Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist

Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist

Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist

Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist


Huey P. Newton's powerful legacy to the Black Panther movement and the civil rights struggle has long been obscured. Conservatives harp on Newton's drug use and on the circumstances of his death in a crack-related shooting. Liberals romanticize his black revolutionary rhetoric and idealize his message.

In Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist, Judson L. Jeffries considers the entire arc of Newton's political role and influence on civil rights history and African American thought. Jeffries argues that, contrary to popular belief, Newton was one of the most important political thinkers in the struggle for civil rights.

Huey P. Newton's political career spanned two decades. Like many freedom fighters, he was a complex figure. His international reputation was forged as much from his passionate defense of black liberation as from his highly publicized confrontations with police.

His courage to address police brutality won him admirers in ghettos, on college campuses, and in select Hollywood circles. Newton gave Black Power a compelling urgency and played a pivotal role in the politics of black America during the 1960s and 1970s.

Few would deny that Newton's life (1942-1989) was strewn with incidences of violence and that his police record was long. But Newton's struggles with police took place in a rich and troubled context that included urban unrest, police brutality, government repression, and an intense debate over civil rights tactics.

Stripped of history and interpretation, the violence of Newton's life brought emphatic indictments of him. Newton's death attracted widespread media attention. However, pundits offered little on Newton as freedom fighter or as theoretician andactivist.

Huey P. Newton: The Radical Theorist dispels myths about Newton's life, but the book is primarily an in-depth examination of Newton's ideas. By exploring this charismatic leader, Jeffries's book makes a valuable con


Every ideology, then is a collection of errors, illusions, mystifications, which can be accounted for by reference to the historical reality it distorts and transposes.

—Karl Marx

Huey Newton is a classical revolutionary figure. His imagination is constantly at work, conjuring up strategies and tactics that apply classical revolutionary principles to the situations confronting black people here in America.

—Eldridge Cleaver

Black Nationalism 1966–68

Newton's role as the Black Panther Party's chief philosopher flourished as he took the Party through ideological metamorphoses, experimenting and wrestling with a number of theories aimed at finding solutions to problems such as poverty, racism, classism, and sexism. Openness to change was a characteristic that enabled Newton to redefine and reevaluate conditions and situations on a continual basis. An examination of Newton's writings reveals that the Black Panther Party's ideology can be broken down into four phases: black nationalism, revolutionary socialism, internationalism, and Intercommunalism.

Early in the Party's development, the organization's position was shaped by the racial crisis that permeated all of America. Black Americans possessed little power during the first half of the twentieth century. Some blacks were even fatalistic about the prospect for meaningful change. The poverty and deteriorating well-being of black Americans were the direct consequence of slavery. Unfortunately, blacks had nothing to offer to or withhold from whites other than their labor, and they were kept so close to the minimal subsistence level they were not in a position to use their labor power as an effective bargaining tool. As a result, they were forced to create black self-help organizations and experiment with a variety of different ideologies and strategies aimed at enhancing black people's lives. During the nineteenth cen-

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