The Black Radical Tradition Confronts False Leadership and “Stealth History”
Former political prisoner, Black Panther and Black Liberation Army activist Dhoruba bin-Wahad discusses his most recent commentaries critical of the state of Black leadership and politics
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, IMIXWHATILIKE: What’s up world, and welcome back to another edition of I Mix What I Like here at the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball in Baltimore.
As new generations of activists enter political struggle here in the United States, they enter into a vacuum created by this country’s most aggressive repression of revolutionary movements. Assassinations, exile, and long-term political imprisonment have left many of the most seasoned and politically educated revolutionaries incapable of having the requisite influence on successive generations of activists and influence vital to the success of such movements.
Our guest in this segment of I Mix What I Like has recently written a number of provocative public commentaries calling to task several prominent and aspiring black leaders and organizations who are beneficiaries of and replicants of what he has called stealth history. Dhoruba bin-Wahad is a former political prisoner and member of both the Black Panther party and Black Liberation Army, and is one of our strongest political analysts still willing to perform that function. We welcome him to the show.
Welcome, Dhoruba, to I Mix What I Like here at the Real News.
DHORUBA BIN-WAHAD: Thank you for having me on, Jared.
BALL: So as I sort of said at the beginning, you have written these commentaries in response to what I’m describing as a vacuum of leadership created by COINTELPRO or the counterintelligence program and the repression of, in this case, black liberation struggle in the United States. You’ve been critical of the Nation of Islam’s Million Man March, the 20th anniversary coming up here in a few months. You’ve been critical of the new Black Panther party and its leadership. And so if you would, take us through a little bit of this argument of yours, and what you’ve been calling stealth history.
BIN-WAHAD: Well actually, it’s a term that was coined by Eric Cummins back in the early 1990s. And he was, he was pointing out how a number of publications were put out by the mass media purportedly by former Black Panthers or individuals that had close relationships to the Black Panther party leadership. And these individuals turned out to be for the most part police agents. They, some of–one of them was a young Republican who went underground and wrote these books, you know, Spitting in the Wind, and these other publications in which they just flat-out lied about prominent leaders in the black liberation movement in general, in particular the Black Panther party.
And this history has been, this revision of events has been allowed to percolate and marinate because of the rise of the new [compidor] class that we had after the ’60s and early ’70s. That new compidor class of course is as I indicated mainly derived from former allies of Martin Luther King and the non-violent integrationist movement. These individuals and organizations abandon poor people in order to have a place at the table, at the corporate table, at the table of empire.
BALL: You’ve raised, I think, important critiques here. You were critical of–you’ve long been critical of the Nation of Islam and its, as you called it, messianic approach to struggle here. You were critical of Al Sharpton and the National Action Network. And of course, the New Black Panther party for its claiming the logo and name in many ways, but absent the analysis and the programs of the original Black Panther party.
One question–I would like to get into some of the details of those arguments. But my one question to you initially is, what do you say to those who argue that public critique of other black leaders and organizations that are ostensibly trying to do some good is a flaw? It’s a flawed approach, and something that holds us back. How do you first address that critique that I know you’ve heard and that I’ve heard many times over the years?
BIN-WAHAD: Because we’re making an assumption that the people that we’re supporting and the people that we’ve failed to critique are actually advancing an agenda of black folks. We’re making that assumption because of their pretense, because perception is reality. I mean, we look at organizations and we have these nice uniforms and they seem disciplined and organized. But when you look on the reality, what do we have in terms of political empowerment? Do we have an independent black political party? Do we have an independent political party that represents all of the people who are maligned by empire in the United States? Whether they’re immigrants, whether they’re Latinos, whether they’re gay and lesbian. Do we have this type of political organization giving this type of leadership? No.
What we have are organizations that parade around and show discipline and give fiery speeches that the right wing uses to organize and raise money with. And on the other hand, when we look here when we look in the black community, we look at these organizations. They’ll call like, we had a Million Man March and we had a followup to the Million Man March. And the issue is not so much that you’re calling black folks together. The issue is what do you do when you do call them together, and also how do they come together?
When you look at the–and anyone that knows what I’m talking about, any activist in any of these cities knows I’m telling the truth. You cannot have unity and don’t have principles. When you have organization, any organization, that wants to claim a national following of significant influence on the masses, and then it goes into the communities and it calls together all the activists who are actually doing the work on the ground in the community and saying look, we need all to come together in Washington, DC on this date and demand A, B, C, and D.
And then the organizations go out and they do all of this work. They mobilize the people. They raise funds. They go knocking on the doors to turn people out. These are the activists, these are organizations on the ground who are doing this. This is not the people that is calling for this [congregation]. They’re not doing anything.
So when you do wind up with a mass demonstration, they’re the ones that are slow on the stand. They’re the ones that are slow on the podium. And they have nothing to offer, they have no strategic vision. They have no analysis. All they do is give you an emotional speech. All they do is rile you up and then tell you to go back to your place and continue to do what you’ve been doing before you came there. And then it’s gone. It’s done. It’s a done deal, okay.
