A long time ago, while I was attending Indiana University, I happened to be wandering around the IU Main Library. I was supposed to be studying for a test, but I had better things to do. In one of the aisles, I came across a section filled with old newspapers and literature from various radical organizations from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. One group of papers that I found particularly interesting were the ones published by the White Panther Party.
The White Panther Party was founded in Ann Arbor Michigan in that tumultuous year 1968 by Lawrance Plamodon, Leni Sinclair, and John Sinclair. They were not, as you might expect from the name, a White supremacist organization. They were actually a radical leftwing group aligned with the Black Panther Party. It is a little strange to think that a that a militant Black power organization had a White sister organization. It seems to me a little as if I learned that the Ku Klux Klan had opened a “Negro Auxillary”. They committed various crimes as part of the Revolution, got raided by the FBI, went to jail and were released, the usual round of activities of 60’s radicals. The group managed to survive into the 1980’s and relocated to California. Interestingly, in 1984 they initiated a recall election against then San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein because of her attempt to ban the possession of hand guns in the city.
Their newsletters were about what you might expect, rants against the Vietnam War, the capitalist system, racism, etc. There was a lot of anger expresses, but few actual solutions proposed except revolution. I suspect that many of the articles were written under the influence of various illicit substances. Here is their list of demands published in November 1968. Please excuse the language.
- Full endorsement and support of the Black Panther Party’s 10-point program and platform.
- Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets.
- Free exchange of energy and materials—we demand the end of money!
- Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care—everything free for every body!
- Free access to information media—free the technology from the greed creeps!
- Free time & space for all humans—dissolve all unnatural boundaries!
- Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule—turn the buildings over to the people at once!
- Free all prisoners everywhere—they are our comrades!
- Free all soldiers at once—no more conscripted armies!
- Free the people from their phony “leaders”—everyone must be a leader—freedom means free every one! All Power to the People!
There is really not much to be said about this manifesto. I do wonder where they thought all that free food, clothing, dope, bodies, and medical care was going to come from, especially if money were abolished. Farming is hard work, even in our mechanized age. I don’t imagine there would be many farmers who after spending months in their fields growing crops, would simply hand over the harvest to the first hungry hippie who came along. Who would they expect to make the clothing, tools, medicines, etc for free? Who is going to build and maintain the schools and structures? How would they expect to have anything like a modern society if everyone is a leader who does anything and everyone spends their time on drugs and fornicating in the streets?
I get the unsettling feeling that the members of the White Panther Party simply had no idea where the food on their plates or the roof over their heads actually came from. Judging from their manifesto, they seemed to believe that everything just appeared by magic and was free for the taking. The only reason anyone had to pay for anything was because of the wicked capitalists and the greed creeps. In a way, the thinking of these people was something like the famous cargo cults that appeared in the South Pacific after World War II. Those people tried to build air fields out of bamboo to attract more “cargo”. They were entirely ignorant of the principles involved in creating modern technology. In like manner, the White Panther Party fantasied about a revolution and creating a Socialist or Anarchist utopia, but simply had no idea how a modern, or premodern economy actually functioned, as well as having a woefully mistaken understanding of basic human nature.
This would all be of academic or historical interest if the ideas of groups like the White Panther Party had died with the organizations. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are millions of people in this country and many others whose understanding of economics and human nature is no better than the White Panther Party’s. All too many of these people happen to be in positions of influence and too many bad policies are the result. If you look at many of the policy debates going on in Washington, it seems that one or both sides really believe in the same sort of cargo cult economics that the White Panthers did. At least no one ever seems to consider that any free gifts the government gives out must ultimately be paid for by somebody, either now or in the future when the bills come due.
- Editing Huey P. Newton: Reflections on The Black Panther Party (moorbey.wordpress.com)