The History of the American Democracy
The history of the African American social and political struggle questions the legitimacy of the American democracy. Citizens govern a true democracy by voting representatives to local and national government. American democratic principles emphasize all men being created equal and injuries citizens have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. However, racist ideologies excluded African Americans from American democratic involvement well into the early 1960’s. Only after the successes achieved during the Civil Rights era of the Negro revolution, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, were African Americans allowed to vote representatives into the American democracy. But did suffrage that African Americans escaped America’s racially motivated social, economic, and political repression? By examining the new direction of the Negro Revolution in the context of past African American movement, and the response of the American administration we find remnants of the United States racially segmented government.
Democratic ideologies protect the right of the individuals and are necessary for equal human advancement. Without a political voice groups can easily have their social, political, or economic concerns ignored. What happens when a democratic state purposely excludes or represses the political voice of a group? For four hundred years The United States operated under a racially segmented government that resembled a totalitarian regime. Totalitarian governments are based on the subordination of individual citizens to the state.9 This form of government allows an absolute dictator, party, military, or race to control the country by force. The relationship between the American democratic government and African Americans is analogous to the totalitarian power hierarchy. The U.S. government bears a resemblance to elites while African Americans resemble the ruled class in the totalitarian power structure.
The American government relied on violence to successfully repress African Americans, which is a common characteristic of totalitarian regimes. For instance, until the mid 1960’s white Americans dominated a democratic nation that flourished economically because of profits from the violent rule suffered by African Americans. The American government successfully maintained total social and political power over African Americans by fear induced from race provoked violence, murder, rape, police intimidations, government legislations, and a lack of representation in the political sphere.1 Violence allowed the United States government to maintain racially segmented communities, politics, industry, and public spaces.
Through out the 20th century racism served as the catalyst for some of the most brutal totalitarian regimes. Many of these organizations were able to abuse their power because violence made opposition afraid to question political policies. For instance, between 1933 and 1945 the leader of the National Socialist Party, Adolf Hitler, violently ruled Germany.4Hitler promoted racial supremacist ideologies, similar to those practice in the United States, that lead to the violent political, economic, and social repression of the Jewish population.4 Jews where stripped of their citizenship rights and place in concentration camp, which resembled the social, political, and economic segregation experience by African Americans from 1800 to the mid 1960’s. The Nazi regime used violence to both maintain order within camps and to suppress all political opposition. Adolf Hitler felt that violence made “each one of them [opponents] think twice to oppose us when he learns what is awaiting him in the camp.”1The inability for successful Jews to over come governmental violence permitted Hitler to remain in power and allowed the Nazi violent occupation to last 12 years.
The former South African system of apartheid is another example of a totalitarian regime that used racist ideologies to justify violently retaining total social, economic, and political power. Apartheid was established to strengthen Dutch control over the economy and social system, and to maintain white domination while extending racial separation.”8 Apartheid passed legislation, such as the 1913 Native’s Land Act that allocated 87% of the South African land to whites8, which placed ethnic limitations on residential locations. Other legislation included a prohibition of interracial marriages, sanctioning of “white only” jobs, and that split race into three categories: white, black (African), or colored (or mixed decent). This form of social engineering lead to an augmented segregation that forcefully displaced 3.5 million Africans from their native land between 1960 and 1989.8 Blacks had their South African citizen ship removed, were exclude from South Africa Parliament, and South Africa now required passports for them to enter. The Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act sanctioned the government to declare states of emergency which increased penalties to protest that lead to a 156 state of emergency in 1960 that lead to 69 deaths and 187 people wounded.8 The South Africa Parliament’s use of legislation to sanction violence and racial separation allowed whites to dictate the state from 1948-1989.
Did African American suffrage signify the removal of the white supremacist democratic state from power in the United States? In order to claim the political power necessary to improve their racially tarnished social and political status African Americans needed to establish a strong political presence in the American Democracy. If American truly developed into a democratic nation the efforts of the new African American citizens would have been well received, but this was not the case. The American government reaction to the new Black Power and Black Panther resemble responses from totalitarian regimes to potential threats to the authority of dominant elites.
Maintaining power is key totalitarian regimes to continue their regime. Serious threats to overthrow the dominant class must be repressed for an effective reign. Putting the new direction of the Negro revolution is in context of past successful African American movements, shows how the new direction represented a threat to the supremacy of white democratic elites. In his book, “We have no leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era”, Robert Smith points out two similar aspects found in successful monumental Black movements. The first element was the ability to disrupt American Society and the second was systemic political and social demands.
