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The Philosophy of Huey Newton

huey

Soundtrack: Dead Prez “Malcolm Garvey Huey”

(I’m going through some of my old notes and have decided to share a few things here on my blog.)
This is from July 11, 2011

I am a philosopher by training. I was taught in the land of academia how to research and to ask questions. I’m not often able to deal with people from a philosophical standpoint because most people don’t unerstand what philosophy is and aren’t able to engage ideas without resorting to their beliefs in things that can’t be proven. Being educated in America’s universities I was taught to respect Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel. One thing that they all have in common is that they are white.

Recently, my wife gave me one of the best gifts I have ever received. It was a copy of the book “Revolutionary Suicide” by Huey Newton. It didn’t take long for me to realize that everything I had ever read ABOUT Huey didn’t do justice at all to Huey in his own words. He was/is an extremely brilliant man. And he was a philosopher. Incidentally, another philosopher whose words I have dug into and loved recently is Kwame Ture.

I am inspired to share a couple of excerpts from “Revolutionary Suicide” that really spoke to me and my current circumstance in life:

“…It was my life plus independent reading that made me a socialist–nothing else.

I became convinced of the benefits of collectivism and a collectivist ideology. I also saw the link between racism and the economics of capitalism, although, despite the link, I recognized that it was necessary to separate the concepts in analyzing the general situation. In psychological terms, racism could continue to exist even after the economic problems that had created racism had been resolved. Never convinced that destroying capitalism would automatically destroy racism, I felt, however, that we could not destroy racism without wiping out its economic foundation. It was necessary to think much more creatively and independently about these complex interconnections.”

“These thinkers had used the scientific method by applying their ideas to particular formulas. They excluded those things that did not fit into the formulas. I explained this to the brothers (on the block), and we talked about such questions as the existence of God, self-determination, and free will. I would ask them, “Do you have free will?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Yes.”

“Is your God all-powerful?”

“Yes.”

“Is he omniscient?”

“Yes.”

“Therefore, I told them, their all-powerful God knew everything before it happened. If so, I would ask, “How can you say that you have free will when he knows what you are going to do before you do it? You are predestined to do what you do. If not, then your God has lied or He has made a mistake, and you have already said that your God cannot lie or make a mistake.’ These dilemmas led to arguments that lasted all day, over a fifth of wine; they cleared my thinking, even though I sometimes went to school drunk.”

“Once (I got) into petty crime, I stopped fighting. I had transferred the conflict, the aggression, and hostility from the brothers in the community to the Establishment…I burglarized cars parked by the emergency entrances of hospitals. People would come to the hospital in a rush and leave their cars unlocked, with valuables in the open. I never scored on Blacks under any condition, but scoring on whites was a strike against injustice.

Whenever I had liberated enough cash to give me a stretch of free time, I stayed home reading…Albert Camus’s “The Stranger” and “The Myth of Sisyphus” made me feel even more justified in my pattern of liberating property from the oppressor as an antidote to social suicide.

I felt that white people were criminals because they plundered the world. It was more, however, than a simple antiwhite feeling, because I never wanted to hurt poor whites, even though I had met some in school who called me “nigger” and other names…With those who had money it was a different story. I still equated having money with whiteness, and to take what was mine and what the white criminals called theirs gave me a feeling of real freedom.”

“When I was very young, I accepted the institution of marriage. As I grew older and saw my father struggling to take care of a wife and seven children, having to work at three jobs at once, I began to see that the bourgeois family can be an imprisoning, enslaving, and suffocating experience. Even though my mother and father loved each other deeply and were happy together, I felt that I could not survive this kind of binding commitment with all its worries and material insecurity. Among the poor, social conditions and economic hardship frequently change marriage into a troubled and fragile relationship. A strong love between husband and wife can survive outside pressures, but that is rare. Marriage usually becomes one more imprisoning experience within the general prison of society.

My doubts about marriage were reinforced when I met Richard Thorne. His theory of nonpossessiveness in the love relationship was appealing to me. The idea that one person possesses the other, as in bourgeois marriage, where ‘she’s my woman and he’s my man.’ was unacceptable. It was too restrictive, too binding, and ultimately destructive to the union itself. Often it absorbed all of a man’s energies and did not leave him free to develop potential talents, to be creative, or make a contribution in other areas of life. This argument–that a family is a burden to man–is developed in Bertrand Russell’s critique of marriage and the family. His observations impressed me and strengthened my convictions about the drawback of conventional marriage…

I was involved with several beautiful young women, who loved me very much. I loved them just as much…but only after I had explained that our relationship probably would not work because I was unprepared to follow the old road. If they wanted to be with me, I told them, they would have to do certain things. I never forced or persuaded them. As a matter of fact, I said that in their place, I would not do it at all. I also explained my principle of nonpossessiveness. I believed that if I was free, so were they, free to be involved with other men. I told them they could have any kind of relationship they wanted with someone else, but that we had a special relationship that could not be duplicated with any other person, no matter how many people we might we involved with at the same time…”

“The Black Panthers have always emphasized action over rhetoric. But language, the power of the word, in the philosophical sense, is not underestimated in our ideology. We recognize the significance of words in the struggle for liberation, not only in the media and in conversations with people on the block, but in the important area of raising consciousness. Words are another way of defining phenomena, and the definition of any phenomenon is the first step to controlling it or being controlled by it.

