Stokely Carmichael: the Black Power Movement and "the savagery of white America"
In July 1967, Stokely Carmichael addressed the Dialectics of Liberation Congress at Roundhouse with a potent articulation of the relations between race, capitalism and imperialism, and "Black Power". During Black History Month forty-eight years later, we return to this prescient analysis.
Ahead of Verso's presentation of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution with Dogwoof Films at the London Review Bookshop on November 12th 2015, we publish an extract from Carmichael's speech.
The Black Panthers, by Stanley Nelson, is the first feature length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails.
Change was coming to America and the fault lines could no longer be ignored—cities were burning, Vietnam was exploding, and disputes raged over equality and civil rights. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to drastically transform the system. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change.
By Stokely Carmichael, 1967
We understand that a capitalist system automatically contains within itself racism, whether by design or not. Capitalism and racism seem to go hand in hand. The struggle for Black Power in the US, and certainly the world, is the struggle to free these colonies from external domination. But we do not seek merely to create communities where, in place of white rulers, black rulers control the lives of black masses, and where black money goes into a few black pockets. We want to see it go into the communal pocket. The society we seek to build among black people is not an oppressive capitalist society. Capitalism, by its very nature, cannot create structures free from exploitation.
The question may be asked, how does the struggle to free these internal colonies relate to the struggle against imperialism all around the world? We realistically survey our numbers and know that it is not possible for black people to take over the whole country militarily. In a highly industrialized nation the struggle is different. The heart of production and the heart of trade is in the cities. We are in the cities. We can become, and are becoming, a disruptive force in the flow of services, goods and capital. While we disrupt internally and aim for the eye of the octopus, we are hoping that our brothers are disrupting externally to sever the tentacles of the US.
That’s very important, because Newark, New Jersey, is where Engelhart has his capital – and for the last five days he couldn’t do any work. Good move for the Africans. You know who Engelhart is, don’t you – you don’t – you should read about South Africa, he controls most of it, along with Rockefeller, the liberal from the US.
It is sometimes said that the African-American movement in the US does not understand the true nature of the struggle in the world today; that the movement is involved in fighting only racial discrimination, and only with the weapon on non-violence. It used to be. As you know, the Black Power movement which SNCC initiated moved away from the movement for integration. This was not only because the movement’s goals were middle class – such as job opportunities for college graduates, equal public facilities – and not only because white Americans’ concept of integration was based on the assumption that there was nothing of value in the black community and that little of value wouldl ever come from the black community – and that’s very important, because the West doesn’t understand its own racism when they talk about integration. When they talk about integration, they talk about accepting black people – isn’t that ridiculous? I have to talk about whether or not I want to accept them, and they’re never willing to talk about that, because they know they’ll come up losing. So that integration is absolutely absurd unless you can talk about it on a two-way streak, where black people sit down and decide about integration. That means if you’re really going to talk about integration, you don’t talk about black people moving into white neighbourhoods, you talk about white people moving into black neighbourhoods.
Because of the middle-class orientation of the integration movement, and because of its subconscious racism, and because of its non-violent approach, it has never been able to involve the black proletariat. It could never attract and hold the young bloods who clearly understood the savagery of white America, and who were ready to meet it with armed resistance. It is the young bloods who contain especially the hatred Che Guevara speaks of when he says, and I quote:
Hatred as an element of struggle, relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man, and transforms us into effective, violent, selected and cold killing machines.
The Black Power movement has been the catalyst for the bringing together of these young bloods – the real revolutionary proletariat, ready to fight by any means necessary for the liberation of our people.
The Black Power movement in the US is exposing the extent of the racism and exploitation which permeates all the institutions in the country. It has unique appeal to young black students on campuses across the US. These students have been deluded by the fiction in which America that if the black man would educate himself and behave himself, he would be acceptable enough to leave the ranks of the oppressed and have tea with the Queen. However, this year, when provoked by savage white policemen, students on many campuses fought back, whereas before they had accepted these incidents without rebellion. As students are a part of these rebellions, they begin to acquire a resistance-consciousness. They begin to realize that white America might let a very few of them escape, one by one, into the mainstream of a society, but as soon as blacks move in concert around their blackness she will reply with the fury which reveals her true racist nature.
It is necessary, then, to understand that our analysis of the US and international capitalism is one that begins in race. Colour and culture were, and are, key factors in our oppression. Therefore our analysis of history and our economic analysis are rooted in these concepts. Our historical analysis for example views the US as being conceived in racism. Although the first settlers themselves were escaping from oppression, and although their armed uprising against their mother country was around the aggravation of colonialism, and their slogan was ‘no taxation without representation’, the white European settlers could not extend their lofty theories of democracy to the red men, whom they systematically exterminated as they expanded into the territory of the country which belonged to the red men. Indeed, in the same town in which the settlers set up their model of government based on the theory of representative democracy, the first slaves were brought from Africa. In the writings of the glorious Constitution, guaranteeing ‘life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness’ and all that other garbage, these were rights for white men only, for the black man was counted only as three fifths of a person. If you read the US Constitution, you will see that this clause is still in there to this very day – that the black man was three fifths of a man.
It was because white America needed cheap or free labour that she raped our African homeland of millions of black people. Because we were black and considered inferior by white Americans and Europeans, our enslavement was justified and rationalized by the so-called white Christians, who attempted to explain their crimes by spouting lies about civilizing the heathens, pagans, savages from Africa, whom they portrayed as being ‘better off’ in the Americas than they were in their homeland. These circumstances laid the systematic base and framework for the racism which has become institutionalized in white American society.
- Read more about #BlackLiberation on the Verso blog.
- The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Dogwoof Films) will be screened at the London Review Bookshop on November 12th 2015. Books tickets in advance!
Master documentarian Stanley Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure trove of rare archival footage with the voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. Featuring Kathleen Cleaver, Jamal Joseph, and many others, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is an essential history and a vibrant chronicle of this pivotal movement that birthed a new revolutionary culture in America that speaks clearly to the struggles of today.
"Nearly half a century later, we find our voices in a renewed chorus for justice and equality. We continue to witness a state apparatus that perpetuates a culture of fear and aggression with frequent and unwarranted displays of racial violence and oppression. As we consider the similarities between the injustices of yesterday and the tragedies of today, it is important to understand that the Panthers were energized largely by young people - 25 and under - who started as small group of actively engaged individuals that collectively became an international human rights phenomenon. My hope is the film reveals itself to be more than just thought-provoking observations of our past. The parallels between pivotal moments within the movement and events occurring in our communities today are undeniable. To better understand the Black Panther Party is to be able to better reflect on our own racial climate and collective responsibility to ensure basic rights are fulfilled, not diminished, and that voices of justice and dissent are celebrated, not silenced."—Stanley Nelson, Director