Thursday, 25 July 2013

Contract Man - Homo Sacer Investigations III

1. Methodologies
2. The Supreme Court of Cocaine
3. Uncounted Time

1.  Methodologies

Pearson writes that ‘contracts’ were circulating on Newton since the early seventies – that would mean – shortly after his release from prison – when he had felt that odd urge that everything ‘start all over again’.   The most obvious question would be why were there contracts taken out against him?  And why just after the triumph of the Free Huey Newton Campaign – when he was unexpectedly freed?

Perhaps he was expressing nostalgia not for his judiciary ordeal, but for a previous relationship to the ‘law’ and consequently to the Party.  He claims in his autobiography that when he emerged from prison he found the Party in a “shambles”.  He set about re-organizing the party according to new ideas – perhaps developed whilst in prison – his ‘survival programs’.  Those involved with the party from that time saw his initiatives in another light – they say that he changed after prison. Bobby Seale speaks about the FBI’s COINTELPRO (counter intelligence program) working tirelessly to undermine the party.  J Edgar Hoover had identified the Black Panther Party as a most serious threat to national security.
COINTELPRO used various methods – psychological warfare, chemical warfare (encouraging drug consumption and trade among the blacks) – but with Newton, says Seale, they duped him into a methodological change.  “Huey got duped in on a small scale level to methodologically ruin the party.”  Seale doesn’t specify what this new methodology was – although he was certainly engaged in it himself for a while – when he ran for mayor of Oakland at the same time as Elaine Brown ran for city council.  He leaves no doubt though that this ‘methodological change’ was the work of “that woman” – Elaine Brown.  Cherchez la femme! He has decided to reveal this information – ‘not to destroy Huey’s character’ – but that people should know “the whole story”, because “half the story is the biggest lie”.  Bobby Seale, looking avuncular and wearing a baseball cap with a Panther logo, is one of many of Newton’s fellow party members shedding light on this “whole story”, appearing in the film All Power to the People! The Black Panther Party and Beyond…  The filmmaker Lee Lew-Lee is also a former Black Panther Party member – his film first aired in 1996.  Bobby Seale as co-founder was often approached with confidential reports from the rank and file.  “So many party members”, he says, “have literally told me they believe this that this woman was connected in some kind of way and got step by step piece by piece and got Huey hooked over into some notion that he could get more money behind the scenes if he step by step methodologically demised the Black Panther Party.”   The film cuts to a black and white clip of Huey Newton speaking in a private room of a generic kind, a map on one of the walls, a wood panelled built in desk and a half empty bookshelf behind him.  He seems to be outlining a party program of some sort – “We always wanted to represent the will of the people.  They are not interested in socialism at this time.  They think they can get their just deserts in this capitalist system. One day when the people democratically want to change the system to a socialist system – then the Party will be the first to have solidarity.”  Behind his carefully chosen words - one senses how he was deftly moving the party ‘piece by piece’ away from those revolutionary demands and attitudes, so intolerable for the authorities, towards the good causes/charity image of their ‘survival programs’ still adorned with the caveat ‘pending revolution’.  The necessary ‘purges’ of the party served his ambitions to be the ‘supreme servant of the people’ while any irregularities could always be blamed on COINTELPRO’s ‘war’ against the Black Panther Party.  Many members had the uneasy impression that he had already enlisted on the other side. 

When Newton travelled to China in 1971 accompanied by Elaine Brown and Robert Bay – his desire was to visit a people who had “triumphed in their own revolution” (Chairman Mao, Little Red Book, quoted in Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide, New York, 2009, p. 348)  His experiences in China, as he wrote in his autobiography, “(…) reinforced my understanding of the revolutionary process (…)” (ibid., p. 353).  Quoting Mao again – he adds “if you want to know theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution”. (ibid.)  Had he already begun then the gradual incremental shifts away from the decidedly revolutionary original intentions and rhetoric of the Black Panther Party?

His flight to Cuba though in 1974 was sheer expediency – to avoid two trials – one for murder, the other for assault.  All the while the clandestine rackets were blossoming.  Bobby Seale exclaims – “When Huey told me in 1974 he wanted to take over the drug trade in Oakland – I said Huey the Party’s over!” (All Power to the People!, ibid.)  1974 was a significant year in illegal drug history - crack cocaine was born in the Bay Area.  In another extended interview from 1996 (online) with TVO – Bobby Seale once again dissects the ‘demising’ of the party. Elaine Brown was by nature an intriguant, a feminine Iago – in the fall of ‘73 she would whisper little lies in Huey’s ears – Servant, so and so has been talking about you disrespectfully.  Newton, who had begun to snort cocaine, pounced on a rank and file member and ‘beat the hell out of him’ – a whole herd of a hundred or so rank and file party members just left and so on…  By that time most of the chapters across the country had broken down.  The party had contracted back to its place of birth – Oakland, where Newton and his consort Elaine Brown reigned over the sole remaining branch and chapter.  The east coast chapters had already ‘defected’ from Newton’s ‘survival program’ concept of the Party – when it split between the Newton and Eldridge Cleaver faction – they had chosen to follow Cleaver.
But the “final demise” in 1973-1974, according to Bobby Seale, went “beyond COINTELPRO” – and he adds as an ironic aside “unless Huey Newton and Elaine Brown were working for COINTELPRO.”

