Intercommunalism Part 1: Explanation of Huey’s Theory
It is important to have a basic understanding of Huey Newton’s method of reasoning before going into his specific conclusions about Intercommunalism. Newton arrived at the theory of Intercommunalism through the dialectical materialist method (specifically the Maoist variety), which views the entirity of the universe as matter in motion, the world constantly in a state of change due to contradictions inherent in everything. Huey Newton did not consider himself a Marxist, but rather a Dialectical Materialist. He drew this distinction by ironically following Marx -
“Remember, though, that Marx himself said, “I am not a Marxist.” Such Marxists cherish the conclusions which Marx arrived at through his method, but they throw away the method itself- leaving themselves in a totally static posture. That is why most Marxists really are historical materialists: they look to the past to get answers for the future, and that does not work. […] If you are a dialectical materialist, however, […] you do not believe in the conclusions of one person but in the validity of a mode of thought; and we in the party, as dialectical materialists, recognise Karl Marxas one of the great contributers to that mode of thought.”
By drawing this distinction, he threw open a wide theoretical space whereby even the ‘fundamental’ Marxist conclusions could be challenged and reassessed in relation to changes in the world. Due to the inherently unorthadox nature of actually applied dialectical materialism, many Marxists did not take Newton’s thoery of Intercommunalism seriously. Similarly, some ultra-orthadox historical-mechanical materialist Marxists, often under the banner of Trotskyism, completely reject Maoism or any other creative and original approach to revolutionary struggle, claiming it to be un-Marxist if it is not a carbon copy of 1917. With the dialectical materialist method and its implications in mind, let us proceed to the conclusions which Huey arrived at.
Nations no longer exist
The central point of Intercommunalism is that nations no longer exist and that the world is rather a collection of interdependent communities. This understanding is rooted in the Black Panther Party’s own practice and history. The Panthers started out, like many at the time, as Black nationalists. The traditional view in the communist movement had been that of Harry Haywood, Stalin, and the Cominterm, who said that the Blacks constituted a separate nation with the “Black Belt” area of the Southern US as their territory. This however became less and less viable as large numbers of Black workers migrated and ghettoes bloomed all across the urban US. With now no consistent area to claim as a national territory, some Black nationalists like the Panthers claimed that theirs was a case of a “dispersed colony”. But the “nation” label was really no longer fitting to the situation of Blacks and a new assessment needed to be made. Huey explains how the Panthers started out as nationalists looking to “decolonize” due to an outdated and undialectical worldview, and how they began to understand the changes that had took place since the days of nation-states -
“We assumed that people could solve a number of their problems by becoming nations, but this conclusion showed our lack of understanding of the world’s dialectical development. Our mistake was to assume that the conditions under which people had become nations in the past still existed. To be a nation, one must satisfy certain essential conditions, and if these things do not exist or cannot be created, then it is impossible to be a nation.
“In the past, nation-states were usually inhabited by people of a certain ethnic and religious background. They were divided from other people either by a partition of water or a great unoccupied land space. This natural partition gave the nation’s dominant class, and the people generally, a certain amount of control over the kinds of political, economic, and social institutions they established. It gave them a certain amount of control over their destiny and their territory. They were secure at least to the extent that they would not be attacked or violated by another nation tehn thousand miles away, simply because the means to transport troops that far did not exist. This situation, however, could not last. Technology developed until there was a definite qualitative transformation in the relationships within and between nations.”
He goes on the describe how technological advances led to colonialism, nations controlling and exploiting other nations and territories; and then to what some called “neo-colonialism” where a nation controls others indirectly; and to the system existing today (or, in 1970), where the US controls just about the entire territory of the world-
“Using the dialectical materialist method, we in the Black Panther Party saw that the United Stateswas no longer a nation. It was something else; it was more than a nation. It had not only expanded its territorial boundaries, but it had expanded all of its controls as well. We called it an empire.”
But this empire is different to previous empires. It covers the world’s surface and integrates all of its peoples to an extent that they can never become independent again -
“When we say “empire” today, we mean precisely what we say. An empire is a nation-state that has transformed itself into a power controlling all the world’s lands and people.