This happens time and time again. The National Action Network does the same thing in a different way. You remember, the national rally that they called for justice. They had demonstrations in over a dozen cities in the United States. But the major press conference that was defining everybody’s demonstration was held in New York by Al Sharpton who was sitting there with the families of the victims of police killings.
And that’s another thing. We have moved into an era where we are dealing with leadership by victimhood. The victims who–the families of the victims who are mainly apolitical black folks, mainly poor people, mainly people who never had any political agenda, didn’t have any political analysis. They wind up with a child or a husband or a loved one murdered by the fascist police and then they’re thrust into the limelight. And we have a bunch of attorneys that run to defend them. Usually some of them are paid by people like Sharpton or whatever. And they come to defend them. And they haven’t won a case yet.
BALL: I heard you, Dhoruba. I’m sorry to interrupt. But I heard you make that point in your initial press conference with announcing the formation of the coalition to combat police terrorism with brother Kalonji Changa and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney among others. And you made this point in that press conference that you were not there looking to speak for the families of the victims of police violence, because you were a part of–if I understood you correctly or remember correctly–a political vanguard, an organized effort to respond to the conditions of the community, not necessarily to speak on behalf of the families. And this is I believe part of the point you were trying to make. Is that correct?
BIN-WAHAD: That’s correct. Because we cannot allow a leadership by victimhood. It’s tragic, what happened to these families. But that’s the reason why in our own way, according to our own analysis, everyone is responsible for what they know and for what they need to do based on that knowledge. So we come forth in order to demand accountability, in order to demand justice, in order to hold to account those black leaders who allow these conditions to exist.
You have to understand that the militarization of the police occurred while we had the current black leaders and so-called black militants on watch. It’s occurred, mass incarceration occurred on Sharpton’s and all of these folks’ watch. On the post-civil rights leaders’ watch. It wasn’t–and they called for the militarization of the police in order to fight drugs that was introduced into the community by the government. They called on the government to fight it, and our community has been ravaged by it ever since.
BALL: You know, Dhoruba, you know, we–President Obama just gave a major address the other day, or just last night, in fact, to the NAACP about mass incarceration. I’m wondering if you had a chance to see that and if you had any response to that given what you’ve just said. And then also and finally I would want you just to say a word or two to all the activists coming into the struggle now, as I started off this segment with. And to those gathering, for instance, in Cleveland at the end of this month for the Black Lives movement conference, and for those who have joined the Black Lives Matter conference, what might you say to all of that. So I’m asking you if you could to fold into a concluding comment your response to Obama’s press conference, or NAACP speech, about mass incarceration. And then a word of advice to those entering the movement now.
BIN-WAHAD: Well briefly, the only thing I can say, unless we develop a revolutionary analysis of our situation in the United States and begin to build sovereign thinking institutions in our community–we have the resources, we have the ability to do this. Unless we’re able to do this, unless we’re able to sweep away all of this miscellaneous stuff and come together and do that, then we are not going to succeed. And a major impediment to that, or the types of behavior, the types of practice of people and organizations like we were just discussing.
We have a bogus black bourgeois leadership, or bogus leadership of gatekeepers. We have storefront militants. We have messianic leaders who lead us around in circles. What we really need to do is understand concrete organization of masses of people around concrete issues. We are not going to legislate away white supremacy. We are not going to legally sanction the culture in the system of white supremacy. They could appoint all the special prosecutors they want, that’s not going to change the minds of white folks who believe in the system that they’ve created for their privilege.
So the only way we’re going to deal with that is we have to develop a revolutionary approach to this. We have to build a new abolitionist movement and not a reform movement. And one of the major problems with Black Lives Matter is that the history, their history, where they’re coming from is totally disconnected from the legacy of black radicalism and revolutionary thought in this country. And with that disconnection they are unable to come up with and understand strategies and analyses that will really empower us.
But I urge them, of course, to stay in the streets. I urge them to keep putting pressure on the black compidor class and on the system. And exercise the only real political power that we have in this country, and that’s the social, political, and cultural monkey wrench, an economic monkey wrench. We need to bring things to a halt. If we can’t–if we can’t drive safely in the streets without being murdered by police, then the police shouldn’t be able to come to our community at all without the threat of death. Without the threat of sanction. That’s what it should be.
Our community should be able to defend themselves and defend their integrity. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Very human being has the right to self defense. Except black people. We only have the right to forgive. We only have the option to beg for mercy. This is a coward’s mentality. This is surrender to white supremacy and the militarization of American society.
So we need to understand that this is a hard struggle, and we will be characterized as haters and terrorists, or whatever. But the empire, whenever we throw a brick at white supremacy in America, we also throw a brick at American empire abroad and the support of imperialism around the world.
BALL: Well, Dhoruba bin-Wahad, thank you very much for joining us in this segment of I Mix What I Like here at the Real News Network. We appreciate your time.
BIN-WAHAD: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News Network. And for all involved, I’m Jared Ball. And as always, like Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace. Catch you in the whirlwind, everybody.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.