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L’héritage de Michel Foucault aux États-Unis. Épistémologies indisciplinées et sociohistoire des processus disciplinaires

Unmasking Currents: Thinking Power and War with Foucault and the Black Panthers

Jason Demers


Cet article porte sur la relation entre Michel Foucault et l’organisation Black Panthers (Black Panther Party). Il s’intéresse plus précisément à deux points d’intersection : la fin de l’année 1968 d’une part, lorsque Foucault prend connaissance de la littérature produite par le BPP ; l’année 1971 d’autre part, lorsque le Groupe d’information sur les prisons (GIP) produit une brochure sur l’assassinat de George Jackson, célèbre prisonnier politique et membre du BPP. Plutôt que de faire l’hypothèse d’un lien causatif entre ces deux événements, cet article tente de démêler les éléments qui ont pu faire converger la pensée de Foucault et celle du BPP sur les questions de pouvoir et de guerre, parmi lesquels les écrits de Nietzsche, Mao, Clausewitz et de certains mouvements militants révolutionnaires. Notre hypothèse est que c’est la répression violente des révoltes sur les deux rives de l’Atlantique qui a conduit Foucault à se tourner vers la guerre comme paradigme des relations sociales dans ses cours au Collège de France. Dans un contexte de guerre, l’assassinat, le procès et la détention, entre autres tactiques politiques opérationnelles, se dissimulent sous l’apparence de la procédure juridique.

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  • 1 I would like to thank my research assistant Jesse Desjarlais, as well as Eduardo Medieta, Darren Go (...)

1In a 1980 interview with Le Monde, Michel Foucault insists that his name be withheld, out of nostalgia for a time when, being quite unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard” (1997 321).1 Foucault argues that “a name makes reading too easy” because one already knows, or thinks that they know, the ideas that the name represents. According to Georges Dumézil, who biographer Didier Eribon claims knew [Foucault] almost better than anyone else,” Foucault wore masks, and he was always changing them” (qtd. in Eribon xi). Dumézil’s comment is no doubt a reference to the fact that, as we see clearly in Jean Zoungrana’s Le philosophe masqué,” the mask is a theme that runs through Foucault’s oeuvre, and it is a way in which Foucault himself perpetually becomes other in a kind of perspectival dance. Foucault stages an exchange between himself and critics in his introduction to The Archeology of Knowledge. Confronted by a critical audience accusing him of shifting his position yet again so that he can skirt misdirected objections, Foucault responds: “I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order” (1972 17).

2The genealogical method that Foucault would go on to develop examines the masquerades that abound in systems of thought. In Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” Foucault notes that if genealogy in its own right gives rise to questions concerning our native land, native language, or the laws that govern us, its intention is to reveal the heterogenous systems which, masked by the self, inhabit the formation of any identity” (1980a 162). The grander gesture of rendering all cultures and identities impure is also a question of the individual self. As Deleuze and Guattari put it eight years later in an effort to characterize the multiplicity represented by the philosopher and activist whose names marked their collaborations, [s]ince each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd” (3). To interrogate subjectivity and authorship is to call into question the subjection of currents to a name, or of reducing thought to property.

3While masked during his interview with Le Monde, Foucault proposes the game of the year without a name,” meaning that, for a year, books should be published without attribution (321). Though his comment is directed at critics and authors who mutually benefit from the reduction of thought to a name that does the talking instead, it is a compelling exercise to reimagine entire years without the names to which they are attributed, and to relinquish concepts to a larger current. Foucault insists that emergence be thought of not as culmination, but merely as the current episodes in a series of subjugations” (1980a 148). Such is the case with the emergence, and subsequent subjugation of, power, subjectivity, and truth within the context of a French philosopher’s oeuvre.

4Prompted in part by Brady Thomas Heiner’s assertion that Foucault’s interests in genealogy, prison, and war stem from his reading of, and exposure to, Black Panther Party (BPP) philosophy (337), this article examines Foucault’s turn of the 1970s work to consider whether the BPP was indeed a masked source for some of the major shifts and obsessions in the Foucauldian oeuvre. Cofounded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966, the BPP was originally formed to provide an armed—and very much legal—community patrol of police following police violence against, and murder of, Black citizens in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early to mid-1960s. The BPP and its ten-point platform and program subsequently spread in the form of local chapters distributed across the United States, and the group eventually developed into a vanguard force whose theory and practice aimed to unify oppressed communities and inspire activist movements around the globe.

5Via its chapters, the BPP introduced its members to book lists that undermined established knowledge about Black History and the capitalist economy. As the FBI worked with local police and agents provocateurs to neutralize the threat of the Black Power movement, within which the BPP were a central pillar, BPP leaders in particular wound up in prison, and BPP reading lists and activism penetrated the prison environment along with them; the BPP was therefore central to the development of the prison liberation movement at the precise time that Foucault began to study and write about prisons. It was in the early 1970s that Foucault cofounded and took on an integral role within the Groupe d’information sur les prisons (GIP) (1970-1972), a loosely knit group of intellectuals, psychologists, doctors, lawyers, and journalists who had access to prisoners, their families, and/or information distribution networks through which they could give voice to prisoners and agitate around intolerable prison conditions. I argue below that although the BPP had an undeniable influence on Foucault, Heiner overstates his case regarding the connection between Foucault and the BPP for two main reasons: first, where power and war are concerned, Foucault and BPP co-founder Huey P. Newton are channeling common intellectual undercurrents; and second, violent state suppression of people’s struggles is by no means a phenomenon that is exclusive to the United States: even where they channeled the BPP and prison liberation movements in the United States, Foucault and the GIP were responding to local struggles with their activism.

6This article adds to the dearth of work that has been done on Foucault’s relationship with the BPP (Demers; Heiner; Wang), and it continues the work of connecting the activist work that Foucault was doing with the GIP to the development of his theoretical corpus. Jackie Wang, for example, explores the authorship of the GIP’s booklet on BPP Field Marshall George Jackson. In so doing, she uncovers the identifying interests and inflections that make their way into the booklet, and she considers the influence of Jackson’s theorization of the “prisoner class” on the GIP. Heiner’s work, as well as my earlier work on this topic, ties Foucault’s activist work to larger shifts in his intellectual trajectory. While Heiner argues that Foucault’s encounter with the work of the BPP was responsible for his shift from archeology to genealogy and his theorization of politics as war, I tie Foucault’s GIP activism to his on-the-ground theorization of the specific intellectual, exploring how he leveraged his prestigious position as a newly elected chair at the Collège de France—as well as George Jackson’s prestigious position within the prison liberation movement—to “relay” the voices and concerns of incarcerated people into public consciousness. Not only were prisoner voices amplified outside prison walls via megaphones and booklets, but entire “relay networks” were composed of prison-embedded professionals and trade publications like social work journals, whereby questionnaires were distributed to those allowed inside an otherwise impenetrable institution. The profile and position of nodes within networks—including the profile of the BPP within international activist circles—was central to GIP activism.

7This article joins a growing body of work that is focused on negotiating the relationship between Foucault’s activism and his simultaneously public-facing scholarly writing. Whereas Marcelo Hoffman ties specific, prisoner-answered questionnaires that the GIP published in its first booklet to arguments Foucault made in Discipline and Punish, Michael Welch and Shannon Winnubst tie Foucault’s GIP work to his theorization of pastoral power and neoliberalism respectively in his late-1970s lectures on Security, Territory, Population and The Birth of Biopolitics. The continued publication of earlier lectures has made it possible to focus on the work that Foucault was doing concurrent to his activist work with the GIP, as Colin Koopman does, examining Foucault’s GIP work alongside his 1970-1971 Lectures on the Will to Know. In a first section of this paper I locate the common genealogical foundations upon which the BPP, Foucault, and the GIP develop theories and tactics for the redistribution of power-knowledge within a global confluence of Marxist revolutionary networks, and in a second section I situate Foucault’s involvement in the GIP publication of its booklet on internationally renowned political prisoner and BPP field marshal George Jackson within the immediate context of Foucault’s concurrent 1971-1972 lectures at the Collège de France, Penal Theories and Institutions. It is in these lectures that Foucault begins to examine the relationship between politics and war. In a third section, I expand the principle of masking to include not just masked influences, but clandestine operations on a battlefield in the FBI’s war against the Panthers. In this instance, masking is strategically employed to obfuscate the civil war that is ongoing even when the nation is ostensibly at peace.

