A look at the life and times of James Carr and the Black Panthers and their relationship to the prison struggles and wider social movements of the 1960s.
"Jimmy was the baddest motherfucker..." - George Jackson.
Afterword to Bad: the autobiography of James Carr, Pelagian Press, UK, 1995.
Taken from the endangeredphoenix.com website.
New Afterword on "Bad" 1993 - On the General Context and Some of the Hidden Connections Between Then and Now.
(BM Blob/News From Everywhere)
Bad, the superb autobiography of James Carr, the ex-Black Panther and co-founder of George Jackson's "Wolf Pack" in Soledad Jail, was put together by situationist-influenced participants of the former "Contradiction" group in California. It was published in 1975 by Herman Graf Associates of New York. As soon as it was published, the California Department of Corrections threatened major law suits on behalf of several employees who, they contended, the book libelled. A deal was struck not to list the book in 'Books in Print', the definitive catalogue for booksellers. Thus, no-one could order the book unless they already knew about it and took the initiative to contact the distributors. Nevertheless, most of the print run of 110,000 sold, having a wide circulation not only in bookstores but in general consumer kiosks - Greyhound bus terminals/ freeway junk food outlets/ airport lounge reading counters etc. Any books that remained have long since been pulped. The suppression of the book was an easy task and there was a loud silence from the dissident liberal/left enclave in America who hadn't liked Bad in the first instance, undermining as it did a lot of the hallowed icons of the time. This reprint of a most subversive book challenges, after so many years, both American leftism and the weighty edict of the Department of Corrections.
Bad is one of many books written by prisoners who have become radicalised by their experiences in American jails. However it stands out from a lot of the others because it avoids portraying the prisoner as a passive victim of social injustice - and also refuses the martyr role that liberals and leftists try to impose on convicts as a vehicle for their own fantasies and careers (whether as social workers, sociologists, politicians or "professional revolutionaries"). Freed from all these limitations James Carr was able to tell his story, warts and all, without worrying about what might or might not alienate liberal/leftist support. So, there is no glossing over his involvement in gang rapes, protection rackets or any of the more horrific aspects of his daily life in jail - nor are there any useless guilty apologies for his past. (Anyway, the story of his development makes clear his eventual understanding of why the prison regime deliberately encouraged this kind of divisive behaviour.)
The book shows how and why he eventually went beyond the moralistic practice and ideology of the 60s "New Left" in all its forms, ranging from the legal reformism of the white liberals (and leftists often of a Maoist character) to the armed reformism of the Black Panthers. There was in any case quite an overlap between them all. Although The Wretched of the Earth, written by the Algerian psychiatrist Franz Fanon was often quoted by the Panthers, it could be said that a Stalinism made more militaristic as filtered through Mao, Che Guevara and Castro was very effectively publicised by fellow traveller sacked white academics like John Gerassi. Using their glamorous notoriety and intellectual status they encouraged the spread of this simplistic ideology with its deadly consequences - particularly among many brave ghetto blacks and prisoners who were at the time casting around for a way forward from the impasse of the southern civil rights movement and had been inspired by the Watts rebellion of 1965 1 . One difference concerning James Carr was that he had a dialogue - though a few years later - with less sacrificial, more clued-in and subversive American whites than the likes of Gerassi, privileged though they were in comparison with ghetto blacks. It was an overlap that could really have gone somewhere if the State in particular hadn't devastatingly intervened. This kind of black/white and now latino practical/theoretical overlap flowing both ways would seem to be a necessary ingredient eventually in any future struggles that emerge in and against American society.
Carr came out of jail and into the Panther scene with automatic status as being close to George Jackson and with a reputation as being one of the baddest guys around. But he quickly became disillusioned with their macho posturing and hierarchical cult of leadership plus their reformist social and political program, realising all this to be an obstacle to the revolution he desired. In his Conclusion, he illustrates how the "guerrilla ideology" that gradually came to dominate the party ("the purely military resolution of power relations") is ultimately suicidal and futile both in and outside prison, and he blames the left, in part, for their role in encouraging this "false consciousness" in radical cons and ex-cons. In particular he refers to the murder of George Jackson and the Attica prison massacre of 1971 as examples of the practical consequences of this ideology. As he says, "Guerrilla ideology reduces all revolutionary questions to quantitative problems of military force" and "nothing could please the reactionary prison official more than a fight to the finish." George Jackson's book Blood in My Eye, although having some flashes of illumination, repeats this message over and over - believing it necessary to immediately create an elite warrior caste of professional revolutionaries who will be the vanguard that leads the masses to revolution 2 . This strategy could seem feasible from within the prison walls, partly because the radical con's view of the outside world was largely conditioned by his leftist allies' description of it, and as usual they would exaggerate their own importance and influence on society at large. Coming out of jail "expecting to find a Red Army ready for revolutionary war", Carr must have been disappointed to find the Panthers posing and lending street credibility to the dinner parties of uptown New York's young and trendy social elite. It became the done thing amongst the very rich to hold "Radical Chic" fund-raising social events in their luxury apartments for various topical leftwing causes (including several for the Panthers). As Radical Chic became this season's latest fashion it became both desirable and trendy for those hosting these events to dismiss their regular black servants and temporarily replace them with whites - this could save both hosts and guests much guilt and embarrassment 3 . But in pointing this out one mustn't be too glib by dismissively putting the Panthers down: there were many fine individuals amongst them who were sincerely seeking radical change and contemptuous of those seduced by status and fame, or who merely traded on the Party image.