When I read Nietzsche’s “The Will to Power”, I learned much from a number of his philosophical insights. This is not to say that I endorse all of Nietzsche, only that many of his ideas have influenced my thinking. Because Nietzsche was writing about concepts fundamental to all men, and particularly about the meaning of power, some of his ideas are pertinent to the way Black people live in the United States; they have had a great impact on the development of the Black Panther philosophy.

Nietzsche believed that beyond good and evil is the will to power. In other words, good and evil are labels for phenomena, or value judgments. Behind these value judgments is the will to power, which causes man to view phenomena as good or evil. It is really the will to power that controls our understanding of something and not an inherent quality of good or evil.

Man attempts to define phenomena in such a way that they reflect the interests of his own class or group. He gives titles or values to phenomena according to what he sees as beneficial; if it is to his advantage, something is called good, and if it is not beneficial, then it is defined as evil. Nietzsche shows how this reasoning was used by the German ruling circle, which always defined phenomena in terms complimentary to the noble class. For example, they used the German word “gut”, which means “godlike” or “good,” to refer to themselves; nobles were “gut.” On the other hand, the word “villein,” used to describe the poor people and serfs who lived outside the great gates of the nobleman’s home, suggested the opposite. The poor were said to live in the “village,” a word that comes from the same root word (Latin: villa) as the term “villain.” So the ruling class, by the power they possessed, defined themselves as “godlike” and called the people “villains” or enemies of the ruling circle. Needless to say, when the poor and common people internalized these ideas, they felt inferior, guilty, and ashamed, while the nobles took their superiority for granted. Thought had been shaped by language.

We have seen the same thing in the United States, where, over a period of time, the adjective “black” became a potent word in the American language, pejorative in every sense. We were made to feel ashamed and guilty because of our biological characteristics, while our oppressors, through their whiteness, felt noble and uplifted. In the past few years, however–and it has been only a few years (this was written in 1973)–the rising level of consciousness within our Black communities has led us to redefine ourselves. People once ashamed to be called Black now gladly accept the label, and our biological characteristics are sources of pride. Today we call ourselves Black people and wear natural hair styles because we have changed the definition of the word “black.”…

In the early days of the Black Panthers we tried to find ways to make this theory work in the best interests of Black people…One of our prime needs was a new definition for “policeman.” A good descriptive word, one the community would accept and use, would not only advance Black consciousness, but in effect control the police by making them see themselves in a new light…

Even thought we came to the term accidentally, the choice itself was calculated. “Pig” was perfect for several reasons. First of all, words like “swine,” “hog,” “sow,” and “pig” have always had unpleasant connotations. The reason for this probably has theological roots, since the pig is considered an unclean animal in Semitic religions…The pig in reality is an ugly and offensive animal. It likes to root around in the mud; it makes hideous noises; it does not seem to relate to humans as other animals do…To call a policeman a pig conveys the idea of someone who is brutal, gross, and uncaring…”

“Another expression that helped to raise Black people’s consciousness is “All Power to the People.”…(it) sums up our goals for Black people, as well as our deep love and commitment to them. All power comes from the people, and all power must ultimately be vested in them. Anything else is theft.

Our complete faith in the people is based on our assumptions about what they require and deserve. The first of these is honesty. When it became apparent in the early days that the Black Panthers were a growing force, some people urged us to take either accomodating positions for small gains or a “Black line” based solely on race rather than economic or social strategy. These people were talking a Black game they did not really believe in. But they saw that the people believed and that the Black line could be used to mobilize them. We resisted. To us, it was both wrong and futile to deceive the people; eventually we would have to answer to them.

In the metaphysical sense we based the expression “All Power to the People” on the idea of man as God. I have no nother God but man, and I firmly believe that man is the highest or chief good. If you are obligated to be true and honest to anyone, it is to your God, and if each man is God, then you must be true to him. If you believe that man is the ultimate being, then you will act according to your belief. Your attitude and behavior toward man is a kind of religion in itself, with high standards of responsibility.

…(Black people’s) acceptance of the Judaeo-Christian God and religion has always meant submission and an emphasis on the rewards of the life hereafter as relief for the sufferings of the present…Justice would come later, in the Promised Land. The phrase “All Power to the People” was meant to turn this around, to convince Black people that their rewards were due in the present, that it was in their power to create a Promised Land here and now. The Black Panthers have never intended to turn Black people away from religion. We want to encourage them to change their consciousness of themselves and to be less accepting of the white man’s version of God–the God of the downtrodden, the weak, and the underserving. We want them to see themselves as the called, the chosen, and the salt of the earth.

Even before we coined the phrase, I had long thought about the idea of God. I could not accept the Biblical version; the Bible is too full of contradictions and irrationality. Either you accept it, and believe, or you do not. I could not believe. I have arrived at my understanding of what is meant by God through other means–through philosophy, logic, and semantics. My opinion is that the term “God” belongs to the realm of concepts, that it is dependent upon man for its existence. If God does not exist unless man exists, then man must be here to produce God. It logically follows, then, that man created God, and if the creator is greater than that which is created, then we must hold that man is the highest good.”

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