Anni's Reviews > Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party

Black Against Empire by Joshua Bloom
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really liked it

A very solid overall history of the Black Panther Party by sympathetic historians who seem to have done a careful scholarly job. Readable and detailed, with a clearly stated view of how and why the Party rose and fell - this is a story all American communists and anarchists should be familiar with. The book’s bulk is taken with the party’s birth and flourishing, while its long decline through the 1970s is only sketched out.

Bloom and Martin give a strong picture of the Party’s substantial and inspiring achievements and of the limits that the party hit. They show the tension between survival politics and a revolutionism framed fetishistically in terms of violence, and argue convincingly that neither the social-democratic Huey Newton/Elaine Brown faction nor the guerrilla Eldridge Cleaver/Black Liberation Army faction provided a way forward for black proletarian struggle in the United States. This argumentative portrayal does not however extend into a fully fleshed-out marxist analysis of the party’s relationship to most of the questions of communist party development. For example, Bloom and Martin are commendably straightforward about the male-supremacist limits of most left nationalism and how that male-supremacism damaged the Party - yet while the question of how the party developed historically from black nationalism is very satisfyingly answered, the question of whether/why *logically* a revolutionary communist organization developing from the black American proletariat would have to be nationalist goes unaddressed; Huey Newton’s stated abandonment of black nationalism for “intercommunalism” is barely mentioned, and it’s never said what relationship intercommunalism had to the social-democratic turn in the Newton faction of the party.

This shrinkage of the book to the political coordinates of the Panthers themselves, a divorce from the broader stream of communist thinking and communist history outside of the immediate context of the Panthers’ influences, the New Left, anticolonial movmements, Maoism etc, does severely truncate the book’s analysis of the Panthers and decontextualize the Panthers’ story. Yet Bloom and Martin’s handling of the story itself is generally wonderful - detailed, engaging, celebratory of its amazing achievements and forthright about its problems, serious and evenhanded. I highly recommend this book.
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Reading Progress

August 28, 2019 – Started Reading
August 28, 2019 – Shelved
August 28, 2019 –
4.0%
August 29, 2019 –
20.0%
September 1, 2019 –
33.0%
September 5, 2019 –
41.0%
September 7, 2019 –
53.0%
September 13, 2019 –
61.0%
October 3, 2019 –
88.0%
October 4, 2019 – Finished Reading

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