"In the 1960's I was part of a number of Black revolutionary movements including the Black Panther Party, which I feel partially failed because of the authoritarian leadership style of Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and others on the Central Committee. This is not a recrimination against those individuals, but many errors were made because the national leadership was too divorced from the chapters in cities all over the country, and therefore engaged in 'commandism' or forced work dictated by leaders. But many contradictions were also set up because of the structure of the organisation as a Marxist-Leninist group. There was not a lot of inner-party democracy, and when contradictions came up, it was the leaders who decided on their resolution, not the members. Purges became commonplace, and many good people were expelled from the group simply because they disagreed with the leadership. Because of the over-importance of central leadership, the national organisation was ultimately liquidated entirely, packed up and shipped back to Oakland, California. Of course, many errors were made because the BPP was a young organisation and was under intense attack by the state. I do not want to imply that these internal errors were the primary contradiction which destroyed the BPP, the police attacks on it did that, but if it were better and more democratically organised, it may have weathered the storm. So this is no mindless criticism or back stabbing attack: I loved the Party. And anyway neither myself nor anyone else who critique the Party with hindsight, will ever take away from the tremendous role that the BPP played in the Black Liberation movement of the 1960's. But we must look at the full picture of our organisations from that period, so that we do not repeat the same errors. I think my brief period in the Panthers was very important because it taught me about the limits of, and even the bankruptcy of, leadership in a revolutionary movement. It was not a question of a personality defect of a particular leader, but rather a realization that many times leaders have one agenda, followers have another." From Anarchism and the Black Revolution by Lorenzo Kom'Boa Ervin, MonkeywrenchPress/IWW, Philadelphia, 1994.
Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, the party founders, were ghetto youths who had acquired a college education but still hung out with friends from their neighbourhood. On campus the black political scene was dominated by intellectuals headed for professional occupations and cadre roles in the system. The politics of these students was a narrow Afro-cultural black nationalism, which Seale and Newton grew dissatisfied with as it offered few solutions and little or no help to those living in the ghetto. Rejecting the politics of the campus professional cadres, they set about recruiting, politically educating and organising the ghetto population - in particular the young unemployed "brothers on the block" or "lumpen elements". Although of a finer calibre than the aspiring bourgeois black nationalists, self-appointed "Chairman" Seale and "Minister" Huey still retained a political cadre mentality typical of vanguard organisations. In his book, "Seize the Time", Seale tells of his experiences as a foreman/supervisor on a poverty programme workfare-type scheme for ghetto youth, shortly before the Panthers were formed. He alternated his role between being "one of the boys" and using his authority to discipline the youths - docking their pay for breaking the rules or being work-shy, while Seale was on a comfortable $650 a month compared to their measly $1.35 an hour. Undoubtedly he encouraged the youngsters to try and make sense of their social situation and their own history, but generally in a patronising way and from a position of power over them 4 .
These attitudes were carried over into the Panther vanguard ideology and hierarchical structures - i.e. Huey Newton with a guru role, all the false separations between leaders and followers, thinkers and doers, consciousness and practice etc. As the party grew, the hierarchical form could only amplify and favour the persuasive authority and articulation of those more educated - just as it favours them in society in general.
"Instead of the usual banter and conversation of inmates coming out of their cells to line up for the march to breakfast, officers were greeted by sombre inmates who moved silently out of their cells and lined up in rows of two with a Black man at the head of each row; many of them wore black armbands. They marched silently to where they took their usual places around the tables, but did not eat. Inmate participation at the morning meal was far from universal, and many of those who participated in the fast were unsure of the reason for it. By noon however, all knew they were observing a day of mourning and protest over the death of George Jackson. For the young correction officers who found themselves in the mess hall with 700 silent, fasting inmates wearing black armbands, the very silence and mood of unreserved hostility was the most threatening and frightening experience in their memory... " - The Official Report of the New York Special Commission on Attica, describing the scene in the dining area of Attica State Prison on the morning of 22nd August, 1971 - the day after the murder of George Jackson by guards in San Quentin Prison.
"We are men. We are not beasts, and we will not be treated as such!" - The Attica Prison Rebels.
In the 1960s, the U.S. prison system was in crisis, with revolt on the inside fuelled by rebellion on the outside. The ghetto riots that swept through most major cities, student unrest, a massive anti-war movement against U.S. involvement in Vietnam - all this was reflected on the inside by a growing militancy and politicisation of prisoners. George Jackson played a highly subversive role in this: he was instrumental in beginning the breakdown of the racial divisions amongst the prison population that the guards used as their control mechanism. Eventually Jackson was murdered by guards at San Quentin in an escape attempt - the next day there was a multi-racial silent protest against his murder in the yard of Attica Prison. This was followed two and a half weeks later by the full-scale Attica Prison revolt that ended in a massacre of prisoners and their guard hostages by the State. Black Panther Chairman Bobby Seale acted as one of the mediators between prisoners and authorities during the revolt, but for all their revolutionary phrases and forecasts of imminent revolution, the Panthers could offer no practical support to the rebels.
