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Newton, Huey P.
(1942–1989) 

Huey P. Newton was the co-founder of the Black Panther Party (‘Party’), and its leader,chief theoretician, and ideologue. When the Party was founded by Huey and Bobby Seale in 1966, Huey was 24 years old. 

Born on 17 February 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana, Huey was the seventh and last child of Walter and Armelia Newton. In 1945, the family migrated to Oakland, California. With some difficulty, primarily in reading and on account of conflicts with teachers, Huey finished high school, and, in 1959, enrolled in Oakland City College, a community college. There, he joined the Afro-American Association, and immersed himself in its agenda to read and study books by and about black people. He and other Association members would then take their newly found knowledge out onto the streets of Oakland and nearby Berkeley to proselytise people about the wrongs of racism in America. Ultimately deeming the Association too ‘bourgeois’, as unwilling to take action against the racism they denounced, he soon left it.  

Disillusioned with the religious tenets embraced by his family and with the actions of the emerging black movements, Huey became reclusive, studying the works of great thinkers and philosophers, and supporting himself by street hustling. Swayed by the ideas of Kierkegaard, Huey considered himself an existentialist. Later, after attending meetings of the Progressive Labor Party, he began to transform himself into a socialist, determining that the problem of racism in the US was the problem of capitalism. He became further influenced by the positions set forth by Malcolm X in his many speeches, one of which Huey heard in person at McClymonds High School in West Oakland. All of this led to his interaction with what became the West Coast branch of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM). He joined RAM’s student affiliate, the Soul Students Advisory Council. Deemed by some to be the paramilitary wing of Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity (formed in 1964 after Malcolm’s expulsion from the Nation of Islam), RAM articulated a revolutionary program for blacks that fused Black Nationalism with Marxism-Leninism.  

During this time, Huey enrolled in criminal law classes at Merritt College, primarily, as he stated in his autobiography Revolutionary Suicide, to ‘become a better burglar’. Though the money he gained on the streets allowed him a lot of time to read and study and contemplate the social and philosophical questions that beleaguered him, this activity resulted in numerous brushes with the law. He was never convicted of any of these crimes. In 1964, however, he was charged and found guilty of assault, for stabbing a man in a knife fight. For this felony, he was sentenced to prison.  
 
While in prison, in 1964, he endured living in an extreme isolation cell, where he felt he developed a clearer consciousness about the social construct of the US. Once released from incarceration, in 1965, he reconnected with his college comrade Bobby Seale. Huey describes their relationship before this as one in which they were not always on the same side politically. He cites the time when, during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Bobby aligned himself with the position of the NAACP to support President John F. Kennedy and the US government, which Huey denounced, arguing in favor of Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro. Both had actively tried to change the status quo in America, however, and they joined forces in exploring the burgeoning movements and organizations forming to address black rights and black liberation. They returned to the Soul Students Advisory Committee, by then embroiled in a struggle to create an Afro-American history class at Oakland City College. Huey urged that, to be effective, students should carry guns at their proposed rally to demand institution of this class. As this idea was totally rejected, Huey and Bobby began to consider the need for a new organization, one that involved working blacks and unemployed blacks surviving on the streets by any means necessary. 


Formation of the Black Panther Party

Huey began studying the works of Frantz Fanon, who promoted engaging the lumpenproletariat  of the oppressed class in the revolutionary struggle as a critical element to success, which was antithetical to traditional Marxism that defined the lumpenproletariat, the non-working class, as scum that had no place in the workers’ struggle to overcome capitalism. While adhering to the fundamental tenets of Marxism-Leninism, Huey favored the ideas of Mao Zedong, particularly relating to the necessity of armed struggle as the resolution to the contradictions that existed between the oppressed and oppressor, summarized in Mao’s statement that would become a Party motto: ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’. Finally, Huey focused on the Leninist concept that a necessary step in preparing the oppressed people for revolution was the creation of a vanguard party. As importantly, Huey idealized and would come to embody Ernesto  Che Guevara’s concept that the revolutionary guerrilla was at once military commander and political theoretician.  

Armed with these ideals, Huey and Bobby launched the Black Panther Party for Self- Defense, and wrote out its 10-Point Platform and Program, articulating the basic social and economic contradictions that had to be resolved for blacks to be free in the US. The first point stated: ‘We want freedom’. Huey became the minister of defense, the highest rank in the Party, which came to be organized around a paramilitary structure. Early on, Huey commanded that the Party was a vanguard party for black liberation, that it was guided by the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and the philosophy of dialectical materialism, that the black lumpenproletariat were the guiding force of the vanguard party, and the goal of the Party was to create the conditions for revolution by instigating war against the ‘two evils’ of capitalism and racism toward the liberation of black people in the US.  