8While inferences can be made about causal-chronological determinations, I opt instead to examine the current—which is to say, the ebb and flow of a highly charged political present—that formed the context for Foucault’s development of concepts, and his focus on particular historical archives. In this essay, current” is used as a metaphor that speaks not only to the transatlantic circulation of theory and practice at a particular moment in time, but, alongside “relay,” “conduct,” “resistance,” “induce,” “grid,” and so on, “current” belongs to a lexicon that suggests that Foucault understood and was theorizing power—at least in part—in electronic terms.

9In a retrospective essay on what he considers to be Foucault’s most significant conceptual contribution to philosophy, the dispositif (apparatus), Deleuze explains how Foucault either trusted his readers to discern how the historical work that he was doing in his books and lectures was relevant to the current moment, or he left this aspect of his work to interviews. In every apparatus, Deleuze points out,

we have to distinguish between what we are (what we already no longer are) and what we are becoming: the part of history, the part of currentness. [...] In most of his books, he determines a specific archive with extremely new historical means [...]. But that is only half of his task. Out of a sense of rigor, to avoid confusing things and trusting in his readers, he does not formulate the other half. He only formulates it explicitly in the interviews given alongside the publication of his major works: What are madness, prison, sexuality today? [...] Foucault’s complete works, as Defert and Ewald imagine them, cannot separate the books that have left such an impression on us from the interviews that lead us toward a future, toward a becoming: strata and currentness. (2006 345, 347-348; emphasis original)

It is no surprise that, in Deleuze, we find an emphasis on the intensive space in between points. In between books are interviews, and in them we see a current, not only in terms of the present as opposed to the past, but also the intensity of a flow. Though we often think of Foucault as himself being a theorist of power, and therefore in possession of power,” we should perhaps instead consider how Foucault is himself enmeshed in circuits and traversed by currents. Ultimately, my argument is that the relationship between Foucault and the BPP cannot be reduced to a causal-chronological vector. While there is overlap on activist practices and questions of power and war, this overlap is attributable to a current that included a diverse set of common influences and a shared moment of activist struggle. Within this current, power and war emerge not only as common interests, but as powerful analyzers of the social.

On Power: A Genealogy, or, the Current

  • 2 While Defert’s chronology is helpful in pinpointing a date for Foucault’s reading of the Panthers, (...)

10It is in Dits et écrits, a repository of currents, that we find, in Daniel Defert’s Chronologie,” reference to Foucault’s enthusiastic reading of Black Panther Party texts. In a letter sent to Defert in October 1968, Foucault notes that the Panthers are developing a strategic analysis which is free of the Marxist theory of society” (2013 40; 1994 44).2 We can speculate about which Panther-written texts Foucault read at the turn of the 1970s—whether they were canonical,” whether he was reading the BPP newspaper, or whether he was reading texts that circulated in translation in the robust underground press. However, barring the appearance of Foucault’s reading library—a library in which all ephemera, all newspapers and pamphlets, complete with dated marginalia, were painstakingly catalogued and kept—the bridge from speculation to established fact would likely be impossible to build.

11Although we can only speculate, in October 1968, when Foucault wrote Defert, no Panther-written books had yet been translated, and the BPP newspaper did not have international distribution. A potential candidate for Foucault’s reading is an interview with Huey P. Newton that was published in the October-November issue of the François Maspéro-edited journal Partisans (Newton, 1968). Titled Mouvement noir et lutte révolutionnaire,” the article is a translation of an August 1968 conversation that Newton had with the Students for a Democratic Society journal The Movement entitled Huey Newton Talks to the Movement about the Black Panther Party, Cultural Nationalism, SNCC, Liberals and White Revolutionaries.” In the article, Newton presents the figure of the guerilla as a challenge to Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy, where the party controls the military” (1995 60). Drawing on the theory and practice of Che Guevara and Régis Debray, Newton celebrates the guerilla as a figure who bridges theory and practice. Not only does Newton’s focus on the guerilla’s undoctrinaire position within Marxist social theory resonate with Foucault’s comments about what he admired in Panther writings, but Newton’s description of the guerilla as a bridge between theory and practice fits the accounts that biographers give of Foucault as militant professor in the following years (Artières 50; Macey 257). In October 1968, when Foucault is reading the Panthers, he is returning to Paris after two years spent teaching in Tunisia. In contradistinction to the endless discussions” and hyper-Marxisization” that formed the basis for revolt on Parisian university campuses (1991 139), Foucault saw, amongst Tunisian students, a physical commitment” based out of an existential relationship with intolerable [...] conditions produced by capitalism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism” (1991 137). As Kathryn Medien argues, it was Foucault’s experiences of, and participation in, Tunisian militancy that inspired a shift in his philosophy, impelling him to focus on the operatives of power” (496). The tensions involved in determining singular sites for the origin of theoretical concepts and activist ideals suggest that it is perhaps more suitable to acknowledge the complexity of the current, and to navigate this network in horizontal relation instead. In other words, rather than arguing that Foucault modeled his activism after an ideal espoused by Newton, it would be more accurate to acknowledge a confluence in the global circulation of activist models between northern Africa, western Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

  • 3 While Nietzsche is invoked in Newton’s Movement interview, Newton did not truly engage with Nietzsc (...)

12Newton’s uncited but recognizable invocation of Nietzsche is also worth noting, here.3 After discussing the strength of the weak and the weakness of the strong in a master-slave relationship animated by Eldridge Cleaver in Soul on Ice (Newton, 1995 57-59), but very much overcoded by Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals (and the masculinist language characteristic of this pre second wave moment on the New Left), Newton discusses what, according to him, is the route to overcoming Black oppression:

We no longer define the omnipotent administrator as “the Man” [...] or the authority as “the MAN”. Matter of fact the omnipotent administrator along with his security agents are less than a man because WE define them as pigs! I think that this is a revolutionary thing in itself. That’s political power. That’s power itself. Matter of fact, what is power other than the ability to define phenomenon [sic] and then make it act in a desired manner? When [B]lack people start defining things and making it [sic] act in a desired manner, then we call this Black Power! [...] Black Power is people’s power. [...] To have Black Power doesn’t humble or subjugate anyone to slavery or oppression. Black Power is giving power to the people who have not had power to determine their destiny. We advocate and we aid any people who are struggling to determine their destiny. (1995 61)

Not only is this the type of power that we find articulated as strategy” and perpetual battle” in Discipline and Punish (26), but it is also on display in the GIP strategy to give speech to prisoners otherwise subjugated to an oppressive existence under the banners of delinquency and justice. As we read in the GIP’s first booklet (attributed to the GIP, but written by Foucault): These investigations are not intended to improve, soften or render more bearable an oppressive power. They are intended to attack it where it is exercised under a different name—that of justice, technique, knowledge, objectivity. Each should therefore be a political act” (2014 156; 2013 17). The GIP’s first political act was not simply to give speech to the incarcerated, it was also to render justice” “intolerable.” As Marcelo Hoffman notes, in contradistinction to Cécile Brich’s claim that the GIP did not fulfill its promise to reproduce the unadulterated speech of prisoners (34, 36), the GIP’s explicitly political act was to generate intolerance” (21-22). The definitional and redistributive work exhibited by both the BPP and the GIP are examples of Nietzschean genealogical theory being put into immediate activist practice.

