Tupac: Black leaders holding back the movement

3 responses to “Tupac: Black leaders holding back the movement

  1. What’s up, y’all? I reposted this video on Democracy and Hip-Hop, a blog myself and Lauren have been doing for almost four years. I just wanted to hopefully spur on some conversation about this so I’ve included my comments below.


    This is such a great video. Thanks for posting this, L.

    I want to expound on two points.

    Pac is doing two things when talking about his mother. He is saying that he, and young black men and women of his generation had to rely on women to pass on the politics, values, and organizing traditions of black power because the men were either dead or in jail. This is VERY important because it helps to partly explain the connection between the late 60s, early 70s generation and that of the late 80s and early 90s. While the latter movement didn’t reach the heights of black power or civil rights in its breadth, political maturity, and organization, it still drew significantly from those traditions.

    The second part of this same point is that he is validating and politicizing house and caring work even though what was “fashionable” was carrying a gun and being on the front lines of struggle with the State and the fascists. Rather than subordinating housework to this kind of political struggle, he is giving it EQUAL EMPHASIS. This confirms the stuff I and others have read in Selma James and Silvia Federici.

    It also relates to your last post, LBoogie, on the film “Bastards of the Party” in terms of its weakness on the role of women in the period during black power and that following it.

    The other thing I wanted to bring up was his legitimation of the pimp, hustler, drug dealer and other occupations of the lumpenproletariat. Whether or not folks want to admit it, their rise is due to the failures of black power to deal with the advance of neoliberalism and to appeal to a new generation of youth coming up in the 1970s. Because of that, the personalities immortalized in blaxploitation era films became emblematic of a new ethos that tried to overcome a new political reality. It wasn’t apologetics, either. Tupac was one of the most unapologetic personalities of our generation. Rather, it was a critique of the black power generation itself.

    Truly amazing find. Shout out to Advance the Struggle.

    • KB. good analysis! here’s a try at keeping the conversation going on this under explored topic of the relationship between gangs, neoliberalism/de-industrialization, and resistance.

      potential exists for the emergence of radical movements coming from the lumpenproletariat. this potential springs from their place in the mode of production, which is sometimes described as “post-industrial.”

      their place in the division of labor is as recyclers of the wages back into the economy through informal means that require no capital investment, thus making the mass of unemployed more than mere parasites on the state’s “public sector” resources. revenues deriving from the drug trade (not to mention sex trafficking) have been proven to be invested to the tune of trillions of dollars on the stock market and in foreign exchange markets. the iran-contra scandal as highlighted by Gary Webbs journalistic work has demonstrated how the state used the drug trade and a network of gangs in the US to raise funds illicitly. never make the mistake of divorcing the formal from the informal sectors of the economy. these are mere legal definitions that obscure the true nature of the economic structure.
      whether done formally or not, the economic structure is designed to accumulate capital and thats what it does.

      gangs, the mass organizations of the lumpenproletariat, are not vehicles of progressive politics, and in fact their emergence as a permanent mass phenomenon is holding back “the movement” just as much as the “black leaders” Tupac is referring to in the video. i agree with his assessment of the black leaders, but lets recall that the political role they play as well disguised agents of capital is paralleled in the underworld of gangs.

      the failure of the panthers was the failure to build a lasting alternative to the embryonic gang form of organization. the state smashed the radical alternative, not unlike it did to the IWW, and thus channeled the lumpenproletariat into the conservative organizations that the state morphs in its own image. but the social base of both gangs and unions is in the revolutionary classes, and we should never forget that.

      we can think of gangs as the mass organizations of the lumpenproletariat, paralleling unions amongst the proletariat. both are spontaneous ways for workers (one group being in the informal economy, the other formal) to bargain their labor power upward. make no mistake, the informal/illegal economy based on drugs, stolen goods, and sex is WORK, performed by informal/illegal workers alienated from their labor power. the relationship to capital that your rank and file gangster has is the same as your typical worker: they do not own the means of production or distribution. the gang leaders and the union leaders both mediate between the owners and the workers, taking heavy cuts of the surplus as their middleman’s fee.