In a sense the militant image of the BPP could only play with fire. On the one hand guns were really being used 5 , on the other hand a TV-style taunting of the bourgeoisie sporting the image of so-called "communism" (in reality state capitalism) of Russia, China and Cuba: the fevered antichrist/devil the American ruling class feared the most. To an extent it was an ID-kit designed to wind up the American State without subverting it. That was part of the BPP's tragedy: they really did take all their self-appointed pompous titles, from military Field Marshals to Ministers, seriously. (In some ways one whimsically wonders if it would have been better to have used King, Count, Earl, Duke, like the earlier jazzmen!) Moreover, there was a conflict within the Panthers about the over-emphasis on guns. It was a tactic that rapidly became a media image which then got completely out of hand. On similar lines, David Hilliard, the Panthers' Minister of Information, later noted how quickly the "Little Red Book" was abandoned for Mario Puza's "The Godfather" once the Zeitgeist images changed. For sure, all this militaristic Leninism was never seriously thought through as is shown by the way Bobby Seale - probably in a casual, off the cuff kind of way - wanted to appoint Ben Morea, of the anarcho-situationist (often splendid, but just as often a sacrificially militant, confused and contradictory group) Up Against The Wall Motherfucker, to some kind of position in the BPP - a position Morea laughingly turned down 6 . Seale was probably jesting anyway because, for certain, he'd never have got such a proposal through the Central Committee!
Basically, the Panthers wished to remain an American Black organisation but were constantly forging alliances with other rebels in American society whom they often learned from and who were often widely at variance with the Party's paste-on Leninism. The BPP's breakfast and health program came into existence influenced by the activities of Emmet Grogan's revolutionary hippie group, the Diggers. Initially, Grogan delivered food for free distribution to the Oakland Panthers headquarters in a take it or leave it, unpatronising way, which the Panthers respected because there was no guilty white liberal bullshit in the gift. Grogan, of course, didn't have to behave like that as he was a white, working class, tough street kid anyway 7 .
There was little vision among the Panthers, or the rest of the "New Left" of the 60s, of a world freed of the most fundamental capitalist institutions and power relations such as wage slavery and all kinds of cops and prisons, although in a nebulous but palpable way all this was there in the active contestation of the period. In practice the Panthers were a movement of armed reformism seeking full and equal rights on a par with whites; their demands for decent jobs and housing, community control of the police(!) 8 , greater black political representation and appeals to the United Nations for justice echoed the pleas of the earlier Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King. The essential difference was that whereas the Civil Rights movement leaders put faith in the bible and the moral righteousness of Christian/Ghandian non-violence, the panthers would rely on a revamped gang structure armed with Mao's red book and a gun.
Later on, once the ferment of the times had been crushed, some former leaders moved on to become more acceptably straight career cadre of the American dream. In no time at all, Eldridge Cleaver was marketing Cleaver Jeans only to be followed by an even worse performance on the campuses supporting Reagan. And something of the same goes for Bobby Seale with his attempts at local government electioneering, his cuisine business and now a lefty college lecturer role - wheeled out like a frozen icon of the 60s' with plenty of entertaining tales about the old days, but with nothing new to say or of much relevance to what's happening now - ironic for a man who once wanted to seize the time. As others have said, they became Panthers in the zoo and not in the urban jungle. Huey Newton apparently suffered harassment for years afterwards, although accusations of dubious practices from former Panthers have been many and varied, their real value is difficult to quantify 9 . Whatever, Huey got fucked up on crack and other hard drugs and was possibly murdered by a junkie over a crack deal in 1989. We say possibly because long festering police revenge cannot be ruled out as Huey Newton was murdered less than a block away from where he'd been accused of shooting Oakland patrolman John Fry in the late 60s. We will deal, further in this Afterword, with other possible reasons for Newton's death.