Focusing first on the Platform and Program’s seventh point, calling for an ‘immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people’, and for blacks to be ‘armed for self-defense’, Huey began to organize the members recruited into the Party in the early days to carry arms and patrol the streets of Oakland, Richmond, and other nearby cities in Northern California to educate the people in these ghetto communities as well as the police that the people had a right to defend themselves against the rampant brutalities regularly carried out by the police against blacks. Over that first year, more and more young blacks became attracted by this stance and joined the Party.      

In October of 1967, Huey became involved in a direct confrontation with the Oakland police. During this clash, Huey was shot and severely wounded, one of the policemen was shot and wounded, and one was shot and killed. Huey was arrested for murder and related charges, which arrest spawned the ‘Free Huey Movement’, in turn triggering the explosion of the Party over the next year from a small, Oakland-based group into a nationwide organization with chapters in 48 states. The rallying cry ‘Free Huey’ became a clarion call that galvanized blacks around the country into a single voice that shouted ‘The revolution has come. It’s time to pick up the gun’.  

Even though he was incarcerated, awaiting trial, Huey began to shape the theories and practice of this growing organization. From jail, in 1967, he issued ‘Executive Mandate No. 1’, calling for ‘Black people to arm themselves’, arguing that, ‘As the aggression of the racist American Government escalates in Vietnam, the police agencies of America escalate the repression of Black people throughout the ghettos of America’. In 1968, he issued ‘Executive Mandate No. 3’, commanding that ‘all members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense … acquire the technical equipment to defend their homes and their dependents and shall do so. Any member … who fails to defend his threshold shall be expelled from the Party for Life’. 


Liberation struggles 

Newton led the Party to form coalitions, and he encouraged the formation of various revolutionary organizations that represented the interests of other oppressed groups inside the United States, including: the American Indian Movement (AIM); the Brown Berets, a Chicano organization; the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican organization; the Young Patriots, an organization of poor whites; the Red Guard, Chinese. All of these organizations recognized the Party as ‘the vanguard party’, and used it as the model for their agendas and ideology. At the same time, in 1970, just after being released from three years in prison on account of the success of a new trial motion following conviction on lesser charges in connection with the killing of the Oakland policeman, Huey issued a statement that the Party not only called for an end to the then raging Vietnam War but also that: ‘In the spirit of international revolutionary solidarity, the Black Panther Party hereby offers to the National Liberation Front and Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism’. This position was in line with the Party’s agenda to develop coalitions with socialist organizations around the world.

Pronouncing that the liberation struggle of black people in the US was tied to the struggle of others around the world fighting for freedom against the US and its allies, Huey outlined the Party’s position on developing international coalitions in his letter of 29 August 1970 to the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (as referenced above): ‘There is not one fascist or reactionary government in the world today that could stand without the support of United States imperialism. Therefore, our problem is international, and [we recognize] the necessity for international alliances to deal with this problem’. Soon, the Party had developed alliances not only with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (‘North’ Vietnam) and the Provisional  Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam but also, among others, with: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU); the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO); the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC); the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Sinn Féin; the Tupamaros of Uruguay; the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde); the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestine Liberation Organization. In addition, the Party developed close ties with the Republic of Cuba and the People’s Republic of China, to which it sent several official delegations over the next years, one of which was led by Huey himself (1971). 

By this time, Huey had been identified by the US government, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as an enemy of the state, and the Party had been deemed by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover as ‘the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States’. Under its COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) operations, the FBI orchestrated assaults on Party offices and murders of Party members, and used other tactics to ‘discredit, disrupt or destroy’ the Party, on account of which Huey entitled his second book To Die for the People. 

In furtherance of the necessity to build revolutionary coalitions, Huey led the Party to form partnerships with other marginalized groups seeking liberation within the US, launched by his seminal statement in 1970 articulating the Party’s position on Women’s Liberation and  Gay Liberation: ‘[T]he women’s liberation front and gay liberation front are our friends … We should try to form a working coalition with the gay liberation and women’s liberation groups’. No other black or progressive or radical organization of the time had taken this revolutionary position. As a result, the Party engaged in joint activities not only with radical women’s groups and gay organizations but also developed coalitions with labor unions, particularly the United Farm Workers; with older people struggling for human rights, launching the Gray Panthers; with the disabled independence movement, coalescing with the Center for Independent Living; and with environmental activists, creating a program of developing ‘gardens in the ghetto’ with the Trust for Public Land. 

 

Survival programs 

At the same time, Huey promoted strengthening of what he named the Party’s Survival Programs, stating:  

We recognized that in order to bring the people to the level of consciousness where they would seize the time, it would be necessary to serve their interests in survival by developing programs which would help them to meet their daily needs

… All these programs satisfy the deep needs of the community but they are not solutions to our problems. That is why we call them survival programs, meaning survival pending revolution. (Newton 2002: 229–230)

Starting with the Free Breakfast for Children Program, the Party established a number of Survival Programs throughout the US, including: Free Clinics and Ambulance Programs; Free Food and Grocery Programs; Free Clothing and Shoe Programs; Free Legal Aid and Bussing to Prison Programs; Free Plumbing and Maintenance Programs; and Free Pest Control Programs. In this vein, the Party also launched the Oakland Community School in East Oakland and, in 1973, the People’s Cooperative Housing Program. The latter was organized through the Oakland Community Housing non-profit corporation, which developed a $12 million co-operative housing complex of 300 affordable homes in West Oakland, with rents not exceeding 25 per cent of monthly income.  