13The presence of Nietzsche in both Newton and Foucault complicates any simple causal-chronological, overdetermining claims regarding the exact nature of the BPP’s influence on Foucault, but one can still acknowledge that the BPP was part of a temporal current that helped to bring the question of power to the fore. But here, just as we need to be careful about attributing Foucault’s thinking about strategy and genealogy to the BPP, when Nietzsche flows through Newton and Foucault as a common current, the question of power in general, and Black power more specifically, did not originate with the BPP. Instead, “black power,” as popular concept and quotation, was coined as the title of Richard Wright’s 1954 book before Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) used it in a speech delivered in Greenwood, Mississippi. After being jailed for the twenty-seventh time, the then Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) announced: “What we gonna start sayin’ now is Black Power!” (qtd. in Joseph, 2006 142); up until this point, the popular chant at SNCC rallies had been “Freedom Now!” As laid out in Ture and Charles V. Hamilton’s coauthored tome, Black Power entails self-determination and Black self-identity in contradistinction to integrationist ideals (Carmichael and Hamilton 44-56) that ultimately boil down to tokenistic representation within a white power structure (9-15).

14Not only does the Black Panther Party’s ten-point “Platform and Program” follow from the first principle of freedom as self-determination—“We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our black community” (2; emphasis original)—but the black panther itself was derived from Ture’s voter registration work one year prior. The original “Black Panther Party” was the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), an independent third-party alternative to the Democratic Party of Alabama, born to rally the Black vote after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The LCFO deployed the black panther to counter the Democratic Party of Alabama’s emblem, a white rooster, and slogan, “White Supremacy for the Right” (Carmichael 460-464; Carson 165). While some thought the panther to be an aggressive symbol, party members explained that the panther was “a powerful animal but reclusive. It avoided humans unless provoked,” and it could “eat up any ol’ white fowl too” (Carmichael 463). LCFO leader John Hulett points out that the panther would not back down if attacked, and retrospectively links the symbol to carrying guns for self-defense, something that white people—whose history of violence against Black people in the south is well-documented—had long been doing within the bounds of the law (Carmichael 463-464).

15In the end, the work of determining specific lines of causal-chronological influence is vexed. If this inquiry is, in part, an attempt to explore a vector of masked American political influence on French thought, we should pause to recognize the discernible liberationist vectors traveling in the opposite direction. It was Frantz Fanon’s experiences of anti-Black racism in France and French-colonized Algeria that led him to pen his anti-integrationist critiques of French colonialism, ultimately explaining and legitimizing anti-colonial, Black lumpenproletarian violence. African decolonization movements and, in particular, the work of Fanon is openly acknowledged as a key influence on the development of the American Black Power movement which, in (re)turn, had a profound influence across the African continent. Scholars of the Atlantic acknowledge the diasporic development of Black social and political thought. While French and American influences abound, the masked Atlantic liberationist currents are African and diasporic. Power is not a concept possessed in an oeuvre; in the mid-twentieth century, power circulated within the discourse of globally connected liberationist movements.

War as Dramatization of the Current

Politics is war without bloodshed. War is politics with bloodshed. When the peaceful means of politics are exhausted and the people do not get what they want, politics is continued. Usually this ends up in physical conflict, which is called war and is also political. (Newton, 2002a 147)

Law is not pacification, for beneath the law, war continues to rage in all the mechanisms of power, even in the most regular. War is the motor behind institutions and order. In the smallest of its cogs, peace is waging a secret war. To put it another way, we have to interpret the war that is going on beneath peace; peace itself is a coded war. (Foucault, 2003 50-51)

16After providing a historical and conceptual account of war in the writings and experiences of the BPP, Heiner argues that “revolutionary anti-racist struggle in the USA” not only constituted “the primary inspiration for Foucault’s genealogical reorientation,” but, considering the state terror that formed the official response to American anti-racist struggle, it was this specific nexus that “served as the (unacknowledged) model for Foucault’s reflections on the continuity of politics and warfare in the published works of 1975-76” (332). Heiner’s argument overlooks, on the one hand, the intellectual undercurrents that Newton and Foucault are both channeling in their discussion of war, and, on the other hand, the fact that people’s struggles were not only being suppressed in the United States; the global suppression of revolt was an international phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s.

17Newton, like Foucault, is channeling Carl von Clausewitz when he discusses the continuum between politics and war. While Foucault provides direct attribution and suggests a reversal of Clausewitz’s aphorism in his 1975-1976 lectures, Newton’s channeling of the Prussian general is indirect. When Newton argues that “politics is war without bloodshed,” he is quoting from Mao’s “On Protracted War.” As the Panthers peddled and taught from a “Red Book” of quotations, the quotation may have been taken out of context. In “On Protracted War,” the quote comes in a section that discusses, unattributed, the same Clausewitz aphorism that Foucault discusses in his lectures. It is also possible that Mao borrowed the quote from Lenin, who discusses Clausewitz’s aphorism in “Socialism and War.” That Newton and Foucault have similar things to say about politics and war is unsurprising because, just as Nietzsche is a common undercurrent that informs their thinking about the will to power/knowledge, Clausewitz is a common undercurrent regarding politics and war.

18When we move from examining intellectual undercurrents to the current moment when they mutually invoked Clausewitz, one has to recognize that Maoism/Marxism-Leninism not only informed Panther philosophy, but Foucault’s early 1970s prison activism was built on the activism of, and alliances with, French Maoists. Founded in February 1971, the GIP grew out of the French government’s active suppression of political dissent and, in particular, its attempts to forcibly dissolve the Maoist group the Gauche Prolétarienne (GP). Raymond Marcellin, appointed Interior Minister of France in late May 1968, banned the GP in May 1970 as a part of his continued efforts to put out the popular political fires that raged in 1968, but which had been burning long before and continued to burn for some time after the historical month of mass revolt. Following the ban, the GP was tactically attacked via arrest, the passing of anti-riot laws which targeted the organizers of demonstrations (making organizers responsible for any violence or damage to property that occurred at a protest), and police harassment of people who distributed the GP newspaper, La Cause du peuple (Macey 258-259). As the membership was arrested, imprisoned members decided to go on a hunger strike, drawing attention to prison conditions, particularly with respect to political prisoners.

19In “Huey P. Newton Talks to the Movement,” the above-cited interview translated into French for a 1968 issue of the journal Partisans, Newton cites Mao’s call that intellectuals [...] go to the countryside” to regain their bodies, to work, and to teac[h] the people political ideology, [...] thus uniting the mind and the body in the peasant” (1995 59). As Kristen Ross points out, this is precisely what French students were doing in taking factory jobs in the lead-up to May ’68 in France (99-113) and this, furthermore, is what Maoists would do in effectively infiltrating prisons, learning about incarceration, and agitating the incarcerated after they were systematically arrested and jailed in the post-May ’68 context. Newton’s interview ends with discussion on relations between Panthers and white prisoners, with Newton noting that [t]he Panthers in jail have been educating [white prisoners] and so we are going along with the revolution inside of the jail” (65). Rather than focusing solely on Foucault’s reading of BPP texts, we should also acknowledge that the French Maoists that Foucault was working with in the GIP were, as Marianne Debouzy notes, not only avid readers of the BPP, but they also considered them to be the revolutionary vanguard that the BPP themselves claimed to be (58).

  • 4 Lawyers working with the GIP published the manual under the name Défense Collective in 1972 (Elden (...)
  • 5 The Panthers began printing their “Pocket Lawyer of Legal First Aid” in the Party’s newspaper. A co (...)