“We believe that there are no more colonies or neocolonies. If a people is colonized, it must be possible for them to decolonize and become what they formerly were [nations]. But what happens when the raw materials are extracted and labor is exploited within territory dispersed over the entire globe? When the riches of the whole earth are depleted and used to feed a gigantic industrial machine in the imperialist’s home? Then the people and the economy are so integrated into the imperialist empire [sic] that it’s impossible to “decolonize,” to return to the former conditions of existence.
“If colonies cannot “decolonize” and return to their original existence as nations, then nations no longer exist. Nor, we believe, will they ever exist again.”
So he understood that nations are a thing of the past which can not be created or ‘reclaimed’, and that therefore nationalism and internationalism were outdated terms and ideas. The Party needed a new conception of the world’s makeup and a new term for it.
“We say that the world today is a dispersed collection of communities. A community is different from a nation. A community is a small unit with a comprehensive set of institutions that exist to serve a small group of people. And we say further that the struggle in the world today is between the small circle that administers and profits from the empire of the United States, and the peoples of the world who want to determmine their own destinies.”
This situation is intercommunalism. More precisely, Huey designated it “reactionary intercommunalism”; an interdependent world territory consisting of a collection of communities but under the control of a capitalist-imperialist ruling class. Imperialist monopoly capitalism has beat the communists to their own long-term goal of tearing down the boundaries between nations and developing an integrated world community. However, they have done it through means of exploitation, tresspassing, and murder. Huey quotes Robert Stevenson, Ford’s Executive President for Automotive Operations-
“It is our goal to be in every single country there is. We look at a world without any boundary lines. We don’t consider ourselves basically American. We are multi-national; and when we approach a government that doesn’t like the United States, we always say, “Who do you like; Britain, Germany? We carry a lot of flags.”
Though Huey never really goes into a definition of ‘community’ beyong “a comprehensive collection of institutions that serve the people who live there”, he at times uses the word to refer to different levels of social organisation, ranging from local town community to (former) national communities, to the one global community. It can then be understood that the ‘collections of institutions’ vary in size and scope with the level of the community (ie from parish council to World Trade Organisation), and that communities of different levels contain each other in a sort of fractal pattern with the one world community as its all-encompassing structure.
But reactionary intercommunalism, like capitalism in general, contains the seed of its own destruction and will transform into its opposite, a worldwide socialist system where people and communities have control over their own destinies, which Huey calls “revolutionary intercommunalism”. Peoples from all over the world are/were, especially then, fighting against American imperial capital; the integration and reactionary union of the world under the US empire has united all revolutionaries in their resistance against a global ruling class with its base in the USA. Capitalism has already done the communists’ job of uniting the world and eliminating national differences. Furthermore, the technology used by the ruling imperial class makes it perfectly possible to create, maintain, and develop a revolutionary culture where “all power to the people” is the order of the day and the contradictions among the people can be solved peacefully. This transition to revolutionary intercommunalism had already begun, according to Huey-
“[Some communities] have liberated their territories and established provisional governments. We recognise them, and say that these governments represent the people of China, North Korea, the people in the liberated zones of South Vietnam, and the people in North Vietnam.”
“We believe that their examples should be followed so that the order of the day is not reactionary intercommunalism (empire) but revolutionary intercommunalism. The people of the world, that is, must seize power from the small ruling circle and expropriate the expropriators, pull them down from their pinnacle and make them equals, and distribute the fruits of our labor that have been denied us in some equitable way. We know that the machinery to accomplish these tasks exist and we want access to it.
“Imperialism has laid the foundation for world communism, and imperialism itself has grown to the point of reactionary intercommunalism because the world is now integrated into one community. The communications revolution, combined with the expansive domination of the American empire, has created the “global village”. The peoples of all cultures are under siege by the same forces and they all have access to the same technologies.”
