Short introduction - problematics of gangsterism in revolutionary praxis
The following is an article I came across in the excellent one volume collected writings of the elder revolutionary brother Russell Maroon Shoatz. A towering revolutionary and political prisoner in the dungeons of the usa, he has been in solitary confinement for over thirty years due to his non stop resistance. He is a veteran of the Black Liberation Struggle, having been a member of the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army.
This article breaks down the genesis of gangsterism in Black communities, and their role. I have often argued that through my time in doing work amongst our young people in our communities for over a decade, it is clear to me that the grip of gansgterism on our young peoples minds is profound and insidious, moreover, there is little to minus gains to be made by making any compromise with gansgterism. Gangsterism is promoted by our enemies in the so-called entertainment industry as it fits the role that the imperialist white power structure wants for our people, ie., a total anti-humanity self-obsessed 'get rich or die trying' unethical existence. Such a mentality sees our youth unaffected by their peoples oppression, and they actually perpetuate the system's strategy further into our communities by their actions and mentality.
While not a perfect example, the Nation of Islam have a different approach in dealing with sisters and brothers who are colonised by white imperialist gangsterism: they provide a whole life support structure of re-education by taking the said brothers and sisters out of their peer group and anti-social existence that constantly feeds this culture, into a culture and community which is about re-establishing paths and means to community and liberation struggle. I am not advocating the exact Nation of Islam approach, however just stating the obvious that we can all see in the example of Malcolm X how a small time criminal and 'gangster' made a massive change thanks to the NoI and then undertook a commitment to the freedom struggle of our peoples.
Perhaps too many brothers and sisters think that compromising with gangsterism, especially through music, is a short cut to building capacity for our revolutionary movements. Examples are such as promoting the negative side of the contradiction which is Tupac Amaru Shakur and Dead Prez's 'revolutionary but gangsta'. At the same time I am of course not saying that anyone who takes step to revolutionary ethics, ideology and practice, however contradictory they are in taking those steps is a wrong move, no, its a right and welcome move. What I am saying is that to have a strategy of trying to use a wholly and totally permeated anti-people strategy which is promoted by white imperialism, is folly at best.
Another important point is that while we are indulging in imperialist-promoted gangsterism and posturing with it as something radical, the majority of our youth are not into gangster mentality and action, and are getting on with life, study, family etc. The majority of these young people of ours are wrongly seen by default as 'good kids', and we too often encourage another negative manifestation of imperialist culture onto them which is careerism, when actually it is these young people who have positive responsibilities to their peers, education, family and their future who should also be encouraged to develop their responsibility to the liberation of our communities against our common enemy.
Please do read and share this excellent piece below, and I really would like to encourage everyone to read Russel Maroon Shoatz book with all its wealth of knowledge. And last but of course far from least, if not a primary issue, the issue of supporting anti-imperialist political prisoners is something we as radical activists are extremely poor and and this work needs developing. Those of us as political prisoners have and do give most than any others for our liberation struggle against nato/imperialism/white supremacy. Free them all!
Sukant Chandan, Sons of Malcolm
Liberation or Gangsterism
BY RUSSELL MAROON SHOATS/Z
from Right On!, Summer 2006
“Each generation must, out of relative obscuity, discover its mission – fulfill it or betray it.” – The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
Within two generations the youth of this country have come full circle. Starting off in 1955, being driven by two major motivations; the acquiring of enough education or apprenticeships, or the use of their unskilled labor or street smarts to land “good” jobs or establish hustles, to make as much money and obtain as many material trappings as possible. And, secondarily, to use the education, apprenticeships, unskilled labor, street smarts, jobs, hustles and the material trappings provided by them to win a measure of respect and dignity from their peers and society in general. Thereby, simultaneously leaning to respect themselves as individuals of self-worth, and not simply eating, sleeping, laboring and sexual beings.
The First Wave: 1955 – 1980, circa
The Civil Rights Movement in the South successfully motivated Black, Puerto Rican, Euro-Amerikan, Native Amerikan, Chicano-Mexicano Indigenous and Asian youth to use their time, energies, creativity and imaginations to discover their true self-worth and earn the respect of the entire world, while struggling towards even broader goals that were not measured by one’s material possessions. And over time, each segment either cheered on , supported, worked in solidarity with and/or discovered their common interests and closely linked missions connected to broader 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 win independence for their home island. Euro-Amerikan youth attacked the lies, hypocrisy and oppression 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 the land; and Asian youth were struggling to overcome a system and culture that had always used and abused them.