20The founding statement of the GIP marked the end of the French political prisoners’ hunger strike as prison conditions in general became the focus of active inquiry into the intolerable conditions in the French prison system; though the GIP’s activist focus was on French events, we see in their founding manifesto the influence of the Black Panther Party. At the end of a statement that proposes to expose the workings of the French prison system via the publication of testimony from people who have firsthand experience of incarceration, Foucault notes that it is good to know what threatens us, but knowledge is also good to defend oneself. One of our first tasks will be to publish a small Manuel du parfait arrêté (Complete Arrest Guide), paired of course with an Avis aux arrêteurs (Note for Arrestors)” (qtd. in Elden 131; Foucault, 2001b 1043).4 The publication of mini law books in case of police encounter was one of the BPP’s first strategies, and it was a strategy that grew out of the BPP’s original manifestation as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.5 The BPP’s influence on the GIP here is undeniable, but the practical benefit of these manuals is obvious in the context of Marcellin’s anti-riot laws. The spread of this tactic—similar to the continued legacy of the BPP’s breakfast for schoolchildren program—resonates differently when adopted, uncited, within activist and community service circles rather than within the academic context where citational practices are an ethical must.

  • 6 Defert lists von Bülow, Genet, Deleuze, Foucault, and himself as being responsible for assembling L (...)
  • 7 After going on a speaking tour with the Panthers in early 1970, Genet went on to spend months among (...)

21The exception to the GIP’s French focus is the third booklet in the “Intolérable” series, L’Assassinat de George Jackson. That the booklet is anonymously written makes it difficult to determine where, precisely, Foucault’s attention and interests intersected with this American case, but there are clues that make it possible to untangle this thread. Following a preface initialed J.G., the booklet consists of two translated interviews with Jackson (from the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service and the Berkeley Tribe) and three anonymously penned essays. Jackie Wang makes convincing cases regarding the authorship of the three essays. Though anonymously released in France, Wang points to an Italian translation that appeared later in the year which attributes authorship of the booklet to Foucault, Deleuze, Genet, and von Bülow.6 Considering its references to Jackson’s “ligne de fuite,” a Deleuzian concept and the manner in which Deleuze frequently translated a line from one of Jackson’s published prison letters (“I may run, but all the time that I am, I’ll be looking for a stick! A defensible position!”; Jackson, 1994 328), Wang attributes the essay “Après l’assassinat” to Deleuze. Reference to a Palestinian revolt at the Israeli prison of Ashkelonon in the essay “La place de Jackson dans le mouvement des prisons” suggests that Genet may have been the author of that text.7 Finally, Wang suggests that “L’assassinat camouflé,” concerned with the contradictory truth claims of the American press, mirrors Foucault’s interests. That the title “L’assassinat camouflé,” becomes “The Masked Assassination” when translated into English reminds us, unintentionally and serendipitously, of the masked Nietzschean current running through all of Foucault’s work at this juncture, further unmasking the anonymous author in the process.

22If we accept the “Masked Assassination” essay to be Foucault’s own, we then run into what can rightly be considered Foucault’s first iteration of war as peacetime analytic. Indeed, here we find Foucault saying—almost as though he is admitting his guilt before the accusation arrives, that “Jackson has already said it: What is happening in the prisons is a war, a war having other fronts in the black ghettos, the army, and the courts” (Foucault et al. 140, emphasis added; GIP, 2013 192). Having here—anonymously, and therefore outside of his corpus proper—cited Jackson, Foucault goes on to use the rubric of war to perform a tactical analysis of his assassination: Jackson’s assassination will never be prosecuted because it was “an act of war” (Foucault et al. 140; GIP, 2013 193); newspaper reports are “war communiqués” that fulfill “tactical exigencies” (Foucault et al. 140-141; GIP, 2013 193); and administrative “accura[cy]” is not the point of communication—statements are administered and deployed for their “use” value (Foucault et al. 141; GIP, 2013 193).

  • 8 Jackson argues in Blood in My Eye that “[a] political thrust is immediately followed by a hidden mi (...)

23The essay is very much channeling Jackson in its dramatization of prison conflict as war. Soledad Brother, a book of letters to family, Jackson’s lawyer Faye Stender, and then Soledad Brothers Defense Committee advocate and UCLA professor Angela Davis, provides a glimpse into the everyday prison injustices that led Jackson to term the conflict within California’s prison system a war without terms” (1994 222), and it sees him question the absurdity of a pure nonviolent politics because politics is violence” (225). In Jackson’s letters, we see the mind of a rigorous reader of Marxist economics and guerilla warfare in his analysis—and epistolary dramatization—of his conditions, and of America’s wars at home and abroad. It is in his posthumously published Blood in My Eye, however, that we find a proper synthesis of his reading, and a sustained analysis of the economic context for fascism, and of the political and military face of revolution.8 For its part, the GIP essay assembles an array of contradictions that are embedded across the prison administration’s account of the killing of George Jackson on August 21st, 1971—related by officials and reported over the course of a week by the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times—but the inconsistencies in detail are ultimately less important than the broad-brush establishment, through the accounts, of entrenched positions in an ongoing war behind prison walls. Channeling Jackson, war is employed as an analyzer of entrenched and volatile relations in the reporting of the events of August 21st, 1971; the essay does not, however, engage Jackson’s much more rigorous and protracted historical analysis of fascism and war.

  • 9 Just as “camouflé” becomes “masked” in translation, “masked” here is a translation of “déguiser” (4 (...)
  • 10 Dan Berger’s Captive Nation provides an impressive evaluation of the prison wars that produced Jack (...)

24Following a general introduction, the short piece is broken down into five sections that assess the communication of the assassination as a set of tactical “operations.” The first operation is to link the killing of Jackson to a timeline that begins with a visit from a lawyer, Stephen Bingham—tied to Black radicals—, who is available to cast as an “illegal courier [who] must have provided instruments for the drama” (Foucault et al. 142; GIP, 2013 195). In sum, the administration, through this first operation, renders a lawyer suspect and imposes a logic on the events of the day. The administration’s second operation is to establish that “the whole black community must be considered suspect; women and children are combatants masked as civilians” (Foucault et al. 144; GIP, 2013 197).9 Faced with this “Black conspiracy” (Foucault et al. 144; GIP, 2013 197) that was aided and abetted by a sympathetic accomplice, the third operation sees the administration characterizing San Quentin’s correctional officers as “nonviolent guards”: “[t]he blacks are the ones waging permanent war while the whites always attempt to maintain a lenient order” (Foucault et al. 145; GIP, 2013 198). The concern of the administration, and the reason behind the—fourth operation—“Black Massacre” (Foucault et al. 147; GIP, 2013 201) is that “the front of the war” has shifted (Foucault et al. 147; GIP, 2013 201). While prisoners tend to face off against one another across a racial divide, revolutionary prisoners have banded together against the administration. The “savage massacre” of Black prisoners serves to ignore these newer developments for the purpose of reestablishing old divisions (Foucault et al. 147; GIP, 2013 201). In other words, the masked purpose of the assassination was to eliminate the figure who represented revolutionary synthesis: divide and conquer. Finally, lest Jackson be considered a martyr, he is—fifth operation—painted as an “irresponsible leader” who “abandoned his companions in the middle of the struggle to escape alone” (Foucault et al. 149-150; GIP, 2013 203-204).10 What we see with this essay as a whole, then, following from Jackson’s assessment that “what is happening in the prisons is a war,” is the dramatization of a strategically fought battle inside and outside of the prison. War—built of tactical operations, shifting fronts, and brutal outbursts—is, in this essay, an analytic for “peace-time” operations in the American homeland.

  • 11 Foucault also reverses Clausewitz in Discipline and Punish, where politics is further elaborated, w (...)
  • 12 The GIP published Cahiers de revendications sortis des prisons lors des récentes révoltes to make t (...)
  • 13 Defert mentions a December 1972 letter in which Foucault notes that he is going to discuss power re (...)

