Huey P. Newton and the Radicalization of the Urban Poor

In Leonard R. Koos (ed.), Hidden Cities: Understanding Urban Popcultures. Inter-Disciplinary Press (2012)
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Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party, is perhaps one of the most interesting and intriguing American intellectuals from the last half of the 20th century. Newton’s genius rested in his ability to amalgamate and synthesize others’ thinking, and then reinterpreting and making it relevant to the situation that existed in the United States in his time, particularly for African-Americans in the densely populated urban centers in the North and West. Newton saw himself continuing the Marxist-Leninist tradition and one of the most important aspects of his thought was his reinterpretation of Marxist class structure. This paper presents Newton’s position that it is the urban poor—who Newton identifies with the lumpenproletariat—that act as the revolutionary class that will bring about a change in the socio-economic order. To that end, there is first a discussion of Newton’s view of the lumpenproletariat and how it differs from the traditional Marxist understanding. Then there is an explanation of the role of the vanguard and its relationship to the lumpenproletariat. The paper concludes with a comparison of Frantz Fanon’s and Newton’s understanding of the lumpenproletariat, and responds to the “problem of lumpenization” in the Black Panther Party.

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Joshua Anderson
Virginia State University


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