A great documentary I’ve just finished watching about ‘The Black Panthers’ given that it was a warts and all documentary – a large and complex organisation with many different local chapters resulting in a multiplicity of historical narratives that have developed regarding the organisation. The documentary involved interviewing those who were actually involved in the formation of the group and what the original goals of the group were all of them genuinely shocked at the momentum that developed from the original intention of the group. Funny how many of the opinions voiced sound like what I’ve said even though I’ve never actually read too deeply into the Black Panthers ideology. For example, as I’ve said in the past, it is in the ruling class best interest to keep the working class beating each other up over differences which is why namely the Republicans bring out the ‘culture wars’ to convince blue collar working class white folk to vote against their own self interest in the belief that apparently stopping gays from getting married is more important than a fair days reward for an honest days work. In the Reagan presidential campaign he played the ‘welfare queen’ card ( link ) which sowed animosity between black and white working class which convinced large sways of working class white people into believing that there is a large under class of black people living off their hard work by sitting on welfare and that Reagan’s savage cuts would fix it. The net result? it ended up screwing themselves over just as badly as it screwed black people over but alas the mythology continues which enables Republicans to continue what they do.
It is interesting to hear about John Edgar Hoover (director of the FBI) and the secret plan to undermine the Black Panthers by sowing seeds of distrust within the organisation which would result in it self imploding. The concern was that if the Black Panthers party mobilised the black population there was also a risk that it would mobilise other working class groups especially when one considers the mid 1970’s and the stagflation. I’m not surprised that John Edgar Hoover was involved in the ‘dirty tricks’ campaigns but I was surprised just how elaborate they actually were where as I assumed these sorts of disinformation, diffusion and sowing seeds to cause disunity was a ad-hoc manner created in response to events as they develop rather than an over arching grand plan. What was surpassing was how informants were given weapons and then the local police was manipulated by the FBI to go into Black Panther offices all guns blazing. In New York there was a plot fabricated which enabled the authorities to arrest all the members.
What was interesting was the Chicago chapter Fred Hampton building bridges between as diverse groups such as Porto Ricans and Appalachian ‘hill billies’ on the common message that the powers that be have a vested interest in ensuring that the different groups that make up the working class are at each others throats – that what they fear the most is the development of working class consciousness because the days of divide and conqueror would be over.
When it came to warts they covered the split within the Panthers between Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver along with the base becoming more dissatisfied with how the organisation was being managed. Part of that split also resulted in people simply throwing their hands in the air and walking away as the organisation. Although there was a well orchestrated John Edgar Hoover the biggest enemy to the Black Panthers was the Black Panthers themselves.
It was an interesting documentary and I recommend it to anyone interested in history especially history that isn’t reported on in the mainstream.