25Foucault reverses Clausewitz’s aphorism on war and politics in Society Must Be Defended, his 1975-1976 lectures at the Collège de France (2003 76-111), and he picks up on this theme in the “Method” section of History of Sexuality, volume I (1990 93),11 situating his elaborations on war as political analytic in the mid-1970s. Recent publication of the remainder of Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France, however, demonstrates that his use of war as analytic begins in November 1971, during his lectures on Penal Theories and Institutions. This is the very same month that the GIP published its booklet on George Jackson, and it is also when prisoners were rising up in revolt and being met with violent state suppression across France.12 It is in his analysis of the Nu-pieds revolts—state-suppressed revolts that followed ten years of agitation against new tax measures in mid-seventeenth century Normandy—and beginning in earnest in his lecture of December 15th, 1971 that Foucault discusses the “doubling of the military by the civil” (2019b 40), so that the army becomes a force of “civil power” (2019b 41). Although there is no explicit citation, it is in his first lecture of The Punitive Society that Foucault first reverses Clausewitz: “if it is true that external war is the continuation of politics, we must say, reciprocally, that politics is the continuation of civil war” (2015 32); in the first two lectures of his 1973 course, Foucault proposes that peace-time politics be understood through the analytic of civil war (contra Hobbes’s war of all against all and the establishment of the social contract).13 Rather than requiring that this trajectory disclose its primary influence—is it Jackson and the BPP, Clausewitz, Hobbes, or Foucault’s analysis of the Nu-pieds revolt (where the military gaze is turned inward) that is responsible for Foucault adopting war as peacetime analytic?—we should instead understand Foucault’s lectures as dramas being staged for the current.

26What does it mean to understand Foucault’s lectures as drama? When we look to the notes produced out of Foucault’s April 1972 lecture at the University of Minnesota, Ceremony, Theater and Politics in the Seventeenth Century,” we see Foucault, outside of France, compressing the suppression of the Nu-pieds revolt into a political ceremony in six acts, noting, before his representation of this particular ceremony, that political ceremony was an immensely popular genre” in the seventeenth century (2019a 236). In these ceremonies, Foucault argues, events appear in theatrical manifestation” (236); political power imprints itself on the imagination or behaviour of a people” (235), establishing an equilibrium [...] beneath the ceremony” (239). The five operations in the Jackson assassination schematic not only formally resemble the six-act schematic for the Nu-pieds revolt, but, if the establishment of equilibrium is the goal, there is a common purpose behind these ceremonies of political suppression. Jackson was killed to divide and conquer the multiracial alliances being forged and mobilized against the prison administration. As Bernard Harcourt and François Ewald note, to say that war dramatizes power relations is different from saying that “war explains power” (Foucault, 2019b 267). Theatricalization does not explain what power is; instead, it lays bare both circuit and circulation. Power relations are theatricalized in strategic deployments.

27To think about the presentation of power relations as dramatic script necessitates thinking about audience; it was for the purpose of affecting the audience, after all, that seventeenth-century political ceremonies were staged. While Foucault’s scholarly production in Minneapolis was to identify and extract political ceremony as seventeenth-century “genre,” the same six acts dramatized over the course of the first seven lectures of Penal Theories and Institutions at the Collège de France signify something entirely different. As Harcourt and Ewald put it in their course context, for a Parisian audience, the suppression of the Nu-pieds revolt is “a sort of metaphor or allegory for what is happening in French current events” (Foucault, 2019b 252). As we remember from Deleuze, Foucault’s modus operandi was to select and animate archives to be plugged into the current. As Arlette Farge notes, Foucault’s audience at the Collège de France was not constituted of the typical “old ladies wearing hats” because “to go and listen to Foucault was like proclaiming your desire for political change” (36); Foucault’s audience was filled with the “militants of their time” (34). Across the ocean, at the University of Minnesota, Foucault’s lectures plug into a different current. Foucault was positioned differently with respect to academic and activist discourse on either side of the ocean.

28Foucault’s lectures also read differently on either side of a historical divide. Penal Theories and Institutions is the last of Foucault’s Collège de France lectures to be published. For the most part, Foucault’s Collège de France lectures are taken up as bridges—where Penal Theories and Institutions is concerned, it is part of a long bridge of intellectual activity and transformation between The Archeology of Knowledge and Discipline and Punish; a bridge between Foucault and his contemporaries, especially regarding Marx (Balibar 279-283); and a bridge between Foucault as intellectual and activist, as these are the lectures that Foucault gave while the GIP was active. Translated into book form, and therefore pulled out of the current within which they were constituted, course contexts become essential to understanding the nature of the circuits that Foucault was working to assemble with each of his lectures at the Collège de France. Reassembled in retrospect, the oeuvre—the significance of a life’s work—appears as a delimiting circumference. The status of an intellectual giant—the most cited intellectual, according to Google Scholar—becomes a centering conduit for all signification.

  • 14 See also Artière 49-50 and Foucault and Deleuze 206-207.
  • 15 These interventions are collected in Genet’s The Declared Enemy.
  • 16 In Le GIP enquête dans 20 prisons, the group published answered questionnaires from twenty French p (...)

29As I have argued elsewhere, based on Foucault’s conversations with Deleuze and the observations of others, Foucault’s concern, as an intellectual, was to use his status, and the status of others, to develop a relay-network to amplify excluded voices (Demers 110-126).14 In the context of the GIP in France, it is George Jackson and the victims of the Attica prison massacre, deceased militants with a worthy cause, who have currency within a circuit being assembled to advocate for incarcerated people in France. To use power metaphorically, the voices of George Jackson and the activist/victims of the state-sanctioned massacre at Attica were amplifiers that increased the current of local, French inputs. Although Genet toured with the BPP, wrote pieces that were published in the Black Panther newspaper (including a eulogy for George Jackson), and amplified their signal in France,15 when we consider the assassination of George Jackson and the Attica massacre exclusively in the context of the GIP project, the booklet on George Jackson is surrounded by four booklets which are solely concerned with struggles within French prisons.16

30A relay amplifies and, to an extent, controls a signal by either bringing contacts together or pushing them apart. Use of a megaphone consists in the amplification of a “low voltage” input signal that might not otherwise be heard. The relay network is akin to the contemporary practice of “signal boosting,” sharing a message with one’s social media contacts in order to generate a wider audience for that message. The GIP, as a carefully constructed circuit of inputs, outputs, contacts, and amplifications, generates a different sort of power than when a French intellectual is plugged into an Anglo-American circuit. In the latter, academic journals, departments, societies, and presses act as relays, boosting a signal from across the ocean. In the process, strong, established signals are prone to generate interference, distorting the nature of the boosted signal. Though Foucault’s signal remains distorted by all manners of foreign interference (on both sides of the Atlantic, to be sure), the intensive amplitude of the most cited intellectual certainly drowns out other frequencies. Ultimately, Foucault and the GIP worked to build a circuit to amplify unheard voices above the noise generated by the French penal and judicial apparati. Though GIP booklets and demonstrations were specifically made for local consumption, for American readers the GIP relay network offers up a model for the strategic assembly of circuits to be used in the conduct of information warfare.

Masked War: A Formal Exercise in Power Relations

  • 17 Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall’s The COINTELPRO Papers and Nelson Blackstock’s COINTELPRO: The (...)

31Electronic Warfare (EW) is a branch of information warfare, and its operationalization of the field of (electromagnetic) power relations for the purpose of strategic warfare is especially illustrative here. EW involves use of “[d]irected energy weapons [to] amplify, or disrupt, the power of an electromagnetic field by projecting enough energy to overheat and permanently damage circuitry, or jam, overpower, and misdirect the processing in computerized systems” (US Congressional Research Service 6). This definition of EW—with its permanent circuit damage, jamming, and misdirection—characterizes America’s war against the BPP and the broader New Left under the auspices of COINTELPRO, the FBI’s COunterINTELligence PROgram, between 1956 and 1979. On August 25th, 1967, the FBI sent out a counterintelligence memo to all offices that initiated a broad-based war against black liberationist movements. The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor,” the memo reads, is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder” (qtd. in Churchill and Vander Wall 92).17 The dramatic rise and subsequent violent annihilation of the BPP can be read in many excellent narrative accounts, but the effects of the FBI campaign are viscerally traceable in the BPP newspaper, particularly over the course of 1969-1971. During these years, the BPP leadership was arrested and held for trial or assassinated, members of the organization—which grew too fast—were purged on a weekly basis because they were suspected to be informants, major rifts—now known to be orchestrated via misinformation campaigns and agent-penned letters—divided the party, and Party offices were shot up by local law enforcement agencies. What appeared to the public to be a rash of isolated legal encounters were all part of a coordinated, tactical response to an organization that the FBI perceived to be a viable threat to the status quo American way of life. The BPP circuit was jammed, its energies misdirected towards infighting, cleaning house and, as the national and local leadership was “disappeared” by agents of law enforcement, the circuit had to be perpetually rewired; ultimately, the circuit was damaged beyond repair.

