I have no doubt that the revolution will triumph. The people of the world

 will prevail, seize power, seize the means of production, wipe out racism,

capitalism, reactionary intercommunalism—reactionary suicide.

Books by Huey P. Newton

Revolutionary Suicide  /  War Against the Panthers  / Huey P. Newton Reader / To Die for the People / The Genius of Huey P. Newton

In Search of Common Ground  / Insights and Poems / Essays from the Minister of Defense

*   *   *   *   *

A Manifesto

Revolutionary Suicide: The Way Of Liberation

By Huey P. Newton

“Only the People Can Create the Revolution”

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth, let a people loving freedom come to growth, let a beauty full of healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control!

—Margaret Walker

For twenty-two months in the California Men’s Colony at San Luis Obispo, after my first trial for the death of Patrolman John Frey, I was almost continually in solitary confinement. There, in a four-by-six, except for books and papers relating to my case, I was allowed no reading material. Despite the rigid enforcement of this rule, inmates sometimes slipped magazines under my door when the guards were not looking.

One that reached me was the May, 1970, issue of Ebony magazine. It contained an article written by Lacy Banko summarizing the work of Dr. Herbert Hendin, who had done a comparative study in suicide among black people in the major American cities. Dr. Hendlin found that the suicide rate among Black men between the ages of nineteen and thirty-five had doubled in the past ten to fifteen years, surpassing the rate for whites in the same age range. The article had—and still has—a profound effect on me. I have thought long and hard about its implications.

The Ebony article brought to mind Durkheim’s classic study Suicide, a book I had read earlier while studying sociology at Oakland City College. To Durkheim all types of suicide are related to social conditions. He maintains that the primary cause of suicide is not individual temperament but forces in the social environment.

In other words, suicide is caused primarily by external factors, not internal ones. As I thought about the conditions of Black people and about Dr. Hendlin’s study, I began to develop Durkheim’s analysis and apply it to the Black experience in the United States. This eventually led to the concept of “revolutionary suicide.”

To understand revolutionary suicide it is first necessary to have an idea of reactionary suicide, for the two are very different. Dr. Hendlin was describing reactionary suicide: the reaction of a man who takes his own life in response to social conditions that overwhelm him and condemn him to helplessness. The young Black men in his study had been deprived of human dignity, crushed by oppressive forces, and denied their right to live as proud and free human beings.

A section in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment provides a good analogy. One of his characters, Mameladov, a very poor man, argues that poverty is not a vice. In poverty, he says, a man can attain the innate nobility of soul that is not possible in beggary; for while society may drive the poor man out with a stick, the beggar will be swept out with a broom. Why? Because the beggar is totally demeaned, his dignity lost. Finally, bereft of self-respect, immobilized by fear and despair, he sinks into self-murder. This is reactionary suicide.

Connected to reactionary suicide, although even more painful and degrading, is a spiritual death that has been the experience of millions of Black people in the United States. This death is found everywhere today in the Black community. Its victims have ceased to fight the forms of oppression that drink their blood. The common attitude has long been: What’s the use? If a man rises up against a power as great as the United States, he will not survive. Believing this, many Blacks have been driven to a death of the spirit rather than of the flesh, lapsing into lives of quite desperation. Yet all the while, in the heart of every Black, there is the hope that life will somehow change in the future.

I do not think that life will change for the better without an assault on the Establishment [The power structure, based on the economic infrastructure, propped up and reinforced by the media and all the secondary educational and cultural institutions.], which goes on exploiting the wretched of the earth. This belief lies at the heart of the concept of revolutionary suicide. Thus it is better to oppose forces that would drive me to self-murder than to endure them.

Although I risk the likelihood of death, there is at least the possibility, if not the probability, of changing intolerable conditions. This possibility is important, because much in human existence is based upon hope without any real understanding of the odds. Indeed, we are all—Black and white alike—ill in the same way, mortally ill. But before we die, how shall we live? I say with hope and dignity; and if premature death is the result, that death has a meaning reactionary suicide can never have. It is the price of self-respect.

Revolutionary suicide does not mean that I and my comrades have a death wish; it means just the opposite. We have such a strong desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence without them is impossible. When reactionary forces crush us, we must move against these forces, even at the risk of death. We will have to be driven out with a stick.

