So last night I went to an event in West Oakland, a forum of sorts. Usually I am not a forum type of person because they bore and aggravate me to no end. Alot of the big political organizing bodies tend to put on these forums that usually end with the endorsement of some whack candidate for some office, and to top it off they usually cost. People who know me know that I am forever trying to find “free” events because I am broke, and that I hate to be in places that are filled with people who annoy me, so needless to say, I usually don’t go to these forums/ talks.
This one, however, was different. First off it was free, so you know a brotha was already hooked. Secondly, it was being put on by people in my political milieu, who are not creepy and off putting, like most other shower deprived revolutionaries trying to sell you a newspaper. =) Anyway, I need to be talking about this event!
So the event was all about the role of the Black Panther Party in Labor struggles (or lack thereof). Interesting right? I know. And it was basically, a former member of the New York branch of the Panthers running down some history and his thoughts on the group. Alot of the stuff I already knew about the Panthers. For example: the fact that they were an organization made up primarily of young men (16-19) who gained inspiration from Malcolm X and third world/ anti-imperialism struggles and who sought to bring about Black Liberation in this country.
The talk got interesting when the speaker began to talk about one of the key problems with the Panthers being their romantic relationship with those who would be called the lumpen-proletariat. For those of you who don’t know what that means, lemme break it down. In base Marxist theory, the proletariat are the revolutionary class, the class of people that will bring about the revolution to over throw Capitalism. They are the working class of people, those who are responsible for making society run, producing commodities, etc. . . They are revolutionary because of their proximity to the means of production and their alienation/ oppression under Capitalism by the ruling class which owns the means of production and wealth of society. The contradiction being that if organized the working class, the proletariat, could completely over throw the system as is and instead run it for themselves, communally. (Anyway that ain’t what this is about) SO. . . the lumpen-proletariat (which roughly translates to “depressed worker”) are those who would be involved in the informal economy or those who are more or less in some instances parasites on the working class. ie Pimps, & DBoys and homeless people & prostitutes (the last two not so much parasites) The speaker suggested that one of the prime problems with Panther pedagogy was the chose of the Panthers to be organizers of the lumpen primarily, which is why you don’t see so much labor struggle going on.
He went on to say that one of the problems with organizing the lumpen is that they are not in the position to create revolution in this country, the lumpen do not have the relationship with the means of production, with the bourgeoisie to over throw capital. He also suggested that part of the party’s gang like mentality, which led to alot of unhealthy internal behavior came from their “lumpenism” as he called it.
The speaker also made the interesting point that, like many other groups in the 60’s, the Panthers came about with no real guidance from the “old left” (thanks red scare) and bypassed reading Marx, instead cheerleading Third World anti-imperialism struggles and guerrilla warfare.
Criticisms aside we did begin to talk about how the Panthers were key in organizing and working with workers at a Nummi plant and helping them to go on strike, this being a part of history that is often overlooked and ignored. All and all it was an interesting discussion, I would say more but I am feeling my midday nap come on a little early and I have run out of notes.