Huey Newton’s favourite film was The Godfather – he ordered party members to watch it too.  He even started to dress in the style of the film – wearing a cape and a fedora and a three-piece suit.  When 36 years later CBS journalist Katie Kouric asks the presidential candidate Barack Obama “what is your favourite movie of all time?”  Obama answers: “Oh, I think it would have to be The Godfather. One and two.  Three not so much.  So--so--but that—that saga I love that movie.” (CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, September 23, 2008, online)  He especially liked the opening scene when Marlon Brando (the Godfather, the Mafia Don) reprimands someone for being “disrespectful” who now comes seeking a favor from him.  “I mean there’s this combination of old world gentility and you know ritual with this savagery underneath.  It’s all about family.” (ibid.) 

Time seems to stand still.   A mere shared taste in movies reveals a certain historical continuity or timeless node in the force field of political power, history is compressed synoptically.  On the other hand, who doesn’t like The Godfather?  But the clandestine underworld arm of the Black Panther Party was not revolutionary – otherwise any mafia would also have to be considered a revolutionary organization.

Pearson shows that there existed a direct relation between the ascendant pragmatic establishment oriented branch of the Black Panther Party in Oakland – engaging with the community, founding a school in a former church, running for mayor and city council, having black notables on the boards of their school and other committees, sitting themselves on an official urban renewal committee – and the expanding ‘black mafia’ around Newton and his “elite squad of enforcers”.  “Newton’s private army” was this elite squad of enforcers – his “Buddha Samurai” - mostly acting as his bodyguard or carrying out his orders such as brutal or fatal ‘disciplining’ of party members.  Their activities included extortion from the pimp cartel, local businessman (both black and white), own prostitution rackets, planned and spontaneous murders, siphoning off funds flowing into the party from the state of California, the federal government or from rich benefactors such as the Hollywood producer Bert Schneider to pay for an expensive life style or their legal costs. (see Hugh Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 248 ff.)  A member of Newton’s enforcer squad, Forbes nicknamed ‘the Fly’, justified his actions years later with the state of war, which had existed between the Black Panthers and the government.

In a conversation with Pearson Forbes reveals how much they identified with the government’s “state of exception” and claimed this prerogative for themselves: “They reasoned that the government engages in criminal acts, particularly outside of U.S. borders, to maintain the nation’s international hegemony.  So he and other members of the Black Panther squad of enforcers used similar reasoning while carrying out their activities, feeling that the Black Panthers were the undisputed vanguard of Black America, justified in carrying out anything that furthered “the cause” even if it had to be carried out against fellow African Americans.” (Pearson, ibid., p. 335)
Forbes had been on the hit-team sent out to eliminate Crystal Gray, a witness in Newton’s trial for the murder of the prostitute Kathleen Smith.  A journalist commented at the time that the unsuccessful assassins had imitated military hit-men in the way they dressed and the weapons they used.

 (One is reminded of Foucault’s early attempts to define ‘biopower’ in “Society must be Defended” – as a perpetual war, not a fixed legally codified sovereignty; the counter history of power is a race struggle, the war underlying society is always a race war.)

The double life or double strategy of Newton and Brown’s Black Panthers: the legit side and the clandestine mafia side are welded to one another (like Siamese twins), in floating distributions. One side feeds on the other, some organs must serve both. This is not an atypical process of how raw political and economic power is accumulated in the US –, it’s almost the American Way.  If you can demonstrate to other power factions that you master such a two-faced or double-bodied enterprise, it shows you are ripe to be accepted into the establishment.  This is not an internal contradiction – it is how power is structured.   A woman possibly from the BLA (Black Liberation Army), a fraction striving for an armed rebellion describes the pincer movement opposing them: “We were between a rock and a hard place.  Huey’s people were out to do us in and the government was out to kill us.” (All Power to the People!, ibid.)

What exactly is the difference between ‘the underworld’ and ‘the underground’?  Certainly they do intersect and overlap at sensitive conjunctures.  Essentially that is how the CIA or FBI operate – they are a clandestine wing of ‘legitimate’ government – accomplishing tasks in a manner not officially sanctioned – or just barely.  They occupy the permanent zone of a ‘state of exception’.   Probably no other group within the black movements of that time – realised this potential of ‘black power’ before the Black Panthers.  Or in other words – Newton’s faction, the pragmatic one, was the manipulated manipulator of this iron law of American power. 