For past African American movements to be successful they had to produce a disruption in the American Society. For instance, in 1862 Lincoln committed “my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery – If I could save the Union with out freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slave I would”1 Lincoln’s main concern was the effect slavery had on the unity of the United States. He did not end slavery because it was immoral or because he felt that African Americans deserved freedom. Slavery was brought to an end because the Union violently disagreed about the issue of abolishment. Southern states’ unwillingness to end slavery lead to civil war, but the war was ultimately fought about the South attempted to succeed from the Union.12
Similarly, only after protestors in the Civil Rights movement effectively produced violent disruptions that threatened the U.S.’s stability where legislations passed supporting the civil rights movement. The movement received some political support but most politicians did not press the issued or show any sense of urgency.11 Only after protestors disrupted the stability of the American system, by using systemic non-violent sit-ins to invoke non-systemic reactions from their opposition, was there political intervention.1 Once again, legislation was not passed because of the validity of the African American cause, just to maintain order. Neither successes should not be consider altruistic acts by the American Government, rather as obstacles removed from the path of the American society.
The Black Power and Black Panther sections shifted the Negro Revolution to more militant and radical tactics capable of producing the disruption necessary for social and political change. Black Power emphasized black unity and the formation of a nationalistic self-view.13The leader who coined the Black Power phrase, Stokley Carmichael, encouraged Blacks to construct a solid economic, social, and political base as strong as whites in preparation of harsher struggles to come.10 Although the charismatic leader never promoted violence, his rhetoric sparked a rebellion in Atlanta in 1966 and in several at universities in southern towns during the spring of 1967.7 Carmichael’s ability to captivate black audiences by appealing to their unwillingness to be further oppressed and stressing the beauty of black heritage enhanced the strength of the Black Power movement and increased the support from the black community.11 Carmichael proclaimed that a black unite front would allow Blacks to “let them (the government) know that if they touch one black man…we are going to disrupt the whole country.”13 Black power intended to unite Blacks to allow them to assert their political voice or disrupt the society until their demands are heard.
The radical leadership of the Black Panther Party envisioned building an insurgent African American Movement to combat vicious oppression. The Party leaned more towards Malcolm X’s view of meeting racial governmental violence with necessary forms of self-defense.6 In response to the 1967 police killing of Denzil Dovel the Party members drove around armed monitoring police activities to insure the civil right of black people where not violated.6Anti-police sentiment increased the party’s appeal to the black urban residences who where concerned about the Government ignoring police brutality. The party gained support from the Negro inner city by addressing poverty, pour housing, unequal employment, and other issues that a political voice would present to the government.11 The party leader’s Marxist influence lead them to recognize that the only response to violence of the ruling class is the revolutionary violence of the people.6 The Black Panthers willingness to retaliate against expected violence, taking into consideration the violence acted out on non-violent protestors during and after the civil rights movement, represented a potentially explosive situation for American cities.
However, the abolition and civil rights struggles succeeded because they did not pose a threat to the American power structure.1 The success of the struggles hinged on the fact that demands where systemic, demands that did not challenge the basic values or characteristics of the society. 1 For instance, during abolition African American slaves were set free with the racial hierarchy that America used to justify the inhumane act unaffected. African Americans where no longer legal property, but for the most part they emerged from the plantation disenfranchised, uneducated, and in perfect condition to be remain economically exploited. The slaves’ inability to demand wages for labor or protection from acts of violence mirrored second-class citizens’ inability to demand adequate compensation for their labor and the governmentally ignored violence. African American freedom was monumental, but it did not alter the social, political and economically segmented American government.
Similarly, civil rights reform and African American suffrage were also systemic. The right to vote is a fundamental characteristic citizenship in a democratic society. Segregation went against the founding American Democratic notion that all men where created equal. The civil rights struggle did not challenge the race based prejudice or privilege embedded in the American society nor did it challenged the power structure dominated by the democratic state that violently excluded African American. The end of segregation and African American suffrage was a step closer to the American Government truly becoming democratic.
