From repression to revolution - speech by Kenneth V. Cockrel

Philadelphia Black Panthers stripped and handcuffed, 1970.
Philadelphia Black Panthers stripped and handcuffed, 1970.

Kenneth V. Cockrel's speech at a repression conference in Detroit outlining some problems with the focus of radical black groups away from struggle and towards fighting repression.

Submitted by Ed on March 13, 2009

The ensuing speech was made by Kenneth V. Cockrel at a repression conference held at Saint Joseph's Church, January 30, 1970, under the planning and sponsorship of Newsreel in Detroit. The speakers were Robert Williams, former President of the Republic of New Africa; Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party; and Attorney Kenneth V. Cockrel, Central Staff member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Following is the text of Cockrel's talk:

A need for criticism
First of all, I think it is the obligation of persons who are part of political structures that they regard as serious political structures to engage in criticism in the spirit of fraternity and constructive concern for accomplishment of revolutionary objectives. So it is in that spirit that I would like to make some observations about the conduct of this meeting. That is to say that whoever set up the meeting (and I'm not sure that I can identify the persons who set up the meeting: Newsreel and perhaps some other individuals) - it seems to me ought to be the object of some criticism here, in terms of not making the maximum efficient utilization of the time, and the presence of the people here.

Now I don't want to compound that by going into an extenuated rap on the instances of attempts at incarceration that met with no success on the part of the Man in relation to members of organizations that I am associated with. What I do want to say is that I don't understand what

this program is all about. And I don't see what we can accomplish within the context of these protracted raps. And I think that there has been a breach of responsibility on the part of the people who had set up this meeting, and I think they ought to be criticized for that, and they ought to accept that criticism in the spirit in which it was intended. But if they don't, it's of no consequence either.

On a revolutionary need to avoid arrest
Now the position that the League of Revolutionary Black Workers takes in relation to the question of repression, since this is styled as a repression conference, is that there is but one means whereby a repression can be ended - and that is that the source of the repression (namely the oppressor) be destroyed.

We don't say that idly-we don't say that in the familiar sense of the nominal black militant who points his finger and roundly denounces honkeys, threatens to decimate the entire white population of the globe, and stands astride of what remains and proclaims the intrinsic beauty of blackness without relating to a concrete political program that will end oppression for all people in this world. We say in all seriousness that there is but one solution, and that is the destruction of the present state mechanism. The dismantling of the present state mechanism and the process whereby that dismantling will be brought about is that those who are seriously concerned about bringing about revolutionary change will move to seize state power, and what we suggest is the program of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

We say that for a very- simple reason: We express and we feel total solidarity with all organizations which relate in a revolutionary way to conditions in this country. We are concerned about the extent to which they appear to be singled out to have repression visited upon them, and to the extent that it is possible we do all we can to support members of other organizations who find themselves subjected in a specific way to efforts at repression. For example we relate to and defend members of the Welfare Rights Organization, and indeed we've represented and related to members of the Black Panther Party here and elsewhere. But we feel that the principal responsibility of persons who are concerned about doing political work is that they first of all have an obligation to conduct themselves in such a way as to avoid incarceration, because the primary responsibility of revolutionaries is to be about the business of doing revolutionary work. And that means that your first responsibility is to do everything in your power to avoid becoming a defense organization.

Now there's a very-interesting phenomenon that is operating here at this meeting. One of the things I was alluding to when I was engaged in my criticisms. See, the first phenomenon is that the MC or master of ceremonies (he who has the responsibility for this program) exhibits a kind of standard and fairly - predictable sycophantic white response. That is, there are bloods speaking: I am reluctant to exercise any kind of control over the meeting because they are bloods. What is it? Is it that the eat's into a sycophantic thing? Is the cat just afraid that he's a blood? Or is it the position that any utterance that is ever made by any blood at any time is profoundly revolutionary in content and should not be in any way stifled, stymied, ordered, directed, or organized ? We regard that as being a wholesale abdication of the responsibility to use one's time efficiently and use the time of other people efficiently. That's one observation we would want to make in connection with what we pick up on.

On revolution in Detroit
The other thing that we pick up on at a meeting like this is that we got - you know: All the people here are basically local people, living in the metropolitan area, living in the city of Detroit. They're here to relate to what is called a repression conference, and the discussion with the exception of the discussion with Chairman Rob, who presently resides here and who is the object of an effort at extradition - relates to the political prisoners strung out all over the country. No discussion whatsoever with regard to what's going down in Detroit, what's going down in the metropolitan area, and how you relate to that. What does that say?