Indeed, all of them came to clearly see 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 1975 circa, these youth joined, formulated, led and supported struggles – worldwide – against racial oppression and bigotry, colonialism, oppression of women and youth. Thus, winning themselves the respect, admiration and gratitude of the world’s oppressed, as well as amongst their peers. Furthermore, in addition to becoming people that societies must take seriously, as positive contnbutors that had much to give and were willing to sacrifice to achieve goals; youth who were more egalitarian than their parents; youth who were capable of imagining a better world and fighting to realize it – while still remaining youthful and having a good time while doing it: All in all, earning them a much deserved place in history.
From the Mountain to the Sewer
Yet, here we are 30 years later, and the youth nowadays are ridiculed and have been stripped of that hard earned freedom, self-respect and dignity, being told – over and over – that the only way to regain it is to again acquire education, skills, good jobs, or the right hustle(s); thereby, once again to acquire as much money and material things as one can in order to again win respect and dignity from one’s peers and society – and thereby begin to start loving oneself, and seeing oneself as more than simply an eating, sleeping, working and sexual animal.
How the Hell did we get back to 1955?!
First off, let me make clear that even with all of the glorious strides that youth made within the First Wave, they were not the only ones fighting for radical and in many cases revolutionary changes. In fact, more than anything, they were usually only the tip of the spear, 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 the Youth
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 to really move forward until you master their recognition and devise ways to defeat them.
They were and remain:
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. Strategically, amongst every named segment of the youth; university students to lower-class communities, billions were made available – supposedly for these gout o determine what should be done to carry out far reaching changes, while all along being expertly monitored and (subtly coaxed further and further away from their most radical and advanced elements, mainly through control of this largess, which ulimately was part of the ruling class foundations and government and corporate strategy of defeating the youth with sugar-coated bullets.
In time, consequently, substantial segments of these previously rebellious youth found themselves fully absorbed and neutralized by either directly joining the foundations, sub-groups, the corporations, university faculties, the “approved’ community groups or by becoming full-fledged junior partners after winning control of thousands of previously out of reach political offices and appointments.
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, and the males – in particular – were then and continue to be the most susceptible to this gambit; especially when used opposite prolonged exposure to raw fear!
Let me illustrate by way of two historic groups that presently enjoy nothing less than “icon” status amongst just about everyone aware of them; yet, whose “documented history” dearly shows how that trick is played – and continues to be played throughout this country. Therefore, the following is a brief – but clear- history of how the original Black Panther Party was bludgeoned and intimidated to the point until its key leader(s) “consciously’ steered the group into accepting the Glamorization of Gangsterism, because it was less of a threat to the ruling class interests, winning them a temporary respite from the Raw Fear those circles were leveling against them, but in the process “totally” destroying the organization. And, the Nation of Islam “connected” Black Mafia that had a different background, but against who the same two tricks were played, leaving in their wake a sordid tale of Black young men who were – again – turned from seeking to be Liberators, into ruthless oppressors of their own communities, never once engaging their real enemies and oppressors – the ruling class.
Hands down, the original Black Panther Party (B.P.P.) won more attention, acclaim, respect, support and sympathy than any other youth of their time. At the same time, nevertheless, they provoked more fear and worry in ruling class circles than any 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. They were even more feared than the much larger Civil Rights Movement. According to the head of the F.B.I., they were “the biggest threat to America.” Albeit, that threat came from their ability to inspire other youth – both in the U.S. and globally – to act in similar ways.
Thus, there were separate BPP “style” formations amongst the Puerto Ricans – The Young Lords Party; the Chicano-Mexican Indigenous – the Brown Berets; Asians – I-Wor Kuen; Euro-Amerikans – Young Patriot Party and White Panther Party; even the elderly – Gray Panthers. Also there were literally hundreds of other similar, less known groups! In addition, 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 refugee groups seeking asylum in that then – revolutionary country. Astonishingly, they even spawned separate Black Panther Parties in India, the Ba amas and Israel!