Both radical segments of the Negro revolution were considered a threat because they wanted non-systemic changes that disagreed with the existing American social, economic, and political power hierarchy. The Black Panther Party 10 point platform included:
1) Freedom and power to determine the destiny of our black community; 2) Full employment of black people; 3) An end to the robbery by the white man of the black community; 4) Housing fit for human inhabitance; 5) Education that accurately reflects the true history of African Americans; 6) An exemption of all blacks from military service; 7) An immediate end to Police Brutality; 8) Release of all black people from jail and prison; 9) Black people be tried in court by a more accurate representation of peers; 10) Land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.6
The Black Panther Party threatened the American power structure by demanding the rectification of wrongs that directly stemmed from racially motivated social and political segregation and oppression.6 The party encouraged African Americans to avoid fighting in the military service of a racist government that did not protect or represent their community. American war efforts benefited from African American soldiers, who represented 11% of the American force in Vietnam and suffered as 18% of the casualties.11 The party questions the legitimacy of the racist American legal system and insists that all black prisoners are released on the basis of not receiving a fair trial. The party even claimed that the white man, by not providing restitution for slave labor and mass murder of blacks similar to that received by the Jews in Israel from Germany, continued to rob the black community. By calling an end to African Americans’ unconditional loyalty to the racist American government, insisting on power within black neighborhoods, and questioning the legitimacy of legal system the Black Panther Party directly challenged the American Government.
The principles of black power also confront the arrangement of American social and political power. Although Black where legally citizens, Carmichael still considered the American government to be an oppressive regime. Black power encourage blacks to develop a solid base to sustain the American struggle long enough to achieve the ultimate goal of establishing a socialist Pan-African Black Nation.13 Carmichael, a self-proclaimed anti-capitalist, only promoted participation in the economy because he acknowledged that fact that a Negro Revolution would require substantial financial funding. He felt that black shouldn’t “work any job from IBM or Wall Street cause your aren’t doing anything for us. You are helping this country perpetuate its lies…”13 Instead, he encourage blacks to work as professionals within their community or establishing cooperatives and use the profits towards the community.13 Funding would help African American establish the political force Carmichael considered necessary to “smash any political machine in the country that’s oppressing us and bring it to its knees.” 13
The reaction of the American government to the legitimate threat posed by the Black Power and Black Power movements reveal that African Americans had not been fully integrated into the quasi-democracy. The American government’s response resembles totalitarian regimes’ methodology that relied on governmental violence and other repressive tactics to maintain power. Government police and secret police have been the standard agency to carry out state terror in the past century.5 Typically the secret police forces where established outside the military and civilian command structure and only answered to top political leaders.
For instance, The Nazi Shutzstaffen, Einsatzgruppen, Order Police, and Reorganized German Police all served as secret policing agencies during Hitler’s reign of terror.4 The squads ensured the continued dominance of the regime by acting as politically police, internal security, operating concentration camps, carrying out the murderous Nazi policies, eliminating potential resistance in occupied areas, and suppressing internal communist and social democratic opposition.4 Ultimately the party was responsible for the one third of the Jewish population being murdered between 1939 and 1945.4
Similarly, South African police, called death squads, where also used to forcefully maintain power during the South African system of apartheid.8 Apartheid death squad efforts included blowing up the ANC headquarters in London, bombing the Johannesburg headquarters of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and murdering ANC activists in South African and Swaziland.8 Protestors, teachers, religious leaders, or anyone considered a political agitator where detained without hearings for any length of time. Thousand Black South Africans died in the custody of the South African police and were frequently victims of gruesome acts of torture during their incarceration.8 Those who went to trail were often sentenced to death, banished, or imprisoned for life, like Nelson Mandela.8 Even after Mandela was freed from prison the South African death squads continued their brutal practices, killing nearly 12,000 civilians, wounding 20,000 injured in thousands of incidents, including several major massacres just between 1990 and 1993.8
The United States also employed a political police force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), to violently repress opposition. The FBI’s counterintelligence functions where legally restricted to “hostile foreign governments, foreign organizations and individuals connect with them.”2 During the 1940’s and 1950’s nonviolent counterintelligence programs (COINTELPRO’s), directed towards the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party where engaged to “divide, conquer, weaken, in diverse ways, an organization.” FBI The FBI’s, often illegal, counterintelligence tactics included massive surveillance programs, mail tampering, fabricated publications falsely distributed in a targeted party’s name, disinformation released to the press to discredit individuals, harassment arrests, infiltrators and agents provocateurs, creation of pseudo-gangs to battle with authentic dissident groups, bad jacketing party members, kidnapping, fabrication of evidence, and even assassinations. FBI