In 1972, Huey reorganized the entire Party, closing down all chapters and ordering all members to move to Oakland, the base of the Party and what he deemed could become the base of revolution in the US. With all forces consolidated, Huey ordered Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown to run for public office, launching the Party’s electoral campaigns.  

All theories and activities of the Party were published in its newspaper, instituted by Huey in the early days. Ultimately entitled The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, the newspaper was published by the Party and distributed around the world for 13 years. 


Conclusion 

Huey Newton was not only the leader of the Black Panther Party for all the years of its existence, from 1966 to 1981, but he was the Party’s chief theoretician. In that capacity, he set forth his theory of Intercommunalism, fully articulated in a speech republished in To Die for the People. Huey postulated that, as industrialization had heightened the contradictions of capitalism around which Marx and Lenin et al. had advanced the ideal of socialist revolution, technological advances had so shifted the construct of the world’s societies that the nation state had disappeared and the question of socialist revolution had been rendered irrelevant. Technology, Huey argued, had allowed US capitalists to consolidate their interests around the world, which had so transformed the planet by the end of the 20th century that the US had been able to reduce the rest of the world to a collection of communities over which it had economic, social, and political dominion. He pointed out, however, that with the success of global capitalism, as Lenin had predicted, conditions were ripe for a global revolution. Technological production and ‘outsourcing’ of labor by US capitalists had rendered or would soon render the majority of US workers as unemployables replaced by workers of the world. This Huey identified as a state of Reactionary Intercommunalism, whereby local and national economies had disappeared in a world where, for example, Coca-Cola was the largest private employer on the continent of Africa; a world in which European countries had to surrender their national identities, as reflected in the merging of Franc, Deutsche Mark and other currencies into the Euro in order to stay afloat in a global economy defined by the US dollar; a world in which only the US and its designated satellites (e.g., Israel) held nuclear weapons.  

With the disappearance of national sovereignty and independent economies came the prospect of the unity of the world’s communities under the banner of Revolutionary Intercommunalism, whereby the people of the former nation states, which had withered away, could, without going through the Marxist stage of socialism, organize global revolution, overthrow the US empire and create the communist world ideal.  

In August 1989, Huey was murdered in Oakland, California. He was survived by his siblings and second wife, Fredrika Slaughter Newton. He had no children. More than 10,000 people attended his funeral.  

As founder and leader of the Party and author of numerous treatises and articles, poems (published in Insights and Poems with Ericka Huggins), and several books (including those noted above as well as In Search of Common Ground with Erik Erikson), and his PhD dissertation ‘War Against the Panthers, A Study of Repression in America’, Huey P. Newton stands in the pantheon of revolutionary leaders and thinkers. 

-- Elaine Brown 

 
© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Any reuse requests to be sent to rights@palgrave.com 


References 

Brown, E., 1992. A Taste of Power, A Black  Woman’s Story. New York: Pantheon. 

Dixon, A., 2012. My People Are Rising, Memoir  of a Black Panther Party Captain. Chicago:Haymarket Books. 

Forbes, F.A., 2006. Will You Die with Me? My Life  and the Black Panther Party. New York: Atria Books. 

Hilliard, D., and Cole, L., 1993. This Side of Glory: The Autobiography of David Hilliard and the Story of the Black Panther Party. New York: Little Brown and Company. 

Hilliard, D., and Newton, F., 2006. Huey, Spirit of the Panther. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press. 

Jeffries, J.L., 2002. Huey P. Newton, The Radical Theorist. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi. 

Joseph, P.E., 2007. Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour, A Narrative History of Black Power in America. New York: Henry Holt and Co.  

Newton, H. Pgr., (1967–81) The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, copyrighted to Huey P. Newton. 

Newton, H.P., 1972. To Die for the People. New York: Random House. 

Newton, H.P., 1973a. In Search of Common Ground, Conversations with Erik H. Erikson and Huey P. Newton. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.  

Newton, H.P., 1973b. Revolutionary Suicide. New York: Random House. 

Newton, H.P., 1996. War Against the Panthers, A Study of Repression in America. New York: Harlem River Press. 

Newton, H.P., 2002. The Huey P. Newton Reader, ed. D. Hilliard and D. Weise. Cambridge, MA: Seven Stories Press. 

Seale, B., 1970. Seize the Time, The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton. New York: Random House. 

Stanford University. n.d. Guide to the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, Inc. Collection. Available from: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ ark:/13030/tf3k40032t (accessed on 18 May 2015). 

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Any reuse requests to be sent to rights@palgrave.com