32The mask is an important implement in this domain. Not only is the mask central to the more clandestine operations of the FBI—informants, infiltrators, deception, and misdirection—but law” in its very form is a mask that lends legitimacy to the agencies, agents, and apparati that operate behind it. Continuing under the rubric of Electronic Warfare, the tactic of electronic masking is a form of deception whereby the perceptions of an adversary are organized to misdirect attention. In Principles of Electronic Masking,” Dmitry N. Shakin uses Sun Tzu’s Art of War to explain that masking is an operation in form, not content:

A general’s skill is in showing “form” to the enemy in order to induce him to start moving. For this purpose, following the modern systems theory based on information exchange logic, a false picture (electronic image) of an object is to be formed by simulating its numerous attributes manifested through the operation of electronic devices and connections between them that are registered by sensors of a situation identification system. The purpose of this information engagement of the enemy is either producing information overloads in his forces’ control system or provoking an enervating “tensed suspense syndrome.” It is common knowledge that the enemy can be deceived by being shown a false form or a distorted real one. (Shakin 98-99)

Bearing in mind that for Foucault, revising Clausewitz, politics is a continuation of war by other means, consider Foucault’s main contention in Truth and Juridical Forms,” focused here on the inquiry (the form which saw the birth of the prosecutor as state’s representative, and which manifests as an impartial” collection of evidence for legal trial):

The inquiry is precisely a political form—a form of power management and exercise that, through the judicial institution, became, in Western culture, a way of authenticating truth, of acquiring and transmitting things that would be regarded as true. The inquiry is a form of knowledge-power. Analysis of such forms should lead us to a stricter analysis of the relations between knowledge conflicts and economic-political determinants. (2000 52)

33If we consider Foucault’s very much formal concerns alongside Shakin’s comments about masking as a formal strategy, we get to the heart of Foucault’s point. In his debate with Maoists On Popular Justice,” Foucault argues against the establishment of people’s tribunals to judge the police. For Foucault, the institution of the third-party judge merely masks, via spatial arrangements (a judge behind a table) and the performance of impartiality (1980b 8-9), the fact that the judicial system [...] [is an] instrument of class power” (6). Distinguishing the work of the GIP from humanists whose interests would be to secure flush toilets for prisoners (because prisoners too are human), Foucault gestures towards a rhetorical question Genet asked of the judge at the trial of the Soledad Brothers: Is the judge innocent?” (1977b 227). To be accused of killing a guard meant that Jackson, Fleeta Drumgo, and John Cluchette were facing a death sentence. Accordingly, Genet’s rhetorical question points out that the judge is a formally distanced party in a conspiracy to commit murder and, more generally, he is an instrument of political suppression. In the face of juridical forms, the limited resources of entire social movements for Black liberation, revolutionary intercommunalism, and a budding rainbow coalition of struggles are mobilized to prove the innocence of various accused persons. One must not only focus on the outcome of trials, but also and especially the redirection of opposing forces to this defensive front that marks a strategic victory on the political battlefield. To take us full circle, back to the Nietzschean origin of the mask in Foucault, GIP action was not concerned with the soul or the man behind the convict,” it sought instead to obliterate the deep division that lies between innocence and guilt” (1977b 227). For Foucault and the GIP, the problem of prisons was not simply the fact of an incarcerated individual being masked by a subject position (prisoner, convict, delinquent) that robbed them of their humanity, it was that the entire juridical apparatus itself—the designations of innocence and guilt, good and evil—masked the interested exercise of power relations in a perpetual state of war. At the turn of the 1970s, movements and their leaders were not put on trial for illegal acts so much as movements were strategically arrested via assassination, incarceration, and the writing of laws that could restructure the battlefield when insurgent forces put established positions on the defensive. Put simply, in the context of civil war, the content of a trial is a mask that obscures the power relations that juridical forms have been erected to maintain.

  • 18 In his analysis of FBI documents, Newton notes that the FBI, disturbed by the Panthers [sic] effo (...)

34In September 1971, less than two weeks after the assassination of George Jackson, prisoners at Attica prison in New York rose up to demand better conditions including, in a list of demands, things like better wages and food, religious freedom, educational programming, and better access to showers. After four days of negotiations, New York State troopers descended on the prison, firing 4,500 rounds of ammunition, killing 43 people (33 incarcerated people, and 10 correctional officers), and shooting 150 others. The indictments that followed saw 60 prisoners facing 1,400 felony charges. None of the state troopers responsible for this mass killing, nor any of the correctional officers who tortured prisoners after the prison was retaken, faced any charges. By 1976, long after the state government had made this nationally disseminated statement about the state’s approach to demands for justice behind prison walls, nearly all charges were dropped (Attica Liberation Faction 308 n1). In Incarcerating the Crisis, Jordan T. Camp contextualizes the violent suppression of the Attica revolt within a half-century long neoliberal political project to refuse the social wage (public housing, education, health care, employment, and other essential social programs), and [to] violently enforce consent to this refusal” (4). It is only because counterinsurgent forces are masked by the privileged perspective of law and order that, as Camp argues, the insurgent demands of Black freedom and labor movements for dignity, freedom, and the redistribution of social wealth have been conversely characterized as disorder” (4; emphasis original). In the war being waged by the agents of social order and normalization, every indictment is a weapon.18

  • 19 Many of these arguments are collected and analyzed by Angela Davis in If They Come in the Morning, (...)

35In the United States, COINTELPRO was not only a war against Black America, but also against Native American, Mexican, and Puerto Rican independence movements. Taken together, these struggles lay bare the racialized genealogy of American civil war: “peace time” wars were being fought to maintain a white supremacist, capitalist-class insulating status quo established during wars of conquest: the transatlantic slave trade and the colonization of the Americas, the annexation of large swaths of Mexican territory and the ensuing border wars of the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the 1898 invasion and colonization of Puerto Rico. Foucault’s Nietzschean wisdom is pertinent here: [h]umanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination” (1980a 151). Similarly, Foucault’s most recently published lectures in Penal Theories and Institutions help us to understand how the juridical apparatus plays an essential part in this ongoing war. With that being said, the ways in which the juridical is used to maintain racial inequality in America is on full, historically protracted display in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Elizabeth Hinton’s From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, and Ari Berman’s Give Us the Ballot (to cite just three relatively recent, high-profile examples); it has developed under the rubric of Critical Race Theory (which grew out of, and retains a solid foothold in, Critical Legal Studies); and, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, critical thinking about the courts and the history of the judicial system was the substance of arguments made in court by embattled members of the BPP and Angela Davis.19 Whether or not these earlier, concurrent texts were consumed by Foucault as he prepared his own protracted history of European law is of much less significance than is our ability, in North America, to read the genealogies that have forged our own, structurally racist legal systems.


  • 20 Consider, for example, remarks made by Serge Livrozet, co-founder, with Foucault, of the prisoner-l (...)