      unions are semi-integrated into the state by laws and institutions. so are gangs, insofar as prisons, housing projects, welfare system, and the police – ie the most concrete manifestations of the state apparatus – literally create and reproduce the “informal” spaces where only underground business can operate and gangs form to cope with the contradictions that arise from the competition in the underground markets. gangsters and union members, to different degrees and of course by different means, keep competition out of their labor markets, so they contribute to the layering and segmentation of the working class. union for example largely keep immigrants out. gangsters jack the unaffiliated informal/illegal worker and sometimes kill them. different means to the same ends: carving out a privileged section of the working class.

      this comes at the cost of broad class unity, and prevents true class consciousness from emerging. thats the why i say gangs and unions hold the movement back.

      another reason is the the way both gangs and unions relate to the state. think about why it is that unions organize most in the public sector of the formal/legal economy. now think about why it is that gangs form in the informal/illegal public sector (prisons, welfare, projects). neither the legal nor the illegal public sectors represent capital in the strictest sense of the word (is the DMV capital?) but they replicate strict capitalist class-relations.

      the role of the bourgeois state is to create and reproduce the conditions of capitalist production, that is, an environment in which labor can be exploited for privately appropriated surplus value. unions and gangs arise as individuals band together to protect themselves from the anarchy of the market, and the modern bourgeois state is their natural ally. [those who romanticize gangs as anti-cop thus anti-state are woefully deluded. as the popular saying goes: “the cops are the biggest gang.” could we invert that to say “the gangs are the biggest cops”??]

      so why are gangs NOT the movement? because like unions they adopt the very bourgeois social relations that they originally were built to defend against. like the soviet union and china, which nationalized the means of production but still exploited alienated labor power for surplus (thus not being truly socialist) because they had to “develop the productive forces” and modernize just to stay afloat in a capitalist world system, gangs and unions have flipped into the opposite of what they were at first. their “progressive” window has closed.

      but gangsters and the lumpen proletariat as whole (most of whom are not in gangs) are by no means directly equatable with gangs per se, and should be organized by radicals. the Black Panthers represented an attempt at an informal/illegal economy version of “dual unionism.” they built a revolutionary gang. their failure was that they never created (or found) a suitable counterpart in the formal/legal economy with whom to build the “post-industrial” era’s only feasible cross-class alliance: that between the lumpen and proletariat. in previous eras, most outstandingly in the ’30s, uniting the unemployed with the employed was a crucial component of successful class struggle. since then, un/under-employment has been a norm and no political organization other than the panthers has ever been able to tap into it.

      the film “Bastards of the Party” describes the rise of today’s type of gangs, pioneered in California by the Crips, in conjunction with the rise of the drug trade which itself had an inverted relationship with the formal job market. legal jobs went down, illegal ones went up. one dude in the film describes the crack epidemic as a “jobs creation program” for black neighborhoods that a generation earlier were formed by migrants from the south pulled by the boom in industry.

      as the decades have rolled on, the gang/drug sector has grown. the prison sector has too. real wages have plummeted. one thing to watch out for is how the economic crisis that has been the norm in the ghettoes of the US for 4 decades will impact the mass organizations of the informal and formal sections of the proletariat. i think that with very different dynamics, they will both become radicalized and become more militant. the existing institutions will resist these militant outbursts, and there will be splits. some of these will be radical innovations of organization form and political content. new synthesis will emerge.

      pac -rest in peace- will smile down.