There are people here, for example, who are so unaware of what's going down in terms of serious effort at making revolutionary change in this city that when they seek external objects of admiration relating to what they perceive as revolutionary, they are forced to canvass the country and relate to, let us say, New Haven, Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Jackson, Fort Dix, the Milwaukeee Fourteen, or whatever. We could go on: Texas Southern Five, Fort Jackson Eight, and so on. What they don't realize is that there are wholesale murders going down right here in the city of Detroit, wholesale murders indeed going down wherever you find yourself in this country. And that there are persons being killed who are not Panthers, that there are political organizations being subjected to attacks which are not Black Panther organizations.

We're not suggesting for a second that we have the remotest interest in having these things recognized just so that persons can say: "Well, there's been a fairly - impressive list of shall- we - say Black Panther casualties." It then becomes the responsibility of other speakers to attempt to match it or perhaps top it. We're not relating to that. What we're relating to is the responsibility of politically - serious people to recognize what's going down where they find themselves, because that's where they've got an obligation to do work. The reality is that you ain't in New Haven, that you can't do a damn thing for Bobby Seale, and you can't do a damn thing for the Panther 21. You can't do a damn thing for Fred Hampton and Mark Clark or for David Hilliard. But you can do something where you find yourself. That is, you can be going about the business of doing serious revolutionary work.

What do I mean by this? We say that the League of Revolutionary Black Workers is a serious organization with a serious program that has been consistently working over the years, and we point proudly not to the number of persons we have in jail, not to the number we have under indictment, but to the fact that we've functioned as a serious revolutionary organization for years, and we have not one man in jail. We point proudly to that fact. And we don’t say that lightly, and we don't say that because we haven't been subjected to efforts to place us in jail. The last year, for example, has been replete with instances in which efforts have been made to put members of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers' Central staff and member organizations in jail, and we will briefly canvass them for the information of those who are present.

Member of Central staff, General Gordon Baker Junior. You see, I think it is the responsibility of persons engaged in political work to select from their comrades their heroes, and while I have a profound respect for other men in other organizations who are brothers who are relating to the liberation struggle, my principal respect and my undying love and affection and my primary responsibility and obligation goes to my comrades in struggle. Persons with whom I am associated, those are my heroes, and those are the persons whose posters I have on my wall, my brothers.

And when we talk about my brothers, we understand that people in Detroit have been subjected to many efforts at incarceration and what is styled repression. But the significantly - different factor when you begin to look at bloods who are operating in Detroit in all the different organizations, incidentally, is the fact that the Man does not have them anywhere in his jail. Be he RNA, be he Panther, be he League, be he whatever. None of them ... none of them ... none of them are in jail. And that says something! What does that say? It says, Number One, that we've got a highly - sophisticated black community in the city of Detroit, and that we relate in such a way as to make it impossible for the Man to frame us on jive chickenshit charges.

What do I mean by this? I mean a number of things. For example, there has been discussion; there has been discussion of people being charged with various kinds of conspiracies. But there is one thing that must be understood when you talk about people being charged with conspiracies. A conspiracy under law is defined as an agreement by two or more persons to perpetrate an unlawful act in an unlawful way. What does this mean? It means that the only way in which you could get busted for conspiracy is for one of the parties to the conspiracy to testify against you. That's the only way you can be cracked for a conspiracy. What does that mean? That means, then, that you must be a member of a political organization that is structured in such a way as to make it possible for your enemy to be in a position to sit on a witness stand and plausibly run to the Man that you are a part of a conspiracy to do some ridiculous thing.

We say that we do not relate to an organization that permits that kind of penetration, and that is one of the reasons why we have not yet been subjected to efforts at conspiracy. Although there has been one effort, that being the federal grand jury that convened in the city to investigate members of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers who also are among the members of the steering Committee of the Black Economic Development Conference around the question of the Manifesto. People like Mike Hamlin, Chick Wooten, John Williams, Luke Tripp, and other members of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers were subjected to the microscopic scrutiny of the federal bloodhounds. But we've been successful to date, in that no indictments have actually been returned.