36The 1971 network within which Foucault is himself—alongside Genet, Deleuze, Defert, von Bülow, and other members of the GIP—a conduit using the BPP as an amplifier is entirely different from the current where he is an intellectual giant appropriating the theories of the BPP without giving them citational credit. On the Western shores of the Atlantic, the latter is an understandably unforgivable offence. To reduce the GIP project to its American-focused booklet, however, not only elides the historical struggles of French common law prisoners, but it also denies these voices currency in the development of the Foucauldian oeuvre.20 To discuss “armed justice” for an audience of activists at the Collège de France in 1971 was to discuss the suppression of revolt via the introduction of the French anti-riot law. Similarly, narration of the suppression of the Nu-pieds revolt as a “doubling of the military by the civil” (Foucault, 2019b 40) was a not so coded reference to the government’s battle against the Gauche Prolétarienne, who, once in prison, became a conduit for common law prisoners. While this practice mirrored the Panthers’ recruitment efforts in prison, it also fell in line with the Maoist call that “intellectuals go to the countryside”: as Debouzy notes, it is difficult to distinguish American influence from other influences and not to confuse parallel phenomena with influences” (66). For Foucault and the GIP, Jackson’s assassination and the Attica massacre were important causes, but they were also somewhat foreign events—like the historically foreign revolt of the Nu-pieds—that were mobilized as relays in a struggle against Minister of Justice René Pleven and the French prison system. The mid-twentieth century was a time of worldwide global liberationist civil wars being fought on simultaneous, interconnected fronts. As self-proclaimed vanguard, the BPP sought not to speak above all others engaged in liberationist struggle, but to unite these struggles as a rainbow coalition under the banner of revolutionary intercommunalism. More instructive than the reconstruction of a causal-chronological vector between the BPP and Foucault and/or French Maoists is the illumination of the larger currency that the BPP represented—and indeed represents—vis-à-vis a reorientation of force for the strategic liberation of peoples and territories.

  • 21 Peniel E. Joseph coined the subfield to identify the marked emergence of complex and ambitious stud (...)

37Foucault’s method was to plug an archive into the current. His selection of archives was purposeful as the aim, in part, was to assemble a circuit that might generate effects. Though Foucault is one of the foremost philosophers we turn to when thinking about questions of power, Foucault’s work in this domain was simply to amplify a current wherein liberationist struggles strategically exposed, resisted, and challenged the circuitry of power. One of Foucault’s most important contributions on this front was to cut his methodology from Nietzschean cloth, but here, again, his work is not original, it was part of an international current which saw the BPP mobilize Nietzschean genealogy in its strategic deployment of language and theorization of power. At a more local level, Foucault’s genealogical turn was part of a French Nietzschean wave. The recent emergence of Black Power Studies21 will continue to add layers of nuance to our thinking about power not only during this era, but via a continued rethinking of spatial and intersubjective relationships and the social and political thought and activity generated in the interstices of the transatlantic slave trade by the African diaspora.

38In Foucault’s early 1970s work—in his lectures at the Collège de France (Penal Theories and Institutions), in Minnesota (Ceremony, Theater and Politics in the Seventeenth Century”), in Rio (Truth and Juridical Forms”), and also in his conversation with Maoists (On Popular Justice”)—the juridical appears as a formal apparatus that dramatizes truth and that establishes and maintains particular configurations of power. Indeed, it is under the auspices of the juridical that Foucault introduces and traces the development of war, from the private wars of Germanic law to the social wars whereby penal law and juridical institutions are mobilized to suppress revolt at the end of the Middle Ages. While Foucault’s inclusion of the juridical form as an integral part of civil war provides a generalized reminder, and a generally helpful rubric, for understanding the function of the courts, the well-documented turn of the 1970s experiences of the BPP leadership and rank and file speak for themselves.

  • 22 See, for example, the Eduardo Mendieta and Jeffrey Paris-edited “Biopolitics and Racism” special is (...)

39Brady Heiner—as well as Angela Davis and Alexander Weheliye—are right to criticize Foucault for the elision of race in his work (Davis, 1998 96; Weheliye 56-63). While the publication of Society Must Be Defended sparked initial excitement about obscured lines perhaps to be unearthed with the publication of his Collège de France lectures,22 in the end, the best that can be done, within Foucault studies, is to recognize Foucault’s elision of race, and supplement his work by connecting it to the works of others who better understand the significance of racialized genealogies to histories of the present. To do so is to build a circuit that exceeds the sometimes bewildering limitations of an author. Even better, however, when we think very much beyond the limitations of Foucault studies proper, and instead in directions laid out in Wheheliye’s racialized assemblages, or Achille Mbembe’s necropolitics, we can see how connective and corrective work has the potential to recalibrate networks to avoid the white supremacist, colonial tendencies that understand all frontiers as sites of extraction and expansion.

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ALEXANDER, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press, 2010.

ARTIÈRES, Philippe. Archives of a Collective Action.” Michel Foucault, une journée particulière. Ed. Alain Jaubert. Lyon: Ædelsa, 2004, p. 44-51.

ATTICA LIBERATION FACTION. The Attica Liberation Faction Manifesto of Demands and Anti-Depression Platform.” The New Abolitionists: (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings. Ed. Joy James. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005, p. 303-310.

BALIBAR, Étienne. Letter from Étienne Balibar to the Editor.” Penal Theories and Institutions: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1971-1972 by Michel Foucault. Translated from the French by Graham Burchell. Ed. Bernard E. Harcourt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, p. 279-283.

BERGER, Dan. Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

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Black Panther Party. Platform and Program: What We Want, What We Believe.” Black Panthers Speak. Ed. Philip S. Foner. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995, p. 2-4.

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CAMP, Jordan T. Incarcerating the Crisis: Freedom Struggles and the Rise of the Neoliberal State. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016.

CARMICHAEL, Stokely (with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell). Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael. New York: Scribner, 2005.

CARMICHAEL, Stokely, and Charles V. HAMILTON. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Vintage, 1967.

CARSON, Clayborne. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

CHURCHILL, Ward, and Jim Vander Wall. The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars against Dissent in the United States. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2002.

DAVIS, Angela Y. Racialized Punishment and Prison Abolition.” The Angela Y. Davis Reader. Ed. Joy James. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998, p. 96-107.

DAVIS, Angela Y., ed. If They Come in the Morning…: Voices of Resistance. New York: Verso, 2016.

DEBOUZY, Marianne. The Influence of American Political Dissent on the French New Left.” Contagious Conflict: The Impact of American Dissent on European Life. Ed. A.N.J. Den Hollander. Leiden: Brill, 1973, p. 50-68.

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1 I would like to thank my research assistant Jesse Desjarlais, as well as Eduardo Medieta, Darren Gobert, and the staff at the University of Regina library for helping to track down documents and chase various trails during the global pandemic. Thanks as well to Aurélie Godet and Élodie Grossi for their work on this special issue, and to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions.

2 While Defert’s chronology is helpful in pinpointing a date for Foucault’s reading of the Panthers, Foucault’s suggestion that their “strategic analysis is free of the Marxist theory of society” makes little sense without further clarification. Consider, for example, the centrality of Fanon’s modified Marxist analysis of society to the BPP.

3 While Nietzsche is invoked in Newton’s Movement interview, Newton did not truly engage with Nietzsche’s work until a few years later. In Revolutionary Suicide, Newton explicitly discusses the key role that Nietzsche, in general, and his reading of Will to Power, in particular, played in the development of BPP strategy, including their conception and deployment of the word “pig” (1973 164-166) and the slogan “all power to the people” (167-169). In “Black Capitalism Re-analyzed,” Newton invokes the Black experience of chattel slavery and exploitation to explain the centrality of power to contemporary Black struggle, noting that “the will to power is the basic drive of man” (2002b 227; emphasis original). Although the place of Nietzsche in Foucault’s thought is well documented, the same is not the case for Nietzsche’s place in the theories and practices of the BPP.

4 Lawyers working with the GIP published the manual under the name Défense Collective in 1972 (Elden 135-136).

5 The Panthers began printing their “Pocket Lawyer of Legal First Aid” in the Party’s newspaper. A copy of the “Pocket Lawyer of Legal First Aid” from the January 4th, 1969 issue of the newspaper is printed in David Hilliard’s edited collection of selected reprints, The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service (7).

6 Defert lists von Bülow, Genet, Deleuze, Foucault, and himself as being responsible for assembling L’Assassinat de George Jackson (2013 47; 1994 52).