The U.S. state machine is always scared at the prospect of the street gang system becoming united and radicalised. George Jackson stopped the bloody racial gang wars between prisoners by appealing for unity against their common enemy - the prison authorities. In response, he was put in solitary confinement. Panther leader Fred Hampton was seeking a merger between the Chicago Panther chapter and the Blackstone rangers, a South Side street gang with several thousand members, as well as with other local black gangs and, most amazingly, Latino groups like the Young Lords and poor immigrant Appalachian whites. For a brief moment there was some success: this is why the American State was so scared of Fred Hampton. (It was Fred who coined the term "the Rainbow Coalition" - just one of his imaginative characterisations - that Jesse Jackson was later to rip off.) A counter-insurgency COINTELPRO-BPP 10 operation - conducted by the FBI under the express orders of the boss, J. Edgar Hoover in 1967, to "exploit all avenues of creating dissension within the ranks of the BPP" - with the help of the infiltrator William O'Neal successfully prevented these mergers and encouraged instead violent conflicts between these organisations. And, throughout the years, this has been the pattern. But things might be changing. Two days prior to the start of the massive L.A. riot of 1992 a leaflet was circulated between the two main L.A. gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, calling for unity against their common enemy - the L.A. Police Department - and an end to inter-gang rivalry. In fact the truce was the result of delicate negotiations that had started quite awhile before the riot, as a response to yet another murder by the LAPD - in this case, of a well-respected Crip member. In South Central and Downtown L.A., the areas at the heart of the rioting, graffiti appeared calling for "unity between Crips, Bloods and our Mexican brothers". "Unity", of course, can be a meaningless, leftist, abstract concept but in the atomisation of present day America it really is something. The Crip/Blood gang pact is still largely holding but, so far, it has not been possible to bring the other ethnic gangs into the truce. Mexican/Chicano inter-gang warfare is as bad as ever and escalating, claiming 18 deaths in one weekend in early '93. Unity-in-riot, and consciously so after, might be the ingredient that begins to put an end to the hellish civil war between and amongst black, latino and other gang youth, which has contributed to the 24,000 black deaths on the streets of America in 1991 alone - a higher cull of blacks than occurred during the worst years of the Vietnam war. The L.A. uprising seems to show that social war can begin to bring peace and unity between the gangs - while social peace can only perpetuate murderous gang warfare confirming that at the point of revolt is the starting point for the realisation of any real community 11 .
One thing's for certain though; the situation will not remain static. Whereas in the 60s it was the black churches that produced a reformist political leadership, could it be that in the 90s some gang members will step into a mediating role, administering pie-in-the-sky to their own flock? With Clintonomics promising greater state intervention, there may be attempts to absorb and integrate the gang leadership into the local state apparatus; some gang leaders have already shown themselves eager to add the wielding of political power to their weaponry. (For example, two once rival gang leaders accepted the invitation to Clinton's presidential inauguration, whilst others acquired publicity agents and went on the college lecture circuit - but it is just as likely that they are only temporarily being used as pawns in the power games of black and white politicians 12 . But could they rely on the continued loyalty of their members, or would there be cries of "sell out"? Who knows what is fermenting at the rank'n'file level of gang members? Those left behind, in an imploding fit of rage, could just revive all the horrors of recreational slaughter. But they could take a more radical direction - giant steps could be taken and connections made if other forces start to move in American society. There are reports that since the '92 rebellion several informal radical study groups have emerged in black and chicano areas, partly with the purpose of recovering their own history in the light of changing conditions. One group has suggested organising in the ghettos along the lines of the original IWW/Wobbly structure - a better starting point than any notions of party vanguardism.
In fact the origins of the Crips and especially their expansion ("cripping") is linked to the rise and defeat in the early 70s of the Black Panthers - Crip originally meant "Community Resource Independent Project". The Panthers sought to homogenise black gangs throughout America's ghettos, turning their internecine warring tendencies into a united revolutionary assault force against the real enemy. The successive Crip absorption of smaller gangs reflected this but with a direction the Panthers would not have approved of, in spite of the false models of revolution the Party chose to emulate. Unable to break free of gang rivalry, which was given official encouragement by COINTELPRO-BPP, Panther ideology remained an undercurrent and the aim of revolutionary transformation (no matter how distorted this became in the hands of Panther ideologues) was lost sight of. What happened next is nightmarish, as the social fabric of Central L.A. began to unravel and disintegrate; "solidarity lost out in a razor fight with survival". It's important to stress the cause and effect relationship between massive government disinvestment and privatisation policies imposed on inner city America and the growth of increasingly impoverished and antagonistic social relations in the ghettos. The desperation created by health, employment, housing, education and social security cuts have created an increasingly privatised individual, forced to compete to survive in the war of all-against-all for shrinking resources. The rise of the drug economy (for many the only available source of employment) and its related gang warfare is but one symptom of the effects of this devastation. Inner city America is now increasingly being bankrupted and abandoned to Third World conditions by federal disinvestment, as funds have been rechanneled to service and protect the newer suburban "Edge Cities" where the majority of (mainly white) American voters - both Democratic and Republican - now live and work 13 . Endless grim accounts detailing this catastrophe also supplied a good sales pitch. And so it was that NWA's "Straight Outta Compton" (and into the money) could function as a promo for disintegration (horror as a quasi Utopia - a recurrent L.A. theme), a "telling it like it is", a money spinner, designed to scare. As a more profound explanation was never on offer - i.e. telling why it is and where it came from - all the memories of the thwarted revolutionary impulses of the 60s and 70s were obliterated, including especially that of James Carr's more coherent rejection of the Panthers. COINTELPRO-BPP was successful in a brilliantly grim way, so it comes as no surprise that again this tactic is being used with FBI infiltrators fermenting conflict by spraying up fake ethnic and rival gang hate graffiti.
