well as at odds with basic principles that were being practiced to good effect by oppressed people throughout the world.
Even further, he used his almost complete control of the BPP Central Committee to expel many, many veteran and combat-tested BPP cadre in an imitation of the Stalinist and Euro-gangster posture he would later become famous for. This included an all-out shooting war to repress any BPP members who would not accept his independently derived-at reformist policies.

At the same time, on a parallel track, U.S. and local police and intelligence agencies were using their now infamous COINTELPRO operations to provoke the split between the wing Huey dominated and other, less compliant BPP members. This finally reached a head in 1971, after Huey’s shooting war and purge forced scores of the most loyal, fearless and dedicated above-ground BPP to go underground and join those other BPP members who were already functioning there as the offensive armed wing. Panther Wolves, AfroAmerican Liberation Army and Black Liberation Army were all names by which these members were known, but the latter is the only one that would stick.

At this time the BLA was a confederation of clandestine guerilla units composed of mostly Black Revolutionary Nationalists from a number of different formations.

Nevertheless, they still accepted the BPP’s leadership and Huey Newton as their Minister of Defense. But obviously Newton didn’t see it that way. Even more telling, it was later learned that Newton’s expensive penthouse apartment-where he and other Central Committee members handled any number of sensitive BPP issues, was under continuous surveillance by intelligence agents who had another apartment down the hall. Thus, Newton and his faction were encapsulated, leaving them unable to follow anything but government sanctioned scripts; unless he/they went underground.

This only occurred when Newton fled to Cuba after his gangster antics threatened the revocation of his release on the pending legal matters which the government held over his head. Add to that, the glamorization of gangsterism was something that various ruling class elements had begun to champion and direct toward the Black lower classes, in particular. This occurred especially after they saw how much attention the Black Arts Movement was able to generate. Indeed, these ruling class elements recognized it could be used to misdirect youthful militancy while still being hugely profitable. They had, in fact, already misdirected Euro-Amerikan and other youth with the James Bond-I Spy-Secret Agent Man and other replacements for the “Old West/Cowboys and Indians” racist crap, so why not a “Black” counterpart? Thus was born the enormously successful counter-insurgency genre collectively known as the
Blacksploitation movies: Shaft, Superfly, Foxxy Brown, Black Caesar and the like, accompanied by wannabe crossovers like Starsky and Hutch, and the notorious Black snitch Huggie Bear.

Psychological warfare!

Follow the psychology: You can be “Black”, cool, rebellious, dangerous, rich, have respect, women, cars, fine clothes, jewelry, an expensive home and even stay high; as long as you don’t fight the system-or the cops! But, if you don’t go along with that script, then get ready to go back to the early days-with its shootouts with the cops, graveyard, prison, on the run and exile! Or you can be cool even as a Huggie Bear-style snitch, and interestingly, like his buddy, the post-modern/futuristic rat Cipher of The Matrix, who tried to betray ZION in return for a fake life as a rich, steak-eating, movie star. And most important: no more fighting with the Agents! Get it?

In addition, the ruling classes bolstered the government’s assault by flooding our neighborhoods with heroin, cocaine, marijuana and “meth”. In the process they saddled the oppressed with a Trojan Horse which would strategically handicap them for decades to come. All of those drugs had earlier been introduced to these areas by organized criminals under local police and political protection. But now the intelligence agencies were using them with the same intentions that alcohol had long ago been introduced to the Native
Amerikans and opium had been trafficked by the ruling classes of Europe and this country: to counter the propensities of oppressed people to rebel against outside control while profiting off their misery.

Against this background Newton began to indulge in drugs to try to relieve the stress of all that he was facing. He became a drug addict, plain and simple. That, however, didn’t upset the newly-constructed gangster/cool that Hollywood, the ruling class and the government were pushing. Although many BPP cadre and other outsiders were very nervous about it, Newton’s control was by then too firmly fixed for anyone to challenge-except for the BLA, whose members were by then in full blown urban guerilla war with the government.

At the same time, the reformist wing of the BPP did manage to make some noteworthy strides under its only female head, Elaine Brown. Newton’s drug addiction/gangster-lifestyle-provoked exile caused him to “appoint”-on his own and without any consultation with the body-Elaine to head the Party in his absence.

An exceptionally gifted woman:

she relied on an inner circle of female BPP cadre, backed up by male enforcers, to introduce some clear and consistent projects that helped the BPP to become a real power locally. It was a reformist paradigm, though, that could not hope to achieve any of the radical/revolutionary changes called for earlier. On the contrary, Newton in his earlier writings had put the cadre on notice of a point when, in order to keep moving forward, the aboveground would have to be supported by an underground. Yet it was Newton who completely rejected that paradigm upon being released from jail, although he still organized and controlled a heavily armed extortion group called “The Squad”, which consisted of BPP cadre who terrorized Oakland’s underworld with a belt-operated machine gun mounted on a truck bed and accompanied by cadre who were ready for war!

In classic Eurogangster fashion, Newton had turned to preying on segments of the community that he had earlier vowed to liberate. But, of course, the police and government were safe from his forces. With no connection to a true undergound-the BLA-there was no rational way to ratchet up the pressure on the police, government and the still fully operational system of ruling class control and oppression. Newton and his followers had been reduced to completely sanctioned methods. Consequently we can see all of the government’s tricks bearing fruit. In a seemingly curious combination of Co-option, Indoctrination in Reliance on Passive Approaches (that is, passive toward the status quo), and Glamorization of Gangsterism, Newton’s faction of the BPP had limited itself both to legal and underworld-sanctioned methods.

They also fell for the trick of Separation from the Most Advanced Elements by severing all relations with their armed underground,the BLA, whose members would lead the BPP if the Party got to the next level of struggle-open armed resistance to the oppressors. Finally, Newton, his faction and activists from all of the other Amerikan radical and revolutionary groups succumbed to the terror and Raw Fear that was being levelled on them. The exception was those who waged armed struggle, who themselves were killed, jailed, exiled, forced into deep hiding or into continuing their activism under the radar.

Epilogue on Huey P. Newton and his BPP faction:

Elaine Brown both guided Newton’s and her faction to support Newton and his family in exile while orchestrating the building up of enough political muscle in Oakland to assure his return on favorable terms. Thus, Newton did return and eventually the charges were dropped. Nevertheless, Newton continued to use his iconic stature and renewed direct control of his faction again to play the cool-political-gangster role; and like any drug addict who refuses to reform, he kept sliding downhill, even turning on old comrades and his main champion, Elaine Brown, who had to flee in fear. Sadly, for all practical purposes, that was the end of the original Black Panther Party.

Later, as is well-known, Newton’s continued drug addiction cost him his life, a sorry ending for a once great man.

The second part of this series will be published on the 27th December 2020.  Original artwork was created for this piece by Siri: thank you!

To learn more about the Black Panther Party:
1. The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon
2. We Want Freedom, by Mumia Abu Jamal
3. Assata: An Autobiography, Assata Shakur
4. A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, by Elaine Brown
5. Blood in My Eye, by George Jackson
6. We Are Our Own Liberators: On The BLA, by J. A. Muntaquim
7. Liberation, Imagination & the Black Panther Party, by Kathleen Cleaver & G. Katificas

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