Che Guevara said that to a revolutionary death is the reality and victory the dream. Because the revolutionary lives so dangerously, his survival is a miracle. Bakunin, who spoke for the most militant wing of the First International, made a similar statement in his Revolutionary Catechism. To him, the first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man. Unless he understands this, he does not grasp the essential meaning of his life.

When Fidel Castro and his small band were in Mexico preparing for the Cuban Revolution, many of the comrades had little understanding of Bakunin’s rule. A few hours before they set sail, Fidel went from man to man asking who should be notified in case of death. Only then did the deadly seriousness of the revolution hit home. Their struggle was no longer romantic. The scene had been exciting and animated but when the simple, overwhelming question of death arose everyone fell silent.

Many so-called revolutionaries in this country, black and white, are not prepared to accept this reality. The Black Panthers are not suicidal; neither do we romanticize the consequences of revolution in our lifetime. Other so-called revolutionaries cling to an illusion that they might have their revolution and die of old age. That cannot be.

I do not expect to live through our revolution, and most serious comrades probably share my realism. Therefore, the expression “revolution in our lifetime” means something different to me than it does to other people who sue it. I think the revolution will grow in my lifetimes, but I do not expect to enjoy its fruits. That would be a contradiction. The reality will be grimmer.

I have no doubt that the revolution will triumph. The people of the world will prevail, seize power, seize the means of production, wipe out racism, capitalism, reactionary intercommunalism—reactionary suicide. The people will win a new world. Yet when I think of individuals in the revolution, I cannot predict their survival. Revolutionaries in America, whose lives are in constant danger from the evils of a colonial society. Considering how we must live, it is not hard to except the concept of revolutionary suicide. In this we are different from white radicals. They are not faced with genocide.

The greater, more immediate problem is the survival of the entire world. If the world does not change, all its people will be threatened by the greed, exploitation, and violence of the power structure in the American empire. The handwriting is on the wall. The United States is jeopardizing its own existence and the existence of all humanity. If Americans knew the disasters that lay ahead, they would transform this society tomorrow for their own preservation. The Black Panther Party is in the vanguard of the revolution that seeks to relieve this country of its crushing burden of guilt. We are determined to establish true equality and the means for creative work.

Some see our struggle as a symbol of the trend toward suicide among Blacks. Scholars and academics, in particular, have been quick to make this accusation. They fail to perceive differences. Jumping off a bridge is not the same as moving to wipe out the overwhelming force of an oppressive army. When scholars call our actions suicidal, they should be logically consistent and describe all historical revolutionary movements in the same way. Thus the American colonialists, the French of the late eighteenth century, the Russians of 1917, the Jews of Warsaw, the Cubans, the NLF, the North Vietnamese—any people who struggle against a brutal and powerful force—are suicidal.

Also, if the Black Panthers symbolize the suicidal trend among Blacks, then the whole Third World is suicidal, because the Third World fully intends to resist and overcome the ruling class of the United States. If scholars wish to carry their analysis further, they must come to terms with that four-fifths of the world which is bent on wiping out the power of the empire. In those terms the Third World would be transformed from suicidal to homicidal, although homicide is the unlawful taking of life, and the Third World is involved only in defense. Is the coin then turned? Is the government of the United States suicidal? I think so.

With the redefinition, the term “revolutionary suicide” is not as simplistic as it might seem initially. In coining the phrase, I took two knowns and combined them to make an unknown, a neoteric phrase in which the word “revolutionary” transforms the word “suicide” in to a idea that has different dimensions and meanings, applicable to a new and complex situations.

My prison experience is a good example of revolutionary suicide in action, for prison is a microcosm of the outside world. From the beginning of my sentence I defied the authorities by refusing to cooperate; as a result, I was confined to “lock-up,” a solitary cell. As the months passed and I remained steadfast, they came to regard my behavior as suicidal. I was told that I would crack and break under the strain. I did not break, nor did I retreat from my position, I grew strong.

