Symbolism And African (Black) Men (Mostly) With Guns

| Strategize!

The video was circulating endlessly this past weekend. Seemingly dozens of primarily African men (with a sprinkling of women) carrying semi-automatic weapons, marching, and chanting, in formation.  Apparently, headed for the Ku Klux Klan headquarters in rural Georgia, U.S.  It wasn’t clear what happened once or if they reached their destination, but its safe to say that the centuries old vision of African people putting the Klan out of their misery once and for all didn’t take place.

For the most part, the reaction, primarily from colonized people, particularly African women, was support for this action.  And, for people who have been consistently and brutally assaulted by white supremacists for centuries, its certainly understandable that a symbolic gesture of us fighting back would generate feelings of joy.  The vision of African people with guns is clearly a bold symbol of our desire to be free.  And, as someone who has been around weapons my entire life, and who has organized resistance during numerous confrontations with white supremacists who were armed, I understand the rationale better than most who are talking about it.  The difference is I’ve never in my life been in a political situation, confrontation or not, where myself or anyone I was with displayed weapons of any kind publicly.  And, I never will do that.  The reason for this is I was trained by the elders that the absolute only time a firearm is presented in public is the time that firearm is used, period.  In other words, when that gun comes out, somebody’s getting shot with it.  I was taught that the best usage of a firearm is the element of surprise and once you walk around with it publicly, that advantage is eliminated.  The logic around this has always made sense to me and as a result, I’ve always honored that practice.

Also, there’s the political analysis around guns that has to be had whenever the issue of guns, the state, and oppression/repression surfaces.  Most of the models of African gun-toting actions in the U.S. today evolves clearly from the work of the Loundes County Freedom Organization in Alabama, U.S. in 1965, better known as the original Black Panther Party initially organized as an armed party with the symbol of the Black Panther that was organized by Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  And, of course, the work of the Black Panther Party of self-defense, organized in Oakland, California, U.S., the next year – 1966 – by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.  For most people, it started with the Oakland Panthers and their police patrols where they wore black leather jackets, tams, and openly carried weapons to patrol against police terrorism against our people.  In fact, most of the Africans marching today even visibly present themselves like the Oakland Black Panther Party.  One of the main groups behind Saturday’s action is even called the Huey P. Newton Gun Club.

Since much of the present action is inspired by the Black Panther Party, it makes sense to evaluate the Panthers of the 60s and the guns they carried.  Let’s be absolutely clear when we say that we can never be accused of being anti-gun.  We are revolutionaries so to suggest that means you know nothing about revolution in general, and you certainly know nothing about our work to protect our people.  Armed struggle is an unquestionable element of any genuine revolutionary struggle, but the most critical element of revolutionary struggle is always the political education that guides the usage of weapons on all levels.  Much has been written about the Black Panther Party and how the guns often overshadowed the political education.  Actually, Huey P. Newton, shortly before his death, spoke directly to this.  While being interviewed for the Public Broadcasting System’s “Eyes on the Prize” documentary, Newton said too many of the people who joined the Panthers during their height of membership were drawn “to the guns and the berets” and not the essence of the Panther’s very reason for existing i.e. to organize the African masses for revolutionary change, or at least concrete grassroots changes.

It’s that last part that causes concern about the marching with guns today.  The action is great from a symbolic level.  We are promoting fighting fire with fire, but beyond the symbolism, us not being willing to organize an actual reality where we are focused, trained, and committed to the type of protracted struggle that surrounds any armed movement for justice means the marching with guns is simply performative art with limited value.

The Ku Klux Klan is a terrorist organization. They have a 150 year history of brutally and systemically terrorizing us. It won’t take them very long to overcome any anxiety, if any actually exists, about us showing up in front of them with guns. No, the only way those actions will have any long term effectiveness and meaning is when we organize capacity to march right in the Klan’s house and clean house.  We don’t have that capacity now, despite hundreds of us showing up with guns, or else we would have not only done that to the Klan in Georgia, but to the Klan, neo-nazis, police, and military everywhere.  And, if you are thinking we don’t have the ability to do that, then you are a major part of the problem.