John Watson, Central staff member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and former famous editor of the South End newspaper. John Watson was attacked. John Watson was sought to be prosecuted for allegedly beating the hell out of a white television newsman in the offices of the South End who came to interview him to get his opinion of a letter written by the president of Wayne State University charging his paper with being anti-Semitic. The Detroit News and other racist institutions in the city of Detroit, including jive liberal institutions such as the UAW, are opposed to Watson because he is a member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, which organization was using the South End as an organizing vehicle. That is to say that after the Inner City Voice went out of business, we took over the South End with the explicit purpose in mind of using the resources of that printed organ to organize workers in the plants.

This was being done, and this represented the reason John Watson was attacked ... and you found such perverse things going down in the city as the racist Detroit News pretending not to be anti-Semitic and charging the bloods with being anti-Semitic. John Watson was certainly not anti-Semitic. John Watson was not sought to be prosecuted and charged for beating the hell out of a white newsman because he was alleged to have beaten up Joe Weaver. He was sought to be prosecuted and charged because he was a member of a revolutionary organization and he was making efficient revolutionary use of an available resource to replace the resources we no longer had. He took over the South End.

Subject to attack
Ron March, Central Staff member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, a founding member of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), which went on strike in 1968, closing down the Dodge Main plant, which related to the Eldon Avenue Revolutionary Movement (ELRUM), another member organization that closed down the Eldon Avenue assembly plant which makes axle housings, wheel wells, and so forth, and which if it had remained closed for another day would have paralyzed all assembly operations in all Chrysler plants in the country.

Injunctions were gotten naming members of the Central staff, naming Wooten, and naming General Baker, who was already on probation for allegedly carrying a concealed weapon during the 1966 so-called mini riot - the Kercheval street incident, as it is referred to by the press. The Man tried to bust him for violating an injunction by demonstrating against Chrysler Corporation, but was unsuccessful.

Ron March was charged - and we just completed his trial last month - he was charged with assault and battery on a police officer from the Tenth Precinct. They contended that Ronald March had nothing better to do when he got off work than get in a car and play bumper tag with some rollers, riding around in an unmarked squad car. We beat that. Myself, a member of the Central staff, had some problems in terms of being cited for contempt. Presently, being subjected to disbarment for allegedly characterizing, truthfully, the conduct of a judge - the racist honky fool.

We could go on interminably. Young brothers in Black Student Voice have been ejected from schools, Northern High School, for example ­Warren McAlpine, Rocquieth Jackson. Young brother Darryl Mitchell, who has been kicked out of Highland Park High - just put on two-year probation by a Circuit Court judge because he was distributing the Black student Voicein Highland Park High School.

We could go on and on with persons in organizations who have been sought out for attack. But we proudly proclaim to the world that all of our people who are members of our organization are still on the street and are still working. Moreover, we claim some responsibility for keeping members of other organizations on the street, where they can still work, like Hibbit.

We say that to say what? We say that to say a very simple thing, that conferences like these should, theoretically at least, be designed to produce something. That they shouldn't be designed to have persons' auditory nerves affected by sound waves travelling across the ether. We say that one of the things that ought to come out of such a political discussion is some understanding of what might be regarded as being a proper course of conduct to pursue if you're about the business of revolutionary change.

And that also deals with the question of oppression and repression, because repression is that which is to be logically expected by people who perceive you as a serious threat to the maintenance of conditions which are beneficial to them. You are to be honored when you find that you have become the object of an act of repression, because they would not for a second consider expending energy in directing it toward you if you did not, in some minimal way, at least, represent some threat to the way things are being done in this country. But the primary thing that can be done to prevent the occurrence of repression is for those of us of the oppressed classes to take over, to take power, to run every goddamn thing in this country, to run everything, this world - and certainly to start out by running everything in this city.

On the first responsibility
So, we say the first responsibility of revolutionary organizations is to advance and practice a program that is designed to produce that one and only thing that can bring about an end to repression, and that is to take over power. How does the League of Revolutionary Black Workers relate to that? Just briefly, one of the things the League is indeed now involved in is organizing black workers, because the League proceeds from the analysis that it is necessary to humanize the world, to destroy racism, monopoly capitalism, imperialism, and the whole institutional structure that is designed to maintain those three things. And we say that the point of greatest vulnerability of such a system is the point of production in the economic infrastructure of this system. So we say it makes sense to organize workers inside of the plants to precipitate the maximum dislocation and the maximum paralysis of the operation of the capitalist-imperialist machine. And that is why we organize the workers; and we do not simply define workers in the orthodox sense of those who toil laboriously with their hands over a lathe, or on the line, or in the trim shop, or in the frame plant, or in the foundry. We say that all people who don't own, rule, and benefit from decisions which are made by those who own and rule are workers.