FBI exercised several illegal counterintelligence strategies to repress the Black Power and Black Panther movements. Stokely Carmichael became a serious target in 1968 when the Black Panther Party recruited him to speak out for their falsely incarcerated leader Huey P. Newton.13 Carmichael, named Prime Minister of the Black Panther Party in February 19683, represented what J. Edgar Hoover felt was a “real danger that the Afro-American freedom struggle would be transformed into a genuine revolution.1 The FBI counterintelligence measure acted out against Stokely Carmichael was intended to:
“prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups…prevent militant black nationalist groups and leaders from gaining respectability…Prevent the rise of a black messiah who would unify and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement…Carmichael has the necessary charisma to be a real threat in this way.2
Carmichael represented the potential for the union of two of the most threatening militant Black movements. To discredit Stokely Carmichael, and prevent the Black Power and Black panther alliance the FBI successfully bad-jacketed the leaders as a FBI infiltrator. The tactic was meant to isolate and eliminate organizational leadership and was intended to cause extremely violent penalties for individuals jacketed, such as the murder of Fred Bennett that resulted from FBI bad jacketing. 2 The success of the FBI counterintelligence efforts can be echoed in Huey P. Newton’s statement on September 5, 1970 that “We…charge that Stokely Carmichael is operating as an agent of the CIA.2
The assassination of Fred Hampton is a more violent example of FBI counterintelligence tactics used to repress the Black Panther Party. Fred Hampton became a leader of the Chicago Black Panther chapter after the former chapter leader accompanied Carmichael following the 1970 FBI promoted Black Panther/Black Power split. Fred Hampton, a very effective organizer and ghetto diplomat, was on the verge of uniting the Black Panther Party and a powerful Chicago street gang when FBI counterintelligence measures where implemented against his efforts. Soon after, Hampton was later named the Black Panther Party’s Central Committee as Chief of Staff which made him the Panthers’ major spokesperson.2 Not only did the FBI sour relations between the Black Panther Party and the Chicago street gang, but they also staged an armed raid on Hampton’s apartment to eliminate the leader who had established the most powerful Black Panther chapter. An FBI infiltrator drew up floor plans to Hampton’s apartment and at 4 a.m. on the morning of December 4, 1969 fourteen off duty Chicago police officers began an unprovoked armed raid that led to the death of Mark Clark, the execution of Fred Hampton.2 Doc Satchell, Blair Anderson, Verlina Brewer where also wounded then beaten and dragged into the street where they where charged of attempting to murder the raiders and aggregated assault.2
Other repressive tactic the FBI used against the Black Panther party directly lead to the assignations of Alprentice Carr 1969, Jon Huggins 1969, Fred Hampton 1969, Mark Clark 1969, and Fred Bennet in 1969. There where also the false incarcerations of Huey P. Newton 1968, Geronimo Pratt in 1970, George Jackson 1971, and Angela Davis 1970.
(Photo of FBI infiltrator, provided by Agents of Repression: The FBI’s secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. )
(provided by Agents of Repression: The FBI’s secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. )
(provided by Agents of Repression: The FBI’s secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. )
Indeed, the history of African American social, economic, and political struggle reveals inconsistencies within American democratic principles. What are the other citizen characteristics that African American lacked that excluded them from being accepted into the American Democracy? Taking into consideration that successful uses of governmental violence usually means a regime is more likely to use it in the future5, the United States government’s response to the new direction of the Negro Revolution is not surprising. African Americans have been violently repressed by the American government up until the mid 1960’s when they where granted suffrage. But, It is obvious from the United States response to the Black Power and Black Panther movements that the Negro hadn’t fully been integrated into the American democracy power structure. What is frightening is the fact that not only has the governmental gotten away with using violence against the Negro movements but it also have been misrepresented, not to mention the cases not reported, in public discourse to justify the ruthless tactics.
1. Smith , Robert C. We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post Civil Rights Era. New York: New York Press. 1966.
2. Churchill, Ward., and Wall, Jim Vander. Agents of Repression: The FBI’s secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1988.
3. Smith, Robert C., and Walters, Ronald W. African American Leadership. New York: State University of New York Press, 1999.
4. Fischel, Jack. The Holocaust. Westport, Connecticut:
Greenwood Press, 1998.
5. Lopez, George and Stohl, Michael. Government Violence and Repression: An agenda for research. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.
6. Foner, Philip S. The Black Panthers Speak. New York:
Da Capo Press, 1995.
7. Carmichael, Stokely and Hamilton, Charles. Black Power; The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.
8. Butler, Anthony. Democracy and Apartheid: Political Theory, Comparative Politics and the Modern South African State. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.
9. Asen, Robert and Brouwer, Daniel. Counterpublics and the State.
New York: State University of New York Press, 2001.
10. Carmichael, Stokely. Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism. New York: Random House, 1965.
11. Goldston, Robert. The Negro Revolution. New York:
The Macmillan Company, 1968.
12. Franklin, John Hope. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1967.
13. John Bracey, August Meier, and Elliot Rudwick. Black Nationalism in America. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. 1970.