The less pragmatic prison based faction, The Black Guerilla Family, loyal to the martyred George Jackson, eventually filled the contract against the power genius Newton.  

Bobby Seale departed in 1973 from the Party in a most harrowing fashion.  Allegedly after he argued with Newton about a film Newton wanted his Hollywood benefactor Bert Schneider to produce – Newton beat and viciously sodomized Seale with a bullwhip – which seems as if he were acting out an extreme version of the ‘skin search’ – the prison routine when a prisoner is moved from one prison or jail to another. Was Newton playing ‘the warden’?  Seale’s anus had to be surgically repaired (by a doctor loyal to the Party) – after which he went into hiding.  (see Pearson, ibid., p. 264 and Newton, ibid., p. 267)   

Elaine Brown became one of the most prominent figures in the party after Newton returned from prison.  When he fled two pending trials to Cuba –for the murder of the black prostitute Kathleen Smith in 1974 and the pistol-whipping of the black tailor Preston Callins  - he appointed her as chairman.  Another interviewee in the film All Power to the People! – a kind of post mortem of this period of insurgency in the United States – comments: “I had the distinct impression consistently from 1971 that Miss Elaine Brown was a high placed intelligence operative inside the Black Panther Party.”   He is not identified by name but appears to have a detailed knowledge and an analytical understanding of the structure of covert operations – its practices of psychological warfare and “mind control”.  He sits in front of a crowded book shelf wearing a camouflage type battle fatigue jacket, green T shirt underneath, his Afro style hair is parted in the middle and his large hooded slightly blood shot eyes stare into the camera with a weary look from beyond the grave (outre-tombe). His soft-spoken words cut like scalpels.  “She acknowledges in her own words in her book Taste of Power that in fact she had been educated, groomed, taught at the hands of a long time Central Intelligence Agency operative Jay Richard Kennedy, (one sees Kennedy’s portrait on the screen and other documents) who anyone can find out about in David Garrow’s book The FBI and Dr Martin Luther King.” (All Power to the People!, ibid.)    

It is not really classified information (readily available on the internet) – that Elaine Brown’s personal mentor and lover was the FBI/CIA informant Jay Richard Kennedy – before she was born out of the head of Zeus into the executive rank of the party.  Kennedy (born Samuel R. Solomonick) was a white music manager of black musicians in Los Angeles but he also sent memos to the CIA on black ‘subversive’ activity – especially the civil rights movement. He was reluctant to cooperate with the FBI – he considered it too local and domestic, not ‘government’ enough for his level of international concern.  He was vehemently convinced that Martin Luther King should be removed from the leadership of the civil rights movement “from within” (see David Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr, New York, pp. 139-144 and pp. 276-277)   By an odd coincidence Kennedy was the person to also ‘politicize’ and ‘radicalize’ Elaine Brown as she reports in her autobiography A Taste of Power –, teaching her about capitalism, communism and the civil rights movement. Her liaison (‘pivotal relationship’) with Kennedy ended and with the assassination of Martin Luther King acting as a catalyst, Brown joined the Black Panther Party.  

Kennedy is a classical figure of an informant, a ‘triple agent’.  Attracted to the Communist Party in the late thirties, he became circulation manager of the party newspaper The Daily Worker.  Repelled by the Hitler-Stalin pact, he turned into a violent anti-communist. Numerous metamorphoses later, including his name change from Solomonick to Kennedy, he entered the entertainment business – and had no qualms about being actively sympathetic to the civil rights movement and simultaneously informing on the dangers of communist infiltration of the movement to the CIA – especially by ‘Peking communists’.  A good informer must know how to fictionalize and entice his interlocutors – Kennedy drew on firsthand knowledge – the communist influence he probably meant was his former business partner and wife’s first husband the attorney Stanley Levinson, who was a close advisor of Martin Luther King. (Garrow, ibid.) 

While he was Harry Belafonte’s manager Kennedy forwarded aspersions about him to the CIA/FBI – that Belafonte was a double agent also “controlled by the Peking communists”. (see Andrew O’Hehir, “The Amazing American Journey of Harry Belafonte”, review of Sing Your Song, a documentary on Harry Belafonte, 13th January 2013, Salon, online)
Belafonte met Kennedy in the fifties (renowned as an intense era of witch-hunting Americans with communist leanings) through Kennedy’s wife, his therapist at Columbia University.  She recommended that Belafonte hire her husband as his manager.  Belafonte later deduced that both were CIA/FBI operatives – she was always “worming information” from him about Paul Robeson, a known communist.  Somehow informing on your own client seems almost self-destructive from a commercial business point of view – but an informer’s methodology of profits and profitability certainly transcends a simple cut of record sales.