Who killed James Carr, and why? The two hired killers who fired the shots were tried and convicted but it has never been proved who hired them. Both had previously been involved with the Black Panther Party, but whether as genuine members or police informers (or both) is not known. The whole American left scene of the 60s and 70s was so riddled with informers and agent provocateurs that "it is impossible to distinguish with any certainty between information and disinformation, fact, fantasy, wish-fulfillment and lie 14 ." Carr could have been killed by the state, by the Panthers, or some other outfit. Former Panther Minister of Information David Hilliard, in his recent book "this Side of Glory" 15 , implies that "supreme commander" Newton himself was responsible for Carr's murder, having surrounded himself with "The Squad" - a violent internal security gang within the party, who were into offing anybody who criticised Huey. The Squad were particularly uptight about the cons around George Jackson's recently formed Black Guerrilla Family, who wanted to be the military wing of the Panthers. It seems that the Family in their wildest moments wanted to eliminate the whole Central Committee; this must have fuelled Newton's paranoia to fever pitch. Was this the reason for Carr's murder? It's logical to think his closest loyalties would remain with his prison comrades. In 1989, Tyrone Robins of the Black Guerrilla Family was arrested for Newton's murder - a factional party feud still being played out nearly 20 years later in revenge for the likes of James Carr? Inevitably, Carr was not immune to getting caught up in the web of intrigue and paranoia spun by COINTELPRO-BPP intensifying the leadership power struggles typical of hierarchical groups; in the unlikely event that the full truth could ever be told it's doubtful that Carr or anyone else would come out smelling entirely of roses. The difference was that he used his first-hand experiences to make a lucid and useful critique of Panther ideology and practice.
One more possibility is that Carr was a target for PRISAC. As one recently released prisoner tells it:
"... from 1971 to 1973, the U.S. government instituted a program called the Prison Activist Program, PRISAC for short. This program was aimed at tracking the political prisoner while they were in prison, and determining who were their friends and their relationships and their visitors, so that when they came out of prison, when these other prisoners they educated came out, they could be targeted for neutralisation. Many of the brothers that we got out of prison in the early 70s and 80s were mysteriously assassinated by, we believe, government officials. And to this day, many of their murderers have never been brought to justice." 16
But what were the immediate reasons for Jimmy's murder? Again, more speculation. The State was using its informers and police agents among the left to stir up paranoia and conflict between the various groups. One of its techniques, "bad jacketing", was to spread false rumours about individuals, encouraging the belief that they had become creeps, informing on their comrades. Carr could easily have been a victim of this, leading to his death 17 . But jacketing, at the time, was a veritable epidemic. Although the forces of law 'n'order were, according to one estimate, responsible for 28 dead, many Panther deaths were victims of "friendly fire", via internal conflicts (some no doubt manipulated by the cops), with those involved all too easily accusing each other of being informers/FBI agents etc.
Indeed even now, over two decades later, there are still Panthers such as the L.A. Panther Geronimo Pratt and others in jail, victims of frame-ups. It seems COINTELPRO set them up but even today courts in America, afraid of the FBI, are still loathe to release them though much evidence points to the fact that they weren't involved in the crime they've been indicted for 18 .
The revolt in the 60s in America died, on the one hand, in a hail of police and army gunfire, (Attica, Kent and Jackson State University, the Panther murders, plus - on a lesser level - 5.5 million people arrested in 1969) and on the other hand in a glut of recuperation 19 . Absurdly, by 1971, Up Against the Wall Motherfucker had become an Up Against the Wall carpet ad on a New York subway. Although Europe was more advanced in terms of wildcats strikes and a generally more coherent theoretical grasp, in America the revolution of daily life was more out in the open. Subsequently, it was in the U.S. that the counter-revolution of daily life was most rapidly applied. Not just fiendish FBI provocations but State collusion in the trade (Haight Ashbury was the first drop-out/marginal neighbourhood in the world to be tormentedly pacified by heroin). Moves towards free sexuality and love were diverted from all sides. The demands of the Black Power, Women's, and Gay movements - which in their most radical forms had begun to challenge the totality of capitalist social relations by questioning the imposed divisions of race, gender and sexuality - were turned into single issue reforms for liberal politicians and bureaucrats to pay lip service to and build careers out of. And to add insult to injury, an 80s free market individualism inverting the revolutionary tendencies of earlier times. The last 20 years in the States has experienced an ever gloomier descent into darkness dominated by, amongst other miseries, a media induced "social amnesia" which has ruled far stronger than anywhere else in the world. Memories of past defeats and victories have been all but forgotten in a paralysis of history and memory where real development has been choked off in the passive consumption of fashion, videos and fads - with culture functioning as an increasingly potent social tranquilliser.
Now that "social amnesia" (a somewhat psychoanalytical term coined by the American dissident Russell Jacoby in the 70s) is itself crumbling, there's a return of the repressed but with the late 60s appearing in images and words as frozen time, starting almost from where it left off but with pitifully few new analyses or simple, honest insights. Figureheads vie with each other for leadership, position and media attention without attempting to unscramble what happened and, more essentially, to sort out what is different in contemporary times. The growing interest of recent years in the 60s Black Power movement has, predictably, been serviced by the media and politicians through a repackaging of the broad social movement. They would like us to forget that history is not merely consumed, but actively made - and that our history is not over yet. Historical awareness, a developing radical consciousness and its practice are by nature social creations, made and held in common. The space that they need to grow is exactly the common ground that was lost in defeat and must be regained in order to again advance.
And the relevance of Bad today, nearly 20 years later? None of the radical movements of the 60s could fulfil their promise. Black militancy was co-opted and turned around; the U.S. state encouraged the development of a black professional middle class of mediators and representatives (some American middle class suburbs now have a black majority) while at the same time it used austerity measures to cut the living standards in the ghetto below that of some "Third World" countries. We are certainly not publishing this book to serve as any kind of "role model" for young ghetto blacks today. This is how the black politicians, middle class social workers and made-it-out-of-the-ghetto rap and graffiti artists generally see themselves, as examples that young blacks should aspire to. Some rappers, while flaunting some of the biggest gold chains on the block (ghetto status symbols made from gold mined by South African blacks) advocate a specifically Black Capitalism - but obviously they will jealously defend their privileged position within it, because (contrary to the illusions they sell to youth) there ain't much room at the top or too many routes out of the ghetto. They need a permanent captive ghetto audience as a basis for their privilege and black capitalist wealth - those who market rebellion need the obedient exploited consumer to buy it 20 .
The black role in the American cultural spectacle is one of individual achievement: sport, music and to some extent film and literature, have been the traditional "ladders to success" for blacks. This individual achievement is often seen as a source of collective pride; role models to aspire to and identify with (encouraging advancement through individual, as opposed to group, dedication) and an integration into the dominant values of society - both in pure economic terms, as consumers, and by directing energies towards upward mobility in either the black or mainstream white world. Nevertheless, because only limited numbers can move upwards regardless of individual effort, the spectacle masks a lie that is exposed on the level of collective daily experience.
Rap emerged from the U.S. ghetto much the same as reggae toasting did in Jamaica. The emphasis on words over music is part of a reduction of music to its basic components (the Punk ethic is similar). With a record deck and a microphone anyone could be a rapper, and techniques like scratching and sampling were dismantling pop music, stripping it down to its component parts and making them interchangeable, like some mass market atonality. This was logical, seeing as pop recording studios had long since become conveyor belt corporation production lines. It was admitting that the social function of one pop record was equivalent to any other; also that the cult of individual originality (i.e. guitar heroes, specialised musical skills etc.) could largely be replaced by technology. Yet what the form implied was denied by the content and by speedy commercialising. Some of the early, more subversive rap scene, when the mike was passed around and freely available to anyone who had anything to say, would perhaps have been "too real" and unmarketable. (Perhaps a continuing link with the "call and response" song tradition that the slaves brought with them from Africa, and, via the communal work songs of the fields, was passed on through blues, jazz, gospel and soul?) This openness and "democracy" was quickly submerged/suppressed by the individualising influence of the whole star-making process when record companies came around flashing cheque-books and contracts - passports out of the ghetto. Despite being preoccupied with words, rap records have most often been a vehicle for either macho boasting or simplistic black nationalist ranting and sloganeering repeating the mistakes and limitations of the 60s civil rights/black power movements. Anyway, in time it will become clear that, behind the image that teases with rebellion ("Burn Hollywood Burn" was used to good effect by the L.A. insurgents of May '92), Public Enemy, NWA (Niggers With Assets?) etc. are just as much part of the cultural bourgeoisie/pop establishment and in real terms no more radical than the Rolling Stones or Michael Jackson. Perhaps the recent attack on Spike Lee, while he was filming his biography of Malcolm X movie, by hundreds of black youths in Harlem who accused him of commercialising and profiting from the man's memory is the beginning of a critique-in-action of commercial black culture and its role in the containment and recuperation of rebellion.
Something is made today of a need to repeat the Black Panther experience. There are reports of a Milwaukee Panther fundamentalism again on the streets attracting hundreds - with no lessons learned from past mistakes but now directing their military attentions towards drug dealers instead of the police. But we shall see... for surely the time has passed for such pastiche? In Britain, the new "Panther UK" organisation is nothing more than a Trotskyist front, uncritically applauding the past of the Panther movement without referring to its often sordid demise. If anything, the return of the BPP is going to be as Hollywood glitz, with films perhaps on Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver et al, after a Malcolm X film more in line with "Buy Any Jeans Necessary" than "By Any Means Necessary". Moreover, the recent uprisings in America were, unlike much of Watts, Detroit and Newark in the 60s, a rainbow coalition of the poor. It's worth remembering that the Panthers regarded spontaneous rioting as subordinate to the redundant notion of the armed party, yet it's just that type of spontaneity everywhere, in the workplace or the streets, that is needed more than ever; and whatever organisation comes about, it will be bred from the needs and conditions of the times.
We hope this edition of Bad may come in useful to all those picking themselves up from mistakes and defeats of a generation ago. We've tried in this afterword - sometimes ranging far and wide in a kind of purposefully disjointed way indicating the dismembered character of the times - to expose some hidden connecting hookups between then and now, set in the conditions of further big trouble inside the USA.