Once the people have taken control and established revolutionary intercommunalism worldwide, or at least over a majority of the world’s territory and resources (ie, once the world socialist revolution is triumphant), we will be able to progress further to the higher stage of communism, as class differances and the state will die out, as in traditional Marxist theory.
Unity of Struggle
The theoretical development known as intercommunalism led the Party to radically reassess much of its practical action, as well as its world outlook. Specifically, this meant the unification of the global peoples’ struggle beyond internationalism, the emphasis on a world revolution, and the rejection of “national liberation”.
Due to reactionary intercommunalism, all oppressed people of the world had the same enemy- the US ruling class. It was no longer a case of seperate conflicts and struggles across the world; it was now just one large conflict between the American monopoly capitalists and the oppressed communities of the world. A class war in the most singular sense. The repression used by the reactionary intercommunalists is essentially the same in every country; not only do the Police occupy the Black communities like a foreign troop, as the early Panther rhetoric put it, but the US Army also acts as the world police.
“We see very little difference in what happens to a community here in North America and what happens to a community in Vietnam. We see very little difference in what happens, even culturally, to a Chinese community in San Francisco and a Chinese community in Hong Kong. We see very little difference in what happens to a Black community in Harlem and a Black community in South Africa, a Black community in Angola and one in Mozambique. We see very little difference.”
For the Panthers, in practice, this situation required much more than internationalist solidarity. In his Uniting Against a Common Enemy, Huey explains the necessity for the unity of struggle between the Black Americans and every other community in the world, and the cooperation and solidarity of the peoples’ revolutionary forces. Solidarity was also the case with internationalism, but now there is not even a necessity for this solidarity to cross national lines; the lines are already gone. The struggle has become one-
“We, the people of the world, have been brought together under strange circumstances. We are united against a common enemy. Today, the philosophy of revolutionary intercommunalism dictates that the survival programmes implemented by and with the people here in America and those same Peoples’ Survival Prgrammes being implemented in Mozambique by the Mozambique Liberation Front are essential in bringing about world unity, from Africa to the Black community inside America, developing and uniting against a common enemy […] We are not seperate nations of men to continue the pattern of fighting amongst ourselves. We are a large collection of communities who can unite and fight together against our common enemy.”
In terms of actions, the Panthers did a few things, including several meetings with comrades from the revolutionary movements in Mozambique, China, and so on. But for a party in the Panthers’ position, when the majority of the Black community in the US did not have the necessary revolutionary consciousness and the Party itself was low on funds and suffering severe repression, there was not a lot that could be done to aid the struggle overseas. They once offered to send Black Panther troops to fight US imperialism on the front line alongside the Vietnamese, but this move was unpopular among the Black community. So by far the best way to contribute to the world revolution was to consolidate control in their own communities and territory-
“Then how do we help? Or how can they help our struggle? They cannot fight for us. We cannot fight in their place. We can each narrow the territory that our foreign oppressor occupies. We can liberate ourselves, learning from and teaching eachother along the way. But the struggle is one; the enemy is the same.”
The liberation of the Black American communities is thus not just a part of the freeing of Black people in the USA, but also a vital part of the world revolution, as important as the liberation of the Vietnamese communities (perhaps even more so, given the Blacks’ position geographically in the belly of the beast).
Reclaiming the Community
Intercommunalism also affected the Party’s approach to community organising, seeing as communities were now the key socio-economic unit in the world. The Black Panther Party was always based around organising the community, serving its people and stengthening (or building) its institutions. This was true even before the theory of Intercommunalism, when Huey did not recognise the community as the key economic unity and insisted on labelling the Black population a “dispersed colony”. In other words, the Panthers’ practice of community organising pre-empted their theoretically qualitative development of Intercommunalism. However, this qualitative development in their theory complemented their practical work, refining and correcting it in areas resulting in a quantitative development in their community organising and clarification in the general course of action.
For example, Huey Newton’s pieces On the Relevence of the Church and Black Capitalism Reanalyzed signify the Party’s recognition of the importance of community institutions (these institutions being what define a community) and the stengthening and peoples’ control of them, even if they’re based on an ultimately reactionary psuedo-solution to the community’s problems, as well as building of new institutions through the Party’s community programs. (This was not purely down to the idea of intercommunalism, but also a wider dialectical deepening of Newton’s thought in the early 1970s and recognition of the Party’s “defection from the Black community” via what he calls “revolutionary cultism”. Still, the new guiding theory of the Party clearly affected this.) Huey claims that the Party was always based around this community organising, but also outlines the change in the Party’s practice, with reference to the Church and the Party’s own survival programs-
“[From the start] Bobby and I were interested in stengthening the Black community- rather its comprehensive set of institutions, because if there’s one thing we lack it’s community.”
“We will work with the church to establish a community, which will satisfy most of our needs so that we can live and operate as a group.
“The Black Panther Party, with its survival programs, plans to develop the institutions in the community.”
Technology, National Liberation, and Peaceful Coexistence
Intercommunalism, and the fact that it was no longer possible for a colony or “neocolony” to become a nation, led the Panther leadership to reject the idea of “national liberation” along capitalist lines. That is, under the leadership of a “national bourgeoisie”. In The Technology Question, Newton elaborates on the central role of technology in the dynamics of reactionary intercommunalism. Without control over their resources and technology the oppressed people, even after winning control of their territory, will not be able to liberate themselves; they would instead, if they choose the capitalist road, just set up a comprador bourgeoisie which would be a part of the global Empire, and this keeps the people oppressed and keeps the poor countries underdeveloped. Oppressed communities can not use capitalism to develop. This is because the US bourgeoisie has taken control of all of humanity’s technological wealth, so as soon as a country adopts the capitalist mode of production they are pulled into the global capitalist order (reactionary intercommunalism, Empire), and therefore are destined to be dominated by the US monopoly-capitalists-
“The Black Panther Party would certainly support the liberation of any territory by those with the correct vision or ideology. We would not support, however, the liberation of territory strictly for the purpose of allowing a national bourgeoisie to take the place of the colonizer. Besides, the national bourgeoisie cannot even exist without relying upon the Empire.”
Even in a socialist system where the people have control, their technological means are less advanced than that of the US due to the previous robbery and exploitation which left the Empire superior. Newton explores the example of Vietnam, and what will happen when the Vietnamese succeed in expelling the US war machine but must still compete on the global market-
“The cost to the nation or territory with less technology- to produce, to refine, and to ship- would obviously be greater than the cost for such a process to one in possession of advanced means. Thus, even with the liberation of land, the Vietnamese will remain dependent.”
This is why people, even poor people, in the USA enjoy a quality of life higher than many in the rest of the world, even in socialist countries; because the US, as the center of the reactionary intercommunalist Empire, is home to a large concentration of advanced technology stolen from the rest of the world. Thus, the need to destroy the whole of the Empire-
“Some of the territories are liberated, such as China, the northern halfs of Korea and Vietnam, or Albania. But the weapons of conquest, the war weapons produced by modern technology, are in the hands of the United States. Not even a liberated territory can lay claim to sovereign control of its land, economy or people with this hanging over its head.”
“The only way to really liberate Vietnam, if not the whole world, is to crush the US reactionary ruling circle, thereby making the technological vehicle available to everyone.”
Here Huey simply advocates world revolution as the only way for socialism to last, as that is the only way the people can overthrow US imperialism and recover their stolen technology, which is needed to build a strong and prosperous socialist, and eventually communist, society. The world’s wealth, concentrated in the richest parts of the US (and to a lesser extent the rest of the “First World”) must, under a revolutionary intercommunalist system, be redistributed-
“we say they represent the people’s liberated territory. They represent a community liberated. But that community is not sufficient, it is not satisfied, just as the National Liberation Front is not satisfied with the liberated territory in the South [of Vietnam]. It is only the groundwork and preparation for the liberation of the world- seizing the wealth from the ruling circle, equal distribution and proportional representation in an intercommunal framework. This is what the Black Panther Party would like to achieve”
He talks about the advanced means of communications (sattelites, mass media, etc) and how they have tied the communities of the world together through technology and also resulted to an extent in a unity of culture (this was before the internet existed, which obviously is the more effective link-up of the world’s people in history,) and what is to be done with this technologically unified world-
“I do not believe that history can be backtracked. If the world is really that interconnected then we have to acknowledge that and say that in order for the people to be free, they will have to control the institutions of their community, and have some form of representation in the technological center that they have produced. The United States, in order to correct its robbery of the world, will have to first return much of which it has stolen. I don’t see how we can talk about socialism when the problem is world distribution. I think this is what Marx meant when he talked about the non-state.”
He goes on to talk about the problem with the “Peaceful Coexistence” policy of the USSR and how it essentially means the death of the first workers’ state and its co-optation into the global capitalist Empire. -
“This is what the concept of “peaceful coexistence” means: peaceful co-optation. If the freeing of a land is part of a peoples’ strategy, then I have no criticism. If national liberation wars are just strategies to mobilise the unconscious peasants or workers, I would agree with that, too. However, if the people are laboring under fantasies that they will be liberated through troop or arms withdrawal with the US reactionary ruling circle staying intact, then they are living in romantic finalism. By their own conclusion, they will condemn their very liberty, because the United States does not need their territory. That is not the question. The people of the oppressed territories might fight over the land question and die over the land question. But for the United States, it is the technology question, and consumption of the goods that the technology produces!”
“Russia has become, like all other nations, no more than a sattelite of the United States.”
This was two decades before the Perestroika-induced collapse of the Soviet Union. But using his dialectical materialist method, Newton could see the implications of the revisionist “peaceful coexistence” policy, and managed to paint a remarkably accurate picture of the process that would lead to the USSR’s death due to lack of access to the advanced technologies (although he uses the example of Korea, which funnily enough is still persevering under socialism)-
“In other words, a worker in Korea may presently accept the state’s drive to work harder, to push production for everybody. The United States government is saying the same thing: “We’re producing for everybody; we’re giving out the goods.” The difference, however, is everybody in America has a television, a car, and a relatively decent place to live. Even the lowest of the low do not live anywhere near the level of the poor in the world. […] Those who support the so-called socialist states will begin to be swayed by their introduction of a US consumer market into their socialist countries. This becomes an even greater problem, because reactionary intercommunalism would then infect the very people of that part of the world, as well as blacks and other people in this country.”
Ahead of his Time ?
I hope this piece will serve as a good introductory explanation of Intercommunalism, as shown in theory and practice. The Black Panthers were a highly successful revolutionary movement by most standards, and Huey P Newton stands as one of the most accomplished dialectical materialists in history. Keep in mind that Huey had this idea 40 years ago. When he said nation’s didn’t exist, people said he was nuts; now everyone’s talking about “globalisation”, the triumph of capitalism as a world system has been universally acknowledged, the USSR and many other workers’ states have indeed been destroyed due to their ‘peaceful co-optation’ and unwillingness to finish the job and take back the technological assets from the US, and so on.
This stands as a prime example of the power of dialectical materialism, and all the historical-mechanical materialist Marxists could learn a thing or two. It seems Huey was “ahead of his time”, but in fact the Marxists just dragged behind.. I think this theory is the most accurate and dialectical interpretation of the modern world to date, and has nowhere near enough attention. If we want to understand and change the world then this is a good place to start. We must look at Newton’s conclusions and develop them using the method he used and demonstrated so skillfully.
notes and grammar corrections and stuff coming soon
Clearly, much has changed since then and it is absolutely necessary to update, refine, and correct Huey Newton’s ideas in relation to the present situation and the 40 years that have passed; I intend to do this some time soon in a “part 2″ of this piece on Intercommunalism. For now though what do you all think ?? Please write your criticisms of the idea or my attempt to explain it. Keep in mind that I deliberately refrained from updating points in relation to the modern world as that would have took the whole thing off on a tangent. That’s what part 2 will be about; this is just supposed to explain the original idea and how it fitted into the situation at the time.