  2. Thoughtful analysis I’m Wrong. I agree with you that the lumpenproletariat could potentially play a revolutionary role as long as there is an effective united front with a segment on the proletariat. I agree that the Panthers were unable to build this kind of alliance. This is partly because of the limitations of the labor movement of the late 60s, but it is also partly a result of organizational and ideological flaws on the part of the Panthers – they tended to idolize the lumpen and failed to anticipate some of the key contradictions among the lumpen which you lay out. The League of Revolutionary Black Workers realized this, which is why they tried to link the urban rebellions in the neighborhoods to shop floor militancy and wildcats (this project fell apart because of another whole set of organizational problems which are another whole discussion).

    In the very small and embryonic unemployment organizing I’m involved in now, we’re trying to build a base among unemployed workers of color, beginning with folks graduating high school who are trying to get into community colleges. We have a sense that we want to recruit gang affiliated folks but the core of the organization needs to be folks who are not necessarily tied to the underground economy because there needs to be enough stability to the keep the group going and to kind of anchor and stabilize the group against the state repression that involvement of gang members will inevitably bring. We are studying the Panthers and the League to make sense of all of this. I think I’ll encourage folks to look at this Tupac video and Bastards of the Party as well.

    There is also a good piece by Aufheben on the LA riots that covers some of these questions (http://libcom.org/library/la-riots-aufheben-1) though I think you do a better job than them at laying out the teirs and divisions that gangs create among the lumpen just like the labor aristocracy creates through the union bureaucracy in the working class. What your analysis shares with theirs though, and with Bastards of the Party, is that big time gangs have a kind of Keynsian economic program/ job creation program for the ghetto. The proposals the Bloods and Crips put forward during the LA Rebellion fell along these lines. I think ATS has made some good critiques of this approach, and I don’t think Kensianism offers an answer to the economic crisis. Of course, this doesn’t negate the fact that the organizational feat of the Bloods and Crips truce in 92 is hella inspiring and a model for organizing today. Bone, the Athens Park Blood leader who made Bastards of the Party, suggests that the truce didn’t last partly because there wasn’t an effective social program that could replace the game. The Can’t Stop Won’t Stop history of the Hip Hop Generation book lays out that argument in depth.

    We’ve been reflecting on some of these questions recently on Gathering Forces. In particular, we’ve been discussing the connections between the formal and the informal economy and the need to link employed and unemployed organizing in the comments section on this post: http://gatheringforces.org/2009/11/07/economic-crisis-in-the-third-world/.

    I also just posted my reflections on unemployed organizing here:

    I agree with your point that labor exploitation occurs even in the informal sector. Here is an excerpt from my comment on the first GF post that gets at this question:

    As Mike Davis pointed out in his book Planet of Slums, when the IMF/ WB celebrate the supposed entrepreneurial spirit of the informal sector they are ignoring class divisions among the urban poor. Some informal economic enterprises are started by folks who are unemployed civil servants or folks who were pushed out of the middle class and they use their skills to monopolize and dominate highly exploited networks of destitute workers.

    Something similar happens here in the US with the drug trade. We did a simulation of a factory in class to show the law of value (how workers produce a lot of money for the company but only get to take home a little bit of this in their paychecks). My students were angry about this and saw it as the bosses robbing them . When I asked them what they could do about this as workers they said “quit and sell drugs instead.” I emphasized that this process also happens in the drug trade. You can’t last forever in the game just buying small amounts of weed and reselling them. If you really want to make money it requires a larger scale operation. The people who run these operation are exploiting the labor of the corner boys who actually take the day to day risks involved in dealing.

    It’s certainly ironic that the IMF and World Bank would celebrate the informal economy in the 3rd world as a “social safety net” when officials and elites here in the US are constantly attacking our very own cities’ informal economies as an embarrassment and a social problem. You don’t see the IMF and World Bank going around to ghettoes in America and celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit of homeless folks who set up shantytowns under the bridge named after the mayor (like Nickelsville here in Seattle). You don’t see them celebrating the pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality of drug dealers, pimps, unsigned hip hop artists selling their mix tapes outside of the supermarket, etc. In reality, as Fatima argues, the line between the 1st World and the 3rd World is not so solid.

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