On the other hand, the Nation Of Islam (N.0.I.) had been active since 1930. Yet, they also experienced a huge upsurge in membership in the same period, mainly due to the charismatic personality of Malcolm X and his aggressive recruitment techniques, which carried over after his assassination, fueled by the overall rebellious spirits of the youth looking for some groups who would lead them to fight against the system.
Therefore, there is a mountain of documents that clearly show that the highest powers in this country classified both groups as Class A Threats: Ones that they wanted to either neutralize or destroy, even musing that if that could be achieved, then they could use similar methods to defeat youth in the rest of the country. So how did they do it?
Against the B.P.P. they used a combination of co-option, glamorization of gangsterism, separation from the most advanced elements, indoctrination on reliance on passive approaches, and raw fear: every trick in the book.
The ruling class’s governmental, intelligence, legal and academic sources, fully alarmed at the growth and boldness of the B.P.P. and related groups, as well as its ability to win a level of global support, devised a strategy to split the B.P.P. and co-opt its more compliant elements, while at the same time moving to totally annihilate its more radical and revolutionary remainders. Plus, they knew that they had the upper hand, due to the youth and inexperience of the B.P.P. members, as well as their own deep well of resources and experience in using counterinsurgency techniques as early as against Marcus Garvey’s U.N.I.A.; the Palmer Raids against Euro-Amerikans of an Anarchist or Left Socialist bent; the crushing of the I.W.W. and neutralization of other Socialists; their underground work that contributed to the defeat of Germany and Italy; their subsequent destruction of any real Communist power in Westem Europe; their total domination and subjugation of the Caribbean – except Cuba – Central and South Amerika – except for the fledgling guerrilla movements; and everything they had learned in their wars to replace the European colonial powers in Afrika and Asia.
Still, the B.P.P. had highly motivated cadre, imbued with fearlessness little known among domestic groups, and the ruling class and their henchmen were stretched thin, especi since the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were kicking their ass in South East Asia, and the freedom fighters in Mozambique, Guinnea-Bissau and Angola also had their European allies -whom the U.S. supplied with the latest military hardware – on the run. So, although inexperienced, it still was a mixed bag, they still had a fighting chance.
The co-option depended upon them “neutralizing” the B.P.P. co-founder – and by then an icon – Huey P. Newton. Afterwards, using him – along with other methods – to split the B.P.P. and lead his wing along reformist lines, while forcing the still revolutionary wing into an all out armed fight before they were ready, hoping to either kill, jail, exile or break their will to resist and send them into ineffective hiding-out. Plus, even with their extraordinary status globally, no country seemed to want to risk the U.S.’s wrath by “openly” allowing the B.P.P. to train guerrilla units – something they could have circumvented in time.
So, surprisingly, Huey was allowed to leave jail with a still to be tried murder of a policeman charge pending. Thus, the government and courts had him on a short leash, and with it hoped to control his actions, although probably not through any direct agreements. And sadly, the still politically naive B.P.P. cadre and the other youth who looked up to him could imagine “nothing” but that “they’ had “forced’ his release – and 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 (B.L.A.), he almost immediately began to follow a reformist script, 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 around the world. Even further, he used his almost complete control of the B.P.P. Central Committee to expel many veteran and combat-tested B.P.P. cadre, in imitation of the Stalinist and Euro-gangster posture he would later become infamous for, which involved an all-out shooting war to suppress any B.P.P. members who would not accept his independently-derived reformist policies.
At the same time, on a parallel track, U.S. and local police intelligence agencies were using their – now – infamous COINTELPRO operation to provoke the split between Huey’s dominated wing and other less compliant B P.P. members; which finally occurred in 1971, after Huey’s shooting war and purge forced scores of the most loyal, fearless and dedicated above ground B.P.P. members to go underground and join those other B.P.P. members who were already functioning there as the offensive armed wing: Panther Wolves, Afro-American Liberation Army and Black Liberation Army were all names they were known by, but the latter is the only one that would stick. Yet, the Black Liberation Army (B.L.A.) had already become a confederation of clandestine guerrilla units, of mostly Black Revolutionary Nationalists from any number of formations who were willing to accept the B.P.P.’s leadership, and who also accepted 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 B.P.P. issues – was under ongoing 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, which only occurred when Newton fled to Cuba after his gangster antics threatened the revoking of his release on the pending legal matters the government held over his head.
