The Black Panther Party’s controversial and revolutionary politics have been a topic of intrigue and debate since the party’s inception.
Historians Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr. attempt to clarify and demystify some of the myths of the Black Panther’s past and illuminate their role as American revolutionaries in their new book Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party.
The two recently spoke with Harper’s.
Provocateurs on the government payroll advocated actions intended to scare away supporters, such as torturing suspected informants, killing rival activists, or bombing public buildings. Ultimately, however, the state succeeded in quelling social unrest through a series of concessions. As municipalities hired many more black police officers and firefighters, black electoral representation and black access to elite white colleges and universities grew, and the state rolled back the war and the draft, it became much more difficult for the Black Panthers to maintain support. In this context, state repression of the party became increasingly effective.
Bloom also discusses current movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party and how he does not foresee either of them becoming “a powerful revolutionary movement,” at least anytime soon.