Oakland to Havana: The Local Negation of Native Bourgeois, and the National Negation of Imperialist Rent

ImageBetween June and August of 1971, Huey P. Newton wrote two short essays—“Black Capitalism Re-Analyzed” I and II—which laid out the reasoning behind the BPP’s dealings with black-owned businesses. Admitting the errors made by the Black Panthers in regards to black business, Newton revises (or rather explains the past revision of) the method by-which the BPP approached black business. Taking into account the make-up of these businesses—black-owned, not immensely profitable, and subservient and antagonistic to big-capital such as the whites that issued their loans and to whom they paid their rents—Newton describes a vastly different approach than the previous one employed by the Panthers, which was to view black business as a house-negro enterprise  that white capitalists allowed to exist, or worse, a replacement of white bourgeois rule with minority black bourgeois, controlling their tiny communities for their white masters like a puny fief controls holdings for a greater lord, their interests seemingly intertwined with the bigger bourgeois.  A more nuanced approach was called for.

We now see the Black capitalist as having a similar relationship to the Black community as the national (native) bourgeoisie have to the people in national wars of decolonization. In wars of decolonization the national bourgeoisie supports the freedom struggle of the people because they recognize that it is in their own selfish interest. Then when the foreign exploiter has been kicked out, the national bourgeoisie takes his place and continues the exploitation. However, the national bourgeoisie is a weaker group even though they are exploiters

On the contrary, the new formulation that the Panthers devised was an exquisite amalgamation of theory and practice: Black-owned businesses are parasitic and exploitative, but their proximity to, and reliance on, the community ensures that they are more receptive to the moods of the people in the community, and will be forced to please the community to a certain extent, or risk boycott and the end of their already tenuously profitable enterprises. Besides their proximity to the community, the establishments’ location in impoverished areas made sure that their businesses were supremely susceptible to even a meager loss in revenue. A perfect example of this is the Mayfair Supermarket, a store in the heart of Oakland’s black community that purchased liquor from suppliers that refused to hire black truck-drivers. The Panther-initiated boycott closed Mayfair in just four days.

Therein lies the rub, for although the native bourgeois has been freed from the yoke of the oppressors, or at least shielded from them by the cohesion of the community, the movement of the system which prevailed (which I am about to explain) would mean that the weaker, native bourgeois can be dismantled with relative ease.

The boycotts, however, served a wider purpose than some vague community accountability. The Black Panthers, far from being a reformist party, set up revolutionary infrastructure—the food-relief program, the clinics, the ambulance service, the neighborhood patrols, etc.—designed to help the black community survive until the revolutionary situation presented itself. With this in mind, the BPP continued to guide local sentiment and business after business, in order to remain on good terms with the community, gave regularly to the survival programs. With a deep understanding of the class-reality around them, the BPP devised a system by-which the black capitalist either contributes to the engine that will eventually end his exploitation of the workers, or be forced out of business by falling out of favor with the community—for what mother would shop at a market that refused to give a paltry sum for the community’s hungry children, etc.? In exchange for these donations, the agreeable businesses would be touted and advertised by the BPP’s newspapers, and their business would be successful—in direct proportion to the growth of the revolutionary apparatus.  Huey Newton said of the plan:

There is no salvation in capitalism, but through this new approach the Black capitalist will contribute to his own negation by helping to build a strong political vehicle which is guided by revolutionary concepts and serves as a vanguard for the people. In a way our new position has the simplicity and completeness of a mathematical formula. When the Black capitalist contributes to the survival programs and makes a contribution to the community, the community will give him their support and thus strengthen his business. If he does not make any contribution to the survival of the community, the people will not support him and his enterprise will wither away because of his own negligence. By supporting the community, however, he will be helping to build the political machine that will eventually negate his exploitation of the community, but also negate his being exploited and victimized by corporate capitalism. So we will heighten the contradiction between the Black community and corporate capitalism, while at the same time reducing the contradiction between the Black capitalist and the Black community. In this way Black capitalism will be transformed from a relationship of exploitation of the community to a relationship of service to the community, which will contribute to the survival of everyone.

The system is genius, and demonstrates a superb understanding of class-reality and class-antagonisms—to think that capitalism can be used, not only to further aggravate class conflict, but even negate itself. But that isn’t all. It is often said that great minds think alike, and I can scarcely think of two greater meetings of minds than BPP and Cuban revolutionary theorists, but that is just what has happened with the system in place in Cuba as we speak.

Since the onset of the “Special Period”, Cuba has been in great need of foreign investment to make up for the collapse of its greatest trade partner, and the strangling U.S. embargo. It has found this ally in capitalist enterprises seeking to exploit Cubans, but it is Cuba that is having the last laugh. First put in place by the now-defunct CUBALSE, Spanish acronym for Cubans at the Service of Foreigners, Cuba’s foreign investment bank, as well as various joint-venture state-held corporations, filters the wages paid by the foreign companies, translating them into pesos and equalizing the wage with the average Cuban worker in said industry, sending the excess to fund programs such as the healthcare, nutrition, and education programs that put Cubans, a poor third-world population, at or above par with the leading first-world nations. For instance, if a foreign company offers 400 USD a month for a Cuban worker’s services, the Cuban government pays the workers, in this case a mechanic, the Cuba-wide mechanics wage of 600 pesos, absorbing the hard currency to fund imports such a medical technology, or research technique such as the ones which recently yielded an effective vaccine against lung-cancer.

Although working on a different mechanic, the Cuban system of what I shall term (simply for ease of description)’ revolutionary investment’, works on the same principles as the BPP’s community investment plan—in short, to use capitalist self-interest to improve the vehicle of revolutionary aggravation of class-conflict.

Some, such as conservative American Cuban groups (you don’t say), and bourgeois trade-unions decry this as a short-changing of Cuban workers. This may seem like a legitimate criticism if one were, as these bourgeois reactionaries are, ignorant of where the profits, with-which the foreign-held companies are paying Cuban wages, came. Through the super-exploitation of the global South, the monopolists in the global north extract vast profits with-which to invest elsewhere. Don’t believe me? In 2008 alone, from an outlay of 15.3 billion USD invested in Latin America, UK based investments received 3.6 billion USD, a rate of profit of 23.7% around three times average industrial profit. UK mining corporations were reporting returns on capital employed of 22-23% at the height of the boom in 2006 and 2007, and U.S. mining companies for the year 2008 reported a similar profit-rate of 23.8%. These are unheard of rates of profit which allow firms in the first world to pay wages with the flesh carved from the third. In this way first-world workers often realize more value than they create.

The process by-which the global north exploits the global south to pay-off the workers of the first world is known as imperialist rent, which is earned by right of keeping these formerly colonized, now neo-colonized countries backward, poor, and desperate for foreign investments. The beauty of the Cuban model is that this extra value extracted from the third world to invest elsewhere is captured, not by bought-off first-world workers or the taxes of a bourgeois warfare state, but the revolutionary Cuban state, which, even under the most dire hardships, continues the socialist construction and provides a real-world example of the application of a theory so often lost in theorizing and abstraction.

It is possible that this idea has been adopted by the DPRK in their policy in the Kaesong Industrial Region, but there were not enough facts available to the author to make that conclusion.

And although the BPP was attacked, hunted, and finally dissolved, their advanced theory serves as a powerful example of community-based struggle, while Cuba shows us the struggle internationally. Together, these two systems represent powerful tools for socialists to apply locally on the one hand, and globally on the other.


Newton, H. To Die for the People, 1971: New York







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