Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 30, 2012

Richard Aoki: the Panthers should have participated in electoral politics

Filed under: Richard Aoki — louisproyect @ 4:40 pm

You asked about my thoughts on the party’s turn toward electoral politics and community service programs. That’s a hard one for me because the party’s reformist turn, in my opinion, led to its demise. I’m having difficulty gauging when that turn took place. To me, it could’ve been averted in ’68 when Cleaver ran for president on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. It was my opinion that he should have run as an independent on the Black Panther Party ticket, with Huey or Bobby as vice president. I understand that the Peace and Freedom Party was a much bigger organization and had more money. But for the Black liberation struggle to succeed, a politically independent party had to come out from the national Black American community. By ’68 the BPP was well known, so Eldridge should have run as a Black Panther with the BPP program. Don’t dilute it with the war thing, just the program. So I’m in favor of electoral politics when the organization can participate. If the government says you can run candidates, run your candidate. But there are times when they say your organization is outlawed, then don’t run it. But you don’t go underground until you absolutely have to go underground. Now here’s the second part. The foremost reason for running candidates is not to get elected per se but to get the political program out to the people. It doesn’t matter how many votes you get because you’re still working in the system. It’s doubly sticky if you’re in an alliance with a group that supports the system and you don’t. There’s a contradiction there. There’s no contradiction if you run the Panther on the Panther platform. They have a claim to be revolutionary


  1. One of the problems with this that is often ignored is the seductiveness of celebrity, even within the confines of left activism, that comes with such electoral participation. The candidate becomes self-absorbed and neglects the underlying purposes described here by Aoki. I encountered this back in 1992 when someone wanted to run against my local congressional representative, the odious Vic Fazio, as a Green Party candidate. I went to a small meeting and told the person something very similar to what Aoki says here, that you should focus your campaign upon marginalized people that are economically and politically exploited. His response was a predictable blank stare. Camejo was so compelling because he was one of the few people able to evade this trap.

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 30, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

  2. […] on the ballot. No one in the PFP was opposed to the Panthers running their own candidates, however. Louis has to remember, the only vehicle available was the PFP. And remember that a lot of activists from CORE and the […]

    Pingback by Socialists, Panthers, and Independent Politics in 1960s California — October 7, 2012 @ 2:15 am

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