Belafonte became suspicious of his manager, whom he saw at first as his “surrogate dad”.  He asked the left-wing lawyer Charlie Katz to investigate the Kennedys in his turn – Katz presented him with a version of Kennedy’s break with the communists in the thirties, which differs essentially from the political disenchantment described by Garrow. “Charlie’s story was, quite simply, mind-boggling.  The name Jay Richard Kennedy, he explained, was fake.  I was dealing with one Samuel Richard Solomonick, former treasurer for the American Communist party’s Chicago operation.  At some point, (…) Solomonick had absconded with a lot of the party’s money, gone south of the border, invested it, and gotten entangled in some financial fraud.  When the FBI had caught up with him on the fraud charge and learned of his past with the communist party, they’d given him a choice: go to jail or become a spy for the agency.  He’d chosen the latter.” Harry Belafonte, Michael Shnayerson, My Song, A Memoir of Art, Race and Defiance, Ebook, Edinburgh, 2012) 
Whatever version is less false – Kennedy’s run-in with the FBI south of the border could possibly explain why he was so determined to avoid them later when his CIA friend asked him to share his information about the civil rights movement with the FBI.  Or didn’t he want to talk to the FBI because he was already spying for them?  But both stories cannot really be true – the mark of a superior con-man is when at some points in his career his footprints just levitate in the void.     

Was the political education of Elaine Brown – an aspiring singer – Kennedy’s upside down inside out penance for calumniating Harry Belafonte or Martin Luther King?  At least one might surmise that Brown imported some of his worldviews and ‘methodology’ into the Black Panther Party. 

The unidentified ‘Man in Fatigues’: “John Stockwell, former station chief of the CIA in Angola said well I want to say this to you very clear that the Huey P Newton that people see today is a direct result of operations run by the Central Intelligence Agency to insure that he will turn out the way that he is.”  All the while he is speaking - in quick succession – the ‘man in fatigues’ in colour, his voice-over continues but the image is of a silent black and white clip of a white man in a business suit speaking in front of a bookcase, cut to ‘man in fatigues’ again, then an excerpt from the clip of Newton in his den, slowly pushed into the background by a cover page of a journal bearing the title - “CIA Psychological Warfare Operations, Case Studies, Chile, Jamaica” by Fred Landis – Newton’s face shines through the printed letters.  Following this eerie sequence – the clip of Newton resumes – but he is no longer speaking – he is entering a Cadillac limousine with a woman and others in a car park – the woman appears to be Elaine Brown, a huge man stands guard as they enter the car, closes the door after them.  The Cadillac pulls out into traffic. Newton and Brown are sitting in the backseat.  Everything seems to be in slow motion, as if underwater – the mood is funereal – as if they are riding along in their own hearse.  Through the dark tinted windows you see the white flash of disembodied teeth – a spectral image of a Cheshire cat?
The film’s narrator comments:  “Huey P. Newton was never the same. He eventually became Dr Huey Newton PhD.  He eventually became a crackhead.  And eventually he was assassinated in Oakland in 1989.” (All Power to the People!, ibid.)   

The first law of theatre psychology is nothing is true which is not performed for an audience.  The opposite of theatre psychology is secret psychology – or life without an audience.  The greater the secret parts in a life, the less substantial is their existence.  When one’s secrets become a secret even for one’s self – one is on the verge of disappearance.  If though you share your secrets only with a public of fellow conspirators, confederates – or your audience is otherwise too small and non-fluctuating, as in a Sadeian closed society – you wear out your audience.  Again your own existence is in peril.      

One contract taken out on Newton is officially documented.  Not necessarily the one, which reached him finally in his old neighbourhood in the night of August 21st – August 22nd 1989.  But this particular contract is of note – at a press conference explaining why Newton had jumped bail and fled the country to Cuba, his defense attorney Charles Garry played a recording of a phone call in which Oakland police chief Charles Gain warns Newton that a 10,000 dollar contract had been taken out on his life (it sounds almost like a life insurance policy).

Oakland pimps took out the contract, according to Garry, afraid that Newton was about to stamp out prostitution in Oakland (was that a euphemism for the murder of one prostitute?).  But as Pearson explains, the recording was highly edited - the contract was already a year old at that time (1974) – and it was a reaction to Newton’s own extortion racket.  One wonders why Newton’s old adversary the police chief should have become so protective of Newton’s life – given the history of the Black Panthers in Oakland – not to forget the shooting of Officer Frey.   Newton had been on trial for his murder not so long ago. The recording though proves that Huey Newton would have known that he was a ‘contract man’ as early as 1973 – at the latest.  He was altered in at least one respect – he had changed from a revolutionary ‘streetcorner man’ to a ‘contract man’ –  entre chien et loup.   He would thereafter flicker nervously between the domestic obedience of a bloodhound and the wildness of a hunted wolf-man.

