A Tension in the Political Thought of Huey P. Newton

Abstract

This article is a discussion of the political thought of Huey P. Newton, and by extension, the theory and practice of the Black Panther Party. More specifically, this article will explore a tension that exists between Newton's theory of Intercommunalism and the Black Panther Party Platform. To that end, there is, first, a discussion of the ideological development of the Black Panther Party, which culminated in Newton's theory of Intercommunalism. Second, there is a presentation of what will be broadly construed as the Party Platform, which articulates the basic principles and practices of the Black Panther Party. Finally, there is a discussion of several ways in which there seems to be a conflict between Newton's ideology and his political practice. While some are only apparent contradictions, there does remain a deep conflict between the dialectical basis of Intercommunalism and the foundational basis of the Party Platform.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Throughout this paper, I will be referring to both Newton’s political thought and the ideology and practices of the Black Panther Party. Since Newton was the co-founder and chief theoretician of the Black Panther Party, I take it for granted that these are roughly the same thing. So, Newton’s ideological views are basically the ideological views of the Black Panther Party, and the principles and practices of the Black Panther Party are positions that Newton would or did endorse and thus can be considered part of his overall political position.

  2. 2.

    See for example Hilliard et al. (2006), Pearson (1996), and Seale (1991).

  3. 3.

    Jeffries (2003) is a notable exception.

  4. 4.

    See Jeffries (2003) and Pearson (1996).

  5. 5.

    See Jeffries (2003) and Seale (1991).

  6. 6.

    See Newton (1996) and Muhammad (1974) for a comparison of the Black Panther Party Platform and the Nation of Islam’s Muslim Program.

  7. 7.

    See Newton (1996) pp. 119–126.

  8. 8.

    See especially Newton (1995; 2009), Jeffries (2003), and Seale (1991).

  9. 9.

    For Newton’s explanation of his development see Newton (1995), the essay titled Speech Delivered at Boston College: 18 November 1970. pp. 20–38.

  10. 10.

    In particular, the Deacon’s of Defense, Maulana Karenga’s Us organization, and later manifestations of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. See Barbour (1968), Brisbane (1974), and McCartney (1992).

  11. 11.

    See Newton (1995, 2009) and Seale (1991).

  12. 12.

    See Hilliard et al. (2006), Newton (1996, 2009), Pearson (1996), and Seale (1991).

  13. 13.

    Newton, Huey. Intercommunalism: A Higher Level of Consciousness quoted in Jeffries (2003, 79).

  14. 14.

    Throughout this article, and especially in this portion, the Party Platform and the survival programs will be discussed as two fundamentally linked concepts. Therefore, for ease of reading, I will refer to both simply as the Party Platform, or simply just “the Platform”, unless otherwise specified.

  15. 15.

    Most importantly, several organizations at Oakland City College where both Newton and Seale were part-time students including the Afro-American Association, Revolutionary Action Movement, and the Soul Students Advisory Council. See Newton (2009), Hilliard et al. (2006), Pearson (1996), and Seale (1991).

  16. 16.

    See Newton (2009), Hilliard et al. (2006), and Seale (1991).

  17. 17.

    See Newton (2009), Hilliard et al. (2006), and Seale (1991).

  18. 18.

    See Newton (1996) pp. 119–122.

  19. 19.

    As will be seen in the following discussion, the changes Newton made to the Party Platform do not really resolve the tension that exists between the basic principles of The Black Panther Party’s political practice and the new Intercommunalist ideology. Newton had basically settled on Intercommunalism by the time he had his conversations with Erik Erikson at Yale in 1971, see Erikson and Newton (1973) and Hilliard and Weise (2002) pp. 181–199. Since the revisions to the Platform occurred in 1972, see Newton (1996) pp. 123–126, there is little reason to think that Newton, or the Panthers, ever gave up on the Platform. My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pointing out to me that this point might not be clear from the discussion within the paper.

  20. 20.

    For a more complete discussion of the purposes and successes of the survival programs, see Abron (1998) and Hilliard (2009).

  21. 21.

    DVD interview.

  22. 22.

    As was discussed above, Newton did alter the wording of the Ten-Point Platform, but not significantly. More importantly, the Party Platform remained an important part of Newton’s and the Black Panther Party’s politics even after Newton had settled on Intercommunalism. See footnote 19.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to express my appreciation to all those who provided helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions and drafts of this article. In particular, I would like to thank Mary Brown, Dale Anderson and an anonymous reviewer for this journal.

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Anderson, J. A Tension in the Political Thought of Huey P. Newton. J Afr Am St 16, 249–267 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12111-011-9207-9

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Keyword

  • Huey P. Newton
  • The Black Panther Party
  • Intercommunalism
  • Ten-Point Platform and Program