Why Self-Defense Must be Put Back into the Movement Equation

All peoples have the inherent right to self-defense against the violence of their oppressors. “From the first African slave rebellion in the colonies to the formation of the Black Panther Party, self-defense has been an essential component of the struggle for self-determination.” The Panthers represented a threat to the U.S. state because they exposed the violence that is built into the capitalist system.

https://41.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m1evqaoBVu1rrjbgfo1_500.jpgBy Danny Haiphong

“US capitalism and racism continue to murder and maim entire peoples for the benefit of the rich.”

In Dallas, Texas, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, the New Black Panther Party, and the Nation of Islam came together on Saturday, April 2nd, fully armed. The coalition of groups confronted an armed, white supremacist rally staged by the Bureau of American Islamic Relations (BAIR). BAIR is notoriously known for its anti-Islam racism and regularly rallies in order to intimidate the Muslim community. However, this time the BAIR contingent made a speedy exit after being confronted by Black Americans in arms. The confrontation displayed, in practice, the continued relevancy of self-defense in the struggle for self-determination.

The relationship between self-determination and the 2016 elections will be discussed at the Black is Back Conference in Harlem New York on April 9th. The Black is Back Coalition is one of the few political forces in the US that advocates for Black self-determination by any means necessary. Self-defense has been an seldom discussed subject despite the proliferation of white supremacist violence against Black Americans and oppressed people all over the world. Yet armed self-defense has always been a tool of resistance for the oppressed ever since the advent of capitalism. From the first African slave rebellion in the colonies to the formation of the Black Panther Party, self-defense has been an essential component of the struggle for self-determination.

The Black Panther Party is history’s most recent example of organized, armed-self defense in service of a revolutionary movement inside of the Empire. The Black Panther Party conducted armed patrols of the police starting in 1966 to both protect the Black community from racist police violence and inspire the masses to understand that political power comes from “the barrel of a gun.” California’s state legislature immediately responded by passing an anti-open carry law known as the Mulfurd Act. The Act effectively disarmed the Panthers police patrols. The Black Panther Party maintained its stance on self-defense, but shifted the focus from police patrols to “survival programs” which met the needs of the Black community while at the same time elevated the consciousness of the oppressed.

“Armed self-defense has always been a tool of resistance for the oppressed ever since the advent of capitalism.”

The Black Panthers stopped carrying open fire arms only to face an even greater level of repression at the hands of the US imperial state. Panther schools, breakfast programs, and health clinics were regularly raided. Numerous leaders, such as Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, were imprisoned for lengthy periods of time. Others like Fred Hampton and John “Bunchy” Carter were assassinated. It was the Black Panther Party that motivated the US government to create its first SWAT team. To this day, numerous Black Panther Party members such as Mumia Abu Jamal and Sundiata Acoli remain behind bars as political prisoners.

The US government called the Black Panther Party the “greatest threat to the internal security” of the country because of its revolutionary socialist ideology and militant organization. What made the Black Panther Party a threat to the state was its ability to expose the inherent violence of the US capitalist system. This exposure threatened to mobilize the masses in direct confrontation with the state. Every day that the Black Panther Party existed, it faced severe repression that was in plain sight for all to see. The repression of the Party only grew its ranks and garnered sympathy from a broad section of the population.

Political conditions in the US eventually changed and left the Black Panther Party vulnerable to internal contradictions and external threats. However, as the Huey P. Newton gun club makes clear, the example of the Black Panther Party is still an inspiration to many. The Black Panther Party will continue to inspire the people as long as US capitalism rests on a foundation of racist violence. Each day, a Black American is murdered by law enforcement. One out of every eight of the world’s prisoners is a Black American. US capitalism’s post-industrial wasteland has been arguably more violent for Black America than in prior periods.

“To this day, numerous Black Panther Party members such as remain behind bars as political prisoners.”

Anyone who claims to fight against US capitalist rule must defend and support efforts on the part of Black people and all of the oppressed to defend themselves from racialized state violence. This is not a matter of paternalism or “anti-Blackness.” Self-defense is a question of unity against a common oppressor. US capitalism and racism continue to murder and maim entire peoples for the benefit of the rich. Wars of aggression continue to wage on in every corner of the globe. These wars are but an extension of the historic war the US capitalist state has waged on Black and indigenous people since its inception.

So it is a shame that a brand of activists have utilized the concept of “anti-Blackness” to break the bonds of solidarity with peoples fighting US and Western domination abroad. These activists believe that real solidarity means a perfect distribution of “political” labor among all parties involved. That means Palestinians, for example, must work on equal terms with Black activists in order for solidarity to be legitimately “pro-Black.” But solidarity isn’t about equal “labor,” whatever that is conceived to be. It is about acknowledging that geographically separated classes of people share a common enemy and that unity should be forged on this basis.

However, unity cannot be achieved without struggle. Self-defense is practiced everyday by peoples all over the world who are in direct and open conflict with the US military apparatus. This is evident in the tweets of advice regarding tear-gas canisters that Palestinians forwarded to Black activists in Ferguson in the summer of 2014. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Black liberation and the international struggle against imperialism were seen as interconnected struggles by the movement at the time. Putting self-defense back into the movement’s equation could lay the basis for real solidarity in this period of history. We should actively emulate efforts like the Dallas confrontation to make this so.

Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected].