*This will be a shorter review since I am also working on a publication for Midwestern Marx that involves observations from this book.
Malcolm X’s autobiography took me almost two months to finish. Newton’s autobiography in comparison took me a little under a week to finish. I guess what I’m trying to say is I found Newton’s writing approach really accessible, and though Malcolm X’s work arguably had more theoretical explorations, I found Newton’s tale to help my questions of praxis in many ways. I would recommend any young Marxist to read the both of them as I have. Learning about the Black Panther Party is something that many young Marxist-Leninists seem to skip over in this country which makes absolutely no sense to me. The Black Panther Party was the most successful Communist group in the history of this country and to ignore that as an ML is pure racist ignorance in my opinion.
One of my biases that Newton’s autobiography challenged was my hesitancy towards the notions of “arming the proletariat.” I’ve always fundamentally agreed with that notion as an ML but on the surface level, I was hesitant. In a time where school shootings are common, I felt huge stigmatization towards anything to do with firearms. And this is where my ignorance comes into play. I, like the white people during the actual time of the BPP, didn’t understand the reason for firearms in the group. I bought into the racist narrative subconsciously that it was about loving guns and fetishizing their role. In reality, legal gun ownership for the Panthers was about using the rules of the oppressors to protect themselves from the oppressors themselves. It was about revealing hypocrisy, challenging the right to everyone’s supposed rights, and simple survival.
Another concept that I found brilliant was Newton’s idea of “‘survival programs pending revolution’” which was the original articulation of what we see as “mutual aid” now. Newton wrote,
“A raft put into service during a disaster is not meant to change conditions but to help 1 get through a difficult time. During a flood at the raft is a life-saving device, but it is only a means of getting to higher and safer ground. So, too, with survival programs which are emergency services. In themselves they do not change social conditions, but they are life-saving vehicles until conditions change”(322).
Much like Malcolm X, hearing the resiliency of a revolutionary so marginalized by white supremacy was awe-inspiring. As a 20-year-old college student, Newton challenges how I view my role in society. His perseverance in teaching himself not only how to read, but by forcing himself to explore these vastly complicated topics of anti-imperial and anti-racist theories, is beyond impressive. His deep understanding of the true depths in which capitalism and racism have been embedded in this country shows the most precise understanding of American problems that I’ve ever read about. His language was accessible and his message was clear. He fought off the fetishization of deeming himself a hero or celebrity— he truly just wanted all power to go to the people. Mostly though, I can’t help but wonder why most of us are not taught about his role. Newton’s theory and words are some of the clearest, if not most clear articulations of clarity in America’s problem with oppression. Why doesn’t BLM today use Newton’s words to guide them? Why don’t we teach about Frantz Fanon as much as we do Freud? Why don’t we reject the white supremacy embedded in what we consider everyday estimates of smarts: IQ tests, basic psychology?
When you think of the Black Panthers do you think of violence or peace? Do you think about the ability for a black little boy to walk home from school unharmed, not harassed and violated by police officers, or do you think of gun-toting gangsters? Challenge your biases like I challenged mine. Read about Newton and Malcolm X, read their words, learn about the BPP. To not only Marxist-Leninists, but to anyone, Revolutionary Suicide paints the picture that in the past saved the lives of black individuals, but that can provide the framework to save the lives of future black lives. As Communists or as people who supposedly care about “racial justice” and being “anti-racist allies” your work is fallacious and wrong without learning about the Panthers. Hopefully, if we teach and write and expose the true legacy of the BBP, more Huey P. Newton’s will push forward and survive— creating a revolution in this country.