Well, my colleague (Sam Friedman) has challenged me to identify the Marxist ideologues that I refer to in my most recent blurb. The problem with friends is that they hold us accountable. And if confession, as my Baptist friends constantly remind me, is good for the soul, then let me here and now confess –that yes once I was a Marxist ideologue. Where do I begin –at the beginning I suppose.
Most of you know that I was in the military, a Viet Nam veteran, and during that period became involved in the Viet Nam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Actually, I was one of the founding members of the Illinois Branch of the VVAW, as well as charter members of the national body. It was in this organization, and generally in the peace literature, that I began reading and my curiosity regarding revolutionary movementswas piqued. I became very much interested in the writings of anybody that was “radical” and the most radical I could find were Marxist. With time my views increasingly became dominated by the likes of Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Che Guevara and watched with glee as Castro began his work in Cuba.
We, in E. St. Louis it seemed were at the other end of the world and languishing. A small cell began reading everything we could get our hands on that had the semblance of being revolutionary. We quickly rejected the calls for overt violence of, and the do nothing policies of Adam Clayton Powel (Burn Baby Burn). The integrationist strategy of King and the N.A.A.C.P. seemed too tame, and well it was what our parents had embraced, so it could not be that radical –could it. Although we frequently listened to the message of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and probably would have went Muslim if Malcolm X had of been more than the National Spokesman. Consequently, we found more and more intriguing the writings of Huey, Baraka, and Bobby. We started the local branch of the Black Panthers, and began in earnest reading Huey P. Newton, H. Rap Brown, and Bobby Seals.
We met daily to read and discuss from Huey P. Newton’s Ten Point Program, Mao’s Little Red Book, and F. Nietzsche’s The Will to Power. More than anything we were inextricably drawn to the rhetoric of Stokely Carmichael and the awesomeness of the concept of “black power”. No one had every suggested that blacks were anything but trash, problems and victims. But –the idea of black people could have power took us to a new level. We took the party line in literally “hook, line and sinker” –we stood on the corners, shouting all power to the people and sold theBlack Panther official newspaper. We were fully committed to the liberation of the black race. As many of us were Viet Nam veterans, we already had the jackets, shirts, and boots to join the militant ranks of the Panthers. With all the idealism of youth, we fervently believed that we were the advanced guard of the revolution that would free our people, take over our communities, and put ‘whitey’ in his place.
In the barbershops, in the pool rooms, on the streets –anywhere we could get a crowd of more than ourselves - we preached the liberation, we condemned the ‘whitey’, and we proclaimed our resolve to tear down the racist Amerikkan structure. Did I say we were young, did I say we were niave, did I say we were idealist –well yes, and we were dumb. How dumb? I will let you be the judge.
On one particular hot day, we had decided that we were going to do our most dramatic action –we were going to form a human chain around the E. St. Louis Police Station –and shut down that “instrument of exploitation”. We, all 26 of us, formed a human chain and marched to the Station to “liberate” our brothers who had been unduly hassled, unjustly arrested, by the “pigs” representatives of the racist structure. We got there about 12 noon, as planned, painted signs in hand, suitably and militantly dressed, we began our chants through our bull horns. “Pigs, pigs, racist pigs have gotta go. Free our brothers, now. 1,2,3,4 the Racist Pigs have gotta go. Free our brothers, now. No justice, no peace. 1,2,3,4 racist pigs have gotta go.” No -we were not that creative. But we got our message across, and we got action. The police quickly proceeded to arrest us on disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace charges. And then began my odyssey, where I learned the true meaning of power.
My one free call, was to –who else –my mother. She came down to see why her son had been arrested. When she found out, she had me brought into an interrogation room. There, she looked at me, with tears in her eyes and asked me one simple question “Have you lost what little sense you had when you came back from Viet Nam?” Dumbfounded, I looked her in the eyes and said –absolutely nothing. Silence - you could cut through with a butter knife -filled the room. And again, she looked at me and said “Well. You made your bed, now you just wallow in it.” That was it, she left, and I was taken back to my cell. During the night, my fellow Panther Brothers made bail, or were released. Me, I was held over for ‘justice’. Within a couple of days, I was taken to the Alton and the Illinois State Mental Facility where I was committed. Yes, I was committed, and placed in a psychiatric ward. Yes, somebody had signed papers attesting to the fact that I had lost it, I was a threat to myself and/or others. That I was certifiably –“nuts”.
Who, you might ask had done this to me. Oh, forgive me. Did I mention that one of the Pigs that I was protesting against was my –FATHER. Yep, my father, was in the first group blacks to integrate the E. St. Louis Police Department. And yes, my father the “PIG” was not happy with his second son who had not only embarrassed him to all his fellow officers, but felt personally insulted by my choices, attitudes, and activities. My father, determined to show me just what real power was –was not satisfied with me being arrested, no, he had to demonstrate to me that my whole world could be taken from me. Jail and misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace were too trivial as punishments. I needed to learn what real power was.