7 After going on a speaking tour with the Panthers in early 1970, Genet went on to spend months among Palestinians in Jordanian refugee camps; for Genet, the early 1970s were intensive years of Palestinian activism.

8 Jackson argues in Blood in My Eye that “[a] political thrust is immediately followed by a hidden military thrust in the opening phases of revolutionary culture” (1972 38), argues that the motive forces of fascism can be defined as economic reform (100-103), and points out that, as revolution is illegal (105), it is “under the cover of the guns which force [the fascists’] withdrawal, [that] we will build the new black communes” (107). At the conclusion of the penultimate section of Blood in My Eye, titled “Classes at War,” Jackson lays out the two-pronged approach, and his position within it, in a manner that demonstrates how prison very much played out as a prelude to, and microcosm of, this larger battle: “I am an extremist, a communist (not communistic, a communist), and I must be destroyed or I will join my comrades in the only communist party in this country, the Black Panther Party. I will give them my all, every dirty fighting trick in the annals of war. Nothing will defeat our revenge and nothing will countervail our march to victory. We come to our conclusion: the only historical recourse that is left to us. Freedom means warmth and protection against harsh exposure to the elements. It means food, not garbage. It means truth, harmony, and the social relations that spring from these. It means the best medical attention whenever it’s needed. It means employment that is reasonable, that coincides with the individual necessities and feelings. We will have this freedom even at the cost of total war” (151).

9 Just as “camouflé” becomes “masked” in translation, “masked” here is a translation of “déguiser” (46). This is not to say that the Nietzschean theme of masking is absent from this piece, it is simply to say that this theme is perhaps less explicitly rendered than it appears in the translation.

10 Dan Berger’s Captive Nation provides an impressive evaluation of the prison wars that produced Jackson, and of the events of August 21st, 1971 (91-138).

11 Foucault also reverses Clausewitz in Discipline and Punish, where politics is further elaborated, within the thematics of discipline, “as a technique of internal peace and order, sought to implement the mechanism of the perfect army, of the disciplined mass, of the docile, useful troop” (1977a 168).

12 The GIP published Cahiers de revendications sortis des prisons lors des récentes révoltes to make the demands of prisoners available to the general public (2013 221-266); the book is now an archive of the prison struggles that rapidly spread across France in 1971-1972.

13 Defert mentions a December 1972 letter in which Foucault notes that he is going to discuss power relations via civil war—beyond war as theorized by Hobbes and Clausewitz (2013 52; 1994 57). This would be the frame for the first two lectures in The Punitive Society, which began on January 3rd, 1973. December 1972 also marked the dissolution of the GIP and the rise of the Comité d’Action des Prisonniers (CAP), a prisoner-led organization which Foucault helped to found, and he also co-founded with Deleuze, Dominique Éluard, and Jean-Marie Domenach, the Association de Défense des Droits des Détenus (ADDD), an association for the defense of the rights of inmates. Pushing the theme of peace-time civil war even further, Defert also notes, in the same December 1972 entry in his “Chronology,” that Foucault, Genet, and Claude Mauriac were arrested and roughed up by police during a demonstration they organized in support of Mohammed Diab, a migrant worker who was killed at a police station in Versailles (2013 52; 1994 57). It was also in December 1972 that Claude Buffet and Roger Bontems, who killed two hostages, a nurse and a guard, during an escape attempt in September 1971, were put to death by guillotine. In an article published in the December 4th, 1972 issue of Le Nouvel Observateur, Foucault writes “Nous accusons la prison d’assassinat” (2001a 1257), echoing the title of the GIP’s booklet on George Jackson in its labeling of the French state’s handling of prison unrest. The early 1970s were indeed a time of war within French borders.

14 See also Artière 49-50 and Foucault and Deleuze 206-207.

15 These interventions are collected in Genet’s The Declared Enemy.

16 In Le GIP enquête dans 20 prisons, the group published answered questionnaires from twenty French prisons; Le GIP enquête dans une prison-modèle: Fleury-Mérogis focused on a newly built prison in the southern suburbs of Paris that had a youth wing and a robust regime of solitary confinement; outside of the “Intolérable” series, the GIP published Cahiers de revendications sortis lors des récentes révoltes, a booklet which collected prisoner-written demands as prisons experienced a rash of revolts over the course of late 1971 through 1972, as well as the testimony of current and former inmates, and the deposition of psychiatrist Dr. Edith Rose regarding conditions and practices; Suicides de Prison included a list of French prison suicides from 1972 and published letters written by an incarcerated gay youth, Gérard Grandmontagne, under the pseudonym H.M.

17 Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall’s The COINTELPRO Papers and Nelson Blackstock’s COINTELPRO: The FBI’s Secret War on Political Freedom make FBI memos available and provide some context for reading the documents. Huey P. Newton’s doctoral dissertation on the government’s suppression of the BPP, War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America provides a heavily footnoted analysis of FBI methods, while Churchill and Vander Wall’s Agents of Repression focuses on government suppression of both the BPP and the American Indian Movement (AIM).

18 In his analysis of FBI documents, Newton notes that the FBI, disturbed by the Panthers [sic] efforts to build community institutions,” opted to rebrand members of the BPP as criminals so that they could fight ‘crime,’ not ideologies” (1996 45-46). Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr. enumerate the violent raids of BPP offices and the decimation, by arrest, of local chapter leadership across the country in the context of the victory of Richard Nixons Law and Order campaign at the polls in late 1968: Indianapolis, Denver, Des Moines, and Newark in December 1968; New York, Des Moines, and San Francisco in April 1969; Milwaukee and Sacramento in June 1969; San Diego in July 1969; Richmond in August 1969; and San Diego and Philadelphia in September 1969 (212-215). This was in addition to the high-profile arrest and concurrent trials of members of the central leadership (Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and Ericka Huggins), and the FBI-orchestrated assassinations of John Huggins and Alprentice Bunchy” Carter in Los Angeles (January 1969), and of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton in Chicago (December 1969).

19 Many of these arguments are collected and analyzed by Angela Davis in If They Come in the Morning, translated into French in 1972. The Panther 21’s “To Judge Murtagh: From the Panther 21,” a forceful, citation-heavy, historically comprehensive takedown of the white-black duality of the American justice system and the impossibility of a fair trial, is collected in Philip Foner’s The Black Panthers Speak, translated into French in 1971.

20 Consider, for example, remarks made by Serge Livrozet, co-founder, with Foucault, of the prisoner-led Comité d’Action des Prisonniers (CAP), at the end of Nicolas Drolc’s documentary on the French prison revolts of the early 1970s, Sur les toits. Noting that he tried to lead 120,000 incarcerated people in spontaneous revolution and to raise awareness amongst working-class people who wore the same chains as prisoners, only less visible, Livrozet concludes, tearing up, that “after forty years of activism […] what makes me the saddest intellectually now, what makes me so emotional, is that what I did before changed NOTHING, you understand? Even the interview you’re filming and listening to, it won’t do any good. I’m sorry to disappoint you but I’m lucid. I’m doing it because I thought you were a nice guy with your e-mails and all that, but I’m doing it without the slightest illusions. […] I feel sad about the hopes I had because I now realize they were illusory. And that does make me sad, you see?”

21 Peniel E. Joseph coined the subfield to identify the marked emergence of complex and ambitious studies of the Black Power era in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. See, in particular, his edited special issues of Black Scholar, “Black Power Studies” I & II.

22 See, for example, the Eduardo Mendieta and Jeffrey Paris-edited “Biopolitics and Racism” special issue of the Radical History Review. The English translation of Society Must Be Defended in 2003 coincided with revelations about torture at Abu Ghraib, and the post-9/11 rise of Islamophobia in the United States.

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Jason Demers, « Unmasking Currents: Thinking Power and War with Foucault and the Black Panthers »Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2022, mis en ligne le 06 décembre 2022, consulté le 17 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Jason Demers

University of Regina

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