In the late 1920s, while imprisoned under Benito Mussolini's fascist government in Italy, Antonio Gramsci compiled 32 notebooks containing roughly 3,000 pages of work, touching on everything from Italian politics and history to social, economic, and political theory and analysis. During this time, Gramsci coined the term "organic intellectual" to describe conscious members of the working class whom he felt must be developed in contradistinction to the traditional intellectual "clergy," composed of "men of letters, philosophers and professors" who were intimately tied to the dominant culture, and therefore compromised and limited in their own capacity. "All men (and women, we might add) are intellectuals," wrote Gramsci, "but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals." As a Marxist, it was no secret that Gramsci's ideas were centered on the need for revolutionary opposition to the oppressive social relations perpetuated by the capitalist structure - whether represented in the private sphere through property and labor exploitation, or the public sphere through state-backed repression. And while traditional intellectuals certainly played, and continue to play, an important role in this struggle, Gramsci saw the development of the organic intellectual as a crucial component in the ongoing battle for consciousness which exists within the daily lives of the mass of people. "There is no human activity from which every form of intellectual participation can be excluded," explained Gramsci. "Everyone carries on some form of intellectual activity, participates in a particular conception of the world, has a conscious line of moral conduct, and therefore contributes to sustain a conception of the world or to modify it, that is, to bring into being new modes of thought." The organic intellectual possesses the unique ability to touch those who exist within their own social grouping: the working class.
As a youth organizer for the NAACP and eventual leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), Fred Hampton was the embodiment of Gramsci's "organic intellectual." Born to working class parents, Hampton became a pre-law major in college and deployed his knowledge to combat police brutality and unfair law enforcement practices that targeted impoverished black youth in the greater Chicago area. Hampton's realization of the inherent connection between institutional racism and class politics led him to negotiate a "class-conscious, multi-racial alliance" between politicized organizations (the BPP and Students for a Democratic Society) and Chicago's major street gangs (Young Patriots, Young Lords, Blackstone Rangers, Brown Berets and Red Guard Party). As BPP's local leader, Hampton organized rallies, assisted with maintaining a local medical clinic, taught weekly political education classes, and operated a Free Breakfast Program for underprivileged children. As both an organic intellectual and de facto educator, Hampton's brilliant oratory skills were not used to place himself above the oppressed, but rather to immerse himself within the oppressed community of which he was a member. His words, and the linguistic style in which his analysis was advanced, were a shining example of the simultaneous process of education and dialogue that must take place with the oppressed. Ultimately, Hampton was the praxis to Gramsci's theory. By combining an effective class analysis with a stage-based social application that included "real world" solutions, he was the quintessential revolutionary. "That's what the Breakfast for Children Program is," explained Hampton. "A lot of people think it's simply charity, but what does it do? It takes people from a stage to a stage to another stage. Any program that's revolutionary is an advancing program. Revolution is change." In addition to praxis, he and the BPP fortified and transcended the struggle against racial oppression by effectively tying it to the international class struggle, much like Dr. King was doing with a critical assessment of war and poverty. "We're not gonna fight fire with fire, we're gonna fight fire with water," cried Hampton. "We're not gonna fight racism with racism, we're gonna fight racism with (working class) solidarity!" His untimely and tragic murder at the hands of Chicago police would ultimately stifle the revolutionary momentum of the time. However, as Hampton once proclaimed, "You can kill the revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution!"