2.  The Supreme Court of Cocaine

In a brief text entitled “The Theme of the Traitor and The Hero” Borges imagines a revolutionary strategy, which must remain forever unnamed.  For to properly name it would be to render it impotent.  It is a strategy that must never appear as such – yet it is perhaps the most collective action of all revolutionary praxis.   And as Balibar writes – how could one call any action, which is not collective – resistance? But on the other hand, says Fanon, amongst the colonised peoples – and Newton originally depicted black people in the US as such an oppressed colony – the secret is also a matter of the collective.  This secret though is founded exclusively on voodoo and magic.  Does that mean that any resistance must also be at least part magic?

The strategy in Borges’ story is the elimination of a leader who has betrayed the revolution, but whose mythical value in posterity must be preserved for the movement.  His death must appear as ‘martyrdom’ or ‘revolutionary suicide’ (Huey Newton), a logical but fatal consequence of a life devoted to the movement, to the people, to the revolution; whilst in actuality (behind their backs) his executioners are carrying out ‘revolutionary justice’ – his death sentence.
He must testify for and against himself at the same time – in death.  Would one also call this sort of strategy, action – ‘thanatopolitics’ of the revolution?  But the execution is remarkable in other ways – the traitor-hero has signed his own execution order; the form of his execution, its details and style, borrows from classical literary sources; it is a spectacle enacted by the whole community.

Borges’ sketch of a plot for a story to be written some day - the mass staging of the execution of the traitor-hero from within made to appear as an assassination from without - possesses a certain 19th century innocence in its dramaturgy.  He was the poet of the traitor – as much or more so than Genet.  Borges wrote about nothing else – in the end the criminal you go to meet is yourself.  Treason weighs so lightly when carried by the hero.  The traitor-hero’s death is both a reprisal for his treason and prologue for the coming legend – craved by the movement he led and betrayed – no legend without its heroic flaws.  And more than that – the traitor-hero assists in his own assassination-execution.    

Nothing is tainted by commerce, not even the traitor’s misdeeds – no opiates seducing with the ‘taste of the infinite’, no excessive sexual appetites, the 20th century extremes of la part maudite are most distant.  The story takes place before the advent of a Baudelairean sensibility – despite Borges’ predilection for a rather stodgy English literature – even Coleridge and de Quincey cannot violate the chastity of these ‘tenacious’ movements of national liberation and their traitor-heros.  The staged murder of the glorious leader is also unusual in its timing – on the eve of a victorious revolution – another moment of unreality for later generations.

Yet despite Newton’s allures and sartorial tastes of a Mafia don, noted by the friend of his later years Robert Trivors,  (or perhaps because of it) a nostalgia for a Sunday School cleanness resembling Borges’ superannuated modesty pervades the orgiastic violence of his reign.  Caligula longing for the purity of Cato…  Perhaps this is the purgative fire at the heart of the drug cocaine itself.  The ‘hell-screen’.

COINTELPRO’s aim was expressly to prevent the rise of a ‘black messiah’ – Was Newton a proverbial ‘false messiah’ – the FBI’s Messiah?  (Although he claimed to reject the role of ‘idol’ he says people had thrust upon him.)  You can’t just prevent the rise of a black messiah by assassinating or causing or provoking the assassination of all the true messiahs like Malcolm X (1965), Martin Luther King (1968), Fred Hampton (1969), George Jackson (1971) – you need an ersatz messiah (or pied piper) – to lead the people away from the revolution – because for blacks like all oppressed people (and what people is not oppressed?) the habit to long for a Messiah and to be ready at any minute to follow him is in their blood or culture.  You could never wipe out that expectation.  But as Hegel writes in the Preface to Phenomenology of Spirit – also the False – is no longer False as a moment of truth – especially the ‘power of the false’.   Or was Huey Newton – post 1970 – just a ‘Stepford wife’?

Whatever the hero’s transgressions are, they become messianic forebodings of the death of law.  Apostasy becomes the messianic climate.   His tyrannical ways – the prelude to the coming of the black messiah (whose arrival the FBI so feared, tried so hard to undermine) when all sorts of seeming transgressive behaviour takes place precisely because the messianic epoch has dawned.  Newton’s murderous rages, his violence, extravagant life style, sexual rampages are proof of his being the chosen one, the genius of blackness.

His first addiction was literature – the word   but before that the ‘rhetoric’ of survival, the wit and talk one needs to impress the ‘brothers on the block’ their games of 'capping' and 'dozens'.   Was this perhaps a relic of Africa?

