The Black Panther Party and Democratic Centralism

1965-oakland-anti-war-marchIn 1965, I was on an early anti Vietnam War march that started in Berkeley and attempted to march through Oakland to the Army Induction Center. Allen Ginsberg was there, Paul Krassner. We were met at the Oakland border by a phalanx of Oakland Police in riot gear. In Oakland at that time, the first amendment didn’t apply.

Along comes the Black Panther Party, now celebrating its 50th Anniversary. There’s a conference I would love to attend, but I’m in Mexico again where I live now about a third of the time. But I hope they resurrect the party in some way. The BPP changed the face — and the soul — of Oakland.  Such organizations are precisely what’s needed right now.

In a previous blog I talked about how the Communist Party USA created the middle class. One of the major factors in fostering the effectiveness of the CP and the Panthers was their use of the principle of democratic centrism, a concept developed by Lenin. Most parties have distorted democratic centralism to drop the democracy part and focus on the centralism. Genuine democratic centralism simply consists of a thorough discussion of the issues among all members of the party, then there’s a vote, and however it turns out, everyone agrees to support the majority position or carry out that strategy.

The revolution, any revolution, requires disciplined cadre, and while that brings up the image of bandoleros, it doesn’t have to. Perhaps the most compelling example is the when the Black Muslim community, mostly men in suits, two hundred in number, the Fruit of Islam, organized by Malcolm X standing in front of the NYPD precinct, quietly demanding the release of one of their members who had been unjustly arrested – this scene in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X is a major plot point in the movie.

I know I’m repeating myself here (like Bernie does) but I don’t understand why so many people are totally missing the point of the revolutionary Sanders campaign. Bernie made a decision a couple years ago to join the Democratic Party and transform it into a progressive organization. He probably expected to get 25% of the vote. As we know, he exceeded his wildest expectations. His campaign could claim the support of 45% of the party – the largest organization of any kind in the US – almost half. To implement his strategy of course he has to support the nominee of the party, that’s like democratic centralism. You go along for the sake of party unity, because without that, the congress and senate will remain in viciously reactionary hands. To quit the party and continuously attack the leader seems foolish to me. We were this close people. We can gain another 6% in the next four years and nominate a progressive challenge to HRC.

Green Party? What’s the STRATEGY? I keep asking and people send me the beautiful platform, but a platform is not a strategy. Getting federally funded is not a strategy. Splitting the Democratic Party now that we’re practically a majority is not a strategy. It’s a sectarian movement that puts the interests of its own organization above the interests of the people. If I’m wrong, tell me what Jill is going to do in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. If she campaigns in those swing states, she deserves no votes.




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