Organization decides everything and for some of us, symbolism is no longer enough.  We want action to resolve these problems impacting our people.  And, that takes long term organization, not the mobilization of a one day action.  Most of us simply do not possess the commitment and discipline to do the level of consistent work needed to build that capacity mentioned previously.  For most of us today, symbolism is all we are looking for and this is proven by the fact most of us are not even involved on any level with any type of organization working for our people.  Besides, I would argue that a bunch of mostly dudes, even African dudes with guns, doesn’t make a lot of African women, especially our LGBTQ people/sisters, feel any safer.  Patriarchy and guns have a long history supporting one another.  Again, the solution for that is organized political education.

Baba Seku Neblett is a former SNCC Freedom Singer.  He’s also a former Black Panther Party Field Marshall.  And, currently, he’s an All African People’s Revolutionary Party cadre member living in Ghana.  In the documentary film “Kwame Nkrumah – Black Star of Africa” Baba Seku gave us a perfect example to illustrate the point this article is attempting to make.  In that film, Baba Seku said that when he, Kwame Ture, and other former Panthers descended upon Guinea-Conakry in 1968/69, Kwame Nkrumah, who was forced into Guinea because of the illegal coup backed by the U.S. to overthrow his government, was there serving as their guide to carry on the African revolution.  One day, frustrated with Nkrumah’s dictate that they spend their time studying, Baba Seku, Kwame, and others stormed into Nkrumah’s Vila Syli residence armed, declaring their readiness to take on the forces in Ghana who had overthrown Nkrumah’s government.  Baba Seku relays how Nkrumah looked at all of them, shook his head, and slowly began taking their guns from them and handing them books instead.  Nkrumah was clearly a very wise and venerable revolutionary by the time the fight against international imperialism took him to Guinea.  His experience attempting to organize support for, while mentoring, Patrice Lumumba and his National Congolese Movement in the Congo in 1960/61, taught Nkrumah about the insidiousness of neo-colonialism and capitalist oppression against our people.  His experience with the Central Intelligence Agency overseeing the illegal overthrow of his government and his subsequent experiences with similar actions cemented Nkrumah’s understanding.  What we need is a steeled political cadre who understands the forces oppressing us on a worldwide basis and who can develop the capacity to organize our people, including on a military level, to seize power from the forces causing our oppression.

No one is criticizing our brave family members who displayed those arms.  We just want so much more than a symbolic action.  We organize daily for more.  We understand that for those who are not directly involved in our struggle, symbolism seems like actual change, but it isn’t.  What we want is for all of us to realize this and make the commitment to get involved so we can build capacity to go beyond symbolism and towards building actual power for the African masses.

As much as we wish to feel better about our oppression.  As much as we want those hurting us to understand we are tired of it.  Symbolism only delays what we really need from happening.  If we continue to only be willing to demonstrate symbolism against a system that has no problem committing genocide against us, we will never improve our conditions.  We will only feel a little better about our suffering.  A few hundred of us armed while most of us are not even involved in our liberation struggle is idealism and despite the great intentions by those last weekend, it will do little to stop our oppression.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in feeling better.  I’m only interested in the power of the organized masses.  I’m interested in building the blocks to take our enemies down, once and for all and that’s going to require a lot more than a few of us with guns, no matter how good we look.

  • Stephen Morrell

    It’s a flawed logic for an armed detachment or formation to hide its weapons if marching in public. The reason to display weapons, and especially proficiency and military discipline in their use as a group, is to intimidate the enemy from even thinking of attacking you. A show of force with clear intent of ‘No fucking around’ saves bloodshed and lives. It is far better to intimidate and demoralise the enemy, who mostly are cowards, with an overwhelming show of force. That’s the sole, real reason for all military displays.

    These militias are a step forward and a reflection of a growing consciousness of the role of the state — not just ‘symbolism’ — that disciplined defense militias are forming, with a sizeable component of veterans to boot. It’s also important that they’re seen to be forming, even if they’re not necessarily under a revolutionary leadership and are otherwise politically disarmed — even if just as a ‘symbol’, as an example for others. In the current political vacuum, they stand in stark if somewhat apolitical contrast to the active co-opting of the protests into voting for the Democrats on the one hand and a lack of revolutionary leadership on the other.

    NFAC’s leader has black separatist politics born of pure desperation. The whacko advocacy of a Texas black ethnostate, for which he aspires NFAC to be ‘the backbone of the military’, is reminiscent of Nation of Islam separatism which saw NOI in serious discussions with the American Nazi party. After all, black separatism is the obverse of white supremacy and isn’t incompatible with it. It’s a losing strategy that accepts the racist status quo in the US, that blacks can never be liberated unless they have their own separate state and territory — as a black ‘nation’ with no linguistic, territorial or economic basis. As the US Communist Party discovered to its surprise in its early years, black Americans want equality and integration, not separation.