That includes black students who are kicked out of schools, because these black students understand very clearly that the instruction they get is designed to produce fodder or fuel for the maintenance and the on-going operation of this economic machine. We understand, in other words, that the productive relations of this society, the way in which it's organized in terms of its economy, determines how the educational structure is going to respond to it; and we understand that Northern and Northwestern High Schools, for example, have been deliberately structured in such a way as to produce potential unemployed men in periods of what are euphemistically referred to as recessions. Or, as the alternative, bloods can go to Saigon and die bravely for this country for which we have no reason whatsoever to die. That's what the present educational system is designed in such a way as to reflect, precisely what is ordered and required to be done by the economic system. And we see that relationship.

We say that all persons who are oppressed are workers. Whether they are permitted to participate productively in the operation of the society is determined not by whether or not they are workers, but by the fact that the men who control the means of production can organize these means in such a way as to make them unnecessary. And the way you solve that problem is to take over the total ownership and complete control of those devices of production, so that you have a society where you have not production for profit but production for the use of people in the society - production for the use of those who do the producing.

We're committed to the development of that kind of society. And we say that you do not develop that kind of society necessarily in the joint. But we understand there are instances in which cats will get cracked and there ain't nothing that they can do about it. They're going to get vamped on; they're going to be jammed up. We understand that. So we organize workers.

We also understand that the only way you end oppression is not by circulating petitions, not by writing letters to the attorney general, not by packing galleries in the state legislature, not by demanding a meeting on the third floor of Detroit Police Headquarters with whoever the black administrative assistant to the current police commissioner might be. We say that the only means whereby you can do this is to run the police department and run the city. So we say we're committed to running the city.

In order to do this we've got to develop a political machine. And when we say that we're interested in developing a political machine, we do not delude ourselves for a second into suggesting there's an alternative route to the destruction of the oppressor short of actually having to destroy him. We don't deceive ourselves. But we don't engage in any superficial discussions between the cats relating to electoral politics. That's bullshit, We relate to whatever's going to give us the power to create and widen the sphere within which we can function to bring about the destruction of this country.

We don't engage in bullshit arguments about "That's reformist, or that's not reformist." That which is reformist is simply that which is counter-revolutionary. What is not reformist or counter-revolutionary is any action that conduces to the creation of a larger predisposition on the part of most people to view revolution as the only course of conduct available to end oppression. That's what we relate to - that's what we understand and see very clearly as being real.

One of the means whereby we begin to approach that is illustrated by the following: There has been a bill passed proposing to decentralize the Detroit School System -to create between 7 and 11 regions and to create local regional governing bodies that will relate in certain ways to the communities in which they find themselves and relate in other ways to what remains a so-called Central Board whose members will be increased, and so on. We have no illusions about decentralization and community control being the solution to the problem. We don't say that community control will end anything; but we do say, for example, that if that bill affords an opportunity to organize people around the concept of taking power, we will relate to the bill on that level. And in order to do that, the West Central Organization (which is headed by John Watson, a member of the League) has been relating to the holding of decentralization conferences and the attempt to develop a mechanism to organize a political machine so that we can take power by whatever means necessary.

We understand the need for a theoretical organ, for a revolutionary organ, for a newspaper for a means of communication; so we're making efforts to develop a high-quality press. We've had some problems on that score. We've printed the paper, and there are persons who have all kinds of views of the Inner City Voice; but nonetheless we keep on pushing it because we think it's a very-serious revolutionary document. Apart from that the League runs journalism classes. The League is training young people to write. In addition to training young people to write, the League is in the process of establishing printing presses and printing shops and printing newspapers in four parts of this country. That's another program because we understand the need for an accurate and truthful dissemination of information.

What we say very simply is that yes, we can stand up and raise our hands and declaim mightily about the existence of Honkies, that Black is Beautiful, and we can hang bullets around our necks and wear all kinds of dashikies, but that's not going to bring about an ultimate end to oppression. What really is going to bring about an end to oppression is doing very-serious and very-hard work over a fairly-protracted period of time that is designed to increase the likelihood of the people's taking power. And we say that the League represents that kind of an organization and that it's important to talk about the League in that connection at what is styled a repression conference, because we say that the only means of ending that repression is to take power over that system you find yourself in. And that's how we relate to repression.