Well. I did not stay in the “facility” long. Actually, after my assessment, I was released to make room for the really sick folks. But that was not the real difficulty. I now had no place to call home. During my stay –my father had had my meager possessions packed up and deposited at the Panther Headquarters in E. St. Louis. The headquarters –well actually three rooms that we, now six homeless black men, struggled to pay the monthly $100.00 rent.
After a couple of weeks, my mother finally relented and agreed to meet me for lunch. You know, black men and their mothers –nothing stands between them for long. We met at the local park, she actually brought some of her chicken and potato salad. With some soda, we had a nice lunch. And after, she shook her head, and said “Rodney, I am not proud of what you did. What were you thinking?” Looking at this woman who loved me more than life itself. (I know for she had almost died to give birth to me!) I had no response. So she proceeded to fill in the blanks.
“How could you call your father a pig? A pig? Really? He is the man that put his life on the line everyday so that you could have a place to live, something to eat, and clothes on your back. A pig? He is the one who dropped out of school to get a job to support me and our family, so that you could be born. A PIG? He is the one who constantly denies himself so that you can have the things that he did not have. A PIG –Son, he is a hero, he is one of the few black men who dared to challenge the all white Police Department to hire them. The first group of black men who daily had to deal with an entrenched white community that refused to see blacks as anything more than victims, thugs, and hoodlums. And he is the Black Man that each day puts on that uniform, shines his shoes, and goes out to serve and protect you and our community. And you had the audacity to not only call him a PIG, but to do it in front of the whole police department. You are the one with the problem –not your father.”
You know, no one can make you feel as small as your mother. And no one knows where to hit that really hurts then your mother. And no one can make you see reality like your mother. And –well I guess you know the rest. So what could I do –
I waited for the appropriate time –which is a nice way, I waited till it hit me, just how wrong I was –not only about my father, but a whole lot of other things –and went to see my father. There and then, humbly, and with the deepest of respect I begged my father for his forgiveness. And you know what –he gave it to me –with the following caveat. “In the future, get to know the whole story, check you facts before you open your mouth.” My response -“Yes, sir.”
Obviously, I had to reconsider Huey P. Newton’s statement that I had so engrained in my head.
“The policemen or soldiers are only a gun in the establishments hand. They make the racist secure in his racism. “
For clearly, my father was a policeman, and he had a gun –but he clearly was not there to make racist secure in their racism. What else was wrong with the ideology of the ideologues?
As I began checking the facts, I became distressed with many of the ideological positions of the Black Panthers. I did some more reading. I learned that Amiri Baracka advocated and confessed to practicing rape on black women and that:
“Most American white men are trained to be fags. For this reason it is no wonder their faces are weak and blank. … The average ofay [white person] thinks of the black man as potentially raping every white lady in sight. Which is true, in the sense that the black man should want to rob the white man of everything he has. But for most whites the guilt of the robbery is the guilt of rape. That is, they know in their deepest hearts that they should be robbed, and the white woman understands that only in the rape sequence is she likely to get cleanly, viciously popped.”
This was not prominently found in the various revolutionary tracts that we had available to us. But buried in his more literary texts. I am not sure if this was written in truth or just to scare the white world. What I do know is that I could not condone nor align myself with anyone who could even write such –in jest, in revolutionary fervor, or in-sane. Now I began to wonder, just what was behind the slogans, the glibness, and the militant persona. I looked at the Panther Cartoon books, and saw my father, my mother, and many of my friends. And I saw myself, with a gun in my hands. Damn, hadn’t I just spent a time advocating peace, pacifism. How had I sank so low, how had I been –again – so wrong. My father had it –I was too gullible, too naïve, and too damn stupid. And know what –stupid falls for anything. Yes –fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me..but fool me three times….i must be a fool. When Angela Davis and several other prominent black women left the Panthers chastising them for being sexist, chauvinist pigs –again the ideological rigidity of the Panthers and their bastardization of Marxism was even more revealed.
I learned that C.L.R. James had severed himself from other marxist ideologues, because they were blind to the plight of Africa and the African struggle. But then I learned that C.L.R. James had been read by African revolutionaries such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah. In fact it was Nkrumah that led me to more critical appreciation of multiple modes of thought, and to the multiple ways that social transformations can be accomplished. It was Nkrumah that led me to began to see in the reality that revolutionary and revolutionaries often are trapped in their ideologies, and that true change comes about more slowly. By the way, it did not help when Eldredige Cleaver decided to become a republican and run for the senate. Wow, how much can one change. Such change is better appreciated as transformative rather than revolutionary, and thus my critical education actually begun. And thus ended my brief stint as an Marxist ideologue.
*Note: Rodney D. Coates is a professor of sociology at Miami University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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