    To imply that armed militias are somehow illegitimate because they’re politically disarmed is rank idealism. The NFAC may not have revolutionary politics or any sense of a class analysis of society, and they may never acquire it, but at least they see the need for disciplined armed self-defense of blacks. What’s needed is for a revolutionary party to politicise and organise all such militias, to link them up with workers struggles and form them into a Red ‘National’ Guard that will be the nucleus of a future workers state of the whole US, not some separate black ethnostate in one godforsaken corner of it.

    There are plenty of examples of disciplined militias that didn’t have revolutionary (let alone Bolshevik) politics which nonetheless effectively stopped fascist and cop attacks. One such was the Austrian Schutzbund, which existed from 1918 to 1934 under reformist Social Democratic control. The Schutzbund repulsed cop, fascist and nazi attacks on working class meetings, demonstrations, strikes, etc. The Austrian Social Democrats had a large party and trade union infrastructure that could support such an armed formation (which accessed arms caches hidden from the victorious Entente powers under terms of the Versailles Treaty). Ultimately the Schutzbund were defeated by the fascists precisely because of their reformist Social Democratic misleadership, because they didn’t have a revolutionary leadership.

    Of course no-one would ever characterise the The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense as an organisation with Bolshevik politics, despite some Panthers being subjectively revolutionary and others only there for the gunplay. But, on a far smaller scale than the Schutzbund, the Panthers did manage to keep the cops at bay — with open carry and no need to pull out a weapon to off a pig who thought his intended victim was otherwise unarmed. The Schutzbund didn’t conceal their weapons in public either.

    As in all military formations, enduring material support and political indoctrination is necessary if they’re to be have any meaningfully longterm existence in defending their class interests against attacks from the opposing class. In the US at least arms aren’t scarce — thanks to the Second Amendment. And according to the way it’s phrased, such militias have more formal right under its provisions to exist than atomised citizens have of arming themselves.

    When social unrest erupts, there’s no logical, pre-determined order in the development of organs of struggle, or in political consciousness or where it leads. Ideally, at the height of social unrest verging on civil war, armed militias would be under the discipline of the local and workers soviets and the soviets themselves under the leadership of Bolsheviks who alone can infuse the highest political and revolutionary consciousness in worker and other militias defending their struggles and those of the oppressed. But in such a case, where Bolsheviks have real mass support, we also would have a revolution at hand, by definition.

    It’s also simply misleading to equate NFAC, etc, with Stokely Carmichael and comrades urging Kwame Nkrumah to pick up the gun. Nkrumah was quite right to stop them in their silly, immature adventurist proposals. As far as can be gleaned, neither has the black separatist NFAC come out willy nilly espousing ‘pick up the gun’, as was so fashionable in the ’60s where Mao’s ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ was a favourite slogan among petty bourgeois radicals. Other black militias also appear to be displaying themselves as disciplined units determined to defend themselves, to demonstrate to the cops and their KKK brethren that they’d better think twice if they intend rampaging through black neighbourhoods. Militarily speaking at least, despite not displaying much in the way of ostensibly revolutionary politics, NFAC et al. are a definite advance on Antifa.

    Rather than just ‘symbolism’, these developments, however far from ideal, appear to be the encouraging first baby-steps, if only by example, in organising physical opposition that goes beyond defenseless demonstrators, who otherwise may be well-versed in politics and ‘educated’, repeatedly being billy-clubbed, gassed, tasered, maimed or killed on the streets by the bourgeois state’s thugs in blue. A few hundred or a couple of thousand in organised militias today could be hundreds of thousands in hundreds and thousands of militias tomorrow. NFAC’s ‘symbolism’, as an example to be followed, should be encouraged and they certainly need to be politically educated to give the ruling class some pause. But if the militias were linked up with workers struggles against the flow of the rulers’ profits; were joined by significant chunks of disaffected rank and file from the economic conscript military; and came under a Bolshevik leadership — now that would truly frighten the ruling class. It’s just a pity, and a warning, that the rulers don’t have a Formosa or a Florida to swim to.