When the environment is bent on killing you – as is the case for homo sacer – can he still resist – even if only with words?  But words can be more than just words – as Bolaño writes in The Savage Detectives of his main protagonist Belano – seemingly lost on an indefinite journey in Africa.  “He’s picked up the lingo, I could tell that right away, the language of a country (Angola) where life was worth nothing and talk – along with money – was ultimately the key to everything.” (Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives, New York, 2007, p. 500)    1.  What is homo sacer ‘worth’ in a place/country where life in general is “worth nothing”?  2.  The reverence for the good talk (rap) is deeply African.  Huey Newton was a conscious Afro-American.  Talk (like football?) is almost worth more than life.

Fiction is the medium of his life and actions in and out of prison – his life was a weave of lies and cover-ups – of necessity as he had to constantly ‘prove’ himself in court cases.   He had a permanent need to ‘beat raps’ – especially murder raps which could have led him more than once to the gas chamber.  Hence his ability to argue – to master the rhetorical sophistic skills of argumentation and persuasion was certainly essential to his physical survival. 

Words are immaterial yet powerful.  Not just the unconscious is structured like a language as Lacan says, so is the immortal soul.

As he reeled towards his death on that fatal night through the run-down streets of his old Oakland territory – shedding the last vestiges of his supreme commandership – Newton was dressed in the symbolic equivalent of a loincloth - like ‘Emperor Jones’ whose flight from the avenging ‘bush niggers’ leaves his blue gold and red emperor’s uniform in tattered faded rags. The scene of his death took place in those streets where he first started organizing poor blacks and the ‘brothers on the block’.   His crack habit had led him back to his beginning.

Where was the devious immateriality of words, the bracing fiction of Newton’s life?  Did he think again of K– who just before his execution wanted his trial to begin all over again?  He would also have an appointment with two ‘actors’, - people who knew him would be nearby but no one would offer him protection.  Kafka’s stone quarry on the outskirts of town has become the Oakland block of abandoned derelict houses, broken pavement – the house overlooking the quarry with its tiny figure at the window – his companion’s Willi Payne.  And why do they come for him now – the actors sent by that hidden court, a revolutionary court?  On so many occasions he had successfully outwitted the state legal apparatus, he was a champion of hung juries and acquittals – “Judges and juries kept granting him special dispensations.”  The state deputy attorney general Charles Kirk said of Newton: “The…guy’s led a charmed life.  He keeps evading accountability.” (Pearson, ibid., pp. 301-302)

He seemed almost immune to the official bodies of ‘white’ law.  But he could not flee that other court – especially because it was also the court of crack cocaine – and he was their client.  The cocaine dealers were identical with the rival party of the late George Jackson - The Black Guerilla Family who had scores to settle with him.  Cocaine and revolution had become inseparable – a revolution of ghosts was haunting him in the form of crack cocaine. 

A final wasteland loomed – one perhaps Newton already foresaw in his favorite poem, learned by heart, Ozymandias by Shelley, a poet whose cascading tones resonated with the fervour of the post Napoleonic wars of liberation of Borges’ tale – still audible in the desert prose of T.E. Lawrence:
 “(…) And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!”
Nothing besides remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” (quoted in Revolutionary Suicide, ibid., p. 34)  Or did the poem he had carried around with him in his memory lead him like a divining rod to that spot?

Willie Payne, Newton’s friend with whom he smoked crack cocaine in the hours before his death acted like Crito – he tries to persuade Newton to flee – who seemed to expect that he would get killed that night.  Everyone seemed to expect that event on that night.  Someone had come earlier while Newton and Payne were holding an impromptu crack party with neighbors, relaying the sinister message – “there are people looking for Huey”.  Everyone melted away.  Payne wanted to barricade his door, so that Newton would have time to merge with the crowds of commuters hurrying to the underground at 5 in the morning.  But Newton – like Socrates – refused.  Had Newton (here more like Borges’ Irish traitor-hero Kilpatrick) agreed to his execution as a punishment for uncounted undisclosed fratricidal betrayals and the form of it was to be ‘platonic’ – a ‘platonic suicide’ (not a revolutionary one) – as the vehicle for separating the bodily dross from the immortal imperishable soul of the Black Panthers, their glorious leader and their ‘revolution’?  But his demise would not have been only platonic, its invisible transcendental  ‘aesthetic’ was rather Euclidian – the night had been a haphazard tracing of a right triangle between the friend’s house and two ‘crack houses’ – on the hypotenuse of which at the ‘golden proportion’ (phi) Newton came to a standstill. 

