Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party discusses the importance of an economic base for any social movement. Excerpt from Huey P. Newton’s dissertation, “War Against The Panthers: A Study Of Repression In America”
“This willingness by the Party to use democratic means of reform and to support Black capitalism was criticized by some as inconsistent with the Panther ideology of revolutionary intercommunalism. This is partly because progressive people quite correctly observe that “It is very clear, upon reflection, what function law serves within any culture. It protects the culture’s ideology. Under capitalism it protects property, the men who own it and guard it.” From this observation, it is only a brief inferential step to the conclusion that, because law is a product and perpetuator of corporate interests in this country, it cannot be a force for significant socioeconomic change. But while this conclusion is logical in a mechanistic-sense, it is illogical, and therefore wrong, in a dialectical sense:
According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life… [I]f somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is basis, but the various elements of the super-structure: political forms of the class struggle . . . constitutions established by the victorious class . . . judicial forms, had even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants . . . also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form.
In sum, the Panthers combined a unique blend of elements that set them apart from traditional civil rights and minority organizations: a revolutionary ideology that argued for the necessity of fundamental socioeconomic change, a practical series of survival programs that served the community and fostered institutional growth and consciousness, and a willingness to employ creative legal means within the democratic system to achieve their ends. It was these unique elements that made the Panthers popular with many Blacks and, at the same time, a nemesis to the federal government.
The Party also advocated growth of indigenous community businesses, even though they were capitalistic. This is because the Party recognized that Black capitalism has come to mean to many people Black control of another one of the institutions in the community. This positive quality of Black capitalism should, the Party felt, be encouraged. Since the people see Black capitalism in the community as Black control of local institutions, this is a positive characteristic because the people can bring more direction and focus to the activities of the capitalist. At the same time, the Black capitalist who has the interest of the community at heart will respond to the needs of the people because this is where his true strength lies. So far as capital [in] general is concerned, the black capitalist merely has the status of a victim because the big capitalists have the skills, make the loans and in fact control the Black capitalist. If he wants to succeed in his enterprise, the Black capitalist must turn to the community because he depends on them to make his profits. He needs this strong community support because he cannot become independent of the control of the corporate capitalists who control the large monopolies.
The Black capitalist will be able to support the people by contributing to the survival programs of the Black Panther Party. In contributing to such programs he will be able to help build the vehicle which will eventually liberate the Black community. He will not be able to deliver the people from their problems, but he will be able to help build the strong political machine which will serve as a revolutionary vanguard and guide the people in their move toward freedom.
A practical application of the Party’s view toward Black capitalism and the use of legal means of reform occurred in Oakland, California, in 1971. A group of small Black-owned retail liquor stores and taverns asked the BPP for support in a boycott against Mayfair Supermarkets because Mayfair purchased alcoholic beverages from companies that excluded Black truck drivers. The BPP joined in the boycott, and within a period of days, Mayfair ended its discriminatory practices. The Party then asked the group of Black businessmen who had solicited Party help to make a nominal continuing contribution to one or more survival programs. The businessmen, who had approached the Party initially through an organization called the California State Package Store and Tavern Owners Association (Cal-Pak), declined to contribute except via a single gift. The Party rejected Cal-Pak’s offer, stating, . . . a continuing trickle of support is more important to the community than a large, once-only hush mouth gift. We will not be paid off; we will not be quiet. We will not go away. . . Why should the Black community nourish a Black profiteer who has no concern for his brother?”