Questions: Black Nationalism/Marxism

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Sun May 21 17:13:29 MDT 2000

soil_ride wrote:

> Dear Comrades,
> I have been reading about the Black Panthers for some time now.  In reading
> Huey Newton's words concerning black nationalism, he sates that at one time
> the Panthers themselves considered to be black nationalist.  He stated in To
> Die For The People that after analyzing this that to claim nationalism as
> the solution was a contradiction.  After awhile The Black Panthers claim to
> be a Marxist-Leninist orgnization.

You will encounter very different estimations of the Panthers from those of
us who call ourselves Marxists. I want to suggest, first, some ways *not*
to follow in arriving at such an estimation -- that is, kinds of responses to
them which rip them from their history. And the most obvious way to do
that -- to rip them from history -- is to start out by focusing on what
Newton (or Seale or Cleaver or Elaine Brown) said, for all of them were
primarily reacting to immediate circumstances, not trying to enunciate a
general theory of Black Liberation.

Fred Hampton, Vice Chairman of the Illinois Panther Party, murdered by
the Cook County States Attorney in December of 1969, spent the last
weeks of his life (knowing that they probably were the last weeks of his
life) travelling from high school to high school in south and west Chicago
explaining to young black people what was wrong with the Weatherman
faction of SDS. Thirty years later whatr counts is not what he said or
what abstract theory he followed, but the theoretical implications (which
the living must draw) of his *actions*: the necessity of independent black
action as a route to a racially unified revolutionary movement in the
United States. And I think that neither the Panthers (nor the Black Radical
Coingress) can be usefully discussed in terms of traditional arguments
for and against "nationalism." Whatever they called themselves at any given
time, the Panthers principle (the principle that we can extract for its
continued importance today) simply cuts across the traditional pro- and
anti-nationalist slogans.

Another way of approaching the Panthers that violates historical understanding
is any method which counts up their "good points" and their "bad points,"
their "successes" and their "failures," which tries to learn from their
The political activity of the group was too tied to the specific political and
social conditions of the 1960s, their history was too short, their strength
not equal to the immense repressive forces thrown against them. One could,
therefore, easily write several volumes detailing the things they did wrong,
but they would be politically (and even historically) useless volumes. On
the other hand, we might yet learn a good deal through a study of what
the Panthers did *right* (however short the list might be).


P.S. These observations provide a partial response to the following from
Sol Dollinger:

"I expected more from Carrol Cox who suggests the defense of Black
nationalism but refuses to deal with the Miami Cuban nationalism, the Viet
Namese nationalism that attacked a member of their community for over a
week for having a picture of Ho Chi Minh in a store "

Categories drawn from the Miami Cubans or the California Vienamese
community simply are not directly (perhaps even indirectly) relevant
to the (probably misnamed) category of "Black Nationalism."

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