His last words are known to have been “You can kill my body, but you can’t kill my soul.  My soul will live forever!”  To whom would he have said that – other than to his murderer, the only witness to these last words?  No one else was around on that night – except the murderer’s friend.  Can one believe a murderer?  Did he play the role quite spontaneously of Socrates’ disciples – who faithfully recorded his final arguments for the immortality and indestructibility of the soul?  But then the disciples were not the murderers of Socrates – they were the companions of his last days.  Would the assassin have taken the time in the midst of a hit to listen carefully to the victim’s last words – just before he shot him twice in the face?  One knows he was so nervous he broke his own gun in a preliminary ‘pistol whipping’ of Newton (one of Newton’s own favourite methods of punishment), so that he had to run to his friend and borrow his friend’s gun for the shooting itself.  Newton waited mesmerized for him to return – rearmed.   He didn’t need a ‘silver bullet’ to kill the fallen idol Huey Newton.

Newton had spoken similar elevated words before – especially about George Jackson’s death – the killer Tyrone Robinson was a member of the organization founded by Jackson in prison – the Black Guerilla Family.  He was also a crack-cocaine dealer.  Newton was tarnished with the suspicion that he had abandoned Jackson in prison – a leader as forceful as himself whom he feared as a rival – and was somehow responsible for his death by not aiding his planned escape from prison.  Members of the prison based BGF believed this theory all the more – when they learned that a few days before the breakout attempt George Jackson had written a new will bequeathing all his royalties from Soledad Brothers and his rich legal defense fund to the Black Panther Party.  (Pearson, ibid., pp. 254-255) Was it just a coincidence that Newton’s contract was completed on the night of August 21st to August 22nd – and that George Jackson was shot and killed in San Quentin prison on August 21st seventeen years earlier?

But even if the killer was from Jackson’s organization, does that mean that the Black Guerilla Family took out the contract?  The ‘contract’ is so free floating – it is almost a virgin birth – or it is so fleeting – when ripe it drops to the ground like dead moths from a screen. 

Newton’s last words have another uncanny precedence – 30 years prior to his death Genet’s play The Blacks premiered in Paris.  The governor, a courtier of the Queen’s court  – a black actor with a white mask, just barely covering his black skin – threatens the assembled troupe of rebellious blacks with the consequences of his demise.  He reads from a crumpled piece of paper: “(…) if I should fall, pierced by your arrows, you must still beware.  You will experience my resurrection.  (with thunderous voice) My corpse will stay on the ground, but my soul and my body will rise in the air.” (Jean Genet, Die Neger, in Alle Dramen, Hamburg, 1982,  p. 348 – author’s translation sm)  The inversion in Genet’s scene unmasks the irony of Newton’s last stand – it is not the revolutionary hero who threatens with his own immortality.  It is the mask of hegemonic power.  If Newton had been recognized as a collaborator, a traitor-hero – at least believed to be one by the powers of the ‘contract’ – then his final words ‘my soul will live forever’ promises them the immortality, indestructibility of sovereign power.  The passage is so vital for the play – the governor repeats the gesture a second time – taking out his script – reading out his ‘last words’ – “(…) you will see them (my body and soul) and you will die of fright.  Those are the means I have chosen to defeat you and to purify the earth from your shadows.” (ibid, p. 408)
If Newton knew Genet’s The Balcony – isn’t it just as likely that he knew The Blacks, perhaps saw it on stage?  Or heard those other prophetic oracular lines:  Village, one of the male rebel blacks shows Vertu, a female black insurgent his revolver.  Vertu wonders where it all will lead.  “And finally – imagine – it will go on for a long time.  These corpses, that are found at daybreak – and even in broad daylight -, in gruesome corners and positions.  One day they’ll find out everything.  One has to think about it, that a betrayal is possible.”  Neige another female black rebel asks: “What do you want to say by that?”  Vertu answers: “That a black is capable of selling another black.”  (ibid., p. 354)  Neige wants no part of that – “you’re speaking of yourself, madam.” (ibid.)   Vertu sees something inside herself – but something else which she calls the ‘temptation of the whites’ – but is that temptation not also inside?

The contract is also a sale – the sale of another life, or death. The ‘contract man’ is an offspring of the Faustian contract, an element of its genealogy.  But the person does not have, he is a contract – a contract is made about him – without his signature.  Does anyone sign this sort of contract?  Or is the act the only signature?  Does the history or legacy of slavery make it easier rather than harder to take out a contract on someone?  The selling of another human, in this case not his life, but his death – his living death, as he waits for his contractor.  Where and how does the contractor collect his fee?

Newton’s contracts were black.  As black as he was.  But the contract is also as blind as justice – anyone can pick it up and carry out the sentence.  Newton’s killer was given 32 years in prison as his reward for fulfilling the contract.  

