Capitalism + Dope = Genocide

Lunchtime once again finds me browsing around online, and I’ve stumbled across Michael “Cetewayo” Tabor’s famous 1970 pamphlet “Capitalism + Dope= Genocide”, published by  the New York Black Panther Party.  This is a document from a very specific stratum of anti-drug discourse: a populist anti-drug message grounded in political economy and in the race and class politics of a specific moment.  I would like to know more about revolutionary movements’ anti-drug messages– past and present–and wonder if other Points readers have insights into/interests in this history?  Documents on The Young Lords Internet Resource Site gesture to that group’s anti-drug stance: points # 3 and #4 in the organization’s “Rules of Discipline” address drug and alcohol use and possession (outlawing them); their “10 Point Health Program” calls for door-to-door addiction treatment, but there’s not much theorizing about addiction per se.  A swift tour of the modest Michigan State University online archive of Black Panther Party publications, where I found Tabor’s pamphlet, did not reveal any additional material along this line; maybe there’s more in Seattle’s Black Panther Party History & Memory Project?

As online archives of the “ephemeral” print materials through which revolutionary nationalists circulated their version of “just say ‘no’!” become more widely available, historians might actually be able to reconstruct a genealogy of grassroots anti-drug sentiment–and it may challenge our prevailing sense of abstinence messages as moralizing, silly, and ineffective.  What are the start and end points of this race and class specific critique of alcohol and drug use?  To what extent did this critique take hold in the communities in which groups like the Panthers and the Young Lords were active?  How (if at all) did it influence the delivery of addiction treatment services in the wake of the Great Society public health initiatives of the early ’70s?  I hope some Points readers will dedicate their own lunch hours to addressing these and other questions.

5 thoughts on “Capitalism + Dope = Genocide

  1. YOUR WRITING BELOW

    [Documents on] The Young Lords Internet Resource Site gesture to that group’s anti-drug stance: points # 3 and #4 in the organization’s “Rules of Discipline” address drug and alcohol use and possession (outlawing them);

    I get that presumably the powers that be (excluding progressive academics like you all), upon seeing that the “Young Lords” have an anti-drug program, would want them Lords to (after changing their dam name) switch from YOUR anti-drug policy to MY anti-drug policy

  2. YOUr WRITING BELOW

    How (if at all) did it influence the delivery of addiction treatment services in the wake of the Great Society public health initiatives of the early ’70s?

    (JS) They would be really, really angry. They would say “I and only I get to enourage youth to not do something. You don’t get to have any policy anti-_anything_.” You see, drugs are, agreed, “bad” things. They are a negative.

    An agent of oppression, or of control, CANNOT control a positive. Such an agent can only hope to control a negative. But when there are TWO negatives…..

    jack Silverman

    • One of the many interesting things about this is how easy much of it is to agree with. Tabor writes that addiction is

      a monstrous symptom of the malignancy which is ravaging the social fabric of this capitalist system. Drug addiction is a social phenomena that grows organically fom the social system. Every social phemenon that emanates from a social system that is predicated upon and driven by bitter class antagonimsms that result from class exploitation must be seen from a class point of view.

      In a lot of ways, this isn’t all that different from claims that historians of addiction make on a pretty regular basis – i.e., that addiction is a function of social relations as much as, if not more than, biological ones. Sure, its a lot heavier on class analysis than most historians are willing to go today, but its also not exactly surprising to call addiction a function of modern capitalism. So here’s another question – if we do an archeology of “addiction” as a “social construction”, and pay attention to these types of claims, do we see any cross fertilization of ideas coming from the black panthers (or other groups) and moving into academic discourse, via sociology in particular?

  3. I’d never seen those documents before, and I’m glad you posted them. I think the analysis is kind of spot on and nicely mapped out – very accessible, solid and smart (not to mention pretty bad ass).

    But I’d actually see “Capitalism + Dope” as potentially supporting decriminalization and an approach to drug policy as a community health problem. The critique of police, I think definitely, indicates that the Panther platform would not have supported the kind of drug prohibition – or, I suppose more specifically drug enforcement – praxis we’ve had for the last century-ish. I’m not sure that advocating abstinence, demonizing the dealer support, and obviously the stance on capitalism (which indicate to me that the Panthers would be more into decriminalization than “legalize, tax, and regulate”) are necessarily incompatible with seeing “just say no” messages as ineffective and not based on real world experiences.

    The anti-capitalist message brings to “Capitalism + Dope,” unlike most anti-drug and recovery literature and program practices, a critique of the socioeconomic and other conditions that contribute to extreme drug abuse (missed thesis footnote opportunity!); I think I see some foreshadowing of the harm reduction movement in there. That could be one way in which this discourse contributed to addiction treatment services in those communities. The pamphlet was written and published close to the time that needle exchange started in the Lower East Side.

    The failure to distinguish between responsible use and extreme abuse irks me a lot. I think that could have gone a long way toward remedying an attitude about and tone toward users – perhaps a moralizing one, actually – that I could do without and could open the door to what could be an interesting discussion about the pros and cons of moderate, intelligent and recreational drug use (and maybe even drug dealing) among oppressed populations and activists, but that would be another pamphlet.

  4. In the early 1840’s the English Chartists was one of the earliest social justice groups incorporating abstinence/temperance into their program. It wasn’t without internal dissension, though. Harrison goes into it a little in the last chapter of “Drink & the Victorians”.
    “The English Chartist Circular and Temperance Record/Advocate”, a 4 page weekly in 1841 and 1842 has many articles on temperance and teetotalism mingled alongside the articles on their revolutionary economic program. Volume 1 and 2 of those years was republished as “Reprints of Economic Classics” by Augustus M. Kelley Publishers in 1968, just two years before Tabor’s now classic pamphlet.

Comments are closed.