James Carr was a shrewd man - that's why, against the odds, he survived for as long as he did. His story (like others of its kind) is inspiring and illuminating because he was among the "wretched of the earth" who rebelled, but with a growing subversive intelligence of the kind that will be sorely needed in our future battles as we destroy all the ghettos and prisons.
News From Everywhere and BM Blob.
(And thanks to others who helped. Completed June 1993.)
- 1See 'The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy' by the Situationist International, included in the Situationist Anthology, 1981. - Bureau of Public Secrets, PO Box 1044, Berkeley, California 94701, USA.
- 2It's interesting to note that the Black Panther Party published and distributed Nechayev's Catechism of the Revolutionist and that Jackson and other leading Panthers acknowledged it as a strong influence on their theories of political 'vanguard' organisation - the same concepts that had also appealed to the early Bolsheviks. Jackson later revised his opinion - "Though I no longer adhere to all of Nechayev's revolutionary catechism (too cold, very much like fascist psychology; revolution should be love inspired)... ". Authorship was originally thought to be Nechayev's and Bakunin's together, but recent research claims it to be Nechayev's work alone, with the possibility of a little help from Bakunin. Catechism of the Revolutionist Segei Nechayev, published by Violette Nozieres Press, Active Distribution and A.K. Press, 1989.
- 3See Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers by Tom Wolfe; Bantam Books, 1971.
- 4Seize the Time by Bobby Seale; Arrow Books, London, 1970 - pages 56-61.
- 5It seems one must make some kind of distinction concerning the use of guns in the struggles of the American proletariat. They're never that far in the background and fine sounding words aren't going to change that visceral resort to the bullet, as the appallingly long jail sentences handed recently to Pittston miners and Greyhound bus strikers who resorted to the gun testify. Unfortunately the Panthers' strategy of barrel to barrel confrontation with the police was a very narrow conception of revolution and one that could never win.
- 6After Panther leader Huey Newton came out of prison in August 1970, some new ingredients were added to the Panthers' ideological stew. While the basic stock remained Leninism, Newton began adding new elements, stating that the party was now "to take the philosophy of Marx to its final goal. That is , to create a world that has an absence of statehood... that is why I emphasise we are no longer revolutionary nationalists. We don't believe what's commonly called Nationhood for America. We believe that America must now subscribe to strict internationalism... We think we have taken Marxism-Leninism to an even higher level than it's ever been in history, because history has not yet created the communist world, it has only created a socialist world, which is also based on statehood. So the next stage would be a communist world where statehood no longer exists. We will take the banner of the people's struggle, the black and red banner, to final victory."
Confusingly, in the same interview, he rejected black capitalism in favour of a "proportional representation in a socialist framework that is to expropriate and nationalise the private industries." (Our emphasis.) Perhaps the (partial and conditional) rejection of statehood reflects some influence of libertarian tendencies in the atmosphere at the time, or perhaps dialogue with the anarcho-situationist "Up Against The Wall Motherfucker" group? (For more information see Black Mask and Up Against The Wall Motherfucker; Unpopular Books and Sabotage Editions, London 1993.)
- 7See Ringolevio - A Life Played For Keeps by Emmet Grogan. Published by Heinemann, Mayfair, London, 1972. It's an egotistical, over-the-top, can't put it down type of book. Before founding the Diggers, Grogan had been a burglar, convict, saboteur and clinically certified (by the U.S. Defense Department) schizophrenic.
- 8Ironically, there are now cities in the U.S. with majority black populations ruled by black administrations and black police chiefs - and they are of course every bit as cruel, corrupt and repressive as their white counterparts.
- 9See Spitting in the Wind by Earl Anthony - a total asshole who unapologetically describes how he worked for both the FBI and the CIA (the latter as a recruiter for pro-western guerrillas in Africa) and then, with a crocodile tear at the end wistfully laments that trying to make revolution is like "spitting in the wind". There are plenty of "interesting details" - mainly a long list of vile bullshit this guy was involved in. (Published by Roundabout Publishing, Malibu, CA, 1990.)
- 10"COINTELPROs: FBI domestic Counter Intelligence Programs designed to destroy individuals and organisations the FBI considers to be politically objectionable. Tactics included all manner of official lying and media disinformation, systematically levying false charges against those targeted, manufacturing evidence to obtain their convictions, withholding evidence which might exonerate them, and occasionally assassinating "key leaders". The FBI says COINTELPRO ended in 1971; all reasonable interpretations of FBI performance indicate that it continues today, albeit under other code-names."
"FBI infiltrator William O'Neal rose rapidly through the ranks of the Chicago BPP to become Chief of Security and Fred Hampton's personal bodyguard. O'Neal provided a detailed floor-plan of Hampton's apartment used by police in the Panther leader's assassination. O'Neal is also suspected of having drugged Hampton prior to the raid, rendering him defenceless." (See Agents of Repression by Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, South End Press, Boston, MA., 1988. O'Neal eventually committed suicide.)
- 11For more information and analysis read the excellent "The Rebellion in Los Angeles: the context of a proletarian uprising" in Aufheben magazine - c/o Unemployed Centre, Prior House, 6 Tilbury Place, Carlton Hill, Brighton, Sussex, UK. (Also at www.geocities.com/aufheben2).