3.  Uncounted Time

The contract is not just the delivering of a service.  The justice of a contract – or contract-justice includes or presupposes a certain duration – the ‘death row’ of the contract is temporal – the waiting, sensing how it circles around you, moves towards you, backs away again – all that is the time of the contract – a temporal object.  A contract needs time – is time.  As such the contract is most like a state of war – as defined by Hobbes – the war of all against all.  The war is in a “tract of time” – the state of war is not non-stop raging violence – it is the potential of war, a disposition to it at any moment.  That is the state of war – or the state of the contract.  Hobbes compares it to foul weather (thinking of England) – weather is not just a day of rain or even a couple of days – it is the expectation at any moment of meteorological disaster – floods, earthquakes, tsunami etc.  So that no time is free of it.  Waiting in the intervals is as much a state of war of all against all – as when the battering rams are bursting through the palace gates.  The same applies to the contract – if it were to be fulfilled immediately after being ‘taken out’ – it would lose its character of ‘justice’ in that other court.  Waiting for the execution is part of the execution.  The whole rite de passage of death row – is the spatialized time of ‘living death’ – but would one say that the time a condemned prisoner is waiting for his execution – is one in which ‘nothing’ is happening – just because he isn’t dead yet? 

The waiting time is also the time of ‘pure means’.  First the contract – it waits too – then the means.  Unlike in a formal judiciary or penal system – the means of execution – both the manner of ending life and the agency in charge of it - are not predetermined.  Any means are allowed.  They could even be accidental.   Whatever rises in the world from the time the contract is launched can be its means – even if the first contract withers – it is a regenerating organism – the contract ‘rolls over’ like a fixed deposit until it is withdrawn or redeemed.  The ‘New’ favours the contract.  In the 17-18 years from the taking out of the first contract to the eventual fulfilling of perhaps another – the uniquely tailored means for its ‘redemption’ came into existence.  Crack cocaine was invented, Newton became addicted to it, the Black Guerilla Family, his mortal enemies, started dealing it.  The later unforeseen events ‘cause’ the earlier.    

The object of the contract waits in an inanimate sort of way – but the contract is waiting too.  It is more alive than the object.  The contract is growing (not contracting) towards its blossoming – when it merges with its object.  Their union is the moment of signature – the contract signs itself.  The corpse, the  body is its flower and self-generated signature.

Taking out a contract is like putting a seed in the ground.  Or many seeds.  The contract originator(s) or his sub-contractors may broadcast their seeds, contracts over a larger or narrower ground.  A contract is organic – not normal like the law.  It resembles more the exception – in Schmitt’s sense.  The exception like the contract is ‘real life’ – the law is a mechanism, but “In the exception the power of real life breaks through the crust of a mechanism that has become torpid by repetition.” (Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, Cambridge, 1985, p. 15)  Newton was seduced by the mechanism of the law, by ‘the legal’ – more than by ‘the political’.  Perhaps that was his ‘déformation professionnelle’, his blind spot  – as a habitué of the courts, police and prison system.  He overestimated the totality of law, underestimating the exception: the power of chaos – the zone of life in excess of the legal norm – to disrupt the hegemony of law.  Negligent of the political – he misread the ‘will of the people’ – this ‘will’ is pre-legal, pre-contractual in the sense of the ‘social contract’.
“There exists no norm that is applicable to chaos.  For a legal order to make sense, a normal situation must exist (…)” (Schmitt, ibid.)
Bobby Seale said of him – “Huey was in that vein of thinking of understanding the whole legal ramifications.”  His original credo had been – “armed with a gun and the knowledge of the law.”   The limits of his world were the limits of his language, to paraphrase Wittgenstein, and his language was legal.  Was not his ‘charmed life’ solid proof of the old Latin proverb quod non est in actis non est in mundo – what does not exist in the records, does not exist in the world?

Newton became oblivious to the ‘anomic zone’ – beyond the juridical – where paradoxically the contract acquires its own ‘illegal’ legitimacy.  The contract opens a ‘clearing’, (Lichtung – as in Heidegger’s forest clearing of Being) of uncounted time – the anomic zone of the Dealer and his Client – the ‘magical’ suspended space of rhetoric captured with great exactitude in Bernard-Marie Koltès’ In the Solitude of Cotton Fields.   This zone is not where homo sacer is indefinitely abandoned by the law – as in Agamben’s transcendental process without a process (Kant) – but where the ‘contract man’ is magnetically drawn by the ‘sirens’ of the contract to a location where the contract – an absolute process without a subject (Hegel) – has fashioned its sanctuary of ‘pure means’.   

Unmindful of this nearby abyss:
Newton writes: They had a law for everything.
Not everything.  Not for the contract.

© Shannee Marks, July 2013

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