Added to that, the glamorization of gangsterism was something that various ruling class elements had begun to champion and direct towards the Black lower classes – in particular – especially after they saw how much attention the Black Arts Movement was able to generate. Indeed, they 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 their like, accompanied by the wannabe crossovers like Starsky and Hutch, with 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 their 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, going to the graveyard, prison, on the run and exile! But you can still be cool, even as a Huggie Bear style snitch, and interestingly his buddy, modem day/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 importantly – no more fighting with the agents! Get it?
Plus, to bolster the government’s assault, and to saddle the oppressed with a Trojan Horse that would strategically handicap them for decades to come, they began to flood their neighborhoods with heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and “meth.” Yes, all of these 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 in the same manner that alcohol had long ago been introduced to the Native Amerikans – and with the same intentions – and the later “foreign” trafficking in opium by the ruling class of Europe and this country: to counter their propensities to rebel against outside control – while profiting off their misery.
So, Newton began to indulge in drugs as a way 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 dass and the government were pushing; although many B.P.P. cadre and other outsiders were very nervous about it, but Newton’s control was by then too firmly fixed for anyone to challenge – but the B.L.A., who were by then in a full-blown guerrilla war with the government.
At the same time, the reformist wing of the B.P.P. did manage some noteworthy strides under its only female head, Elaine Brown. Newton’s addiction/gangster lifestyle provoked exile caused him to – on his own, and without any consultation with the body – “appoint” Elaine to head the Party in his absence. An exceptionally gifted woman, she relied on an inner circle of female B.P.P. cadre, backed up by male Party enforcers to introduce some dear and consistent projects that helped the B.P.P. to become a real power locally. A reformist paradigm, though, that could not hope to achieve any of the radical/revolutionary changes called for earlier. In fact, within Newton’s earlier writings, he had put the cadre on notice of a point in time when the aboveground would have to be supported by an underground, in order to keep moving forward. Yet, it was Newton who completely rejected that paradigm on being released from jail, although he still organized and controlled a heavily armed extortion arm called ‘The Squad,” which consisted of B.P.P. cadre who terrorized Oakland’s underworld with a belt-operated machine gun mounted on a truck bed, accompanied by a cadre who were ready for war!
In classical Euro-gangster 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 him. Since there was no connection to a true underground – the B.L.A. – 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’s B.P.P. had been reduced to completely sanctioned methods.
Consequently, we can see all of the government’s props bearing fruit: Newton’s faction of the B.P.P. had limited itself to both legal and underworld sanctioned methods: “Co-option” and “Indoctrination In Reliance On Passive Approaches” -passive towards the status quo. They fell for the trick of severing all relations with their armed underground – the B.L.A. -who would lead the B.P.P. if they got to the next level of struggle – open armed resistance to the oppressors: “Separation From the Most Advanced Elements.” Through Newton’s control, his faction was immersed in the “Glamorization of Gangsterism.” Finally, Newton and his faction and activists from all of the other Amerikan radical and revolutionary groups succumbed to the terror and “Raw Fear that was being leveled on them; all but those who waged armed struggle, were killed, jailed, exiled, forced into hiding or into continuing their activism under the radar.
Epilogue on Huey P. Newton and His B.P.P. Faction
Elaine Brown guided their faction to support Newton and his family in exile while orchestrating the building up of enough political muscle in Oakland to assure Newton’s return on favorable terms. Thus, he did return and eventually the charges were dropped. Nevertheless, Newton continued to use his iconic stature and renewed direct control of his faction to again play the cool-political gangster role, and like any drug addict who refuses to reform, he kept sliding down hill, even turning on old comrades and Elaine Brown, who had to flee in fear.
Sadly, for all practical purposes, that was the end of the original Black Panther Party. Checkmate!
Later, as is well known, Newton’s continued drug addiction cost him his life; a sorry ending for a once great man.
Books To Read:
1. The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
2. We Want Freedom, Mumia Abu Jamal
3. Assata, Assata Shakur
4. A Taste of Power, Elaine Brown
5. Blood in My Eye, George Jackson
6. We Are Our Own Liberators: On The BLA, J. A. Muntaquim
7. Liberation, Imagination & the BPP, Kathleen Cleaver & G. Katificas