If we had submitted to their exploitation and done their will, it would have killed my spirit and condemned me to a living death. To cooperate in prison meant reactionary suicide to me. While solitary confinement can be physically and mentally destructive, my actions were taken with an understanding of the risk. I had to suffer through a certain situation; by doing so, my resistance told them that I rejected all they stood for. Even though my struggle might have harmed my health, even killed me, I looked upon it as a way of raising the consciousness of the other inmates, as a contribution to the ongoing revolution. Only resistance can destroy the pressures that cause reactionary suicide.

The concept of revolutionary is not defeatist or fatalistic. On the contrary, it conveys an awareness of reality in combination with the possibility of hope—reality because the revolutionary must always be prepared to face death, and hope because it symbolizes a resolute determination to bring about change. Above all, it demands that the revolutionary see his death and his life as one piece. Chairman Mao says that death comes to all of us, but it varies in its significance; to die for the reactionary is lighter than a feather; to die for the revolution is heavier than Mount Tai.

*   *   *   *   *

The Caged Panther the Prison Years of Huey P. Newton—J. Herman Blake—We also had some very rich exchanges in discussing the ideas of Emile Durkheim—a French sociologist considered one of the founders of the discipline Sociology. His works are cited at the beginning of any introduction to sociology course. I was interested in Durkheim’s ideas about “collective consciousness” and group behavior. Newton had also read Durkheim and was much more interested in his development of the social causes of suicide. Newton had read an article in EBONY Magazine that a fellow inmate had shared, discussing Herbert Hendin’s study of the rising incidence of suicide among African Americans—particularly males. This was a new and surprising trend and apparently a subject of intense discussion during the mealtimes he shared with other inmates. Newton and I talked about Durkheim’s articulation of the major types of suicide: Anomic, Altruistic, Egoistic, and Fatalistic.

First of all, Newton was troubled by the increasing suicide rate among Black males. He was dissatisfied with the way the trend was discussed in the article for he felt the writer accepted the pattern as understandable even if not acceptable. In talking about the social forces used to explain suicide, Newton began to use Durkheim’s paradigm to analyze these forces and develop an expanded version of the theory. In Newton’s view, fatalistic suicide as explained by Durkheim resulted from situations where individuals felt oppressed and reacted by killing themselves as an escape from their oppression. Newton theorized that when faced with overwhelming social forces to kill oneself was “reactionary suicide.” However, if the individual had a strong desire to fulfill their life, they would move against their oppressors and seek to liberate themselves and their people. Even if the oppressors had much greater forces leading to the individual’s death, the revolutionary act of moving against oppression rather than self-destruction would result in “revolutionary suicide” a form of liberation.

In other words, “revolutionary suicide” resulted from such an overwhelming desire to live free that one would take action against an oppressor in spite of the odds. As he developed the idea of “revolutionary suicide” in his reflections on the writings of Herbert Hendin and the theories of Emile Durkheim, Huey Newton seemed to become liberated himself. Newton ruminated at length about Durkheim’s formulation of how social forces—either tightly woven or very loose—might lead a person to kill oneself. However, he argued further that if social forces were overwhelmingly constraining, the revolutionary act would be to move against the social forces and their agents—even if that action led to one’s own death.

When he originally articulated the concept of revolutionary suicide, Newton saw it as another one of the abstract ideas we were developing to stimulate his mind during his time in his jail cell. While excited by his own analytical development of the concept, he did not envision going further with the idea. It was one of many ideas we discussed in relation to social conditions of poor people around the world in general and Black people in America in particular. Eventually it was to become the title of the autobiography that emerged from our collaboration. Initially the concept revolutionary suicide was ensconced in an intellectual array of ideas to be discussed with other inmates in lieu of brothers on the block. At that time, there was no indication Newton wanted to pursue the idea further or promote the concept. We talked about it and went on to other matters.—Springer

*   *   *   *   *

DVDs — A Huey P. Newton Story 2001  / What We Want, What We Believe The Black Panther Party Library 

The Spook Who Sat By the Door  / Passin’ It On; The Black Panthers’ Search for Justice /

*   *   *   *   *

Revolutionary Suicide

By Huey P. Newton, Ho Che Anderson (Illustrator), Fredrika Newton (Introduction)

Eloquently tracing the birth of a revolutionary, Huey P. Newton’s famous and oft-quoted autobiography is as much a manifesto as a portrait of the inner circle of America’s Black Panther Party. From Newton’s impoverished childhood on the streets of Oakland to his adolescence and struggles with the system, from his role in the Black Panthers to his solitary confinement in the Alameda County Jail, Revolutionary Suicide is smart, unrepentant, and thought-provoking in its portrayal of inspired radicalism.