- 12"There is , of course, an eerie indistinguishability in all the military interventions, 'humanitarian' or extremist, of the Reagan-Bush era. The fuzzy videos of the Marines or 82nd Airborne in the streets of Panama City, Miami, Los Angeles, Grenada, or Mogadishu all look alike and the prone figures on the ground are always Black. But the rapid deployment of federal combat troops to South Central L.A. was only one leg of the tripod of policies - an iron-fisted 'Bush Doctrine' for troubled U.S. cities - unveiled last May. Wielded into action with equally impressive speed, for example, was an unprecedented taskforce of federal law enforcement agencies mandated to track down and prosecute riot felonies. The large FBI and INS components of the taskforce were later reorganised as permanent anti-gang units in line with Attorney general Barr's dictum that the Crips and the Bloods, together with criminal illegal aliens, have replaced Communism as the major domestic subversive threat. This is also the official legitimisation for the third leg of the tripod: the "Weed and Seed" program that ties neighbourhood-level spending (the 'seeds') to active collaboration with the war against the gangs (the 'weeds')." (Mike Davis in "Who Killed L.A.?" New Left Review 197, 1993.)
(Although no-one doubts Davis' remarkable welding together of all kinds of facts and information on America in books like "City of Quartz", he usually fails to deliver the punch line, finally falling back on a belief in left reformist politics and anti-art art from Keinholtz's L.A. environments to recent L.A. novelists to Rap. No wonder - reasonably at ease with himself - he can maintain his lecturer role at the Southern California Institute of Architecture.)
- 13"To take Los Angeles as an example, almost the entire white working class of the older south east industrial belt - some 250,000 people - moved out to the job-rich, suburban fringe during the 1970s and early 1980s. They were replaced by 328,000 Mexican immigrants, primarily employed in non-union manufacturing and services. Indeed, in Los Angeles the counterpart to the Latinisation of manual labour has been the virtual disappearance of traditional blue-collar strata from the urban core." (Mike Davis in "Who Killed L.A.?", ibid.)
- 14Quoted from Who Killed George Jackson? By Jo Durden-Smith; Knoph, NY. 1976. The same book quotes rumours that James Carr could have been pressured by police threats into becoming a police informer. Bear in mind that this rumour could have been circulated as part of a COINTELPRO operation against him. As the above quote shows, there is food for endless speculation but no concrete proof at all on this point; this allegation is based on the claims of Louis Tackwood, a self-confessed police informer and infiltrator who was once a paid lackey of the FBI.
- 15This Side of Glory by David Hilliard; Little, Brown and Co., Boston, 1993. This book is, so far, the most fascinating reflection on the Panthers and their times and what happened afterwards to have appeared. Although not a critique, Hilliard is so damned honest that it's got all the ingredients of one. Hilliard, unlike other former Panthers, has no apparent axe to grind. Maybe this has to do with him merely being a casualised union longshoreman for a long time on the Oakland waterfront and having no corner in the system to defend; but maybe things will now change with the success of his book and his entrance onto the college lecture circuit.
- 16Interview with Dhoruba bin Wahad in Clash no. 4, November 1991, Holland.
- 17Another related theory is that Carr's death is related to the Angela Davis trial that began shortly after his murder. One of the most famous black militants of her time and facing charges of murder and kidnapping, those involved in her legal defence are said to have considered the State prosecution evidence as being very weak and speculated that there might be a surprise star witness that the prosecution were going to use in the trial against her. Some apparently thought that James Carr would be that surprise witness. Carr's release from prison after being returned there for breaking his parole conditions was interpreted by some as evidence that he had made a deal to get back out of jail. The speculation is endless. (or so the story is told in Who Killed George Jackson?, for what it's worth.) It's just as likely, though, that these speculations could have been put out by the Panthers to undermine what Carr was putting out about them - not to the cops but to rebellious youth. These included the allegations that some Panthers were into racketeering - that, for instance, much of the money they collected to fight sickle cell anemia went into the Central Committee's cocaine fund, while ostensibly the Panthers were campaigning to get hard drugs out of town. Certainly there's a fair number of Americans who believe these revelations about the Panthers were the motive for his murder. But there's something of an understandably fearful silence on the subject in a country where the murderous tendencies of the secret services have such a long, unforgiving and lethal memory. It's doubtful even after a revolution in the U.S. that their many murders will be clearly revealed, simply because most of those who pulled the triggers never knew who was pulling their strings, and all the information pinpointing the real culprits will have been shredded or erased from the computer long ago.
- 18FUSPPP, PO Box 565, Madison, W1.53701, USA, or LONDON ABC, 121 Railton Rd., London, SE24 OLR, UK, are two prisoner support groups who can provide more information for anyone who is interested.
- 19Briefly, partly meaning to reincorporate a subversive tendency back into the present system so as to neutralise its effects.
- 20To further clarify; although black capitalist wealth uses the black community for its original accumulation, its true that the main consumers of black rappers and artists are now middle class whites.