Huey P. Newton (1942-1989) was an activist and inspirational leader of the Black Panther Party. Fredrika Newton joined the Black Panther Party as a youth member in 1969 and married Huey P. Newton in 1984. She established the Huey P. Newton Foundation, a non-profit educational organization, in 1993.

Ho Che Anderson was born in London in 1969 and named after the Vietnamese and Cuban revolutionaries Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara. He is primarily known for his comic books King, I Want to Be Your Dog, Wise Son, and Scream Queen.

*   *   *   *   *

The Katrina Papers a Journal of Trauma and Recovery

By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

The Katrina Papers is not your average memoir. It is a fusion of many kinds of writing, including intellectual autobiography, personal narrative, political/cultural analysis, spiritual journal, literary history, and poetry. Though it is the record of one man’s experience of Hurricane Katrina, it is a record that is fully a part of his life and work as a scholar, political activist, and professor.  The Katrina Papers provides space not only for the traumatic events but also for ruminations on authors such as Richard Wright and theorists like Deleuze and Guattarri. The result is a complex though thoroughly accessible book. The struggle with form—the search for a medium proper to the complex social, personal, and political ramifications of an event unprecedented in this scholar’s life and in American social history—lies at the very heart of The Katrina Papers. It depicts an enigmatic and multi-stranded world view which takes the local as its nexus for understanding the global.  It resists the temptation to simplify or clarify when simplification and clarification are not possible. Ward’s narrative is, at times, very direct, but he always refuses to simplify the complex emotional and spiritual volatility of the process and the historical moment that he is witnessing. The end result is an honesty that is both pedagogical and inspiring.—Hank Lazer

The Katrina Papers, by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. $18.95

*   *   *   *   *

Malcolm X

A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist. Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins’ bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

Manning Marable’s new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.

Reaching into Malcolm’s troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents’ activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

*   *   *   *   *

A History of the Black Press By Armistead S. Pride and Clint C. Wilson II

In this work, Dr. Wilson chronicles the development of black newspapers in New York City and draws parallels to the development of presses in Washington, D.C., and in 46 of the 50 United States. He describes the involvement of the press with civil rights and the interaction of black and nonblack columnists who contributed to black- and white-owned newspapers. . . . Through reorganization and exhaustive research to ascertain source materials from among hundreds of original and photocopied documents, clippings, personal notations, and private correspondence in Dr. Pride’s files, Dr. Wilson completed this compelling and inspiring study of the black press from its inception in 1827 to 1997.

This is a major and noteworthy contribution to scholarship on the African American press. As Washington Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam concludes in the foreword, “Pride and Wilson’s comprehensive history is a lasting tribute to the men and women within the black press of both the past and the present and to those who will make it what it will be in the future.

*   *   *   *   *

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi wa Thiong’o

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their country—the teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the Mau Mau is waging war against the white government, and the two brothers and their family need to decide where their loyalties lie. For the practical Kamau the choice is simple, but for Njoroge the scholar, the dream of progress through learning is a hard one to give up.—Penguin

*   *   *   *   *

The Shadows of Youth

The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation

By Andrew B. Lewis

With deep admiration and rigorous scholarship, historian Lewis (Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table) revisits the ragtag band of young men and women who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Impatient with what they considered the overly cautious and accommodating pace of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., the black college students and their white allies, inspired by Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence and moral integrity, risked their lives to challenge a deeply entrenched system. Fanning out over the Jim Crow South, SNCC organized sit-ins, voter registration drives, Freedom Schools and protest marches. Despite early successes, the movement disintegrated in the late 1960s, succeeded by the militant Black Power movement.

The highly readable history follows the later careers of the principal leaders. Some, like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, became bitter and disillusioned. Others, including Marion Barry, Julian Bond and John Lewis, tempered their idealism and moved from protest to politics, assuming positions of leadership within the very institutions they had challenged. According to the author, No organization contributed more to the civil rights movement than SNCC, and with his eloquent book, he offers a deserved tribute.—Publishers Weekly

posted 6 October 2005